"I'm just saying, I look stupid." Alex slumped into a tiny chair as best he could and fiddled with his translator yoke. They had arrived at the conference room first, a long table ending in what looked like a 3D hologram projector plate taking up most of space. Tapestries hung from the walls, hiding the painted metal.
"You look fine. Quite handsome, actually." Carbon stood behind him, leaning on the back of his chair.
"You would say that. Fine, I feel stupid." Really, he felt naked. That was despite being wrapped in sixty meters of fabric, a loose pair of slacks and a blood red jacket that actually fit him. The wide open collar of the jacket was the culprit. It exposed much more skin on his shoulder and chest than he was used to.
“I cannot argue with your feelings.” She sounded amused by this as she started to rub his shoulders. “At least we were able to convince Neya that painting stripes on you would not be a good idea.”
“That would have made things worse...” At least he was able to get away with wearing his own shoes. They didn’t have anything for feet like his on board.
“But I am curious as to what that would look like now.” Fingers traced delicate lines across the back of his neck before pressing into the skin, kneading the muscle beneath.
Alex sighed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to work out well.”
“We will see.” Carbon leaned down to kiss his ear, straightening up suddenly as the door opened. She noticed that Alex wasn’t doing anything, whispering to him. “Stand up when others enter.”
Alex pushed himself up out of the chair as two more Tslao who he didn’t think he recognized stepped into the room. They were both dressed in military tunics and shoulder mounted AI’s, antennae swept back into them. One was an older male, gray furred, graying and stern. The younger one was probably a female, an almost brown shade of red, alert but relaxed. They wore the same battalion insignia but different rank badges. Alex couldn’t read either of those, his Amp didn’t seem to be inclined to translate whatever symbols they used for that.
“Sir, ma’am.” The older one acknowledged them with a short bow, stepping up to Alex with his hand out.
It took Alex a second to realize what he was doing, so unused to having a Tslao offer up a handshake. He accepted a moment later, suddenly aware that he wasn’t sure how much pressure would be right. “Good to meet you...”
“Colonel Lhenan, sir. This is Sergeant Zenshen.”
He hadn’t met either of them before, that was a relief. “Colonel. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Likewise.” The Colonel broke off the handshake and sidestepped him to speak with Carbon.
“Prince Sorenson, correct?” Sergeant Zenshen said in slightly accented English as she stepped up to him, an odd sort of smirk on her face, hand thrust out in front of her.
One of them doing that was odd, this was just damn weird. He still shook her hand, though. “Yes. Just recently... Still not used to the title.”
“Understandable, sir.” She leaned in and lowered her voice. “Do not mind the Colonel. While he is... unsure what to make of your appointment, he is committed.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” He looked over his shoulder, Carbon and the Colonel deep into a conversation already. “I’m trying not to rock the boat too much, but I think it’s unavoidable that I will cause some trouble.”
“You have already. Among the military, his reaction is common. They trust that between the Princess and the Empress you have been thoroughly vetted, despite how unorthodox this is.” She leaned against the table with her arms crossed over her chest, entirely self possessed.
“I guess that’s something.” He rubbed the back of his neck and sat down. “You seem to be fine with this.”
“The Colonel and myself have worked with humans several times before, though I have spent more time among them... I am more comfortable with the idea that your kind are not what the rumors say.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“It is.” She watched Carbon and the Colonel talk for a moment. “I have heard that you two were the first onto the artifact?”
“Yeah, we were.” Alex wasn’t sure how much he should be saying about that, but they were there to talk about the artifact... all of this would probably come up anyway. “Hell of a place.”
“It looks very impressive.”
The hologram plate warmed up behind them them and Carbon cursed under her breath. Alex excused himself and rolled the chair down to her side, eyebrow cocked. “What’s up?”
“They were issued an experimental translator module.” She gestured to the military personnel.
“So? Doesn’t work or what?”
“See for yourself.” Carbon gestured at the display, a maze of circuitry floating in the air.
None of that meant anything to Alex. “Looks like... a processor?”
“It is, but it is not of Tslao origin.” She tapped on the control panel and scrolled through a file. “The design first appeared in the system four days ago. This was stolen from your translator.”
“The one that got stabbed?”
“Yes.” She growled.
The door opened, the ozone smell of cloaked soldiers filling the room as Eleya entered. Zhensen and Lhenan straightened immediately. Alex leaned back in his chair and waved.
Carbon turned slowly, eyes narrow. “Dearest aunt... Would you care to explain this?”