Thursday, May 19, 2011

Social Experimentation

There had been an uneasy silence between the store and Alex’s quarters. They walked in silence, an argument boiling beneath the surface. It even seemed to chill the other conversations in the elevator.

Carbon spoke first after the door to his quarters closed behind them her voice low and sharp, antennae pressed down tight against her head and body tensed for a fight. “Why did you do that?”

“Why did agree to have dinner with a friend? With a man that I respect as a mentor? Gee, I don’t know.” He dropped the bag on the table and tossed his arms out in frustration. “Doesn’t make any sense to me, either!”

Her lip curled up, sharp white teeth gleaming. “You spoke over me.”

Alex smoothed himself out, trying to remain calm as he explained himself. “I was excited. I haven’t done anything since we got back except deal with work and hide.”

Carbon made a derisive noise and glared at him. “Do you think that it has been pleasant for me?”

“Of course not! Do you think I’m stupid?”

She took a moment, crossing her arms over her chest before she shook her head. “No. Not stupid. Inconsiderate and coarse.”

“Because you expect me to behave like I’m Tslao?”

She looked away for a moment, her jaw working. She relented with just a hint of guilt. “I sometimes forget you are different.”

“I do that, too.” He laughed quietly, a smile forming. “You would think it’d be easy to remember, we don’t look that much alike.”

Her eyes darted back to his with a nod, the corners of her mouth twitching up. “You would think, yes.”

“I’m sorry I just cut you off like that, it was rude. I would still like it if you came to dinner. You know Ed just as well as I do, you know how much I respect him.” Alex had intentionally avoided mentioning her knowledge of Ed through the mind link.

“Thank you. Yes, I remember quite clearly. As I said, it was very vivid, unusually so.” She sighed softly and relaxed, rubbing her eyes. “I do not know...”

“Please? I know it’s stupid, but I want to actually go out with you. Eating in is getting kind of old.”

She glanced up at him with bright cerulean eyes, a flicker of mischief in them. “Were I not hungry, I would hold out longer. I enjoy your flattery when you’re trying to convince me of something.”

“Mmm. I’d noticed you like it when I beg.” He grinned back, leaning down to kiss her before grabbing his clothes off the table.

Alex was ready to go scant minutes later wearing one of the deep red t-shirts Carbon had approved of over black cargo pants. Noonan’s was on the other side of the station, the only restaurant in the secured section. Carbon seemed relieved there would be no tourists.

It was an unusual design for a restaurant. The decor was english pub, all dark wood and padded leather seating. The dining room itself was D shaped with two floors of seating along the curved wall. The flat wall was a single, massive display showing traffic in space immediately around the station and in the main runways for Sol. Specks of light in various shapes and colors floated across the screen, tagged with ship name, registration and other sundry data. Noonan’s was a popular spot for repair crews to wait.

Alex didn’t bother with the first floor, weaving through the tables that went almost to the screen to the stairway that curved up to the much smaller second floor. Ed preferred the booths up there, most people didn’t make the trek unless the first floor was getting full. As expected, it was nearly empty and Ed was tucked away in the far corner, nursing a pint.

Carbon took a seat on the bench first, sliding over to the wall to make room for Alex.

“Glad you two made it. Ordered you a porter.” Ed gestured to the other pint glass on the table, dark liquid topped with a tan head of foam. He looked over to Carbon. “Didn’t know what you’d like, though.”

“I am not sure. I am unfamiliar with most human beverages.” She shook her head, eyebrows knitting together as she looked over the menu Alex handed her. “I am... unfamiliar with most of this food as well.”

Alex set his glass down after a long pull. “Thanks. I’d start with something simple. Brown ale?”

Ed nodded. “That’d be a good place to start. They did tap a keg of double cream stout a few days ago, though. Nice and sweet.”

“I will try that. Sweet has been safe, in my experience.” Carbon tilted the menu towards Alex. “Chicken fingers. That is like the fish sticks, correct? They are not actual fingers?”

Ed chuckled quietly into his ale as Alex answered her question. “Yeah, it’s just a way to describe a particular method of serving chicken. Don’t get those here, they always fry them too long.”

“Ah. Is there something they are good at?”

Ed piped up. “Cheeseburger. Best on the station.”

“Oh yeah. With bacon.”

Carbon eyed the menu, one eyebrow raised. “It sounds interesting. I will trust in your judgement.”

The waitress arrived bearing a basket of garlic fries and took their order. Alex ordered for Carbon and himself, both having the same thing. Ed ordered the t-bone. The waitress gave Carbon a second glance, though it was a quick second glance. Tslao still weren’t common in Noonan’s.

Ed ate a few fries as he watched the waitress descend the stairs, barely hiding a smile. “So... you two are an item now, or what?”

Alex sat stock still for a moment before he took a long sip of his beer, shaking his head as he set the glass down. “No... What would give you that idea?”

Ed laughed. “Don’t lie to me, Alex.”

“We’re just professional acquaintances.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so. When I said that, you both looked like deer in the headlights.”

Carbon cleared her throat. “It was a surprising statement.”

Ed seemed very amused by the situation. “You ordered dinner for her. You never order dinner for anyone. And that glare you gave him in Uncommon? Clincher. I’ve seen those from ‘professional acquaintances’ before, but not like that. That came from the heart.”

Alex weighed trying to keep lying to Ed or just admitting it. Giving Carbon a look would tip his hand and it’s not like Ed was wrong. Might do him well to have an outside perspective on the whole thing, too. He sighed and leaned back against the booth. “Yeah, you’re right. We’re an item, as you put it.”

“Interesting. She’s doing it again.”

Alex glanced over and Carbon was giving him the ‘why did you do that’ look. “What? I don’t like lying and he’s both perceptive and trustworthy.”

She relented, jaw still tight as her eyes softened. “I know. I do not enjoy duplicity either.”

Alex turned back to Ed. “Alright, so do we throw a party now?”

Ed considered him for a moment, idly swirling the amber liquid in his glass as the waitress returned with Carbon’s stout and waiting for her to leave again. “I would think that a bit extreme. I get the impression you’ve been keeping this under wraps, or trying to?”


“You could stand to work a little harder on that. Just off the cuff, I would find this rather deviant. Still kind of do, but I’m willing to entertain the idea you’re not just kirking here, Alex. You seem too into it.”

Carbon looked up from inspecting her drink, perplexed. “Kirking? I have never heard that word before.”

Ed didn’t miss a beat, explaining with his usual level of nonchalance. “Having sex with an alien.”

“Oh, he has not done that.” She lifted the glass with both hands and took a sip.

Alex rolled his eyes, words dripping with sarcasm. “Thanks. I’m sure he wanted to know.”

Carbon shrugged through a second sip. “He brought the subject up and I would know if you were. Now there is no doubt for him.”

Ed was laughing, hard. “No, that’s great. I don’t really want to know, what you do behind closed doors is your business.”

Alex cleared his throat, cheeks feeling a bit warm. “Anyway. Not just in this for the alien sex, thank you.”

“Actually going for the inter-species relationship? You’re not just putting her on, right?”

“No, I’m not putting her on. She’d know by now if I was.” He put his hands up by his temples, index fingers waggling. “The deely bobbers aren’t just for show.”

Ed was a little perplexed. “So... they work with humans, too?”

Carbon’s pint was mostly gone now. “Very well, actually. Our brains are very similar in layout.”

“Interesting. So she can see into your mind?”

“It’s duplex. Works best when both people have a set, but that’s somewhat impossible.” Alex hadn’t told her about the Whisper he was going to be getting yet. He was hoping it would be a pleasant surprise.

“Huh. That’s a hell of a-”

Carbon started to chirp, the sound unfamiliar to Alex. She fished a slim black communicator out of one of the many pockets on her jumpsuit and tapped through to a message. He leaned over, unable to read the Tslao on the tiny handheld.

Her eyes widened slowly, a look of apprehension washing over her. Her head twisted to look at the screen on the far wall of Noonan’s. “Excuse me.”

Alex moved out of her way, following her to the railing. She scanned the screen, jaw working until she found what she was looking for, a hiss of her native tongue following.

“What? What is it?”

Carbon looked at him, bristling with a mixture of fear and anger. “I must depart. I will contact you as soon as I can, please thank Ed for me.” She stood on her toes and kissed him softly before running away, taking the steps two at a time.

A glance at the screen told him part of what he needed to know. Triangles were military ships, red was non-human. A great big red triangle was in the runway right now, the Sword of the Morning Light. Listed as a Tslao Hammerhead class Carrier. Her government had arrived in system.

1 comment:

  1. Nice interaction. I like Ed.

    Should "english" be English, and "kirking" - Kirking?