Read me the story:
Of course, her sister would want to meet her for lunch at the oh-so-exclusive, oh-so-expensive club that Partel and her husband belonged to, Mirget Kostak reflected sourly. Trust Partel to rub her nose in just how much more money and status Flest Vanus and his bride enjoyed than Mirget and Welstam Kostak. Although she had to admit it was a beautiful setting, the stepped terraces adjoining the clubhouse, overlooking the vast green expanse of the kress lawn.
She could see a white-clad threesome just moving off the launch area for the fifth kress marker, their gilies trailing behind them with expensive equipment bags, as the maiter led her to Partel’s table. Actual human servers, no less. Nothing but the best, for the elite of society here in Chart Deb. Partel was waiting for her at a table on the uppermost terrace. A frivolous, colorful parasol floated above the table to shield her from the brilliant light that kept the kress lawn and the elaborate plantings around the terraces so lush.
“Darling! I adore the outfit! How quaint!!” On the offensive immediately, but that was no surprise. Being offensive was a sisterly specialty. Mirget’s smile was just as insincere—and fully natural, as she didn’t hesitate to remind Partel. “Darling… how sweet of you. And I love the new biosculpt! Let me look at you!” She stood back for a moment, palpably surveying her older sister’s perfectly-sculpted face, shoulders, and torso.
Partel would never grind her teeth, expensively enhanced and even more expensively preserved, but she had no hesitation at all in putting her little sister in her place. “What do you call that divine little thingie around your neck, sweetheart? Is it the latest rage among the lunatic fringe?” A wonderfully ambiguous insult, that, since “lunatic fringe” had been a fashionable general-use slang term for the small elite of boardsman and upper echelon executives living on Moonstation. Well, three or four years ago, it had been fashionable. Now it was morphing into a derogatory reference among upper crust youth who considered anyplace further from the capital than the Vardry Cluster as beyond civilization altogether.
Mirget caught herself before uttering the satisfyingly cutting response hovering on her tongue. She was here to get something out of her sister, and if she let Partel provoke her into a politely honeyed slanging match (which Partel, never the brightest of the Tarvine offspring, would inevitably lose,) she’d have no chance of parking her children with their cousins over the Long Vacation. Since it was vital to Wilan and Savret’s future to be able to form social connections in prestigious Chart Deb, she couldn’t afford the luxury of annihilating her snotty big sister.
She smiled again, a demure, slightly mischievous smile that could charm the gloves off a senior prelate. She knew that the floating wisp of fabric, with its invisible suspensor fiber and subtle iridescence, showed off her slender neck and throat to great advantage, even if it was outdated by two years or more. “Embarrassed to be seen with your country cousin?” she asked, playfully arch. It set her teeth on edge, but her sister relaxed, secure in her superiority. “Oh, hardly that, darling. Maybe after lunch we should go shopping, though. I’ve found the most clever designer in Wals Rellatat, he really is a marvel. If you can afford it?”
It was likely she couldn’t, since the shopping arcade of Wals Rellatat catered exclusively to the wealthiest upper crust boardsman brides and daughters, and doubtless this was one more way of rubbing in the fact that Partel’s quarterly clothing allowance probably exceeded Mirget’s entire yearly household budget. Still, the Kostak finance accounts were getting satisfyingly larger every year, and the savings account Mirget hoarded from remittance to remittance was growing with them. And there was annual Cultural Affairs Gala coming up. As a committee chair, she’d be expected to show up in something spectacular. She did a couple of mental calculations—including the fees for Wilan and Savret’s highly exclusive private boarding schools—and decided she could probably swing it. “Aren’t you dear! I’d love to.”
She turned her attention to the menu that appeared in front of her, projected against the white tablecloth. “So what’s good here?” Mirget further appealed to big sister’s experience and expertise.
“Oh, they have a fabulous selection of baby vegetables sautéed in Tersican glaze. And the duerzin Marcal—that’s a mixed stew of saltwater crustaceans. They have their own saltwater growing vats here, and fresh herbs.” Partel gestured to the sinuous containers that formed an elegant pattern on the larger terrace below them. The outer containers were planted with flowers and small shrubs, the inner ones with elegantly-trimmed herbs.
“Mmmm… that does sound good,” Mirget agreed. She hated seafood. Partel signaled a server and gave the order—cocktails, prime course, rising course, center course, refresher, coda and sweet, with complementary wines and between-course sorbets. The selections from the ladies’ side of the menu were always dainty compared to the men’s more robust choices for the usual seven-course (informal) or nine-course (semi-formal) midday meals.
When the server had left their cocktails before them, Partel turned a little to look out over the kress lawn. A threesome was just coming up on the fourth marker, their gilies racking the floats in the launchers and stepping back. A tall, lean figure with a shock of unruly-looking dark hair and immaculate kress whites leaned over to calibrate the first launcher, while the other two watched. There was something familiar about the springy line of spine and the set of his head. Mirget narrowed her eyes. “Is that…?”
“Yes, darling, Lorstan Kleksal. Flest and Ordik Malmig are with him.” Partel glanced sidelong at her sister. “Didn’t you used to have rather a crush on him?”
Mirget chuckled, with no sign of the effort it cost her. “Darling, didn’t everyone? He was the catch of my Presentation Year. Rather a starched-chemise, but that gorgeous hair! Whoever did he end up with?”
Partel’s eyes widened. “You mean you didn’t know? But I would have thought surely you’d been invited to the wedding! You and Rindel were such friends!”
“Rindel? Rindel Scafras?” Why that sly, little… 3D hell, but that one hurt. Mirget and Rindel had indeed been best friends, back then, and Rindel had been the only one she’d confided her youthful passion to. Rindel had been so exquisitely sympathetic, too, when Mirget had learned of her betrothal to Tam Kostak, the undistinguished junior scion of an undistinguished minor sept of the Kostaks—a mere exec, and slated for a mediocre civil service career.
“No, I didn’t hear from her. But then I wouldn’t expect to, really. She’d have known I couldn’t spare the time for a trip downside just for a wedding. So what’s Lorstan up to, these days?” Mirget’s voice was so naturally casual, Partel decided there was no further potential for inflicting pain. “Not much, really. He’s been appointed to junior seats on Glaymis Bek Financial board and Dar Nexan board, as well as a family seat at Kleksal Brokerage.”
It was a very conventional path for someone of Lorstan’s background, surprisingly unspectacular considering his flamboyant youth. “Really. Is he still chamba-racing, and big-game hunting?”
Partel laughed. “Oh, no, darling, not chamba racing. The Dar Nexan board is insured by Quem Guaranty Company; they’d never countenance one of their juniors hopping onto a souped-up airbike and playing chicken with the dome forcefields. I don’t know about the hunting, though. I heard he travels south regularly, so maybe he goes to—what is it called? You know, that ranch in Martabal Bwes…”
“Govey Xenon Preserve?”
“Yes, there. Anyway, he mostly confines himself to kress these days. He was Club Champion this year, and won the Open tournament at Kos Pentrad. Didn’t you hear?”
“I don’t really keep up with downside sporting news. I probably should.”
“Yes, darling, you should. One of these days it will come very convenient, you know.”
“I hardly think so,” Mirget said diffidently, picking up a prong and impaling a delicate baby carrot. brown-scored and shining from the grilling glaze. “This is my first trip downside in… what, six years?”
“Yes, but won’t Savret be ready for her presentation next year or the year after? You’re not going to bring her out on Moonstation, are you?”
Mirget shrugged. “I may have to. Tam’s got a plus chance of getting appointed to replace Kosep Radik when he retires next year, and if he gets tied down in Pykalt, I’ll have to be upside during the presentation season. The Senior Coordinator has to do a lot of entertaining, you know.”
Partel’s beautifully-sculpted brows rose. “Senior Coordinator! Really? My, my, you have been busy, haven’t you, sis?”
Yes, she had, but Mirget just smiled. “I think a lot of people underestimated Tam. He’s headed for a board seat, one of these days, you know.”
Partel swallowed a morsel of baby squash and eyed her sister with respect. “Well, if anyone can make it happen, you’ll manage, I’m sure. But it won’t happen in time to help Savret, will it?”
Mirget pushed her plate away. “Partel, you’ve never been upside, have you? Except for transferring at Pykalt Interstellar port for your honeymoon trip?”
Her sister nodded.
“So you have no idea what Moonstation is like, these days. It’s growing incredibly fast, and it’s the nexus for the whole Insystem Region. We have more than twenty boardsman family compounds or manorhouses in Pykalt, and a dozen more in Gitwen, Ruv Denal, and Fornalt. Pykalt and Birval Pleasuredome are on the itinerary of every major arts ensemble, holovid celeb, sporting exhibitor, and rising CivAd hopeful. Last year the Livkad district in Pykal opened more major exhibits than Kos Centrum. The last three Democratic Companies chartered have all been chartered in our District. They’ve started the dome for a new Cathedral that will be bigger than anything downside except Glorious Revelations.”
The server whisked a napkin over her used plate and wafted it away, replacing it with a paper-thin porcelain bowl on a gold-rimmed saucer garnished with fresh orchid blossoms. Tiny real shrimps floated in a clear broth. She picked up her spoon.
“I know I need to keep up our connections here, but if Savret has to be presented at home, it won’t be a total disaster. Last year Nelret Parkel spent the Season in Pykalt, for Bridesakes, and you know how much social influence she has!” She took a spoonful of soup, savored the tangy-sweet broth for a moment before swallowing. “But you’re right, it would be better if she could be presented here.”
Partel nodded. “And what about Wilan? Don’t you want him to spend his Drones Year downside?”
That was one thing Mirget would never compromise. “Absolutely, if I can find a way to swing it. I think I can get him an invite from Evlit Dembrig for some part of the year, since he and Qev Dembrig are so close. He’s got other friends, too, if he can just spend more social time here, but…” She shook her head in frustration. “I can’t park him on Mykep again, with his bride expecting her first.”
“Well, darling…” Partel said slowly.
Mirget tried not to let the sudden tension show as she gracefully sipped another spoonful of broth. Was this it? Holy Bride send luck…
“We had planned to take the boys to the Vardry Cluster this long vac, but then Flest got this Chagarth Fabrik board appointment, and he’ll have to be south for most of the time, so that won’t work. Perhaps you could send Wilan—and Savret, too, if she has no other plans—to us at Kos Vanus?”
Yes! Mirget set her spoon down so that if the relief flooding through her made her tremble, she wouldn’t spill her soup. “Kos Vanus? Really? What a wonderful idea, Party! I’m sure they’d adore it. Thank you so much.”
“Not at all, darling. You’re working so hard, it’s the least I can do. After all, Vanus Major is right on the edge of Devlit Wild, and the young people seem to love to spend time there, at the moment. The kids’ friends are always trooping in and out. We’re set up for it, so it’s hardly an effort. I’d be delighted, really.”
It wasn’t hard, after that, for Mirget to rationalize a teeny bit of overspending on the exquisite lirasilk gown Partel and her pet designer talked her into.