"We need you, Captain. We have tried many times to reason with Arawn, but he refuses to see the Triss as people. He views them as tools, machines, and nothing more." Naia's voice trailed away, her eyes sad. "They are more. We have seen it in their learning, in the way they fight. The Triss possess a quality most Krell aren't even aware they lack."
Tegan stayed silent, listening, as Naia spoke. He knew several Triss, one in particular Tegan considered the closest thing to a friend he'd had in years. He wondered what Faal would think of this girl.
"What happens if your king refuses to negotiate, princess?" Tegan asked when Naia finished speaking. The Krell tilted her head, as though weighing him before answering, but Tegan had seen the grim look in her eyes.
"We will –"
Naia's answer was cut off by the door comm buzzing loudly from Tegan's desk. His secretary bent forward to open the link.
"Tegan Kenn –"
She was interrupted by a masculine voice booming through the speaker.
"Kenn! It's Faal. Open the door. I've got a hysterical Krell out here."
"Esil!" Naia shot to her feet and moved quickly around the chair toward the hole in the wall, deftly replacing her veils.
"Princess, wait!" Tegan stopped her. Naia swung back to face Tegan, and the captain's thoughts strayed to thinking it a shame she had covered up again. When Naia had dropped the veils, Tegan's first reaction, and his secretary's, had been pure shock. He had been stunned to see, instead of the mangled or deformed woman he had expected, a creature who by any human – and most humanoid – standards could only be termed exquisite.
Tegan sighed and reached past some buttons on a console to flip a switch. Across the room, a door Naia had failed to notice opened with a soft hiss and the sounds of panicked cries could be heard. Naia took a step forward, but before she could take another, a giant of a man entered holding the screeching Esil before him. at the sight of the princess, Esil wrenched herself free of Callum's grasp and launched herself against Naia, burying her face in the other woman's robes, sobbing. Naia held her friend, allowing herself to purr and vibrate the way a mother would to calm a child, all the while staring daggers at the two Triss men.
Callum turned his attention from the women to look around Tegan's office, noticing the broken mirrors the captain had used for years as entertainment, amazed at the level of destruction and wondering how he had missed the firefight. He turned back to the women and raised a brow at the condemning glare the veiled one threw at him.
"I like what you've done with the place," Brom joked, moving further into the room.
"thank the princess," Tegan gestured toward Naia. "powerful lungs on that girl."
Callum now peered at Naia with intense interest, a look mirrored by Brom. She was a princess? Which one? Callum was willing to hazard a guess, but wanted to be sure that she was real.
"It was my pleasure to assist you in redecorating, Captain Kenn." Naia's joking words were betrayed by her tone, which told Callum she blamed him for the taller Krell's hysterics, but she had his full attention now. She had said 'my' and said it casually too. Was she even aware?
Naia was growing uncomfortable under the tall man's scrutiny. He seemed familiar, somehow, but she couldn't quite place him, his face. Where had she seen him before? The lab, perhaps? Or the conditioning center... Naia bit her lip, trying to remember.
Brom stared at the princess and noticed the girl in her arms had become silent as well. Since when did any Krell have the ability to speak individually? As far as all Triss knew, the very lack of that ability was the very reason the Triss had been created.
"where are my manners?" Tegan laughed as he stood and moved around the desk.
"Same place as your brains?" his secretary quipped.
"You're leaving for some tea? Good idea, sweetheart. Grab me some while you're out."
The secretary sniffed her disdain and hopped off the desk, jiggling in a manner that had Brom and Tegan grinning in spite of themselves. She straightened her skirt and left the room without a word, slamming the door loudly behind her.
"Now then," Tegan continued, moving toward Callum. "Faal, allow me to introduce her highness, Princess Naia merSaa of Jadd." Naia stood straight and inclined her head toward the lieutenant. "Princess, please meet Lieutenant Callum Faal –"
"Eighty-seventh AstroMech division, batch forty-seven mark two. Genetic reconstruction Naia eight."
Naia's voice trailed away as the men all stared at her, amazed at her knowledge of Callum's history. He flinched slightly, though at the mention of his batch number, a fact no Triss ever liked to be reminded of as it also reminded him of the limitations of his race.
"Lieutenant Faal," Naia continued, her voice gentle. "We are pleased to meet you."
"We are not," Esil spat.
Brom chuckled darkly and moved toward the two women, secretly impressed when Naia did not shrink away.
"Did I scare you, Krell?"
"regardless of your affect on my cousin, Sergeant Brom Rogan," Naia broke in as Esil ducked behind her to hide. "You do not frighten us."
"Don't I princess?" Brom stepped forward again to tower over Naia, who realized that his friend would be even taller next to her. She grinned beneath her veils and her Brom's eyes opened wide as Naia's eyes began to glow like a sun.
"No, you do not." Naia shook her head. "To be honest, you aren't particularly threatening."
Naia and Brom stared at each other for a long moment as Callum and Tegan looked on, amazed. Brom then laughed and backed away from the princess, his hands held up in mock surrender.
"You win princess," he grinned. "I can't compete with that."
Naia returned his smile and her eyes returned to normal. She looked away from Brom and caught Callum's gaze and her smile fell. With a sigh, she moved away from Esil's crouching figure and took a seat on a beaten and worn couch.
"There must be a peace between our people if we are to defeat the Kiros." Naia shook her head. "There must be a compromise."
"You believe in freedom for the Triss, then?" Callum spoke up. As Naia nodded, the lieutenant crossed to a nearby chair and tilted it forward to let the glass fall to the floor before taking a seat. "Why are you on Diroc Station?" he demanded, meeting Naia's eyes.
She tilted her head, taking in Callum's appearance, the famous Callum Faal. He was handsome, even by Krell standards. well built, his lean strength and height were accentuated by the flight suit, and his eyes captivated Naia. They held none of the lies, the hidden thoughts and secrets that she saw in so many of the politicians and councilors in her father's court.
"We came to enlist Captain Kenn's assistance," she answered at last. Tegan moved back to his seat behind the large desk and Brom stood behind Callum's shoulder, silent and observant. Callum shot Tegan a look, and the man grinned, placing his cigar between his teeth, and nodded.
"I like Kenn fine," Callum returned, focusing on the princess. "He's handy for a night of drinking or brawling, and he tends to know the best women." Naia arched a brow, invisible beneath the veils. "But I don't think he'll do you much good in negotiating with me, especially as you don't speak for the Krell."
"True enough," Naia responded. "However, Captain Kenn –"
"Tegan, please," Tegan broke in. "Beautiful women always call me by my first name."
Naia's gaze turned on Tegan, and he didn't have to see her face to catch her frown. Callum glared as well, and when the princess saw his disgruntled look, her own gaze softened and she shot Tegan a wink before turning back to Callum and continuing.
"Captain Kenn's reputation precedes him, even on Jadd. He may not help us with you, but our hope was that he might aid you in negotiations with our father."
Callum stared at Naia for a long moment, unsure of what to make of the girl. Her eyes meant that she was undoubtedly a Saa, while the veils indicated that she wasn't the Princess Heir. What really had Callum confused was that she gave a damn about the Triss at all.
"Why would the Triss need Kenn's help in any negotiations with Arawn?"
Callum wished he could take back the question when he saw Naia's eyes fill sorrow.
"Our father, like many of the Krell," Naia shook her head and looked to the floor. "Our father, and the Princess Heir, does not feel that the Triss are people."
Brom's sharp intake of breath brought Naia's head back up and she fastened pleading eyes on him. He was about to speak, but her gaze changed to indignation, and he held his tongue.
"He sees you as nothing more than our food stock," Naia's voice shook with the rage that Callum felt building in his blood. He'd never realized the king thought so little of the Triss. Naia shot to her feet and began pacing as she continued. "He sees the Triss as tools, meant only to help fight the war. We have tried. Repeatedly we have tried, but he will not listen! Arawn is –"
"Princess!" Esil's cry halted Naia.
You say too much, cousin, Esil frowned and moved to Naia's side. We do not feel these men can be trusted. Esil threw a pointed glance Brom's way.
Naia started and turned to face Brom, then dropped her gaze to Callum, silently searching his eyes. Callum was uncomfortable beneath Naia's golden scrutiny and had to fight to maintain his calm as he matched her stare.
He can be trusted, Naia answered absently. Slowly she returned her attention to Esil. And his friend will follow his lead.
Esil growled her disapproval and moved back toward the door, glaring at Callum and Brom.
"Conference over Naia?" Tegan asked. He was curious to see her reaction, and curious about what he had just seen. It had always been assumed that the Krell possessed some sort of telepathic ability that had allowed them to evolve in the water, but he had never seen it in use.
"For the moment, Tegan," Naia nodded, willing to play the captain's game.
Callum's eyes narrowed at Tegan, unhappy with his use of the princess' first name. somewhere, deep in the recesses of his mind, his ingrained reverence for the royalty of Jadd still lived, and he felt that she at least was due the respect a princess should be shown. Also, for some odd reason he disliked hearing his friend's name on her lips. Why it bothered him, he couldn't begin to fathom, but something about it felt… wrong. He was also still irked by Tegan's comment on her appearance. Kenn never called a woman beautiful if she didn't deserve it.
"So," Callum snapped. Naia and Tegan both focused their attention on him. "You're saying that you think Kenn can accomplish something that even you have failed to do?"
Naia's reaction took Tegan and Callum by surprise, and brought a broad grin to Brom's face. Esil merely glared harder at the Triss men. Naia simply shrugged and answered:
"It's worth a shot."