“It looks fine, right? Right?” Alex held his arms out, showing off his outfit to Neya. He’d opted for human clothing today, a black t-shirt over black pants. “Toss the jacket on over this. Done. Easy.”
“It looks... Strange. Discomforting. The collar is too high and sleeves too low.” She wrinkled her short muzzle at him, eyebrows pulled low. She may have been holding a slight grudge because the prospect of a real breakfast had been dashed an hour ago by a message from Carbon, requesting that he come and dine with her back near Engineering.
“Ah, what do you know.” He sat on the bed and slipped his shoes on. He had expected that Neya would go too, but Carbon had explained there were protocols to be followed when dining with your zeshen in public and this wasn’t one of those times.
Neya leaned back in her chair, looking away from him with a dismissive flip of her hand. “I have studied fashion and aesthetics extensively for two decades.”
“You’d both have to do that, huh?” Alex muttered under his breath as he seated his heel and pulled the laces tight. “Look, I’ll pick something up for you on the way back. Actually, I’ll have Carbon do it because I don’t know where anything is or what you’d like.”
“It is not the same,” she huffed. Despite the act she was putting up, Neya sounded amused by the exchange.
“Then we won’t get anything and she can just get up early tomorrow and make breakfast.” He stood and picked a few stray hairs off his pants. “How’s that sound?”
“Perhaps you should get me something and she can still cook tomorrow. After such a disappointment, it is the least that will sooth my feelings.” Neya smiled wide, having given up the pretense of being put off entirely and slipping back into her normal warm countenance. She picked a small tablet off the table and held it out to him, “the map is set to take you directly to the restaurant. I do not think Carbon will appreciate it if you dally.”
“No, I don’t think she would either.” Alex tucked it into a pocket and gave her a wave as he closed the door the antechamber. His jacket fit just fine over the t-shirt and he didn’t particularly care if it didn’t show the appropriate amount of neck and shoulder. It’d probably be better anyway, bare skin seemed to unsettle many of the locals.
He slapped the controls and the heavy door started to retract into the wall. He double checked the map - turn left into the hall, proceed forward 112.3 meters - and followed its instructions after the door closed behind him.
He hadn’t made it to the first junction before he heard a shout behind him and rapid footsteps. “Lord Sorenson!”
The first thing he thought was that he was going to get stabbed again, or maybe shot. They would have learned from the first try and waited until he was properly alone before giving killing him another go. By the time he had turned his head to look at his impending death, he had realized the voice was fairly familiar, didn't sound angry at all and hadn’t been translated.
“Sir. Are you all right?” Sergeant Zenshen pulled up short of him, surprise turning to concern as she looked him over.
“Y-yeah.” Alex managed a nervous laugh. The look of terror on his face twisted into a half-crazed smile, heart still pounding in his chest. He pulled his jacket up and thrust his hands into his pockets, arms gripped tight against his side to quell the adrenaline fueled shaking. “Can you never, ever run up behind me like that again?”
She was slow to respond, words laced with confusion as she slid a foot back, easing further away from him. “Yes sir, of course. I will not.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was going to be a problem.” Alex exhaled hard, composing himself further. “But yeah, don’t do that again.”
That seemed to settle her well enough. She squared her feet and relaxed, tucking a small black case under her arm. “It will not happen again. If you have a moment, sir, I do have something to discuss with you.”
“Can you walk while we do that?”
“Good. So what’s up?” He pulled the tablet from his pocket and double checked that he was facing the right way before setting off down the corridor.
The Sergeant fell in next to him, footsteps all but silent as she matched his speed. “The Empress appointed me as your military liaison, until you are able to take a command yourself.”
Alex chewed on that for minute, parsing out exactly what Eleya’s actual intentions might have been. “Why?”
“So that you can be a proper member of the royal family.” There was no ease in her voice, her words sounding more like something she had been coached to say.
“You’re going to be teaching me how to be a... commander?”
“There is no rank for a prince other than prince.” She hesitated, conflicted for a moment. “I don't know if the word 'teaching' is correct for what I am supposed to do.”
“Qualify that statement.”
A handful of steps went by as she picked her words. “I am here more to keep you from offending anyone important while you are adjusting to your new position.”
“Because you already know how to deal with Humans.” At least, that made sense to him.
She confirmed his assumption with a nod. “It helps. You may find that some outside Eleya’s immediate influence will not be as easy to work with and part of my duty is to ensure your safety.”
“Great.” The corridor widened into a maglev stop and he cut across the plaza to the port side, which ran aft on the loop it took around ship “That’s great. So that big old target painted on my back is actually for everyone?”
“That is not entirely correct. Some deny your right to command, some to even be a prince.”
Alex shrugged as the timer clicked by. “So? I kind of suck at prince-y things and I’d probably be a bad commander.”
“No. You may be a novice, but you are a prince. People may think and say what they will.” Her eyes darkened, voice hard and loud as she underscored her point. “But when you tell them to jump, they will ask you how high. Do you understand?”
He straightened, rebuked. “Uh, yeah. I guess I do.”
“You guess?” Not the answer she wanted.
“Yes. I understand.” He panicked just a little bit, not sure exactly what he was getting or what had happened to the pleasant sergeant from last night. The maglev arrived with a soft chime and he hustled inside as soon as the doors opened.
“Good.” She sounded doubtful but eased up, following him into the car. “Did I use that saying correctly?”
“The jump one? Yeah.” Alex sat across from the door, checking the map again to be sure he wouldn’t miss his stop. He had been hoping she’d stay on the platform and that would be that, but as long as she didn’t turn into the drill sergeant again he would deal.
She smiled and chuckled to herself as she sat down next to him. “Excellent. Your military training methods are similar to ours, so I imagine I will be able to bring you up to speed quickly as far as acting the part is concerned. I think it would be wise to continue your training beyond that, so you are fully familiar with a wide aspect of the experiences of those you will command.”
“Sure.” He sighed, feeling a distinct lack of enthusiasm for this endeavor. Alex had more than enough of training from learning to be a scoutship pilot. This just sounded like entirely more work than he wanted to be involved in. Though, he didn’t particularly relish the idea of being seen as a slacker or out of touch even if the situation wasn’t one he’d asked for. “That sounds good. I will learn.”
Lhenan handed him the package she had been carrying, gesturing for him to open it. “I feel much more comfortable giving you these, knowing that you are willing.”
Alex untied the thin cords that held the bundle closed, surprised at the weight of it as he set it in his lap and unrolled the flaps. A pair of gloves gleamed back at him, silver plate trimmed with gold and set on dark leather. “Nice. A little anachronistic, but nice.”
“The Empress wanted you to have them now, if you were willing, even though they are unfinished.”
“What’s missing?” He turned them over and then slipped one on, unable to find any sort of indication it needed work. The leather was snug and the plate extended past his knuckles, halfway to the first joint of his fingers.
“They need your family insignia and you do not currently have one. An appointment has been made for you this afternoon to see a designer about that.”
“Huh. Well, all right.” Alex slid the gloves back into their wrap as the maglev decelerated, springing to his feet when the doors chimed and opened. “Let Neya know and she’ll give me the details. Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t think either of us wants me to be late for this appointment.”