Despite the signs and announcements against doing so, the queues for the transporters started well before the passenger ship had established standard orbit around Betazed. Vacationers, eager to make the most of their trip, crowded the transporters until the queue compressed into an impatient, irritated mob. For most Betazoids, pockets of anxiety and frustration were at worst a distraction. For a Betazoid with the rare condition of hyper sensitivity to strong emotions, it was a trial of will and stamina. Rather than test her meditative techniques against an unruly throng, Lieutenant Juliette Sri instead rode in a shuttle down to the Southern Continent.
She shared the shuttle with a trio of Betazoids – a pair of women with a young boy seated dutifully between them. Juliette could feel the boy’s anxiety as he held a small wad of gauze under his nose, as a preemptive defense against the nosebleeds that many times came with emotional hyper-sensitivity. She guessed his age about twelve. More likely than not, he would outgrow the sensitivity. The headaches, nosebleeds and the rare seizure that came along with it would be long forgotten. She could sense the boy's fascination which was split between her neatly pressed Starfleet uniform and her plum colored hair. She looked up from her PADD and smiled at him. He continued to stare until one of the women lightly jabbed him with her elbow to break his attention.
Juliette laughed softly and gently thought at the boy such that all three could hear, Do not be so taken with Starfleet girls, young Sir. For we fly far away and will break your heart. The boy blushed furiously, while the two women laughed.
He does not see many Starfleet. The woman thought to her apologetically. He does not mean to be rude.
I am not offended, Matron. Juliette replied in a respectful tone.
She smiled gratefully, and her eyes glanced toward Juliette’s gloved hands. Her expression wavered, and Juliette knew she saw the gloves for what they were -- shields against accidental contact that could lead to unexpected mental contact. She tried to reassert her smile, but her deep embarrassment betrayed her, and she busied herself sorting through her travel bag.
Juliette turned her attention to the viewport, watching as the very highest clouds twisted by the shuttle as it descended. It is not me, she thought to herself in her carefully shielded mind. It is what I represent – the odds not beaten, fate and chaos handed out by gods unfortunate.
To the non-telepathic, the cavernous shuttle port was unnaturally quiet, punctuated by the whine of impulse engines and the shuffle of thousands of feet. For the telepathic, it was as loud and as chaotic as any other spaceport -- louder still for the sensitive. Well rested and settled, Juliette felt the maelstrom of telepathic communication as a minor buzz in her head, with occasional bursts of interest directed toward her -- with far more frequency than she expected. She reminded herself that this was Betazed, where being the second scion of the 433rd House of Betazed meant something (or was it 423rd? It seemed to change daily). She returned flashes of recognition with a smile and a nod, or a telepathic nudge of gratitude. She was obligated to respond; ignoring respectful recognition would not do. As the axiom went, Houses that forgot their place in things lost their place in things.
Second Scion of House Sri?
A much stronger surge of recognition made her stop mid-way through the concourse toward the taxis. Even before she saw him, she could feel his presence, maybe ten meters away. The tone was respectful, even cautious. She glanced over. He was tall and pale, his face punctuated by the black on black eyes so common among Betazoids. His hair was likewise black and cut stylishly, just like one of those models in the fashion holos. He carried himself as one from one of the houses, but she couldn’t be sure which one.
I don’t think I know you. Juliette kept her defenses ready in the unlikely event he was hostile, but didn’t push the contact away.
He replied silently with a smart bow. Andres Jordres. he pauses a moment while Juliette tried to remember. House Jordres is 817th. It would be my honor to escort the Second Scion back to House Sri. I have already secured your Father’s permission.
Juliette sensed the truth in his words. The situation was not all that unusual. Service was how houses -- especially those below the Pentahectad -- bettered themselves. Houses below provided service. Houses above provided recognition and patronage. It was how things had worked for thousands of years. Accomplishments in their recognized fields were the chief ways houses maintained and improved their status. As a House known chiefly for the numerical sciences, House Sri mostly bettered itself by providing research to upper houses, and gifting lower houses with projects and work so that they may better their own standing, and a history of doing so long before the invention of space travel, let along warp drive.
The addition of the Federation and Starfleet provided more opportunities for houses to better themselves – permitting things like Starfleet rank and prestige to be added into the measurement of the worthiness of a House. Tracking Houses of Betazed had become as complex as any of the Ferengi Exchanges, and House Sri owed as much to Juliette for her rank and prestige in Starfleet as it did to Matron Karana for her patronage and careful selection of successful alliances within the ever changing social structure of Betazed. At least Juliette liked to think so, anyway. So, it was entirely possible that Andres Jordres, in giving Juliette Sri a lift home – in most likely a grand and public fashion – was simply trying to preserve or even better the standing of House Jordres.
Juliette kept her doubts to herself and outward appearance pleasant. A ride back home -- seemed too a small favor. Sure, he could talk about how he had met Juliette Sri and escorted her back home -- and that could actually count for something if the difference in their house ranking was greater. House Sri was not in the Decadat. What else was at play? She promised herself to call home as soon as she could do so privately
I thank you for your generous offer. Forgive me, but I have been away for a long time. What does House Jordres lay claim to? She attempted to make the question sound conversational and light and by his reaction he seemed to take it so.
He stepped forward, closing the distance between them. Her eyes trailed up his chest to his face as she tilted her head back to accommodate his height. She realized if she stood on tiptoes, her lips would just reach the pulse at his jaw. She gasped to herself, and quickly closed her mind to contain her response. She looked quickly to the floor, then away from him and down the length of the concourse. Down, Girl!
He maintained an amused disposition, and if he sensed her sudden fascination, he demonstrated class in not reacting. House Jordres is known for its contribution to botany and Horticulture. We have published works that have been reviewed and recognized as far as the Hectad. Your work with the plant-sentient -- the Biome -- is quite impressive. His thoughts were laced with admiration and an interest beyond the academic that unlike Juliette, he made no effort to conceal.
She found the appraisal pleasing, and smiled faintly. She couldn’t remember the last time she had flirted with another Betazoid. He was an unknown as he was handsome and she balanced interest with caution. By force of will, cooled her fascination to mere curious interest, and forced herself to look at his eyes, strengthening the connection between them. With a gentle push of her mind, she eased back the warmth of his advance, letting him feel her longing to see her family again. A genuine feeling, but one she enhanced. Other things could, and would wait for later.
Andres stepped back a little, making the distance more deferential. I should apologize.
There is no need to apologi-
Then I will not.
You will find the notes on the Biome interesting.
I would think that House Jordres could offer some insight around the Biome.
What did Jordres want? Intimates? Alliance? She suppressed the chill she felt. She remembered her brother Kent’s jaded phrase. Welcome to Betazed, where Mind Games are a planetary sport.
So, this isn’t just a ride home? she asked with a slight press of formality. The bluntness clearly surprised Andres, his good natured chuckle clearly a stall for time as he formulated his response.
His answer was cut short by another sense of recognition, strong enough to make them both look. The woman who gave that recognition was light and delicate, her hair and clothing not one that followed style but more made them. As long as Juliette had been gone from the gossip and intrigues of the Houses of Betazed, she had been trained far too well to not recognize a scion of House Morin, who, in addition to being a member of the Hectad, was also well known for their contribution to the biological sciences. She was flanked by a pair of bodyguards, smartly dressed and only lightly armed. Smiling
I do not mean to intrude. Welcome home, Second Scion of Sri.
Thank you. It is most pleasant to be greeted by House Morin. You are... Second Scion, are you not?
Tessa. She replied, surprising Juliette with the use of the familiar. Even far away you keep up with the Houses? That is most commendable of you, Second Scion of Sri.
Juliette, please. She sense Tessa’s pleasure at the offering to user her name
I had requested of your House that I be permitted to pick you up from the Space port and see you safely back to House Sri. Your Matron graciously approved.
Juliette tried not to freeze or give in to a momentary panic. How could her sister and her father be so uncoordinated?. I see. It is a ...most generous offer. Have you met Andres of Jordres?
I have. Tessa of Morin pleasantly replied. I believe it was at the Daystrom Auxiliary that we met?
Andres’ reply was cool and amused. It was. It is an honor to be remembered. I was here to also provide transportation for Sri. My shuttle cannot offer near the amenities that any transportation from House Morin could provide.
Juliette watched as Andres and Tessa regarded each other with some amusement. Protocol for the situation was complex. Andres was required to give up his favor to give House Sri a chance to get closer to House Morin. However, it would be bad form for House Morin to accept Jordres' offer, as it could be seen as Morin bullying a smaller house. The safest thing for them to do was leave it up to House Sri, who would be opportunistic to decline a lower house, and ungrateful to decline a higher house. Juliette concealed her frustration by letting her gaze wander the shuttleport, wondering if her sister *had* known she was accepting an offer from House Morin after her father had accepted the offer from House Jordres, leaving the problem for *her* to straighten out.
I would like to see some of the Southern Continent again. It would be an honor to travel with house Morin, and hear what they have accomplished in the while I’ve been gone. If its not too much trouble -- it has been so long since I’ve been around Betazoids -- could you accompany us, Andres? Juliette let her gaze drift to Andres taking him in with a sweeping glance not lost on either one of them. I would appreciate the company.