Monday, May 23, 2022

The Shell and the Star - Part 14

I'm back this week with Part 14 of my serialized, aquatic SFR - and free read - The Shell and the Star. Thanks to everyone who has tuned in to follow their tale.

If this is the first time you've encountered this story, you can read the thirteen previously posted parts by clicking the title in the paragraph above. That should get you ship shape in no time! :D

Today, the story continues as Jinn and Trey grow closer and inwardly ponder a possible future together -- which could be hugely benefit to both of their worlds.

I'll start with a short lead-in from the end of the previous episode for context.

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Jinn eyed the clothes storage chest beneath her pilot couch. Essa had packed one dress of delicate ivory silkskein. It was one of her favorites. If Trey was going to don formal dress for dinner, then so would she.

She skinnied out of her white top and pulled the dress over her head. She’d just peeled off her leggings and tucked them away in the chest, when she heard the soft knock at her waterdoor.

“Come in.”

She submerged her bubble as Trey swam inside. The moment he saw her, his hands stilled. So did his feet. He gave a slow blink and uttered a quiet exclamation her translator said it had no interpretation for.

Yes. That.

Because Trey was wearing a tailored bodyveil as dark and blue as the Deep. The garment’s classic lines molded to his muscled torso but flowed fuller along his limbs. A hands-width of silver and sky finery wrapped his neck and tucked into itself at his throat. He looked oh so elegant and dashing and just…just…

Untranslatable exclamation.

The alarm sounded on Jinn’s respiration monitor and she slapped her hand down to silence it. He looked so fetching she’d literally forgotten to breathe, but did the monitors really have to announce that to the entire manor?

“Is there a problem with your sphere?” he asked, concerned.

“Just a minor anomaly.” Jinn gave him a blushing smile and for  a single moment in time the world around them faded and they connected through their barriers—Jinn seated in her enviro-bubble, Trey floating in his water world.

“We should…” he said.

“I’m ready.”

But still they remained. A few more seconds, a few more moments, in this world between worlds that they alone shared.

The dinner chime sounded again and Trey gave an anxious glance over his shoulder, breaking the spell. “I’m afraid we’re late.”

He moved closer and extended his arm, placing his handfin on her sphere. She reached up to press her hand to his from the inside, and it met with the solid surface. A sadness she didn’t truly understand took hold in her heart.


***

With a sharp, disapproving look from his father at their tardy arrival, Trey showed Jinn-in-her-bubble into the enormous dining hall. Tardem gave Jinn’s sphere a subtle eye-roll before he offered a brief greeting.

The greeting from the Imperator himself was much warmer, though a bit stiff and formal, as their traditions seemed to require.

“Dinner has been waiting,” Imperator Bantos remarked. “Let us dine.”

His father and Tardem ascended to the surface, leaving Jinn to stare after them. Trey made a motion that they should follow.

This was unexpected! The Perling family shared their meals in this grandiose dining hall—complete with a long, oval table fashioned of flow-coat—at the surface!

Trey answered her puzzled look as he escorted her to her place of honor at the head of the table explaining that although the Perling had developed a tolerance for ingesting small quantities of salt water, they avoided gulping down mouthfuls. Consuming a full course meal underwater wasn’t practical, even for a Perling.

Dining with the Imperator of Fourth City wasn’t a relaxing experience, but his first born’s sullen silence was even more off-putting. Jinn didn’t understand the young man’s antagonism toward her. Had Imperator Bantos punished Tardem for his rude behavior when they first met?

Or perhaps whatever was bothering Tardem had nothing to do with her at all, but the presence of an unfamiliar guest—especially an alien Talstarian—only further lowered his already glum mood.

She shifted her focus to her suitor, seated just to her left, and then to the Imperator, seated just to her right. Jinn appreciated His Grace’s gentle attempts to engage her in the conversation. He seemed a kind and thoughtful man, in spite of his great mantle of power. And Trey truly seemed to take after him, unlike his brooding older brother.

Fortunately, the meal proved a delightful distraction. Trey explained each item on the menu as Morra and the staff brought the covered dishes up from the waters and placed them on the table—sea lettuce soup, fresh shellfish—still bedded on half of its shell!—and poached water potatoes. And for dessert, a magnificent dish of crisp, buttery, sugar kelp globes.

Jinn had never had a meal so grand, not even one of her father’s lavish banquets. Oh, she’d sampled shellfish and water potatoes sent to Talstar before, but never this fresh or expertly prepared.

Perling cuisine made yet another marvelous discovery in a day that had been ripe with them.

After dinner, the Imperator offered Jinn her first taste of Perling tash. A cousin to Shinshey, as Trey explained it, tash was an adult beverage derived from the same variety of sea fan.

Jinn’s father had always forbade such fermented refreshments in his household, but Jinn had tasted Perling wine before. A few of her more daring peers sometimes absconded with a flask from an elder and shared the brew in secrecy. Yet this beverage didn’t make her pucker and blink with its bitterness. It was smooth and mellow and had a delightful way of warming her insides as it went down.

Soon, the tash seemed to smooth the rough edges off her nerves and chat with Trey and his father—if not his snarky first son—came easier. More relaxed. She drank her full goblet with relish and would have asked for a second if she’d thought it polite.

Jinn wasn’t yet sure if she could accept a life here with Trey, but—she glanced his way and was immediately rewarded by a gracious smile—she was so glad she’d agreed to stay another day.

Just as Jinn genuinely began to enjoy herself, the Imperator thanked her for her welcome company at his table and announced it was time to retire.

Jinn offered the appropriate thanks as her father had coached her. “Dinner was delectable, Your Grace. Thank you so much for allowing me to join you as your guest.”

The lines around the Imperator’s eyes and mouth softened. “You are most welcome, Jinn Amalla. I truly appreciated your company at our table. Please enjoy a restful night.”

“And you, Your Grace.”

“I’ll escort Jinn back to her quarters, Father,” Trey volunteered.

His father gave a slow nod of approval, looking very pleased with his second son.

As she and Trey made their way to the exit, the Imperator turned to his heir. “I will have a word with you, Tardem.”

While Jinn followed Trey’s lead through the halls, she remarked, “I don’t think Tardem likes me.”

“It’s not you,” Trey answered earnestly. “Your presence here to answer my bid has brought pressure on Tardem to seek a mate of his own. I don’t think he’s ready to do that. Or to admit such matters ever cross his mind.”

“I think I know a certain Perling female who would gladly accept his bid.”

Trey looked her way, one side of his mouth quirking up. “I think I do, too.”

“Does he have feelings for Eldelza?”

“Not that he’s willing to admit.”

Trey swam ahead and opened the water seal to her quarters. “I truly enjoyed spending this day with you, Jinn.” He gazed at her for a long, pensive moment before adding, “More than enjoyed.”

When his eyes found hers again, they conveyed deeper feelings behind those sentiments. That soulful gaze sent a tremor of expectation shooting up her spine and a tingling tendril of warm spreading deep within her core.

“Restful night, Jinn,” he said.

Jinn powered her bubble through the seal, and rotated the sphere to face him before he had a chance to close the seal. “Would you come in? For a moment.”

A flash of surprise lit his expression before he raised his chin, signaling regret. “It would not be seemly to enter your quarters when you are preparing for sleep.”

Jinn didn’t know if it was the tash or her heart that dared her to make such a bold invitation, but she wasn’t willing to let him go without expressing…what? If only she could find the words. Sharing her heartfelt thoughts had never come easy. So often she’d been laughed at, ridiculed for putting her feelings on display. “You have made a bid...” Jinn dropped her gaze to her clutched hands. “And there is something I need to ask you.” She raised her face. “In private?”

She backed her sphere far enough into her quarters to allow room for him to slip inside. Would his honor or his curiosity prevail?

His curiosity, it was.

He followed her in, his blue eyes going dove gray in the muted light. His dark bodyveil swirling slowly with the quiet movement of his arms.

“What do you want to ask?”

__________________________________________

Thanks for dropping by the Lounge to follow Jinn and Trey as their relationship grows and their adventure continues. 

I plan to be back next Monday with Part 15 of The Shell and the Star, where you'll discover what Jinn is about to ask of Trey. :)

Have a great week!





2 comments:

  1. Nice to see Jinn and Trey back :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Greta. Hopefully they won't be taking any week long vacations again any time soon. :)

    ReplyDelete

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