I scowl in frustration at myself in my holo-reflection. Damn my hair - I keep tapping the straighten button on my brush, but it isn't liking the mix of wetness and dryness, and it keeps flashing error lights at me. And when I only wet my hair to try and fix it in the first place! I jiggle the activation switch, but the error lights still persist. It seems no matter how much I try to impose dominance on the mess of tangles sprouting from my head, I can never brush it into submission. Maybe the world is trying to tell me something. Damn the world! And damn Carmen Callahan for having the shere gall to break her ankle and get me into this horrible mess! She is so inconsiderate!
I'm not a diplomat. I'm not trained to speak to Sangheili about foreign policy. I'm only a junoir-level propaganda artist for the Office of Naval Intelligence, Section Two. I have a good, long career ahead of me in repainting UNSC wartime photos to make them seem more adventurous or tragic, but that is now all jeopardized by my boss's stupid interview.
In a moment of fury, I rip my auto-brush through my misbehaving hair as if to punish it. The hologram of this young woman with dark brown hair, pale yet somewhat ruddy skin, with eyes too small for her oversized face, which are enhanced with mascara-a face that she thinks is ugly yet is actually incredibly pretty-winces in pain, creating the kind of sight that might please a sadist. The torturous ordeals I now go through just to look presentable!
Thanks to my utterly rude and self-centered boss, Carmen, who chose today of all days to trip over a service drone and get confined to the medical bay, I have to do her work and interview some big mega-admiral of the Sangheili aliens, who wants to work with ONI on something. I've never even heard of this character-though, granted, the only Sangheili I've actually heard of is the one everyone has heard of: the former Arbiter, Thel 'Vadam. So, I have to drive all the way to New Seattle in order to meet the Shipmaster of the Reasonable Execution. Damn that bitch.
"Vi, I'm sorry. It took me seven months to arrange this meeting. It will take another seven to reschedule, and he'll have left for some other planet by then," Carmen begs me like a slave would beg her master. Carmen is beautiful, really drop dead gorgeous, like she has some supernatural power to make people attracted to her. Not that I'm a lesbian. I swear I'm just talking about men being attracted to her!
Anyway, with her gorgeous, glittering green eyes that stare into your soul, framed by smartly plucked eyebrows, her strawberry-blonde hair that looked like that of a fashion model, and her mood gloss turning her lips a bright, sunny yellow, I feel my knees turn to jelly. My mouth goes dry. My heart pounds in my ears. I... I really can't just leave her there, can I? "Of course I'll go, Carmen," I assure her. I stare at her alluring face fondly. Only for you, Carmen, would I do this. Only you.
"Thanks, Vi," she says with that enchanting smile of hers. "As usual, you're my life-saver."
In order to get all the way to New Seattle, Carmen loans me her sporty fourteenth-generation Bungie Motor Works Hog, the civilian version of the UNSC M12 Warthog. Beauty and the beast, as the ads say. Good. I'm not sure Tabatha, my crappy Mainz Träger Dynamik SUV, could handle the trip from Old Vancouver. It's got really ineficient fuel-mileage, it's covered in dents because the roadware misjudges distances all the time, and on top of that tends to break down every 700 miles. That's why no one should ever buy a car from Mainz Träger, that con artist. Oh, the BMW is such a fun ride. My mind slips away to wonderful childhood memories the moment I input a destination and let that beauty purr.
Some time passes, and I arrive at the floating city of New Seattle, host to Shipmaster 'Orkeed's massive ship Reasonable Execution. I gawk up at the purple beast resting on a too-small-looking pink-purple gravity lift. Like all Sangheili ships, it is a wonder of curved, violet metal with a bulbous body and head like some huge creature from the alien world from whence the Sangheili themselves came. It is pretty, and at the same time, very intimidating.
I park at the local ONI base. When I enter and explain why I'm there, I'm ushered to speak with a Sangheili aide waiting on the roof where the ship is docked. After a long elevator ride, I come out on the shadowed roof and am intimidated by the impressive purple stand holding a pink beam of energy, itself holding up the fabulous ship.
There is a Sangheili waiting for me at the gravity lift stand. To my surprise, it is not the usual masculine alien everyone knows from the holocasts, but what appears to be a woman Sangheili. She is slender, with breasts like a human, has hair worn in dreadlocks, and she is dressed in a striped robe of various shades of green and red instead of armor. Despite her being an alien, I think she is very attractive. Her robe gives her an aura of authority, and I start to feel nervous.
"I'm here to see Shipmaster 'Orkeed. Violet Corcoran for Carmen Callahan."
"Excuse me one moment, Miss Corcoran," she says with a deep, husky voice. She looks at me quizzically as I realize how ill-prepared I am for such a formal meeting. Her robe makes her look far more professional than my crappy desk job work clothes. Why didn't that bitch Carmen lend me a blazer? Damn, I hate her. The Sangheili taps at a lavender data pad. "Miss Callahan is expected. Please thumb here, Miss Corcoran."
She holds the data pad out to me, and I press my thumb to the screen. The pad blinks pink, and I know it's accepted my fingerprint. She pleasantly, if somewhat mockingly, leads me to the gravity lift.
I step into the salmon light and despite myself shriek with glee as I rise in the air, climbing higher and higher, until I am finally deposited in the enormous purple central cargo bay. Waiting for me is another pretty Sangheili woman, apparently identical to the one at the bottom down to the robe perfectly aranged on her shoulders. I half-wonder if they're flash-clones.
"Miss Corcoran," she greets. "Shipmaster 'Orkeed is preparing for your visit. Please come with me."
She leads me down a purple hallway to a door that looks like two large triangular steel plates patterned with alien symbols. With some kind of sound, the door flashes with white light and opens, each plate sliding apart. We pass through the doorway and into another corridor, this one just as purple as the previous room.
As she leads me through corridor after corridor, I glance around and admire my surroundings. There are many curved violet walls with inset pink designs and bright blue holograms displaying information. The very texture of the walls is interesting, like it is an organic shell more than an artificial creation. As I study the walls, I begin wondering just what I am doing here. I'm not trained for this, damn it! I don't even know who this Sangheili is I'm supposed to interview. He might be one of the nice ones or terribly bigoted against humans. The uncertainty makes me fidgit nervously. I hate one-on-one interviews. I prefer group discussion. Hell, I most prefer to hang out by myself, reading one of those classic Earth novels like Story of O. Not sweating here in this purple cocoon.
I try to calm myself down. Surely Shipmaster 'Orkeed wouldn't be a bigot if he agreed to this interview thing. He knew he was going to have to talk to a human.
I catch flashes of other Sangheili in green, but I can't tell if they're more women or men in armor. I know some Sangheili military roles have green armor. Shipmaster 'Orkeed can't have an all-woman crew, can he? Is that Sangheili sexual harassment?
The Sangheili woman hands me off to yet another flawless Sangheili woman. "Miss Corcoran," she says, nodding stiffly at me. "Shipmaster 'Orkeed will see you now." She indicates a short offshoot of this corridor leading up a ramp to another door.
Taking a deep breath, I head up the ramp. The door makes its sound and blinks as it opens. I try to walk through the threshold when karma from when I dissed Carmen's tripping comes to bite me in the ass as I suddenly trip over my own feet for some inexplicable reason and come crashing down to the bright mauve floor. There I sit on my hands and knees, looking like one of those busty actresses who plays the part of the submissive in an adult holofilm. Following that simile, what would make sense now would be for someone to enter the scene as the submissive's dominant partner.
Incidentally, strong grey arms now surround me and lift me up, setting me gently on my two left feet. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness, damn Carmen Callahan, and damn Mainz Träger for his inferior product! My eyes then widen as I take in the handsome Sangheili's appearance. He's so pretty!
"Miss Callahan," he greets in a smooth, rich, hot chocolatey voice, not at all like the gravelly Sangheili voices I've heard on holocasts. "I'm Perse 'Orkeed. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?"
He is very, very attractive. He's tall, dressed in amethyst and sapphire colored ceremonial armor with Forerunner symbols and intense, bright lavander eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes me a moment to respond.
"Actually, I, um..." I swallow. Damn, this guy is gorgeous. In a daze, I take his large grey hand in my small pink human hand and shake agreeably, only afterwards wondering if it were polite to do so. As our fingers touch, I feel an electric jolt making me shiver with excitement. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.
"Sorry," he says, tapping a control on his forearm. "My personal energy shield was on too high a setting."
"Oh," I say, coughing with embarrassment. "Um, actually, Miss Callahan is indisposed, so she sent me to take her place. I hope you don't mind, Shipmaster 'Orkeed."
"And you are?" he asks, accepting the change easily. His voice is friendly, amused, and above all, polite.
"Violet Corcoran. I'm working for Carmen... for Miss Callahan at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Vancouver."
"I see," he says simply. Is that a smile in the way his mandibles move? "Would you like to sit?"
He waves me toward a lilac human-sized armchair sitting across from a plum-colored Sangheili chair. His quarters are way too big for just one person, human or Sangheili. One side of the room is covered with false windows displaying-not the view over New Seattle-but an alien sky with tall purple spires looking like the Sunken Needle of Old Seattle. In front of that is a huge dark purple table that could easily sit seven Sangheili men in full armor. It matches the stand beside each of our chairs. Everything else is a rich magenta that contrasts nicely with the furnature. Everything, that is, except for the wall beside the door, which is colored white to contrast against forty-nine pieces of geometric rocks that float in a gravity beam so that they are arranged in a mosiac pattern. Individually, they are beautiful. Together, they are breathtaking.
"The work of my father. Karlai 'Ulkeed," he explains when he notices the direction of my gaze. "Inspired by the beauty of the Old Ones." I take that to mean Forerunner.
"Absolutely lovely," I say, not knowing if I mean the artwork or the Shipmaster. He cocks his head to the side on that long, snakey neck and regards me with all the intensity of a Sangheili warrior.
"I couldn't agree more, Miss Corcoran," he replies softly, and I find myself blushing like I do when Carmen whispers softly in my ear.
Apart from the artwork, his quarters are cold, barren, and Spartan. I could easily imagine him meeting the Master Chief himself in here. I wonder if it matches the personality of the hunk of a man who slides into the large chair opposite mine. I dismiss those distracting thoughts as I take out my chatter and access the notes Carmen made for the interview. I clumsily activate the audio recording and set it on the stand where I can read the screen.
"Do you mind if I record you?" I ask.
"You ask me permission after you start recording me?" he asks with a tsk in his voice. He makes the mandible movement I think is a smile as he nods, giving me persmission.
I feel strangely delighted that he has given me permission to do something, as if I was waiting all my life specifically for this moment, and now my life is suddenly on track. I shake off the feeling and continue. "You command one of the largest fleets in the Sangheili navy. To what do you owe this success?"
"Ah, to ascend to a position of such a high honor requires seven qualities: ambition, drive, self-confidence, openness, realism, curiosity, and respect. One must desire to achieve one's greatest potential. One must have the inner energy to propel oneself to achieve one's goals. One must be able to trust one's own judgment when it is necessary to make important decisions. One must be open to others' wisdom, even if they are subordinates. One must be prone to neither optimism nor pessimism, but to seek the truth and behold it for what it is. One must not become set in one's ways but desire to learn all of what the world has to offer. Finally, one must respect one's subordinates, superiors, family, and nation. I have stood fast to all of these principles, and that is why I am such a powerful Zealot today."
"Or you could just be lucky," I grumble, turned off by his profound arrogance.
"I don't believe in luck," he replies coolly. "Only hard work. I have worked hard to know my subordinates well and encourage them to reach their full potential."
"Well, you sound like a BDSM dominant from an erotic fiction to me," I snap before I realize what I'm saying.
"Oh, I dominate in all ways, Miss Corcoran," he assures me with a Sangheili smile. He eyes me, and I flush so much I have to turn away, heart pounding. Why does he have such an effect on me? I thought only Carmen had that effect.
"Were it not for me," he continues, "thousands of warriors would be unable to enact effective neval engagements."
"Don't you answer to a clan leader?" I ask. He is so arrogant.
"No," he says shortly. "The kaidon lets me do as I like."
God, what a control freak! I look back to the notes. Boring, boring, boring... I swipe my finger over the screen, flipping through the pages. Ah, there's a juicy one! "Are you gay, Shipmaster 'Orkeed?"
He inhales sharply, startled. Oops. "No," he snaps. "There is no 'gay' Sangheili. Only Sangheili not fully matured. It's been a long time since my academy days, Violet."
"I'm sorry," I mumble, my ears hot at his mention of my name. "I'm only reading the questions that Carmen... that Miss Callahan wrote."
"These aren't your questions?" He exhales in dismay. "Well, that explains a lot." He picks up my chatter, peers down at the questions, frowns and puts the chatter down.
"I'll send Miss Callahan a full holographic response to each and every question," he assures me. "For now, I will question you."
"Oh." My heart pounds. "All right... shoot."
"Violet Corcoran, of the Office of Naval Intelligence of Vancouver..." he says, as if mulling over my name. "What are your current career prospects?"
"What?" The question seems to come out of nowhere. "Well, I've got a job working for Car- for Miss Callahan. I make, er, recruitment posters."
"I see. And how long do you see yourself making recruitment posters?" he asks. "There is an exchange program between the Sangheili government and the UNSC. If you are interested, I'm sure you could find yourself working under a very powerful Sangheili. You may even find yourself servicing me-hint, hint."
I swallow, my mouth suddenly dry. "Work for a Sangheili?"
"Think about it, Miss Corcoran," he says, smiling at me. "Do you have a means of transportation back to Vancouver?"
I nod. "I have a BMW Hog-the three and a half-ton civilian edition of the M12 Warthog FAV-a luxurious automobile, with trans-system GPS, omni-directional networked surround sound, complete user-specific voice control, a highly efficient long-range power cell, and the capability to drive itself. It features a Graf/Hauptman solar/saline actuator capable of converting up to 12 liters of fresh, brackish, or salt water into hydrogen, with increased efficiency allowing the vehicle to get a range of around 200 kilometers after an overnight condensation capture. It has advanced computer systems that allow a perfect distribution of power to every wheel over any surface and is only prone to flipping in hard-bank turns. Thanks to an increased structural rigidity and gas-inflated restraints, this vehicle holds the honor of having the highest passenger safety rating of any recreation vehicle."
His eyes widen. "Splendid, Miss Corcoran. I have heard great things about the BMW Hog, its hull built from the finest ballistic polycarbonate, titanium, and carbon nanotube on the market. Seating for two. And available for only 81,000cR at any major dealer!"
I nod. Damn fine car.
"Although," he adds, "I am somewhat disappointed. You see, that means I can't take you home myself in my Serif."
My eyes widen. A chance to ride in a Sangheili Serif? I practically went to beg him to take me anyway, but there really was no way I could just surrender a chance to ride in an awesome Hog.
Taking my tiny human hand once more in his huge manly Sangheili grip, he personally leads me back through the corridors to the gravity lift. I stand on the circular gray opening, and I take one last look at him. He really is very, very good-looking. It's distracting. His burning lavender eyes penetrate me like the male lead in a romance novel.
"Violet," he says in farewell.
"Perse," I reply. And mercifully, the lift activates.