Angela Winslow sat quietly on the transport shuttle, trying to ignore the screaming alarm bells in her head. Only four weeks ago, her father had died, leaving Angela with his massive gambling debt and angry debt collectors who expected her to pay it off. Even after selling their small apartment in Cassian, the space colony on Triford, and almost all their belongings, she hadn’t made a dent in all the money her father owed.
Scared and desperate, Angela did the only thing that could save her: she signed up with the Alien Bridal Agency. Around for centuries, the ABA matched potential mates, focusing on species compatibility, common backgrounds and cultures, and similar beliefs regarding marriage, children, and gender roles. The ABA wasn’t known for making love matches; their matches were clinical and scientific, matching partners with the highest success rate of staying together.
The success rate of the ABA’s system couldn’t be disputed. Only 1 in 20 couples separated after the required six month trial period. Almost all ABA matches resulted in lasting, successful partnerships, but it was well-known that love rarely occurred. Mates were respected, even liked, by their partners, but love wasn’t a necessity for a successful match.
Angela sighed, watching as the shuttle made its descent to Trufora, the capital city of Axion, one of the most powerful planets in the Galactic Union. Axion had precious minerals that couldn’t be mined safely on other planets, making the Axion citizens extremely wealthy with their market monopoly. Few outsiders were ever granted Axion citizenship. The mine workers had to live and work on Axion for five generations before their families earned the coveted titles and lands that came with citizenship.
The ABA rarely made matches on Axion and had only once before made a match with a natural-born Axion citizen. Well, twice, now. Angela could barely believe it when she was told a titled Axion had selected her after seeing her ABA profile.
While the ABA traditionally matched people together, profiles were always uploaded to their Potential Mates exclusive site. Only those with money could access the site, and most of the exclusive profiles came from titled families across the galaxy, looking to strengthen their dynasties. Angela and her assigned ABA matchmaker were shocked when the request came through for a poor, ordinary human. Axions protected their bloodlines, so the request for Angela was extremely rare.
Angela could feel herself getting more and more nauseous. She had expected a match with one of the farmers or miners who turned to the ABA because there weren’t enough women on the colony planets where they worked. To be chosen by one of the Galactic Union titled had never even crossed her mind and she had never entertained the idea of setting foot on Axion, let alone living there. There weren’t many humans on Axion; even the miners came from other, more prosperous species.
While humans were still considered a secondary species since they had only joined the Galactic Union 200 years ago, they had been migrating to colony planets for many centuries. There were no human families with titles, which meant they had fewer rights and opportunities than those species who could boast of titled family dynasties. Most planets had ten or eleven natural-born titled families, with lesser species gaining titles through work and service to the titled over generations. Titled families were recognized by their family name receiving an official House designation. Depending on their planet or government, most titled families rarely married lower species, instead inter-marrying with other titled families across the GU.
Angela had no information about her match, except that he was a titled Axion and had paid handsomely for her. All matches chosen through the ABA’s Potential Mates site paid for their partners, with 25% going to the ABA and the rest to the chosen partner. Angela had already used most of her money to help pay off most of her father’s debts, but she had also been required to buy a new wardrobe and take ABA accredited classes about Axion, which nearly drained the rest of her money.
As the shuttle landed, Angela smoothed down her styled hair with a shaking hand. She was dressed in traditional Axion clothes, consisting of a long dress and heavily embroidered robe, all belted together to show off her figure. This single outfit had cost Angela more than she made in six months on Triford, but it had been heavily stressed that she must obey the Axion culture if her match was going to last. Angela needed this match, so, for now, she would follow the rules.
Angela took in a deep breath and disembarked, coming to an abrupt halt as she took in the Axion capital. Shining buildings reached far into the pale orange sky, with small vehicles either driving on the streets or flying through the air. Many different languages assailed her, causing her universal translator to garble the noise together. More species than Angela had ever seen walked through the transport station, all dressed in expensive, extravagant clothes.
Angela had been born on Triford and had only visited three other planets, all back when her mother was alive. All the cities she had seen resembled Cassian, full of physical laborers. Most of the species she had met were also new to the GU, so their stations in life had been the same. Standing on the platform by the shuttle, Angela realized how out of her depth she most likely was. She didn’t have the breeding, money, or education to help her navigate her new life and she began to panic.
Before she could make a complete fool of herself and run back onto the shuttle to hide, a gentle hand briefly touched her shoulder. Angela spun around, facing a crossbred Axion. He seemed to be in his sixties, which made Angela shudder slightly, as she was only 22 years old. The man’s eyes were kind, though, as if he understood how overwhelming this must be.
Angela gulped, then nodded, unable to find her voice. The man gave Angela a small, comforting smile.
“My name is Gander of House Yalay. I will be taking you to your Alien Bridal Agency match.”
Angela gave an obvious sigh of relief, then blushed, hoping she hadn’t offended the well-mannered man. He simply smiled again and offered his arm to her. She gently laid her hand upon it and Gander began to walk towards a private exit, confusing Angela.
“Um, sir?” Angela asked timidly. “Is this the right way?”
“Oh, yes,” Gander said confidently. “The limousine is waiting right outside.”
“L-limousine?” stuttered Angela, utterly confused. Only the highest ranking members of the titled families, those from the original planets that founded the Galactic Union, would be able to use limousines, secure and opulent transportation, or utilize the private exit. “Sir, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Who exactly is my match?”
Gander placed his wrist on the lock, the door opening after confirming his genetic match in a security database. He led Angela outside, where a chauffeur immediately opened the door of the sleek, obsidian vehicle. Angela slid inside, followed by Gander. She noticed two armored security vehicles, one in front and one behind the limo, making her even more nervous. As the limo smoothly pulled away from the station, Angela suddenly gasped.
“My luggage!” Angela cried. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t think to grab it. We need to-”. Gander smoothly cut her off.
“Your luggage has already been taken to your new home. There is also a stylist waiting, as your outfit, while lovely, will need to be a bit more sophisticated.”
“I really don’t understand what’s going on,” Angela said, trying to remain calm. “The proper greeting protocols I studied never mentioned being picked up by anyone but my match and it certainly never said anything about a stylist!”
Gander looked down for a moment, seemingly trying to come up with the right thing to say that wouldn’t cause Angela to panic. When he met her eyes, she felt her anxiety growing.
“I’m afraid proper greeting protocols couldn’t be observed in this instance. Your match is quite well-known and his presence would have caused...difficulties. There’s also the small matter that his family is unaware of your arrival and it will almost certainly be met with resistance.”
“Who...”. Angela trailed off, almost unwilling to finish the sentence. “Who is my match?” Gander grimaced slightly.
“Your match is Exalon of House Trufora, Crown Prince of Axion.” Angela’s jaw dropped open.
“Prince?” she asked.
“Yes,” Gander confirmed. “He is the future leader of Axion and widely considered to be one of the most powerful people in the Galactic Union.”
Angela blinked a few times, trying to wrap her head around what was happening. Finally, she responded the only way she could-
“What the fuck?!”