Thursday, June 9, 2011


Carbon just looked at Alex for a moment, confusion etched on her face. That gave him a flicker of hope that she hadn't been hiding something like that from him, or perhaps her escort was just being a jerk.

The confusion gave way to understanding as her eyes fell onto his translator. While he had kept the Whisper a secret, he had told her about the Immersion Translator before he got it. He wanted to made sure it wouldn’t bother her and she had told him it wouldn’t. She probably had not foreseen this particular circumstance, though.

Much to his disappointment, she slid right down into guilt. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, almost meek. "Yes?"

Alex was surprised at just how much that hurt. His eyes narrowed as he shook his head. "It’s nothing. I thought I had forgotten my ID, but I've got it." He reached back and patted his wallet.

"Good. We should hurry, the shuttle is waiting." She gave her escort a sidelong glance, neatly avoiding Alex's eyes.

He fought back the urge to say something snide. “Don’t want to keep them waiting.”

They walked in silence the rest of the way to the elevator, were whisked up to the landing bays that comprised the top few floors of the arcology. The Tslao ship was easy to spot, low slung and neatly poised. It looked almost organic, gentle angles swept up into gracefully curved winglets. Thick stripes of reddish-purple paint ran over the dark gray hull from nose to tail, arching back along the sides. The pair of guards standing at the forward hatch didn't hurt, either.

Alex ducked as he entered the craft, suddenly aware of just how short everyone was compared to him. The interior was spartan and empty, purely a military transport. Carbon crossed the wide cargo area before flipping a seat down and buckling herself in. Alex followed her over, wedging himself into the jumpseat next to her and finding that he was too large for the safety harness.

The others had secured the hatch and taken up residence in the seats next to it, the engines warming with a gentle hum moments later as the pilot lifted off. Alex waited, biding his time until blue skies had faded from the tiny window in the hatch. He kept his voice low. “So... you were going to tell me about that, right?”

Carbon didn’t respond immediately, crossing her arms over her chest. When she did speak, it was similarly quiet. “The translation was not accurate.”

“Uh-huh.” He chewed back another petty remark that felt satisfying to think but would have been unproductive if he actually said it. “That’s not what I asked, but okay. I’m still listening.”

“It is more like...” She considered it for a few moments, chewing on her lip. “It is more like your Duchess, I think.”

“That’s not better. I’m not even sure what the hell that is.”

He caught her rolling her eyes. “It is below Empress, but I cannot be considered a Princess because I am not in immediate line for the throne.”

“Well, now that that’s cleared up... You were going to tell me, right?”

“Of course.”

“I can understand you not wanting to tell me when I was just a pilot, but we’ve come a long way since then. It’s not like-”

Carbon cleared her throat quietly, glaring at him and then looking over at the soldiers sitting across the way. “Later.”

Alex looked over just in time to see the one that had escorted them fold his ear back down tight against his head. “Alright.”

It was a mercifully short trip. They were expected and promptly landed in an empty bay. Alex and Carbon disembarked and were met by a short, dark gray male dressed similarly to Carbon, black pants and short brocade jacket with a high collar. Alex was starting to understand why they did their laundry separately.

“Alex, this is Tashen, my attaché.” She didn’t seem particularly pleased to see him.

“Good to meet you.” Alex stuck a hand out, trying to maintain some level of decorum. Tashen wore a personal AI, Alex assumed he would be translating as well.

Tashen looked at Alex’s hand, then up at him and finally over to Carbon as if he was trying to figure out what was appropriate before turning back to Alex and giving a very shallow bow. “It is fine to meet you as well, Pilot Sorenson. Please, we must not keep the Empress waiting.” His lips moved well out of sync, the translated voice stopping a full second after he was done speaking. That was going to take some time to get used to again.

Carbon set her hand on his wrist and gently pushed his arm back down to his side. She seemed oddly resigned. “Just bow. It will be more comfortable for everyone we meet.”

“Yes, she is correct. Please. We will go now.” He gestured for them to follow, turning and striding towards the nearest exit. Carbon followed with a quiet sigh, Alex staying close behind. The corridors were dark grey bulkheads with dusky red support ribs, each intersection neatly marked in Tsla. Right now it was eerily empty as well, something he presumed was because of his presence.

Tashen lead them to a lift and leaned in to the control panel, eye pressed up to a retina scanner. He seemed impatient more than anything as he ushered them in and pressed the top button. Alex was reasonably lost at this point and he was sure he wouldn’t be using the lift without an escort. Not that he had any intentions on leaving suddenly.

The lift pulled up and deposited them a very fancy room. Plush red carpet, tapestries hanging from the walls and finely carved wooden furniture made it feel much less like a carrier than before. This was more what Alex expected for royalty.

“This way. She is expecting you.” Tashen gave him a delicate pull towards the tall doors at the other end of the antechamber.

“Wait, you’re just going to send me in alone?”

Carbon nodded. “Eleya prefers to meet with people alone. Just bow, deeply. You will be fine.”

“Are you sure?” He very clearly remembered how Carbon felt about her, nerves creeping into his voice now.

“You are not family, you will be fine.”

“It is as she says.” Tashen urged him towards the ornate wooden doors.

“Alright.” His heart still pounded in his chest, despite their reassurances. The metal of the door handle was cold under his fingers as he twisted it, the door gliding open silently and closing behind him with a soft thump. The room beyond was swathed in crimson curtains, trimmed in gold. The air was heavy with incense, all traces of the ship erased.

It took a few moments to notice that Eleya, the Empress of the Tsalo was there, seated neatly on the edge of a bed. The next second after that was spent realizing that this was her bedroom. Curious.

“Hi.” He started to wave and then caught himself, bowing as Carbon had indicated.

She seemed to be quite amused by that, standing with grace and closing the distance between them. There was a definite family resemblance, the same blue-black fur and azure eyes with a trio of gold piercings glittering along the top edge of her ears. They dressed similarly as well, though the Empress’ jacket was much more ornate and appeared to be ready to slide off her shoulders. “Your presence is greatly appreciated, Pilot Alex Sorenson.”

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

A coy smiled played over her lips, eyes studying him intently. Her fur was starting to turn silver around her mouth and on the top of her head. A U shaped line of silver fur sat on the front of her right shoulder as well. Eleya stopped in front of him and he could see a matching U on the back of her shoulder... apparently a bite mark. “My niece speaks well of you. She is quite impressed with your intelligence, among other things.”

“I’m glad to hear that. She’s been exceptional at everything I’ve seen her set her mind to.” Alex hesitated, not sure what he should expect. She didn’t seem to be as bad as Carbon had lead him to believe, though. “If you do not mind me asking, Empress, why did you want to see me?”

“Some security issues have come to light in the past few days, some of which may involve you and your well being. Before any moves are made on these, there were some questions I needed answered.”

“Of course. Ask away.” Alex was quite sure that she, of all people, would have high enough clearance for anything that might come up.

“Thank you.” She looked over at the wall and tipped her head at Alex.

As he looked at the heavy curtain he caught a flicker of motion and ozone filled his nose. He had just about enough time to put the two together - telltale signs of someone using cloaked armor - before a stun baton slammed into his neck, seizing the muscles in his upper body and sending him sprawling to the ground, unconscious.


  1. Damn, if that's how she treats guests it's a wonder Carbon is still alive!

  2. No one ever said he was a guest, just that his presence was requested. Carbon already knows how the game is played and if I say anything else, I suspect they will be spoilers.