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.

No comments:

Post a Comment