B-ko Daitokuji breathed a sigh of relief as she slammed her bedroom door shut. She leaned her back on it, her fingers running through her lavender locks and massaging her scalp. Her shimmering metallic dress, hued like her hair, reflected the light of the ceiling lamps.
"Give me ice cream or give me death," she murmured, as she walked to the mini-fridge next to her dresser. Squatting down, she opened it, digging out a container of cinnamon swirl, her new favorite flavor. Grabbing a plastic spoon from the bag of them inside the fridge, she shut it and walked to the bed, sitting on the luxuriant covers.
Soon, the icy sweetness of melting cream, sugar and cinnamon down her throat brought a smile to her face. It was one of the few times that night she could smile without faking it. Gazing at her reflection in the dresser mirror, she shook her head, still wondering why this all happened to her.
The young heiress to the Daitokuji Financial Group, one of Japan's richest zaibatsu or conglomerates, had to appear at this, one of her father's many fancy parties. Mixing business with pleasure was a trademark of the global super-rich. Her father, Hikaru Daitokuji, was no exception. Deals could be made or broken over a ill-made sushi roll, an off-color joke told at the wrong time or a flirtacious look rejected. He also made sure that his family would likewise get involved. He insisted his wife, daughter and older step-daughters mix and mingle with the crowd. So B-ko made her face a mask of serenity, a faint fake smile hiding her contempt for the invitees.
Unlike similar get-togethers among the world's powerful, this one at the family mansion was exotic in the extreme. For her step-mother and step-sisters were not of this world.
Another spoonful went down her throat as she dwelt on that reality.
Several years before, a four-mile long behemoth from another galaxy flew over Graviton City, B-ko's hometown. Within it were a crew of female humanoids called Cygnans, searching for one of their own, a "lost princess" adopted by an Earthling couple and reared as their own. They crash-landed into the city, most of the survivors forced to live amongst the primitive natives. And their princess, raised at C-ko Kotobuki, told them bluntly she'd rather stay on Earth and live a normal life.
The ship's captain, Aysheia Napolipolita, was made Cygnan ambassador to Japan at the princess' request. As time passed, she and the billionaire magnate drew closer as friends, then lovers, then as lifemates. Tongues wagged worldwide at this unheard-of wedding, wagging further when her children moved into the Daitokuji mansion with her. This irked B-ko to no end, as she wanted her father to herself without any rivals for love and attention.
Worse, each of her step-sisters had different fathers, since no Cygnan soldier could have a spouse while enlisted in the services. The children were raised by the mother and her fellow soldiers nonetheless, continuing the survival of their warrior matriarchal culture. B-ko knew this intimately, as her smaller siblings sometimes used her for target practice. Usually crumpled-up paper balls and the like, for they weren't allowed to fire their pulse rifles in the mansion.
B-ko shut her eyes as she ate a third spoonful.
"Why did my life have to turn out so weird?" she sighed. "It's like I'm living in an episode of The Twilight Zone."
She closed the lid of the ice cream container, put it back into the fridge.
She froze as a suppressed sneeze came from the bed.
B-ko spun around, clenched her fist. Sometimes her little step-sisters hid under her bed, practicing their spying and ambush skills. She wasn't ever able to catch them in the act, as they always scurried away before she got them.
"Not this time, you rugrats," she growled.
She pushed her bed covers aside, knelt down and peered into the darkness. She thought she spied a pair of eyes gazing back at her. Eyes that reflected light, which human and Cygnan eyes never did.
Puzzled, she stretched out an arm to grasp whatever was there. She heard a low growl in reply, heard a rustling noise move away from her.
B-ko stood up, took a deep breath. She flung herself onto the bed, bent over the mattress' edge on the other side. She thrust her hands underneath, grasped a warm bulk of fur.
"Unhand me, wench!" it roared.
B-ko gasped, let go of the bulk. She heard it scamper away and behind her toward one of the cabinets. Which it hit with a loud bang.
"Ow!" it cried. "Plague on it!"
She bent back up and spun around, catching her breath at what she saw. It looked like a very large cat, as big as a five year old boy, his fur of butterscotch brown. He held his head in his paws, nursing his skull as he rocked back and forth.
"Lord have mercy," she whispered, as she tucked her legs underneath her. He started whining, his cries mixing with his painful mewing.
"Get a hold of yourself, baka," B-ko told herself, using the Japanese word for fool. She crept over to the creature, holding her hands up as if in surrender. "If you can understand me," she said in accented English. "I'm not going to hurt you. Let me help."
B-ko opened her mini-refrigerator, took out a flexible cold pack. "I'll put this on your head. It should cool down the swelling." She crept up to him, held him as she laid it gently on his furry head.
"Blimey, it's cold."
"It's supposed to be. Just calm down and give it a chance to work." She patted his back, gulping as she did. "You...got a name?"
"Camillo, son of Petronius of the Oaken Valley Clan." He wiped his snout with a paw. "He be my people's ambassador to thy world. And thee?"
"I'm B-ko Daitokuji, stepdaughter of the Cygnan ambassador here."
"Thou hast soft hands."
"Thank you." She shook her head a little, hoping to loosen any cobwebs in it.
The feline grasped the cold pack in both paws, looked up at the heiress.
"Y'know," he said. "Thee and thy Cygnan cousins doth puzzle me."
"I mean, how can thou stand living with thyself?" Camillo said. "Thou hast neither fur nor fangs, claws nor tail, nary a whisker and thine ears are misplaced." He drew in close, sniffed the air around her. "And ye smells funny at that."
"I...what?" B-ko said, taken aback. "What do you mean?"
"Thou smells not like a Cygnan, though thou lookest like one. Tis unnatural, it is."
B-ko shut her eyes and sighed. She heard similar things from both her stepsisters and other Cygnans over the years. It never ceased to urk her.
"Okay, get a hold of yourself, girl," she murmured. "Um," she asked in a louder voice. "Have...have you been here in the city long?"
"Verily, I'm bored," said Camillo. "There's nothin' to stalk 'round 'ere. Can't sharpen me claws on nothin'. Cast mine eyes where I wilt, there be only tall cages of glass and steel. Nary a tree in sight to laze about upon it's branches. The pox upon such cement sickness."
"Well," said B-ko, "what do you expect living in a big city?"
"Twas a halfpenny purse of wit then who conceived this metropolis. Or durst I say spawned?"
The heiress winced at that word. "If you think this town is bad, you haven't seen our capital city, Tokyo."
"I've seen pictures of it, both still and moving. It doth infect mine eyes more than this place." He folded his arms. "Like the toad, ugly and venomous. All thy major cities are thus, from Mombasa to Moscow. Blimey!"
B-ko nodded her head. Three out of four Japanese lived in cities and towns, many never getting a chance to see forests and fields except in local parks.
"Camillo?" came a voice from outside the door and down the hall. "Nephew? Blessed be the All-Holy, wherefore art thou?"
"You sh-shouldn't walk so fast," said a another voice, lower in tone and sounding very drunk. "He shan't be that far away. His scent doth betray him, he's close by."
B-ko felt her heart gallop, as if she just drank a triple-shot espresso coffee. Camillo, one paw on the cold pack, nudged her with an elbow.
"Fear not," he grumbled, disappointed. "Tis but me aunt Photina lookin' for me." He turned to lock eyes with her. "I hear thy heart race as if thou wert prey I'd be stalkin'. What for?"
"Are...are they...really big? I mean...like my planet's tigers or lions or..."
Camillo rolled his eyes, snorted in disgust. "Thou actest as if me and my kind are strangers to thine eyes."
"Well, you are. I mean, most Japanese....heck, most Earthlings only just heard about you now."
"Oh...right...good point." He patted the cold pack on his head, then turned and wrapped his arms around her neck. "Might as well let 'em, plague on it."
Gulping, B-ko wrapped her arms around the alien feline, lifted him up off the floor. She walked to the bedroom door, turned the knob. She backed away slow, keeping the door between her and the hall.
"Konnichiwa? Hello?" B-ko said in Japanese. "Who's there?" She peeked around the door's edge, her breathing now short and sharp.
She spied two larger felines, both walking on their long hind legs. One had an arm wrapped around the other's shoulder, it's burgundy fur patched here and there with silver. Her Greek goddess-style dress was stained around her neck. Her brunette hair was braided down her back, her ears a pair of unkempt tufts on her head.
The other feline was swathed in a hooded cobalt-blue dress, twin helices of gold and silver around the hood and each wrist. A star-symbol was emblazoned on it's chest, a gold three-pointed star with a smaller, silver seven-pointed star on top of it. Her honey-gold hair fell about her head in thick puffs, her ears well-groomed and beige.
"Good morrow," said the hooded one. "We're searching for one of our kind, a child of five with brownish fur. Hast thou spied him 'round?"
"Are...are you the one called Photina?"
"I have your nephew here. He snuck into my bedroom somehow." B-ko pushed back the door all the way. "Is...is your friend all right?"
"Alas, I fear she be too deep in her cups this night."
The heiress nodded. "Was it the sake? Our rice wine, that is?"
"Twas the r-r-r-r-r-r-r-rum," said the elder of the pair. "Rumble-stumble-bumble-fumble..."
Photina shut her eyes, sighed. B-ko entered the hallway, Camillo in her arms. "Please come in."
"Our thanks," she said, opening her blue-green eyes. "This be my elder cousin Perdita."
"Tis pronounced pur-r-r-r-r-r-r-DEE-EE-EE-EE-TAH!", she said with a flourish and a smile. "And prithee tell thy homeworld I be not it's axis."
"It spins 'round me like autumn leaves in a whirlwind." She half-stifled a hiccup. "Tell it I'm but a visitor to it's shores, not it's found...foundation."
B-ko looked at the younger female, nodding in sympathy. "Let her sit on the bed for a while."
The smaller feline dragged the larger into B-ko's room, the heiress shutting the door before following them. Photina plopped her cousin onto the bed, held her shoulders up.
"What' be this on Camillo's head?"
"We call it a cold pack, used to cool down swelling and pain. He banged his head in an accident here, so it's there to reduce any swelling."
"Just like him," she murmured. "Folly-filled youth." She put a paw under her cousin's chin, raising it up. "I fear my kinswoman wouldst soon be a-bed in thy bed before long. Tis the drink, of course."
B-ko, feeling calmer now, sat down next to Perdita. The alien leaned her head on her shoulder, half-hiccuped. "Prithee pardon, Earthling. My manners are a-flutter. Or some such thing." She laughed. "Were my purse on my person, I'd pay thy musicians right handsomely for such excellent tunes. At thy banquet, that is. Aye, especially the ones that fellow played on that large and shiny black wooden box."
"Ah, yes," said B-ko, flustered. "We call it a piano."
"Twas one called the Minute Waltz I fancied most," said Perdita. "Tis quite ticklish to mine ears." This set off into a short giggling fit, as she laid her sinewy furred arm onto B-ko's shoulders. "I doth purr loud and long whene'er I hear it."
B-ko turned to face her, eyes wide with shock. "You...you were the one making that sound earlier this evening?"
"Aye," said the alien. "Thy race applauds, my race purrs."
Camillo laid his head on B-ko's other shoulder, the chill of the cold pack contrasting with the warmth of his fur.
Perdita glanced at him, pointed at him with her other paw. "Ah, I see Morpheus lay his hand upon him, bidding him wander with him in the night."
"As shall thee soon enough, cousin," said Photina. "Mind him not, child of Earth. My nephew likes snuggling but shan't admit it. Pride and all that, of course, the bane of our existence."
"I guess it's like that everywhere," said B-ko. "We've got the same problem here." She patted Camillo's arm. "What are your people called?"
"Marcusi," said Photina. "Named after our homeworld Marcus. We've long been allies of the mighty Cygnans, whom thy step-mother is their ambassador to thy kind."
A thought came to B-ko. "Ah, I have a question. It may sound silly, but have your people ever heard of a play writer of ours called Shakespeare?"
Photina nodded, brushing the thin whiskers on her face. "Yea verily, I've been asked this many a time. Tis said, in speaking thy English tongue, we sound like his works. Either him or his friend and rival Marlowe."
She walked over to the chair by B-ko's dresser, sat down, paws on knees.
"It's said that throughout the Cygnan's realm, no matter what world or galaxy she hail from, each Cygnan doth proclaim the greatness of this man, whom she so recently hath heard of or read."
"Aye. Tis said ye Earthlings are as enamoured of him as we and they, for his plays ye still perform near five centuries since his passing. E'en his phrases are part of thy daily speech, in one form or another."
"My cousin doth think him a prophet of the All-Highest," Perdita said, paradoxically slurring her words. "Or if not, at least a High Sage. For no mere mortal can craft Hamlet, Macbeth or Othello, lest he be guided from Above. Didst thou not say so to me yesternight?"
"Mind thy tongue, cousin. Spread not about mine mere opinions as if they be seeds for new plowed fields."
"She be of the clergy, y'know," the elder Marcusi said, pointing at Photina with her other paw. "Her rainment doth confess she serveth the One On High."
B-ko nodded, glanced at Camillo, resisting the urge to scratch behind his ears. "Kawaii," she whispered.
"Eh?" asked Photina.
"That's the Japanese word for 'cute'. We're really big into that here, more so than the rest of our planet." She pointed at the alien boy. "He looks it."
"Remember thy Terran saying about books and covers? Applies to him for certain."
"I'm not that bad, am I?" he asked, turning to face his aunt.
"Child, when thou act like a little naughty ninny, what else can thou expect? Thou didst enter this lady's bedchamber without her by-your-leave, leaving us worried where thou didst fly to. This be only the least of thine impious acts since thou arrived here at Earth."
Camillo turned back to B-ko, laid his head on her shoulder. "Oh...plague on it."
"Plague on thy plaguing, nephew. Turn not these honeyed locks of mine to grey before their time."
There came a sudden sharp set of rappings on B-ko's door, followed by it's opening part way. A thick mop of dull green hair popped through the space between, a pair of sharp green eyes and thin face below it.
"B-kolita, are you decent?" said Aysheia, her stepmother. She used the Cygnan diminutive phrase for "little B-ko".
"Yes and I have company," she said, silently thankful she arrived. "Fellow refugees from tonight's party, so to speak," she added with a smirk.
"Don't blame you," said the ambassador with an all-knowing grin. "All that 'boy's talk' can wear a body down some times." She opened the door all the way, revealing her swathed in a Grecian ankle-length dress with blue borders. A silver Great Mother Goddess draped around her neck.
"And speaking of boys," she went on, "I figured that little furball was in here."
"Oh?" said Photina. "How so? Intuition?"
"That and the 'do not enter – property of B-ko' sign here on the door." She placed her hands on her hips. "Tell some little boys not to go somewhere, and they'll go there just because. Am I right, Camillo?"
He squinted his eyes shut, buried his face in B-ko's long locks. A muffled "Blimey!" escaped his lips.
"Speaking of intuition," said the heiress. "Mine says one of my stepsisters blabbed about this room. Did they?"
"Yes, Mitsuko to be exact." She turned to Photina. "She's the second child I've had with my sweet Hicky. I'll deal with her tomorrow."
The Marcusi's eyes widened. "Hicky?"
"My term of endearment for my husband," she replied, her grin widening. "He blushes whenever I say it in public. Especially at him in public."
All four females shared a laugh over the remark.
"Doth my kin, the ambassador, still seeketh after him?" Photina asked, extending an arm toward her nephew.
"No, he's waiting for him in one of the larger guest rooms. It's the one with all the catnip in the vases, down the hall a-ways. If you'd all follow me."
Camillo tightened his grip around B-ko's neck, as she and the other Marcusi stood up. B-ko patted him with one hand, while holding Perdita steady with the other.
"Let's make a deal, kid," B-ko said. "You keep quiet and I'll do the talking for you with your father. That bump on your head may keep you from being spanked somewhere else. Deal?"
He sighed. "Agreed," he mewed.
B-ko chuckled, as she followed Ayshiea and Photina into the hallway.
"Thou...thou has a fine steady arm," said Perdita.
"Domo arigato," B-ko said, slightly bowing her head. "Thank you."
"And what namest thou that...that spice I smell 'round thy lips? Tis quite...pungent."
B-ko giggled. "We call it cinnamon. Remind me to tell you about it sometime."