Friday, December 01, 2006

No Princess Need Apply - Excerpt 9

alien romances

“You’re an idiot.”

The Emperor of the Kariin Empire continued to look glumly down at the shiny black surface of the table as his chancellor spoke. The conference table’s surface was mirror bright despite its being over eight hundred years old, and having seen some hard use from six generations of his dynasty. The pale face he saw reflected in black wasn’t a pretty sight. He wasn’t sleeping well. He was dejected. He wasn’t feeling particularly regal.

“I’m an idiot?” Counselor Rankal answered the Chancellor indignantly. “I’m not the one who inadvertently leaked the details of the Inclusion to this world’s communications channels.”

“Who says it was inadvertent?” the Chancellor shot back.
“And I wasn’t talking to you, Rankal.”

“Who else would you— ”

The Chancellor tapped Rawn on the head.

“Ow!”

“Wake up, boy, I’m talking to you.”

“Jezika!”

“Jessica,” the spheroid android corrected. “Call me by the Earth version of my name. I like the sound.”

Rawn Ruan glared at the floating ball of artificial but not in the least bit inferior intelligence that was the third most important being in the Empire. Jezika – that is, Jessica – was older than the eight hundred year old Grand Council Table and far larger than it as well. Most of Jessica was buried deep in the heart of a small, well-guarded moon. Her mobile units were spread throughout the empire. In fact, Jessica had been a representative of the League of Non-Biological Lifeforms when the Kariin Empire was founded. She had served every ruler of the Karii, her wise advice and firm opinions passed on to each succeeding ruler.

The current ruler of the Empire glared at the metallic ball that floated a few feet from him. He rubbed the aching spot on the top of his head. “Am I the one you’re calling an idiot?”

“Correct, as usual, Your Supremacy.”

Rawn hated when Jessica was sarcastic, because the wise old entity only used that withering tone on those who deserved it. He wished he hadn’t emerged from his reverie – all right, funk – long enough to respond.

“Idiot,” First Counselor Rankal protested. “Are you calling your emperor an idiot?”

“If the crown fits…” Ru muttered. Then, ignoring the Chancellor who hovered beside his chair, he sat up straight, looked down the long length of the table. “First Counselor Rankal, please invite the rest of the council to enter.”

“You’re not getting out of discussing your idiotic behavior that easily,” Jessica informed him before floating in a disgruntled manner to her official place. Rawn wasn’t sure how the android managed to be so expressive with so little body language to work with.

The full council consisted of thirty-five sentient beings, representatives from each of the Imperial worlds. As he had told Summer, most of the inhabitants of the Empire were human, but the non-human beings were equally represented on the Council. There was so much he would have liked to have told Summer. She was so easy to talk to. Curious. Intelligent. Refreshing.

“You with us, boy?”

Rawn glanced briefly at the speaker. Krostersare of Limnalis claimed to be nearly as old as Jessica. He certainly looked it, with his papery, wrinkled gray hide and dusty, dry voice. His eyes were bright and sharp as lasers. Rawn looked away from those eyes to focus his attention on the beings gathered around the table. All of them were watching him attentively.

He’d been vaguely aware of their arrival as they walked, slithered and floated to their places. He just wasn’t sure how long he’d drifted off into his own unhappy thoughts with his entire Council watching him. He distinctly did not recall their taking their seats while his mind had been on Summer.

This is not good, he told himself. Not good at all. This distraction over the woman had to stop. It hadn’t been so bad while he’d been away from Earth, but now that he was back to the world where she…

“My apologies,” he said to the waiting group. “I seem to be having trouble concentrating this morning.”

He was only slightly annoyed at the sight of raised eyebrows and other appendages; several persons sarcastically mouthed, ‘this morning?’. Jessica snickered.

At the far end of the table, Kamis turned to her eggtwin, Kella, and said in what she probably thought was a whisper, “Monkeys are easily distracted.”

“Apes,” Kella corrected her. “No tail. Apes in season are easily distracted.”

“Do apes come into season, sister?”

“This one is.”

Rawn listened with a certain embarrassed fascination to the Avarins’ analysis of his emotional, or at least hormonal, state. He didn’t try to correct them, or explain himself. He got down to business instead.

“The Empire found the Human World Earth at a delicate time in the world’s technological and cultural development. We – “

“Meaning ‘you’,” Krostersare interrupted.

“Chose contact rather than observation. We are not gathered,” Rawn added firmly, with a hard look at the old Limnalis representative, “to debate a decision made and executed months ago. We are here to discuss the next phase of bringing the sentient species of Earth into the embrace of the Empire.”

Jessica snickered again at his choice of phrasing.

Rawn took a deep breath before going on. “You discuss,” he reminded the Council. “I decide.”

“Testy, isn’t he?”

“In season, I tell you.”

“Monkeys.”

“Apes, dear.”

“Human!” every human at the table responded to the Avarins.

The feathers of Kella’s great gold and green crest fanned out. “You don’t have to shout.”

Rawn stood. He waited for complete silence, and for everyone’s gaze to focus on him. Then he bowed formally to his Council. “My apologies for disrupting the workings of the Empire.” After he received formal nods of acknowledgement to his words, Rawn sat back down, crossed his legs, and said, “We shall now proceed.” He looked at Jessica. “Chancellor, I have yet to receive an explanation from you for why you released the details of the Rite of Inclusion to this world’s news media.” He said the word ‘media’ as though it was a curse rather than a complex network of communications outlets.

“Specific details of the Rite have not been released, Your Supremacy,” Jessica responded.

“Which has only fueled speculation,” Rankal complained.

“Gives them something to keep their attention on,” Jessica told the First Councilor. She addressed Rawn again. “I have allowed – rumors – to be leaked. This method seemed more in accord with local custom. As you know, the Empire attempts to adapt procedure to the—“

“I didn’t ask how you did it, Jezzie, I asked why.”

“For the same reason you chose to contact Earth early, of course, Ru.” Jessica floated up from her chair to hover above the table as she continued. “Because we can’t afford to waste time with these people. Something must be done to bring cohesion to this world swiftly, Your Supremacy. They like to talk too much without getting anything accomplished, don’t you think?”

He nodded. “Very good thinking, Jessica.”

“I thought so.”

“You’re lying, but your reasoning is as sound as always.”

“I never lie, Your Supremacy. I merely work on many levels at once. Your job is to figure out which of my purposes you should concentrate on at any one time.”

“I thought you worked for me.”

“We both work for the good of the Empire.”

“We’re bickering, Jezzie.”

“I know, Ru. And you still want me to answer your question.”

“I’d appreciate it.”

“I’m not sure all the reasons why are important right now,” Rankal spoke up. “The Rite has been Announced. The Emperor must Act.”

Rankal was the sort of officious, protocol-loving being who spoke in Capital Letters. He was very useful for reminding Rawn about custom, etiquette and propriety. It was Rankal who had insisted on this Meeting to Discuss the Situation as soon as the Emperor returned to the palace ship that remained in orbit around Earth while Rawn was out on the Apical Border. What Rawn wanted was to tell the Council that nothing needed to be officially announced. That the Emperor wasn’t ready to take such a Major, Irrevocable, Life-Changing step. But –

He’d been educated in a great deal of Earth culture. A great many Earth terms came to him as he thought of what Jessica had done – she’d let the cat out of the bag, the genie out of the bottle, she’d forced his hand. He thought these things, and even mostly understood them. What he knew was that he had to act before he was ready, and he wasn’t pleased about it.

He looked at Jessica. Keeping their conversation as private as he could in a room full of advisor. “I had hoped to do this differently.”

“What you’ve done already is quite bad enough.”

Rawn cringed, but didn’t attempt to argue, or to justify. What was on his conscience was his business, even if his Chancellor also thought it was hers.

“Very well,” he said to Rankal. “Make the announcement official.” He ignored murmurs and exchanged glances around the table. He knew that he was going to be offered a great deal of advice on this subject, but most of his councilors would want to make comments in private. At Rankal’s questioning look, he added, “Let’s make the time period for the Rite six months, shall we?”

“How about six weeks?” Jessica suggested. “Six days?”

“What!” Rankal looked like he was about to faint. “You can’t be serious, Chancellor. What of the Search? The Winnowing of the Candidates?”

“He doesn’t need to search,” Jessica told Rankal. “There’s already a perfectly acceptable Candidate. And I don’t believe in long engagements.”

Before Rawn could fight past his indignation to answer Jessica’s claims, the venerable Krostersare did it for him.
Krostersare laughed. Though it sounded more like an eerie desert wind, the short-lived sound was laughter. “The Chancellor is joking, of course.”

“Of course.” Rawn answered for her. “All the proper ceremony and seriousness will be observed. We will not offend the peoples of the Empire, and especially not the newest world of the Empire, by taking shortcuts with something as significant as the Rite of Inclusion.” Rawn glared at Jessica, hoping an indication of Imperial Displeasure would keep the meddling android quiet.

“Keep this up, Jezzie, and I’m going to forget to change your batteries,” he muttered under his breath.

He didn’t mind her meddling in his private life, but he couldn’t allow her to manipulate policy for the sake of what she thought would make him happy. He didn’t get paid to be happy. He had a new world to bring peacefully into the Kariin Empire and not much time to do it in. The people of Earth were afraid, suspicious, angry, resentful. Perhaps it had been a mistake to approach them before they were ready, but it was done. Now he had to find the right person to help with the monumental task ahead. He couldn’t simply follow his own inclination.

“Your father followed his heart,” Jessica told him. Her voice came from the aural communication implant in his jaw that was his direct link to the Chancellor. The link was not supposed to be used during full Council meetings, nor was telepathy allowed. Things were not discussed sub rosa in the Empire.

“The Lady Jezika has just advised me to follow my heart,” Rawn announced to the others in the room.

His words did not produce the effect he thought they would.

“You have a very trustworthy heart,” Krostersare said.

“While I disapprove of such imprecise terminology for a combination of physical, emotional and intuitive responses that form subjective, but valid, reasoning,” Sonala from Eridanus said. “I agree with the Chancellor.”

“You should return to the one who triggered your season,” the eggsisters said together.

“It was most odd that you did not complete your reproductive cycle when it started,” Kella added. “It is most unhealthy. No wonder you’ve been distracted and irritable for the last month.”

“Perhaps the Candidate is unsuitable,” Rawn’s cousin Alise suggested tactfully. “Or has obligations or interests elsewhere.”

“Rawn Ruan is the Emperor,” Shala of Tadda pointed out. “It is for him to decide who is suitable.”

General Priner pounded the table with his very large fist. “If another tries to claim this Candidate, follow the Warriors’ Way, Supremacy. Challenge and fight!”

“Chicks dig that.”

This time when Jessica spoke directly through the aural link, Rawn didn’t repeat what she said to the stirred up crowd. Not that he was sure anyone would have heard him over the increasing volume of commentary. He did cover his mouth for a moment to hide a smile in case the easily offended general noticed.

Unfortunately, he thought to Jessica. The person I would be fighting is myself.

“His Supremacy,” Jessica announced as soon as she received his telepathic communication, “has told me that he believes he has offended the prime candidate for the Rite of Inclusion. Nothing is sub rosa in the Empire,” she added in a whispered aside to him.

“I’m going to give you to LeBron James,” he told the basketball-shaped android.

“So one of us can teach the other about dunking?”

Rawn faced the curious Council. “Whether my heart is engaged or not doesn’t matter. The lady is not interested.”

Candida of Halcar looked him over critically. Candida was from an amazon culture. When a Halcaran woman looked a man over, it was with a direct, assessing interest that left the man quaking in terror, or panting at her feet, begging to become one of her harem. Rawn Ruan merely blushed.

“Is the woman blind?” Candida asked at length.

“In fact she has very good eyes. Sapphire blue.” Rawn smiled at the bittersweet memory of looking into those eyes. “Quite the loveliest eyes I’ve ever seen.”

“Then have her look at you again. You’re worth a second look.” Candida crossed her arms over her ample leather-clad bosom. “I wouldn’t beat you for getting crumbs in my bed. Much.”

His smile was tinged with bitterness as he recalled Summer saying something similar. “I did more than get crumbs in her bed,” Rawn told the amazon. “I offended her deeply,” he explained to his Council. “Misjudged her. Humiliated her. Used her. She doesn’t want anything to do with me. Yes,” he admitted to the double row of shocked expressions. “I screwed up.” He folded his hands on the smooth black tabletop. “Let’s move on, shall we? Rankal, I leave it to you to instruct the inhabitants of Earth on the full details of the Rite.”

“Yes, Your Supremacy.”

“We’ll let them decide on how they wish to conduct introductions. Just make sure they keep it as simple and low-key as possible.”

Rankal looked disappointed. “If that is your wish, Supremacy.”

“What about this perfect candidate?” Krostersare asked.

“The subject is closed.”

The old Limnalin held up a thin hand. “Wait. I have a suggestion on the matter.”

“What about the Imperial Family Motto?” Jessica spoke up, before Krostersare could go on, or Rawn could tell him not to.

Rawn ignored Jessica. He couldn’t ignore Krostersare. “A suggestion, Councilor?”

“Why don’t you ask her out?”

“What?”

“Date her. I believe that’s the term.” Krostersare glanced at Rankal. “While he’s arranging all the useless diplomatic protocol, why don’t you go out with the one you’re interested in? If things don’t work out…” He shrugged. “At least you’ll have gotten the girl out of your system and you can settle down with a suitable candidate without any regrets or false hopes to cloud the relationship.”

“Very – wise,” Rawn admitted reluctantly. “But I really don’t think that I should impose myself on someone who told me she doesn’t want to see me again. Ever.”

“Did you hurt the girl?” Shala demanded.

Rawn sighed. “I tried to point that out to you people.”

“Have you tried to make amends?”

“She doesn’t want to see me!”

“Is that an answer, young man?”

Before Rawn could respond, Jessica moved to bob at eye-level in front of his face. “Just how would you translate the motto, the creed, the very foundation of the Imperial Family Philosophy into the vernacular of the language we use to communicate on this world?”

After a few moments of glaring, eye to ocular sensor with his Chancellor, and taking the time to work the complex ancient language of his ancestors into a loose English translation, Rawn sat back in his chair and translated, “If you screw up, fix it.”

“Did you screw up?”

The image of Summer’s tearful face, and memories of her ravaged emotions haunted and hurt him. “Big time.”

“Well?”

Jessica backed away.

Rawn stood. Though everyone’s eyes were on him, his attention was fixed on the android. A sense of both terror and elation took hold of him. It couldn’t possibly work out. The situation was far more complicated than Jessica pretended it was. But – Summer.

His heart lifted at the thought of seeing her again.

“All right. Fine.” He held up his hands in capitulation. “I screwed up. I’ll fix it.”

He just hoped it wasn’t already far too late.

4 comments:

  1. david gray2:03 PM EST

    Aach! My home pc (and hence, my email) has been on the fritz for days now and I'm dying, dying I tell you, to read that all-important missing installment. *desperate sigh* Soon, though, soon. (I hope)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey David, I feel your pain. Hoping Susan will still share, as this week's episode has really whetted my curiosity ~
    Lynne
    PS if you're in the US you can usually get internet access (and thus access to your email through a POP email client) at the local public library ~

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey, this is just getting GOOD!

    Can't wait for next week's installment! :D

    Thanks for sending me the previous week's part, Susan!

    Keep up the great story telling!

    ReplyDelete
  4. david gray10:35 AM EST

    My email is back. I'm ready for the "missing" excerpt. Thanks,

    dgray@lockhart.net

    ReplyDelete