Burned Out

Finally, after three weeks of a nagging cough – which still crops up – I am able to get back into my Fortress of Quietude in the basement to record more of “Foes and Rivals.” In a perfect world I’d like to have the voicing and editing complete before our “last” family trip the first week of June. That might be a little aggressive but we shall see.

In the mean time, I’m now up to 18k words in a book I had no intention to write. Below, I skip over the discussion between Edward and Ryland about the Empress’s proposal, cutting to the more personal bit where his aunt takes the young prince back to her place in Galveston for dinner. I had no idea that Faustina could be such a shit and do something like that to her own son.

Oh, yes: the working title for this is “Imperium’s Shadow.” If that shadow comes to include others of Fussy’s children, this could be a very long series, indeed.

“How many are in your party?” she asked out of nowhere.

“My driver and three more in a van.”

“Four?  I don’t have that kind of room…” she muttered, now scribbling something on a slip of paper she passed to him.  “Your men can stay at this hotel.  I’m taking you home.”

She stood.  He did as well.

“Of course, Aunt Ryland.”

Just a few minutes later, back onto Galveston Island proper, Edward observed as his aunt parked on the street in front of a house built, he guessed, just before the Change.  It was just north across the street from Sacred Heart Catholic Church and its great white onion dome.  It was a house for a family, not a woman alone.

“Thank you for welcoming me into your home,” he said formally, balancing to take his boots off in the foyer as his aunt did similar.  It was a custom for all of their family going far back.

“I think,” Ryland began, finally with a warm smile, “that I can trust you to be on your best behavior, Edward?”

“Of course, Aunt Ryland.  Childhood foolishness is long past.”

He could tell she thought that statement a bit pompous from someone half her age.  He couldn’t tell why her hand paused just before the light switch as she continued to look at him.

“Your eyes used to be scarlet, you know, for you demis.  I was always a little scared of that,” she admitted.  “But now, they are just like mine or Livia’s.  Contacts?”

“No,” he replied, not particularly wanting this conversation but knowing it had to be.  “No.  Not contacts.”

Not demi-human but not stupid, Ryland knew a mine when she brushed against it.  The lights came on and she waved him into her house.  He saw the parlor to the right was a jumble of books and maps, all naval.  The formal dining table to the left was covered with the same.  In the great open space that was, from right to left, the den, breakfast nook, and kitchen, she pointed at one of the circular glass top table’s chairs while she drifted into the kitchen and opened the fridge.

“I don’t think too many of my leftovers are spoilt,” she called, leaning over to look from shelf to shelf.  “I guess you’d be able to tell me if they were, right?”

“Yes.” A part of demi-human’s improved neurosystem included all perceptions, taste among them.  “Anything is fine, Aunt Ryland.  You know the legions eat plain and my mother’s table is just as simple.”

“I’ve always suspected that was just because she was simply a bad cook,” she replied pulling a glass casserole dish out.  Lifting the plastic cover and sniffing it, Ryland shrugged and set it into the microwave.  After a series of beeps, she went back to the fridge, pulled a bottle of some alcoholic drink out, and sat opposite Edward around the table.

“The food’ll be about six minutes,” she announced, twisting off the top of the bottle and taking a drink.  “I know you don’t drink alcohol and I want answers:  so what about your eyes?”

How well she knows me!  Edward stilled his body and looked right back to his aunt.

“Since puberty, I was infatuated with you.  You were beautiful, smart.  Perfect, for a human.” He ignored her eye roll.  “You know the stream of messages you received from me; I even recall you telling me that you shared then with your husband, Allen, and you two would laugh.  I didn’t care.  I loved – well, I thought I loved you.  It was just lust.”

He knew she knew this.  She took another drink and waited.

“When… that time I cut a deal with Mir of tribe Mendro to…” now he took a deep breath, “…to abduct you.  As you well know, your heart stopped.  It was a scandal to humans, demi-humans, and some of the machines what I had done.  My mother’s…”

Even with all of his control, Edward leaned back and glanced right at the tiny backyard of her house.  I almost killed her.  His eyes came back to hers.

“The Empress’s punishment was… harsh.  As a family matter, I will not dwell on details, but part of my sentence was she broke my eyes.  Our special colors and bioluminescence is the only external physical trait which distinguishes us demis from the rest of humanity.  I… was made to give that up.”

In the motion of taking another drink from her bottle, Ryland paused and the liquid rained down the front of her uniform.

“My… My God, Edward!” she yelled, setting the bottle down and coming out of her chair all at once.  “I know you can still see, but… but, are you okay?  What did… what did my awful cousin do to you!”

Her arms were about him and her left cheek next to his right.  He still did not move.

“As I said, the rest is internal family and imperial politics.” He took her arms and slowly, tenderly, eased his aunt off of him, fully aware how much she and her daughter smelled alike.  He made another resolution at that moment.  “Please, Au… please, Ryland.  I am fine and shall be fine.”

The microwave chimed loudly.  She stood and used both hands to push her black hair back and into a semblance of order.  Without another word, she pulled plates and flatware and set them onto the table before putting the reheated food – eggplant parmesan, he now saw – between them.

A quick blessing from them both, he had already taken a bite – delicious! – but noted her fork hung just before his aunt’s mouth.

“You were stupid but I didn’t die!” she muttered.  “I will never forgive Faustina for hurting you!”

Through dinner and later when he was rinsing the plates, he knew his aunt was looking for something in his eyes that was no longer there.  It was getting late, so Edward tried another tack.

“Before retiring, I would like to pray with you, Aunt Ryland,” he said from the kitchen.  She was still at the table on her third bottle.  “For your husband’s safe return.”

“No sign.  No trace.” A human would not have heard her whisper.  But then she spun about so fast her left hand knocked that last bottle onto the floor.

“No trace!” she yelled, pointing at her nephew.  “One of your goddam EM drives!  There would have been no trace!  And by now, they… he… he could be anywhere!”

Edward came out of the kitchen, tossed a rag onto the spilled drink, and knelt to hold his aunt.

“There is no trace of such from Russia, Japan, or my country,” he said quietly.  “Pirates would be – ”

“Allen’s still alive!”

“Yes,” Edward agreed in a Catholic, noncommittal fashion. When she didn’t speak for five minutes, he recalled the layout of her home and carried her upstairs, put her to bed, and removed himself to the guest room and immediately shut down his mind.

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