"Ah! Good morning!" beamed the Emperor, happily. "Please take a seat. Isn't it a most glorious morning? Tea?" he proffered.
T'Roc and I sat down and I couldn't help but let my fingers play over the fabric of the chair to see what it was made of. I was expecting some toughened, plastic derived material, but it was painted metal, just like an old Edwardian garden set.
A servant stepped forward and laid out cups and saucers, white with a little pink floral design dancing around the rim, and poured two cups of golden-green liquid from a tall pot. The chink of the cups reminded me of bone china and as I picked the cup up, its weight and feel only served to strengthen that suspicion. I wondered if bone china was purely a Terran thing. I hoped so. Bone china is all very lovely but is quite revolting when you know how it's made.
The soft porcelain of bone china is manufactured from bone ash, which makes up about half of the porcelain's mass. Bone ash is made from animal bones that are cleaned and heated to over 1000ºC. Then the bone is ground down with water to produce a fine paste that is then added to the porcelain to make the china. So it's a bit like drinking tea out of a cadaver!
"Don't you think so, Ms Terran?" asked the Emperor.
I blushed, not having heard a word he had said.
"Oh, please forgive me," I quipped. "I was distracted by the lovely melody of the birds. Do they sing as beautifully as this every morning?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see T'Roc's disapproval, but it seems I had pulled off my deception.
"They are particularly tuneful this morning," agreed the Emperor with glee. "I think they knew you were coming and sought to serenade you," and he laughed. I feigned a laugh too.
"Now, what was it you were asking me?" I prompted with a smug smile.
"I was saying that while some of us are curious, not all of us are explorers."
I had to think about that one. The only reason I could immediately think of that a curious person would not naturally want to explore was laziness, but it probably wasn't best to share that thought.
"I suppose that must be true. For me, though, the two tend to go hand in hand. If I'm curious about something, I explore it."
"Excellent!" squealed the Emperor with dignified excitement. "So you'll do it! That's wonderful news! Thank you. Thank you so much. When would you like to depart?"
My eyes widened in horror at the realisation that I'd just volunteered us for something. What though? I hardly dared to look at T'Roc, but I knew I couldn't ignore her. Warily, my eyes moved to meet hers, anxious at what they might find. T'Roc's head was tipped to one side and her eyes were wide in disapproval and annoyance.
Our morning tea with the Emperor wound up very quickly after that and I found myself alone in the garden with my garden. We sat in silence for a while and I tried to ignore her gaze. I've come to realise that it's very hard to ignore a Klingon's gaze, especially when they are staring at you.
"Don't you want to know what you have volunteered us for?" she finally asked. Her voice was riddled with irritation.
"Sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to—"
"You never do, but the lesson is simple. Don't try to blag your way out of things. It'll get you into trouble. You weren't paying attention so you bumbled your way right into this mess."
"Sorry," I repeated. "Is it bad?"
"Fortunately for you, no. Although you will be scrubbing the exhaust manifolds for a fortnight when we get back—just to remind you of who the captain is here."
What the heck had I volunteered us for? But I'd have to wait to find out as T'Roc got up and strode off towards the palace. I followed like a scolded puppy, struggling to keep up with her long strides.