The Contest and the Living Prize

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"You look like hell," Aliwev said when Lili came into the kitchen that morning.

"Oh. I didn't sleep at all last night."

"A good thing," Polloria said, "Something's happened to the night. Something is very wrong."

"We're late this morning," Rellie said, "No talk, just get breakfast out."

=/\=

 "Seconds," Commanded Takeo.

"Yes, sir," Lili said, coming over with the pancakes. There was no syrup, and they were out of jam, but it was still pretty good eating, as she'd put immature olowa fruit into the batter.

"More," said Chip.

Joss was sitting next to Chip. He'd always liked pancakes. She voluntarily offered him some. He took one and nodded at her. It was too risky to thank a slave. There were too many watching eyes.

She put her head down and went back to where Polloria and Aliwev were standing, ready to pour tofflin juice or clear a dirty dish.

"I had a very interesting time of it last night," The Empress said.

"Oh?" asked Aidan.

"Yes. The dreaming was delightful!" she gushed, "You were having quite a time of it with the teacher over there, after your hunting trip was finished."

"Oh," he gulped, "A dream. They are such fascinating bits of psychology."

"I understand they reflect our innermost desires," The Empress replied, "And you, Chip. It was a pretty beach on one of Saturn's moons. You and the Science Officer. She had on a nice dress but, really, orange is not her color."

"How very interesting," Chip replied. He suddenly wasn't hungry anymore.

"Empy!" Hoshi exclaimed, "You and my dear firstborn. Next time, do get him to take care of you first."

Kirin shot Marie Patrice a look.

"Such interesting dreams you've been having," Marie Patrice said.

"I dreamt about collections," Arashi said.

"And all the money had your face on it," Hoshi said.

"Yes. Huh," he said.

"I know," Hoshi said.

And suddenly, except for her, no one was hungry anymore, and they all knew that she had seen – or at least heard – what had gone on in their heads.

=/\=

Doug got his men over to the gym. Claymore and Bernstein were there. That was always a signal – if a woman was in the gym, it was never really for the purposes of working out. It was only for one reason – to hook up with a new guy.

The recruits leered as the women did squats or lifted small weights and grunted.

He got in front of the recruits and said, "We are here to get some hand to hand work done. You, over there. Stop gawking and get ready to fight, uh, this one," he had a pounding headache from not sleeping. Having them fight each other was the easiest thing he could think of.

They complied and set upon each other. Neither man did well, and he finally separated them when the weapons came out, "Now, now," he said, "this isn't to the death. It's just for practice. So keep the phase pistols and daggers out of it. You, there. And you. Go. Now."

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