Party Time is a novel set in the World of Zekira. Copyright 2004 Lethe and Droppin the Fork Productions. All rights reserved, no copying for any reason.
Party Time

Mirage moved through the party as her name implied, only much more loudly than the newcomers to the circle had expected. They had heard she'd be there until the Races started in the late afternoon.
She was always at the best parties. And this one was hers, anyway, so she had all the bets on her side. She also had all the High Holders, Breeders and Animal Masters money (or in her case, beauty) could attract.
They, on the other hand, the newcomers, had no experience with them. It was starting to show on the younger Membayar's face most. He was cut out for making deals and sealing bargains, like much of this crowd. Any Membayar was expert in these things, everything fairly cut and dried: sign here, affect this. But in this case, the deals were so unclear, the bargains were made seemingly in the wink of an eye and the slight piff noise someone would make after a slanderous statement had been said. Slack-jawed, then, this young example of Zekiran Bond Education stood and watched this amazing new thing called a Party. Watched and learned.
There was music was currently coming from an ancient mechanical device, programmed by long curled metal sheets with holes in it: the only difference from normal player pianos was that this one had been amplified and was also connected to a strange machine that altered the sounds every once in a while and provided a reverberating beat behind the plink-plunking. (Mirage was known to collect such things, this piano was rumored to be one of the Original Colonists' posessions, but no one dared believe that a player piano would last for ten thousand years... not even one of superb construction such as this one.) A largish platform stood by the long eastern wall, and there were indications that this was a stage to be used later on in the party.
There were dancers scattered around the huge room, finding the music easy to move to if not actually pleasant to listen to. A head count was nearly impossible, with the motion in the room and the fact that there were some fifty other rooms in this gigantic mansion, most of which were occupied at any given moment. Some of the people at the party uniformly held themselves with such an air that they were nearly unapproachable to those without the aggressive spirit needed to match it.
Haesh Chanay and his brother Osh were, in his opinion, clearly out of their element. The younger turned to the elder, and searched the crowd for their friend Bepa. She had to be there, they heard her loud chattering laugh. She was why they had come at all, she'd just recently been Raised from her first Slave status into Animal Mastery and the invitation sent from Mirage's estate allowed her to bring friends.
"She's over there," Osh said and with his typical movement tossed his head at that general area. The long horns on his head made the display one that people watched suddenly. To the uninformed, he could be wearing an exotic animal mask, unobtrusive to his face, but the great horns elegantly standing from his high forehead were clearly heavy and his upon actually looking (and also upon looking, that heavy nature meant that his neck was quite formidably built -- an attraction point to some). They were a slate-green grey color, rather like his nails, which if people noticed at all they never commented on them. Unlike his younger brother, however, Osh didn't mind the scrutiny. Haesh fell into the background immediately, when a pair of women came striding their way.
"What have we here?" One said, she was clearly much younger than the other and fabulously more beautiful. She was leggy and the high cut of her burgundy dress dramatically showed off the fact that she had a very long tail. It wrapped around her ankles when she stopped, and Haesh couldn't help but noticing that she also had hoof-feet, like he did. The tail continued to sweep around, of its own accord.
The older of the pair arriving appraised the brothers with a Breeder's eye: the men both immediately recognized that look. Her face was horribly scarred, but she held herself with such ease and grace that neither man wanted to look away from her, or even look with disgust. It was rare that a Breeder or healer kept scars, didn't they have means to remove them?
"We have here," the older, orange-skinned woman said, "a pair of wonderful creations, new to my eyes but I suspect they ought to become quite regular features. Might I ask who you're Bred by?"
Rather forward, Haesh thought.
His brother offered, "Lord Breeder Enash."
"Oh," the tall bold elder woman said, and looked to her companion with a rise to her thin maroon eyebrow. The impossibly pale lavender skin of the other woman was brought dramatically out by her rich black hair which tumbled over her shoulder stylishly. The tail too sported her pale skin color, but was trimmed with a delicate fringe of that same black hair. Normally the thought of someone having even a tail would have repulsed the brothers (they though -- they had horns, who were they to judge?) but this particular one was entrancing. Haesh attempted not to stare at it, and was failing.
"Enash tried a line of Tuned?" She of the beautiful tail said, and while the women seemed in their own world, the men continued to appraise them. As long as they stood their ground, either of them realized, they would be safe from any kind of ridicule. They both expected it. They'd both heard stories of such things happening on a regular basis: young ignorant hick Membayars or 'LandMasters invited unwittingly to the best of parties, only to be torn to social shreds by these vixens and their sharp tongued men.
The elder woman pointed to Haesh gently, "would you consider testing with me for Breeding? I have a specialty in animal Tunings and I can sense that you've got some potential."
"I've..." Haesh started, shaken from his fearful reverie, but his brother typically butted in.
"He'd be glad to," Osh said. "Just name the time and place. I can have him there in a moment." He leapt at any chance, didn't he? Haesh thought. Osh handed the woman his company card.
The women, amused, turned to one another and simply smiled.
"Then bring the poor boy to my Ri'iri facility when he has the time," the elder said kindly while seeing that the card displayed the fact that Osh Chanay was a travel agent and Bonder of all transportation needs. Her voice was deeper than most females', but not unpleasant. Not as rough as Bepa's, clearly practiced and fine. If she spent a lot of time at...The Ri'iri facility--
They both thought at the same moment: The Ri'iri facility. The best.
For wasn't it Morgontain the BeastLady that was known for her wildlands hunting park, and the finest racing staff? The Ri'iri facility had produced every Tuned mutant either brother had ever heard of that was anyone.
So if this was Morgontain, they looked to one another for inspiration as to who the other woman was.
"This one has some interesting potential himself," Morgontain said to her lithe companion. But her eyes were still somewhat greedily wandering over Haesh and not Osh, as her hand had indicated.
"They're about as opposite as brothers can get, apart from their skin," another voice broke their concentration on the pair of women. It was Bepa's, she slid between the brothers and laughed loudly again. "I'm so glad this place has high ceilings!"
Morgontain and her beautiful companion looked at one another, and suddenly laughed with the coarse woman. Bepa had yellow skin tinted a tiny bit green, with darker blue-green hair and nicely complimentary green eyes. They were intelligent, those eyes, much more so than the woman's otherwise low Status actions might indicate. The Breeders immediately saw this, it was a feature both looked for.
"You are wonderful," Morgontain said. "Come with me, I'd like you to meet someone." Bepa obeyed, at first out of automatic response to having been commanded, and then visibly hesitated -- giving herself an option she'd never had. She could in fact decline to go with this Breeder, because she was now free.
But hers was to opt for the obvious: being seen with Morgontain (whom she'd heard was there from one of the other rather friendly Breeders in attendance) was Status in itself.
Bepa wondered blandly if the pair understood her joke at all, about the ceilings? They were typically dense about such things, those boys, Osh less so with her jokes and Haesh usually the unwitting recipient of laughter. Being that they both had horns and Osh's were in fact pretty tall, she figured they would get it soon enough. She caught another glimpse of the pair from over her shoulder, while making sure that she really was where -- and who -- she was now. She pondered: Haesh was timid and pretty and totally shadowed by his pale brother. At least it seemed that the younger one was getting attention from the pretty lavender woman with the tail, and that was a good sign that he'd be attending another of these parties if all went well. Or at the very least that he'd be invited to attend. If he would have the guts to take them up on it, that was something else entirely.
All that didn't much matter, because Morgontain slid Bepa up beside a violet and yellow skinned woman with more arms than necessary, and the young Animal Master stood as stunned as the day she had been Raised.
Haesh scanned the crowd again, attempting to recall names, or memorize faces. Colors came easily to him, and actually the partygoers who had small jewelry or pins were those he could remember best. His newly opened ability with psychometry flared briefly, each time he caught sight of this bauble or that necklace.
"Where have you been?" Osh said, breaking his brother's intense stare at the gem studded tiara-piece on a ravishing peach skinned and blue haired Lady. Haesh saw that Osh was talking (and rather roughly) to his Bayaran Kyoh. Kyoh was much taller than either brother, had orange and yellow skin where theirs was either black or white. None of them were nearly as largely built as their friend Bepa.
"This house is huge," Kyoh said, more to his Membayar than to the louder brother. "Have you seen the pools?"
"She has pools?" Haesh asked, distractedly.
"Bathing and swimming," Kyoh said and pointed at their general direction.
"Why in the world would she want to do that?" Haesh looked around, if there was a water hazard he'd like to keep away from it. Both he and his brother had been raised on grasslands no where near any coastlines. This one they could see out the gigantic window at this party, it unnerved both of them from time to time.
"Because she looks great next to them," the Bayaran finally said. He was pushing Osh's patience by being so familiar with them both, though they'd practically been family he was still close enough to Owned to make Osh growl. "Really great," he repeated dreamily.
"Do you mind holding your tongue a little?" He said, seriously. "This is her house after all."
"And she is a model and photographer herself," Kyoh said, rebelliously, to which Osh's face betrayed open anger.
"Really, Osh," Haesh said. "It's not that --"
"It's that we're here and we need to make a good impression," Osh reminded his little brother.
Suddenly he realized that the woman with the tail was still standing there.
She smiled widely, laughed, and ruffled Haesh's short white hair, her fingers played delicately around his own slender and curved horns before retreating back to her sides. It occurred to him that she knew how impossibly sensual that was: and realized that her tail had found its way around his ankle as well. If his black-toned skin could flush red with embarrassment, it would have, he was spared that; his brother -- when he could be made to blush -- didn't have that option. Haesh knew though that his eyes had just gone bright orange.
"You need to loosen up, everyone can tell you're Membayar at a 'Holder party. You don't need to try impressing people," she reminded Osh. "If you're going to make an impression it's already made by the time someone sees you."
"Then why does everyone want to talk to me?" Haesh muttered barely above a whisper. "I hardly want to make that impression." The woman laughed, her voice was so sweet and high compared to Bepa's that all three men suddenly were in love.
By contrast alone. It wasn't that they didn't like Bepa or found her unattractive, it was her rough manner and simple charm that kept them close. But this woman here, she was a pure example of high society and Breeding, obviously.
"What is your name," Haesh finally asked, when he'd found his tongue. That happened only after her tail had wound its way back to her and away from his leg.
"Amaranth," she said, simply. She had eyes that were both violet and green, darkly either, they looked over the brothers with a strange delight. And then she swayed into the crowd again, after seeing someone she undoubtedly knew and was madly in love with herself.
Haesh whispered the name, slowly. Kept it in his mouth like a fine wine. And thinking on wines... There was a small green-skinned Slave girl offering him and his brother glasses of a dark blue-violet drink, she was slowly pausing by all in the room so long as there were full glasses on her tray. The tray was huge compared to the girl, but she seemed well able to balance it. Little things like this Haesh noticed where his brother did not (and that tray had been in this family house for generations, mysteriously popped into his head).
Haesh reached for one of the glasses, long-stemmed and as elegant as the woman who owned them (he thought this only because she appeared to be gathering another crowd around herself nearby at that moment), but then stopped himself. The glasses were in fact delicate and apt to break in his hands. His clumsy hands.
He looked at them, and at the girl serving him. She smiled briefly, and gave a slight curtsey.
"I can have another kind of cup brought, Master," she said, her voice musically quiet.
"You have some that... That I could hold -- more easily?" He hesitated and glanced quickly at his hands; at home and with the presence of his family's servants he had usually been able to ignore what he considered to be a serious flaw in his body: his hands and feet were both hoofed. Here, he considered them to be a great source of shame.
"Of course," the Slave said. She tossed her yellow haired head at another corner of the room. "We usually have visitors with that design. It's nice to have more than one person using them. I'll have a glass sent immediately." She waited for the nod from the white-haired Membayar, and then was off. Haesh was still staring at the corner.
There was another man with the mutation of horns there: Endar Mailala, a High Holder. The man's horns were unlike the Chanay brother's, large and curved like a ram's. His greenish skin suddenly changed to gold, then to a bright yellow while he was switching between conversations with two passing party goers.
"It's no wonder she wants us," Osh said, seeing the same thing.
"Morgontain's donor over there. Changing colors like that, your eyes do the same thing, little brother, or didn't you know that?" It could be that, it could be the fact that he'd always been able to read the minds of beasts (and that actually constituted potential for Animal Mastery), or even the fact that they looked like animals themselves -- they'd both heard that those kinds of appearances were making a big come-back with certain circles of Breeders.
He nodded absently, thinking that there were other reasons Amaranth wanted him, not the least of which was his their similar physical nature -- something more was bothering him, there was something more to it -- and searched the party crowd again to distract himself from aching thoughts of her. Making her way through the mass of bright people was another Slave with the same yellow hair cropped close to her dark green head, this time she stopped at Endar, who took the offered mug. Then she tracked carefully around several trios of dancers, and to the Chanays.
"Sir," she curtseyed deeply. "I've been told to offer you one of these," she took the large and strangely shaped mug from her silver tray, "and to tell you that your presence is requested in the Brown room upstairs."
Osh raised his thin eyebrow and carefully tossed his head again, while his brother marvelled at this toy in his hands. Osh wanted to scream at his brother: stop being so naieve! but he had already been cowed by Amaranth's words before, and was growing more jealous than anything of all the attention being offered his brother.
Haesh's pleasant face adopted a curious expression when he grasped the mug. The mug was seemingly designed for hands exactly like Haesh's: stubby thick fingers, and not more than three of them. A clever balancing nook for the thumb-hoof made the handle complete. The wine within the mug was sweet but not as much as he expected.
"Uh," Haesh stammered, at last remembering the latter half of what the Slave had told him, "where is this Brown room?"
"The Long stairs that way," the delicate and gangly-limbed Slave pointed into the angled hallway beyond the main party room, "and three doorways down, on the right. You can't miss it: it's brown."
"Thank you," Haesh said, and he could tell his brother wanted to chastise him for thanking a Slave but it was habit, and not one Haesh was going to break easily. Particularly not into the rude direction. He steeled himself to going, and took a step, when he heard the girl politely ahem.
He turned, but it was Osh who was the embarrassed one.
"I believe it was the white haired gentleman who was offered the invitation," the Slave said, humbly looking down... But with a slight grin on her thin lips. Osh huffed but said nothing further nor anything that might offend the Slave's Owner, should she hear about it. He had been about to follow Haesh, of course, that was his own habit, being where Haesh was and usually before he got there.
Haesh smiled privately to the girl once he was certain Osh wasn't looking, and they parted. Osh grumbled to himself, leaned against the huge wooden pillar supporting the edge of the room, and watched his little brother get as lucky as he could.

Haesh strode carefully through the throng and avoided losing his drink when the dancers nearest almost plundered into his way. He found himself laughing with them, as they realized he wasn't in the dance. It wasn't just the drink which was causing this pleasant reaction, it was that he was on his way to somewhere he could probably be secluded from so many people. Relaxing in Mirage's house, there was a thought that hadn't occurred to the dark Membayar. But the people attending could also be wonderfully kind, they didn't know who he was and didn't care, if they liked him they showed it, if they didn't, he thought, they just ignored him and that was fine. Everyone ignored Haesh, it seemed, until this party.
Finding the hallway was first a thrill and then a senses-draining fear: it was absolutely possible that he could get lost in this house, it was that large. He wandered but briefly down the sharp-ceilinged hall, which was lined in the darkest red-wood paneling and trimmed with pale muskwood. To the right after several jutting turns and an opening into the major kitchen, Haesh found the Long stairs. They were wide in girth, but short in depth, and probably went half the length of the building, from what Haesh could see.
How bloody inconvenient, he found himself thinking. It's a good thing I have a glass of wine to keep me company, otherwise I'd probably die of thirst on the way to this Brown room. But the way wasn't nearly as long as he thought it would be, and the trip was visually stunning when the stairwell rose above the height of the prior floor's ceiling. There, it opened out without walls save for a short banister on either side. Below the stairwell there was a slender column here and there, twisted wood and carved into large rounded shapes. This room which the Long stair passed over and through was also occupied by several people, speaking in quiet terms and not seeming to pour out so much energy as the dancers in the glass walled room below. To the right, the whole of the wall was glass, and like the lower party room, also looked out over the Pin Gulf, only a slightly different angle was offered.
The sound of Bepa's loud laughter still came from down there, Haesh heard it and chuckled to himself. She'd be making that impression pretty well by now. But then, she only seemed to attract the people who would make good friends and not less. Those who would ignore her did so at their own risk.
When Haesh left the Long stair behind he found himself on a landing, with but one choice for a hallway to walk through. Three doorways: the first was on the left and a drapery of deepest violet covered most of it, but since the distinct sound of lovemaking was coming from beyond, Haesh walked on. The second was painted white and the archway had no obvious covering or door to separate whatever was on the other side from the hallway, but there seemed no one in the white room beyond. The third, as promised on the right, was bathed in rich brown woodwork, and had a sepia velvet hanging split down the middle and halfway tied off with a long, golden braid. Haesh took a long drink and summoned the courage to step through that soft portal.
It was slightly brighter than he expected it to be on the other side of the velvet curtain, the room was a dance of browns but not darkly so: blonde wood was braided into the reds and near-blacks around the walls. The ceiling was pale tan in color and probably not thickly done, the only wood which Haesh knew came in that shade couldn't be grown very sturdily and was usually varnished more heavily than this. (Osh's and Haesh's father was a FreeLandHolder of no small ability with woods and importing, they both knew too much about wood, or so they both claimed. At this party -- and particularly in this house -- it could suddenly become an advantage.) There were couches all around, most in yellows and a few wicker work chairs with large fluffy cushions. Several people were in the room already, not the least of which was Amaranth.
She was casually and beautifully draped over the edge of the larger and lowest of the couches near the left wall of the room, and she was speaking to a tall and openly frightening man. Haesh paused, thought about that for a moment and moved into the room more fully. Nothing obvious about his appearance: though he was possibly close to a third again as tall as Haesh -- who was a very small man, after all -- he was standing looking out of the huge window (and looking slightly discomforted there) with long deep brown fingers wrapped around themselves behind his back. Black hair draped long over his back, barely distinguished from the deeply violet robe he wore, and when he turned at the slight sound of Haesh's entry to the room, Haesh froze on instinct. It was simply his presence which demanded attention: it couldn't have been his disturbingly handsome face.
But the man only looked at him, breathed in deeply, and turned to his other companion at his right. A small boy, clearly of good Breeding but for some reason not attending the party downstairs and with the simple clothing that indicated he might be Bonded, maybe even Owned by this other man. His pale blue skin and silvery hair were in fine condition, and he like Amaranth had a long, but thick, tail. Large sea-green eyes bored into Haesh's, and the Membayar wasn't entirely sure what to make of the sudden feeling he had in his gut. The boy looked extremely pretty, and in the same ways as Amaranth did: his chin was small, as were his lips, and face heart-shaped, like hers, and he had a strangely mature bearing for such a small child.
The boy made a strange sound, taking in a breath and making to speak with nothing being said, but his tall companion laughed deeply and slow, waved his head and turned back to the window. They seemed to be communicating without words, it looked to Haesh like they did this as a habit, and it seemed to him, also, to be fairly rude. It continued for several moments, this communication. Amaranth looked bored with this, rather than annoyed.
The next time the tall man turned, it was to stare at Haesh with a strangely frightened look, but one which sparked something deep inside Haesh -- something which suddenly placed Haesh at a different level, to be feared by the tall man. It was fear of something about him, perhaps? A mystery, Haesh thought. He hoped that if the boy was in fact telepathic, he wouldn't be reading his mind because exploring what makes others afraid wasn't what Haesh considered socially acceptable. Nor the subsequent look that the tall man offered, after calming: that of an overriding desire.
"He doesn't mean to do that," the boy said, his voice was chimes and wind. And slightly familiar to Haesh, only he couldn't decide from where.
"Do... do what?" Haesh said, and the tall man snorted slightly.
"Nothing," he growled, voice deep and smooth and dark as his ebony hair. Turning back to the boy, "but I'd love to see how he does it, what it feels like from him."
"Does--" Haesh started, worried and afraid even more.
"You don't need that," the tall man's companion said, sure of himself, "particularly not from him." The boy couldn't have been more than a dozen summers old, if that, in Haesh's opinion, yet he seemed to have quite an impact on his elegant and frightening elder. As well, if this boy was a Slave of his, he was certainly not acting like one. He snapped, "you're scaring him."
"So?" The tall one snarled but a narrow look in his eyes said he was joking, "I like scaring people, it's only natural. What if I want it?" The bright white teeth on the man were bared in an unpleasant but sincerely crazed smile. The boy seemed to fight with himself and then the taller man -- mentally, and not with any real anger. When it seemed that the boy had struck some odd accord with the elder, it looked to Haesh that they'd exchanged some kind of punishment and reward. One which the tall man seemed to be enjoying quite a bit -- Haesh couldn't tell which was having the better effect on him, though. It was making Haesh fight the attempt to back out of the room and run.
It looked for all the world to Haesh that he was in some kind of ecstasy, mixed with the flickering of pain.
"Vanya," Amaranth hissed, after nearly breathing her wine down the wrong pipe, "stop it."
"It's all right," the boy said, and at that the other stopped trembling but kept his eyes closed, clearly savoring whatever was left to him. "We will be going now," he tugged on the tall man's long open sleeve, and received a caustic stare from the narrow blue eyes above.
"Will we," this Vanya said, after that another wince and ecstatic roll of his head, and soon enough Amaranth tittered.
"Yes," she said. "You and my sweet little brother here can go mingle like you're supposed to. Mirage didn't ask you here to sulk."
"Mirage didn't ask me here to mingle either," the tall man groaned, "she asked me here so I could look good in her company. Doesn't that woman teach you anything?" He would be right: the darkness of his own skin contrasted with Mirage's stark white -- who was this that he could bandy about terms such as he used so casually, when speaking about the mistress of this huge mansion?
They moved away from the window, the small boy and his long tail first, tugging on the other's hands. Vanya stopped at the door, held onto the tall arch and leaned back, looking at Amaranth and Haesh. "Neither of them are at this party, are they?" Amaranth shook her head at that question. "Good. He's kicked me out, that's why I'm here at all, dearest. So until we've spoken at greater length, he and I, you don't have a little brother, Amaranth. I would have thought I'd taught you that myself."
"Oh, he doesn't exist officially," Amaranth whispered, "but he does and he's going to have to be shown off sooner or later, BreedMaster, and you know it." There was the slightest narrowing of her eyes at the tall man, who echoed it with knowing agreement but not anger. "I'd prefer sooner."
Breed Master-- Haesh frantically thought, how many Breeders are at this party? And why does this one scare me so much?
Vanya straightened, and finally looked softly over his shoulder, appraising Haesh as if for the first time, and with that same Breeder's gaze that Morgontain had done not long before. "Amaranth, treat this poor boy with care. I might have use of him later."
"You will not," she claimed, sharply, "you will have nothing to do with him."
"He clearly has something I need," Vanya said. The boy's small blue hands found their way around his arm and tugged again, looking around the long arm with an apology on his eyes.
But the Breeder only smirked slightly, tired lines around his eyes moving into a warm impression of a loving smile. Then he silently disappeared out of the room.
"You must ignore all that, my friend, he's a little touched." She paused, still looking out the flowing heavy curtain. "Poor Ten," she added a moment later, but didn't elaborate.
Haesh had nothing at all to say about that. He licked his lips, and commented that the wine was good. Then he smiled, encouraged by that wine and the fact that he was now alone with this beautiful woman (who did not have a younger sibling named Ten) and said, "but not as sweet as you seem, my lovely."

The party couldn't be going better for Bepa. She strode around and shook hands strongly with everyone that Morgontain introduced her to, they all seemed either duly impressed or slightly cowed. She was in fact larger than most people at this party, stronger at least than most of those not of her own Status.
She started giggling at the thought, as she had for the past several weeks, just because she could claim Status and be proud of it.
"My dear," the small gold-skinned man before her said, peering ceremoniously around to see what the matter was, "are you laughing at something I've said? Or is there something on my shirt I ought to be aware of?"
"Oh, Salem," Bepa said, through another bout of full-on laughter, "you're so funny, all of this is wonderfully insane!"
"My mother warned me about you," Salem said, his small yellow eyes squinting at the woman. "She did say you were giddy about this party."
"She was right," Bepa said. She liked Salem, he was unconcerned about her demeanor and showed others that even though they of High Status could be haughty or arrogant, they could also just accept people the way they were meant to be. Besides, she thought, he's an Animal Master as well, and Morgontain's son. Who better to talk with about the advances of saddle breaking and the use of powers on the play field and in races?
Just as she was thinking this very thought, who better walked by, arm in arm with his daughter.
His daughter, Shatter, was Mirage's daughter too. Because "who better" was Aern Kshau and he was suited up in a tight leather outfit for a race which undoubtedly was going to take place that afternoon.
Bepa tossed the thin braids of her blue-green hair over her shoulder again, and thought about pursuing the racer and his amazingly pretty daughter to speak on such things and others. She was stopped in mid-turn by an over-dressed man with the biggest hair she'd ever seen.
"Salem," he said, his voice was hollow and high, as dramatically over-done as his hair and clothes, "who is this with the dismal cut? And would she like to try this?"
"It's euphoria, and her hair is fine, Shalen. Just leave her be," Salem said, warning Bepa of the small aerator in the slender man's hand. "You'll be best off avoiding that drug."
Bepa looked at Salem oddly. "I've heard of it, you know. It's all right, thanks but no. And what in the world do you mean about my hair?"
"If you just let me put something on the ends of those clever little braids," Shalen indicated her frazzled hair with impossibly manicured and painted nails, "they'll stay where you want them. In fact, you could even have small magnets put in them and a wire--"
"Shalen, I don't think she needs to have orbital hair," Salem said, moving his fingers through his short, tame black hair.
Shalen humphed and left, a small cadre of people following him. They all looked to Bepa as if they'd seen better days, they followed him for a different reason than that he was a flirtatious and well known hairstylist. Perhaps -- or most likely -- it was the euphoria he offered. Bepa got back to talking with Salem because she no longer could see the picture-perfect team of Aern and Shatter.
She didn't feel like embarrassing herself looking for them, when they would only be at the next party as well.
She would talk to them then, or after the race this evening. Or both.

"Kyoh, get me one of those little platter things, will you?" Osh said, and Kyoh obeyed with a slight tint of disgust. He wasn't Osh's Bayaran, it was his brother who was taking over his line's debt collection. But like all times, Osh seemed unconcerned that he was doing this, and it was always easier to obey than to argue. Osh would always be angrier, louder, more boisterous and attempting to be more in the spotlight than Haesh ever was.
That Haesh got the invite to the Brown room whatever that was, obviously was biting Osh's butt. It just came down to being polite, and of all the things that Osh was, polite wasn't one of them. Insisting that Kyoh be silent or do this or that to impress people only made Haesh embarrassed, and that wouldn't do. It wasn't because he was trying to be better than his brother, it was that he was trying to make his brother seem worse than he was. It was sad.
In a way, Kyoh thought to himself while piling a small plate full of the little finger-foods and dollops of dip that Osh asked for, Osh was sadder than anyone he knew. He tried too hard for his results, and those results were often too little too late. It was a very good thing that Osh knew better than to Bet.
He'd be Bonded to his brother pretty quickly, at that rate.
"They had these little fish things," Kyoh said with a smile and poking at them on the plate with a tiny silver fork, "so I brought you a couple of them and the dip. Okay?"
Osh took the plate without a word.
Kyoh stood and watched the white skinned man he had known all his life, and decided to stray farther out on the limb which he'd gotten on earlier that day. "Do you want me to find him, tell you what he's up to?" He asked, quietly, and only after the nearest people had moved away.
Kyoh could see the muscles in Osh's jaw working, gritting his teeth tightly at that. But he didn't explode, he didn't throw anything (including a tantrum). He only slowly looked up at Kyoh. There was such a mixture of sadness and the remarkable presence of emasculation on his pale face that Kyoh was taken aback.
Their eyes had locked for quite a long time, then before Osh could say anything further to ruin this already impressively awkward moment, Kyoh cleared his throat and said slightly more loudly, "or are we going to wander over to where they're setting up the band equipment and watch for Mirage to come by again? Rather than sulking?"
Osh was quieter than he'd been in years, at that, but in thought. Usually he was a little faster on the uptake than he was right at the moment, but Kyoh ascribed it to the drink and left it. Finally, Osh dropped his own little silver fork onto the plate, handed it to the next passing servant, and tossed his great horns with his typical gesture.
"I heard that L2B and M are here. Yeah, let's people watch. Seems like the only thing I'm here to do tonight."
"Osh," Kyoh said, with his hand carefully placed on the Membayar's shoulder, "everyone is here to people watch. It's all anyone does."
"It's all that counts," said a passer-by. He drifted into the middle of the room and left the men to wonder how much he'd been hearing of their conversation. It didn't matter to Kyoh, but it would bother Osh as long as he was undistracted.
So Kyoh kept on the distraction and for the time being, it seemed to be working.