Chapter 11: Appealing to a Higher Power, Part II
taken by regarte
Prompt posted Nov 17, 2006
|Story Type: Original
Content Cautions: None.
Critique: Very, very welcome.
Summary: Leigh's stationside-native boyfriend is having some cultural clash issues, so he's going for help, Part II. Exposition within. Also some wonderful old-biddying. The usericon is pertinent.
She sighs, and shakes her head slightly. "I'm not starting this story without my tea," she says, and turns her right wrist over to press a particular gem in her wide, flat bracelet with the fingertips of her other hand.
A moment later, the doorway opens and the serious dark-haired girl appears. "Yes, Madame Salazar?"
"My tea tray, Elsbeth," the woman says, "And a chair for young Jak. He'll be staying for a spell. Protocol or no protocol, I'm not making him kneel *that* long."
The girl looks faintly scandalized, but seems used to her mistress' unorthodox ways. She merely nods and withdraws. Several minutes later she reappears, carrying an elegantly-stocked tray before her. Trailing behind are three boys slightly taller than she is, one with an extra (and far less fancy) chair of woven wickerwork, and the other two carrying an oval table between them.
Jak stands and gathers up the kneeling cushion, to get out of their way, and between them the three children efficiently lay two places for formal tea. Elsbeth carefully lays out the contents of the tray upon the dark wooden tabletop. Every item is precisely placed: the teapot, the cups in their saucers, the three perfect platefuls of delicate, savory finger-food. The boys slip out after depositing their cargo, having not said a single word. They bow to the Elder in respectful farewell. Elsbeth lifts the teapot and gracefully pours them each a cup, then sets it down and takes two steps back, tucking her hands into the wide cuffs of her sleeves.
Madame Salazar takes her cup in slightly-shaky, arthritic hands, enjoying the warmth. She lifts it to her face, inhales the delicately fragrant steam, and smiles for a moment before taking a sip. Then she inclines her head to her maid-in-waiting and says, "That will be all, thank you. Young Jak and I have things to discuss." The girl does not seem to approve, but nevertheless makes a graceful curtsey and leaves without a word.
Jak smiles over the rim of his delicate teacup at his auntie. "Still shocking the little ones, I see."
Her dark eyes twinkle at him as she selects a savory morsel from the selection before her. "Can't raise 'em up to take their proper places in the Family if you don't make 'em uncomfortable now and then," she asserts. "No matter what my esteemed colleagues on the Governing Board think." Two bites make short work of her chosen tidbit, then those eyes fasten, no longer at all amused, upon her guest. "Which brings me back to your problem."
He blinks at the utter non-sequitur, but decides that silence is the better part of valor, here, and helps himself to a dumpling to give his hands something to do while he pastes a respectfully interested look on his face.
"Your problem, little though you may believe it, goes right on back to decisions made just after the Uprising." She sips her tea, then smiles enigmatically. "Oh, your face! No, it's true. We ..." she pauses, gazing off into space for a long moment. "We made choices, then," she continues in a quieter tone. "About how we meant to go on. About what of Earth was worth keeping, and what was dross to be cast away. We've stuck by those choices, through thick and thin." Another sip. "And now we've raised our children, and their children, and are beginning to raise a third generation, who know only the world we have made for them." She raises her eyes to him over the rim of her cup.
He takes a breath, opens his mouth, then thinks better of speaking and just nods, hands wrapped tightly around his teacup.
"I like you, boy," she says, in yet another apparent utter change of subject. "You think, without blabbing every thought in your head. You question, but you wait to ask the right *people*. That's promising." She smiles at him, sips her tea, then goes on, "And you're letting yourself in for a world of troubles with this Earth girl. Tell me about her."
He collects his thoughts for a long moment, then says, "She's friendly, and sweet, and a lot of fun to talk to." He grins a little. "And she really seems to like living on the station. She's always wanting to try out new things, even if they strike her as weird." He sobers a little, glancing at his auntie. "And she likes me. She thinks I'm strong, and wise, and good at all kinds of things." The way he says it implies that he himself doesn't always agree with that assessment, however flattering. After a moment's thought, he continues, trying to be as bluntly honest and open as she might be, "When she comes in the room, I get this ... this thing," he says, putting a fist to his chest, "And suddenly I feel as if I've just gone up five decks, like there's some kind of grav anomaly. Just because I see her, or she smiles at me. She ... she makes me happy," he sums up, inadequately.
"Right," she says, then sighs. "One enormous crush, coming right up, with a serious chance of love underneath."
"Really? *This* is what they were talking about?" He blinks, thinking about it. "But we aren't 'sleeping together' or anything," he says, confused, using that Earther flick's incredibly silly euphemism on purpose, with audible facetiousness quotes around it.
"You, my dear boy," she says, sipping her tea, "Are entirely a creation of your upbringing. Unfortunately, so is she. And I think 'sleeping together' was probably some of what she was trying to hint at by showing you the film."
Jak brightens. "Really? That could be fun. I don't know anybody who's sexed an Earther." He seems to relish the prospect.
"And there's a reason you haven't, either," she cuts him off, eyes glinting. "There are layer upon layer of traps and pitfalls lying in wait for you in her bed." When he sits back in alarm, she sighs, lifting her eyes towards the ceiling as if beseeching patience from an all-knowing, all-kind light fixture. "No, not like that." She sips her tea, which empties the cup.
Jak chivalrously pours her a refill, when it's clear her hand is too shaky to safely lift the pot. Adding lemon and honey, the reassuring ritual courtesies, gives her some time to think of how to describe bicycles to this particular young fish. "This girl," she says. "She religious?"
"Well, she thanked God in front of me, once," he says.
"Does she wear any ... any jewelry, or unusual clothing? Something she wears all the time, not just for fashion."
"There's a little pendant she wears, sometimes she touches it when she's nervous or thinking. It's kind of ... plus-shaped, only the bottom is longer. It's gold, I guess, or at least it looks like gold."
The imaginary compassionate light fixture receives another long, thoughtful stare. "Christian. Right." Madame Salazar weighs options and strategies in her head, rather as she has weighed much farther-ranging and consequential political realities and economic choices all her adult life. "Well. First off, there's a good chance she's a virgin." At his blank look, she says, "Inexperienced. Never been naked with a man before. -- Or a woman," she interjects before he has a chance to chime in with more dumb questions. Well, dumb to anyone who understands dirtsuckers. Logical to him, the poor naive fool. "It also means that if you intend to change that, she's going to expect you to save what's in your pants for her and only her until further notice."
He blinks. "Really? They still do that? I thought that was just to safeguard bloodlines and property inheritance. I mean, with modern birth control, and all, she doesn't have to worry I'd get her pregnant by *accident*, or anything." The tone in which he puts that last sentence is precisely identical to an Earther saying, "But it's not like I'd poop right in the middle of her *living* room, or anything!"
"Yes, I know, and so does she if she thinks about it, but that's not at all what it's about. It's about power, and ownership. And she'd tell you it isn't, but it is, so don't even bother asking her. She can't help it, it's how she's raised. If she finds out you've been doing ... well, any of a great range of things, with people that aren't her, at the same time you two are 'going out,'" and she gestures those quotes deliberately, to help him learn the terminology, "She'll feel betrayed and get miserable. The only way to prevent it is to play by her rules."
"... Right," he says, boggling a bit. He fortifies himself with a gulp of tea, then gamely adds, "So ... is there a book or something?"