“Now how about... Mm, how about ku- No wait, that wouldn’t be in your dictionary.” Alex leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. He and Eleya sat in the low, plush seats of what was apparently the fanciest restaurant on board, alone except for a waitress just outside of earshot. She still watched them like a hawk and the Empress had yet to finish a glass of wine before it was refilled.
Eleya gave a disgruntled snort as Alex came up short of more words to try out. “Surely it should be.” She derived quite a bit of enjoyment from testing the limits of her translator implant. Initially she had just prodded Alex for more obscure words and phrases, though that eventually turned to swearing. As it turned out, Eleya was quite a connoisseur of cussing.
“It’s not English.” He shrugged and searched the walls for a clock. No luck. Carbon and Shenna where going to be joining them for an early dinner, at some point. Eleya thought it best to have that first meeting moderated, given the performance when Shenna first arrived.
An exasperated grunt, a roll of the eyes. She and Carbon were definitely related. Eleya waited as a waitress approached to top off her glass, watching the young female return to her roost before she spoke again. “How many languages do your people need?”
Alex cleared his throat. He had written a paper on the language crush and revival that had come with space colonization. “Oh, you know, like six thousand.”
She leaned forward, incredulous. “Six thousands, not hundreds or tens? You are shitting me.” Once Eleya had grasped what that meant, the saying delighted her. The Tsla version was much longer, but her antennae perked up when she spoke it and a smile crept into her voice.
“Absolutely not. That’s current living languages, by the way. I don’t even want to guess at how many dead languages and dialects we have.” Alex was starting to enjoy talking to Eleya, at least when the conversation turned away from governing and the trappings that surrounded it.
“Dead languages?” Her words dripped disdain with a healthy side of confusion. “How could anyone let that happen?”
“There aren’t any languages the Tsalo have left behind?”
She dismissed the idea immediately, waving her glass for emphasis. “No, certainly not. It is unthinkable.”
Alex was pretty sure that was unlikely, even for a monoculture. “All this time and you only have one language? ”
She rolled her eyes with a dismissive noise. “Do not be dense, we have three languages.”
“What? No.” He double checked himself. No one had told him about two other languages the Tslao spoke, not even Carbon. Could she be putting him on? Did she do things like that? She was in a particularly good mood. “All right, what are they?”
“There are the thinking words, obviously.”
Alex shook his head. “I don’t know what that is.”
“Is it so? I am sure you must have felt them when you linked with Carbon.”
“Oh. So it’s not a spoken language?” The link was a big part of their experience, having a sort of sign language to use within it made sense enough.
“There are definitions that can be spoken, but they are best learned through experience.” Eleya had taken on the countenance of a grade school teacher, sounding for all the world like she was trying to saw big concepts down into little bites so he didn’t choke on them.
“I’m sure they are. And the third language?”
His translator gave a little buzz in the back of his brain. It didn’t know the word even if he did recognize the root. Might have been how she said it, the sounds rolling smoothly off her tongue and less sibilant than normal Tsla words. Alex shook his head.
An eyebrow arched at him, distinctly disapproving. “Surely you have learned some of that?”
“Nope. I don’t think so, anyway.”
“Did you not read the books I gave you?”
“Oh, I’ve flipped through one of them.” Well, he had read a page. Ok, he had mostly just looked at a picture, which was a rather explicit rendering of a sexual position. He had gotten the gist of what the book was about.
“Flipped through one?” The eyebrow went down, now at full disapproval. “Those are hand-copied, one does not flip through a book like that.”
“Really? Wow.” Someone had an interesting job. “That’s a little inaccurate, I guess. Carbon and I just looked through it casually.”
“That girl...” She huffed and shook her head, then leveled a finger at Alex. “You will read those books, starting at the first page and ending only at the last. If you are to be a thorough husband, you will speak Ahn-Tsla as though it is a part of you. I am sure both Carbon and Neya will be willing and able to help.”
Alex didn’t consider himself to be very prudish, but it was really weird to have his aunt lecture him about reading the Tslao version of the Kama Sutra. Uncomfortably so. “All right, I’ll do- Hey, look who’s here.” He derailed the subject as soon as he saw motion by the front door.
Fortunately, it was Shenna. That was good, Alex really wanted to say something to her before Carbon arrived. He pushed himself out of the chair and threaded his way across the dining room, trying not to look mad. He wasn’t that angry at her... she had been following orders, after a fashion. But she did represent someone who was on his shit list now. “Hey, just who I wanted to see!”
She drew to a stop and there was flicker of fear in her eyes but she held her ground. “Am I truly?”
“Yep!” He smiled wide and gave her a big hug.
Shenna flinched and squeaked, likely expecting retribution for the assault earlier. Once she realized what he was actually doing... it didn’t make her any more comfortable.
Alex let her go but leaned in close, his voice low. “I’m pretty sure you and I are on the same side when it comes to Carbon being happy, even if we might not have the same views. Am I right about that?”
“Yes, of course.” She agreed, though remained wary of him.
“Good. I just want you to know that if you do anything to hurt her, I will make your and Sharadi suffer for the rest of your natural lives. I might not know how to do that, but I know someone who does.” Alex tilted his head and his eyes briefly darted towards Eleya. “Are we clear?”