"Don't look so grim, Keelie. You're getting married, not being executed."
Keelie sighed and leaned back in her seat. She stared out the tiny, round window at the star-scattered blackness of space. "I've never even met him. I feel like I'm gambling with my future. I only agreed to this because if I don't, it could jeopardize the peace between Ria and Tarva. 'A marriage between two ruling families cements the bonds of friendship,' or however my father put it."
"How bad can he be?" Meg smiled. "You know, Ashler House is very powerful. And Ashler, as the only surviving member of the family, owns half the mines on Ria."
"So that makes him one of the wealthiest men in the galaxy."
"That doesn't say anything about what he's like as a person."
"But an element of surprise makes this all the more romantic, doesn't it? He's handsome too. Did you see him in that newscast? Such eyes!"
Keelie sighed. She knew Meg was just trying to lift her spirits, but Keelie wasn't fooled. She might as well have signed away her entire future. A cold, heavy lump of dread sat in her stomach.
"At the very least, you'll have more luxury than you know what to do with. I'll bet there are thousands of women all over the galaxy who'd love to be in your shoes right now. And here you sit sighing and making faces like you just bit into a piece of rotten fruit."
A faint smile tugged at Keelie's lips. "I shouldn't tolerate such insolence from you, you know. Father says I'm too lenient with servants. But honestly, I think I'd be bored out of my skull if everyone around me was quiet and respectful. It's nice to have someone who'll actually talk to me."
Meg chuckled. "I do my best."
"At least you don't treat me like a treasure to be hoarded or bartered away."
"You're not being bartered away."
"What do you call it, then? This marriage is purely political, after all. And yet I'll have to give my body to him... and be subservient to his will." She placed a hand on the window's cool plastic as she stared out. Her home world, Tarva, had become a faint blue speck. She could scarcely recognize it among the stars. "I've been given so many lectures about how I'm supposed to act around him and what I'm supposed to say. Our culture is so backward and male-dominated I'm not even permitted to be myself with the man who'll become my husband. I wish I'd been born on one of the more enlightened planets." She rubbed her temple, where a headache was beginning to flare up.
Meg squeezed her hand. "You never know. He may be just what you want."
"Or he could be a deranged, syphilis-riddled rapist who can't get excited unless he slaps me around a little first."
"Stars above! Lord Ashler isn't a monster. Do you really think your father would hand you over to someone like that?"
"I don't know. Does anyone really know what Lord Ashler is like? He's so reclusive; I don't think anyone except his servants ever sees him. That newscast doesn't count... especially since he hardly said two words throughout the interview. Who knows what's going on behind that stony expression?"
Meg looked nervous for a moment, then hid it behind another smile. "Have a little faith."
"I wish I could." Keelie sighed and leaned back in her seat. It had been a long trip, but it would be over soon. In a few days, they would land on her new home--on Ria. Keelie's heartbeat quickened, more with fear than excitement.
Overhead, she heard a beep, and a clear female voice intoned, "Shifting to hyperspace."
Keelie took a deep breath, braced herself, and hoped she wouldn't throw up. Hyperspace travel never agreed with her.