Wednesday, June 15, 2016

40: Reserved Seating

Entry 40 - Rody sandbags Felix into doing his work for him, Relia has a grudge, and Felix wishes for closed captions to understand them both.

                "When you said you needed me to fix the engine, I thought you were joking," Felix grumbled from where he lay, flat on his back, underneath one of the Persephone's very large, and fortunately very still, sublight spinners. He was covered in grease, oil, and something yellow and viscous that smelled like rotten fruit — a far cry from his clean and well kept lab.
                Where I should be right now.
                Instead the man sighed and continued trying to loosen the nut holding the warped plate in place. He wasn't sure why it was warped, but that generally wasn't a good sign in a highly advanced, state-of-the-art engine part, so he figured he'd better find the reason.
                Felix set his teeth and tried to find enough leverage in the tight space to move the nut free of the buildup crusted at its base. He thought as he worked. A Hybridian Kezzik sublight engine, capable of rotating one thousand and seven times in ten seconds. That's, uh let's see, that means it could puree a full grown human male who’s, say, my height and weight roughly four hundred and twenty...six times in five seconds. He grit his teeth as more yellowish fluid dripped past the edges of the plate and down onto his forehead. Well at least I won't feel it.
                He turned his head in the cramped space and saw a pair of well-shined boots lounging about a foot away, well clear of the malfunctioning spinner. "Look, I don't know why you're making me do this. I'm not a mechanic, you know!"
                Prince H'rodrich – or more infamously known as Rody here on his flagship – went down to one knee and twisted his head down to peer at Felix. His grin was as bright and annoying as his shock of red hair. "Of course you are. I saw it on your resume."
                Felix grit his teeth and tried again to wrench the bolt into motion. "Fine," he admitted. "But I'm not your mechanic. Urg-uh!" The bolt finally broke free. Fortunately it was the last one. "Don't you have a fleet of them stuffed in a closet somewhere? I thought princes only packed the best for their own personal ships."
                He pulled the warped plate away, a nest of colored wires coming down with it like strings of gum. Something must have ruptured farther in though because most were covered with the foul smelling yellow goo. Felix gagged at the smell of sweet compost that rolled out to surround his nose and mouth.
                "Course I do," Rody said, standing again and oblivious to Felix's fight with his gag reflex. "And they're all sitting pretty with my baby back home, probably sitting around drinking tar instead of working, but at least I know where they are. She's in dry dock getting her, well, everything seen too. It was a rough ride." Felix heard the grin growing, like plants on twelve speed. "No, the Persephone's mine because I earned her. You're looking at the youngest captain in Hybridia's Northern Fleet."
                Felix stuffed his nose and mouth into his elbow, pulling in the sweet, sweet smell of oil and grease. Homey, he thought before rolling his eyes, imaging the rock star-worthy partying that must have earned Rody's 'baby' that rest in dry dock.
                When he knew he wasn't going to hurl all over Rody's shiny footwear, Felix said, "You're captain? Like, the real captain?" He paused as he tried to reconcile this with the roguish, flirtatious, downright immature man Rody had been since Felix had arrived. It refused to compute. "Who in their right mind would let you run a whole ship? Exploration crew or not!" His words came out muffled from his elbow, but Rody still heard him fine.
                "Hey now, no need to be so harsh. You've been here, what, a month?—"
                " –and you've seen what I can do. I mean, I haven't blown us up yet."
                Felix rolled his eyes, working with one hand to try and find the source of the leak past the strings of slick wires. "High standards," he muttered. "Hand me a rag will you? This yellow stuff's gotten everywhere."
                "Grade 16 lubricant," Rody told him as he passed down a stained and dirty rag. Felix began wiping off as much of the muck off as he could while the red-head went on. "You sound like Magnil. I think the only reason he didn't try and order me home was because he couldn’t. He tried of course, but then I reminded him that Onteal’s the one that gets to make those decisions now and he shut up right quick.”
                "That's, uh-” Felix tried to remember the royal family tree Cor had tried to impress on him once he knew who Rody was. "-your stepdad, yeah?"
                "Foster father's closer. He and his wife Ely raised me after-” He hesitated just a microsecond, but it was long enough. “Just after."
                Felix’s hands stilled in the wires over his head. Cor’s lessons had also included the names of the nine killed almost twenty years ago during a series of simultaneous bombings on Hybridia - Rody’s parents and his seven brothers and sisters. The Onteal and Ely he so casually mentioned now where the steward and his wife, the current rulers of the northern continent until Rody took the throne.
                The captain rallied after a handful of silent minutes. "Magnil and Onteal’s family have been stewards to mine since feels like the dawn of time. It's the steward's job to take care of the heir if something happens to the Emperor, and rule in his place until the next one's old enough." He paused. "That'd be me, in case you aren't really listening."
                "Trying not to," Felix told him, forcing himself to resume normal as fast as possible, uncomfortable with the very personal turn the conversation had taken. His fingers finally sorted through the wires and found the rough edges of a hole. The metal felt weak, and yellow lubricant was still dripping off the sides of the hole. "Found it," he announced. "Feels like something ate through the line. You'll need to replace the weakened section and refill the whole thing."
                He shimmied himself out from under the spinner. There was no point in replacing anything until they'd gotten people to replace the faulty pipes, so he didn't bother refastening the bolts. "You're going to want to replace these too." He dropped the crusted, rusted bits of metal into Rody's hand.
                Felix grabbed another rag when he resurfaced and leaned against the side of the spinner to grab his breath and de-yellow his hands and arms. "What about Magnil?" he asked. "I thought he was oldest." He certainly looked oldest with his silver-streaked temples and the lines carved into his stone face.
                A bitter edge entered Rody's tone where he stood above him, also leaning against the spinner. He shrugged, the movement sharp and discontent. “He gave up the title. It and everything it and all its responsibilities are Onteal’s now.”"He abdicated to Onteal. Gave it up and everything that went with it." “He is, but he abdicated to Onteal. Gave up the title and all the responsibilities with it.”
                Felix paused, suddenly wondering if that had included a much younger Rody.
                “That’s why I get to be captain,” Rody went right on talking, shooting Felix a sideways look, discontent disappearing like a heat mirage. “Don’t you listen to anything?”
                Felix decided it was none of his business. “Only the voices in my head,” he answered as he tossed the gummed up rag to the side and started collecting his tools. He didn’t miss the over exaggerated enthusiasm that lit up Rody’s face.
                “Ah! Finally, an explanation!”
                Felix shot him a look, but didn’t retaliate. “Well, that’s all I’m willing to do,” he said, hefting his toolbox off the deck. “One of you actual engineers can take it from here.”
                Rody flapped a hand at him. “Sure, sure. Make them earn their pay. Say-” He swung himself under the safety bars lining the door on its raised portion of floor while Felix took the short set of stairs. The human resisted the urge to sigh when Rody followed him out the door. “You doing anything tonight?” the prince asked.
                “Why? You have a different closet you want to talk about?” Felix asked dryly.
                The Hybridian stared at him, not getting the human reference. “No. I’m having a special dinner this evening and I figured, to thank you looking at the spinner, that maybe you’d like to come.” He smiled too wide at Felix. “Well? What do you say?”
                The same feeling he’d gotten when Rody had asked for a favor that morning started crawling around Felix’s gut. “I’m an introvert, not an idiot. What do you want now?”
                Rody’s astonished denial was too theatrical. “What? Me? I don’t want anything. I’m just trying to be nice!”
                Felix scowled at him.
                The other man exhaled, hanging his head in defeat. “All right, all right. Watt’s new sub-chief for Blue Sector is coming in today. The dinner’s for her. Watts was supposed to come and welcome her himself, but something came up and he can’t make it, so now I have to impress her.”
                “And you need me because you have such a hard time impressing women.” Felix’s words were dry as the Terrace desert.
                Rody cackled a laugh. “Good one.” He slapped Felix on the back, making the human jerk forward. “No, this is all politics and I hate politics. Besides, I don’t know even half of what you guys are doing down there, and the part I do know about, I don’t understand. What I need is a translator to talk us up. Let her know she made the right choice joining us.”
                Felix still wasn’t convinced. “More like you want a buffer in case you don’t like her.”
                “Yeah, that too.” Rody wasn’t even the least bit ashamed. “Besides-” He nudged Felix in the ribs with his elbow. “-maybe the two of you’ll hit it off, huh? A girl who speaks geek for a guy who doesn’t understand anything else?”
                Icy rods slammed down Felix’s nervous system at the very idea and he lost his grip on his toolbox, sending it to the ground with a crash that got the attention of everyone in the hall. They all looked up at him as tools went flying down the length of the corridor, their combined gazes a heat ray on his exposed skin. He felt his face turn white, then red with mortification as they stared at him and the mess he’d made. Fortunately they mostly left when he all but collapsed to the floor and started sweeping his tools back into the box lying on its side. Most, except for Rody still standing above him.
                “Or,” he said as he crouched down and handed Felix a couple of small spanners that he’d missed. “She’ll be a total bore and I’ll need you to distract her while I chat up the waitress.” He grinned widely at him. “How’s that sound?”
                Felix snatched his spanner from Rody’s hand with a scowl. “Like I’m the sacrificial lamb.”
                Rody looked up at the ceiling. “More like the sacrificial scientist. Alliteration always sounds better. Look-” He straightened up as Felix got off the floor. “-this is all very routine stuff. If nothing else just tell her about our state-of-the-art equipment I can never remember the names of. The scientific advances I can never pronounce. Stuff like that. It isn’t hard. I just need another brainiac to fill in for Watts.”
                “Well then ask one of the other brainiacs on board, would you? You’ve got a small army of them stashed away too,” Felix snapped. Maybe this wasn’t that hard for Rody, but he could hardly deal with all those people staring at him a cycle ago. Actually carrying on a conversation with a woman who was technically his superior with no way to escape?
                “I’d rather play chicken with the event horizon of a black hole,” Felix declared. “If you’re that bored at these things then ask that girl to come.”
                "What girl?"
                Felix shook his head, but couldn’t remember her name. "I don’t know. That one that's always staring at you like she wants to do unspeakable things with you and a bag of marshmallows." He made a face. How unhygienic.
                Rody's grin grew crooked. "Yeah, that doesn't narrow it down."
                Felix sighed and muttered under his breath. “Where do you get the energy to deal with all these women? Just talking to Lunai wears me out.”
                The red-head shrugged. “Of course it does. She could out talk a hurricane parrot. I’m amazed you can even keep up.”
                Felix’s face soured farther. “All right so she’s a bad example,” he admitted grudgingly.
                Rody clapped him hard on the shoulder. "Besides, Magnil won’t let me bring any of them. But you.” He fixed a thoughtful look on the human. “You I think I can swing.”
                “Wow. I feel so special,” Felix deadpanned. Hefting his toolbox a little higher, he approached the elevator and tapped the watch given to him to imitate a Hybridian static field. It wasn’t accurate enough to run the advanced equipment Rody had mentioned, but it did let him get around the ship without someone opening doors for him like he was a child.
                Rody caught up to him. Much to Felix’s annoyance, he didn’t say anything else. Just stood there next to him, staring up at the numbers counting down above the elevator door. The longer he stayed silent, rocking back and forth on his heels, the more tightly Felix’s nerves wound. Until finally-
                “I’ll let you switch rooms.”
                Felix straightened up, tension snapping with an almost audible twang. His eyes grew wide and he had to resist looking at Rody in case they gave away just how much he wanted the offer. When he’d arrived on the Persephone, they’d given him one of their guest suites - a large, artfully decorated set of rooms that most people would be more than happy with. The problem was that Felix was not most people. It was too big, too blue, and the rhythmic lighting rhythmically playing on the walls made him feel like he was living underwater. It was disconcerting and he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since he’d gotten here, except when he slept at his desk, but according to Lunai that made him cranky.
                “Move where?” he asked carefully.
                “The hall closet if that’s what you really want,” Rody answered. “You can have your pick from sector twenty-three.”
                Felix’s eyes widened a little further. That was the closest set of living quarters to his lab. Rody wasn’t kidding around.
                Is this what you’ve come to? a small voice whispered in the back of his mind. Letting him bribe you into doing his chores?
                Felix thought another moment.
                …apparently I have.
                “Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll come.”
                “Excellent!” Rody crowed, slapping him on the back again. “Drinks start at seven. Oh, and dress up a little, would you? These fresh-from-the-academy types like things a little fancy,” he told him as he walked backward down the hall, beating a hasty retreat now that he had what he wanted.
                Felix grimaced as he watched him go. The elevator opened behind him with a soft tone.
                “I regret this already,” he grumbled as he stepped inside.

* * *

                Felix wasn't entirely surprised to find Au'relia waiting for him when he got back to his lab. She stood in the near middle of the room, her hip propped against his favorite table while Lunai buzzed around her as she saw to her many machines. The slender blonde seemed genial enough, but Felix tread through the propped open door with caution.
                Sure enough, as soon as she saw him a scowl marred her otherwise good-looking features. He was in trouble. Again.
                "You're late," she reminded him in a voice that said she hated to repeat herself as she straightened to proper chastising posture. "You were supposed to meet me half an hour ago to go over Maddox's new security protocols."
                Felix rolled his eyes as he shrugged into his lab coat. "Let me guess. They're almost exactly same as last week's?"
                A twist of her mouth answered his question. At least she was as tired of these minute changes as he was. "He's added another four digit code to the login and all your passcodes need to be changed in the next half hour or the only room you'll be getting into is the mess for the next month. Right-” She lifted her holo-tab and started the familiar process with a deep sigh. "-let's get this over with."
                With a grumble Felix shuffled over and let Au’relia scan his hands, eyes, ands static signature (such as it was) while Lunai practically danced around the room humming, already done with her Mad Maddox show and dance.
                “Hey, have you heard from Cor yet?” he asked once she was done confirming his dental records.
                She didn’t look up as she answered, “No, but Aster commed me last night and I heard him in the background. I thought Aster had snuck out to some kind of frat party before I realized it was him.”
                Felix made a face, not surprised. “Cor doesn’t set a lot of good examples… Any idea when they’ll be back?” he asked. “Or where they are…?”
                She didn’t move her head, but Relia’s eyes flicked up to pin him in place. “When they’re done,” she told him firmly. She didn’t acknowledge his second question.
                Felix looked away, too unnerved to ask anything more.
                "Have you heard there's a new blue trim coming in?" Lunai couldn't resist chirping once Felix returned to his own desk, activating the surface that functioned as a touch screen and holographic projector, and tried to think of a string of numbers significant enough to remember for his sign-in. "I hear the Dean of Science at the Royal Academy sent her to us special."
                "Yeah, I did actually," Felix answered as he stared at the login screen. He didn't look up, but he felt the startled snap of Lunai's field on the nape of his neck.
                "You did?" she demanded.
                He shrugged without taking his palms off the desk-screen’s surface. "Well, not the special delivery part," he conceded. "But Rody did mention something about a new sub-chief arriving soon."
                Felix nodded distractedly. "By the end of the week for sure. Rody’s having dinner with her."
                He could almost hear her eyes roll in her head. "Well that's not a surprise."
                Another nod. "Yeah. He asked me to come too." His eyebrows lowered over his eyes in a dark look. He still couldn’t believe he’d agreed. New room, he reminded himself. New, non-creepy, above water room.
                "He- wait what?" Lunai’s field gave such a snap that his fingers jerked at the jolt. His stylus dropped to the floor with a clatter.
                "Captain's dinner, Lunai," Au'relia murmured as Felix turned over his shoulder to glare at Lunai. “They always host the new officers when they arrive.”
                A pause, and then Lunai's dawning, "Ohh...right.”
                Felix could still feel her field fuzzing as she thought. “Wait. Then why are you going, Felix? You hate anything to do with people. I had to drag you to your own birthday celebration,” she grumbled.
                He half turned. “Yeah and I still have the carpet burns to prove it,” he shot back. “And the only reason I’m going is because Rody asked me.”
                Au’relia snorted over her screen. “Asked you or made you?” she asked with more than her regular dose of sarcasm.
                “A little of both,” he admitted. “He says he wants someone there that can handle all the science-speak since Dr. Watts can’t make it.”
                Au’relia’s laugh was a lot louder this time. “Is that what he told you?” she asked, looking up from her holo-tab with a slash of a smile on her face.
                “Um…” Felix thought it over again to be sure. “Yeah.”
                “Why?” Lunai asked, not about to let a good story go. Felix shot her a look but she ignored him. “You know something else?”
                The other woman put her tab down and leaned an elbow on the counter next to the machine Lunai had been coaxing awake. “How bout he’s avoiding her on purpose?”
                Lunai bit eagerly. “They know each other?” she asked, lowering her tone as if Rody might come waltzing in and hear them gossiping.
                “Not really. She was my friend, not his,” Au’relia said. “But her family runs in the same circle as Ely and Onteal. Last time we all saw each other was before Rody was sent off to school. He convinced us to go swimming in the plaza fountain in our underwear. Io was the only one that refused to get in, so he picked her up and tossed her in, chinthrinti satin and all.”
                From the way Lunai’s eyes welled up and starting glittering, Felix guessed that was a tragedy in and of itself. “What did she do about that?”
                A wry little smile pulled at Au’relia’s lips. “I don’t know. Whenever I ask, he gets this faraway look on his face and shudders.”
                Lunai giggled, having more fun imagining what it could be then actually knowing. “So you guys are old friends, huh?” she hummed after a moment. “Does that mean you’re going too, Rel?”
                Both women froze, Lunai’s eyes growing wide as if she was shocked at what struck Felix as a perfectly mundane question. Confused, he watched from his chair, wondering at their strange behavior. The look on Au’relia’s face nearly had him cowering behind his desk. I thought she was scary before… he thought, but didn’t try to curb his curiosity.
                “Rel,” Lunai said softly. “That was a stupid thing to say. I didn’t mean-”
                “I know.” Au’relia’s words were sharp enough to leave cuts. Felix was no expert on such things, but a childhood peppered by his mother's favorite soaps immediately made him wonder at her vehemence. Did she use to be a marshmallow girl?
                He immediately shook the idea out of his head. Even he knew Au'relia well enough to know she'd never stoop so low as cat-fighting over a man who flitted between girlfriends like bees between flowers.
                Au’relia got herself under control with visible effort, but her words were still clipped when she added, “And no. I have better things to do then spend time indulging the whims of a selfish, spoiled, glitch-field.” She paused before adding almost primly, “Io and I already have plans to catch up later, once she’s settled in.”
                Felix saw the slight tinge of disappointment on Lunai’s face as she nodded. “Oh, right. Well that’s…good. Making up with old friends is…good.”
                Au’relia eyed her, but Felix didn’t understand the context. “Luna…” she warned her.
                Lunai didn’t listen, even though Felix thought she understood what was going unsaid here. “Are you sure you won’t even think about it?” she asked. Her eyes flicked to Felix watching from his desk, then stepped closer and whispered so that he had to strain to hear her. “You used to be so close-”
                Au’relia looked away. “No,” she said harder than before. “And you know why so stop pushing.” She straightened up again, snatching her holo-tab where it sat on the counter. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to see to the rest of the security changes,” she clipped out, then turned on her heel and strode from the room, leaving a thunderstorm of bio-electricity in her wake.
                Felix gave her a moment to get out of earshot before turning to Lunai and asking, "What was that about?"
                She looked over at him, her coppery eyes uncertain for the first time since they'd met. She opened her mouth, but was cut off by the imposing holler of the security alarms.
                Felix's hands smacked against his ears and grit his teeth before turning back to his computer. ERROR in large blocky letters glared back at him surrounded by a field of holographic red.
                "Au'relia!" He had to shout to be heard over the electronic barking. "Au'relia wait! You forgot to tell me the new protocols! Au'relia!"

* * *

                The new sub-chief bucked about every preconceived expectation Felix had in his head. Tall and slender, with a stunning face, she stood over him in her low-heeled footware, black with silver accents that matched the half jacket she wore over a night sky blouse and black slacks. A narrow pendant hung on a long chain, looking rather like a pendulum, and her hair was wrapped in an ornate set of knots at the back of her head. Her static field, like her eyes, was reserved, but shifted at a quick pace as she took in the different faces presented to her.
                Magnil introduced them. “Cauldwell,” he said with his usual does of mistrust. “This is Io’iella, our new science sub-chief. Io, the…engineer I was telling you about.”
                “He means ‘human’,” Felix tried to say, but found his mouth glued shut as he reached out and took the woman’s hand only to flinch as he caught a snap of electricity at the contact.
                She gave his hand a firm squeeze then quickly disentangled them, probably as comfortable with the static brush as Felix was. “Mr. Cauldwell,” she greeted him with a level voice. “I’ve heard a great deal about you. I found your thoughts on flux in generated gravity quite compelling. I was hoping you would continue to explore the possibilities, providing you have the time.”
                “Just Felix, please and-” He stopped as his mind caught up with his mouth. “You…read my research? That’s um, that’s really, uh, nice.” He cringed and gave himself a little shake. Nice? The IQ of Einstein squared and the only word he could think of was nice? “Wait, I wrote that in high school. That’s the paper I gave Redford to look over, the one he stole from me. How did you read it?”
                Io’s dark eyes narrowed, the corner of her thin lips lifting slightly. “I didn’t. I read Redford’s version of the article when he published it.”
                Felix scoffed, the sound bitter. “Like there was any difference,” he grumbled.
                From the twitch of her lips, she didn’t disagree. “But it was obvious to me, at least, given his previous work up to that point, that he hadn’t developed such a creative idea on his own. Granted I did not know who he had taken it from until recently…” she trailed off.
                A strange sensation flooded Felix’s stomach, making him lightheaded. Caught flat footed at the praise he felt himself flush and stammer. “Fine,” he blurted out before realizing that was not much better than the incoherent sounds that had gotten out first. His eyes flicked to his glass suspiciously and he set it aside. “I mean, that’s fine. Great, even. Most people just think I’m a crackpot.”
                A sound rumbled out of Magnil’s throat where he stood by watching and Felix froze, the word crackpot dancing around his brain on a mocking loop. Oh, this was awkward. Painfully awkward. Or maybe just painful. What did he do now? What should he say? Or was it better not to say anything at all? Of course then the silence would go on and on with them watching him, waiting for him to say something else. Would it be better or worse if he just left without saying anything else?
                Before he could panic completely, a small chime rang out from the corner of the room. The murmur of conversation died off as a server announced dinner was ready and would they please take their seats.
                Rody materialized out of thin air at Felix’s elbow, making him startle like a rabbit. He would have bolted like one too if the prince hadn’t gotten a grip on his elbow where Io and Magnil couldn’t see, keeping him in place.
                Rody smiled as if he hadn’t just made Felix’s heart nearly pop right out of his chest and said something to the other two. Felix couldn’t make out the words over the pounding of his pulse, so he only got a handful of consonant sounds, like he was listening from underwater.
                “-going here?” Rody was saying as Felix’s ears finally cleared.
                “Well, your highness,” Io said, the faint interest she’d shown Felix withdrawing as she inclined her head, three sparks popping in a chain above her dark hair. “We were just discussing future research ideas for Blue Sector.”
                Rody made a face. “Well I see you haven’t changed much. You always did know how to liven up a party.”
                Io’s face darkened, but didn’t actually change. “Perhaps, unlike you, I just actually enjoy what I do.”
                “I enjoy myself all the time,” Rody told her with a grin.
                Io’s expression got closer to a glower. “That’s not the same thing,” she insisted tightly.
                Felix expected frost to start forming on the wine glasses. He flicked his eyes around the immediate area, looking for a an escape route so he wouldn’t be standing between them, when Magnil’s hard voice cut in, leaving no room for disagreement. “They are waiting for us to take our seats, Captain.”
                It was a not-so-gentle push in the right direction, but Felix would have taken a full on Commander’s-assault if it got him out of the way of Io’s hard eyes.
                He tried not to look like he was scurrying as he reached the place at the table with his name hovering in holographic glyphs above the ornate setting and let himself fall into his seat. A look from Hatch sitting on his other side had him straightening up when he would have hunched over in relief.
                Io took the long way around the table, probably trying to avoid Rody as he swaggered to the head, Magnil taking his own place on the prince’s far side. There was an empty seat next to him, across from Felix, and she laid her hand on the chair to pull it back.
                Rody’s voice stopped her cold. “That’s not for you.”
                Io looked up at him, calmly, coolly, and asked as levelly as she could manage, “Oh?”
                Rody did not meet the hard eyes drilling into him as he turned off the name card marking his place, but didn’t sit down. “That’s for Au’relia.”
                The air changed in the room, filling with a charge Felix didn’t think came entirely from the static fields fizzing in the enclosed space. He looked at the faces around him without moving his head, and was surprised to see a charged look pass between Magnil and Hatch, one he didn’t quite know how to interpret. Trepidation, maybe? Or resignation? t couldn’t be nerves, he thought. They were two of the sturdiest men he’d ever met.
                Whatever it was, he fidgeted uneasily before piping up, “I talked to her this afternoon, Rody. She told me she wasn’t coming.” To put it mildly, he added to himself.
                Everyone was watching him now. He couldn’t read Magnil’s expression, but Hatch was clearly trying to tell him to shut his trap. Rody just watched him, his face unreadable. "Something about not feeling well...?" his lie trailed off in a rasp before he even got it all the way out.
                Rody’s silver eyes pinned him for another moment, his expression strangely opaque. Io stood where she was, anger replaced by confusion as she watched as well. Her hand still rested on the back of the empty chair as if she wasn't sure if she should leave it or not.
                "Regardless," Rody finally spoke, his voice so calm that Felix immediately wondered if he was sick. “That chair’s taken.”
                He straightened and flashed a wide smile at their guest of honor before the startled silence could sink in. “But don’t worry, your’s is right here,” he said as he pulled out the chair between him and Felix, beaming grandly at the woman. He winked at her and she scowled back. “It has a better view of my good side.”
                “You don’t have a good side,” Io grumbled with a purse of her lips. Then, lifting her chin stubbornly, she strode around him on long legs to the indicated chair. Felix could have sworn she rolled her eyes when she was directly behind him.
                She sat down, ignoring the red-head like he was fly in her glass and instead turned to Felix to ask all sorts of questions about the Persephone throughout the meal - how he liked it so far, how did he find the equipment, was the education of his assistants up to par, and on and on.
                Felix answered each one, doing his best not to stammer or spit food or something equally embarrassing as he did. The other officers quickly fell into their own little groups of conversation, and the electric tension in the room began to ease enough that Felix didn’t feel like an elephant was squatting on his chest.
                But Felix noticed that Au’relia’s name never came up, not even to ask him what it was she’d caught that kept her from coming. They didn’t even look towards her chair, like it was wrapped in a containment field, untouchable and perfectly preserved.
                He looked around again while Io said something to Magnil across from her, and stopped in surprise when he saw the expression on Rody’s face. His eyes had drifted while the other two spoke around him, and had landed on Au’relia’s empty chair. It was fleeting, and in the next second he was his usual self again, teasing Io so that her skin flushed red under her mild tan. If Felix hadn’t looked up, he thought the regret that had bobbed to the surface of the prince’s eyes would have gone completely unnoticed.
                Felix had to wonder what could have inspired such an unusual emotion in Rody at all.

< Entry 39                                                                                                                                              Entry 41 >

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