OT: Tales of AU – One On One

on July 1, 2013 in Other Tales, Tales of AU

In Which Alea Is The Alternate

There isn’t a lot of the afternoon left, but I spend what there is hanging out with Alea. There’s exactly one programmed item on the docket for the day, and it’s a floor meeting. I assume it’s pretty much an orientation and getting-to-know-you type thing. On my own, I would have considered blowing it off so I could get to meet my neighbors… or not… at my own pace, but Alea seems to be more comfortable with structure so I figure she’ll go.

This leaves me with a minor dilemma: the more time I spend with her, the more likely I’ll find myself in a position where blowing the meeting off will come across like blowing her off.

And that I don’t want to do. There’s something interesting about her. She’s reluctant to talk about herself in any detail, which just makes me more curious, but I don’t press too closely. This is day one.

She’s plenty curious about me, and about life on the surface. She likes hearing about my mother. She’s not the least bit curious about my lack of a father.

“Are you hungry?” she asks me.

“I could eat,” I say. It’s a useful answer… technically true without getting into the specifics of how my actual hunger works.

If I was hungry, it would mean it was that time of the month again and I would have to acquire some blood from a suitably virginal human. It’s the nature of demons to feed on some specific aspect of humanity, and that’s mine. It’s not the easiest urge to satisfy, but it is what it is. At least it’s something that can be harvested non-lethally. I fed directly before I left, and my mother was going to send me care packages every few weeks.

I didn’t think there would be any point in trying to keep my demon blood secret in the long run… if it didn’t get out some other way, then the precautions I needed to take to protect myself and others would probably give the game away… but there were some things that it was best to ease into.

Alea might be less immediately alarmed than a human might be… that was the main reason I’d aimed for Harlowe when I could have passed in one of the human dorms… but that wasn’t to say that she couldn’t have sensibilities.

“There was a line on the bill for a meal plan,” she says. “I am not fully certain on the details of this, but I gather it means our needs will be provided for in some fashion?”

“Well, there’s a dining hall over on the eastern side of campus,” I say. “In the student union. That’s what the meal plan is for. I ate there once when I visited the campus with my mother. The food’s not anything terribly impressive, but it’s all-you-can-eat.”

“That will not be a problem,” she says. “I’m not accustomed to having alternatives to explore.”

“I mean, you can take as much as you want of whatever you want,” I say, feeling like I might have used a phrase she’s not familiar with. “All-you-can-eat… they’ll serve you as much as you feel like eating.”

“How does… oh,” she says. “That’s what you call ‘not terribly impressive’?”

I shrug, a little uncomfortably.

“It’s not exactly a new concept, up here,” I say. “Why, do you not get enough food to eat down there?”

“I do,” she says. “I get enough. Our ‘meal plans’ involve making certain that everyone has enough food to eat from the limited supply of fungus, fish, lizard, and trade goods. There are those…” and here the calm mask of her face almost ripples with the strength of repressing some sign of emotion “…who are privileged enough to have a little extra, things like fresh fruit or honey or nuts, but most of us get by with enough.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I guess I didn’t think… my image of, uh, dark elves is pretty decadent and glamorous. Silk robes, stone spires, that kind of thing.”

“There are people who have those things,” Alea says. “And there are the thousands of people it takes to support them.”

“I guess I probably should have realized that,” I say. The simple shift she wears bears little resemblance to the covers of my mother’s subterranean romance novels. Without thinking about it, I’d chalked it up to an aesthetic thing, mostly based on her choice of hair style.

“It’s… okay?” she says, evidently testing her command of the idiom. I nod. “You can make it up to me by showing me how this dining hall works, since you have been before.”

“I’m not sure if the meal plan is active yet, but we can pay our way in if it’s not,” I say.

“My spending allowance is very limited.”

“Mine’s only slightly limited,” I say.

“If you are offering your generosity, then I will need to get dressed for going out,” she says.

“Would you like me to wait outside?”

“Modesty does not require it,” she says, going to the closet. “I’m adding, not subtracting.”

She slips a black robe… not silk, but with an interesting dark purple trim… on over her head and then wraps a black cloak around that.

“Does this mean you’ve been hanging out in your undergarments?” I ask.

“Not in the sense that I believe you mean it,” she says. “My dress is meant to go underneath a robe, but it may be worn by itself. Call it an inner garment.”

She pulls the hood of her cloak over her head before we leave the room, and pauses when we get downstairs to adjust it before we go outside.

“Can you see anything with that over your face?” I ask her. “Just curious.”

“No, but I wouldn’t be able to see anything without it, either,” she says, though she manages the door without a problem and walks with a calm, graceful gliding gait. “Under the circumstances. When I learned about the surface as a child… what little I did learn… I somehow imagined that night would come sooner, last longer, and be darker. I knew of the sun, of the concept of daylight, but it always seemed to me like it must be a horrible yet brief aberration from the darkness that must be the natural order of things. How short-sighted must I have been?”

“When I was a kid, I thought that other languages just meant having a different word for ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and in between you said everything in a funny voice,” I say. “You only know what you know… you know?”

She laughs.

With the sun low in the sky, the festival for the fall semester does seem to be waning by the time we get to the plaza and the pentagonal green where it was being held. Some of the tables are still manned, but the food ones seem to have folded.

Luckily there isn’t any problem with our meal cards, though the cashier at the door seems a little surprised to see us.

“Did they forget to feed you today?” she asks, her eyes fixed on Alea’s cowl.

“I figured we’d have to check out the dining hall sooner or later, and it would be better to beat the rush,” I say.

She shrugs and waves us in.

“Was there something rude in her question?” Alea asks me.

“I’m honestly not sure,” I say. “She was a little brusque, but people in service positions can get like that… she might just be having a bad day.”

I lead Alea through the process of getting a tray and advise her about the identities of the various selections. They are mostly pretty identifiable. I didn’t want to seem like some hick from the middle of nowhere, but honestly I was pretty impressed the first time I visited the AU dining hall.

My high school lunchroom hadn’t offered either quality or selection… everyone got one divided tray with the same cafeteria-grade food as everyone else. There had been days when I’d been very grateful for the fact that I wouldn’t go hungry for lack of food… and the fact that there had been other, less picky eaters to trade my unwanted offerings with hadn’t hurt my standing any.

Alea seems fascinated by the rice with theoretical meat dishes that make up the metaphorical meat-and-potatoes of the dishes on offer.

“Rice is a grain,” she says after asking what they are.

“Yeah, I guess technically,” I say.

“I didn’t know you could prepare grains like that,” she says. “I thought it had to be ground for bread.”

“Mostly, we don’t,” I say. “Rice is different. You can grind it into flour, I suppose, and you can cook other grains like that, but most of them aren’t nearly as appealing when you boil them.”

“Do you eat this often?”

“I think it’s probably a staple here,” I say.

The guy behind the counter nods and says, “Yep, pretty much.” Unlike the cashier, he’s looking everywhere but at Alea’s cowl.

“I should try it now, then,” Alea says. “As I may find myself eating it every day, it may be worth habituating myself to it now.”

Wordlessly, the worker scoops up some of the rice and alleged chicken with suspected mushrooms. I take some, too. I’ve never been a fan of mushrooms, but statistically that’s not likely to matter.

“What did he mean by that?” Alea asks as we move down the line.

“By what?”

“He said ‘fat chance’ under his breath, as he was serving me.”

“…it means ‘not likely’,” I say. “He probably means he can’t imagine anyone coming to like this stuff. But he deals with it every day, so he’s probably even harder to impress than I am. I’d keep an open mind when you try it.”

Alea ignores the soda fountain as soon as she realizes that there is water for tea, and she works out the apparatus for that pretty easily on her own.

“I assume we choose our own seats,” she says.

“Yeah,” I say. “You want somewhere out of the sun, I take it?”

“Of course,” she says, and we settle into a corner booth… at least after I assure Alea that no one will think badly of us for taking a table that’s obviously meant for a large group just between the two of us.

“It would be a dick move if the place was busy, but I think most people are finding their food elsewhere tonight,” I say. “And some people probably won’t get here until tomorrow or Sunday anyway… we’re supposed to aim for Friday, but overland travel can be complicated.”

“You do not have to tell me that,” Alea says. Sheltered in the relative shadows, she slips her cowl off. “This university is named for your emperor?”


“Does he take much interest in it?”

“Probably not… it’s not named for the current one, specifically,” I say. “More like the concept, the office. The name’s pretty much synonymous with the title, at this point, and there are things all over the Imperium with some form of Aurelius in their name, in his honor. Or their honors. Some of it’s done at the emperor’s instigation… like, if he endows something with his name, it’s a pretty big deal for whoever or whatever is given it. Most of the time, though, someone just asks permission to name something after the emperor or his family. As long as it’s something that’s not embarrassing, I think it’s kind of hard for him to say no… this is probably pretty strange.”

“Not really,” she says. “Putting one’s name on things is not something that we do, not like this, but the constraints of honor and power… of obligation… do not sound so strange. I suppose it’s reassuring to know that it isn’t actually your emperor’s university. I found that a little… intimidating?”

“On some levels, he has absolute power,” I say. “But the imperium is huge, and there’s only so much that one person can do in terms of the day-to-day stuff.”

“I did not expect him to be conducting classes,” she says. “But I have had… bad experiences… with entering the halls of the powerful at their sufferance.”

“Okay, well, this is technically an imperial university,” I say. “But what that means is that it belongs to the empire, which is also a republic, which means this is kind of public property. Like, anyone can apply and the qualifications to get in are all academic.”

“That sounds better than what I was expecting,” she says.

“Nobody explained this to you before you came here?” I ask.

“I was not in a position to understand it,” she says. “My command of your language and my… frame of reference… was even less advanced at that point.”

“You seem like a fast learner,” I say.

“Thank you,” she says. “In truth, it is almost an accident that I am here. My place was meant for another… she may have had more to do with choosing the school, but I believe it had more to do with proximity than preference.”

“You were the alternate?”

“Yes, I believe that would describe my situation,” she says.

“What happened to the first choice?”

“Her mother… died,” she says.

“I’m sorry. Did you know her?”

“I did not know her mother, no, but I knew she was… it was said that she was not well,” Alea says. “Though it was not said loudly, and it was easier to find people who would say it was said then it was to find people who would say it. Delia Daella believed the goddess was sending her to the surface, but it transpired that she had other plans.”

“Two names,” I say. “That’s significant, isn’t it?”

Some think so.”

“All of my knowledge of your society… if you can call it knowledge… it comes from trashy novels,” I say. “So if I say something stupid, or out of line, or even just something that sounds grossly misinformed, please tell me.”

“You called us ‘dark elves’ before,” she says. “Is that how you see us?”

“Well, you’re elves, and you’re dark,” I say. “It seems nicer than… other terms I’ve heard.”

“I have heard other terms, too,” she says. “As quickly as I’ve managed to learn your language, some have hastened to teach me parts of it more quickly still.”

“People are assholes.”

“An idiom that requires no explanation,” she says. “Your roommate Wyne just entered the building.”

“You can tell that from here?”

“She has a very distinctive footfall, and there are not many people moving around downstairs. She seems to be coming in this general direction, though.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine why else she would be here except to get dinner,” I say. “If she sees us, she might want to sit with us.”

“Are you opposed to that?”

“I don’t really know her that well,” I say. “So I’m not sure I’d enjoy hanging out with her.”

“You didn’t know me very long before you decided to give your time to me.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Because you’re cool and I like you… but if I hadn’t immediately realized that you were cool, I like to think I would have given you the benefit of the doubt before immediately deciding I want to avoid you completely.”

“And that’s how you feel about your roommate?”

“It’s really more neutral than that,” I say. “If I was by myself and I saw her, I’d probably feel like it was a good chance to get to know her.”

“Is that not still true?”

“Right now, I’m getting to know you,” I say. Her expression is unreadable, and I feel compelled to explain myself. “I’m just better at dealing with people one-on-one, that’s all.”

“Would you like to move to a smaller table?”

“Won’t that put you too much in the sun?” I say.

“I’m told that it’s not actually harmful,” she says. “And as I said, I should start habituating myself now.”

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24 Responses to “OT: Tales of AU – One On One”

  1. Malarky says:

    I’m really liking AU. It’s fun to revisit the first weekend.

    Also, ook 😀

    Current score: 1
    • Phecto says:

      I have to agree, in fact so far I like these characters more than the ones in the main story

      Current score: 0
      • sanityoptional says:

        They all seem so much more relaxed and happy. The kind of people I could just chill with

        Current score: 0
  2. Mike says:

    Yeah, I hope this becomes a semi-regular thing. At least hiting the high points of the previous stories, you know?

    Current score: 1
    • cnic says:

      I agree. Its not like every chapter has to be redone but there are some highlights that would probably be fun to see how they would turn out (if they would even happen).

      Current score: 1
    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      Very much agreed.

      Current score: 1
  3. Zathras IX says:

    Underfed people
    Don’t understand the concept
    A “favorite” food

    Current score: 1
    • pedestrian says:

      My experience,
      Underfed people
      do understand the concept
      of “Whatever is available!”

      As a member,
      in good standing,
      of the species
      Homo Anthropophagus
      I do understand the concept
      of “Whomever I can chase down.”

      Current score: 1
  4. Fnark says:

    And I’m only now figuring out that Mack narrates in past tense and Kegan uses present. I was wondering why their tones were so different! It’s cool! but now I’ve got to pay attention to the smaller details.

    Current score: 0
    • Iain says:

      Wow, I noticed that halfway down but I couldn’t tell if I was remembering TruMu’s narrative properly.

      Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Wow, I didn’t even notice. Weird! And cool, another subtle difference.

      Current score: 0
  5. Iain says:

    Poor Dee.

    Current score: 1
    • Anne says:

      I sort of thought that the indication might have been that in this Universe Dee’s mother died of loss of blood….!

      Current score: 0
  6. Arkeus says:

    Elves are the best (As opposed to Faint Elves).

    Current score: 0
  7. tomclark says:

    “An idiom that requires no explanation,” she says. “Your roommate Wyne just entered the building.”

    “You can tell that from here?”

    “She has a very distinctive footfall.”

    I hereby dub thee, Aleat Spencer. 😀

    Current score: 1
    • Anthony says:

      Ummm… what? OK, no idea who that is, and Googling for “aleat spencer” gives nothing useful. What am I missing?

      Current score: 0
      • Anne says:

        Alea Spencer I’m thinking Pun on the name of another famous fictional detective….

        Current score: 0
        • tomclark says:

          Not a detective, exactly, but you’re on the right track. It’s based on Eliot Spencer, from Leverage, because Alea just wandered into one of his catch phrases/running gags: figuring out something incredibly specific about people based on a “very distinctive” characteristic that doesn’t seem relevant.

          It usually goes something like this:

          Eliot: “We’d better watch out. Look at the haircut; those guys are Mossad operatives!”
          Parker: “You can tell that just by a haircut?
          Eliot: “It’s a very distinctive haircut!”

          Current score: 1
  8. Mo says:

    The blatant racism reminds me of the Louisiana literacy test that was on Slate recently. Pissed me off royally.

    Current score: 1
  9. Tomo says:

    im liking this POV a lot more than MoarMU
    kegan seems like the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with, and alea seems adorable too.

    Current score: 0
  10. Helge says:

    I’m enjoying “might have been Mack,” as well. I wonder where this story might be leading…

    Current score: 1
  11. VeeVee says:

    This is a really interesting story arc. Interesting, yet sad. I mean, it makes me feel sad for Mack.

    Current score: 1
  12. Brenda says:

    I liked this a little better than the previous chapters along this line. It’s interesting to read, but a little off-putting just the same. I can’t really pin down why.

    Current score: 0
  13. MentalBlank says:

    It’s an interesting concept. I think it’s a little off-putting to some to realise just how much they way we are raised can alter our future lives and personality.
    Personally I’m hoping for a dimensional cross-over of some kind, possibly something to do with the abandoned Harlowe annex in the MUverse recently described? Reality dysfunctions within the building would certainly explain why it is rarely occupied for long.

    Current score: 1