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...”

4 comments:

  1. Of all chapters to be caught up on! Now I have to wait with everyone else as the story unfolds.

    After plowing through the story, I have noticed that the most recent chapters have yielded a change in your prose. I can't put my finger on it, but I could be as simple as you are now emotionally attached to your characters (which is easy to do BTW). Bravo on your TT anniversary.

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  2. I have spent weeks pondering your statement. I agree, having recently compiled the first story arc, that my prose has changed. Part of that might be that I've flipped the bird to word counts, but my older stuff just feels much more cold.

    I think I've been pretty attached to Alex and Carbon for a good long while now - they've been rattling around in my head in various guises for about four years.

    So, practice? I think that's a big part of it, I've clocked probably six to ten hours a week for the last year. But - for the record, I feel incredibly self absorbed saying this - I think the biggest change is in myself. I've started to feel comfortable in my ability to write again, which I haven't in... 15 years, maybe.

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  3. There is nothing self absorbed about feeling comfortable about being an excellent writer. You have an amazing talent. Your ability to give an adequate amount of detail without drowning the reader in technical jargon is wonderful. As a reader, I am able to identify with the characters - even though one is alien and has wonderful quirks, as does Alex. The little things are what make characters real to the reader, and you provide them. This is a highly enjoyable story that deserves praise, and you deserve credit for being a great writer.

    Ignore my comments about avoiding adult situations. I'm just poking fun. It is enjoyable for me, and I imagine everyone else, that we never know where things are going. And the fact that you let our imaginations run a is one of the things that make this story so endearing.

    Again, wonderful job. You are a terrific story teller that I appreciate and am inspired by.

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  4. Being self-absorbed is a constant fear for me. Not sure why, but I'm sure Freud would ask me about my mother.

    Thank you! I am really glad you like it and that you take inspiration from it - though that does boggle my mind a little bit.

    I don't think I'm ever going to get down into the details of their sex lives... I've still not determined what khaeva is, aside from some sort of act and I am very much inclined to leave it like that. People just need to be allowed to let their imaginations go. I think that's part of why I never got into hard sci-fi.

    Again, thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate it and am so glad that you like this.

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