Next morning, Anise groggily sat up and rubbed her head. Hangover. Great. She didn’t even drink that much, though it was also likely her body hadn’t fully adjusted to Aida’s diurnal rhythm yet. Especially that big ball of fire in the sky; something they never had to directly deal with on Mars, though Isla had become basically used to it thanks to living on Earth for six months.
Looking down at her sleeping companion, Anise smiled and whispered, “Last night was amazing, Isla, thanks,” while gently stroking her friend’s loose hair.
“Mm… you’re welcome…” Isla murmured, opening her eyes and gazing up at her one-time lover. “Morning.”
“Morning!” Anise replied, quickly tying her hair up into a single messy ponytail.
They took turns in the bath, then shared one more kiss before going back to their usual relationship. Wandering through into her own room, Isla grabbed some fresh clothes and got dressed, completely forgetting she had left her outfit from the previous evening strewn across Anise’s floor.
Dressed in a snazzy and sporty number – loose hotpants, a short sleeveless top, flat running shoes – she finally remembered to go and retrieve her clothes. Anise was fussing about her wardrobe deciding what to wear, dressed in only her underwear, so Isla did her best to ignore this sexy vision and moved over to the chair.
She found all but one item. “Mm, where’d my pants go?”
Anise stiffened. “Uh, didn’t you already take them?”
“Nope, they were in here with everything else.” Isla turned slowly, deliberately. “Anise… is there something else you’d like to share?”
“Oh, all right! Jeez…” Anise muttered, defeated. Pulling the worn underwear item from its hiding place under her bedsheets, she held them out, pouting a little and avoiding eye contact.
“Do I even want to know why you have my pants?”
“Are you about to embarrass me, Anise?”
Isla let out a light sigh and smiled. “All right, hit me.”
Anise leaned in close enough to whisper directly into her friend’s ear.
Blushing like mad, Isla gave a discrete cough. “You know exactly what you like, don’t you?” She had long ago grown used to Anise being kind of special when it came to cute girls and idols, but this one… this one very much took the cake.
“Yep! So um, can I…?”
If Isla had to hazard a guess as to how their sexy rendezvous might end, having Anise ask if she could keep her worn pants probably wouldn’t have made the list. Cracking up at this, she closed her friend’s fingers over the pants and pushed them back towards her. “Sure, you can keep them, just don’t tell me what you intend to do with them.”
“That’s probably for the best. Thanks!” Anise gave her best friend a snog for being wonderful.
Moaning a little at this intimate morning tongue gymnastics, Isla let out a happy sigh and tilted her head questioningly. “Out of interest, how long have you been after them? I’m guessing this isn’t a new thing.”
“Longer than I care to admit,” Anise mumbled, carefully tucking the item back under her bedsheets.
“You could’ve just asked. I’d have happily given you a pair, even if I probably would’ve felt hugely embarrassed at doing so.”
Anise held a finger up and made a disapproving ‘tut-tut’ sound. “Can’t do that. They need to be… you know, lived in. And obtained as a result of, um…”
“Activities partaken of?” Isla delicately suggested.
Cracking up a second time, Isla hugged her friend. “You’re one of a kind, Anise, never change!”
Happy at having such an understanding best friend, Anise returned to agonising over what to wear – spending the day with Lisa meant she needed to look her best – while Isla wandered back to her own room.
Dumping the clothes on her bed to sort out later, Isla went for a morning run around the campus, figuring she needed to work hard on improving her stamina before anything else.
Returning to the dormitory for a second shower, she changed into something casual involving hotpants and a loose blouse and joined Anise for breakfast. The dormitory’s cafeteria took up a full quarter of the ground floor to the left of the main entrance, no less impressive now than it had been their first time eating there.
Wooden tables and chairs filled the room from end to curved end, and on the inner side there resided an enormous kitchen behind the serving counters, regularly staffed by a dozen or more cooks and helpers.
They grabbed an omelette each and sat at one of the large tables near the windows, at which point Anise tucked into her meal. Between mouthfuls she asked, “How was the run?”
Isla gave a thumbs up. “Great! It’s nice being able to run under a real sky again.”
“I bet! No hangover?”
“Nope, I drank less than you last night, remember.” Isla grinned at her friend’s annoyed expression; Anise still felt a bit off-colour.
“You’re off with Mira today, aren’t you?” said the hungover one.
“Yeah, she’s helping me decide on a direction now I’ve probably settled on being a pure idol.”
“She’s an amazing talent when it comes to fashion and coordination, Isla, listen to her advice seriously,” Anise said, pointing with her fork.
Polishing off their meals, they headed out to their respective activities. Anise, taking a different idol path to her best friend, would be spending the day with Lisa figuring out how best to tackle things.
Outside, Mira already waited, looking sexy as ever in a crimson two-piece outfit involving hotpants, a hot top, and an even hotter Isla. “Morning, girls. Ready, Isla?”
Isla was – sudden spikes to her libido notwithstanding – so they wished Anise a good day and strolled over to the academy buildings, entering one of the domes and ending up in a spacious room at the rear, overlooking the ocean.
Several large folding tables occupied the centre, benches and shelves hugged each wall, and strewn across every flat surface was a veritable avalanche of materials; fabrics, partial outfits, tools. A level of chaos indicating either an incredibly untidy person, or possibly just someone who got far too wrapped up in their work to care about tidying.
“This is our humble little abode, Isla, make yourself at home.” Mira waved in the direction of a lime green sofa located under the window, and headed to one of the benches to make drinks.
“You’re a designer as well as a producer?” Isla asked as she made herself comfy on the soft and well-worn sofa.
Mira shook her head. “No, that’s Sophie’s deal. She creates outfits, I coordinate them.”
“Sophie is your partner?”
“Correct. You’ll meet her soon, I promise. She’s just heading out to the city with her apprentice to buy some materials she needs, so maybe tomorrow.” Walking over with two mugs, she handed one to Isla and placed her own on one of the central tables. “How are you settling in?”
Isla accepted the drink and took a sip of deliciously malty tea. “This is really nice! What is it?”
“Assam, a blend I import from Earth.”
“Can’t you get it locally?”
“I can, but it’s not really the same. I have a relative in India send a shipment every month or two.” Mira took a sip of her own drink and made a pleasant expression.
“I never would’ve guessed you did the same thing,” Isla said, laughing quietly. “There’s a Martian brand of shampoo I love, so I’ll be having that imported as well.” And after Anise admitted to loving Isla’s scent – a scent which would naturally include the shampoo brand she always used – she had even more reason to continue using it. “Oh, and to answer your question, we’re both pretty much okay now, thanks.”
“Wonderful. You can both ask Lisa or myself for advice and help, even after this first week. We may not be your official mentors any more, but that doesn’t matter a great deal, we both enjoy seeing new idols grow and mature.”
“Thanks! Had a nice run this morning, actually, feels great being able to jog under a real sky again. Especially in June, not too hot or cold.”
“You’ve lived somewhere other than Mars?” Mira asked, placing her cup back on the table and rooting around for something in the various junk strewn thereon.
“Yep, I stayed on Earth for six months with Mum. Then went back to Mars for a couple of months, before moving here.”
“Lisa and I moved around a lot. Sometimes staying on space stations, in tents, cruising on a military starship and, on one memorable occasion, a deep sea research station. We never really got used to any of those. We’re both happy being mobile, and we settle in quickly, but nothing beats a real home to return to.”
Isla stared. “How did you even manage all of that…?”
“Lisa’s father is an admiral in the UNSF, so we decided it might be fun to go around with him for a while, putting on shows for the troops, that type of thing. Not much conflict these days so there’s a lot of downtime and bored personnel. We just helped spice their lives up a bit.”
“You both came across as really confident, guess now I know why,” Isla said, laughing a little at how utterly green she felt by comparison.
“Experience helps. We said before we’ve been at this for a few years now, yes? You don’t need to feel like you have to reach our level overnight, Isla, that’s why you have these four years at the academy. Use them well and you’ll be set for life.”
“With you helping me I think I’m fairly well set already!”
Mira tut-tutted. “Naughty girl, don’t go expecting us to always be around to help you. Remember what Lisa told you your first day here. I want you to succeed, Isla, you’re a beautiful and cute girl who could become a top level idol one day, but you’ll need to put an equal amount of work in to make that happen.” She wagged a finger. “Never assume. One day we might be rivals, after all!”
Isla blushed, stuttering in her sudden nervousness. “I-I’m sorry, Mira…”
“No need for apologies, just remember you have to stand on your own two feet first and foremost and you’ll be fine. The girls here are all really helpful and nice, asking questions will generally get you answers. But remember they’re all potential rivals, too. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.”
Isla’s burning cheeks gradually faded back to their regular colour. “I’ll remember that, I promise.”
“Splendid. Now… shall we take a look at you?” Mira tugged Isla upright and manoeuvred her over to the central tables, having found the item she wanted. “Let’s see…”
“Should I undress or anything?”
Mira twitched. “I certainly wouldn’t mind…” She gave a discrete cough. “No, that’s okay. For now we’ll just be looking at colours and themes, seeing what suits you best.”
Retrieving the swatch book she had been searching for, Mira opened it and perused the various colours and patterns. “You’ve got a gorgeous head of hair, Isla, very attractive. Vivid brunette, coyote… maybe closer to chamoisee? Hmm… straight suits you well, but maybe we could add a touch of waviness…”
Isla let Mira fuss over her, asking a question while she thought of it. “How long have you been an idol?”
“Since I was sixteen, three years now. Technically I started at fifteen, but I don’t really count a year of training. To become a professional idol you need to be sixteen, but eighteen to enter Dreamstar, which is why we moved around with Lisa’s father for a while. Mm, green works very well for you… lime, maybe? Something vivid and pop would contrast and compliment your hair beautifully…”
“Wow, I had no idea you could be an idol under eighteen, it was a prerequisite of even trying out to enter Dreamstar. Did you need to go to an idol school or anything?” Isla added, fidgeting as Mira continued poking and prodding.
“I attended an academy to learn about producing, but I was also fortunate enough to apprentice under an older idol directly. She taught me quite a lot of what she knew, I learned the rest myself by doing. We could tie in a hint of purple with the green? Perhaps…”
“Under? I think I know you well enough by now to get what you really mean, Mira.”
Laughing in an entirely too suggestive manner, Mira winked. “I wouldn’t have minded. Alas, she wasn’t interested in girls, so I let that one go. And anyway, I try and keep my personal and professional lives reasonably separate.” She gave a decisive nod, apparently deciding on a particular shade of purple that worked well for her subject. “We’ll also need to determine what type of idol you’ll be.”
“Pure, wasn’t it?”
“There are sub-types. Some idols go for cute and bubbly, maybe creating a catchphrase or a random interest or look they accentuate heavily. Cat ears are always popular, for example. Or they might create an extravagant character they role play at all times, similar to Falconi. Other idols go for the sexy and mature look. For instance, Cassiopeia Luna, an idol you’re familiar with.”
“She’s super pretty, yeah. Um… so are you, by the way.” Isla blushed a little at openly saying this after her admission of utter terror the previous evening with Anise.
“Why, thank you, my dear,” Mira said with a theatrical bow. She ran her fingers through Isla’s soft and silky hair, pulling it down from its usual ponytail for a moment. “So what do you think? Personally I think you’d suit a cute look with a hint of mature sexiness mixed in, but the decision is ultimately up to you.”
Isla deliberated for a time, taking sips of her tea and enjoying the continued hair fondling. “Well… Anise said to trust your judgement, so if you think cute with a touch of sexy would work, let’s try that?”
“Certainly, my lady,” Mira said, again with the bow.
The way Mira’s obsidian hair moved when she bowed low like this had the net effect of turning Isla on. Something about that mass of black swishing down to the floor, before whipping back behind her shoulders as she stood up and flicked her head made her go weak at the knees.
Doing her best to remain calm, Isla asked another question. “What type of idol are you?”
“Me? Ethnic. I work as a model largely for fun. And to make money, of course, plus I regularly model Sophie’s outfits. But my profession, if you will, is production. I specialise in ethnic styles, though I can coordinate virtually anything.” Mira still circled, like a lioness and her prey, muttering to herself and nodding vaguely.
“Ethnic is like… mm, traditional outfits, I think?”
“Something like that. Really it’s more like modern takes on traditional styles, if we’re talking idols. Tell you what, when we’re done here, let’s head to my room and I’ll show you some of my own outfits.”
“Sure!” Isla said without thinking. She stiffened as she realised this would place her in close proximity to a girl who intimidated her like nothing else, but whom she also fancied like crazy. In a private setting. Isla began to think she might have made a mistake…
An hour later, Mira had number of notes for later perusal, and she now wandered back across to the dormitory with Isla. On the third floor, they wound around to her room and entered.