Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hurt

The Sword of the Morning Light - Alex did not know it’s name in Tsla - seemed like a ghost town. Tashen had spent the last forty minutes leading Alex around and they’d seen all of three other people. Alex assumed the presence of a human to be a bit unusual from the stares he was getting. Mostly just surprise, so far.

“So, this happens a lot.” Alex stayed about two steps behind Tashen. He had a longer stride than the Tsalo, but Tashen moved quickly. It evened out as long as they were going in a straight line, which wasn’t very often.

“Yes. Of late it has gotten worse, it has not always been so bad between them.” Tashen turned down another side corridor without warning. He seemed to be ignoring Alex, never looking back, never even tilting his head towards him when he spoke. He still answered without fail.

Alex wasn’t sure why that was. Might be some cultural thing, might be that Tashen just didn’t like him or know what to do with him. “Really? You’ve been working with them for awhile now?”

“Twenty three years and sixteen weeks.” He stopped suddenly, fingers tracing down the side of a wall panel before popping it open and sticking his head inside for a moment. He sniffed the air and grimmaced, closing it with a solid thump and contining down the corridor. “When Princess Tshalan was younger, they were quite close.”

“No kidding. Couldn’t tell that from what I just saw.” Alex slowed to watch the corridor markers long enough to get a translation out of his amp. They were on deck six, forward section two, port passageway two. He was just starting to get a feel for the carrier’s layout. Fairly simple, but he’d still like a map.

“Indeed, there is nothing to joke about.” Tashen took a left suddenly, towards port passageway three.

“So what happened?”

“The Empress did have to explain how her life would be at some time. She was, perhaps...” Tashen trailed off and turned towards the bow on the passageway, not finishing his sentence.

“She was, perhaps?” Alex prompted him, curious as to what Tashen was going to say.

He looked over his shoulder, eyes narrowing as he checked the corridor beyond Alex. “She was harsh, too harsh for a young girl she had doted on before. The Empress, I believe, intentionally drove a wedge between them and now regrets it.”

Alex had gotten the impression that Eleya at least wanted Carbon to be happy, it was no stretch of his imagination to think she’d actually want a good relationship with her as well. “I’d agree with you. I think that’s the only reason I’m here.”

“There are many reasons you are here.”

That piqued his interest. “Such as?”

“You are to keep Princess Tshalan happy.”

“I got that one, not doing too well at it right now. What else?”

Tashen seemed to pick his words carefully when he spoke. “Your new status does not defend just you.”

“Which means?”

“A married couple is given preference when choosing who will next ascend to the throne.” Tashen stopped and tapped a code into a keypad next to a set of blast doors. They slid out of the way with a reluctant thrum, revealing forward launch bays. Rows of fighters and bombers sat in rigging, waiting for pilots and crews.

Alex took it in, not following Tashen as closely as he should have and jogging to catch up at the elevator. “So Carbon and I are next in line to be leaders of the empire? You’re not shi- uh, you’re not joking here, right? That is what you’re getting at?”

“That is exactly what I mean.”

Alex pondered that for a moment, stepping into the lift after Tashen. “So that would protect Eleya. As long as there’s not enough popular support for the rebellion to overthrow the monarchy, assassinating her would just install a human at the head of the empire. I can imagine that would probably not sit well with a lot of people.”

He shook his head as they rose towards the top floor of the hanger. “It would not.”

“But just having me around is going to be tolerable?”

“Both the Princess and the Empress have linked with you, have seen you. They will be taken at their word about your character.”

“Just because someone vouches for my character doesn’t mean anything. There’s no proof there. I can have the best intentions, but there’s nothing that indicates I will do the right thing, particularly by the sensibilities of an alien race.”

Tashen glanced at him as the lift stopped, eyebrows raised a little. “Have you had access to our historical documents?”

“Not really, why?” Alex followed him out onto a wide ledge behind a row of small spacecraft.

He waved a hand and walked down a gangway between two bombers. “What you said reminded me of a first age Emperor.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“Opinion on homeworld is mixed about humans. Your race has often been seen as brash, as un-Tslao. Yet you came to our aid and you continue to help us. Many appreciate that, but are unsure what to make of it. As long as you comport yourself in a fitting manner, you may well sway them.”

“Good?”

“Yes.” Tashen stopped at the end of the gangway and pointed up into the equipment in the ceiling.

Amidst the gear and scaffolding Alex could just barely make out a patch of vibrant blue jacket on top of a bridge crane. He wasn’t sure how she had gotten there, there wasn’t an obvious path to her location. “Carbon? Are you there?”

A moment of silence, then a terse reply. “Go away.”

That wasn’t what he was expecting. “Uh... do you want to talk?”

Silence.

Tashen leaned over and spoke quietly. “It takes her some time to calm down, but she does not usually move once she has found somewhere to sulk. I suggest we give her some space and try again an hour, she is usually more willing at that time.”

Alex nodded. He didn’t like the idea of just leaving her there and the fact she had become this withdrawn bothered him deeply, but Tashen apparently had experience with this. “Carbon? If you’re going to do something stupid, let me know first. Okay?”

“Okay.” Her voice was quiet now, sad.

Alex watched the blue spot for a few moments before he turned and walked back down the gangway. “Is she going to be safe up there?”

“The crane is quite wide and this area is equipped with a fall suppression system.”

“That’s something. Look, I don’t want to go too far, can we just wait in here?”

“We will wait for her at the maintenance hatch she used to get to the crane. From the tone of her voice, I do not think it will be very long before she is finished.” Tashen gestured towards another heavy door down the ledge, outlined in blue and marked with a symbol that looked quite a bit like a wrench and screwdriver.

“That’s good. I don’t like seeing her like this.”

Tashen just nodded and they walked in silence through the doors. The maintenance corridor beyond was just like every other part of the carrier Alex had seen. The same paint and lighting, uniformly clean.

He had barely registered the sound of an extra set of footsteps when someone ran into him from behind. Not hard enough to knock him down, just shoving him forward with a weird tug in his chest.

“Filthy thief.” His assailant hissed into his ear as the tug he couldn’t identify blossomed into a ball of pain in his ribcage that sent him to his knees. Alex looked over his shoulder at one of the soldiers that had been on the transport that had brought him here, his face contorted in hate.

He looked away from Alex, unsuccessfully trying again to pull his weapon from Alex’s ribcage with another blinding shock of pain. The ship’s alarm started to go off. He dimly recognized that Tashen was a few meters away, looking shocked but still composed enough to call for help.

Alex looked down at a finger-sized bit of blade sticking out of his chest. He grabbed at the translucent red blade, intent on removing it before he noticed the red stain on his shirt that extended down to his pants and began to pool on the floor the moment before he lost consciousness.

4 comments:

  1. You'd almost think that Alex stole something from that soldier. Wonder what Carbon thinks of that?

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  2. Hmm... Can't really say anything about that as it's spoilery for next chapter.

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  3. So much for the Empress keeping him safe. He really needs to stop taking hits to the chest!

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  4. She meant well! Sorta. Not that she wasn't getting something out of the deal too...

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