Eleya clung to Carbon tightly, a hug that was just about to outlive its welcome when she broke it off, holding Carbon by her shoulders. She whispered something and Alex thought that, for just a moment, it seemed like Eleya might have had tears in her eyes.
That was unlike her. He didn’t stare, though he probably could have. The thought that Eleya would get misty over something was startlingly foreign to him.
“Thank you, Alex. Have a good night and mind what we spoke about. I expect you to be fluent soon.” She gave him a warm hug as well, followed up by a look that told him she expected updates on his progress.
Eleya departed the restaurant, Shenna in tow and looking quite guilty. Alex may have helped her out a little with Carbon, but that didn’t carry much weight where Eleya was concerned. Alex could accept that he wasn’t much liked and people would be jerks to him. He suspected Eleya would not tolerate being lied to.
Carbon watched them go and then slipped her arm under his and pulled him against her. “This has been a strange evening.”
“You’re telling me.” He followed her lead, walking slowly down the small town-like area the restaurant was in. The ceiling was three decks above them here and speckled with artificial stars, giving the impression of being outside if you didn’t look too closely.
“I am. It has been.” She smiled and sighed, sounding reasonably content.
“You didn’t even say much at dinner.” She had been surprised by Shenna’s arrival, probably less so than Alex had been. Carbon had quieted down, more intent on her food than she normally would be. He was pretty sure no one had told her what had happened earlier at the gym, either. Things would have gone differently.
“No, I did not. I had missed seeing Shenna. But I cannot escape the feeling that I have disappointed her.”
“So she is really important to you.” He had his suspicions, but confirmation was always nice.
Carbon nodded, a wan smile on her face. “In some ways, she took the place of my mother after she died. They had always been similar in attitude and she had a significant hand in making sure my father kept going for that first year. I do not think he would have made it on his own. I sometimes wonder if I would have made it through that time without her encouragement.”
That cleared things up a bit. No wonder Carbon looked so off at dinner. “It’s good that she did what she did, but you don’t have to make her happy with every choice because of it.”
“I know, I just wish that she would approve of you.” Carbon squeezed his arm again. “There is much to approve of. Do you know why Shenna is here?”
“Yeah, I think your dad really does not me. A lot.” Understatement of the day. “When I met her with Eleya, she was... emphatic about us not being together. I mean, her as your dad was, until Eleya took her sigil away.”
The sigh that came this time was just sad. “He sent her here to break us up?”
“He wanted to compel Eleya to undo what she did.” Alex suspected that Sharadi would have prefered that he be kicked out an airlock as well. “Shenna seemed to be a lot more reasonable after Eleya took her sigil away.”
“She has always had good footing.” Her jaw clenched and her eyes burned, resolute. “Sharadi does not have power over us and I will not allow him to destroy what we have forged.”
Alex hid his surprise as she used her father’s name and the anger in her words. Even if the guy didn’t like him, Alex would prefer that Carbon not lose another parent. He squeezed her arm and grinned, eager to derail her. “I didn’t think you would... And even if he pulls something, we can always go be farmers. Sorenson Farms. The most tender spiders, from our home to yours.”
It took a moment but she stifled a laugh and poked him in the side. “You would eat all of our stock.”
“Not all of it. Just the good ones.”
She looked up at him, bright blue eyes squinting with mirth. “Do you really enjoy our cuisine?”
“Absolutely.” He wouldn’t mind some plain old Human food every once and awhile, but there was always something new to try on the menu. “As long as everything shows up cooked, I’m good.”
“Oh no!” Carbon gasped, eyes wide.
“Your sandwiches. They’re still on the shuttle.”
Alex burst out laughing. He had forgotten about them, but at least in the stasis fridge they should still be fresh. “I can’t believe I forgot about those.”
“It is strange, you were so excited to return to that restaurant.”
“I’ll have someone pick them up tomorrow, if they’re still there.” Having people do minor errands and tasks for him was encouraged, and of all the things that his station offered him it felt useful enough despite being ridiculous that he didn’t feel bad... Usually.
She smiled. “I am still quite interested in trying it.”
“Good.” They walked in silence until Alex couldn’t contain the question that he was really interested in hearing about. “If you don’t mind me asking, what did Eleya say to you before she left.”
“She said that she had missed being...” Carbon furrowed her brow and shook her head. "There is no precise translation for the word, it means to be the one who is honored to listen."
"She seemed to be pretty happy about that." Eleya managed to hold on to her title as 'most cryptic Tslao' even when moved to tears.
"Yes, but It does not make any sense. We converse regularly. It is not always on good terms, but it is a common occurrence.”
“She wasn’t wearing her wireless tonight. Maybe she wasn’t focused on doing royalty stuff for once.” He shrugged.
“She was not?” Her head cocked to the side, quizzical. “I have not seen her without those for more than a decade.”
“Really? Don’t those things give you headaches?”
“After some time the antennae begin to ache. Eventually it does reach the head.”
“Huh, well anyway, she got a translator implant like mine.” He tapped on his chest. “Just the other way around. Would have to get an AMP, too, I suppose.”
“She got an implant.” Carbon shook her head. “No, that is impossible. She would not do that to herself.”
“It’s either that or she became fluent in English and shaved part of her back for the express purpose of jerking me around.” They passed out of the town and into an alcove full of elevators, queuing up at the end of a short line. “I just don’t think she’d do that.”
Carbon considered that and nodded in agreement. “That is much more unlikely.”
“Uh-huh.” Alex ignored the eavesdropping and furtive glances from the rest of the line. It was shortening rapidly anyway, half of them shuffling onto a lift headed down. “She was probably just easing up on being royalty for the night.”
“No, the word she used is more... reverent. It would apply to something that is truly rare or precious.” She huffed and her brow knit, drawn deeper into the puzzle of what Eleya had meant.
“Well, all I know is she likes talking with me now and really liked hearing you say like five sentences.” He shrugged as they filed into an upward bound elevator. “I’m just glad for that.”
“Yes, it is good.” Carbon leaned against the back of the lift, still puzzled. She gave a start, eyes wide as she covered her mouth. “She asked you about your experience with the mediboard, did she not?”
“Yeah, I told her it patched me up just fine.”
Carbon pulled on his arm, pieces of the puzzle sliding together behind her eyes. “When Adeti was assassinated, she was in the car with him.”
“Ok.” He knew enough to figure out that Adeti was Eleya’s now-deceased husband. “Which means?”
“They used a missile to crack the vehicle open and think she was deafened in the attack. I think she has been using the wireless to appear as though she was not.”
“Damn. Well, like you said. Royalty leads the way. If she wants the technology to be accepted...”
“Yes. She would use it on herself first.”