Alien Explorer’s Mate: Chapter Two

 Talex

“You’re not listening to a thing I’m saying, are you?” My older brother’s voice nagged from the holoscreen set to the side of my work console.

“Of course I am,” I protested, eyes riveted to the flow of new data coming into my monitors.

That might have been a lie.

Maybe a half of a lie.

I’ve been sort of listening, but really Bretav had been on and on about my responsibilities since we were kids.

It wasn’t anything new.

But right now, my ship, the Torch, had just emerged out of a wormhole at the edge of the Panstora nebula.

Just before this trip I’d outfitted the Torch with the latest in multispectral sensors in preparation for the job, and the readings I was getting from the nebula were fascinating.

And the information was new.

I’ll let you guess which screen I was paying more attention to.

“Drix, run the calvita formula on the readings from sensor twelve, would you?”

“As you request,” the cool voice of the AI sounded as if from everywhere in my compact lab.

“Seriously?” Bretav snapped. “You’re paying more attention to your AI than to your king?”

All right, there was that.

And if Bretav played that card, it usually meant he was serious about something.

“Fine,” I sighed. “Just remember, you’re the one who’s been encouraging the Kaltarra Science Academy to take the lead on more of these joint missions.”

I leaned back in my chair, studying my brother’s face for clues as to how important this discussion really was.

He’d always been a lousy tonk player.

It was almost, but not quite, like looking at a mirror.

Same jutting jaw, we’d both gotten that from our mother.

The broad shoulders were from our father.

Teal skin with the purple pectoral markings were from them both.

And the best gift of all?

My brother had been born 15 minutes earlier than I was.

So he had to deal with ruling our fractious system.

Not me.

“You know,” he said. “I can always tell when you’re thinking how glad you are not to be in charge,” he said, black eyes narrowed. “You get that same self-congratulatory look on your face.”

Actually, we were both lousy tonk players.

“Every time I see that look,” Bretav continued, “I think I should just abdicate and let you deal with the pieces.”

“What? No way,” I argued. “You’re the oldest, whatever the issue is, that’s your problem.” I waved to my screens, the images flickering through the masses of incoming data. “I’m contributing to the good of the system as I am.”

“But you’re not contributing to the system’s political stability,” he argued.

A light flashed on my far console. “Hold on a minute, I really need to check this.”

“Seriously?” he started, but I didn’t listen to the rest of the complaint.

This was interesting.

“Drix, see if you can clean up any of this. There’s a whole stream of theta radiation coming from here.” I tapped the screen.

“As you request,” the system answered again, and got to work.

“Tell me one reason why I shouldn’t cut off your project funding right now,” my brother snarled.

Void.

Maybe I had pushed him too far.

“Because theta radiation is the best possibility we have for a new clean fuel source?” I offered.

“Fine, you get a pass for that one,” he said, scowling. “But you’re still avoiding the main question.”

Which was true.

And I intended to go on avoiding it.

“If you are that interested in ensuring the political stability of the system,” I snapped, tired of being badgered about this, “you go get married. I’m not involved, remember?”

“For me to get married I’ve got paperwork,” my brother replied, throwing his arms in the air. “Ambassadors. Trade negotiations that have to be considered. You can just start dating someone. Anyone you fancy. Seems like you could at least get started with that.”

“Not a chance,” I said. “I’ve got my ship, my work, and a whole new system to explore, map and report my findings on. Doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for a social life.”

“I know,” he said.

And then he smiled.

I knew the smile far too well from when we were growing up.

Not exactly a happy smile, like something wonderful had happened that we would both be excited about.

This was like he’d pulled something off that was going to get him praised, and me in trouble.

“What did you do?” I asked flatly.

“Just helping my baby brother out,” he said, blinking his eyes innocently.

Like he’d ever been innocent.

“What. Did. You. Do?”

“I think you’ll be finding out shortly,” he said. “I asked the agency to flag me first, as soon as a match had been found.” He shrugged, and grinned again. “Maybe being the king does have a few benefits.”

“A match?” I looked around the lab wildly. “What am I going to do with a match?”

“Take her shopping, take her to dinner, show her a good time. You know, date?” Bretav leaned forward, all traces of amusement wiped from his face. “Seriously, just give her a chance. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll at least know you tried.” He rubbed his eyes. “We can’t let the past happen again.”

And he had me there.

The Kaltarra system had been torn apart by three generations of civil wars.

Our mother and father were the heads of the two leading factions, and only their alliance, sealed by our birth, had put an end to the fighting.

As much as I hated to admit it, the people of the system, the ones whose lives had been torn apart by the endless civil war, deserved to know the stability of the throne was insured.

I just didn’t want anything to do with it.

But maybe it was like science.

It didn’t matter what you wanted. The facts were the facts.

“Your Highness,” Drix said. “A message has come through, coded top priority.”

“Read message,” I ordered.

My brother was wearing that grin again.

Dammit.

Drix’s toneless voice was disturbingly at odds with the perky words of the message.

“Congratulations. A match has been found for you, and a new life of love and fulfillment is just around the corner.”

Yeah, right.

“Your match has been transported to Central Station Five and will be arriving on the 16 of Wev at 26 in the afternoon.”

Fine. I’d meet this woman, take her to dinner, do whatever it was my brother suggested.

Give it a chance.

At least I had….

I checked the ship’s clock.

Checked it again.

“Maybe this is why you shouldn’t have had the message go to you first.” I glared at my brother. “There’s no way to get there in time,” I snapped. “Good job, your majesty.”

I cut the channel and started powering up for a warp jump.

Late for the first date.

This was not starting well.

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