Here’s the opening chapter of my upcoming science fiction book, The Midas Rush. Thanks for reading!
“More wine?” asked Tresky Buffrum.
The most beautiful woman he’d ever met didn’t answer, just stared at him. She looked at the cork-sheathed wine bottle, sitting on the table between them. She stared across the hotel room at the carved, greywood bed–big enough for four people, Tresky figured. Six if they were relatives.
And still she didn’t answer. Starting to worry, Tresky fidgeted.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” she said at last.
“No!” Tresky felt his face flame. “No, I just–”
“Have more wine yourself,” she said as she refilled his cup.
Tresky loved watching her move to pick up the bottle. Her long, black hair swayed as it framed cheeks that glowed like sunshine on fresh snow dusting a field of pinkbuds. Her bosom, rising gently with each breath, was intoxicating and delicate, unlike the mountains of flesh that drooped to Gasparre women’s waists. Or below. She was more beautiful even than his prize-winning ewe.
When she smiled, it was like the first gush of daylight after a long night. “Drink up,” she said.
Tresky heaved a sigh that was half relief she wasn’t angry and half eagerness for what would happen after the lights–real electric bulbs!–went off with the click of a button. He pressed his nose against the window–real glass!–and pointed at the throng in the narrow streets three stories below.
“Look at all those people,” he said with a laugh. “Just because somebody found some Sloths made of gold. Sloths hardly ever move, so I figure the ones at the Midas Crater can’t be much different than living ones, right? Different color is all. Can you imagine anything sillier ‘n coming here all the way from the stars because of golden Sloths?”
Ebbril–that was the beauty’s name: Ebbril!–didn’t laugh along with him. Too bad. She must have a delightful laugh. “Planets,” she said in her soft, thrilling voice.
“Offworlders are from planets, not stars. And the mystery is the bigger draw than the gold. No one understands how intelligent creatures like Sloths could be transformed into gold. It shouldn’t be possible. So tourists flock here like flies to dung.”
“Yep,” he agreed, not wanting her to think he was an ignorant hick. “But still, the golden thingies are Sloths, for heaven’s sake. Why would anyone care?”
“Offworlders,” she said with a shrug, “are strange.”
“I’ll drink to that.” As he sipped, her pensive beauty drove all thoughts of Sloths and Offworlders from his head. “Would you, uh, care to retire for the night now?”
“Oh. Certainly.” Tresky reminded himself to drink slowly. She was still nursing her first cup, while he was on his third. Or was it fourth? “Let’s talk, then. Get to know each other.”
Ebbril nodded but said nothing.
“You know,” Tresky said, “I feel I’ve always known you, even though we met just yesterday. And now that we’re …” He hesitated, fearing that if he spoke the word aloud, she would slap him awake from the grandest dream he’d ever had.
“Now that we’re, uh … married.”
She didn’t slap him. That was good.
“Married,” he repeated. “Married! Uh, we should start learning about each other. Our past, our dreams, our hopes. Do you want to go first?”
Tresky rubbed his chin. “But there isn’t much to tell about me, I’m afraid.”
“Have some more wine, then. That’ll help you speak more freely.”
“Whoa, not so full.”
His sister, Taurina, had said he was so naïve that he wouldn’t last three days in Offie Town, that he’d be fleeced like an early summer ewe. She’d be contrite indeed when she saw the fine marriage he’d made on just his second day in the city. And he still had his money, too. He grinned as he patted the reassuring lump of coins cunningly hidden in a vest pocket.
“I’m the only son of Josephine Buffrum,” he said, “the third-largest rancher on the southwestern branch of Dammas Rivulet. I suppose that isn’t impressive to someone from … where exactly are you from?”
Ebbril reached across the table to touch his elbow. His skin tingled. “It sounds very impressive, Tresky.”
“I’ve always yearned for freedom and adventure. And for travel.”
“I like to travel, too.”
“You must, to be so far from … wherever you’re from.”
“More wine, Tresky?”
“But I haven’t fishinined … finished what’s in my cup.”
“You’d best drink up, then.”
He took a sip. “I wanted to see places beyond Dammas Valley. Places I’d discovered myself, places unknown to my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother. And, you know, make memories that’d bring a smile to my lips when I’m old.” He hiccupped, then grinned. “Never told anybody that before. Make any sense?”
“Actually, it does.”
“You sound surprised.”
Ebbril stared toward the window, her cheeks ruddy in the sunset. “I guess we have more in common than I thought.”
“I’ll drink to that.” In one swallow, he finished off his cup, then reached for the bottle.
“Let me pour, so you don’t spill wine all over the table.”
“And onto your creamy white gown. Then you’d have to…” He giggled. “Take it off.”
“And we don’t want that, do we?”
“Uh … don’t we?”
Tresky scratched his chin. “Why not?”
“Because now that we’re married, you’ll have to pay to replace wine-stained gowns.”
“True. And us Gasparres are world-renowned for our thriffy … thriftiness. But I’m sure you’ve heard that.”
“And, uh …” He winked, or tried to. “You know what else we’re renowned for.”
“Aw … everybody on Jones knows.”
Ebbril covered his hand with hers. “You haven’t kissed me yet, Tresky.”
He planted both hands on the table, rose to his feet, and leaned toward her. “We’re known for undying loyalty to our wives. One-woman men, foreffer. It’s in our blood. We’re romantic fools.”
What with the room spinning and Ebbril coughing because of his spiced-mutton breath, they never did kiss. Tresky consoled himself with a swig of wine.
“You certainly can hold a lot of wine,” she said.
“Thish is more than usual, but yeah. Us Gasparres never get drung. Drunk, I mean.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that.”
“Really? Always thought that was jush local blushter, not truth.” He belched again, but turned away first. “Where you from, Ebbril? I can’t place your accent or your looks.”
“Where do you think I’m from?”
“By your light skin, northwest somewhere. Actually …” In a fit of bashfulness he stared into his cup, which had somehow refilled itself. “Without meaning any offense, I find myself won’erin’ if you’re a Pilk.”
Ebbril cocked her head to one side.
“Am I right? You a Pilk from the coast of the Square Sea?”
“What have you heard about Pilks, Tresky?”
He screwed up his face, trying to squint at memories through a fog of alcohol. “Not much. ‘S too far away. Never met a Pilk. Never knew anyone who had.”
“You’re right, Tresky. I’m a Pilk.”
For a moment he was speechless. Then he exploded, drumming his fists on the table and howling. “I married a Pilk! I married a Pilk!”
“Tresky, control yourself.”
He stopped drumming, but let out another howl. “Glory to the Diggers, on my first day in the city I meet a Pilk and on the second day I marry her. A Pilk! Whooha!” He shot to his feet to do the Shearing Dance, but a spinning head changed his mind. Instead, he leered at Ebbril’s bosom. She frowned as though worried his noise might bring complaints. But he’d given the innkeeper a huge tip–well, at least a tip–to ensure against interruptions.
“What,” Ebbril demanded, “have you heard about Pilks?”
“Only what ever’one knows.”
“Oh …” He giggled. “You know.”
She lowered her lashes, then looked at him with an expression warm enough to kindle the wood of the table. “Come on, Tresky lad. What have you heard?”
“Tresky lad.” He giggled again. “Boy, oh boy, am I gonna get it tonight. Whooha!”
“Tresky.” The word was louder than her usual throaty purr.
“Okay, okay. I’ve heard that Pilks are sort of like us Gasparres, ‘cept opposite. Gasparres are dreamy romantics given to sloppy poetry and staying virgins until they marry, and then staying fateful … uh, faithful forever.”
Ebbril stared as though seeing him for the first time. “You’re a virgin?”
“Well …” He made himself speak slowly, so the words would behave themselves like a flock under the watchful gaze of a sheep-lizard. “I suppose to a Pilk, whose people’ve raised sexual pleasure to its highest, most intense, most sophissicated levels–”
“To a Pilk, I shuppose being a virgin at twenty-two is a disgrace. But here–up in Gasparre, I mean–it’s bein’ a Pilk what’s scandalous.” Tresky winked at her with both eyes. “But I won’t hold your ‘sperience against you. Just be gentle wi’ me.”
He reached for her, but bumped the bottle of wine instead. It toppled over. As a puddle formed under his nose, he giggled, imagining the wine spilling onto Ebbril’s dress and her removing it very Pilkily.
Then the room went dark, though he never heard the click of the light switch.
Virtrillica-ank-9428-seeble faced the sunset, holding her head as still as ancient muscles allowed. When she was a second-stage child, she’d looked with disdain and laughter at broadcasts that quivered and shook. Now that she sojourned among the amusing humans during her fifth and final stage of life, Virtrillica prided herself on holding her gaze as still as possible, so youngsters of the People viewing her broadcasts could learn through her eyes without distraction or laughter.
“Look up there,” a female human said. “A Sloth.”
“Ah,” a man answered. “I told you they wouldn’t look much like cats. They’re too big. And those four front arms! Absurd.”
Without moving, Virtrillica determined from footsteps and accents that two Offworlders stood on the cobbled road below the slothporch. The human owner of a restaurant had built the slothporch to attract the People, who in turn attracted tourists visiting Offie Town. Virtrillica rippled the spines of her crest; the movement spun a mental feeler in the Offworlders’ direction.
They were just arrived on Jones from the world called Wisdom. He was a trader in pharmaceutical mushrooms, fleeing the death of ten children treated with impure mushrooms. She, his half-sister and mistress, felt damned by their relationship. She’d bought a souvenir knife an hour ago to extract revenge while her brother/seducer slept. After one last incestuous orgy.
But the knife was one of those odd lies-to-self unique to humans. The woman had no courage to use it. Her story held pathos but no drama.
“Say what, Mr. Sloth,” the man called, “may we take your picture?”
He expected her to speak? This Offworlder was more ignorant than most.
Virtrillica ignored the humans. Instead, she wondered what she should broadcast tomorrow. Unmoving except for her crest, she felt around for story threads while the ignorant Offworlder clicked his camera. The man told her to hold still, then laughed at his puerile joke. His foolishness was unworthy of her notice.
Offie Town was jammed with humans, as wormships filled with tourists now landed daily, rather than monthly. The jabbering chaos of too many human thoughts made Virtrillica dizzy. Most humans were boring, however, and her awareness floated over them without alighting. Only after several minutes did her crest tickle with a premonition of importance.
In a hotel room some blocks away, a pale young woman poked the shoulder of an unconscious drunk. Interesting, although Virtrillica wasn’t sure why. The man was of the Gasparre tribe and hence familiar. The woman, not.
The tickle in Virtrillica’s crest was strong. So strong that intuition tinged it with a blue, metallic-tasting aura that thrilled her with its vibrancy. Discovering a new story thread that might amuse the People would be a remarkable feat for such an old, near-death female.
Virtrillica’s hopes soared. Tomorrow she would observe these two.