Angela spent the rest of the ball meeting with different groups of titled Axions. She split her time between Exalon and Maya, with Exalon introducing her to the older, more suspicious titled men and women, while Maya introduced her to the younger, excited titled. It became immediately obvious there was a generational divide over how the titled viewed outsiders.
The older titled were traditionalists, close to the Queen, who spoke with Angela only because of the minimal support the Queen had shown her. The traditionalists seemed to think Angela incapable of understanding the complexities of Axion society and were therefore shocked when Angela showed not just an understanding of Axion, but of its geopolitical placement within the Galactic Union. Angela didn’t seem to win over any of the traditionalists, but they were at least willing to give her a chance now.
The younger titled were enthusiastic progressives who believed Exalon’s Sonsara bond with Angela would finally start changing things on Axion and across the GU. They spoke openly about about their support for Exalon’s equal rights bill he was currently working to pass through the GU Assembly. The younger titled were much more friendly to Angela, except for a select few women who knew Angela’s presence meant they could no longer make a play for Exalon themselves.
“I don’t understand,” Angela whispered to Maya as they left another group of young titled, which included one particularly catty woman who took a few not so subtle swipes at Angela’s upbringing and former status. “Exalon was engaged. Why would any of these women think they could marry him?”
“Because they’re idiots whose families gave them anything they ever wanted,” Maya said, causing Angela to let out a surprised laugh. Maya grinned at her. “Look, some of the most powerful Axion families are against the Royal Family making marriage treaties. They seem to think their precious darling daughters should be Queen, despite the fact that our treaties bring us closer together with other planets and help ensure peace.”
“I’m sure my situation hasn’t helped,” said Angela guiltily. “I know Axion might lose trade deals because of me.”
“No, not because of you,” Maya said firmly. “Because some governments perceive this as a slight and think they can punish us. So, yes, we might lose a trade deal or two for awhile. But other planets need us much more than we need them. Axion provides minerals and other materials you just can’t find elsewhere in the galaxy. Planets can’t afford to try and start trade wars with us. We’ll win every time.”
“You know a lot about this.” Angela was impressed. Maya was only sixteen, but she understood the economic intricacies of the GU better than most well-educated adults.
“I have to,” Maya explained. “Once Exalon takes the Crown, I’ll be expected to take over Axion’s GU Ambassadorship. I’ve had economics lessons drilled into my head since I was a baby.”
“Do you like it?”
Maya gave a delicate shrug that seemed to indicate that no, she didn’t care for economics but she would do her duty.
“I’m sorry, Maya,” Angela said.
“For what?” Maya looked genuinely surprised someone could feel sympathy for her.
“Being forced into something you don’t want. I know how that feels.”
Maya scrunched up her nose in confusion until she realized Angela was talking about her arrangement with the Alien Bridal Agency. Then she grinned.
“Well, that certainly had a happy ending. Maybe my work will too,” Maya said. Angela smiled and gave Maya’s hand a comforting squeeze as Exalon arrived in front of them.
“This has to be the most gossip filled ball we’ve ever thrown,” he said in barely concealed annoyance. “Hardly anyone is dancing, just moving around, talking to each other.”
“What did you expect, Ex?” Maya asked with a laugh. “You introduced your human Sonsara through a Temple of the Fates ceremony. Of course people are gossiping. I’m surprised the entire GU isn’t talking about this party.”
“They are,” Angela said with a slight grimace. Exalon and Maya stared at her in confusion. “I had to turn off the implant accessory that lets me know whenever my name is being printed or spoken across the galaxy. It was going off like crazy.”
“Ah,” Exalon nodded in understanding. “I’m afraid I’ve never had that turned on. I’m mentioned much too frequently for it to be comfortable.”
“Mine’s never been on either,” Maya admitted. “I don’t mind reading the fashion sites about me, but I hate the gossip sites that come up with such ridiculous lies. It might be a good idea to just keep yours off from now on.”
“That’s excellent advice,” Angela said, discreetly rubbing her forehead to alleviate the headache her implant had caused. Exalon held his hand out to Angela, smiling.
“Come dance with me. Then we can go home.”
Angela couldn’t help the smile that covered her face as she took Exalon’s hand and let him lead her to the dance floor. Whispers followed them, but Angela and Exalon only had eyes for each other. Once they reached the ballroom floor, most couples left, leaving only five or six ready for the next dance. As the music started, Angela recognized it as a dance Exalon had taught her the night before.
They danced together as if they had been partnering their entire lives. Exalon held Angela closer than the other couples held each other, but they moved together perfectly. Each step, spin, and dip was perfectly timed, their Sonsara bond evident throughout the dance. It linked them together in a way no other couple could be. When the dance ended, the room burst into applause, surprising Angela and Exalon. A quick glance showed the other dancers had left, yielding the floor to the royal couple.
They both gave brief nods of acknowledgement, Angela sweetly blushing, before Exalon offered her his arm, ready to depart. Before they could leave, however, Queen Axala walked onto the dance floor, silencing everyone almost instantly. She gave a brief smile to her son before quickly kissing him on both cheeks, leaving Exalon looking shocked. When the Queen turned to Angela, it felt as if everyone in the room was leaning closer, excited to witness the next moment in this royal soap opera.
Queen Axala laid her hands gently on Angela’s upper arms, then spoke in a voice that was sure to carry throughout the ballroom.
“Beautiful dancing, my daughter. One would almost believe you had learned these dances when you were a child, instead of just last night. You will truly be one of the brightest jewels to shine on our planet.”
The Queen then briefly kissed Angela’s cheeks and released her. Both Exalon and Angela bowed, which Queen Axala acknowledged with her irritating head nod. She then turned to the assembled titled and gracefully gestured to her son and his Sonsara, causing them all to bow deeply to Angela and Exalon. Angela realized the Queen had made a quick, calculated political move to show support and affection for her when she and Exalon were being applauded by the entire crowd. While Queen Axala might privately dislike Angela, she would be showing a united front to the public, therefore preserving the peaceful familial bonds within the monarchy that Angela’s presence had threatened to undermine.
Exalon nodded to the bowing crowd, quickly followed by a brief nod from Angela, and then he led her off the empty dance floor and out of the room. As soon as they exited the ballroom and no one was around, lingering in the halls, Angela slumped against the wall, dragging her hand down her face.
“Well, that was awful,” Angela said, exhaustion evident in her voice.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Exalon replied as he gently drew Angela into his arms. She rested her head against his shoulder.
“I suppose you’re right. We’re officially Sonsaras now, so I can stop panicking I’m going to lose you.”
“That will never happen,” Exalon said fiercely, cradling Angela’s head closer to him.
“Your mom, while maybe the scariest person I’ve ever met, and that includes terrifying debt collectors, is a genius at this quick thinking, political showmanship. I have a lot to learn from her,” Angela said. “And I have a feeling whenever I’m here alone while you’re off at your ambassadorship, she’ll be quite the taskmaster.”
“I hate that she did that,” Exalon practically growled. “Announced that I was leaving, then announced that you would be traveling back and forth between here and Alpha Station. She knew I couldn’t publicly contradict her.”
“Like I said, genius,” Angela mumbled, yawning. “Maya’s amazing at this too. At least it’s nice to know that when you’re gone, I’ll have help.”
“My love, I can overrule her if you want to stay with me on Alpha Station,” Exalon said, causing Angela to sigh. She pulled back slightly and looked into his eyes.
“No, you can’t,” she said. “The optics would be horrible. Like we don’t respect your mother and I don’t think I actually need to spend time on Axion before we get married.” Exalon frowned, but nodded, recognizing the wisdom in Angela’s words.
“Home?” he asked, giving Angela a brief smile as he tucked her hair behind her ear.
“Please. I seem to remember someone promising to make tonight up to me.”
“Only a rogue breaks a promise to a lady,” Exalon smirked, making him, somehow, even more attractive to Angela. “Let’s go, my love.”