The fever set in later that night. They had gotten the theater projector working that week and were watching an aria. They settled on the leather couch, with colorful cushions scattered about them.. Arie sprawled next to Lauranya, her head in her mother’s lap, with hair still wet from their shower. Both were listening raptly as the singer’s incredible voice hit note after note.
Arie listened to her mother sing along softly, hitting the notes better than the singer. She felt a thrum from both her mother and the other singer, racing along her spine and in her head.. The aria made her chest bones vibrate but mommy’s song was in her head, making her want to sing along. So she hummed, while Lauranya petted her hair, fingers teasing out small knots from the washing.
“Mommy, your skin is hot!” Arie said, lifting her head from her mother’s bare leg, putting a cool hand where her head had just rested.
Lauranya looked down at her blond haired child, with a frown. She placed a hand on her forehead then Arie’s, then back to her forehead.
“Oh.” Lauranya got up swiftly, heading to medical.
“Mommy?” Arie trailed behind, keeping up with her fast paced mother.
“I need to take my temperature.” Lauranya stopped in the doorway. “Arie.” She shook her head before starting again. “Arie, if something happens to me you’ll have to take over.”
“Like when you were injured from the whiskered cat.” Arie’s eyes started to glisten with unshed tears, her voice rising a little higher.
Lauranya only hesitated a second, but confirmed Arie’s fear with a firm nod. “Just like that.” She found the drawer with the thermometer. Her hands shaking, she placed the small circular pad behind her ear, then pulling the sensor pad’s connecting wire over her shoulder. The fever spiking at 102.4.
“Mommy?” Arie stood at the door, with hunched shoulders and her hands behind her back, like a toddler getting caught with a stolen cookie.
“It is ok, love.” Lauranya took a deep breath, keeping her tone light. “I am running a bit of a fever. What would you prescribe?” She pulled the sensor pad from her skin, clearing the monitor before putting both back in the drawer with a soft thump.
Arie looked to the ceiling, tilting her chin up before speaking. “Hmm…cold water, rest and the red fever stuff? Like the stuff you give me when I got fevers.”
“Very good. I,” Lauranya motioned to herself “am going to go to bed. I would like you to keep a close eye on me, but do not neglect your homework or the animals please.”
“What about the plants?”
“This should not be anything more than a ship day of fever, so the plants should” The “should” rattled through Lauranya’s brain, like a warning claxon of Babaluaye laughter. “be ok. If this does not run the projected course, then you will have to take over the plants on top of all else.”
“Do you think you will want anything to eat while sick? I know I usually don’t like foods.” Arie’s second favorite place, the kitchen.
Lauranya had to think on this for a moment. “Noni would make an excellent rabbit soup. Not a lot in it but broth and meat. Just broth for someone too sick to chew.” Lauranya didn’t finish the thought on what happened to those who couldn’t eat after a week on the ships. Arie already had more nightmares than a child her age should.
“I can make a great rabbit soup! Those sweet white roots and some of the peas. Both…” Arie ready to start on a new adventure in the kitchen.
“Arie. Arie.” Lauranya leaned forward, while speaking. The motion and the words intensity got the child’s attention. “Whatever you make will be good. Just remember I may not be able…” Lauranya’s voice caught for just a second. So slight, that she didn’t think Arie had caught the hesitation. “be able to eat. I need you to keep it simple.”
“No white root? You love those.”
“I do! Go with the sweet roots, well chopped, and the peas. Those both cook down soft enough that not much chewing will be necessary.”
“I’ll cut the meat up into very small pieces too!”
“A good idea.” Lauranya felt a chill run down her spine, raising bumps along her arms and legs. Her teeth started to chatter. “I am going to take a hot shower and then crawl into bed.”
“Mommy?” Arie’s eyes were bright with tears. One trickled down her cheek, hastily wiped away with the back of a hand, run haphazardly over a young cheek.
Lauranya rushed forward kneeling, ignoring the dizziness for the moment. “Oh, baby. I am just having a small reaction to the fish’s spine venom. Hopefully it is nothing major, just an inconvenience. Do not worry.” touching the wet smear on Arie’s cheek. “I just need you to do a little extra please.” She gave Arie her best reassuring smile “Your soup sounds delicious. It will be just what I need.”
“You sure, mommy?” Arie wasn’t talking about the soup.
“Positive.” Lauranya nodded firmly, but staggered slightly getting to her feet as she began to shiver. “Time for that hot shower though!”
“I’ll get it running for you!” Arie gave her mother a quick hug, before running out of the lab office, bounding a flight of stairs to their rooms.
“Thank you, Yemoja, for a quick witted child.” Lauranya breathed, standing up, to a wave of dizziness. Lauranya contemplated the walk to the shower. “One step then another.” She muttered carefully matching footsteps to the words. Her bed seemingly miles from where she stood.
The fever wracked her with chills, and then a burning so intense she threw off the blankets piled deep, soaking sweat into the bedding. The dreams though, those were the worst. Tine and the boys, laughing as they were floating through space, burning even in the vacuum, their skin flaking into dust with bright smiles and brighter eyes. Maison caught the dust to fling at the faceless men and women who danced on the wires between the apartments of her family home. Blood scattering on the floor and walls as the wires cut into the dancing bare feet. Arie squatted on the bottom floor of the apartments, drenched in red, as water began to seep in. Lauranya couldn’t reach Arie, as the water filled up over the child’s head. Arie continued to calmly plant the seedlings in metal floor tiles. The seedlings looked eerily like the dead scientist and their children. Their small green bodies waving like seaweeds to and fro in an underwater garden.
Lauranya jerked awake when Arie’s seedlings grew to the size of toddlers and started to walk out of the ship apartments. The sheets, drenched in sweat and her sleep shirt. The shirt so salt encrusted and clinging, making her itchy. “Stop it.” She whispered fiercely to herself. “The dead are gone.” Her throat burned and scratched, hurting with every attempt to swallow.
Lauranya tried to get out of bed. Sitting up made her whimper as her joints caught on fire. Any movement, no matter how small, hurt like a whipping wheal 15 seconds after the first lash hit. A hiss and a roll to her side, she tried to get her legs over the side of the bed.
“No, love. Stay in bed. I’ll get Arie to come to you.” Maison’s deep voice resounded through her head. She felt his large hand on her fevered brow.
“You are dead, Maison. You died on the world-ship.” Lauranya said querulously. “You are not here.” Lauranya brushed a hand through empty air to move his hand. The voice so resounding, she half expected to feel the resistance of flesh.
“True. Yet here I am, and you, my little mouse, need to stay in bed.” Maison laughed, flicking the tip of her nose as he had been wanted to do. “Stay in bed, love, and I will get Arie.”
Lauranya could not budge from the weight of his ghostly hand. She glared up at him. More of a squint as light filtered through the curtains, causing more pain.
“Gods love Maison, move, please. I cannot stay and dream.” She whispered, looking into Maison’s dark eyes, shattered with the bright flecks. Beautiful and full of love those eyes.
“I’ll stay with you so your dreams are better.”
“You are not here.” This time Lauranya managed to sit up, throwing one leg over the edge of the bed. She promptly fell on her face, when the floor rushed up to meet her. The motion of the leg over the bed rolled her faster than she could compensate for.
“Oww!” Lauranya felt her face gingerly, her right hand running over her face searching for pain or blood. Pain yes, blood no. She climbed slowly and painfully back into bed.
“Stubborn woman.” Maison said fondly, as he helped her back up. He pulled the covers over her, putting a cool cloth on her brow.
“Still not here.” She whispered, but didn’t take her eyes off of him.
“Do you really want me to leave?” That smile, a flash of white teeth through soft velvet black skin, warm to the touch, her treacherous memory whispered. Her heart squeezed in heartache.
Lauranya pushed herself up to her knees. Maison hunched in front of her, wearing his training loin cloth. His skin looked sweat slicked, with the occasional patch of sand, from the training ground. Grandfather had been so proud of being able to have an actual sand training ground, instead of hard metal flooring. “Less injurious.” He said, framing the cost beneficially.
Lauranya’s hand shook, as she reached over to brush sand from his broad shoulder. The sand flecked off with the touch of her hand. His dark skin, warm under her touch, covered muscles that bunched and released like silk over steel.
“I do not want to marry your brother.” Lauranya whispered, ignoring what reality had already dictated. Believing in this moment, a need stronger than the pain.
“I’m sorry, love. That’s history now. I’m only here for a short while.” Maison kissed her on the forehead.
“No. Please. Stay, do not leave me.” Pleadingly, she leaned forward wrapping both arms around her lover’s chest, so broad that her hands could barely reach all the way around.
Maison rocked her back and forth, comfortingly. Much the way she had rocked all four of her children, when they were sick or in need of comfort. Lauranya melted into his arms, refusing to contemplate anything other than this moment. Lauranya drifted back to sleep.
“Mommy. Mommy.” Arie’s hand on Lauranya’s brow roused her from dreams of her love. Lauranya felt her child’s touch, as electric pulses to the skin. Painful. The pulses racing along her nerves. Maison was a dream, she realized. He died, never to return to her. The pain of loss, from his second leaving, cut through her, almost as sharp as the first time she lost him. Lauranya shook her head trying, and failing, to stop the flow of tears.
“I’m sorry, mommy! I didn’t mean to hurt you!” Arie’s face scrunched, at her mother’s obvious pain.
“No, baby. I had bad dreams.” Lauranya croaked. “Dreams of loss and pain. It is not you.” She gently touched Arie’s cheek, giving the child a wan smile.
“I love you, mommy.” Arie tried to give her mother a hug. Lauranya accepted the hug weakly, loving her child but wishing for her dreams. Lauranya looked away for a moment with that thought. She knew not even Ori, the god of destiny, could have changed her life course after she had fallen in love with Maison.
“I love you, too.” Lauranya whispered, tasting salt. “What have you brought me?” She asked, sniffing the air as a fragrant smell cut through pain and dreaming fogginess.
“I brought you some soup. Mostly broth but I also have some tea, sweetened with honey.” Arie said, vibrating in place. She pointed carefully to the soup and cup she had set on the stand, before waking her mother.
“They smell divine.” Lauranya tried to sit up, but the pain of her joints had not been a dream. The burning ripping pain felt all too real, causing her to whimper as she struggled upright.
“Don’t sit up, mommy! Jacks said you were hurting a lot and I should try for a straw.” Arie scolded gently, as she pulled the blankets back over her mother’s chilled body.
“There are straws?” Lauranya panted, from the brief effort of sitting up.
“Reed straws…and plastic ones. But I thought you would want to try out the reed ones first!” Arie gave a conspiratorial whisper. Real plant or animal items were still a novelty to them both.
Lauranya gave a delighted ghost of a laugh, at the idea of trying an item of a God. Arie lifted the soup first, for her mother to taste. The bowl was filled halfway, with a clear slightly green tinged soup. next to Lauranya. A large wooden reed, as thick as a man’s pinky with many joints along the length, within reach for easy sipping. Lauranya took a cautious sip. The soup tasted amazing, rich with flavor and fat slipping across her tongue.
Arie moved the soup after a few sips, to bring the mug within her mother’s reach. A second straw for the tea. Lauranya sipped slowly. The tea tasted sweet, yet floral with spicy taste rolling from the tongue to the back of the throat. The honey coating in a soothing wave, easing her swollen throat. Her stomach did a slow roil with the first few sips, causing her to waive off any more.
“That’s not a lot, mommy.” Arie gave her mother a stern frown. The exact same one Lauranya had given her on those times Arie felt she didn’t have to try new foods or pick up her room.
“You will be cleaning up the contents of my stomach, off the bed and floor if I take any more.” Lauranya said with a ghost of a laughter, at her strong willed child.
“Yuck!” Arie had to think for a moment. “Would you like some cold water? Would that help more?”
Lauranya closed her eyes, letting out a tired breath. “It might, baby, but later. I just need more sleep.” Her voice a whisper, as an uneasy sleep claimed her again.
Arie tiptoed out with the bowl and cup. The door she left open in case her mother might call for her.
Lauranya dreamed the surreal again. She watched herself move the covers aside, her hands flexing and lengthening. Her nails extended into sharp crescent claws, shredding the bedding as she pulled herself into a more comfortable position. Dark hair sprouted along her skin. She rubbed her cheek along her bare shoulder. The fur felt warm and soft against her skin.
The fur felt even better than the one and only spider silk dress she had owned when living on the ship. The one she traded for higher favor, for consideration to be on this assignment with Tine, when she had still cared, her dream-self thought muzzily, enjoying the feeling of stretching muscles. The next thought was that she should have kept the dress and left Tine to his own devices on this Gods cursed planet.
She watched as her feet lengthened, changing in ways only dreams could. Good for dancing, she thought admiring the incredibly high arches. Her toe nails emerged as she flexed her toes. Crescent nails like her hands. She felt herself smile, thinking how nice the nails would be for climbing trees with Arie.
There had been one world, where Lauranya had worked on for a short while, where indoor parks held huge blue skinned trees. Thick trunks that split into multiple trunks at a low level, easy for children and adults to climb. The leaves were a deep green with veins of blue the size of a woman’s hand. The boys had been young enough to be tractable to their mother’s words, that letting them in the park to climb had been a joy.
Her dream saw her curled up in the trunk of a tree, her dark fur brilliant against the blue tree trunks with a tail flicking lazily in the warm evening air. Arie’s laughter infections, as she jumped and skipped along the low branches, alight with soft incandescent lights. Mother and daughter enjoying life.
The fever lingered as did the pain in her joints and muscles over the next week. Lauranya got out of bed, but only for a few minutes at a time. Her stomach took more time to settle, than the swelling in her joints.
Her dreams were far more mundane after the initial fever. Dreaming of life in the old apartments. Plain plastic and grey tiled walls with metal doors. Sterile. The brightest colors were where Arie had colored childish pictures on the walls and not been wiped off as of yet.
She went to knock on Tine’s bedroom door. The dream providing vivid details she would rather have forgotten like the rhythmic grunting, telling her he was busy with Micha. Lauranya’s dream self-noted she had not thanked Tine’s mother for the body slave. Anything to keep him from her, a blessing from Oba, for marital bliss. A thought wound its way that Tine could have used the training body slaves received to help with his singular lack of skills in bed with her, but he never bothered learning only receiving. Selfish man.
Lauranya shrugged, cracked open the door so that her voice could be heard but she didn’t interrupt. “Tine, we need to get to your lab for closing procedures, while Micha packs.”
“Be…done…moment…arily.” The grunting reply.
Lauranya saw herself roll her eyes, as she moved on to the twin’s room. The boys only a few inches shorter than their mother, yelling in their room with crashing sounds, creating havoc again. She walked in as they were jumping on and over their beds, slamming into walls as they tried to tag one another. Blankets and clothes strewn about the room, as if looters had torn through looking for anything precious but finding only dross.
“You two need to pack clothes. Any items you want to take on the shuttle today.” Lauranya said, ignoring the room’s mess as an unnecessary fight anymore.
“What Micha is for!” One snapped, evading his brother’s tagging hand slap, only to slip on a pillow, falling between the twin sized beds with a thud. Both boys giving shrieks of laughter, grating even in the dream.
“Micha is packing your father’s clothing and mine. If you want anything to go with you, you will need to bestir yourself and get it done.” Lauranya snapped, eyes flashing as she put hands on her hips. The boys had long since gone from precocious to stupidly dangerous in what they said.
“We’ll tell dad!” They shouted in unison.
“Yeah, dad said we aren’t sand piss so don’t need to do anything you say!” The closer one sneered at his mother, with the age old insult for a slave born pit fighter.
Lauranya moved with speed, catching the boys unaware. She caught the closer son by surprise. her slap hit his cheek with an open palm, hitting hard enough to stagger him against his twin. “You will pack and you will start now. Anything you do not pack will not go with you nor will I bring it. You can wear slave tunics for all I give to the void.” Lauranya chewed out, through gritted teeth. Her voice dropped a few degrees as she stood straight, looking down at her two unmanageable children.
Their eyes narrowed dangerously, like a pack of hunting dogs. They saw their mother as prey outnumbered, one to two odds. Lauranya saw that looked, meeting it with narrowed eyes of her own. She may not have been trained to fight but she knew the basics, something Tine had forbidden his sons from learning.
Lauranya shifted her stance, altering her hands and arms slightly. The boys looked at each other. They had charged their mother once a few months back, thinking their father would protect them and their mother soft. Lauranya had given them the physical punishment she saw fit. Neither had been able to sit for a day. The bruises stood out, even on their dark skin, for four days more.
The lesson had sunk in. “Yes, mother.” Their sullen reply. The boys pouted, looking at the floor. They would mutter more insults when she left; however Lauranya felt pretty sure they would have (badly) packed bags for the shuttle. That was all Lauranya cared about, too tired to fight to keep them from trouble anymore.
She turned on her heels, heading back into the living room, where she bumped into her half-dressed and livid husband.
“Why are you yelling at the boys?” His chin stuck out, as he pulled up his pants, tightening his belt. His hands caressed the metal buckle.
Lauranya tilted her head, with narrowed eyes at the implied threat. “Your sons seem to think themselves Gods. They are now packing.” She continued towards the bedrooms, moving past him, flinching in distaste as skin touched skin.
Tine snagged her arm on the way past, with one hand still on his belt. “Damn it, Lauranya! We aren’t arena slaves. The boys are only being…”
Dream-Lauranya did not let him finish. “Dangerous. They can and will be collared if they slack on their exams. Oh wait, they already are!” She faced him with clenched fists. “When they realize how important those tests are it will be too late! They are one outburst in class, from being reevaluated and downgraded. You” She poked a finger in his thin bare chest. “have given them an inflated self of importance. I wash my hands of them, on the next assignment. Their training and behavior is now on you.” She poked him in the chest again, her voice low and barely controlled. “Just you! You may explain to your family how you let the pride and joy of your loins become menial slaves.” She turned her back on him, walking into the split bedrooms, gently closing the door. No need to advertise to the other occupants on the same hallway level, another fight occurring.
Tine didn’t let the argument go. He poked his head into her bedroom. “Yes, I do spoil them but then again you spoil Arie.” His voice went softer, mellower. Conciliatory.
“Arie is just a baby!” Lauranya snapped her head up from her own drawer of clothes, looking him in the face.
“And what did your vaunted and scary grandfathers doing at her size?” Tine’s lips quirked, as his eyes bored into hers. He walked into her space, taking up the small area with arms akimbo.
Lauranya said grudgingly, turning to face him with arms crossed. “Studying katas and using small daggers for the children fights.” She let out a sigh. “I hate it when you bring up facts.
Tine chuckled. “I will try to spoil the boys less if you try with Arie.”
Lauranya thought on this for only a moment. The best deal of a bad situation, better than the whipping stocks for the boys. “Deal.” She said, tilting her head slightly in acknowledgement of his win. Tine gave her a quick hug, trying for minimal goodwill. Lauranya tried not to shudder.
She waited until hearing the shower head startup, before moving to Tine’s room, seeing how much still needed to be packed.
Micha had rolled out of the bed as Lauranya entered, struggling into her plain gray shift. Her thin arms were trembling hard enough that finding the arm holes in the light shift were proving elusive.
“Stop. Stop, Micha.” Lauranya said, in a soothing voice, stepping next to the girl. Micha turned huge eyes to her owner’s wife. Lauranya remembered frowning at how thin the girl had gotten. Cheek bones standing out starkly against pale skin. The shaved head didn’t lessen the impact of skin covering bones.
The teeth marks on the slave’s skin made Lauranya hiss in sympathy. The girl’s arms, neck and chest bore Tine’s ardor. Some were only red, fading, while others were bruising. Some were new bites on top of old bites. Tine had only bitten Lauranya once. She regretted her family not being able to afford to get the marriage contract nullified at the time. Tine’s mother stepped in with the body slave, to deal with his sexual proclivities and enjoyment, which his wife was unwilling to provide. Gods hell she would not, her dreaming self-thought with a snort of annoyance.
Lauranya helped Micha get into the shift, saying only “At least his teeth didn’t break skin this time.”
Micha nodded, looking to the floor. Lauranya stifled her sigh. Neither of them could do much more, but Lauranya would do what she could to alleviate some of the pain. Tine had never learned to treat his slaves like thinking tools who felt or as real people. A short sight of his upbringing as a free man.
“Okay, girl. When Tine has left with the boys, shower and clean up, put the bruise ointment on. That should help ease some of the pain. Then pack the basics into the travel bags for him. When I have left with Arie for the day, there are leftovers from last night. Eat all that you want and need.”
“The master has told me no food today.” The girl’s voice was as soft as her skin, eyes on the floor.
“Are you planning on telling him?” Lauranya asked, with a smile to take out the tartness of her rebuke. Tine abused the girl enough. No sense adding more. Micha gave a shy shake of her head and a tiny smile.
“Shall I pack for the boys as well?” Micha asked, looking nervously towards the shower.
“Those two are to pack themselves. Do not let them tell you differently. Hear me?” Lauranya said, waspishly with a glare towards the boys’ room. She shook her head, breathing through her nose to calm down.
“Yes, Lady.” Micha went still. Lauranya pinched the bridge of her nose, knowing she had startled the girl again.
The sound of the shower stopping woke Lauranya up, to her bedroom and the sound of rain pounding on the window. Arie hummed happily in the bathroom.
“Home. No more Tine.” Lauranya whispered. She snuggled into her covers enjoying the sounds of her happy child.