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.”

2 comments:

  1. Am I the only one who read Alex's, "Well excuse me, Princess" line in the same tone that Link did in The Legend of Zelda cartoon? Yeah? Just me? Ok.

    Good stuff as always, man.

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  2. Thanks! That is also exactly how it should be read.

    ReplyDelete