Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Talk

Alex shifted from one foot to the other, jaw set as his hand hesitated over the control panel of his parents front door. He had determined it would be best if he spoke to his parents alone at first, leaving Carbon with the shuttle. He thought it would best to ease them in to the idea of their younger son being married to an alien. They'd always been understanding, accepting people. They would deal well with this. He was sure of it.

He still found it very hard to ring the doorbell, nearly jumping at the sound of the chime as his outstretched finger brushed the panel on accident. No turning back now.

The door shushed open into the wall, an unexpected face greeting him. "Well, look who’s decided to grace us with his presence. Got tired of rubbing elbows with the aliens, little brother?"

"Oh, shit." Alex cleared his throat and his face twisted into a nervous grin at the sight of his older brother. "Yeah, you might say that, Pete."


Peter stepped back and let Alex in, closing the door behind him with a wave of his hand. “Looking pretty good for someone with severe plasma burns.”

“Mediboards do some pretty impressive stuff.” His parents had been told that a small explosion from a plasma conduit was what had injured him on the Sword of the Morning Light in lieu of telling them that someone had tried to assassinate him. Alex followed him through into the living room. “Hey Dad!”

“Alex, you’re just in time. Milly and Jason are coming over in a bit, we’re all going out to dinner.” His father waved him into a chair. “Good to see you no worse for wear... Did you get your ears pierced?”

“Yeah, I did.” He sank into the same overstuffed chair he’d been sitting in a week ago. Milly and Jason were Peter’s wife and son... looks like the entire family would be here before too long. “It was unexpected. Lot of unexpected stuff happening lately.”

“Tell me about it. Did you watch the news at all?”

“No, I’ve had a pretty busy week.”

“Rassmussen’s been acting uppity all week. He talks like he wants to secede, but who’s he going to trade with? Nobody needs Io that much anymore except for tourists, and they barely go.”

If there was one thing Alex’s father liked, it was stellar politics. “Wow, weird. So when are Milly and Jason showing up?”

Peter checked his phone. “They left Monterey a little bit ago, maybe an hour. Hour and a half at the most.”

Alex’s leg bounced as he started to second guess himself. His mother finally came out of the back room and greeted him with a hug before heading towards the kitchen. His jaw tightened as he resolved to say what he needed to say. He wasn’t going to come all this way just to act like nothing had changed and Pete was going to find out eventually anyway. “Mom, hang on a second... Come have a seat. I need to talk to you guys.”

That changed the demeanor in the room instantly. His mother sat down between Peter and his father, all three of them watching him with concern. That was something. “Go on, Alex. What is it?”

“Ah, alright. Some big stuff has happened in the last week. ” He stared down at his hands, knuckles pulled white. “You know that I came back from my tour early... Some things happened and the situation got pretty dire for a while and my relationship with Shipmaster Tshalan became, uh, romantic.”

They didn't say anything for several seconds, his mother the first to break the silence. She picked her words carefully, the question delicate. “You two... are involved romantically? Like you are dating?”

“Oh, we were. I was going to tell you guys last time I was here, but that visit got cut short.”

The care she had taken with her first question rapidly gave way to confusion. “So you’re not involved with her anymore?”

“I am, but there’s more. I had this all laid out in my head on the way down.” He pursed his lips and went with the biggest item first. “We’re actually married now. Entwined, in their language, basically the same thing. It was sort of a shotgun wedding, unplanned or I’d have told you guys sooner.”

He could hear them breathing as he waited for someone to say something. His father’s brow furrowed and he started and stopped several times. “When you say shotgun wedding... She- You didn’t... She’s not pregnant, is she?”

“No! It’s not like that. Humans and Tslao can’t reproduce. I think. I know for sure that we’re not compatible at a genetic level.” At least, his body went through hyperacute rejection of Tslao tissue. He imagined that fertilization was pretty much out of the question. “Shouldn’t be, anyway.”

“Well then, what possessed you to get married?” His father didn’t exactly raise his voice, but his hands were starting to get animated.

“That’s the other thing. I am marked for death by a group of Tslao isola-”

“You’re what?!” His parents blurted it out at the same time, his mother horrified while his father had a particular gleam in his eye that indicated he might be inclined to go set someone straight.

“Marked for death. There are some isolationists who wish to break any alliance between our races. Since Carbon is a member of the royal family, I am now afforded the same level of protection as she is. These guys aren’t screwing around, but apparently you all should be safe. Earth is just too heavily defended and it’s considered beyond the pale to attack someone’s family anyway, no matter how much you hate them.” That came out much more nonchalantly than he was expecting. When had he become used to that idea? Maybe Eleya was starting to rub off on him...

His father leaned back into the couch, nodding. “I assume they are doing everything they can to protec-”

“She’s a member of the royal family?” His mother burst out, this apparently the most surprising thing he’s said so far.

“Yes, the Empress is her aunt. Though, according to their rules of succession, we’re next in line now.” That was more matter of fact than he expected as well. He pointed at his ears. “That’s what those are about. They show rank in the family and are symbolic of the commitment to the Tslao people and always carrying one’s duty.”

“You’re a member of the royal family?”

“Effectively, I am the crown prince. The Empress thinks it’ll play well back home.” He neglected to mention the various other reasons that he has heard used to justify his marriage and title.

“Goodness.” She seemed to have settled on being proud of that.

His father cleared his throat. “As I was saying... They’re doing everything they can to protect you now?”

“Now, yes. There was a little... hiccup at first, right when everything had been set up.”

“Which means?”

Alex looked at his hands and tapped his fingertips together. “There was no accident, an attempt was made on my life shortly after I arrived.”

His father sort of bristled at that, but otherwise kept his cool. “I assume they caught the bastard?”

“Yeah. Yeah, they caught him and another guy working with him. He was executed yesterday.”

Eyebrows went up all around, but his father voiced the question. “They executed him?”

“Like I said, everything had been set up. When I was attacked, I was a member of the royal family. That’s high treason. I’m not exactly happy about what happened, but I didn’t have any say in it.” Eleya had made it clear that she was still calling the shots, as it were, at the execution.

“Well, none of that was what I was expecting.” His father still looked a bit like he was going to pick a fight with someone, but his expression had softened. “How are you doing?”

“Pretty good. Aside from the almost dying, it’s been really interesting. And confusing. Weird a lot of the time, too.” He managed a laugh and a smile but didn’t get his hopes up too much. All of this was still new and they hadn’t had much time to process it yet.

“And this thing with Carbon... You’re OK with this?”

“Yeah, I am. When we got back, I wasn’t sure how I’d react - like I said, it was a pretty intense situation. It’s not all smooth sailing, we are both alien to each other but we communicate well and we’re a pretty good fit for each other. I don’t even think of her as alien most of the time anymore. I just love her.”

“I- Still not what I was expecting. But if she makes you happy and you’re happy with your situation, I’m happy for you. For both of you.” His father elbowed his mother gently, “you liked her, didn’t you?”

It took his mother a moment to get up to speed. “Yes, she was very pleasant and this does explain why she brightened up so much when she saw you. I had thought that maybe there was more than respect there, but I hadn’t expected that kind of relationship.”

“I really was going to tell you guys before... I guess it wouldn’t have changed too much considering how everything played out.”

“So far, I approve of her. Seems very intelligent and polite.” His mother got a sort of wry smile. “How was the ceremony? Did you at least get some nice pictures since we wern’t invited?”

“No, the ceremony was...” Profoundly invasive? Terrifying? “You didn’t miss anything. Mostly it was just some paperwork.”

His father rolled his eyes as she continued. “That’s a shame, I would like to see their ceremonies and all even if it isn’t much to look at. I notice you’re not wearing a ring... Do they do that?”

“Not... sort of.” He pulled the collar of his shirt to the side to expose the edge of his bite mark. “It’s a pretty permanent gesture.”

They all recoiled at that but his mother continued, otherwise undaunted. “I assume we will be meeting her parents at some point, as well?”

Alex balked at that. “That’s still up in the air. Her father didn’t take the news as well as you guys did.”

“What about her mother?”

“She died in the disaster. Most of her family did, actually. All she’s got left is her dad and aunt now.”

“Oh, poor girl. You let her know she’s welcome here. Speaking of, why didn’t you bring her?”

“She’s with the shuttle. I expected you guys to be accepting, but I wanted to make sure. She took her dad’s disapproval really hard, I didn’t want her to get a second dose of that.”

His mother shook her head. “Well, go get her. If she’s part of the family she had better start acting like it.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

Preparation

Neya had shown up sometime in the morning, bearing breakfast. Alex was not sure where the clock was and he was not inclined to turn his augs on while he was still half asleep. Whenever she had shown up, it was too damn early as far as he was concerned.

He was perfectly content to ignore her, as he was still warm and comfortable. Then Carbon got up, turned the lights on and they started chatting. He had more trouble ignoring that. He couldn’t tell what they were saying, but it sounded amicable. Friendly, even. Perhaps a bit gossipy.

Resigned to the fact he was not going back to sleep right now, Alex rolled over to the edge of the bed and slid his arm out from under the blanket, trawling the floor for clothes.

The conversation stopped while he did this, pulling one garment after the next into the warmth of the bed. He was pretty sure none of it was his. It didn’t feel like something he’d wear.

Carbon pulled the blanket back and he squinted up at her in the bright light, wrapped in a long purple robe. She set a neatly folded stack of clothes next to him with a wry smile. “These are for you.”

“Thanks.” Alex was pretty sure that’s what he said. The light went away with a pleasant laugh and the chatting resumed. At least his bag had made it here. It only took a moment for him to pull on a pair of pants and he rolled out of bed with a grunt and a wave at his audience.

Carbon waved back with a pleasant smile and they watched him for the few moments before he got up and trudged into the bathroom, securing the door behind him. It was pleasantly familiar, a toilet looked like a toilet no matter where you went, apparently. The shower was a little tricky, but Carbon had shown him how to use that last night.

Hot water washed away the last of the cobwebs in his head, giving him time to reflect on just how insane the past few weeks had been. Admiral Argueta had wanted him to ingratiate himself to Carbon and experience Tslao culture. He was doing a pretty damn good job of the former and not very well at the latter, by his estimation.

Despite that, Alex suspected he had enough information already for several reports. He would start off with a nice loose overhead view for them to chew on while he looked into the legal side of marrying into alien royalty for him. Did they even know that Carbon was related to the Tslao empress?

He shut the water off and tapped the dry button, vents overhead opening up and blasting him with warm, dry air. That was the trouble with working with spooks though, wasn’t it? You couldn’t tell what or how much was the truth with them. Ed, he could depend on. The Admiral? Just her lack of facial expressions was worrisome.

Alex hit the button and scrubbed a hand over his head to make sure he was dry before he stepped out of the stall. He checked the rubbery coating over his mark, still firmly in place. A burst of dental spray and getting dressed left him feeling pretty much human again, ready to take on another day. An uneventful one, with any luck.

He had planned to announce his return when he opened the door, instead treading quietly over to the table when he noticed Carbon and Neya in a link. There was a setting for him next to Carbon, tea and that orange mash that she had always eaten on the ship. It was already cold but still tasted fine, a very palatable mix of pear and apple flavors with a smooth consistency.

He’d never realized how silly the act of linking looked. They leaned across the table towards each other, breathing slowly with eyes closed and faces absolutely serious. Long antennae bridged the gap, the fluffy tips resting at the base of the other’s antennae. Alex successfully suppressed a laugh.

They stopped just before he finished his bowl, his return apparently unnoticed until then. Neya gave a start and stared for a moment, looking away as she flipped her antennae back into place. She looked a bit embarrassed as she stammered out something in Tsla. Alex thought he understood the word for ‘food.’

Alex flipped the mental switch for his augs and they came to life, his senses going fuzzy for a moment before returning. “Sorry, translator wasn’t on. Say again?”

She composed herself and cleared her throat. “Was the meal to your satisfaction, sir?”

“Yes, it was fine, thank you.”

“Now that everything is finished, perhaps you could be convinced to just call him by his name?” Carbon slid a hand across the table and patted Neya’s with a soft smile.

“Yes, the titles did seem to aggravate him.” She seemed to brighten at that, her gaze shifting between them. “You would still prefer I call you by your name?”

“Please.”

“As you wish, Alex.” Neya relaxed a little, relieved.

“She will have to use a title on occasion, for formalities like last night when she returned my marker or public events.”

“Sounds better than being Prince Sorenson all the time.” He was really hoping to avoid that as much as he could. “So, what’s on the agenda for today?

Carbon sipped her tea and considered that for a moment. “I would think it wise to discuss things as they are with your parents, before much more time passes. I do not want them to feel marginalized in the face of such events.”

“Yeah. That’s a good idea.” Alex was not looking forward to this particular conversation.

“I thought as much. The flight plan is being filed, we should know when we can arrive soon.”

“Good. I guess. Look, I don’t know how this is going to go over with them. Us dating is one thing, but being married... Even if I have decided I’m up for this, I’m still not even sure that it’s legal for me.”

“I am aware.” Carbon sighed quietly, “I am still hoping for the best. If they are as upset as my father was, we can do what is best for our families and force a separation. While they are few, there are some places where even the Empress’ power can be overridden.”

“I don’t think they’ll be that mad. Shocked, surprised, upset... Maybe. But not furious.” Alex very clearly remembered Eleya’s warning about keeping Carbon happy being his reason for being there, the tacit threat her words contained. Despite that, he replied with what he felt was the truth. “Even if they are, it’s not their life to live.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rituals

Something they needed to do first? Carbon’s statement swirled around his mind for a moment before he got it, grinning as he set his hands on her hips and pulled her close. “I’m game, if you’re ready.”

She nodded and leaned against him, closing her eyes as she whispered into his ear. “I believe I am.”

Alex smiled and slid his hands up her sides, still surprised at how hot her body was. He wasn’t sure what had changed, but he didn’t feel awkward or weird about it. He wouldn’t exactly say it was natural, but it felt much more possible this time. That was a pleasant surprise.

Carbon exhaled sharply on his neck, a happy noise escaping her as Alex gave her a little squeeze. She steadied herself, hands tight on his arms as she leaned down, taking a shaky breath before she sank her teeth into his shoulder.

Some part of Alex recognized that trying to wrench his shoulder out of her mouth would not work out well. He was pretty sure those pointy little teeth would just shred it. Instead, he sucked in a breath and gripped her flanks a little tighter, jaw tight against the growing pain.

Her eye opened and she looked at him like she expected him to do something.

“Why are you biting me?” Alex hissed, eyes bulging.

She finally released his shoulder with a wet pop, teeth pink with his blood. “It is the final act of becoming entwined.”

Alex gently probed the narrow u-shaped bite mark as it started to bleed. “What? that’s- Can you get me a towel?”

She grumbled and pushed off of him, rummaging through a chest of drawers next to the bed. “Were you not prepared?”

“No! Not for that... fuck this hurts.” He had stopped poking at his injury and stood to keep from bleeding on the bed. “I thought we were going to try, you know....”

Carbon raised an eyebrow, not looking up from the drawer. “I think it is quite apparent I do not.”

“I thought you were intimating you were interested in having sex.”

“Perhaps I was...” She slid the drawer closed hard and gave him a dark look, gesturing towards the stools at the table. “Come, sit.”

His first instinct was to defend his actions and be mad at her for not making it clear what was going on. He was a guy, after all, of course he was easily steered towards sex. He also wasn’t that stupid. He shrugged and winced, taking a seat in front of her. “I wasn’t aware of this... marking thing.”

“Neya said you had been reading about our ways.” She unscrewed the top of a large jar and scooped a finger of thick blue goo out, eliciting another wince as she slathered it over his wound.

“No, I had been reading about historical stuff. Weekly records of the First Age emperors. Made it all the way through the Zherar dynasty. No actual practical knowledge.” The goo stung at first, but quickly settled to an almost pleasant tingle.

Carbon clicked her tongue and shook her head as she circled him, dabbing goo onto the back of his shoulder. “She gave you the logs? Those have no useful information.”

He got the impression he may have gotten Neya into some trouble with that. “To be fair, Eleya was the one who gave them to her. I learned a swear word, too. That’s useful.”

She stopped, mid-smear. “Eleya gave them to her? Really?”

“Yes. She made her use formal titles on me, too. I didn’t like that.”

“Curious...” Carbon continued applying the salve, “perhaps she really is grooming you to be active within the royal family. It certainly would cause a stir.”

“I can only imagine.”

Carbon made an affirmative noise and picked up a towel, wiping his back and chest dry. “I do not understand why, though.”

“She said she likes my naivete. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.”

That almost got a laugh out of her, a smile in her voice. “It can be endearing, from time to time. How is you shoulder now?”

“Better.” Alex touched the goo, already hardened into a thick protective layer. “So do you want me to try doing that to you now?”

“Yes.” She put the jar away and tossed the towel into the cleaner before seating herself back on the bed. “I do not know how successful you will be, but it is necessary for you to do it.”

“Uh... I was kind of kidding there. I don’t-”

She gave him a particularly pointed look and patted the bed next to her before she began to take her shirt off, actually a long strip of cloth that had been wrapped around her. “It is your obligation, Alex. Unless you do not wish to be entwined?”

“Is this a regular part of being entwined? The biting? Is there any other violence I should know about?” He had started to wonder if this was actually something he wanted to be a part of or not.

Carbon shook her head, “just one bite to seal our commitment. No more beyond that.”

“Alright. Let’s do this.” What’s the worst that could happen? He sat down next to her, held her arms like she had held his and leaned in. Jaws opened wide, he set his teeth down on her shoulder and gave it a tenative squeeze.

“Harder.” She rested her chin on his shoulder. “It is to share in each others pain, to share the essence of our life, not to placate me.”

He didn’t exactly relish the idea, but he gave her what she wanted. His jaw tightened and he felt muscles flex as she flinched. Much to his surprise, his teeth did manage to puncture her skin. He gagged on the coppery taste of her blood, tongue trying to withdraw from his mouth to avoid it.

A moment later she patted his side and whispered through clenched teeth. “That is enough.”

Alex let go and sucked in a breath of air. “Good enough?”

“Much more... nh, capable than I expected. Get the salve, in the top drawer.”

He retrieved the jar of goo and dabbed it on to her wounds, a series of shallow punctures from his canine teeth. “There. Not as complete as the one you gave me, though.”

“That is fine. I would prefer it be unique.” She smiled and plucked the jar from his hands, setting it down on the ground. “As you are unique to me.”

“I suppose I am.” Alex shifted further onto the bed and stretched out, closing his eyes. “We’re quite the pioneers, aren’t we?”

“It seems that we are.” She snuggled down next to him, threading an arm around his and holding him tightly. “I think I like that.”

“Good.” He was glad to hear the strength in her voice again, the Carbon he knew returning. “I’m hard to get rid of.”

“You are very tenacious.” She laughed and kissed his arm. “I cannot believe you made it all the way to Zherar in the log books.”

“Seemed important at the time.” Alex rubbed his eyes, the invigorating shock of having been bitten starting to wear off.

“They used to make me read those when I misbehaved. There is very little useful information in there, but all royals are expected to have read them.”

“Great. At least it’ll help with my cussing.”

“Oh yes, which word did you find?” She grinned widely and squeezed his arm again.

“Khaeva. Neya said it was vulgar.”

“Not quite vulgar... too negative. Mmh, risqué or salacious might be a better way to put it.”

“What’s it mean?”

Carbon didn’t say anything, though it was felt like she was thinking. She shut the lights off with a word and Alex could hear the smirk when she spoke. “I think you will be best enlightened if I show you myself.”