“Admit it. You have no idea where you are going.”
At least Adrianne sounded amused and not pissed off. Jared stopped in the middle of the gray corridor that looked just like the last three hallways they’d walked through. It was his own damn fault for taking the military transport instead of flying commercial. He’d considered it a perk of being a military brat - much faster trip in exchange for the lack of comforts.
Of course, once they’d disembarked, all of the personnel had gone off, knowing exactly where they were on the military base. Jared had stridden forward, confident that he could navigate. He’d practically grown up at the Atlantic base. This could not be that different.
“It’s true.” He let their suitcases fall off from his shoulders and onto the reinforced flooring.
Adrianne dug for her comm. “Maybe I should call Jensen?”
Great. Jensen would have to come out and save his little brother again. Jared ran a hand through his hair, knowing he really should be beyond the kneejerk response he had to that kind of thing. It had been ten years since he’d last seen his brother in person. He could at least not act like an irritated twelve-year-old.
Several voices coming from around the corner drew his attention. “Hold on a sec,” Jared told Adrianne and stuck his head down that hall. Maybe they could ask for directions.
“They’re asking for volunteers. For Discord.”
“That’s not good news. I didn’t realize it was that close to completion.”
“It’s not. That’s the problem.”
Jared cleared his throat. “Um, excuse me?”
The two men turned to look at them. One had the bluest eyes Jared had ever seen. The other had dark hair to match his dark gaze. Both were dressed in what looked to be some kind of uniform, though it wasn’t like any military uniform Jared had ever seen before. They wore black pants with tall polished boots, and a dark jacket with more straps and buckles that seemed necessary and collars buttoned up to their throats.
“You must really be lost. Tourist wing is all the way on the other side of the base.” The blue-eyed man gestured.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t come off a tourist transport.” Annoyance crept into Jared’s voice. This guy didn’t know a damn thing about him. “My brother was supposed to send an escort.”
The dark haired man put a hand on the other’s shoulder. “Who is your brother?”
“Major Jensen Ackles.” Whatever title Jensen might have on this weird planet, Jared chose to use the one his brother had earned.
To his surprise, the confusion expression on the blue-eyed man’s face cleared and his expression brightened. “You’re Jensen’s little brother?” He looked Jared up and down. “Not so little. Stars, you’re huge.”
Adrianne giggled. She stepped next to Jared and put her arm around his waist. “He gets that a lot. I’m Adrianne. This is Jared.”
“I’m Hank. Well.” He rolled his eyes. “Major Henry Tappen, if you want to go all formal. This is my Dom, Advisor Ian.”
Jared stiffened. “You’re from the city?” They certainly didn’t look kinky, although perhaps those uniforms were a bit tighter than normal. Then again Jared wasn’t certain what to expect. He’d seen the advertisements on the net that billed Harmony as little more than a pleasure planet.
But he trusted Jensen. Jensen wouldn’t let him come to a place like that.
“Well, Ian is originally. I just live there.” Hank grinned. “I just couldn’t pass up all the fantastic sex.”
The other man - Ian - rubbed his forehead. “Henry.”
From the little smirk Hank gave Ian, Jared wondered if his comment had been just to tease his partner – Dom – whatever they called it here.
“Jensen sent Colin to pick up you guys. You probably zigged when you should have zagged, since I’m pretty sure he’s waiting down by the disembarking area. We can show you the way.” Hank gestured in the appropriate direction.
“Thank you.” Adrianne gave Jared a squeeze before letting go.
Jared still felt a little unsettled as he grabbed their bags and followed. He was pretty sure he’d heard these names before, but Jensen had told him so many stories about different people here in Harmony he’d need an encyclopedia to keep track of them all. At least he remembered the Queen’s name. That was probably a bad person to forget.
Hank and Ian led the way back through the corridors, taking a left where Jared and Adrianne had gone right, to reveal an opening to a courtyard. A young man waited there, half sitting on the hood of a transport car. He stood and waved when Hank called his name.
Colin looked very young, although Jared feared he was reaching the point where anyone younger than thirty looked like a baby to him. The clothes were clearly Harmony inspired. The only reason Jared was familiar with it, was because that particular fashion had been the first to hit Earth once this planet had become famous. Colin wore a one-shouldered tunic that fell to mid-thigh, leggings, and sandals.
The boy also wore a yellow collar. That meant he was a sub. Jared looked at Hank again, and realized the dark color of his uniform hid the black collar wrapped around his neck. Jared didn’t remember what the colors meant. He’d have to plug in later and find out.
“Of course you found them before I did.” Colin grinned. He ducked his head as Hank made to ruffle his hair.
“It’s true, not everyone can be as awesome as I am.” Hank nodded.
Colin laughed. “Need a lift back?”
Ian shook his head. “We still need to make our appointment. But we will see you all tomorrow at dinner.”
Jared hoped it would be just dinner. He’d heard all about the orgy-like parties held in the city. Of all the things he really didn’t want to see, his brother in a compromising position was very high on that list.
Colin waved. Hank and Ian returned the way they had come. He then gave Jared and Adrianne a little bow. “I am Colin, sub in the household of the Queen of Harmony, Michelle Tal. Sub Jensen sent me to escort you to the city.”
“Thank you, Colin. It’s nice to meet you.” Adrianne smiled, and then swiftly introduced herself and Jared.
Colin beamed back. He reached into the truck and pulled out two gray stripes of fabric. “If you would, please wear these on your arms. It marks you as offworlders.”
Jared took the armband. Yeah, Jensen had mentioned this. No one would approach them with any awkward sexual intentions. This place was so weird.
He helped Colin load their bags in the back, and then held the door open for Adrianne. “He hardly looks old enough to drive,” Jared murmured.
Adrianne smacked him on the arm, but she had to bite her lips, so Jared knew she was holding back laughter. When Colin slid into the driver’s seat she asked him, “How far is it to the city?”
“Not far at all.” He started the vehicle and they took off, stopping a few times for Colin to show his credentials as they made their way off of the military base.
Jared looked out the windows, and couldn’t help but be in awe in how much work had been accomplished in the past ten years. From Jensen’s descriptions, nothing but forest surrounded the mysterious alien city. Now they drove on a crowded road that wouldn’t look out of place in the UP. Of course, tourism had picked up in the past few years, although it was carefully regulated. Jensen said they wouldn’t let just anyone into Harmony.
Jared didn’t know what the criteria was.
“How do you know Jensen?” Adrianne asked.
Colin shrugged, but thankfully kept his eyes on the road. “I was a page in the queen’s household when sub Jensen first came to Harmony. He returned when I was about to enter the Schola and gave me some good advice.”
“How does that work, exactly? Being in the queen’s household? I thought you subs all had a Dom?” Jared leaned forward. He didn’t miss the way Colin’s skin flushed.
“I had a Dom after I graduated. He died. It was a stupid accident.” Colin’s voice went rough and he cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry.” Jared had no idea what can of worms he’d opened up. “I didn’t mean to...”
“It’s all right. It’s not an unreasonable question. I was born into the queen’s household, and she took me back for fostering after I lost my master. As queen, she is responsible for some two hundred of us.”
Jared tried to figure out how that worked. “So the queen...all two hundred of you?”
Colin chuckled. “Not in the way you think. Not all of us, anyway. She rules the entire city. There are many tasks for her staff to perform. Not all of them are in the bedroom.”
So that meant she at least slept with some of them. Jared squeezed Adrianne’s hand and wondered how they were going to navigate the next two weeks.
The city popped up abruptly. Jared wasn’t prepared for it, not the way everything changed from familiar to not. There were spires and bridges in the distance, and in front of them a golden gate that stretched as far as the eye could see.
There was also a line of cars and other vehicles waiting to be let through.
“I’ll take us in another entrance.” Colin bypassed the line. “The queen’s pass is fantastic.”
“You don’t get to use it much, I gather.”
“I rarely go to the base.” Colin steered them further along the rippling golden wall. “And I can’t stand the way they’ve commercialized the main square for the tourists. There are subs on the market all the time now, not just during the Choosing. They are making a mockery of something that’s supposed to be sacred.”
Colin’s voice rose as he spoke, and then he closed his mouth abruptly, his cheeks going pink. “Forgive my speaking so plainly.”
“You’re not the first native to have problems with tourists,” Adrianne said.
Colin’s rant reminded Jared of Jensen. It sounded like something his brother would say. This kid had spent more time with Jensen in the past ten years than Jared had. He probably knew Jensen better right now. “I only caught about half of that.”
“That’s why Jensen sent us a manual.”
“I know. I read it. I still don’t understand…” Jared trailed off as they pulled up to the wall and it started to peel away.
The golden metal parted as if it were living mercury, twisting and curling away to make an entrance large enough for Colin to drive through. As they pulled through, Jared tried to find some indication of an entrance or controls, or anything that looked like machinery. There was nothing. When they came out the other side it smoothed back as if there hadn’t been an opening at all.
Colin parked the vehicle and opened the doors for them.
“It’s beautiful,” Adrianne murmured.
Jared agreed. He stepped out onto a cobblestone walkway. The buildings near them were quaint storefronts, but looking up, all he could see were spires that glinted in the sunlight. It was an incredible sight.
“Wait until you see it from above.” Colin went to a post and touched it. Almost as he spoke, a large red vehicle started to descend from the sky. It looked like something between a shuttle and a bus. Oh, these must be the trams Jared had heard of.
He gathered their bags, shaking his head when Colin offered to help. “I’m used to being the packhorse.”
Colin blinked. Jared could see confusion in his eyes, but didn’t offer to explain. He didn’t want to accidentally insult the boy.
They climbed aboard the empty tram. Jared set the bags down and took a seat, marveling at the expansive windows. The view would be amazing. Adrianne settled next to him, also pressing against the glass for a good look.
Jared looked back to see Colin kneeling in the large aisle in the center of the tram. “What are you doing?” he snapped.
“Jared.” Adrianne grasped his shoulder. “Did you even read the manual?”
“I did. He doesn’t, he doesn’t have to kneel.”
“What if he wants to?”
Colin just blushed, and didn’t reply. Jared stared out the window and didn’t see a thing.