Meet The Relatives by Lynda Williams, is the touching story of very Demish Dela's adventures in Red Reach. Illustrations are by Richard Bartrop.
The Dueling Floor
Then they burst into an open space, and Dela's brain emptied of everything else.
The room was centered on a bared, circular dueling floor, but that was all that looked familiar to her.
People stood or sprawled on mattresses, ringing it, looking as they were camped there. Tents on the risers around the edges looked semi-permanent. But most surprising were the writhing metal net of seats and bars that scaled every wall. The variation in this vertical jungle gym had Dela's eyes darting around excitedly, unsure if anything so alien could be beautiful. The walls themselves were honeycombed with caves, their mouths draped in colored rugs that displayed a typically Vrellish abhorrence for repeating patterns. The colors swirled, evolved and blended into one another. People sat in the cave mouths with children peeking over adult shoulders.
Eight doors gave off the huge, round chamber, covered with rugs worked in house braid and devices. Dela guessed the station housed eight clans, just like Fountain Court's hearths back on Gelion.
"See that one, there," Vras told her, using a commoner gender, pol-case pronoun, but pointing towards a man with a big, naked pot belly who sat cross-legged at the far edge of the dueling floor. "That's Frog. The local chief stationer. He sometimes hoards food, but that's old news. Last week he barred Liege Fital's clan from dock until he'd taken ten of her people hostage as a guarantee of honorable conduct. Fital is a rel sword, notorious for killing when she doesn't have to. She's defeated four highborns most people are sure about. But there's rumors she's been gambling her rebirth, so we're here anyhow."
"Word is Fital's not above killing without honor. But she has kin who won't believe that."
"Gambling her ...?" Dela repeated, bewildered. Frog looked very much like a commoner, and commoner revolts were not an option in the world she came from. She had never even heard of such a thing as a 'Chief Stationer'. A regular space station had a Station Master. Most of all, consideration of the opposition's dueling prowess seemed premature. Hadn't this business just started?
"That's about all we know, for sure," Vras told her, as if it mattered. "But Vretla figures there are locals too scared to talk. Word is Fital's not above killing without honor. But she has kin who won't believe that. Understand?"
"Um," said Dela, thinking she would have to drag him into one of the caves, pull down its riotous rug, and talk for hours before she could claim as much.
"Good!" said Vras.
He freed her blond curls from the flight hood pressing them down and loosened the front of her flight suit, smiling at the sight of the lacy bra she'd insisted on putting back on before Rilt was done squeezing her into the flight suit.
"Vras!" Dela squeaked. She hotly aware they were being watched.
"You're sweating," he explained himself, slicking a finger up the inside curve of one breast to capture proof.
Dela's ears buzzed.