Meribeth has been the assistant to a few Alliance personnel, but Negotiator Kao is her latest boss. At his insistence, she had gills installed to enable her to accompany him on wet assignments, but his ulterior motive was not clear until he is out of the armour and his own body is finally exposed.
Vehn Kao has spent years encased in armour as a Negotiator, but the moment he comes out and sees Meribeth with his own eyes he knows that she is everything that he has ever wanted in a woman. She is intelligent, witty, attractive and has a tremendous passion just below the surface that he wants to bring out in an explosive release.
Meri wants to be good at her job and Vehn want to take her calm and shake her up.
When they agreed to break for dinner, Meri wanted to stretch, but she let them leave before she tried to stand.
The Negotiator sat and waited for her to move before he got to his feet. “Do you need help?”
She smiled and shook her head. Her body was reeling from the alterations she had undergone for their last assignment. Having gills in an oxygen-rich environment was awkward to say the least. “I will be fine. I haven’t had a chance to reverse the changes for Monareth.”
He came to her side and lifted her to her feet. “You wish to eradicate the gills?”
“Well, I have no use for them now, and you are about to retire, so it is doubtful that my next assignment will attach me to a Negotiator.” She swayed and breathed in through her mouth as spots swam in her vision.
“You skipped breakfast again, did you not?” He shook his head in dismay.
“I was in a hurry and took a shower instead. I will eat now.” She smiled brightly, but his hand was still on her arm.
“I will come with you.”
“You do not need to eat, Kao.” She tried to extricate herself, but he didn’t let go.
He turned and shifted her arm so that it appeared she was using him as her escort. He led her out of the council chamber, past the lining of Alliance guards and to the mess hall of the Alliance Warship Calluth.
Once she had gotten a tray and made her choices, she sat across from her boss and started to eat. She was halfway through and tired of staring at herself in the golden reflection of his armour. “You know, this penchant you have for watching me eat borders on creepy.”
He inclined his head. “It is something I miss with the nutrients forced into my systems. Food was an important part of my family life until I was tapped as Negotiator.”
Meri looked at him, captive in his gold armour and surrounded by long, black robes and a cloak. “I am sorry. I can’t imagine you out of that armour. I know it is impolite to ask your original species, and so, I have to use my imagination. My imagination isn’t that good.”
He made a sound she had grown to interpret as a laugh. “I will be able to show you what I am after our final assignment together. You will need those gills for our next planet fall.”
She made a face. “I see. Well, at least I will have my full suit ready for the day. The gill openings are built in, if a little risqué.”
“Do you mind the gills so much?”
“No. It is a change to my personal topography, and it will take some time to get used to them. If I do get used to them, I might even decide to keep them.” She finished her meal and sat back with a hot cup of tea.
“You think so? You are very optimistic for someone trained to stop violence.”
She shrugged and sipped at the rich taste of hot berries. “Stopping violence is beyond me. I can only cool it down in the beginning phases. I keep people calm, Negotiator.”
“Call me Kao when we are not actively involved in a negotiation. I know I have encouraged the formality for far too long, but my time in the armour is coming to a close.”
“Why the change?”
He inclined his shiny, unmarked faceplate. “I am about to resume a life I was not sure I would make it to. Being decanted out of a Negotiator uniform is a traumatic experience, and I will need a friend. There is no one closer to me than you.”