Friday, January 27, 2012


Alex stood in the back of the lift, Eleya just in front of him and her security detail posted on either side between them. She apparently had her very own elevator that ran down to most of the meeting areas, formal dining rooms, one of the smaller hangars. Not surprising, given her station.

He hitched his thumbs at the indistinct forms of the guards he was standing behind. “So, can these guys even understand what I’m saying?”

“Of course. Their armors have the latest version of the translator... Thank you for that.” Eleya’s reply did not sound nearly as pained as Alex had expected, she must have still been on her happy family setting. “Though they do not communicate aloud. It would defeat the purpose of the cloak.”

“Makes sense.” The elevator arrived with a soft chime, the doors opening directly into her bedroom. Alex followed her out, the guards a step behind. It was clear why he hadn’t seen the elevator when he had last been here, its doors looked just like another patch of wall with no obvious means to access it.

“Indeed.” She waved at a chair as she headed over to the short cabinet that held her spirits. “Would you care for a drink?”

He was surprised that she even asked, but didn’t think that he was up to imbibe any more tonight. “No, no thank you. Had plenty of wine with dinner.”

“Mmh...” She set about making some kind of mixed drink, again almost sounding happy. “I am to understand you do not metabolize alcohol as quickly as we do. Interesting, the little differences.”

“Yup. Found that out the hard way.” He said it before he thought that night on the Kshlavo might not be something Carbon would want shared with her aunt.

It piqued Eleya’s interest, her head turned just enough to see him over her shoulder as she shook a mixer. “Oh? How so?”

“Had a few bottles of wine with Carbon the other night...” That was true. True enough. “She sobered up much faster than I did.”

“Ah, yes. She never drinks as much as she appears to.” Eleya said it like it was a trait she particularly approved of, smiling as she poured two drinks.

“I think that’s true...” He took the glass she handed him, confused as to why she was doing so. “I don’t think I should-”

She shot him a look that stopped him in his tracks, initially cool but softening with a smile as she spoke. “You do not turn down a drink from the Empress, young Prince.”

“All right. Thank you, then. Cheers.” He held the glass up before trying the greenish concoction, a sharp blast of alcohol and some kind of fruity flavor that he couldn’t place.

“Captain.” She gestured to the door. “Please, give us our space.”

Alex couldn’t hear his reply, but the way Eleya’s face darkened indicated it was not to her liking.

“It was his wife that bruised your pride, Captain, who held your sword to my throat. If you think me incapable, you should remember when you last handed me my blade. It was not long ago.” The venom in her words was strong enough to eat through the deck plating, the wavering form of the Captain taking a step back before she finished speaking.

Three of them departed silently, the ventilation system clearing the room of the ozone smell a few moments after the door closed.

“So, he’s pretty... insolent.” Alex went for the fanciest word he could think of that fit the situation.

“He is concerned about you, I can respect that even if I know better. That does not give him leave to speak so callously.” She sat in the chair next to him, taking a moment to savor her drink. “Given their performance today, it may be time to consider bringing up new soldiers.”

“You do what you have to do.” He had no idea how any of that worked.

“I do.” Eleya nodded in agreement. “So tell me what you have heard, young Prince.”

He shrugged. “I didn’t hear anything very interesting.”

“I assure you, it is interesting.”

“Okay.” He was pretty sure nothing of note had been said, but if she wanted to hear it... “Most of what I could make out was surprise and relief. They didn’t know I could use chopsticks, behave in a civilized manner or even eat Tslao cuisine. Not a lot of research going on there, I guess. The majority were glad that I was wearing loose fitting pants, but my teeth and abundance of skin were bothersome.”

“You do have a lot of skin.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “Everyone has a lot of skin. One of the senators described me using a word I don’t have a translation for... Tschoval? I think it was that.”

Her eyebrow arched and she took another sip. “Ah, that is interesting. Which one?”

“Dark blue fur, seated two down from Sergeant Zenshen.”

“Yes, it would be him. Always looking for trouble.” She swirled her drink and contemplated one of the tapestries, jaw working slowly.

“What’s it mean?”

“It is a skin disease, makes ones fur fall out. Usually used as an epithet for Humans now.”

“Great.” It was no shock that they had their own derogatory nicknames, just that it had taken him this long to hear one.

“Unsurprising. He was posturing, seeing who would join in with him while your beloved was not around to hold a sword to his throat.”

Alex didn’t particularly care about the political angling, but he had some of his own questions he’d like answered. “Yeah, speaking of your niece's remarkable display of violence this afternoon, what the hell is going on between you two? I’ve gotten her side of the story, but I don’t understand what’s up with this Dr. Jekyll... Split personality crap you’ve got going on.”

“My niece.” She gave a clipped, derisive laugh. “Whenever she does something impetuous, she is my niece. Humorous.”

“Fine, my wife’s outburst earlier. Feel better?”

“Not appreciably.” She drained her glass and sighed, sinking into the chair. She actually seemed old for once, as the pride she normally carried herself with replaced with regret. “Suppose it will do me well. I did not want Carbon to get involved in politics, in the court. She was so bright and... So delicate. I did not want that taken from her.”

“Is my translator broken? Because I’m pretty sure you absolutely destroyed her.” He could see the bright part, but delicate? That wasn’t the Carbon he knew.

Eleya rolled her eyes over to him with an exasperated look that ran in the family. “Emotionally. Do not think I have damaged that, she is as sensitive as she ever was.”

“Well, yeah...” That did sound like Carbon. He had hurt her so easily on the Kshlavo, with just a laugh.

“I know what I did was appalling, but she had to be moved away from the center of the court. Did you know they started sending suitors to her when she was six? These... Sycophants tried to marry a child because she was close to me, because they saw a weakness in me. It was only a matter of time before they found a weakness in her and they would have exploited it without hesitation.”

“That’s... not at all what I was expecting.”

Eleya shrugged, silent as she stared at her hands resting in her lap. “There are other reasons, other causes, but that is the keystone to what I did. Pushing her away when I feel familial is... right.”

“No, that’s bullshit. Have you even ever tried telling her about all this? Apologizing, maybe? Because that’s how you treat family.”

“That is why I chose you, Alex.” She managed a faint smile despite the terrible sadness in her eyes. “You only care about her. Perhaps I will be able to speak with her about it, in time.”

“Not ‘in time.’ Soon. I don’t honestly know how far gone she is, but I know she’s really close to shutting you out for good.”

That jolted Eleya back to life, a flicker of panic in her voice before she brought it under control. “She would not just... Would she?”

“Yeah, she would.” No point in sugar coating it. “That’s why I say you need to do this sooner, rather than later. You might have bought yourself some time with me, but it’s only going to go so far if you keep acting like that.”

“I see.” She was distant again, a foot tapping restlessly against the thick carpet as the gears turned behind her eyes. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“I just want her to be whole. If that means helping you fill the hole you dug, I’m fine with that... But I’ll help her with it however she wants.” Alex set his glass aside, still full except for a sip. “So, anything else you want to talk about or are we good for tonight?”

“No. You may go.” She rested her head against the back of the chair and looked absolutely lost before she gained traction on a thought. “Wait. I do have a question.”

Alex was already up and adjusting his clothing. “Yeah, shoot.”

“The wounds you received on the Kshlavo... They were significant, were they not?”

“Yeah, you might say that.” He wouldn’t soon forget how thoroughly burned and broken he had been after the Ehom attack.

“Despite the severity of your injuries, you were repaired with a mediboard. Completely?”

Alex wiggled his toes in his shoes and nodded. “Fully armed and operational. Why?”

She shook her head, unwilling to give up any more secrets. “Have a good night, Alex. Thank you.”