“That does limit things a bit — not all of our associates are available for quite so long at once.” She shuffled through some papers, and spread five on the counter. I looked. Each one had a picture of one of the rental friends, all beaming and beautiful hovens dressed for the beach, and a few none-too-specific sentences about how Trabundo was cheerful and compliant, Elesma was enthusiastic and energetic, Tarcuna was sweet and spunky, and so on. That should have been a clue too.
Spunky sounded like an advantage in making reservations. “Tarcuna, maybe.”
“An excellent choice. Let me consult with her and make sure that she’s actually available. Our associates don’t always tell me their commitments two weeks in advance.” (Which was an overripe-mango sort of white lie.) She smiled that fearsomely symmetric smile, and walked elegantly down a corridor to one of many small doors. She tapped on the door. “Tarcuna, are you alone in there?”
Tarcuna was alone, and let the receptionist in. The receptionist asked, “We’ve got a customer, for a two-week hire. Are you available?” I think she thought I couldn’t hear her. Hovens are basically deaf.
“I never have any plans. That’s fine,” said Tarcuna. “Boy or girl?”
“Girl, named Joffee something-or-other. Young. Not so bad to look at. From out of town, but I’m not sure where. I’m not sure if she’s your exactly your type or not.”
“I don’t really care if she’s my type or not. A job’s a job,” said Tarcuna.
“Has Bopo been fed lately?” asked the receptionist.
“Yesterday. Make sure I can get a night off in a week so I can feed him again, can you? It would be awkward if my customer got sick halfway through.”
“I’ll check. She’s got to sleep sometime anyways. Anything else I should ask about?”
“Nothing really. I know what to do. Buzz me and I’ll come out,” said Tarcuna.
So the receptionist came back, and discussed the rates with me (fifteen hundred thurneys a day, with a 100% tip traditional for satisfactory service, plus I’m supposed to buy her meals and museum tickets and such if she’s going to any such things with me, the receptionist was careful to inform me), and make sure that Tarcuna would have one half-day off out of every ten. I counted out thirty thousand thurneys in bills, the receptionist pushed a button that rang a bell, and that was that.
Tarcuna sauntered out of her chamber. She’s a compact hoven with short neat red fur with grey stripes, long red hair in spirals, and a very full udder. She was wearing short swimwear, rather like in her flier. Little paste gems were glued on her hooves, and a big paste smile was glued on her mouth. “Joffee? I understand that you’re my special friend for a very long time? I’m Tarcuna,” she said and embraced me in considerable detail. At that point I did start to suspect what she was, really I did. But only a little.
“Glad to meet you, Tarcuna. I’m Jyothky, though.” She tried to say it right, but it kept coming out Joffee. So I told her to use my highschool nickname Spotty, which I had to translate into Trestean so she could say it right.
“Would you like to come back to my room, have a little brandy, relax a bit and get to know each other better?” she asked.
“OK! But I will be making you work some in a half-hour or a whole one!” I said. I wanted a hotel room.
“I’ll work in whatever way you like, Spotty,” she purred in a voice as sweet and artificial as corn syrup.
So we went back to her room, which was a small place with a big and very important-looking bed, and a few smaller and lesser bits of furniture here and there. It looked all very contrived, except for a battered textbook on designing ray guns stuck in a corner. Tarcuna poured us each a little cup of some sort of sweet aromatic brandy from a cheap-looking glass decanter, and held her cup to my lips to drink a little toast to friendship and pleasure. Which all should have been a pretty unambiguous clue, but I was mostly thinking of the hotel.
And after we finished our brandy, and said a few very unmemorable pleasantries, she asked me what I liked.
“For this vacation? Seeing Dorday … museums and parks and such. The zoo, definitely, I don’t know anything about the native animals except for some ugly pointy desert herbivores. I’m going to eat a lot — I’ve got an appetite that you wouldn’t believe, and I haven’t had much but raw meat for a while. Mostly, though, I don’t want any company … hovens don’t count … but obviously you won’t be helping with that.” No point in being secret from my rent-a-friend.
Tarcuna laughed, and said. “Oh, I’ll be glad to show you around Dorday all you want! You’re funny, Spotty. People don’t count as company? What does?”
OK, I guess that wasn’t quite as clear as it could have been. I tried the direct approach. “I’m really a dragon — that’s a gigantic scaly carnivorous monster from another dimension. I’m here on my engagement flight. But I’m pretty annoyed at all the rest of us, so I’m taking a vacation for a few weeks from them.”