Approach from any angle showed off the new building’s alien shape amongst indigenous domes. This planet had never before seen ancient Japanese architecture. The brilliantly engineered outer surface resembled rice paper. Each wall appeared impossibly delicate, amusing the locals. Most watched Michael’s design constructed with dubiously nictitating membranes.
Just like gawkers back on earth, neighborhood K’ Dell had gathered soon after the first big storm kicked off the He’ Keck season. Those expecting a vacant lot scattered with debris found disappointment. And as the disappointed onlookers left the scene, only one figure remained behind – the being who’d headed construction.
Michael thought of the city’s chief building engineer with bemused fondness. Were they friends or was the human simply convenient entertainment? Michael didn’t know. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling to the former Corporate Stress Reliever, just eerily odd considering he didn’t think their anatomies were compatible for intimacy. Certainly, their minds were not upon preliminary introduction, but the young man sensed progress toward understanding.
He put his hand on the cool, solid surface that fooled the eye. Then he realized he stood illegally on the religious runes required by national law. Looking around with chagrin and a thrill of fear, Michael stepped back to the ped-belt.
The constant conveyance had taken getting used to. In fact, he had not yet completely succeeded.
An inelegant hop to the door made his lover laugh. He grinned even as his cheeks reddened. Simon would always have that affect on him, he hoped, whatever soil they called home.
“I’ve been waiting for you. I didn’t want to see what they’ve done inside before you did. The outside is certainly beautiful, though it doesn’t outshine you.”
“Are you getting sentimental on me, Simon?”
“Yes, if you call this sentimental,” he retorted, pulling Michael into a kiss that met surprising resistance.
“We shouldn’t do this here. There are eyes everywhere,” Michael warned nervously.
He had gotten frighteningly close to serving jail time shortly after their initial arrival. Patting a K’ Dellian child on the head seemed totally innocuous and yet had caused an immediate uproar. Lip locking his partner could never be mistaken for innocent. And Michael didn’t want the pleasure of visiting the local constabulary ever again. Being checked for internal and external contaminants once, coming through planetary customs, had been more than enough. The invasive procedure did not top his tourist’s list of things to do in K’ Rack.
Then again, this building testified that he and Simon were not merely visiting.
The larger man obligingly grabbed his young lover and pulled him bodily into the foyer. As often happened, their alien DNA failed to trigger the auto closure and Michael started to bare his teeth in annoyance. Before he completed the grimace, Simon smacked an oddly placed rune and the door obeyed, sliding silently to shut out the pearlescent fog. A few final tendrils clung to them and Michael, still enchanted by their resilience, would have touched a ghostly finger but for his bewilderment.
“How did you do that? What did you do?”
“I had an override hidden in the wall design. You’re not the only one who befriended Sam.”
“Sam? Oh! You mean “S’ Amknud?”
“Yeah, Sam,” Simon repeated defiantly, a touch of self-ridicule lacing his tone.
“You need to try harder with the local dialect. Otherwise, you’ll never impress anyone in the business community.”
“I was hoping to live off of your earnings here,” Simon proclaimed with a wave toward the inner doors.
“Don’t try to sweet talk me. You know I want you to believe in my dream. But if you don’t start trying to pronounce names correctly, I’ll… I’ll.”
“I’ll tell everyone I meet to call you ‘Mr. X’,” Michael hooted, mockingly twisting his neck so that red-gold waves swung over his shoulder.
“Oh,” Simon croaked, snatching a curl, “you haven’t called me that in too long.”
“Well, let’s check out the dojo proper and we’ll see what we can do about that when we get home. I’m not even sure we’re supposed to be touching in the foyer. It’s considered public space, ergo, government property.”
“How long does it take to get over a plague scare? I thought that happened a thousand earth years ago?”
“And since when do you know of religious fervor to fade entirely? It’s a theocratic state. We’re lucky to be considered people and not C’ Hattle here.”
“Now, that word I can handle. It sounds so much like cattle,” Simon ruminated.
Michael turned to open the door. He couldn’t bear another moment of waiting, even with Simon’s amusing banter. His gasp echoed over his shoulder.
“Well, brand me with an ‘S’ and call me surprised.”
Ignoring the absurd twist on a local colloquialism, Michael almost squealed. The work had gone better than he’d imagined.
S’ Amknud improved the design, knowing better how to place the skylights for optimum use of the distant sun’s rays.
A door had been left open upon the inner courtyard so that the first thing he saw when his eyes adjusted to the bright turned out to be the bamboo fountain. Simon had balked at the cost, which had been formidable even compared to the precious glass overhead. Now the former lawyer clapped congratulations upon Michael’s back.
“You’ll have the Japanese immigrants lined up for this, Michael. It’s a wonderful conglomeration of elements.”
The newly accredited business owner smiled and took a step to see how the rest of the garden appeared. The other three outer corridors could wait. He wanted to see his favorite part, first. Then he froze, suspicious.
“This isn’t the flooring I ordered. What am I walking on?”
“Plasti-wood with a sprayed foam underlay. I had it smuggled in. Sam was happy to learn the technique and helped authorities turn a blind eye. That K’ Dell knows what’s best for his city. K’ Rack needs to bend some if they want to fully reap the benefits of the human refugees. The rest of the country will see how we work together to revolutionize and reinvigorate this smog-bowl of a valley. Then it’s only a matter of time before the Zemberlands follow suit, I think. But that’s a whole other language for earth techs to crack. We’ll take this one step at a time. Anyway, other nations will begin opening their doors and…”
“Whoa, Mr. X! Slow down and back up.”
“Don’t you see? You want to become a diplomat; you’ve got to work on your pronunciation.”
“I don’t want that kind of oral lesson,” Simon intimated.
“Well, I don’t want a lesson on planetary
zoo-geo-dynamographics, or whatever you call it. I am, however, thrilled to hear such enthusiasm.”
“How about flattery?”
“I’m always happy to hear that.”
“Then understand the real reason I got this flooring. It wasn’t to gain some kind of oddball leverage with a local engineer, chief or not.”
“No. I didn’t want you to beat up those pretty feet on inadequate padding. And you and your students shouldn’t be allowed to get thirsty, either. Look over there.”
“A water cooler! Oh, Simon, you shouldn’t have!”
“I know,” he replied, indulgently rolling his eyes.
Ceremoniously hung per K’ Dell administrative edict, imported martial arts equipment received blessing from a K’ Dellian priestess. Wall mounts installed according to regional requirements would have to do whether or not they matched Michael’s aesthetic taste. That was all fine by him.
Excited, Michael gave into the urge to tumble across the floor. While the impulse had a childish basis, his moves displayed discipline and training. He came upright, balanced on his heels, and bounced instantly on his toes to reach overhead. He picked the fighting staff his athletic performance had aimed for. The fact the racks hung almost too high made his feat even more estimable.
Following rules handed down from elders neighboring his family’s South African plantation, he ignored K’ Dellian dogma, shed his ingrained New York persona, and bowed. Rising, he saw Simon’s eyes sparkling.
“Want to spar?”