Thursday, July 28, 2011

Allies

“I am sorry if I’m a bit out of sorts. It’s just been... There have been a lot of firsts for me today.” Alex had been seated on a too-small couch next to a senator Carbon had indicated was trustworthy before she and Eleya left his induction party to go do something. She had been a bit cagey about that, but Alex wasn’t in the mood to ask probing questions. Right now, he was staring down into the drink someone had handed him, still shocked from the second ‘gift’ that Eleya had given him. “There’s been a lot of firsts for me this week, actually.”

“Yes, I should imagine.” Zsehn was short, a little bit plump and very matronly. The cut of her jacket indicated she was somewhat important, the collar resting high on her shoulders, pink stripes surrounded by reddish fur. She seemed very interested in humans in general, which he assumed was why they had left him with her. No one else seemed to know what to do with him. “Has anything been particularly shocking? It may be beneficial to discuss it."

They had given Alex a jacket before the event, lower cut than Zsehn’s and a deep red color that made Carbon’s selection of clothing for him back on McFadden station a little more clear. He thought it looked ridiculous, particularly over a t-shirt. It didn’t fit him very well either. “Everything. I mean... I didn’t even know Carbon was a Duchess or whatever until... well, until like an hour before we were married. Then she was all upset and I completely did not expect to get stabbed. They cut out my heart, you know?”

That seemed to catch Zsehn off guard. Her eyes widened slightly and she seemed to get a little anxious. “The assassin?”

“No, the doctors. There was a complication and my body was rejecting a repair.” He swirled the glass and took a drink, his jaw tightening at the intensely acerbic liquid before the strong citrus aftertaste hit. He’d have preferred whatever he had been drinking with Carbon back on the Kshlavo. “They gave me an artificial heart till I could get it replaced.”

“Oh yes! The medi-board technology. That was a lovely gift.” Eleya had spread the word that it had been a gift of sorts, some kind of dowry.

“Yeah. It was. All of that, though... That's... Not even that big a deal. The execution, though? I've never seen someone die before, you know? Not by firing squad, anyway, executions aren't that common on Earth." Alex wouldn’t forget the look of hate on his attacker’s face any time soon, from both the attack and the execution. “ I've never had someone so angry at me that they'd spit at me with their dying breath, either.”

"Quite understandable. That is why they put up the protective screen."

Alex managed a thin laugh and swirled his drink again, watching the alcohol spin. "I suppose so."

She frowned and leaned in. "Do you blame yourself?"

He considered that for a long moment. "I guess I do. If I hadn't been on board he'd still be alive."

"That is very likely, though I suspect he would have killed someone else... The attack on you was not planned, his anger made him reckless. " She patted his arm and sounded remarkably positive about that. “The interrogator was able to determine he was out for anyone closely linked to the royal family. Your presence may have saved the life of anyone in this room. Perhaps several of us.”

Alex didn’t have a good reply to that. The idea of someone dying - even someone who had wanted to kill him - didn’t sit well even if the thought of someone attacking Carbon did get his blood to rise. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s just going to take a while for me to process this.”

She smiled, “the Empress seems to think you will do well, that there are many opportunities for you among us.”

“Really?” Alex was pretty sure he was just there to keep Carbon happy and his most recent memory of Eleya was her stabbing him repeatedly in his ears. While she remained composed through the ritual, he wasn’t sure if it hurt so damn bad because Human ears were different than Tslao or because she was upset about Carbon’s selection of their family name.

“Yes. She said as much yesterday. That you are willing to learn and have an honest heart.” Zsehn grinned and laughed, “you should see about getting into politics. The senate floor could use more honesty.”

“Never thought about getting into politics.” He didn’t want to think about getting into politics, either.

He spotted Neya halfway across the room, making a beeline for them. It looked like she was wearing Carbon’s jacket with a palm-sized silver broach, intricately carved. She stopped in front of the couch and smiled warmly. “Senator Kshana. If you do not mind, I would like to take possession of Alex.”

“Of course, Princess Sorenson.” She turned to Alex, “it has been lovely speaking to you, I hope our paths will cross again soon.”

Alex suppressed the urge to look at Zsehn like she was insane, eyes darting back to Neya to be sure that he wasn’t the one hallucinating. He may have been on the edge of exhaustion but it was clearly Neya and not Carbon. He stood and bowed to Zsehn. “Likewise. Have a good night.”

“Come along, Alex.” Neya tilted her head to the senator and took his arm, holding it tight against her body. She smiled as they threaded their way through the crowd, acknowledging a dozen people who seemed to think she was Carbon as well before they got out to the corridor.

Alex wasn’t sure what was going on and was a little disconcerted that Carbon’s personal assistant was still latched on to his arm. It felt... inappropriate. He waited until they were a ways down the corridor before asking the question that had supplanted all his other thoughts for the time being. “Why did they all think you were Carbon?”

Neya got a look like she was getting away with something, one that did seem very much like Carbon back on the Kshlavo. “Because I am.”

“No. You’re not.”

“Of course I am, Alex.” She rolled her eyes and patted his hand.

He shook his head. “No, you’re Neya. There are several obvious differences...”

“As far as everyone is concerned, except for you, I am Carbon. I am her contra, after all.” She stopped them in front of an elevator bank and summoned one.

She’d referred to herself like that once while she sat with him in the hospital. At the time it made sense because her colors seemed reversed, primarily light colored fur with dark stripes. This... this was just confusing. “I think I’m missing something. I don’t see what difference coloration makes. ”

Neya pulled him to the elevator with an embarrassed laugh. “I am sorry, I have been using that term without context for you. We - contras - are rare among the Tsalo and we are given a special place in society. I am Carbon’s assistant, but if she requires it of me, I can carry her thoughts and power. I must act as she does and will be treated as her.”

“Oh. That’s interesting. I can see how it could be useful.” He made a mental note to flag that word later so it would be translated better. Seemed to carry a lot of meaning for them.

“Yes. I do not preside over many things for her, but I take the tasks I am given to heart.”

The elevator dinged and she finally released his arm, directing him just down the hall and leaning in to a retina scanner next to a heavy looking door. It slid open into a small chamber, softly curved walls and several seats with a more conventional door at the end. Neya unclipped the broach and hung the jacket up after the main door closed.

Alex was a little relieved to see she was wearing a shirt under the jacket. He hadn’t been sure if they wore anything under it, but she was clad in an emerald green shirt, sleeveless with a wide V neck, leaving her shoulders exposed for the jacket as was their custom. She turned to Alex and undid the small fasteners he was struggling with, helping him out of the jacket and hanging it up before heading through the smaller door.

The room beyond was what had been roughly described in the primer as a normal Tslao home. A semi-circle with most everything built into the outer wall. Carbon was sitting on a bench at the table, chin resting on her arms with a distant look in her eyes. She didn’t seem to notice them approaching.

“Princess? I have acquired him, as you requested.” Neya set the broach down on the table, her voice quiet. “Is there anything else you need of me?”

Carbon nodded and look over at them, her eyes lingering on Alex. The strength he was used to hearing in her voice was gone. “Thank you, Neya, I would just like some privacy. You may go.”

“You are welcome. I hope your night improves, Princess.” She bowed at them and departed without another word.

Alex sat down next to Carbon and set his hand on hers. “What’s wrong?”

She sat up and leaned against him with a sigh, switching back into English. “We contacted my father, before word got back to him through unofficial channels.”

“Didn’t go well, I take it?” He laced his fingers with hers and gave her hand a squeeze.

“No. He is furious.”

“I’m sorry.” He really didn’t know what else to say.

“It is not unexpected. I was more shocked that Eleya defended us.”

That surprised him, too. “Eleya? Your aunt?”

“Yes. She said that she believed you worthy of me. More so than any suitors he has ever found. That may have escalated the conversation.”

“Eleya said that? You’re not joking?” He was a little suspicious, but Eleya seemed to be talking him up a lot.

“She did. As I said, I was shocked.” There was a hint of a smile in her voice. “I had not thought... I have not thought well of her for some time.”

“I had noticed.”

She was silent for a long time, hand squeezing his. “I still do not know what to make of this. I had never expected to be entwined.”

“Me either. I mean, I kind of figured I’d settle down at some point.”

“But not like this?”

“Yeah. Not like this.” He disentangled his hand from hers and put his arm around her shoulder. “I expected a lot less stabbing.”

She laughed, a short little snort and nestled against him. “Is it... is it bad for you? Do you not want this?”

“I think I’ve connected with you better than anyone. I used to wonder if it would last once we were off the ship... I might be overwhelmed, but I’m in.”

Carbon smiled and kissed his cheek. “Are you still tired, Alex?”

“Of course. I’m going to be tired for a month.”

“Then we should go to bed.” She ducked out from under his arm and slid around the table, beckoning him to follow. The bed was built out of the wall, knee-height and sort of leaf shaped. Most importantly, it was easily large enough for him to sleep on. It was beautiful.

Carbon wrangled him around and gave him a push, sitting him down on the edge of the bed before tugging his shirt off. She touched his chest, fingertips hot across his collarbone. “But there is something we do need to do first...”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Family

You are like... you are like a child.” Carbon was tired of Alex being tired. Not surprising, considering he was starting to become petulant.

“Well excuse me, princess. I’ve been up for like... Five days. In Tslao. That's like a week in real days. No sleep and they wouldn't give me another shot of that painkiller that was keeping me up." He had remained awake while the mediboard worked on him, conciousness disconnected from his body because the older technology wouldn’t knock him out with drugs it didn’t recognize in his system.

Carbon was taking him to a meeting with Eleya, to formalize some of what she had done when Alex had first arrived. Any meeting with her would set Carbon on edge by itself but Alex's new found lack of decorum and ability to be distracted by anything was making it worse. "That is five days in your calendar as well. Have you eaten recently?"

"Mmm." Alex walked a few meters in silence, watching the deck plates go by and successfully fighting the urge to fall asleep on his feet for now. "Sorry, what?"

Her ears and antenna flattened as she growled with frustration, "when did you last eat?"

"Oh, I dunno. Maybe yesterday? It was just that paste, I'm not sure it was actually food. Neya indicated that it was like, glue or something. Might have been a joke."

She grabbed his arm with an exasperated sigh and diverted them down a side corridor. "You will eat and you will behave yourself."

"That sounds good. Is there anywhere to get a sub around here? I've wanted one since... Oh, no, there wouldn't be. Well, as long as it's real food. You know what I like."

"I do." Carbon gritted her teeth as they came out into a small promenade, fairly crowded despite the early hour on the ship. She kept ahold of his arm, guiding him through the cluster of small shops and gawking aliens.

At the very least, Alex remembered to comport himself with some dignity when in public As much as he could while being towed behind Carbon, anyway. He double checked his external translator was on and put on a friendly smile - no teeth because the doctors always stared at them and it made him feel weird. A little brief eye contact and a few polite nods of recognition. He was a prince now, even if he was uncomfortable with the idea.

“Stop that.” Carbon hissed at him as she caught a glimpse of him grinning like a demented idiot, head bobbing almost uncontrollably.

“I’m just trying to be genial.” He shot back but stopped as he had been told. He’d have stopped a moment later anyway, as he ducked into a compact restaurant behind her. Alex assumed it to be a restaurant, the air laden with grilled meat and fresh bread.

Carbon stepped up to the bar and rapped on the wood to get the proprietors attention. She switched back into Tsla. “I need a savory crepe. Do you have deep tea?”

“Of course. Freshly made.” The reddish male eyed Alex warily, picking his words carefully before he looked back to Carbon, his eyes settling on her ear piercing. “ma’am.”

“Two of those while we wait. Sweet.”

He deposited two smooth sided mugs of steaming hot tea in front of them with another long glance at Alex before turning back to the grill. He looked down into the cup that almost disappeared into his hand, swirling a few crystals of sugar in the bottom. It felt nice, the ship was kept quite cold. “What’s a savory crepe?”

“A savory crepe? I do not know.” She took a long drink, her aggravation seeming to abate in the quiet shop.

“That’s what you ordered.” He checked the mug again, still steaming hot.

“No, I ordered a savory crepe.” There was a little pause mid-sentence as his translator caught up with the word she was using in Tsla. It had been good about catching names of people, but didn’t do so well with names of things.

Alex scalded his tongue on a sip, the heat almost overwhelming the bittersweet flavor of the tea. He swallowed it anyway and winced as it burned down his esophagus, waving his free hand. “Translation problem, fix it later.”

She tipped her head in assent and leaned on the bar, nursing her tea, watching the other alien cook. Between the heat of the tea and the sugar in his empty stomach, Alex was almost starting to feel normal again.

“Sorry about earlier, I didn’t mean to be such an ass.”

Carbon shrugged. “You are quite good at it.”

“Which is why I’m apologizing. As you now know I get a little cranky when I’m tired.”

“Cranky?”

“Ill-tempered.”

She snorted a little laugh. “Yes, you were.”

“I just feel a little uncomfortable in space without all my gear. Plus, you know, one of the processor clusters from my IT is just gone...”

The cook cleared his throat and slid a paper-wrapped cylinder across the bar to Carbon with a nod of his head and thin smile. “Anything else, ma’am?”

“No, thank you.” She set her hand down on a little glossy rectangle on the bar, letting it scan her palm and acting as some kind of payment before she handed the alleged crepe to Alex. “Do you mind eating while we walk? We are already late.”

“I’m fine with that.” He drained the mug, now just lukewarm and followed Carbon out of the shop. Alex peeled the paper back and tried not to think about what he might be biting into, pleasantly surprised to find something very palatable. A thin piece of flat bread wrapped around savory meat bits of some sort, not quite beef but definitely not chicken, a bunch of shredded vegetable and some spicy pickled... moss. Looked like moss, anyway. Tasted fine. “You know me so well.”

“You like it?”

“Yeah, it’s good.” He continued eating as they left the promenade, once again heading towards the front of the ship. “Where are we meeting her, anyway? I wasn’t paying attention earlier...”

“The temple. These are just formalities, but it is traditional to hold them there.” She slowed down a little, walking next to him once they reached a quiet corridor.

“Formalities?” Alex spoke through a mouthful of food. Though he didn’t know where they were going, he was pretty sure they were close.

“Among other things, we must show our station. We will now both wear two gold.” Carbon reached up and touched the silver piercing that sat along the top of her ear. She hesitated for a moment. “You do not have to wear them all the time, if you do not want to. Just in public.”

He blanched at that, chewing through a crunchy piece of moss. “I’ve never really though about getting my ears pierced. Not too big on the idea of having objects stuck in my body. Don’t think the irony of that escapes me.”

She smiled and gestured towards a wide doorway, the room beyond dimly lit by what looked like candles. “Here.”

He folded the wrapper up and slipped it into a pocket, not seeing anywhere to get rid of it. His eyes took a few moments to adjust as they passed from a wide antechamber to a narrow corridor that opened up into a large spherical room, the walls lined with rows of small candles. A quick glance confirmed that they were artificial, having no flame and being lit from within. A good idea on a space ship.

There was one person waiting for them at a short alter, clearly Eleya even in the low light. Alex couldn’t smell anything other than incense but he didn’t suppose her escort was very far away. She seemed happy again, but Alex didn’t know if she was or not.

“Alex. I am pleased to see you have mended well.” She smiled broadly and hugged him, which felt terribly awkward despite how brief it was. She did the same to Carbon, who did not seem to appreciate it.

“Empress. We have come as you have asked.” Carbon extricated herself from her aunt and bowed slightly.

“So you have.” Alex thought he saw Eleya roll her eyes as she turned, but wasn’t sure. She gathered two items from the altar and set them in Alex’s hands. “Something you are missing and a gift to help you in the task that has been set before you.”

Eleya gave him a very particular look before she returned to the alter, opening a small box and beginning to unpack it with practiced motions. Each object she had given him was wrapped in dark red cloth, the first an odd, flat silver-grey stick with a rubbery coating. Alex’s missing processor cluster, judging by the neatly clipped wires at one end and the tiny screws that used to hold it to his ribs. He folded that back up and stowed it away before looking at the gift, which was clearly more books from the shape.

“Have you chosen a family name, dear niece?”

Carbon’s reply was instantaneous, the question something she had been expecting. “Sorenson.”

Eleya turned from her work slowly. “I am aware of the young prince’s name. What will your family name be?”

“Sorenson.” They locked eyes, both glaring at the other.

“There are many very good family names. Historic, classical.”

“It is a common practice among Humans for the female to take the male’s family name. It felt appropriate in this situation, to blend Human and Tslao traditions... Unless our motives are not as you have said?”

Eleya’s jaw worked for a moment before she turned back to Alex, who had just been watching them, the still wrapped books tucked under his arm. “Is this true?”

He nodded. “Yes. It is fairly common.”

“Very well. Sorenson you will be.” Eleya’s lips twisted in disdain but she relented, turning back to the alter as Carbon smirked at the small victory. “Prince Sorenson. Will you step forward and take the up mantle that has been offered to you?”

Alex looked at Carbon, who waved him forward and nodded. He handed her the books and stood behind Eleya, “Yes, I will.”

“Good. Take a knee.”

He did as instructed, kneeling down on one knee.

Eleya turned to face him, looking him over with cool eyes. She clutched a long, slender needle in one hand, the other reaching down to testing the helix of his ear. She frowned as her fingers probed the thick cartilage, her voice quiet but irritated. “This will be interesting.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fixer Upper

As it turns out, Alex had been unconscious for the better part of two days before he had woken up. Carbon had notified his parents that there had been an accident while he was touring the carrier and that he was receiving the finest care possible before she had left to acquire human-friendly medical equipment.

That was taking longer than anticipated. Neya had kept him loosely appraised of the situation and her original estimate of ‘soon’ had rolled out to another day or two. His own government was stonewalling the sale of high-end medical technology and apparently a Tslao can’t just wander in to a medical supply store and buy a few liters of medi-gel and organ regeneration rig without raising some questions.

The Royal doctors had begun cloning him a heart and lung, just in case. They did get a nice medkit on board, which was how they had gotten his chest healed up so quickly. The thick scar running from his collarbone to his abdomen still hurt terribly, but he could get up and use the bathroom on his own. Which was good, because the drugs they were giving him for pain management kept him awake and were a diuretic.

Since he was not sleeping and walking around with just one lung was hard even with extra oxygen, he focused on entertainment. Alex had access to most everything the Tslao had to offer. They had something like cinema as he was used to it, but watching them felt weird. He wanted to save that for when Carbon was back. That felt like their thing to him.

What Tashen had said about sounding like a first age Emperor had stuck in his head. He wanted reading materials, no time like the present to learn more about the history of Tslao. Neya had taken that seriously and returned several hours later with books. Real books, heavy leather bound tomes with ancient metal latches. She wouldn’t get something a little less nice for him. The Empress wanted him to read those.

The blue-white pages were old and smelled strange and for the first time he was struck by how much of an outsider he was here. He doubted another human had even seen these books, let alone touched or read them, experienced the knowledge they contained. Maybe he’d be the only one who ever would. He had better not screw the opportunity up.

It was slow going, his Amp took extra time to digest the fancy script before handing him a translation and he compulsively read the notes that had been scribbled in the margins. He started with a week-by-week overview of the first Dynasty during the first age. The Tslao didn’t have a concept of months, just ten day weeks. For the most part, it was not exciting. Tax revenue came in, someone made a formal complaint about a land dispute, there was a funeral. So on and so forth.

It was made slower by Neya sitting in the edge of his vision, held in rapt attention by his reading. He had never particularly liked being watched, but it was worse when he was studying, which was what this really felt like.

“Do you need help with something?” Alex didn’t look up from the book laid out on the little fold-away dining table. He’d hit a whole paragraph about an altercation at the mid-winter festival and fines had been handed out. Riveting.

She jumped at the sound of his voice. “I am sorry, my lord, what did you ask? I was... checking to see if there was any news about the negotiations.” She patted the AI resting on her shoulders and sounded like she had not been doing that at all.

“It’s nothing, where you were sitting looked like you were staring at me. How many times have I told you not to call me that?”

“Seven, Prince Sorenson.” Neya sounded both relieved and pleased with herself.

He rolled his eyes. “And that?”

“Only four times, your honor.” Very pleased with herself.

Alex laid back on the bed with a sigh and rubbed his forehead. “I’ve made it expressly clear how uncomfortable that makes me, correct?”

“Yes sir, you have.” She nodded, once again serious.

“Then why do you keep doing it?”

“I had hoped that you might get used to it or begin to find it endearing. In addition, it is inappropriate for me not to, sir.”

“Even if I, as a prince, tell you not to?” Alex was getting to be exasperated. She started over again with the titles every time they spoke, which was fairly often.

She tapped her index fingers together and studied the wall very hard, which Alex had determined was her tell for being nervous. “I think it is best that I continue to do so, sir.”

“So... someone told you to be particularly formal with me?”

“I- it is not for me to say, sir.” Tap tap tap.

There were not a lot of people on board that would provoke that sort of response, that he knew of. “Eleya told you to?”

She just tapped away and shifted in her chair.

“Just saying, I ask for historical texts and I get books that are probably historical. When I ask for something a little less nice, you decline because she wants me to read them.”

She pulled a leg in and tucked it under her body, shaking her head. “I cannot disregard her orders, sir. She will know if I do.”

“I get it, she’s the top d-” He closed his mouth so fast his teeth clicked together. “She’s the Empress. Nothing you can do about that. Just... just keep it simple, none of this lord or prince stuff.”

“Thank you, sir. I will do that from now on.” She did not look or sound enthused by this solution.

“Good. Can you help me with this? There’s a word I can’t translate.” He waved her over, flipping back a few pages and angling the book towards her. He mostly just didn’t want her over there moping, partially because he felt responsible for that and it was just as distracting as the staring.

“Of course.” She hopped out of her chair and inspected the pages laid out before her. “Sir.”

“Right here.” Alex pointed out a note scrawled in charcoal, loose letters slopped across the margin. “It looks like a play on Emperor Khaevi’s name, they changed the vi to va. I know it’s kind of minor, but I’m curious because the word isn’t in my dictionary.”

“Oh, that.” Neya blanched and shook her head, embarrassed. “It is a particularly vulgar term, sir. Though it may not have been so explicit when it was originally written.”

“Poor guy. Must have been teased mercilessly by the other kids.”

“If I recall, he does later kill many-” They both looked to the door as it unlatched and shushed open. Carbon stood in the doorway, weary but pleased. Neya stepped back from the bed with a faint bow, a broad smile on her face. “Princess Tshalan. I am glad for your safe return.”

“Yeah, me too.” Alex grinned and waved.

“Thank you, Neya.” Carbon looked from her to Alex with a bemused smile as she walked over to the hospital bed, taking his hand in hers. She switched back into English, “I am sure you are.”

Alex put on his very best serious look. “You know, this can’t keep happening.”

“Oh? How do you mean?” She tilted her head at him, curious as to what he meant.

“I almost die, you come save me... It puts me in a weird place. I don’t know if it’s going to work out if this is a regular occurrence for us.” Alex broke into a grin as he spoke, squeezing her hand with a quiet laugh.

“Then next time I will let someone else do it and that will be avoided.” She leaned down and kissed him softly. “Or you can stop getting hurt. I think that would be best.”

“I would like that. I take your diplomatic mission was a success?”

“It did not go as well as I had hoped, but I got most of what I wanted. They were not willing to part with any advanced equipment until I asked for my waverider drives back.”

“Jerks. Did you get the drives back too?”

“No, not yet. I believe they are having trouble with some of the finer design points and considered previous generation medical gear to be a reasonable trade for continued access.”

Is that reasonable?”

She shrugged and stroked his hand. “It may be. We could actually be better off with this as it is still several generations ahead of our own technology.”

“Nice. So, gonna have that up and running soon? Not saying I don’t like the artificial ticker, but I’d prefer a real one.”

“They should have it installed and running by morning.” Carbon reached out and touched his chest, away from the scar hidden under his shirt and looked at him with wistful eyes. “I would prefer you have a real one as well.”

Alex patted her hand and smiled. “You look tired, go get some sleep.”

She didn’t particularly like that idea. “I am fine, I will remain here unt-”

“No. I know you well enough, if you actually look tired, you’re exhausted.” He turned to Neya, “she looks tired, doesn’t she?”

“Yes sir, she does.” Neya nodded in agreement, hands clasped behind her back.

“See? You’re just going to sit down and fall right asleep anyway.”

Carbon started to protest again, “bu-”

“Nope.” He hitched a thumb at Neya. “I’ve watched her sleep two nights in a row and it’s not fun. Get a little envious, actually. Go to a real bed, get some real rest. I’ll be here in the morning.”

“I do not want to leave you.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I have had enough of leaving you for some time now.”

“Alright, but understand this: I will absolutely tell you ‘I told you so’ if you wake up feeling worse than before and I better not get any attitude.”

She laughed and stroked his arm. “I cannot guarantee that, but it is acceptable.”

Neya piped up, looking between them. “If you will be here, Princess, should I take my leave or is there anything you require?”

“No, I am fine. You may go as you please.” Carbon smiled and patted her shoulder and watched her go. When the door shut, she collapsed into the small chair. “She is very nice, I do not know where such devotion comes from.”

“Believe it or not, people like you.”

She waved a hand and shook her head. “I know... but I do not accept it into me.”

“You should.” Alex pulled the book back to where he had been reading it before. “People care about you. Other than me, I mean.”

He waited for a reply that never came, eyes rolling when he looked over to find her curled up in the chair, already asleep as he had predicted.