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"Rogue in Velvet", part 2

Part 2! (Finally glued together nicely - the story, I mean). Follows on from Part One


Rogue in Velvet
(-- part two --)


     Eri spent a large portion of the next hour or two vainly searching the crowds for the strange cob, if only to point him out to Uuvern (and claim her points for the “told you so”.) It was frustrating – Kiravai shouldn’t be so hard to spot! They towered over almost every other species here, even the giant Xniki, and the only one she could actually see was Aila, the dainty little golden pen that Uuvern had already introduced her to. (Who also didn’t know of any green Kiravai, and she’d sensed Aila and Uuvern snickering quietly behind their hands at the way she’d hung onto the idea in spite of the weight of evidence against her.)

     She’d pretty much given up hope of ever finding him again – and was about ready to put it down actually being a trick of the light, or too much alcohol – when quite by chance she almost bodily walked into him. She’d drifted to the tall patio doors, open to the chilly paved balcony and overlooking the silent, darkened garden, to catch a breath of fresh air, only to find someone already out there. Her first reflex had been to curse silently, not wanting to be drawn into another silly discussion and more suggestions that she donate money, but then the incongruities had come together.

     She edged out in to the clear, cold night-time air, not sue what to say now she’d caught the strange cob alone, noting he had his jacket slung over the back of the nearest chair and his shirt sleeves rolled back, lounging artfully against the chilly wall around the edge of the balcony. That in itself was odd – those Kiravai she’d known (not that she could confess to knowing many, they usually kept themselves to themselves) were very prim-and-proper, upstanding creatures, and certainly not prone to slouching.

     Most surprising of all, though, actually bringing her up short, he was smoking – the glitter of red heat from the tip of his cigarette a tiny ember in the moonlight. So few people smoked these days – you were severely restricted in what medical treatment you could get, if you did, and Kiravai were supposedly so delicate when it came to their lungs that they shied away from any smoke – it was with genuine shock that she watched him drag on the tiny tube of rolled dried herbs.

     “The health police haven’t got to you yet, then,” she observed, pleasantly, resting her elbows on the wall beside him and ensuring she was upwind of him.

     He smiled, but didn’t look over to her. “They’ve tried,” he observed, and his voice – and his pitch-perfect Commonspeech – was a pleasant ripple of honeyed velvet. “I… re-educated them.”

     “I’m sure they were only worried about your health.” It was difficult not to sound too preachy. “Or don’t Kiravai get lung cancer, emphysema…?”

     He made a face, and drew softly on the cigarette. “I'd probably worry if it affected me,” he offered, flicking ash into the breeze. “But it never has. Not the psychoactive agents, not the carcinogens, none of it. Might as well be drinking a cup of water.”

     “Well if it doesn’t affect you,” she wondered aloud, confused, “why do you do it?”

     He grinned, sleepily, looking insufferably pleased with himself, and skeins of moon-bleached mist trailed from his nostrils. “Because they told me not to? Because I can? Because it annoys people like you?” He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I can’t confess to ever having a reason to do it. I just wanted to. Gets people talking.”

     “You like having people talking about you?”

     “Who doesn’t?” He glanced her way, and briefly appraised what he saw; dusky-faced pale brown Vulline, snowy underside and chocolate-dipped arms and legs, hands sprinkled with white spots. Quite pleasantly pale, getting close to the Imperial subtype – that is, for a Kiravai she would be, and he might have been a long way from home but he remembered his roots. Far more appealing than the cinnamon and charcoal that seemed the norm here, any way.

     “I’d rather people talked about me for a more noble reason-”

     He laughed out loud. “You make a fair point,” he accepted. “But no publicity is bad publicity, is that not also correct?”

     “But nobody knows you-!” His stubborn-ness was less overt than the prickly hostility of a more traditional cob, but she sensed she wasn’t going to make any headway, and she had more burning questions anyway. “If you don’t mind my asking… What exactly was it you said to that Nyen earlier? I’ve never seen anyone get a hind to colour up that way before.”

     Bright pale-gold eyes slid her way and a smile trickled over his pale countenance. “She asked me if I was gay, because I had no beloved hanging off my arm,” he replied, glibly. “I told her I wasn’t – unless, of course, someone catches my eye the right way, and then I’m anyone’s…”

     “Oh, come off it. That wouldn’t get a hind to colour up like that…”

     “Believe what you like, m’chi,” his smile sparkled. “Maybe I made a suggestion of what I’d like to do with her, some silk scarves, my innate skill with knots, and a very large jar of honey.”

     Even that didn’t sound dirty enough to get a hind to blush, but she’d already resigned herself to not getting the truth out of him, and the concept was certainly making her colour up in shock.

     His smile turned very slightly lascivious. “The idea appeals to you, friend? You’ve gone rather… ‘pink’.”

     She’d not realised her blush was so visible, and patted her face with her cool fingers. “Nothing of the sort,” she was quick to argue. “I think it’s quite unpleasant.”

     He grinned, pleased with himself. “So what brings you to this den of thieves, anyway?” he asked, at last, exhaling a soft wreath. “Can’t be for the sterling company. Can’t be for the conversation either, unless you like being pumped for money everywhere you turn.”

     She made a wry look, and tried not to pull a face at the smoke; out of the corner of her eye she spotted him smiling. “Friend of a friend,” she replied. “A colleague of mine works for the cybernetics department at the University. Most of what he does goes right over my head; I’m a horticulturist, myself.”

     “Oh really? Little flower girl,” his brows had lifted. “So he brought you along to look pretty on his arm while he regaled the powers that be with his impressive knowledge, and tried to gather a few more lucrative sponsors into his department?”

     She made it obvious this time when she pulled a face. “Basically that’s the gist of it,” she agreed. “I got bored with the conversation. Too much technology, not enough speculation. I can understand speculation, but joint-torque and processor space and NM-networks go right over my head.”

     “All right then,” he suggested, pleasantly. “We shall speculate. What’s your opinion on these so-called sapient machines?” he stubbed the remnants of his cigarette out against the wall and flicked the spent stub into the grass below. “Good thing, or bad thing?”

     “My opinion is entirely dictated by what little Uuvern has managed to teach me and what I’ve gleaned off the television,” she replied, glumly. “So I think I’m being overoptimistic. You know, head full of silly ideas. I’ve always thought it’ll be a good thing…” she studied the stone beneath her fingers for a few moments, before glancing sideways to see if he was trying to catch her out, but he was gazing down the garden. “…but then I never really went in for all these silly machines take over the world apocalyptic stories the press try to sell us, anyway, so I’m probably biased.”

     He smiled that knowing, sleepy smile, and moonlight glittered in his pale gold eyes. “I’m sure I could disillusion you,” he commented, and gave a soft, enigmatic little laugh. “So. Why do you think this, m’chi? It would seem to me to be a very distinct possibility. The very nature of the universe itself is usually that the more powerful beings subjugate and oppress the weaker ones.”

     “Well… Miss Bluefrost has never expressed a desire to make biological beings redundant-…” Now she’d been forced into explaining her arguments, it seemed unusually difficult to articulate herself. “I guess… it seems… a pointless exercise. A waste in energy. What would the mechanical entities do if they did wipe us all out? Sit there?”

     “Perhaps,” he mused, resting his chin on a slim hand with well-manicured fingernails. “It could be argued that machine-based life is a… pinnacle of evolution, if you like. Perfection. Close to godliness. Unaffected by age or illness, unchanging, and powerfully intelligent to boot. A master race. I’m sure that could be seen as threatening, by a lot of people.”

     “That doesn’t seem to explain why they’d forcefully take over the cosmos.”

     He laced his fingers and straightened, and gave her an unusually probing look; his eyes had lost their sleepy quality and were now as keen as lasers, and she felt… unnerved. “If animals are scared, they fight,” he explained, deadly serious. “It is true of all biological life, even Kiravai, that fear will drive a being to lengths they may not normally go. Sentient beings wipe out other sentient beings because they see them as a threat. Now, extend that concept to sentient machines, and the terrible, irrational fear that most biological creatures have towards them.”

     “That still doesn’t explain-”

     “Animals often fight their masters,” he directed his gaze back down the moonlit garden. “And sometimes, the kindest and most energy-effective solution is to kill the worst troublemakers,” his voice became softer, sleepier. “The less troublesome will be cowed by the show of strength, and fall into line, and order will be restored.”

     For a moment or two, she just stared at him, silently. “…you believe that?” she asked, softly.

     He spread his hands, lazily. “Oh, I believe a lot of things, not all of which I put into words. I also say a lot of things, not all of which I believe,” his lips quirked into a grin. “I also believe that an individual should try to consider all the facts before making a judgement based on what popular entertainment has taught them.”

     She rolled her eyes. “You’re a professor, aren’t you?” It made sense – the deliberate disregard for convention, the outlandish clothing (well, for his species). “Here’s me acting like an idiot with my stupid ideas… What’s your speciality – history, sociology, what?”

     “I have a lot of specialities,” he answered, evasively, and that lascivious glint was back in his eye. “Perhaps we should at least exchange names, m’chi. I am Iios,” he offered a hand. “Or Malachite works just as well, if you can’t get your vocal cords around the Ve-hei’ya.”

     “Eria’dane Dawnstep – or just Eri, if you don’t like long words,” she accepted the proffered hand, expecting him to give it a shake, but instead he scooped it towards his face and brushed his thin lips over the back. “Um… pleased to, um… pleased to meet you, Iios…”

     There was that wicked twinkle in his eye, and she sensed he was insufferably pleased at catching her off-guard like that; he was steadily looking more and more like the sort of male you did not take home to meet the parents. A charming, exciting, devilishly inappropriate rogue, the sort to make lewd jokes at polite dinner parties or show up in a dress purely to shock, leading a rock-star life with all its accompanying excesses, who’d lead you into temptation and get you into all kinds of things your parents disapproved of.

     “Now,” he touched his fingers to his chest and bowed. “If you would care to excuse me, I have people to see.”

     And before she could find enough of a voice to argue, he slipped back in through the doors, and vanished.

---------

More later!
Edit: *finally finished chapter one*
"Part 3" follows

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