Saturday, February 21, 2015

Returning Home, Part Three

As the flyer descended toward the shuttle pad of House Sri, the pilots maintained transparency so that Juliette could point out the old retreat nestled among ornamental gardens that produced an outburst of russet, plum and juniper ringed with the white poppies currently in season.  The shuttle alighted delicately on the landing pad while Tessa said goodbye like she was leaving a dear friend, and wouldn’t let go until she promised to attend the Tal Isle festival. Andres kept a respectful physical distance, though his presence in her mind was close and personal. Was tomorrow too soon to call on her? Not at all.

All in all, it was an excellent homecoming. It was expected that the family would not be at the shuttle pad, as to not impose on House Morin.  She was instead greeted by an older man who took her bags while she insisted on carrying her own rucksack, hoisting it over her shoulder even if it rumpled the dress uniform a little. The older man introduced himself as Hortus of House Ashe. She couldn’t remember Ashe’s standing, but considering the service, she guessed on the cusp of the Chiliat and thanked him graciously as they walked along the path. The air off the ocean was only slightly cool, enough to stave off the hot, brilliant sun, and the trees were in bloom and left a carpet of petals on the walkway. It had rained the night before, and the air was slightly moist – so different than the perfectly regulated air of a space station. Hortus asked Juliette how she had convinced the blossoms to match her hair and she laughed.

Her family had arranged to formally greet her in front of the Manor House, at one of the smaller patios, hot tea and cakes carefully arranged.    Karana -- her sister and Matron of House Sri. Lars -- Papa, Ramel -- her younger brother. There was a space between Papa and Ramel. Her older brother, Kent, was unsurprisingly absent, and the idea of leaving a place for him in the family line had been abandoned.  The space deliberately left was and always would be for Lara. Her family was dressed either in Betazed fashion;  traditional wear for Papa and Kanara; the more sensible of the latest fashions for Ramel. Juliette, in her Starfleet dress uniform, was the alien. Welcome to our planet she thought with a hint of sadness as she slid her rucksack to the ground.

Karana greeted her formally. Welcome home, Juliette Sri, Second Scion.

It is good to be home, Matron, Juliette dutifully responded, her hands clasped together in front, concealing the ache that the title of Second Scion left in her. She should be Third Scion, but Lara, the first to graduate from Starfleet and the first to give her life in the line of duty was gone, her body the stuff of nebulas, her mind out of the reach of any telepath, no matter how hard she tried. Likewise, Kanara was too soon the Matron of House Sri.  Too soon, too many gone. Juliette took a slow, shaky breath, trying to remember their faces.

She suddenly found herself in her father’s fierce hug. He always broke tradition when it was just family. She felt her sisters exasperated defeat at maintaining order, which made the hug all the better. She held on until she didn’t feel so tired and alone, and hugged the rest of her family in order. Her sister’s hug was perfunctory and brief as usual.  Still, It was nice enough to enjoy tea cakes and hot tea outside, the roar of surf on the western cliffs distant, but a presence. To Juliette, it was home.

Ramel wanted to know all about Tessa of Morin, his crush in full bloom for all to sense.  House Morin is 82nd, though could go as high as 78th if they can get Daystrom to fund another expedition to Delta. They’ve been profitable too, moving up to 60th in the Ferengi indices. He had always had a head for the numbers around the Houses, and could usually pick it out, no matter which index.

Kanara’s words were ensconced in her dubiousness. The Ferengi? What a useless index. What good is wealth if you’re doing nothing with it?

Lars interjected. Some of our statistical models on house standing are now used in Ferengi market analysis. He had a measure of pride to his tone. As a statistician, he had been consulted in deconstructing the Betazoid models with the Ferengi.

Juliette wrenched her mind into the conversation. Papa, a message from Daystrom? Who called?

Dr. Saurn. Very clever actually writing your note. Lars thought to her.

Kanara gave the telepathic equivalent of a shrug. It was a clear sign you were hiding things from them.

Juliette felt her stomach go hollow. Dr. Saurn was her contact at Daystrom for research on the Biome, and his sudden desire to speak with her was feeling entirely too coincidental. She started to ask more when Ramel cut her off.

Jul, The guy in the shuttle. Was that House Jordres?

Kanara was incredulous. You rode with both Morin and Jordres? Did you mean to deliberately insult House Morin?

Juliette flushed slightly, concentrating on stirring her tea. I did, and House Morin wasn’t insulted  I asked her to bring him along because I let her think I was interested in him. Why did you arrange for both of them to pick me up anyway?

Jodres asked Papa first, and then Morin asked me. I sure wasn’t going to tell a member of the Hectat no just so you could pick up some trivial.

Juliette felt her cheeks burn at the implication she’d already decided her situation with Andres, remembering the chant,

Friends are Friends
And Loves are Loves
But Trivials are brief and  forgotten.

 Juliette’s reply was only slightly defensive.  It isn’t like that.

Why not? He’s appealing enough. He might not be Vulcan…

Juliette clenched her jaw, burying her thoughts. My sister, you’re swinging low today. She projected an entirely different thought to deflect the subject. What did Dr. Saurn say?

Ramel was clearly having too much fun with the current topic to let Juliette deflect it so easily.  House Jordres is somewhere around 900…

817th.  Juliette corrected despite wanting any other topic.

Kanara snorted. Not recently. Did you forget that you add at least 5% to whatever rank someone gives of their house?

Ramael couldn’t help but share his knowledge. They might be 817th on the Ackerman index, but the Denerid Compsite has them at 834, and that’s the most generous. But as Matron said, people always overstate. Either way, that shuttle party pretty much spanned from the Hectat to the Chillat.

Kanara threw up her hands. Oh no, that’s not awkward at all! I suppose a personal apology – Matron to Matron – might take some of the sting away…

Papa, What did Dr. Saurn say? Juliette asked, ignoring her sister.

Lars shrugged, but his strong tone indicated he too, was eager to change the subject away from house rankings. Very little, I’m afraid, just that it was important he speak with you regarding the Biome.

The feeling in the pit of her stomach increased. I should call him as soon as I can.

Lars question was concerned. Something wrong?

Both Jordres and Morin spoke to me of the Biome – about the research. Juliette’s words produced a small thoughtful silence from both Kanara and Lars.

Kanara thought dryly, Thank you Jul, you seem to have brought another mess home.

Juliette’s retort was just as dry. I brought it here so it wouldn’t be lonely, Matron.  Where is Kent? It’s a pity you could not seem to gather all the family here.  She hear Ramel snicker.

Kanara’s reply was cool. It is my failure that I am not able to bring the family together at critical moments. Especially you, Second Scion.

Juliette tried to swallow back the mix of anger and shame that washed over her, but not quickly enough to feel Kanara’s satisfaction at knocking her off balance. She felt Papa’s own mind become cold, and Ramel actually flinched. She tried to think of other things and grasped at the first thought  that came to her head – aside from strangling her matron. Ramel, how did you know who was in the shuttle? You were all up here at the house.

I used the security sensors. He answered, with equal measures impertinence and pride.

Kanara gasped, setting her teacup down with a clatter. The security sensors are for the security staff!

That’s pretty rude. Juliette chided him, at the same time impressed with his inventiveness. Morin’s bodyguards could have detected that. Should have detected it, she corrected herself. If they had, they had not complained. Still, a preemptive apology was probably the best course of action…

Ramel protested to Juliette without a pause devouring his third teacake, his response for all to hear. You said if I followed an inverse fractal pattern, it will look like background limestone resonance off their own sensors.

Juliette frowned. She had told him that the last time she had visited, but it had been a thought experiment, not something to be casually practiced. She didn’t have time to further her rebuke when she felt Kanara’s glare.

Kanara’s thoughts were direct, but loud enough for everyone to hear. Not even here two hours and already I have to undo this as well.

Juliette stonily ignored the barb, but couldn’t resist replying when Kanara started to repeat herself. I’m sorry sister. Did you say something? You know with my condition I have to sometimes I have to blot out extraneous noise.

Even Ramel stopped in mid-bite as Kanara’s cold fury washed over them. Cups were quietly placed on the table and the servants quietly gathered them up. Tea was over.

Come. Papa said. Lets get you to your room. His hand slid to her bare arm as he guided her.

She is your matron.  He said firmly, taking advantage of the very private connection that touching provided.

Juliette was so angry she considered shaking off the connection, but relented. She blames me for everything.

She does not. Running a house is not easy. Ramel’s will rivals both my daughters’, and his judgment isn’t always sound.

As bad as Kents? Where is he, anyway?

I do not know, and do not change the subject. Kanara deserves your respect as Matron. You must see the great work she’s done for this House. Remember it.

Anger and pain kept Juliette from not fully concealing her thoughts. She’s not my Matron. Mother was my Matron.

Juliette heard his sharp breath and felt him stop. She stopped with him, desperately wishing she had kept those thoughts closer or better yet not made them at all. She steadied herself and looked up at her father, her face hot. Papa. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I love and support this house. I’m so sorry. She chanced looking at his eyes, not sure if she could bear the deeper connection meeting eyes would bring. His expression was sad, and hurt and only increased her regret.

I miss her too, Julie. Every day. I see so much of her in Kanara. You should look for it too.

She crossed her arms stubbornly, breaking the connection and her gaze by looking down at the ground. Was it too much to ask not to break down in tears just hours after returning? She was quiet for a long moment before looking at his pained expression and establishing connection with her gaze. She blames me for mother.

She does not.

Juliette sighed and managed to keep her thoughts to herself. Some lies did not need to be pointed out. Of course Kanara blamed her for not being there when Mother had died. She could remember when Mother had first told her about how she had eased her  grandmother’s passing.  We are not like other species, Juliette,  Betazoids to not have to die alone and it is one of the greatest gifts one can give – to ease another’s passing.

Yet when Kanara had frantically called her about Mother’s health, Juliette had been at the Academy, deep in the midst of finals, terrified she was going to fail out like Kent. She could have gotten a bereavement waver, and waited another year for finals, but a combination of stress, late nights with classes and surrounded by dozens of torrentially emotional species were taking their toll. She wouldn’t survive another year. She had refused, recording a quick holo-message for her mother instead – a message she was too far gone to really receive. Not being there for her mother’s passing was her fault. Kanara had never forgiven her. She could still remember Kanara’s last words on the subject. She asked for you Jul – She asked for you and I had to tell her you couldn’t come. That you were busy. Even Kent was there. You’d better pass at the Academy, because you failed everyone else.

Juliette couldn’t argue. She had failed her mother, her family, and nearly failed the Academy despite staying. 

Juliette drew a shaky breath. Yes Papa. I will apologize to Kanara. Just give me some time to rest and get things sorted. She felt exhausted, which for her was … hazardous.

Of course.  His thoughts were gentle. Jul, we are so very glad to have you back.

Juliette silently buried herself deep inside her thoughts as they proceeded up the steps into the manor house.