Jena smiled drunkenly and said, “This is amazing.”
“It gets better,” Gabrielle cooed and stroked Jena’s hair. “The Ragnarok is about to start. My favorite part.”
Tali lowered Jena’s legs from their position over her shoulders and took one of the glasses that Gabrielle delivered. “I was trying to get her ready.”
Jena looked up, startled, as there was a commotion.
“I choose you!” An intoxicated, heavyset Martian ambled out of the crowd and thrust a large finger at her.
“Don’t fear, Jena, the carnival has rules,” Gabrielle said in her ear. “Someone has to make a first offering.”
Another man, handsome, and military by his build and haircut, aggressively thrust his chest into the others. “She will be mine!”
The Martian roared and threw a fist into the challenger’s face. His punch landed solidly and the soldier collapsed, briefly, but issued a loud war-cry and scrambled to his feet. Both went down in a flurry of punches. The soldier got up and wiped at the blood trickling from his nose.
He locked eyes with Jena and said, “I choose you.”
“She will be mine!” A man stood up beside him and they bumped chests. The soldier, now the challenged, had the right of first strike. He drove an uppercut into the challenger’s torso that crumpled the man immediately.
“She will be mine!” Another taker initiated the ritual. This one, Jena could see, was stocky and bulged with inflated muscle.
Jena felt Gabrielle next to her ear.
“How does it feel, Jena? How does it feel to have men bleed for you?”
Jena shook her head. “I don’t understand why they do it for me. When does this end? Or how?” Both fighters were circling each other warily.
“It ends when you choose.”
The soldier threw the first strike but it was only a glancing blow. A punch to the short-ribs sent him staggering back, clutching his midsection. The challenger rushed forward to deliver the coup-de-grace but was stopped short by a hasty jab that found only air.
“And after that?” Jena said and turned to get the response from Gabrielle’s eyes. The Martian girl shrugged.
“You are his until he releases you or the Carnival ends.” Said she.
“What does that mean?”
Gabrielle smirked and pulled herself away. “You will know when the time comes, yes? Come find us when you are done.”
That time came only minutes later. Her trooper absorbed a punch to the mouth but recovered enough to land a jab followed by an elbow to the head that left his opponent stunned. The match was finished with an uppercut to the chin that sent the other man reeling in the crowd around them. Her trooper faced her. His hand shook as he used it to point to her. “I choose you.”
“She will be mine.” Another challenger stood. When the two bumped chests, her soldier nearly lost his balance. He had the right of first strike but was tired. There would be no strength behind his fist.
“Stop!” Jena called as her soldier balled his fist and stepped forward. “Enough. I choose you.” She watched his shoulders slump with relief as he lowered his arms.
“Thank you,” He said and collapsed onto the floor beside her. “I was beginning to think you might make me fight the whole Carnival for you.”
“I was thinking of that, but you were so determined,” Jena said and lifted a hand to touch the soldier’s split lip. “The outcome was inevitable.”
“You are kind,” The soldier said and guided her hand away from his face. He ran his own hands up her arms, then over her breasts and down her body. “What is your name?”
“I am Cassius,” He said and laid back on the floor. He pulled her down on top of him. “You have a very pretty name, Jena. I’m sorry I won’t remember it.”
At least he’s honest. Jena thought. Cassius growled as she delivered a bite to his shoulder that drew blood. He tangled his fingers in her hair as she worked her way down his body. Every bruise she found was treated with a kiss.
Where am I? Jena thought as she opened her eyes to unfamiliar surroundings. She was in a small hab. The rising sun sent shafts of light through the heavy storm shutters over the only hab window. Tali, sleeping, spooned into her front. Jena noticed a strange arm draped over her hips from behind: Gabrielle, who roused when she felt Jena moving.
“My little Earth girls were so busy last night,” Gabrielle lilted into her ear. “Too tired now even for tia’freya.”
“I can’t remember what happened. What did I do?” Jena whispered, her heart suddenly racing. All she could recall was removing her drink cup from the dispensary. Then came the disturbing emotional sensation that the block of memories in storage from the event were as inaccessible as if they had never happened.
“We learned the secret of life, yes?” Gabrielle said. “Everyone did. That is why we were made to forget.”
“I don’t understand.” Jena said.
“Such secrets are not easily revealed,” Gabrielle said and rolled onto her back. “To find them we must step outside ourselves, yes? We must do things it may not be us to do. It is better that we not know what they were. This is why everyone has forgotten.”
“There were hundreds of people there,” Jena said. “Do you mean that none of them have any memory of the Carnival?”
“You would prefer it if they did?”
Jena considered the question in silence. What would Kinkaid think of whatever hidden behaviors she’d unburied?
“Some of us are trying to sleep.” Tali complained and jammed a foam pillow over her head.
“How do you feel?” Gabrielle offered and slid out from beneath the ornate, native Martian blanket thrown over the bed-slab. She had a beautiful body and Jena caught herself appraising the native girl with strange, new eyes. “Come on. I need food. My little Earth girl is cross in the mornings, yes?”
“Yes.” Jena said and took the hand Gabrielle offered. Tali snored deliberately as they dressed.
The nearest public dome was a ten minute walk through light pedestrian streams. The Goddard colony was in recovery from the excesses of the Founder’s Day holiday. Chronos Cyclonos had faded and light from Sol lit the rust-colored crags around them. The timing of Viking Carnival became clear. Residents of Goddard had much to celebrate when the winter dust storms finally cleared.
Lines for the food-bar dispensers were short. Gabrielle slotted her ID card into the dispensary card reader and a food bar out of the hopper near the bottom. When Jena’s turn came, the screen cleared and a pop-up message appeared, directing her in official language to the Ruby’s Red Harvest House.
A server, a man, was waiting at the entrance when she arrived with Gabrielle in tow. The man bowed and said, “We welcome you, aide to Admiral Kinkaid. I assure you that our fare is far worthier than any dispensary bar. We have a table waiting. Please accept our hospitality.”
“Of course we will,” Jena said and the server led on. Their table sat in an alcove concealed by a Martian blanket drawn over the entrance. When the blanket was pulled back they could see their table laden with enough food for eight people. “May we just keep the fruit and the water, please?”
“Yes ma’am, nothing will go to waste.” The server replied and signaled for help. A female server joined him and together they cleared the table of all but the requested items.
Jena and Gabrielle took opposite sides in the ½ moon shaped booth and the blanket closed. Jena took a small plate provided and forked a slice of Martian blood-orange. Gabrielle poured two glasses of water and then copied her.
“You never asked about Tali and me.” She said and slid several orange slices onto her plate.
“What’s there to ask? It wasn’t that much of a secret,” Jena said and drank from the glass Gabrielle slid across to her. “I guess I was wondering what your plans were. You two seem pretty close and eventually be assigned to a ship going out on deployment. She’s my friend. It’s not like she can just resign her commission.”
“There are many things that people do not understand, yes?” Gabrielle said. “One of them is us. People think that women find women because of something genetic, or because we hate men, but they overlook one very important thing.”
“Tell me.” Jena said and bit into a blood-orange slice. She smiled as its sweet-tang saturated her tongue.
“Amazing tia’freya!” Gabrielle said and erupted into laughter as Jena did. The servant attending them would remember what he’d heard.