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Of course the meeting ran over, it is a universal rule in politics and business and the station is both. Did you have time to change, Corinne, before making your way to the shuttle lock that the Lord Steward’s shuttle is due to be docked at?
Zee is already waiting outside the lock with a couple of his officers. The three large beings don’t crowd the corridor exactly, but it is hard to ignore their bulk. Even harder when it’s obvious they are fully armed and armored, as if ready to repel boarders rather than meet the chief official of the planet below.
Zee turns as he hears you approach, his piercing eyes scanning you over. He is the picture of professionalism to most. To you, the slightest nostril flare as he takes you in betrays his irritation. He dislikes the Steward, though he hasn’t explained why in so many words.
“Final approach, Bezpah” He rumbles. “Another visit. His interest in us has become pronounced, yes?”
The Lord Steward will wear ceremonial garb. Thinks he can intimidate me with a sash or one of those ridiculous ceremonial sabres or something. I’m running a station here, not a debutant’s ball. He wants to meet here, he can see me in station clothes. I have my Kerrn sword, though, if he wants to compare weapons.
I detect something almost like approval when I round the corner and Zee sees me wearing the blade. Or maybe he just has a gas bubble. The mental juxtaposition of my hulking security chief with a human baby makes me smile.
I respond before he has a chance to be irritated at my grin. "We want him interested."
I turn serious and look at the shuttle lock. "Are you certain you’ve assembled enough firepower to deal with our Lord Steward?" I ask, straight-faced, without looking away from the shuttle lock. "You’ve considered that he might be wigged, yes?"
The shuttle lock opens, cutting Zee off, to reveal the Lord Steward. While he dressed handsomely, he is not, in fact, in full ceremonial regalia of office. Instead he is in a rather stylish suit of fine clothes, as for a call between families. Both he and his bodyguards pause at the sight of you, with your sword, and the three large green armored aliens behind you. The bodyguards look at each other uncertainly.
"What a pleasant surprise. Your memory serves you well—this is indeed Security Chief Szijah. Be at ease — his appearance here is a matter of protocol observed for both friend and foe. Consistency is a great hedge against misunderstandings." Especially when the differences between friend and foe are hard to discern.
"What brings you to the station?"
He accepts the gesture smoothly, his hands are warm.
"Aside from the considerable pleasure of passing some time with perhaps the most accomplished woman on this planet?" He smiles, easily. "Aside from that, reason enough I assure you, I have state business of some import that I'd like to discuss with you."
He glances at Zee. Zee's nostrils twitch. "Privately, of course."
“Important indeed, to merit such flattery.” I smile warmly.
“Chief, please have your people show the Lord Steward’s people to refreshments.”
Turning to the Lord Steward, I say, “I have every confidence that Chief Szijah is more than sufficient to show us safely to my office.”
Mysterious, opaque, black cylinders are not my favorite. I can feel Zee tense. As for the courtly talk, I find I have to struggle not to come right out and tell the Lord Steward to knock it off. I guess I’ve been on-station too long, or hanging around with Kerrn too long. I value the occasional slow blink from Zee signaling measured approval more than all this elaborate flattery.
Instead of protesting, I smile my dazzling smile, incline my head in a polite nod of thanks, and use my irritation to simulate a blush. I step ahead and trigger the door as we arrive at my office, saving myself the pain of another gracious display should he try to open it for me. Maybe I’m saving him too. One would hope that he’d realize that one does not open the door to the station commander’s office to be polite.
As the door shushes closed behind us, I walk to the opposite side of my desk, putting it between us. I don’t sit. Gesturing the Lord Steward to a chair, I say “Perhaps you’ll extend me one further courtesy and explain this mysterious object?”
He takes in the room as he enters, still with a contented look on his face. He nods. "I should like nothing better."
He comes to stand in front of the chair you indicated, setting the opaque glossy cylinder on your desk. He then pushes some concealed control on it and it goes transparent, revealing a truly exquisite flower.
"A 'dancing maiden,' my Lady. A lovely transplant from Baroness Gorey's home planet. The first, I confess, that I've managed to successfully cultivate." He shrugs managing to convey both good humor and the slightest bit of sheepishness "I thought perhaps you might enjoy it."
I don’t know what I expected...a weapon? Something dangerous. I sit down heavily in my chair and lean forward to inspect the flower within the cylinder.
“Is it so delicate that it must be contained like this? Or is it dangerous? Toxic spores or something?” I don’t know much about Gorey’s planet, but it’s not difficult to associate toxicity with anything sharing it’s origin with him.
Remembering myself, I pull my eyes away the flower. “My apologies, Lord Steward. It is distracting...but beautiful. Thank you. It’s a lovely gesture. I only hope I can keep it alive.” I gesture around the stark glass and steel office. The only color is in a photo of my daughter, and even that is framed in chrome.
“I’m not known for being especially nurturing. Is it very delicate—or dangerous?”
Count Eliazar smiles as if reading your thoughts. "I did not want to add to your considerable duties without your consent my lady. It is not dangerous, not a native Xurian species, and the capsule will provide it with everything it needs for quite a long time. You might nudge the humidity here in your office up a tad so the capsule can condense the water it needs. Or, if you choose, bring it out and water it yourself." He leans back in the chair. "The later can be... quite soothing. A simple act of care in the midst of a busy day. And the fragrance is exquisite. If you should care to cultivate it of course, then things become more complex. In that case I would be happy to help, or I've no doubt the Baroness would help since this is from her homeworld."
He cants his head to the side slightly. "You claim to not be a nurturer, yet Iberis has grown into a lovely, pleasent and accomplished young lady. I venture to say that some of that must be your doing. And in fact you care for our planet, yes? You are part of the lifeline."
I look again at the flower. “It may be refreshing, caring for something that has no predisposition to rebel. The station is like a stubborn child, in some ways. So many factions—impulses—striving in opposite ways; in need of constant monitoring to get them to act in their own long-term best interests. It can be exhausting. You see, not everyone simply shows up at my door, with a flower and a goal already formulated. I much prefer it to chasing every unintentional reveal. What is it that really brings you to my station, Lord Steward?”
Something seems to change in the Lord Steward. He seems to have lost that pleasent unflappable exterior and be... actually nervous?
"Yes...Well...uh.". He stops. Then opens his mouth again and closes it. He chuckles to himself "Oh, dear," and he stands up and paces away then back nervously. He sets his hands on the back of the chair. "I was rather hoping this sort of thing got easier..." He takes a stabilizing breath, but his fingers are still fidgiting. "Lady Grey... would you do me the honer of coming to dinner with me?"
“You flatter me again, sir. But I’m afraid my position here precludes even the hint of impropriety. The station’s armor is its neutrality.”
"I'm not sure I view you as a neutral party, sir. You seem a rather formidable faction unto yourself." I incline my head in a gesture more Kerrn than human. I can't say why--just a sudden need to remind him that I am not some frilly noblewoman to be wooed. "However, we are both neutral with respect to the others. Perhaps given my entanglements with Gorey's house and my stepson, our being seen as friends would keep anyone from feeling too comfortable." I smile conspiratorily. "Dinner, Lord Steward. Let that be the extent to which we indulge any personal inclinations for the time being."
He straightens and reaches inside the handsome coat, which by Darikahn standards is elegant and remarkably restrained. "I did claim there was some state business." He smiles again and lays the sheet upon the desk. Cursory examination shows it to be one of a thousand utterly routine requests and papers transmitted between the station and the administration on a daily basis, signed by him. "I hope you forgive me for abusing the privilege. As you say... politics. And I shall make no more selfish demands up on your time today. I hope the flower brings you some pleasure and I look forward to seeing you again, soon."