Linira Ander had only just walked in the doors of the hotel in the new resort when she was shoved aside to the right. Almost a dozen girls came blasting in while laughing and carrying on, making no effort to find out if their explosive entrance had inconvenienced anyone. The girls were dressed in sparkly bikinis, with their designer luggage being escorted in behind them. Linira, having been thrown against a woman who had entered just ahead of her, had no intention of being just as uncaring.
“I’m sorry about that,” Linira said to the woman who had actually kept her from falling. “I hope I didn’t hurt you.” Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. She’d been forewarned that the resort was ripe with young women who loved to party. Much like spring break for adults. She was not surprised, only startled by the girls making their entrance.
“No, I’m not hurt, but if I was it would hardly be your fault,” the woman answered, frowning at the flock of insensitive idiots who had gone straight to the registration desk.
She’d known there was a chance she’d come into contact with such foolish adults who spent their time partying instead of acting like the adults they were. It was common knowledge that the resort catered to everyone, including the young crowd of wealthy elites who had money and no thought with what to do with it. Spending it on a vacation that was indefinite sure sounded nice, but Linira didn’t have the funds for it.
“Every one of those little bitches ought to know better than to behave like that, but it’s perfectly obvious that they couldn’t care less. If it was me one of them shoved like that, that one would not start out enjoying her vacation.”
Linira laughed under her breath. How right this stranger was, but she knew a vacation at the resort could only bring about a certain level of partying that she had secretly hoped to achieve. She’d never been one to party or really let loose. The idea fascinated her, even if it was with a group of young women who were quite a few years younger than her. Besides, that wasn’t why she had come to the resort. Her trip had nothing to do with partying or hanging out with a bunch of wild young women.
“I know how you feel,” Linira admitted, even though the words brought her the memory of pain not nearly distant enough. “I’m Linira Ander, and it looks like we’ll have something of a wait before we can register.”
“Getting rid of that bunch faster will be worth the wait,” the woman said, changing her frown to a smile. “And I’m Casi Tolmin. It’s nice to meet you, Linira, although I almost said it was nice running into you.”
“Oh, Casi, that was awful,” Linira said with a laugh of appreciation for the terrible pun. “I don’t think I would have had the nerve to say something like that.” She never had been very punny or funny. Her upbringing had been quite strict and unpleasant in many ways. She blinked those thoughts aside. She was far from her home on Cosimia, which made her feel a lot better.
“It doesn’t take nerve, Linira, just a warped sense of humor,” Casi returned with a grin. “Let’s go and sit down for the wait, and maybe they’ll take pity on us and offer coffee. I don’t do well without my five gallons of caffeine a day.”
Linira chuckled as she agreed, then followed Casi to a couch on the right. Casi had light brown hair and green eyes, a pretty face, and a good figure. She was also taller than Linira, but only by a few inches. Linira felt embarrassed by the thought, but she knew her own blonde hair, blue eyes, and slender figure helped to make her more attractive than her new acquaintance. Not that she expected the advantage to do her any good.
“Ah, that’s better,” Casi said once they were sitting on the couch. “We reached this planet in the middle of the liner’s night, so I had to scramble to reach the shuttle before it left without me. Then, once the other passengers and I landed, we were all sent in different directions to get ground shuttles. For a resort that’s only been open a little more than a year, this place is really spread out and incredibly big.”
“I’d never even heard of this place before I was sent here to attend a business meeting that will start tomorrow,” Linira admitted with a shake of her head. “The meeting is important, but I was told that more time would be spent enjoying ourselves than conducting business. The trip is supposed to be something of a special bonus, I think. Are you also here for business, or just a vacation?”
“I’m here for a vacation I was talked into,” Casi said with a rueful smile. “It’s been a while since I took the time to actually go somewhere on vacation, and a good friend couldn’t say enough about how great this place is. I finally agreed to check it out, but I’m not expecting to find more than any other resort has to offer. Especially since there don’t seem to be many men in sight.”
Linira raised her brows as she looked around, wondering how she could have missed so obvious a point. There were any number of women of all ages in sight, most of them just passing through the lobby, but there were only three men, all of them old enough to have some gray in their hair. They weren’t the least bit attractive either. Perhaps the resort ensured that women weren’t to be hit on by men. Though Linira had never known such a vacation establishment to exist.
“That’s kind of odd, but I don’t mind at all,” Linira said, motioning to a waitress who seemed to be asking if the new guests wanted anything. Where were all the men? Did they have an entirely different wing at the resort? “Here comes your chance to get that coffee you mentioned, something I think I’ll join you in.”
When the waitress reached them they ordered their coffee, and not five minutes later another waitress appeared with a cart. Once they had cups in their hands they sipped in companionable silence. Just as the lack of men her own age made this trip a bright spot in an otherwise dark episode of her life. Men were a hassle. She would gladly live alone for the rest of her life, if given the choice.
But she’d decided not to think about what had happened, so she firmly pushed away the memory of it. After all, she’d probably get a lot of practice pushing away bad memories during the rest of her life.
Casi Tolmin sat comfortably and sipped her coffee, but her mind was completely alert and taking in everything there was to see. She’d told her new acquaintance Linira that she was at this resort on vacation, but that had been a lie. Casi was working as the investigator she was, trying to answer her client’s questions about this place. Her client hadn’t parted with much in the way of information, supposedly because she hadn’t wanted to prejudice Casi in any way, but Casi wasn’t sure how truthful the woman had been. She’d gotten the definite impression that her client didn’t know much herself.
But considering the amount of money her client was paying, Casi had decided to let the question of truth slide for a time. Afterward might be another story, but right now it was time to investigate, so Casi took in the details of what was around her. She would make her own conclusions and then gather further information from her client.
The large registration lobby had couches and chairs scattered around, some of which were being used. She and Linira sat on a couch to the right of the registration counter, and about twenty feet away, half a dozen other women had taken different couches and chairs to wait until the group of young women at the counter was registered and gone. A few women had passed through the lobby, probably on their way to the dining room, and three older men sat in chairs near the back of the lobby while they talked. Odd, though, that with so many women there weren’t more—and younger—men around. Where were they?
“The guide on the ground shuttle said this was the newest section of the resort,” Linira commented in her soft and quiet way. “But he also said that although we’re on the outskirts of the established sections, there’s nothing in the other sections that we won’t find here as well. We’re just not supposed to go wandering around too far from the main building, but I don’t understand why that is.”
“I heard someone mutter something about barbarians,” Casi answered, since she’d been on the same ground shuttle. “This is a relatively new planet that was opened only a short while ago, so I can’t help wondering where barbarians are supposed to be coming from. If they’re natives, it isn’t very likely they’d be human.”
“Maybe they’re the descendants of people who were stranded on this world centuries ago,” Linira suggested after a moment. “Then they would be human, only not a part of our society of worlds. I wonder if we’re in any real danger from them.” She chewed her bottom lip, looking anxious as her hands trembled in her lap.
“If something happened to one or more of us the resort would drown in lawsuits, so I wouldn’t worry,” Casi assured the woman, seeing how suddenly nervous she’d gotten. “If there’s any real danger out there, the resort will go out of its way to protect us.”
“That’s a relief,” Linira said, looking only faintly relieved. “My mother said this meeting is important, and I don’t think she’d accept any excuse but my death if I missed it. For some reason I’d rather not use that particular excuse.”
“Can’t understand why you’d feel like that,” Casi said with a small laugh. “Is your mother the one you work for?” She wasn’t trying to pry, only make small talk. She was going to be at the resort for a while, and she wanted to at least have an adult to speak with who wasn’t drowning herself in alcohol and running down the halls screaming like an idiot. Linira seemed to be the perfect person to converse with.
“Yes, and usually I have very little to complain about,” Linira confirmed. “She treats me just like the rest of the people who work for her, and she’s kind of hard on everyone. The only difference between me and the others is the way she reverts to being a mother when we aren’t at work. It would be nice if she got to the point of understanding that I’m not a child anymore.”
Casi nodded, reflecting that Linira seemed the type to need mothering even though she was a grown woman. There was something bothering Linira, something that put a forlorn look in her eyes at times, but Casi wasn’t about to ask what it was all about. As short a time as they’d known each other, a question like that would be much too intrusive.
They went back to sipping their coffee and then accepted refills, just as the other women waiting in the lobby did. The horde at the registration counter took its own sweet time getting through what should have been a quick and easy procedure, but finally they were done and walking away. Casi finished the last of the coffee in her cup, seeing out of the corner of her eye that Linira had drunk hers, and then they both stood up and went to the counter. The other women who had been waiting did the same, but Casi and Linira got there first.
Casi had reserved a mini-suite just as Linira had, so they ended up being neighbors. Instead of building high, the resort was spread out at ground level, the mini-suites on one side of the resort building and the rooms on the other. There were also motorized carts available for anyone who didn’t care to walk the short distance to the resort building, each cart able to hold four people. Casi and Linira chose to walk, and a few minutes later they were entering their respective mini-suites.
When Casi opened the door with the help of the ring key she’d been given and walked into the small house, the mini-suite was just as advertised. The front third of the mostly blue room held chairs and a couple of couches as well as one large table and a few small ones, and the back two-thirds was the bedroom area. A large closet with sliding doors could be seen on the right, and to the left was a door that probably led to the bathroom. Since Linira’s mini-suite was to Casi’s left, it was most probable that the layout of her room was the opposite of Casi’s.
The sound of a motor made Casi turn to look out of the door. What she saw was a small vehicle piled high with luggage, which stopped first at Linira’s room. A man left the vehicle and knocked on Linira’s door, and when the door was opened he went to the vehicle and took down two large bags. He then carried the bags into Linira’s room, reappearing a minute later to go back. Moving the vehicle a few feet to Casi’s room, he smiled and nodded to Casi before pulling out her luggage. The three bags were carried inside when Casi stepped aside, and then the man left after refusing a tip.
“Well, at least they’re efficient,” Casi muttered to herself after closing the door behind the man. Her luggage had been keyed to her liner ticket, of course, to make sure it went where she did. The resort had obviously used that keying to get the bags to where they belonged, but she didn’t understand why the delivery man had refused a tip. The people who offered that kind of menial job usually used tipping to make workers accept the low pay of the position, but it didn’t seem to be the case this time around. Maybe they were paid better on Verena. It couldn’t be easy, leaving your family behind while you worked at a luxurious resort on another planet.
Shaking her head, Casi filed away the observation and then forgot about it as she went to see to unpacking her clothes and things. Once she had more data, she’d be able to tell if refusing a tip meant something or not. The unpacking didn’t take long, and just as she was finishing up there was a knock on her door. Going to the door and opening it showed her Linira standing just outside.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I’d ask if you were as ready for lunch as I am,” Linira said in her shy, mild way. “If you aren’t finished unpacking yet, I’ll be glad to wait.”
Smiling, Casi opened the door further, grateful it wasn’t one of those twats outside her room, knocking and running away like an insolent child. “It so happens your timing is perfect, and I’m just as ready for a meal,” Casi said, stepping aside to let Linira walk in. “As soon as I get my shoulder bag we can go, but it isn’t lunch I want. I still haven’t had breakfast, so we’ll see how flexible the kitchen is in this place.” Her stomach grumbled the moment the words left her lips. She hoped the resort catered to her desires. It was supposed to be paradise. Thus far she wasn’t convinced, what with the annoying girls running amok. They needed a heavy dose of discipline from a parent, though it was probably many years too late for that.
“I’ve never tried to ask for a special meal in any restaurant or hotel,” Linira mused as Casi went to get her shoulder bag from the table she’d left it on. “I wonder if I’d have the nerve to do something like that.”
She couldn’t help but feel puzzled by Linira’s words. “Why wouldn’t you?” Casi returned, slinging the bag strap over her shoulder before walking back to Linira. “You aren’t demanding that they make something they’ve never heard of, after all, and if they aren’t set up to offer breakfast at lunchtime they just have to say so. As long as you don’t throw a fit if they refuse, there shouldn’t be a problem.” She’d always been taught that if you didn’t ask, you didn’t get. Clearly they’d had a different upbringing.
“I’ll bet one of that group of girls would throw a fit,” Linira said, smiling as she followed Casi out of the room. “In fact, I’m willing to bet that the rest of us can even be slightly obnoxious and no one will notice with them around. My mother says there’s usually a bright side even to bad things if you look hard enough.”
“That’s probably because your mother hasn’t run into that horde,” Casi countered, showing a smile of her own. “I don’t often need people like that to distract those around me from my own behavior. Talk about barbarians. If any decent, self-respecting barbarian ran into one of those girls, he’d be smart to run the other way.”
Linira laughed at that comment, but didn’t add anything as they crossed to the resort building and then turned in the direction of the dining room. A handy sign had told them which way to go, and just beyond the registration area was a large room with tables. Some of the other women who had come in with them were already seated, so Casi and Linira chose a table of their own and sat down. There was no sign of the group of annoying young ladies. They were probably sleeping after partying all night long.
The waitress brought over a pot of coffee when she came to their table, and after she assured the new guests that breakfast certainly was available if they wanted it, she filled their cups and left with their orders. Linira had joined Casi in asking for breakfast, but they got to enjoy their coffee and the peace and quiet for no more than a few minutes. That was when the group of young women appeared again, wearing nothing but tiny bikinis, showing off their mosquito bites and lack of any womanly curves. No doubt they were all in their early twenties and acting like teenagers, it was perfectly clear the girls hadn’t yet used up their excess energy. Bouncing and skipping excitedly into the dining hall, they had no respect for other people. They barely even noticed anyone but they existed.
“You know, there’s really no excuse for their behaving like that,” Linira said once the girls had taken tables of their own on the far side of the room. “I was never so wild in my teens, let alone my twenties. Did their parents ever teach them how to act in public? They should be ashamed of themselves!”
“Their parents were probably not around much,” Casi said, swallowing the urge to walk over to the loud mass of girls and start punching their lights out. “Or maybe they were all raised to know how ‘important’ they are, so they decided they can do as they please. Whatever their problem is, I have no interest in helping them get over it. If they’re left just as they are they won’t attract many men if any at all, and that will hopefully mean they don’t reproduce and bring more versions of themselves into whatever world they come from.”
Casi expected Linira to laugh and agree, but instead of laughing the blonde woman showed desolation in her eyes again before looking down into her coffee cup. Casi hesitated a moment, then she took a deep breath.
“Look, I really don’t want to intrude, but I can see that something is bothering you,” she said, speaking as gently as possible. “If you’d like to talk about it, I don’t mind listening. If you’d rather keep the matter to yourself, I’ll shut up and mind my own business.”
Linira hesitated longer than Casi had, and then she shook her head.
“There isn’t much to talk about, but you might as well know,” Linira allowed, the words more pain-filled than grudging. “I was engaged to be married, but my intended broke off the engagement. He said some things that weren’t very nice before he left, and I haven’t quite gotten over them yet.”
“Now, that’s lousy,” Casi all but blurted, well on the way to being indignant. “It’s one thing to break off an engagement, another thing entirely to be horrible about it. If you don’t mind my saying so, you’re lucky you didn’t actually marry the jerk.” Casi hoped she could cheer Linira up. Had the situation been reversed, she’d have hoped someone would have showed the same kindness toward her.
“That’s what my mother said, and I know you’re both right,” Linira said with what looked like a forced smile without any amusement to it. “It’s just that. When you have certain truths thrown at you that you never saw before, it can hurt quite a bit.”
It was hard not to pry when Linira was only offering her bits of a larger puzzle. “What kind of truths are we discussing here?” Casi asked, her head to one side. “Most jerks may sound like they know what they’re talking about, but it’s been my experience that they’re usually wrong.”
Linira didn’t rise to the bait and immediately go into details, and then the waitress was putting food in front of them. When Linira simply began to eat and didn’t go back to the conversation even once the waitress was gone, Casi just shrugged and gave her attention to her own food. Pressing the point right now would obviously be a bad idea, so later would have to do for trying again.
By the time they had finished eating, the dining room had become a place to leave as quickly as possible, which is what the other diners had done. The young ladies had brought along a music player with them, but it was more noise than music that the player blared out. Talking around the noise was impossible, especially when a few members of the horde started a short food fight with one another.
The rest of the girls thought the food fight was a riot, but Casi didn’t agree. She gestured to Linira to stay in her chair before she got up, went over to where the rowdy girls were shoveling in food, reached to the music player, and turned it off.
“Hey!” one of the girls exclaimed, visibly indignant. “Who do you think you are that you can touch my player?”
“I’m someone who’s been forced to listen to noise I had no interest in,” Casi answered, locking eyes with the indignant girl. Had they no decency to realize they weren’t the only ones who existed in the dining hall? “Since you felt free to impose on my peace and quiet, I knew I could feel free to impose on your noise. If you turn this thing on again before I leave the dining room, I’ll fix it so that it can never be turned on a third time. Got all that?” She didn’t fear the young girl in the slightest.
The girl, a flashy blonde who was clearly one of the older members of the horde, glared at Casi but didn’t try to turn the player on again. Casi was no more than a couple of years older than her, but Casi was no one to ignore and the girl seemed to understand that. The nearest members of the crowd all looked at Casi with surly resentment, but when none of them challenged her, she was able to turn around and walk back to her own table.
“I don’t know how you had the nerve to do that,” a wide-eyed Linira whispered as soon as Casi was seated. “I don’t even know why you did it. We could have just left, and then you wouldn’t have risked being jumped by all of them.”
“Only their leader could have started the jumping, and their leader knew I would hurt her first,” Casi answered in the same soft tone. “It doesn’t take nerve to stand up to a bunch of brats, it just takes a refusal to accept their nonsense. And I did it because I like to sit for a while after a meal and drink coffee in peace, which we can now do.”
Linira shrugged with something of a smile while shaking her head, then she, too, leaned back with her coffee cup. Linira obviously didn’t understand Casi, but Casi didn’t understand Linira either. But Casi wasn’t bothered by the lack of understanding, not when she could like Linira without understanding her.
They sat for another ten or fifteen minutes, drinking their coffee, and then they left the dining room. They were no more than two steps into the lobby area when the blaring noise started again, but Casi just smiled and kept going. If the management of the resort wanted someone to keep the flock in line, they could offer to pay Casi for the effort. As it was, it wasn’t her job to make life pleasant and easy for everyone in the world.
Casi joined Linira in looking around at the resort, but there wasn’t that much to see. Tennis courts and handball courts, a large shop that sold souvenirs as well as everyday necessities, an archery range and rifle range, and an enormous pool that narrowed down to wind all around the area of the resort. Small bridges spanned the pool at intervals, additions that were both picturesque and useful, and dozens if not hundreds of lounge chairs lined the way near every part of the pool.
“I was thinking about suggesting that we make use of the pool, but I just changed my mind,” Linira said as she and Casi strolled back toward the main resort area. “It looks like our nemeses got there first.”
“You’re right,” Casi agreed, also seeing that the pack had jumped into the large part of the pool. “Their jumping and splashing is chasing everyone else away from this area. Not that there are a lot of others here.”
Which was a strangeness Casi had already noticed. The resort was apparently meant to house hundreds of people, but there wasn’t nearly that number anywhere around. The few people who were there looked vastly annoyed, but not a single one of them made any effort to curb the outrageous nonsense of the group of girls.
“I think I’ll go and visit that store,” Linira said after turning her back on the yelling, frenetic horde. “It just came to me that my swimsuit is kind of old, so maybe I’ll treat myself to a new one. Would you like to come along, Casi?”
“Sure,” Casi agreed with a shrug. “I’m enjoying your company, Linira, and it isn’t as if there are dozens of things to do in this place. I’m definitely going to have a few words to say to my friend once I’m home again, mostly centering on her definition of the word ‘great.'”
Linira agreed with a sad smile, and then the two of them headed for the store. There were a lot of things to look at, so Casi joined Linira in browsing. After looking at just about everything, Linira found a swimsuit she liked, along with a shirt that read, ‘Casual observer of life’. Casi bought a couple of souvenirs to take home and remember her trip. Though she hadn’t been the least bit impressed with the resort, yet.
Casi left Linira when they reached their rooms, and she spent some time sitting and reading before getting ready for dinner. She had no interest in dressing up for the meal, and Linira, when they’d discussed the point, had agreed. Linira was ready to go to the dining room when Casi called for her, so they strolled over to the main building and entered the dining room, then chose a table.
The food was very tasty and the meal was pleasant—until the annoying group of girls showed up. She knew coming here would mean young rowdy girls who were wealthy with too much time and money on their hands. It was no secret that the resort catered to this type of clientele, but she’d expected them to be sectioned off, much like the men apparently were.
It seemed management needed a lesson in separating the wild girls from the ones who wanted a calming vacation. Had they not realized that the two types of retreats would clash?
Sighing, Casi decided she wasn’t in the mood to tell staff how to run their business. It wasn’t their fault these girls had no manners.
This time there was no music player, but the members of the pack had taken to shouting at each other rather than talking. The shouting had no anger to it, very much the opposite in fact, so Casi ignored it in favor of paying attention to her food. The brats were trying to get back at Casi for what she’d done at lunchtime, but refusing to rise to the bait was more annoying to the girls than commenting would have been. The shouting kept up for a while, but eventually the girls got tired of doing something that was being ignored.
“I wonder what they’ll try next,” Linira commented in the relative silence. “They obviously expected you to get on them again, and I don’t think they’re very happy that you didn’t.”
“They were trying for an excuse to jump me, an excuse that would let them claim they were just defending themselves,” Casi answered without looking in the direction of the horde. She knew their game. She wasn’t an idiot. They were bored, wealthy girls who were looking for trouble. Their parents had probably sent them to the resort to get rid of them. She suspected they were trouble back at home as well. “Since that isn’t going to happen, I think we ought to take our coffee back to the rooms if we want to drink it in peace and quiet.” She could really use the quiet after dealing with those brats. Had they no respect for anyone? It was one reason she didn’t want children. What if they ended up like that? Yuck!
“Or have any kind of conversation,” Linira added in a louder voice as the girls began to shout again. Some of them also began to sing, their deliberately shrill and strident voices telling Casi that she preferred the shouting. But they were just about all finished eating, so they signaled to the waitress that they wanted their cups refilled. Once that was done they left the dining room and carried the heavy ceramic mugs back to Linira’s room. The hallway was much too silent after the echoing of the girls’ voices in the dining hall. It was a welcome change.
“Blessed silence,” Linira said when Casi had closed the door behind them. “Back in the dining room I wanted to suggest that we look around for something to do other than just sit around, but I’ve changed my mind. Even if the resort has a dozen nighttime activities planned, I doubt if those girls will let anyone enjoy it.”
“Anyone else, you mean,” Casi agreed sourly as she joined Linira at the room’s eating table. “Those girls seem to be having a ball, but the other guests have to suffer their wildness. It’d be great if the staff handed out Tasers.” She knew it was a bad joke, but she was partly serious. If she could shut those girls up, at least the rest of the vacation would be enjoyable. “And I meant to ask this earlier: if you’re here for a meeting, when are the other people attending the meeting supposed to get here?”
“I assumed they would get here today the way I did, but I didn’t see anyone I recognize,” Linira answered as they both sat down. “At first I was surprised, but it came to me that there’s a good chance they had trouble making the right traveling connections, or maybe they’re in a different section of the resort? If no one has shown up by tomorrow, I’ll get in touch with my mother and ask her to have her people do some checking.”
That made sense, so Casi asked Linira what kind of thing her company did. Linira talked about the diversity of holdings her mother’s company ran, and then Casi was asked the same question. Casi replied that she was a security specialist for the company that had hired her, and for that reason couldn’t go into details. But by now most of the coffee in their cups was gone, which made the knock on the door a welcome sound. Linira had called room service and asked for a fresh pot to be brought, and now it looked like the delivery had arrived.
“At least the service here is better than good,” Linira said over her shoulder as she walked toward the door. “As soon as that meeting is over, though, I’m heading home. This place is just too boring…”
Linira had been about to open the door, but when it opened without her help her words broke off as she jumped back with a gasp. Casi got to her feet as Linira stumbled all the way back to the table, one hand over her mouth. Casi expected to see some if not all of the rude girls pushing inside, but what came inside had nothing at all to do with the brats.
Two large men now blocked the doorway, men with very long hair wearing nothing but what looked like G-strings and belts, holding sheaths for large knives. Both men were grinning as they looked at Linira and Casi, and then the one with lighter brown hair spoke.
“Good evening, lovely chickens,” he said, the words sounding accented in some way. “My brother and I mean to take you to a place where you will find protection against those who would offer you harm. Come with us now without a fuss, and all will be delightfully well between us.”