The Martian Princess, chs 21 & 22
Admiral Cane searched the minibar for something to drink. “You drank all the champagne?” she asked, her face illuminated by the fridge light.
Phaedra said in a dull monotone, “Before the party. She insisted.”
“Is she your wife? Girlfriend?” She examined a split of white wine. Martian plonk. “I can’t drink this Martian shit.” Instead she collected the mini bottles of gin and vodka together. “We could mix ‘em,” she said, handing Phaedra a glass.
Phaedra was devoid of any feeling at all. She had devoted so much energy to hating the Admiral and it seemed to be gone. Why? Exhaustion, she supposed. She worked at finding that hatred and took the glass. “Ice,” she said.
The Admiral dropped a cube in the glass and cracked the nips, handing four to Phaedra. They sat in silence drinking the liquor until the Admiral said, “I’ve spent the past five years hating you and yet, now that I see you, I don’t know what I feel.”
“I still hate you,” said Phaedra.
“Fair enough. Give it time. I’m sure I’ll hate you too. I guess things worked out for me better. But you’ve done well for yourself, if your girlfriend is the Mayor of Paris/Mars. A lot better than a prison ship.”
“I’m an escort, a convict ,and a whore, understand? I screw disgusting men to stay alive. She’s the first gig I could stand.”
“I haven’t screwed anything since coming to Mars, not even myself. Of all the unforgivable things you did to me, destroying my libido is the worst.”
“I’m really sorry about that, Boss. Maybe you should vent yourself.”
“They had it coming. I saved your fucking life, you and that baby of yours and that boy. That detestable boy.”
“For the fucking money.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, space is not a charity. Everything is for sale. What happened to you anyway? You shouldn’t be here at all.”
“I told you, I’m a consort.” Phaedra drained her glass. “This isn’t doing it for me.”
“Me neither. I took some psilocybin earlier but it’s worn off.”
“Maybe—” Phaedra said, eyeing the titanium suitcase.
“Of course, what was I thinking?” She lifted the medicine chest out, brought it over to where they were sitting and put it on the table. They leaned close to examine the contents. The familiar smell of her hair filled Phaedra’s nose. “Oh, this is good,” the Admiral yipped. “Narcostar.”
“I don’t want to nod out, I have work to do.”
“Work? Looks like your work is done here.”
“You don’t understand.”
“How about a speedball then? I think we could, hmmm. Yes indeed we can.” She took out four different vials and said, “Amphetamine, narcostar, LSD and nicotine. Your arm please.”
“In the butt. I don’t want it to show. And don’t get any ideas.”
“Your gown makes it difficult. Lift it.” She prepared Phaedra’s injection and wiped a spot on her buttocks with alcohol, then pressed the needle into the goosebumped flesh. Her glands began to pump. “My turn.”
“You can inject yourself.”
“It’s more fun this way. The gown’s backless.”
“A compliment?” The Admiral stood with her back to Phaedra and Phaedra took aim at her butt cheek, a strong whiff of pheromone making her woozy. The crack of the Admiral’s ass was covered in barely visible blond hair. Phaedra found herself staring at the downy crack and then the vertebrae of her long, naked back. The amphetamine rush made her smile idiotically. No, she thought, searching for the hatred, searching for the bitter, angry knot of rage she nursed.
They sat down and stared out the window at the stars. There were one or two meteors. “Beer?” Phaedra asked.
“The whiskey’s better.”
Phaedra stood and had to find her balance, then felt incredibly graceful, as if she could fly, and efficient. She got eight minis of whiskey and poured them. “It must be getting late. The meteor shower’s begun.”
“That’s what I came for,” the Admiral said.
“Me too. The Mayor wanted to fuck all night and I was like, you can fuck me anytime, but the Kushida Meteor Shower? Earth people save their whole lives for the chance.”
The Admiral nodded in agreement. “The Ruler Zenobia too. These idiots just want to drink and gossip. I am so sick of gossip, I can’t tell you.”
A meteor starting high in the sky stretched all the way to the horizon. “Wow.” Colors showered off of it. Phaedra felt herself lifting. “You’re with the Ruler Zenobia? How did you pull that one off?”
The Admiral laughed quietly. “Easy. Her Scion’s got an insatiable appetite for dick. Somehow she got pregnant.”
“It’s not all that difficult once you know how.”
“You young Ruler girls are real fertile Myrtles I guess. I aborted her and kept silent. They’ve been my patients ever since. The little minx is hot. Your age. Poor thing. She picked up the Earth Minister for Trade in the American Zone but it looks like he is after bigger game. Unfortunately for all of them the Old Ruler has business to discuss and he can’t escape. I’d be there still, bored stiff, if this emergency call hadn’t come.” She looked at Phaedra who was smiling. “I think the drugs have done you good,” she said.
“Did you say the Earth Minister for Trade?”
“Yes yes, the star of the show, except now everyone knows the Rulers Tobor Ocktomann and Imogen are showing up. You ought to know them.”
“I’ve heard of them of course.”
The Admiral laughed with scorn. “You must be high if you can’t do better than that, Phaedra. I know who you are.”
“Do you have a cigarette?”
The Admiral reacted with mock horror. “Do you want to kill the Mayor?” They both looked at her recumbent form. “Resting quietly. She won’t wake up for twelve hours at least.”
“So technically we don’t have to be here?”
“Technically we do. She could arrest. She could aspirate vomit. Anything could happen.”
“I don’t suppose there is a monitor in that thing?”
“There is indeed. Did you want to meet the American Minister for Trade by any chance?”
“Yes. I’ve got to get out of here.”
“I want to know why you are at this party,” the Admiral said. “Then I’ll take you to meet him.”
“I’ll tell you that if you tell me where my baby is.” Phaedra was suddenly cold. She didn’t feel hatred, she just wanted to know. “We landed and were met by a woman named Qudra, the French pimp who owns me now. My baby and Jedidiah were kidnapped and I haven’t seen them since.” She could see her grief and sadness as if at the bottom of a well, reflecting the light dully. It was distant and yet she couldn’t take her eyes off of it. Rage, grief, sadness. So far away, glimmering. She was thirsty for them, she wanted to haul them up and drink them down but instead all she felt was the incredible clarity of the drugs, the warm calm of the narcostar, the pierce of rapid thought, processing, sorting the world, the steady focus of nicotine, and the joy of the oceanic feeling, the connection of every particle in her body dancing with their entangled twins, racing outward from the big bang to the final dissolution.
The Admiral got up abruptly, ran for the door, and stood with her back to it, hand on the knob. “You have to promise not to hurt me.”
“Whatever you did doesn’t matter now. I want to know where they are. I hired a private dick who thinks they are on Earth. Trafficked by Qudra. Is that true?” Phaedra tried to figure if she could reach the Admiral before she could escape. It was about six steps.
“I sold you all to Qudra for a good price, that’s all I know.”
Before the Admiral could open the door Phaedra was upon her, throwing her to the floor and straddling her waist. The Admiral squirmed beneath her like an eel, much stronger than Phaedra imagined and hit at her blindly. She pinned the Admiral’s shoulders to the ground with her knees and seized her ears, twisting. “Agh!” she shouted, baring her teeth. “I will bash your fucking brains out if you don’t tell me where my baby is!”
“Okay okay. Please,” The Admiral panted, tears filling her eyes. Phaedra had never seen her shed tears or even tear up. “Let me go.”
“When you tell me where they are.”
The Admiral huffed, her face flushed and wild with fear. Then she grew still and a black anger flooded her eyes. Phaedra was enveloped in pheromone and felt aroused beyond herself, felt her stomach pitch. Damn you, she thought. I’m gonna fuck your ass when this is over. Then I’m gonna kill you.
“Qudra mentioned she might sell you to the Quarantine.”
“The Quarantine?” Phaedra banged the Admiral’s head against the carpeted floor and her eyes rolled white. “You sold us to the fucking Quarantine?”
“It was the only way I could come here. And you were supposed to stay together. You were supposed to go with them.”
“Then what did Qudra do with them?”
“I don’t know. But I can help you find them, if you let me up.”
Phaedra released her ears. They were red and the earring had torn the lobe. Blood trickled down soaking into a tuft of her hair, which glowed dully. “First you have to introduce me to the Earth Minister for Trade in the American Zone.”
They stood, and the Admiral brushed herself off. Phaedra could sense the powerful storm of pheromones pouring off her as her heart pounded. Admiral Sybil Cane stared at Phaedra with a look of devastated love. Phaedra knew it as if they were her own thoughts and feelings. This can’t be happening she thought, but the angrier she became, the more she wanted to fuck, not kill the Admiral, which only made her angrier. She shut her eyes and turned away, forcing all of the emotions back down into that deep well. When she was calm she said, “Set up the monitor. I need to get to him before Ocktomann arrives.”
The Admiral did as she was told, pairing the monitor with her phone. Mayor Mary’s vitals were strong, her breathing steady. “What do you want with Riotus?”
“I’m going to kill him.”
The Admiral smiled and took her by the hand. “I want to kiss you, 57607.”
Phaedra hadn’t heard the number in so long she didn’t at first realize what she was saying and then, finding it funny, really funny, laughed, kissing her lightly on the lips, remembering the first time they kissed, the bead of fluid on the sore. “You fucking bitch,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Phaedra’s halo crown felt crooked. “Is my crown falling?” she asked the Admiral.
They paused outside of the gold doors and the Admiral fixed the crown, gazing wickedly into Phaedra’s eyes. “I can’t believe we are going to do this,” she said under her breath.
Phaedra felt like she was floating. “Don’t make me laugh,” she giggled. “I hope I can pull it off.”
The Admiral started to giggle too and then they laughed, harder and harder until it was uncontrollable.
“Stop!” Phaedra said through bleary eyes. “They’ll hear.” The Admiral took her arm. “I do still hate you,” Phaedra reminded her. Gas molecules swarmed the chandeliers. A giant snake stretched across the floor and vanished into the wall.
“That’s the awful part, isn’t it?” The Admiral said cheerfully. “It really sparked my libido. I haven’t felt such hatred—well, never.”
“In all your years on ship I’ve hated you the most?” They bumped into the potted plant. “This is fucked up,” Phaedra said. “I really do have to kill him.”
The Admiral waved her off a little sloppily. “No fucking problem. That guy’s a-a—”
“Showboat,” Phaedra said, laboriously drawing out the syllables. “God it’s nice speaking English. American English. I think I might have to fuck your ass before I kill you.”
“Every red blooded gal needs a good ass fucking now and then to keep her honest.”
“I’ll put that on my bucket list,” Phaedra said. “Now, attention!” She stood erect and saluted the doors. “In we go.”
“Anchors-a-weigh!” the Admiral said, pushing the heavy gold bar. They fell over themselves and hastily stood erect when the Host looked up from the elephant tusks.
“Madam Petrune, Doctor Cane. I trust the Mayor is doing well?”
“It’s all under control, Boss,” the Admiral said. “I got her stabilized and monitored. She can’t fart without me knowing it.”
“I am immensely pleased,” the Host said, allowing them to pass.
“Did you try the venison?” the Admiral asked.
“I haven’t eaten since noon.”
“No wonder you’re fucked up. You need to eat.”
The thought of food repulsed her. She pulled herself together and surveyed the room. “Where to?”
“It’s just up here. The small tables on the riser along the window.”
Phaedra followed her up the steps. The tables were in shadow, concealing the occupants from prying eyes. Movie stars, politicians, models and tycoons from Earth were seated together, as well as the Martian Rulers, chief among them Old Zenobia, her Scion and their guest, the Earth Minister for Trade in the American Zone. Phaedra watched him watch her as she approached. This will be easy, she thought. Young Zenobia’s back was to them. She craned her head around to get a look. “The Doctor returns,” said the Ruler Zenobia dramatically.
The Admiral casually presented Phaedra and said, “Look what the cat dragged in. My old old friend, Eleanor Petrune.”
The three gazed on Phaedra. Riotus looked like he was going to leap out of his clothes. The women melted into their seats. Riotus cleared his throat and said, “Charming to meet you mmm—” he looked at her wedding ring— “Miss Petrune.”
“Mrs., actually,” Phaedra said. “My wife is back home on Earth.”
“I trust,” Riotus said to the Admiral, “Everything is OK?”
“Yes,” said the Old Ruler, “You must tell us all about it.” She asked Phaedra, “I hope you will join us as my guest?”
“It would be my honor,” Phaedra said. She did need to sit, the floor rocked beneath her feet like a dock in heavy weather. The Earth Minister for Trade in the American Zone stood and pulled out the seat next to him. “Mrs. Petrune?”
Phaedra put her hand on the table to steady herself and said, resisting the urge to laugh at him, “Thank you. My feet are killing me.”
“It’s those titanium pumps,” the Admiral said. “That’s why I wear swans. They’re old fashioned, but at least I can walk in the morning.”
“My dear,” the Old Ruler said, “It isn’t a party if you can walk in the morning.”
“Are you here on business?” asked Riotus. He looked at a waiter and snapped his fingers. “Champagne. Two bottles.”
“Yes, I am working for the Mayor of Paris/Mars on some construction contracts.”
“I hope your feet are not too sore to dance,” he said.
That was too much for the petulant Younger Zenobia. “She’ll have to wait her turn,” she said.
Phaedra said, “I’d love to dance. I have spent most of the evening talking to the other Mayors, a dreary business when there’s so much fun to be had.”
“First time on Mars?” the Ruler asked.
“I’ve been here five years.”
“A long time to be away from your wife, I should think,” said the Younger Zenobia. “She must get lonely.”
The Admiral said, “Eleanor’s contract is over.”
“That’s right,” Phaedra said. “It was actually up a month ago but I agreed to stay on to help the Mayor out, and, in return, she invited me to the Gala.”
The Old Zenobia said, “Cooper’s Day is the event of the year. You’re quite lucky to secure an invitation.”
The waiter returned with the champagne. He draped a cloth over the cork and twisted it open. Adjacent tables cheered when it popped. He poured glasses and the Earth Minister raised his high. “A toast: to new friends.”
The Ruler Zenobia cried, “To new friends!” They clinked and drank. Then the Old Ruler raised her glass and said, “On Mars we have a tradition of hospitality. No one knows how long they will be here, how long they will live. Dear friends disappear in the night. There are rumors of ghosts haunting the ruins of abandoned settlements. I can tell you that I myself have seen them, and heard them moaning in the tunnels of ice. Among ourselves, we appease the unquiet spirit of this desert planet, when we toast, To the dust!”
“To the dust!” they exclaimed and the toast spread to the nearby tables. “The dust!”
Riotus drank the entire glass of champagne, his Adam’s apple jerking up and down. “I would love a spin on the dance floor.” The meteor shower was near peak. The lights dimmed to almost dark and the electric candles on the table flickered to life, illuminating faces from below in flame-colored light. People crowded the windows, oohing and aahing.
The Younger Zenobia stood. “You haven’t seen me tango.”
Phaedra, who had barely touched her champagne said, “I haven’t tangoed in a dog’s age.”
The Old Ruler restrained her smile. “An excellent idea,” she said. And then to the Younger Zenobia, “Show Mrs. Petrune what you can do on the dance floor.”
“I thought I would—” the Earth Minister for Trade in the American Zone started to say when the Old Ruler silenced him with her eyebrows.
“My dear Riothamus Cunedagius, I could really cut the rug in my day and daresay could cut it now with the right partner. Humor an old woman, won’t you?”
“Nothing that vigorous is required, My Lady,” he said with unctuous insincerity. He stood and they went through the darkened room to the dance floor. The Old Ruler whispered in the conductor’s ear. Tony Vaael signalled the orchestra and changed the tempo to a tango and the couples clasped each other close and began the slow, sultry dance.
Young Zenobia’s silk gown rubbed against Phaedra’s bare chest. She felt like she had twelve feet. Then the young Ruler opened the embrace and took her mechanically through elaborate moves, displacing the other dancers. She grasped Phaedra’s back and dropped her to the floor. Phaedra felt faint as the ceiling circled like a carousel, showering the room with sparks. The Young Zenobia’s skin was turquoise and then blue, magma boiling in her eyes. Their arms stretched. The music got fast and she was whirling. In and out of her line of vision flashed Riotus who, despite executing the moves with precision and grace, had his eye on Phaedra. The Admiral stood at the edge of the dance floor swaying to the music, serenely inebriated. When the number ended Phaedra reached out to the Admiral for balance and they embraced briefly. The Old Ruler, beaming in ecstasy, said, “Oh, Riotus, you’ve put years on my life, thank you. But I am an old woman and quite winded I’m afraid.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Lady.”
The Younger Zenobia approached with her hand out, smiling. Riotus turned away from her and took Phaedra’s hand. The Admiral intervened. “Zenobia, dear. I would be delighted if you would take me.”
The orchestra launched into the next number, languid waves of sound washing over the throbbing bass. Couples separated and moved about each other with eyes closed. Riotus put his hands on Phaedra’s hips. She looked into his eyes and moved with him, rhythmically bumping her hips against his until he was hard. She retreated; made him come to her as she shrank into herself and moved as if she were swimming in a warm tropical lagoon at midnight. She opened her eyes and saw brilliant yellow meteors liquefy across the windows. Riotus’s face elongated like taffy. Her heart stitched with paranoia and panic. He must know why she was here. All eyes were upon her. She didn’t dare change her step. She tried to think without breaking the trance of the music and their movement in and out of each other. Their shadows stepped across the ceiling. He stretched his muscular body against hers like a serpent.
A wave of music swept her forward. The pulse boomed in her bowels. She felt the geometry of her mind. Thoughts and words became solid. She knew what she had to do. She had to awaken to the task. The other couples were not looking at them at all but gazing inward, each one in their own head, connected by the pulse. Now, she thought. But what would happen when she did it? Would he drop to the floor, dead? Would he feel stricken, need to sit? All they said was that it would look like a heart attack.
It was not her first time. She had slit the throat of a gangster in his hotel room and felt the hot blood on her fingers, the light dying in his shocked eyes. She had shot a politician, his cum still warm in her mouth. She had poisoned a union leader at the breakfast buffet of the Dust Inn in the English Zone and garroted a rival drug dealer while pegging her from behind. Every time she had escaped according to plan, shedding her escort identity and returning to The Pearl. She had to trust Qudra.
The dance went on and on, like space, unbound, without destination. Riotus placed his lips against hers and grasped her ass, moving her deeper into the dancers, away from the Admiral and the Younger Zenobia. His mouth smelled like a basement. They were deep into shadow now, at the edge of the dance floor. There was a potted palm against a gold column. He was maneuvering her towards it and before she knew it, he had stopped dancing and was pushing her against the column. He plunged his hand down her front and started to grope her. His finger rubbed around until she was wet enough for him to penetrate her. “Please, not here. We can go to my room.”
“Shut up,” he said, thrusting his tongue into her mouth like a cock. She pushed the button on the ring, grasped the back of his head and pulled her mouth away.
“Fuck you,” she said, pushing the stinger into his neck.
Riotus stood rubbing his neck with a look of bewilderment, a man who wants to know, what did I do? She made a beeline for the Mayors’ table, leaving him to die.
She needed to sit more than anything. The table bobbed around in her eyes. She sat in the chair as if she were mounting a horse, and the Mayors, delighted by the fresh blood, pelted her with questions about La Mairesse, while Phaedra tracked Riotus as he moved through the dancers. She couldn’t tell if he was enraged or not. His expression was desperate. His hair hung in lank, sweaty ropes. He was panting clouds of pink snow. “Petrune!” he shouted, pushing people out of the way.
The Earth Minister for Trade in the American Zone staggered to the table and stood, apoplectic, with bulging eyes and blue lips, attempting to talk. He gasped Petrune! and made a harsh noise. The color drained from his face. Phaedra looked directly at him and smiled. “Is everything alright, My Lord Minister?” she asked. The breath rattled in his throat. “Can I get you a glass of water? Champagne perhaps?” He pointed at her.
“He’s trying to say something,” Eupraxia Kiev said.
The Duke of Chou nodded. “He’s had a bit too much to drink I’d say.” They had a jolly good laugh. “Sire, please sit down.”
“Yeah,” Phaedra said, “Take a load off.”
Riothamus Cunedagius gripped his chest and fell forward, smashing his face against the table and dropping to the floor, dead.