“Hey, mom!” Alex hugged his mother like he hadn’t seen her in years. It hadn’t been nearly that long, but it felt like it.
“Alex, it’s so good to see you again.” Audry had a hug that was much stronger than it looked like she was capable of. She managed to squeeze the breath right out of him.
“Good to see you, too!” He continued after he’d been released from her iron grip.
“So, how was your meeting?” She looked over at Carbon, addressing them both with the question.
“Oh, fine.” He couldn’t talk about the details, of course... And absolutely nothing they had gone over was new anyway, except for the date they would be returning to the artifact. “Kinda boring, really.”
Carbon nodded in agreement. “Yes. It was.”
“And who is this?” Audry gestured towards Eleya. She’d always disliked having a conversation in front of someone like they weren’t there.
“Oh, this is Empress Eleya Tezhan. Eleya, My mother, Audry.” He assumed Eleya would be able to figure out what her last name is without help.
“Empress!” She remembered some protocol she had read somewhere and bowed. “I am glad to meet you.”
“And I, you.” Eleya smiled, cordial. “Please, do not bow so deeply. It is unwarranted by someone of your status.”
Audry waited for a heartbeat while the translator draped over her shoulder ran through what Eleya had said. She didn’t seem to understand why that was. “Of my status?”
Alex didn’t understand that, either. She was his mom, not a senator or something. He looked at Carbon with a raised eyebrow as they started towards Noonan’s again. “Of her status?”
“Certainly.” Eleya was as relaxed as he’d ever seen her, a strange ease in her gestures as she spoke. “The parents of a prince cannot be just anyone. I have not looked into it, but I am sure there must be a piece of land for you on one of their planets.”
Carbon elbowed him in the side gently and held out four fingers, the motion hidden carefully from his mother and Eleya. “I think there is, perhaps- Perhaps Nozhan of Lonalth? It is not very pretty, but the population is stable and industrious.”
Alex mouthed the word ‘four’ at her, incredulous. Of course they had four planets. It was times like these that made him a little uneasy about actually looking into the abyss that was their now-combined finances. It seemed better to let the absurd wealth just occasionally rear it’s head as a Zeshen or fancy classic shuttle. “Yeah, that one. Super industrious.”
“Thank you.” His mother was shocked at the idea, apparently. “But... I don’t know if it’s right.”
“Of course it is right.” Eleya smiled like it was the most natural thing in the world to be given a continent.
Alex supposed that actually was a common occurrence for Eleya. He looked at Carbon for help. “I think there may be some misunderstanding about what’s really going on here. Right?”
“Perhaps.” Carbon chewed it over, gears turning behind narrowed eyes. “You... could not actually own the property, current law forbids that. You could become the steward of it. While it is not the same as being landed, it behaves much the same way in law.”
Audry was not sold on that, either. “Still, it seems like-”
“I can understand that this is unusual.” Eleya cut her off and Alex caught a flicker of a cutting glare directed at him. “But it is for the good of the Empire.”
Alex knew exactly what Eleya meant with that look: why aren’t you controlling your mother better? This is much more work than it needs to be. It would have been withering if it had been directed at someone who really cared about the royalty stuff. “Let’s just put that on the back burner for now. I’m sure we need to take a look at the laws covering this sort of thing in detail before anything can really go forward. Right?” He pushed the door to Noonan’s open and held it for them, smiling until his mother was past then laying the exasperation on for Eleya.
Carbon backed him up quickly as she passed, touching his arm gently to bring him back down. “Yes, that is the best course of action.”
“Since we are at the restaurant now, that seems appropriate.” Eleya relented, but the scowl darkening her brow said that she had already looked into the legalities involved. No surprise there.
“Yes we are.” He looked past the hostess and scanned the crowd for Ed, pointing him out to Carbon on the second level of the restaurant.
Ed raised his pint at them and disappeared from the rail.
The hostess was a bit unsure what to do when confronted with Alex, Audry and two short aliens. “We... I don’t think we serve-”
“Why don’t you take them upstairs.” Alex set a hand on Carbon’s shoulder and nodded to the second floor before inserting himself into the hostess’ awkward conversation. “We’re here with Ed.”
“Hey, you can’t just- Did you say Ed?” She looked down at the screen in the podium.
“Yup, Ed Brzezinski. Party of six.”
That seemed to clear things up. “Yes, second floor. Oh, special guests. Will the final member of your party be... a special guest also?”
“Yeah. He’s here, too.” Alex spotted the wavery space where the Royal Guard stood, reached out and found purchase on his armor and pulled him over. Alex tossed an arm over his shoulder and grinned as the cloaking field shivered, giving a better view of the armor below it. “Never leave home without one of these guys. Super handy to have around.”