tagSci-Fi & FantasyStarlight Gleaming Ch. 17

Starlight Gleaming Ch. 17



Senior Lieutenant Ranji Kandikan has returned home to his parent's estate under armed escort led by his blood-brother, Lieutenant Bilan Monaycote.

While he has been away at training, opposition to his efforts to change the way women are treated in the military has increased. Members of his family and his command have been injured emotionally and physically, and some continue to be in danger of their lives.

Ranji's time at Sparantzlo has changed him. In some ways, violence has become easier. He fears what he sees as the growing darkness in his heart, and what that means for him and the women who love him. The notion that gives him comfort is love itself, not only for Janetta, her crew, and Calia, but also being a dad to his little girls. He hopes it will be enough.

Ahead of him are many things: re-connecting with the women and his children, burying Deedee, the return to High Guard War Base, and learning whether he even has a command remaining. An important and dangerous impediment is dealing with the corrupt Air Security CO, Dakkan Voyacherno, and surviving the experience.

First and more immediate is reuniting with his family. At the end of the last chapter, while his brother Bilan happily greets his two boys, Ranji sees his oldest daughter, Sisi. With several days growth of beard on his face, she barely recognizes him. Still, she gives him one of her magic hugs and welcomes him with open arms. When Ranji can't help crying for joy, Sisi reassures him that he's home.

Thanks to TerrytheTraveler for lending a hand with catching errors. Any gaffs, typos, dropped words, usage errors, omissions, commissions, permissions, WTFs and OMGs are totally my fault. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Cleaning House

When I finally let Sisi go, she grinned, brushing away my tears of joy. "You got a beard, Tenant."

Nodding at her, I couldn't stop smiling. I was so happy to see and hold her little body in my arms, and my eyes drank in her precious presence. I found her attention to wiping away my tears incredibly endearing.

"It's scritchy. Are you gonna keep it?" she persisted.

"Probably not," I admitted.

"I didn't know you at first, Tenant." She deliberately stuffed her small wooden sword into her belt. "I'm glad you're home again."

"So am I, Sisi." I had to hug her again.

Bilan and his boys watched us, their father whispering in the ears of his sons. Nodding, they grinned and ran off.

Then I saw Ixma in the east archway of the foyer leading to the sun room. She wore a class B uniform, holding Mina on her hip, and her face was one of hope mixed with disbelief. Mina looked at me fearfully, clutching Ixma tightly. I had worried that she might forget me, being so young when I left. Calia appeared behind Ixma, wearing a red blouse and a forest-green sari trimmed in yellow, the Vedan word for peace repeated in black, over and over like a motif. The three of them were yet another vision of loveliness to my aching heart.

For a moment they stood staring at me. And then both women burst into tears.

Picking up Sisi, I walked over to them.

"It's Tenant!" Sisi exclaimed, waving her free arm excitedly. "Ixma! Calia! Look! The magic hugs and prayers -- they worked!"

Neither woman, however, would meet my eyes.

"Little Mama?" I said. "Sweet Calia?"

At my words, Calia dropped to the ground, prostrating herself before me. "My lord... Master..." Calia sobbed. "I am so ashamed!"

"Please, Ranji!" Ixma dropped to her knees as well, begging me. "Please don't hurt her!"

Because the women cried, the already distressed Mina began to wail. Ixma automatically moved her daughter to her chest, hugging her tightly to offer comfort even as her worried gaze darted between Calia and myself.

I knew what the problem was, and I needed to deal with it right away. I set Sisi down.

"Stand up, both of you! What matters to me more than anything is that you are both alive. You are part of my family. You always will be. I have missed all of you so much! Sisi gave me one of her magic hugs. Please, I need your hugs, too."

"Come on!" Sisi urged. "Tenant needs your magic hugs!"

Instantly both women rose up and enveloped me in their arms, pulling my face down to pepper me with kisses, sobbing with relief and joy. I did my best to keep up. Every time I tried to home in on one set of lips, the other one moved in, the two playing a kind of tag with kisses. Before I knew it, I was laughing, and they began to laugh, too. It was the struggling Mina, who was getting squished between us, that prevented us from piling onto the floor in a joyful heap, with me at the bottom.

While Ixma tried to calm Mina down, I cupped Calia's face in my hands, kissing her slowly. Our kiss deepened, and she leaned in, opening her mouth to let our tongues dance about. My hands slid down and pulled her close. "I love you, Calia. You are mine. Always."

"My heart sings to hear those words from your lips. I love you, too, my lord!" Her hand reached up, running her fingers through my hair.

Another kiss, much shorter, and then she gently turned me toward Ixma. Giving Calia a wink, I released her and turned to Ixma.

Wiping her eyes, Ixma looked down at her daughter. "Mina, your daddy's home. Don't you want to give him a hug and a kiss?"

Mina wasn't having any of it. Turning away, she tried to bury her face into Ixma's chest. I was a stranger to her, her mother was crying, and she didn't understand why. Ixma tried to hand her off to Calia, but hanging on and protesting fiercely, she cried out, "No, Mama, no!"

Ixma was perturbed, but I put my hand on her shoulder. "It's all right, Little Mama. I've been gone a long time, and she doesn't remember me. Give her time. We'll be reacquainted and fast friends soon enough."

"Okay," she said, her lips trembling and blue eyes watering. "All of us have missed you so much, Ranji. Your strong, loving arms. How you hold me and touch me, and how you make me glad I'm your woman. You didn't come back when you said you would and we were all so afraid--"

I brushed her lips with mine. "All the time I was away, I can't tell you how important it was, knowing I had all of you waiting for me at home." I saw Sisi watching us, so I gave her a wink and a smile. "I got every one of your magic hugs, and they kept me safe. They brought me home."

As I drew Ixma in closer, she shifted Mina onto her hip and we kissed. When we broke apart, I leaned down and nuzzled her neck, and she clutched at me with her free hand, sighing. She started to cry again. "I can't believe you're finally back with us!"

Mina's little hand thumped me. "Bad! Bad man!"

Surprised, Ixma turned her away from me. "Stop it, Mina!"

Teary and angry and afraid, she insisted, "Bad man!"

"Mina! I said stop!"

Confused, the little girl teared up.

Calia reached over, putting her hand on Ixma's shoulder. "Mina? Why is he bad?"

"Makes Mama cry," she blubbered. Turning her face away, she started to cry herself.

Ixma looked at me helplessly.

"It's fine, Ixma. She loves you and she's trying to protect you," I said.

"It's okay, Mina! It's Tenant!" Sisi assured her. "Don't you 'member? He read us stories."

Ixma hugged Mina close, rocking her and kissing her. "Mama loves you, Mina."

Reaching down, I picked Sisi up. "You understand what's going on?"

She nodded solemnly. "Mama Zinja said sometimes we cry when we are happy. Captain said sometimes people cry when they are pissed. But Calia said if you cry when you are pissed, you need to see the doctor."

It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. She understood the most important part. I kissed her forehead, "You are a very smart girl, Sisi."

Suppressing a grin, Calia had to turn away. If we laughed, Mina might think we were laughing at her, and that wouldn't be right. If I could remember to do it later, Sisi needed to learn the difference between being pissed and having to pee.

Then I heard two small boys chattering, coming up behind us. "He's here, Grandma! See? We told you!"

There stood my mother, whole and healed. Powan held one hand and Mika the other. All my nagging worries about her fell away.

Mother was impeccably dressed, as always. She wore a muted purple salwar kameez covered with gold paisleys. Solid purple arms and a matching long scarf with solid gold trim.

"I've come as you asked. Now explain to me what is going on here." Then her face contorted. "Ranji?"

Setting down Sisi, I embraced my mother.

Her arms flew around me. "Oh, Ranji! My son! At last, you are home! Let me look at you. What is that you growing on your face, son? And my god! You've lost so much weight. Your shirt hangs on you. Have you eaten dinner?"

"We had lunch at Tikún War Base, and a snack at Sentry. Bilan and I were anxious to get here." At her raised eyebrows, I said, "No, neither one of us ate a real meal."

Calia picked up Sisi, and they joined our hug. With encouragement from the rest of us, Mina calmed down, though she still viewed me with suspicion. After all, now I was making her grandma cry, too.

It was Sisi, fidgeting around that finally brought things down a notch.

I asked her, "Up or down?"

"What's up?" she asked, her eyes bright with interest.

"You get to sit on my shoulders. I'm told that's a prime place to sit for a Princess of the World."

"Up, Tenant," she replied without hesitation. Being Princess of the World appealed to her sensibilities. So while the others moved to give us room, I helped her settle onto my shoulders. It felt strange, yet perfectly satisfying having my child parked on my shoulders. Her little legs wrapped around my neck, her little hands holding my head for balance.

Raising her wooden sword, she called out to Powan and Mika, demanding, "My Warrior Princes, have you beaten Atlantis yet?"

"No, Princess," Powan replied. He and Mika bowed. "We need you to lead us!"

"Need to get down, Tenant," she insisted, so I put her down. "We have a war to win!"

The boys retrieved their own swords, and all three charged off down the east wing, Sisi leading the way. Their antics brought a smile to our faces.

I noticed Bilan had vanished. Ah, well. No doubt greeting his wife, Rana, in private. Good for him. And her, too.

"It is so good to see you, my son," Mother exclaimed, wiping at her eyes. "You must tell us your adventures."

My mother latched herself possessively onto my arm. My father had assured me she was well, but I just needed to see it for myself. All my worry for her fell away. But I couldn't stay, so I gently removed her hands.

"I'd love to talk more with each of you, but before things go further, there are three others that I need to see."

Ixma said sagely, "Go, Ranji! My captain needs to know you are home and safe." Before I could ask, she added, "They're in the hangar. All three of them spend hours there. And I mean, hours. The Captain is in love with the Sunskipper, and I think she dreams about flying it. If that aircraft were a man, you'd have a serious rival on your hands! Cholan and Mama have it bad, too."

I laughed. Nothing more needed to be said.

Then Calia whispered something into Ixma's ear, and she blushed as she laughed.

"I'll spend more time with you soon, Mother. Is Father here?"

She shook her head. "He's at work. He isn't expected back for several days yet. Ranji, we all expected you weeks ago! What happened? Where were you?"

"I'm sorry," I told them. "I was under orders. That's all I can say at this time. What I tell you later cannot be shared with others, even with trusted servants. Things that you and Father need to hear. Bilan and maybe Rana, too. But definitely Janetta, Calia, Ixma, Zinja, and Cholan. Styen, too. But no one else. Please believe that I returned home as soon as I was able to do so. Why don't you call him, Mother? Let Father know I have returned home."

"I can't call him at this time of night. Son, it's nearly bed time! I will call him tomorrow morning, and see what persuasion I can manage. I would enjoy having a late dinner with him, and I know he'd love to see you. But it is two hours travel each way. He may not be able to come home for many days yet."

"If he makes the request, we can meet him at Sentry War Base. We can be back here within half an hour, have dinner and visit for a while, then we can take him back before it gets too late."

Mother smiled conspiratorially. "You want to fly the Sunskipper again." Then her eyes danced. "And no doubt a certain captain will act as your co-pilot. All right, my son. I'll send him an email letting him know you are home tonight, and I'll call him tomorrow to discuss these plans of yours. If I get you food, will you eat, my son?"

I realized I was hungry, and my stomach made a small rumble. "Yes, food sounds good. Something cold, though. Don't wake the cook on my account. Bilan will probably want something to eat, too."

"All right," she nodded. "I'll have something made up for the both of you, and we'll meet in the drawing room later."

A mother on a mission, she went off to arrange for food.

I raised my eyebrows, looking at Ixma. "What was so funny? What did Calia say to you?"

"She said if that plane had a cock, they'd take turns riding it for hours." Her blue eyes had an adorable, impish look. And truth to tell, I was both surprised and pleased by her comment. She'd grown so much over this past year.

I had to kiss her, so I did. Slowly, softly. Then tugged on her lower lip with my teeth. "Will you share my bed tonight?"

"If I can," Ixma said with a smile. "Calia and I share a bed with your daughters. Mama shares your bed with the Captain."

"Indeed? Hmm."

With a last hug and kiss to each of them -- Mina still viewed me with suspicion -- they told me they needed to get ready for bed, and Ixma added that the girls needed to do the same.

Mother had departed down the west hallway toward the kitchen. Ixma and Calia headed down the east wing. I continued south, past the servants' quarters.

At the elevator, I passed a pair of guards on patrol. After they checked me out, they moved on. That's new, I thought. Then I discovered the elevator required not just a code to oepn, but also a scan of my lanyard and a thumb print.

When the elevator opened to the hangar bay, the guard by the door snapped to attention. Returning the salute, I came around the blast wall leading into the hangar proper.

I paused, taking in the scene before me.

I spotted Zinja first, over in the tool bay, in deep discussion with both mechanics. All three were in the cyan coveralls of the Air Service. Next to them stood an officer, a full lieutenant that I didn't recognize. Then I heard Janetta's voice saying something from inside the Sunskipper, its ramp down and hatch open.

Then a man's voice called out even louder from within the Sunskipper, "Where's that sergeant of yours? Captain, the dashboard says access panel six is open!"

On impulse, I squatted down and looked. Sure enough, I saw someone's legs laying on the concrete, the rest of the person hidden by an open panel hanging down. Then I saw hands grab the cover and firmly, gently push it closed. I heard it click as it latched. Visor with lamp and huge lens over her face and tablet in her hand, she glanced about.

Cholan? Had to be. But she looked different. What was it?

She spied me looking at her, and whipped off her visor. "Ranji!" she squealed, then tried to sit up and loudly banged her head. "Ow!"

Her exclamation got the attention of the others. Aware of her danger, still clutching her head, Cholan quickly rolled away from me.

I stood back up.

From the open doorway of the aircraft, a captain stormed out, then squatted down, peering underneath the fuselage.

Cholan had made a clean getaway. He stood back up, obviously angry.

Zinja moved around the ship's nose, staring at me like she couldn't believe her eyes.

Janetta appeared from somewhere around the cockpit, looking smart in her cyan flight suit. Seeing me, she halted at the top of the ramp. Then she ran to me.

Arms latched on and gripped me tight, her legs wrapping themselves around my hips as her mouth sought to suck all the air from my lungs. I staggered. Then gripped her ass. And proceeded to take some air back from her.

It was as if the reality hit her. She slowed down, releasing her legs and standing on her own. Gently cupping my face in her hands, as if afraid I was a dream. "It is you. Oh, blessed gods of North and South. You really are here."

"Hello, my beautiful, perfect Warrior. It is so good to see you again."

Leaning her forehead against me, she breathed, "Gods above, Ranji! Every day that you were gone was like a part of me was missing. It's everything I can do to keeping from crying like a little girl, I'm so happy to see you. Please, don't ever volunteer for duty away from us. Even with all of us to help each other, it was bad, Ranji. Real bad."

"I love you, Janetta Tlacotli." And there it was. That indescribable mixture of jet fuel and oranges, with that subtle underlying scent that was hers alone, filled my nostrils. I inhaled again, giddy with joy.

She gave me a growl. "If you aren't in my bed tonight, there. Will. Be. Bodies. Many, many bodies with copious amounts of blood and mayhem." Then she ran her knuckles along my three days of beard. "Is this going to be a problem? And, your hair's different, too. Darker. Why the change?"

"I've a lot to tell you. All of you. But I want everyone there. Bilan, too. You, mother, and Sisi all commented on it. You want it off, off it goes. Because you're the one who's stuck kissing me." Feeling her body meshing against mine, my arms wrapped around her, I was hard as a rock. I needed her so much.

The officer from the Sunskipper approached us. "Captain Tlacotli! I've warned you about your sergeant! And you, whoever you are, you aren't authorized to be here! This is a restricted area, Lieutenant. You have two seconds to clear out before I call the guards and have you arrested!"

Janetta broke away from me, raising her eyebrows at the captain.

Putting my hands on my hips, I cocked my head, glancing at his name tag. "If I wasn't authorized to be here, how could I get past the security lock on the elevator, Captain Harketsi?"

Fuming at my logic, he turned on Janetta, but she beat him to the punch. "You should know that while Sergeant Cholan is my e-man, she also belongs to Lord Kandikan."

"Lord...?" Then he read my name patch. Scowling even more fiercely, he strode off in a huff to his office, slamming the door.

The lieutenant started to approach, but taking in the situation, held his position.

I took Janetta's elbow and guided her up the ramp of the Sunskipper. She raised her eyebrows, but let me guide her up the ramp and into the craft.

"What's going on, Ranji?"

Once inside, I punched the button at the door, causing the ramp to retract and the door to seal. Popping open the panel, I disconnected the circuit, effectively locking it.

"What did you just do?" she asked.

"Making sure we aren't interrupted. I hear from reliable sources that being around or on this aircraft gets you wet. I intend to check out that rumor." Moving to her, I took the zipper of her flight suit and slowly pulled it down.

Her face tracked my hand, then looked back at me, her breathing deepening.

"I need inside you now, Janetta. I can't wait, not even ten minutes longer."

"Here?" she exclaimed. Her surprise quickly flashed to intense interest.

I unhooked her bra and freed her fleshy mounds. "Yes, right here, my beautiful warrior. Any objections?"

Janetta laughed in delight. "Oh, gods, Ranji! I haven't seen you in ages, and the first thing you want to do is fuck me inside the most technologically advanced aircraft in all the Empire. You are so bad! I think I'm going to gush into my panties any second."

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