Excerpt from "Halloween at the Imperial Palace"
Updated: Aug 28
In an effort to blend human and Alliance cultures, the Imperial Palace is hosting a Halloween Ball. After a careful study of the holiday, horror holos have been created by a team of telepathic Alliance doctors so that humans may enjoy their worst fears at the ball.
Will Tulia ever forgive Kal for proposing she become a virgin sacrifice in her Halloween holo?
“Madame Tulia Bell of House Human wasn’t given an invitation?” I use her full name just to make sure we are talking about the same woman.
My commander flashes me a smile. “Yes, that’s the one.” It seems like he’s going to say something else, but then abandons it and says, “Humans don’t always use logic about these things. I heard the Head of House Human used a lottery system to choose who would attend.”
I’m speechless. In the Empire, nothing we can control is left up to chance.
“Would you like to extend her an invitation? It’s your right now as a High Brother.”
“Yes, most definitely. Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me. We’re a House after all. A strange and new House being mainly composed of maximum class men at the moment, but a House nonetheless, and it’s my duty and honor to watch over my members in a pastoral capacity as any Head would do.”
“May the goddesses always guide you.”
“And you walk in their light,” he replies with the set phrase. “I’ll have the invitation sent via the Imperial Palace within the confines of your ban. The goddesses honor you, Kal, and hopefully, their blessings will also include a marriage ceremony soon, before your next birthday. It’d be nice to have a woman around here.”
I bow in gratitude. I don’t want the commander to see my face. I, too, hope for a marriage soon, but I’m not even courting Tulia so I don’t want to jinx anything by appearing too self-assured.
“Now, there’s a matter of you choosing Madame Tulia’s holo. According to what we know about the traditions on this holiday, humans like to scare themselves to celebrate.” He holds up his hand, “I know, I don’t know how frightening oneself is pleasurable, but humans seem to have a culture that’s the mirror image of our own.”
“I agree. What do I need to do to choose Tulia’s Halloween holo?”
“Our doctors have compiled attendees' profiles and singled out their three most significant fears. I took the liberty of putting Madame Tulia Bell’s name down already. As I understand it, when the humans enter the Imperial Palace tomorrow night, all will seem normal at first. Then, the humans will be engulfed in a realistic horror holo drama. Apparently, they’re going to really enjoy it.”
“How will so many holos be individualized in such a large space?”
The commander shows me a large orange holo bracelet with a gold charm.
“That’s a strange color to choose. Is it of middling class design?”
“Most likely, they’ve all the best luxuries when it comes to entertainment. The idea is that, when each human arrives, the one who has chosen their Halloween holo will put the bracelet on them, but aren’t allowed to warn them of what’s to come.”
“So they’ll know who to blame if the holo isn’t terrifying enough?”
“I assume so.”
“Do we all get Halloween holos?” The last thing in the galaxy I want to experience is a holo of my worst fears designed by telepathic doctors.
“No, only the humans, as it’s their celebration. Emperor Ket has been instrumental in planning every detail meticulously. I think he was motivated by the Empress’s low mood. She’s not been the same since the reincarnate goddess of humanity was born.” My commander opens his computer. “I’m sending you Madame Tulia’s choice of holos now, and you need to have completed your choice for her by the Watching.”
“One more thing. You should also know the holos will be broadcast for other guests who don’t have a human to participate with in the Imperial Hall. So keep that in mind when choosing. You don’t want Madame Tulia’s holo to embarrass her.”
“Will it only be broadcast in the palace?”
“As I understand it, the palace and the doctors who created the holos will keep all the records for their professional use.”
The commander and I share a knowing look about doctors.
Then the commander advises me, “It might be better to choose Tulia’s Halloween holo before the High Priestess visits. Rumor has it she doesn’t approve of this human celebration and may forbid you from participating.”
“I’ll do my best to have it finished before the High Priestess arrives then,” I bow to express my gratitude and take my leave. I suppress a smile until I enter the common room again and see my good friend, Jol.
“You’re certainly pleased with yourself. Did you receive more praise from the commander?”
“Better. An invitation to the Halloween Ball is being sent to Tulia.”
“She wasn’t already going?”
“Apparently, House Human had a lottery to decide who would represent them.”
“I don’t know,” we share a look, a smile, and then say at the same time, “Humans.”
“Do you think she knows about the ban and doesn’t want to see you? I’ve heard some human women call the custom ‘barbaric.’”
“No. She must know about the ban. It’s very obvious. I’m the only man who talks to her. I even RVM her.”
“Have you sent her any jewelry?”
“Not yet.” I don’t add that I’ve not sent her any jewelry because I spent most of my UCs putting a ban on her and to send her some of my Known Jewelry before we are courting is too avant-garde for a man like me.
“You should send her a small piece of jewelry to wear at the ball. Something to let her know you’re behind the invitation,” Jol suggests. “You’re in the Guards of the Temple now. You’ve access to more UCs and you’ve earned them a hundred times over, High Brother Kal.”
“I’ll think about it,” I reply diplomatically. It’s still difficult for me to take more UCs than what I think I need although Jol isn’t wrong, being in the Guards of the Temple allows me access to more than I’ve ever had in my life. But, I was born into a humble House, and my economic habits are still very much defined by my upbringing.
I purposely change the subject to the GR rebels, because I don’t want to talk about jewelry or UCs. But my mind wanders and soon I’m only half listening to Jol. I’m thinking about Tulia. Wondering if she doesn’t want to be with me because I’m a self-made man, and that’s why she didn’t demand an invitation to the Halloween Ball. She could do much better than me, and the price I had to pay for her ban proves that, but the way she looked at me at the last Assembly made me think she also recognizes that I’m her true other half. I try to convince myself that it’s only slightly concerning that she didn’t tell her Head of House she wanted to go to the ball. I know very few other human women have bans on them, so she would’ve been given priority by custom.
I close my eyes, remembering the look she gave me after I kissed her forehead and was properly fined for it at the last Assembly. A wave of pleasure passes through me. If only we would’ve been alone then.
I open my eyes. “Sorry. I’m exhausted.”
“You’re not tired. You’re thinking about Tulia,” Jol says.
“You’re right, and you reminded me I must choose her horror holo for the ball. I’ll see you at the evening meal.”
“Horror? You’re going to frighten a woman, and you expect her to want to see you again?”
“I have it on good authority that human women like to be terrified when they celebrate this holiday.”
Jol is thunderstruck; after a second, he composes himself. “Listen, Kal, I don’t think you should scare her. I have three sisters. None of them like to be scared. Tulia may never speak to you again.”
I shrug my shoulders, “But they aren’t human, are they?”
As I leave the common room, Jol says loudly, “Send her some jewelry! And by the goddesses, do not scare her!”