M. Crane Hana © 2017
All Rights Reserved
A thousand spectators watched Jason Kee-DaSilva, the Leopard of Saba, ruin his career two minutes after his comeback victory.
The Golden Cage Arena spanned the top floor of a gaudy casino skyscraper in south Cedar-Saba. At the center of the domed auditorium, a thirty-foot circular steel floor slowly revolved to the right. An airy dome of gold-plated steel filigree mesh arched thirty feet over it. The mesh was stronger than a spaceship’s skin. Two gates led into the Cage. Once a fight began, they’d stay locked until one man lost and yielded to the other.
DaSilva had broken two men already tonight: two in credits, the last in flesh.
The deceptively delicate dome had just lifted from the bloodstained circular steel floor to let a cadre of medics through. Huge holo screens in the dome played highlights from the first rounds of battle or lingered over shots of the Leopard swiftly claiming his last victim. He hadn’t been brutal, merely thorough. The orgasm he’d wrung from the other man had been as much a symbol of victory as the final punch-down.
In better days, DaSilva had been a glorious bronze godling of the Cage, always dressed to show off his sleek muscles, dapple-bleached short hair, and the leopard-spot tattoos covering his shoulders and spine. He’d regained most of the muscle, though it was still pared down from illness. Haunted hollows showed around brown eyes, and his hair was growing out to plebian brown curls. His knee-length kilt was simple grayish-brown poly-silk, without Garibey Shemua colors or concentric teardrop pattern.
Now DaSilva looked up angrily, shrugging off the lackluster attentions of his own single hired attendant and the man’s low-budget medical kit. In place of DaSilva’s legendary anthem, a rights-free generic martial score rumbled in the background from expensive speaker systems.
In the first tier of seats behind the three red-clad referees, a bald man in Garibey Shemua’s purple and silver robes tapped studiously at the keyboard manifesting across his left sleeve. He glanced at DaSilva, as if just now noticing the fighter’s thunderous expression.
DaSilva glared at the Shemua official and then pointed toward the nearest speaker. “I paid, damn you. I wrote my anthem years ago!” he shouted, stepping aside to let the medics work on the other fighter.
“While you were under contract, Sero DaSilva. We’re happy to lease the rights back to you for single-use or month-to-month,” the bald man said with a mild tone, pitched to carry perfectly past the low music. The hovering audio drones made certain his words were broadcast over the whole arena.
“I paid yesterday.”
The Shemua official’s polite, calm expression never wavered. “Which was applied to last month’s fees. Which were in arrears, I’m afraid. It’s a new month. Your employment liaison should have told you to pay today, too.”
“My liaison went on a convenient fishing trip to Lariden Lake last night and couldn’t be reached. What the hell do you people even want?”
The Shemua official lifted a red metal collar from his right sleeve and waggled it in the air. The collar clasp glittered with purple enamel and white diamonds in Shemua’s concentric teardrop emblem. A concerted gasp came from the spectators who knew what it was: the Leopard’s Red-Band bonder’s collar he’d worn while being owned by Garibey Shemua.
“This can all work out for the best, Sero DaSilva, if you’d just see reason and come back.” Until the previous year, the Leopard of Saba had been one of Shemua’s feted, pampered bondslave fighters. Their star.
DaSilva stepped a pace backward.
The crowd moaned as one. Another onlooker began slowly, derisively clapping: a huge old man clad in a brilliant white suit, sprawled a dozen seats down from the referees. The camera drones focused on him, then longer on the silent, nearly naked man kneeling in front of him.
A buzz ran through the crowd.
“The Diamond.” A whisper from a few hundred hushed voices, as everyone was reminded of who else had watched every moment of DaSilva’s three comeback fights. The silent man’s black collar indicated a murderer or traitor under arena sentence. His odd black-and-white coloring marked him as a legend equal to the Leopard. Heavy cosmetics rimmed the man’s eyes, exaggerated his refined cheekbones, and shaped his lips into a courtesan’s scarlet smile.
Flinching at the sight of himself on the giant screens, the painted man lowered his head in a spill of long black curls and huddled against his master’s legs.
Everyone in the vast room saw how long the Leopard looked at the Diamond.
The Shemua official cleared his throat. “Sero DaSilva, I’m cleared to hold this offer open as long as you remain a valuable investment. That window could be closing sooner than anyone expects.” He nodded toward the Diamond, tucked the red collar away again, and went back to writing.
“Take it while you can, DaSilva,” snickered the man in white, still clapping.
DaSilva allowed a strained look on his face for a moment longer. The crowd loved these dramas and paid to follow them. Then he yelled at the man in white, “Stop bringing your sixth-rank trash for me to fight and fuck, Bondmaster Kott! Send out your best!”
DaSilva stalked within six feet of the bulky Kott, before taking heed of the two burly, squat bodyguards sitting on either side of their employer.
Kott waved down their brandished pulserifles with one meaty, ruddy-brown hand. Long ago, he’d been an arena legend himself. Now he was Shemua’s main offworld rival. “I’ll be a sport, since you asked so nicely, and send out one of my second-ranks, eh?”
“Not them,” said DaSilva and then pointed at the painted man at Kott’s feet. “Him.”
Michol Kott leaned back and petted his slave’s wavy blue-black hair. “Got a taste for rare game now, Leopard?”
Sensing new mayhem, the audience jeered. The arena audio technicians had already oriented on the drama. Drone cameras hovered around the tableau, feeding images into the ceiling screens. Every sound was beautifully, brutally clear.
“Give me…the Diamond,” said DaSilva, stumbling over the other man’s stage name.
Kott gave an ugly laugh. “Sorry, my treasure is meant for the best opponents with the best sponsors. More credits to me, that way. You, Freeborn DaSilva? You’re a washed-up solo act taking the hard way down. And you know what’s really funny? The Diamond did this to you. Made you weak. Made you fall in love. I warned you, and you let it happen anyway.”
“He deserves better!” DaSilva snapped. “Set him free! He should have earned more than enough already…”
“This pretty monster?” Kott gripped the black collar around his slave’s throat and pulled back, forcing the man to show his face. The painted operatic mask accented the man’s large, dark irises. Maybe the shimmer in them was tears, or rage…or maybe just the witnesses’ fantasies. He wore only a short black kilt. Over the rest of his exposed pale skin, elusive green, purple, pink, and blue highlights shone out bright enough for the cameras to detect.
“Starlight,” DaSilva whispered as if the sound techs wouldn’t broadcast that, too.
Kott snorted. “Don’t be fooled by his looks. The Diamond is a mutant freak, and a Black-Band murderer sent to the arena for justice. This is his rehabilitation…and my considerable investment. Don’t tell yourself lies about freedom. If you owned him, Leopard, you’d keep him chained, too.”
DaSilva shuddered, looking down at the now-impassive fighter. He reached out abortively with his right hand.
Kott jerked the collar back, bending his fighting-slave backward over his thigh. Kott stared warningly down into the silent man’s eyes and then looked up at DaSilva with a trace of sympathy. “I know what he’s like. He’s addictive. It’s why we put him in the Cage in the first place, to snare fools like you. You want him that badly, to share another tender stolen night?” the older man mocked.
“Mara save my soul, yes,” DaSilva groaned.
The Diamond made a tiny wordless noise of protest and shut his dazzling black eyes.
“Sero Freeborn DaSilva, I’ll let you fight him for credits, since you need all the money you can get. If you win, I’ll even cut you a limited sponsorship deal. You keep your freedom. Fight for me, and I’ll bring you back from whatever east Saba back alley you’ve been detoxing in. You’ll get to see my Diamond every single day. Maybe even fight him during training.”
A wince from DaSilva. Another round of knowing laughter from the audience.
“But you won’t get to fuck him again. Ever. He doesn’t get to fuck you. Not even in the arena. I think you’ve had enough of that drug. And first you have to win.”
Kott stood, rising like a craggy glacier in his sleek white suit. He dragged the Diamond upright with him. When the bondmaster doffed his wide-brimmed white hat at DaSilva, it revealed his gray, buzz-cut hair. The Diamond looked slender and fragile beside him. He leaned against the old giant and tried to hide his painted face against Kott’s jacket lapels.
“None of that now, sweetling,” Kott murmured, pulling the young fighter away from him. He forced the Diamond to look at DaSilva. “This idiot thinks he’s in love with you. Let’s give him some harsh medicine. I’ll pay the death fines out of my own pocket. Kill him.”
The Diamond glared back at his owner. “Nn…nn…no,” he forced out in a harsh stammer.
“No, you’ll pay? No, you don’t think you can take him now? Or no, you don’t want to?” Kott growled.
Kott gave him an oddly approving glare made of narrowed eyes and too many exposed teeth. “And here I thought this evening would be boring. Kill him, don’t kill him, I don’t care. If he lives, he crawls away sixty thousand credits poorer tonight. Break him. Or I’ll break you.”
The camera techs worked their magic and isolated the moment the Diamond gave Kott the most defiant look anyone had ever seen from him in a career of bloody insurrection and harnessed rage.
Kott shook his head. “You stupid puppy, I’ve been protecting you all these years. Buying you time. Maybe tonight you get a life lesson along with the Leopard, eh?”
The Diamond spat in Kott’s face.
DaSilva muttered a furious curse that fizzled out when the cameras focused on the Diamond’s face, as the silent man turned to stare at his newest challenger. The whole arena saw it. No malice. No regret. A flicker of pity, shunted into resolve that straightened the slave’s spine. Certainly not a lover’s look.
On the screens, the betting went wild.
Silly me, I thought I was starting to write a fairly simple space opera romp back in 2011. To save on brand-new worldbuilding, I used some background characters and a setting from one of the future time periods of my much larger universe. Moro’s story instantly became linked to a godawful big setting and history. I don’t regret it, since my pattern-matching little brain came up with so many logical reasons for Moro to be part of that larger story arc.
However, many of my erotic romance readers have expressed confusion over the number of names, titles, and tribes mentioned.
To help make up for that, here is a barely alphabetized, hastily edited, and probably faulty glossary-appendix for those of you who actually care about such things.
Adam Hegen, last name pronounced more like ‘HAY gun’: human medic and spy, posing as a bond-slave assigned to Michol Kott’s arena combat company, and specifically responsible for Moro’s health. Hegen’s face and body have been rebuilt. He has another employer and a secret identity as someone Moro once knew on Ventana: Dr. Carson, father of Moro’s girlfriend Demetra.
Aiyon (called Aiyon Sonta), pronounced ‘eye OWN’: a powerful and devious star-eater (Ksala) whose signature fires are amethyst purple. Is obsessed by/in love with the star-eater Tena.
Aksenna (called Aksenna Sonta), pronounced ‘ak SEN ah’: a star-eater known for her ancient insanity, lingering sadism, and strong sense of honor. Her signature is orange-pink fire.
Alys Antonin ne’Cama: Liatana’s Knife, Ambassador to Cedar, Liatana’s female mate, and official second mother to Valier, though he calls her ‘Aunt’. A former marine, Alys keeps up her physical training and is one of the few Camalians with confirmed enemy kills to her name. Note: the ne’Cama suffix is a Camalian honorific meaning ‘of Cama’.
Antonin, pronounced ‘ANN toe neen’: the Royal Family of the Camalian Commonwealth, direct descendants of Maya and Jamal Antonin. They are bred and engineered for the mental gifts allowing them to function as emotional conduits for Cama and the entire Commonwealth. To physically announce the presence of these abilities, the Antonin Royals show distinct markers: brown-gold skin paired with startlingly bright blond hair and pale-golden to amber eyes rimmed black around the irises. They tend to be short in stature. Their facial features tend to show Old Earth African and south-Asian influences, but that can be said for many Commonwealth citizens.
Anyatisa Aksenna Sonta, pronounced ‘on yah TEE sah’: also called ‘Anya Weaver’ or ‘Anya Dalgleish’. Moro’s Sonta mother, who masqueraded as human while she studied Sonta ruins in the Terran League. She met Merrick Dalgleish on a dig site on Ventana, fell in love with him, and convinced Merrick to return with her to the Aksenna Sonta tribe. Died on Ventana at Moro’s birth.
Apex worlds: the longest-settled and richest planets of the Terran League, known for high technology, sprawling cities, and labyrinthine politics. Several of them are owned/governed outright by the biggest mega-corporations. Many of them, for no reason known to this author, are named for historical sites or tree species of Old Earth.
The Banner Queens: three mysterious and possibly immortal rulers of a Sonta empire in a neighboring galaxy. They alone apparently have the power to create or repair the technology the Sonta use to enslave star-eaters. The Sonta races are essentially exiles cast out of their own empire for unknown reasons by the Banner Queens. Sonta tribes may only return when the star-eaters in their care evolve into Lifebringers. This doesn’t seem to happen often.
Bazo, full name Bazilio Malkovski: sadistic arena fighter defeated and killed by the Diamond (Moro).
Bond, Bonder, Bond-slave: Judicially implemented slavery common in the Terran League and unknown in the Camalian Commonwealth. Individuals and entire families can go into bond, often for multiple generations. Financial losses, bankruptcy, convicted fraud and other white-collar crimes can lead to a Red-Band sentence, usually paid by nonviolent and mostly humanitarian service. Murder, torture, rape, and treason lead to Black-Band sentences, often carried out in grim mining colonies, dangerous industrial work, and the arena fighting system.
Brightcliff: isolated small planet on the very outskirts of the Terran League, considered an ancient Sonta outpost and possible laboratory world of the White Storm.
Buyout Day: the day when a Terran League colony pays back all its terraforming and colonization debts, and its bond-slave population becomes free citizens with a guaranteed income and voting rights in the colony’s future governance. Planetary Buyout Days are afterward considered some of their most important holidays, and are often marked by the founding of new businesses and the manumission of bond-slaves. Buyout Families are the original indentured colonists, now full citizens with stipends and varying degrees of aristocracy.
Cama, called Patrona by her Camalian humans, pronounced more like ‘COMM ah’ than ‘KAY mah’: lesser energy being (also called an elemental) somehow related to star-eaters, and terrified of drawing their attention. Her initial bargain with the human dissidents on Terra Prima was intended to hide her golden energy signature within the bodies of millions of virus-converted humans. In return, she gives her humans longer lives and better health, some interesting physical quirks, and a silent background linkage to all other Camalians. The Sonta know her by a slightly different name, and know more of her history than the Camalians do.
Cama’s Fire: the molecular-level immolation that occurs after Camalians die, as the individual symbionts in their bodies burn their hosts’ matter to fuel the interdimensional jump back to Camonde and Cama’s largest physical form. Cama’s Fire occurs even before death, as Camalians shed skin, hair, and bodily wastes. Once those materials are between three to five feet away from their host body, they burn up as the symbionts return to Cama. For Camalian adults, this process is voluntary and controllable, allowing them to work with volatile chemicals.
Cama’s Kiss or Cama’s Touch: the initial infection of the nano-virus symbiont into new human tissue. Most of the time this leads to shock, hallucinations, coma, and death within a few hours of infection.
Cama’s Lake: large underground pool of golden light below the city of Sagana on Camonde, the lair of Cama’s largest physical manifestation.
Camalian: member of the biologically-enhanced human subspecies who adopted/was adopted by the energy creature called Cama. Initially a group of humanistic political dissidents at bitter war with the more-religious population of Terra Prima, over the centuries the Camalians have carefully fostered a reputation for reason and pacifism. Though individual preferences vary, Camalians tend to be atheists and agnostics. Cama is a real, friendly, and fallible presence in their lives, so they don’t feel a need to invent higher powers.
While traveling or working in the Terran League, Camalian citizens are required to wear bright orange garb for easy visibility, to wear protective gloves, and half-masks or veils to prevent accidental infection of humans. Sexual contact between Terran humans and Camalians is forbidden by both races, as it is considered a death sentence for the human participant. The Sonta apparently have no such fears, as they are each similarly infected/linked to their own star-eaters. Pairings between Camalians and Sonta are physically possible but always infertile.
Camalian Commonwealth: the worlds settled and/or terraformed by Camalians. General government duties are carried out by Parliament and Representatives. The Emperor or Empress (always the highest-powered Antonin of their generation) intercedes into politics only as necessary to broker compromises. Most of the time, the Royals are charged with keeping stable Cama’s link with the millions of Camalian citizens.
Camali, pronounced ‘cah MALL ee’: what the Sonta call Camalians.
Camels: what uninformed or hostile humans call Camalians, trading on the threat of Camalians apparently ‘spitting fire’.
Camonde, pronounced ‘cah MOND’: homeworld of the Camalian subspecies. See also ‘Terra Prima’.
Cedar and Cedar-Saba: a Terran League Apex world, and its continent-wide major city. Saba ‘SAH bah’ was the original settlement, its oldest buildings still present in the university sector. See entry on Siwana Space Museum.
Cedar University: one of the premier universities in the Terran League, its primary campus alone is almost a hundred miles across. Moro was originally intended to go here on a scholarship to learn business law, and use that training to benefit Ventana upon his graduation.
Credit: Terran League units of currency. Hard-credit is not linked to a particular economy but to fluctuations in the entire Terran League economy. It can be momentarily unstable but is usually and swiftly self-corrected. Hard-credit is effectively untraceable, can be considered somewhat analogous to our Bitcoin, and is often considered illegal by planetary governments (and thus highly desirable to everyone else). Soft-credit is linked to specific banks, governments, and companies, conferring their theoretical stability in exchange for taxation and easily traced transactions.
Dala: resort planet in the Terran League.
Danil (called Danil Sonta), pronounced ‘dan EEL’: a relatively young and newly enslaved star-eater.
Deljou Shannon, pronounced ‘dell JOO’: human female Cedar-Saba news reporter with Channel 98 entertainment service. Has a reputation as a social activist.
Demetra Carson, pronounced ‘deh MEE trah’: Doc Carson’s daughter, Jost and Moro’s girlfriend, murdered by Lyton Sardis when she attempted to rescue Moro.
Dennis Vance: human supremacist businessman in Cedar-Saba, grandfather to Karl Vance.
Desmeel, pronounced ‘dess MEEL’: isolated backwater planet in the Terran League. Another former laboratory world of the White Storm, now home to a failing human colony.
Diamond, The: Moro’s stage name when enslaved by Michol Kott.
Dream Alley: low-rent sector in south Cedar-Saba, known for its drug deals, stolen-goods markets, and bordellos catering to riskier tastes.
Encanto Sector: wealthier mid-town section of Cedar-Saba, seven hundred miles north of Vaclav Sector.
Father Milos: parish priest and friend of Gran Case. He vanished during the diaspora of freeborn citizens after the takeover of Ventana.
Galiah Halloran, first name pronounced ‘GAH lee ah’: Ventana bonder and businesswoman who schemed her way into a private fortune and bought her family out of servitude early. Grandmother to David and Levi Halloran. Began the business fraud which allowed Rio Sardis to legally assume control of the Ventana Holding Company and the entire colony.
The Golden Cage: oldest and most important of the fighting arenas in Cedar-Saba. The arenas are a League-wide, multimillion-credit entertainment industry founded on sexual humiliation and ancient styles of mixed martial arts. Fighters who win (gamecocks) can choose their prize as either the losers’ (songbirds) credits or bodies, and victims are often brutally raped in public in the arena. Both free persons and bond-slaves fight in the arena. The credit prizes can rise so high they often allow surviving bond-slaves to purchase their freedom in a few short years. While violent criminals are often sentenced to the arena, physically suitable debtors often choose the risk for the possible payoff. While women can and do fight against men in certain arenas, the Golden Cage is reserved for male fighters only.
Guide of Cama: the closest thing to a priesthood among Camalians. Guides have an unusual sensitivity to Cama (often through diluted Antonin genetics), and can help their less-sensitive compatriots with stress relief, biofeedback, fully activating the healing potential of the symbiont, psychological issues, and sexual issues. They are quick to point out they are not prostitutes, who have their own esteemed guilds in the Commonwealth.
Hunt sister: Sonta term for a woman in a female/female pairing.
Imraithi (also called Imra), pronounced ‘eem RYE thee’: Sonta queen and current chief Vessel of Ksala Aksenna, genetic grandmother to Moro. Known to be a neuro- and genetics-sequencing genius. Emotionally very cold and practical. Imraithi has been playing a careful, dangerous, and long game with her daughter Anyatisa as a major pawn.
Jamal Antonin, pronounced ‘jah MALL’: the first Camalian Shield, husband to Maya Antonin.
Jason Kee-DaSilva, also called the DaSilva Leopard for his dyed hair and leopard-spot shoulder and back tattoos. A human male fighter defeated by the Diamond (Moro). Known to be the only arena fighter to ask politely for Moro’s submission and get it, the Leopard has neither confirmed nor denied that he and Moro had a secret love affair a year or so before the events in Moro’s Price. Homosexual.
Johani Richeson ne’Cama, pronounced ‘joe HAWN ee’: female Camalian technician rescued from possible human mob attack by Dr. Adam Hegen, along with her young sons Phillipe and Tomas
Jost Ventana, pronounced ‘Yohst’ like ‘ghost’: heir and chief officer of the Ventana Holding Company. Moro’s boyfriend. Died during the takeover of Ventana.
Jumay, pronounced ‘JOO may’: favorite mortal Sonta Vessel of the Ksala Tena. Apparently had a sanctioned affair with Alys Antonin during a diplomatic mission.
Karl Vance: freeborn arena fighter defeated and killed by the Diamond (Moro). Grandson of Dennis Vance. Had earlier run-ins with Valier at Cedar University parties, where Val apparently mocked Karl’s repressed homosexuality.
Kial Surna (linguistically drifted version of ‘Kyle Cerna’): human priest from an alternate universe (possibly ours). His rescue of stranded human political prisoners (analogs of the original Camalian dissidents) led him to become the first human mate and Vessel to the White Storm, and the founder of one of the Sonta’s ancestral races in Moro’s universe. Moro was partially engineered from Surna’s stored genetic material, and bears a strong resemblance to him.
Kino Hospital: medical facility in northern Cedar-Saba known for its Camalian-only facilities.
Knife and Shield: in Camalian culture the Knife is the same-sex spouse of an Antonin Royal. The Shield is the opposite-sex spouse. Popular convention says that only the most high-powered Antonin Royals need two mates to balance them emotionally. While the attraction is typically instant on sight (on the Antonin’s part), it can be more nuanced for the Knife and Shield. In short, the Royal needs his or her mates, but those mates may not be as emotionally reliant on the Royal.
Knifehounds: large mastiff-type dogs brought back to Camonde by Alys Antonin from a previous diplomatic mission. Also, Valier’s codeword and nickname for Moro.
Korman Ventana: original Founder of the Ventana Holding Company, Jost’s ancestor.
Ksala and Ksaloni, pronounced more like ‘ka SAH la’ and ‘ka sah LOW nee’: also called star-eaters, sun-devourers, Bound Ksala, Unbound (also known as Feral or Free Ksala). Extremely ancient spacefaring energy beings. Cannibalistic predators apparently birthed either at the beginning of their universe, or out of the largest black holes. They eat matter and energy, by preference each other. When they ingest large numbers of sentient beings, they begin to gain sentience themselves. The Sonta ancestors discovered how to enslave them as power sources and weapons, using as lure and punishment physical sensations transmitted through mortal Vessels linked to their star-eaters. Some Ksala continue to evolve into different kinds of energy-beings, called Lifebringers.
Among the Sonta, the oldest and most prized Bound Ksala are the pack mates Aiyon, Aksenna, and Tena, apparently born out of one primordial cataclysm along with their brother, the former star-eater now called the White Storm. Alone of all known Ksaloni, these four learned how to hunt together instead of tearing each other apart. Their legendary murder of an ancient Lifebringer called Fountain of Stars set off the cosmological beginnings of both the Sonta and the human races in Moro’s universe.
In physical form (a tiny manifestation of their true size), star-eaters can app