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Amaya Ulonya Kiand strode into the kiat’s waiting room and took a quick look around. The nautical decorations hadn’t changed since her last visit a few weeks ago. The floor was sand and bivalve shells encased in a hard resin that reflected light coming in from the windows spanning the whole front of the building. The curtains over those windows were twisted strips of dark green material hanging from a rod draped with a fishnet. A pair of squashy turquoise armchairs at right angles to each other occupied the corner to her left.

She frowned. There was such a thing as excessive decorating, and her superior’s office had passed that mark long ago.

At the seashell-studded desk across the room, the secretary sat—Teviya, wasn’t it? She wore a skin-tight, seaweed green dress. Her hair, dyed to match, hung in braids of various diameters. Her make-up had turned her face ocean blue with dark green vertical stripes. She made no effort to acknowledge Amaya’s arrival but continued affixing dark green fingernail extensions while humming a tune Amaya didn’t recognize.

Amaya crossed her arms over her chest. If one of her subordinates ever treated a guest in such a way, retraining and disciplinary action would be shortly arranged. Rudeness, however, was clearly an expected job skill in the kiat’s employ. Did Teviya’s attitude extend to all the kiandai or just to her for having the audacity to want to help her human urushalon protect his people? She rolled her shoulders to dispel the tension building. If she had to absorb some rudeness to keep Ed and the rest of the Las Palomas police department safe, she would do so for as long as it took. Her adopted human deserved at least that much.

Movement drew her attention. Pavwin Vueltu Kiand of the Falcon’s Wing station rose from one of the leather chairs and joined her. He clasped her right arm and pulled her into an embrace. “So, he’s pulled you in on this, too.” He stepped back.

She tipped her head to one side. Were they both here for the same reason? Assigning multiple stations to a task wasn’t unheard of. With only six kiandarai per station, sometimes more manpower was needed, but why include her station? She was still training up four kialai. Although two would promote to full kiandarai soon enough, two of them were barely out of basic training.

Amaya followed him back to the chairs near the wall. Sitting in these, she might as well sit on the floor with her knees closer to her ears, but there were no other places to sit and pacing would give the impression of impatience. She leaned closer to Pavwin and whispered, “Any idea what this is about?”

He shook his head and made a quick nod toward the secretary, Teviya.

Half a second after their rear ends made contact with the blue-green leather, the secretary stood. “The kiat will see you both now.” The smirk on her face precluded any suggestion of coincidental timing.

Pavwin rolled his eyes as he stood and adjusted an equipment pouch on his belt, which only added a hint of a sneer to the secretary’s lips.

Keeping her own annoyance out of her face, Amaya used the arms of the chair to push herself up. She followed Teviya and Pavwin down the hall behind the secretary’s desk. Muted blue and green lighting had been added since her last visit. The flowing blobs of color reminded her of a disorientation training session back when she was still a kiala. Given the number of people who were nauseated by these visual effects, Emyrin’s choice of lighting puzzled her, but he didn’t seem like the obliging, welcoming sort.

The secretary waved her hand past the sensor plate near the door decorated with porpoises then strutted back to her desk as the door slid open. Pavwin gestured Amaya in ahead of him.

The waiting room’s decorator had been given a free hand in here, too. Dense, sand-colored carpet was deeper in some areas than others giving the floor a rippled appearance. Artwork on the walls showed off reefs and their flurry of brilliantly colored wildlife.

Emyrin Koral Kiat sat at his mahogany desk, typing furiously on his keyboard. As hard as he hit the keys, Amaya marveled that the keyboard was still intact. How often did he have to replace it? Older than both her and Pavwin by at least two decades, their superior had close-trimmed gray hair a few shades lighter than their uniform. Permanent wrinkles marring his pale face suggested that he’d neither smiled in ages nor spent any time in the sun. His copper collar tabs sported a new orange crystal for successfully completing the demolitions course, a curious choice for someone who didn’t do field work anymore, but the protocol allowed kiandarai to choose studies that interested them, even when they weren’t too practical.

Eyes still glued to the boxy computer, Emyrin pointed to the blue leather chairs with seashell-studded, wooden legs. “Sit.”

Amaya settled into one of the padded chairs while Pavwin took the other. What was next? A treat or a pat on the head to celebrate their obedience?

Emyrin scowled and jabbed the screen’s off switch. He turned a hard stare on them. “You’ll both need to prepare to receive Rinulyn Tolu Tura.”

Amaya shifted in her seat but schooled the amazement from her features. What could possibly interest someone of his station in one of the smallest enclaves in Texas? Woran Oldue had no major features or facilities that might cater to the ultra-wealthy. The aquarium was tiny relative to others in the state. No unique cuisine called this enclave home. Sure, the beach might interest some, but there were larger enclaves with more to offer that also had an impressive beach. Worse, she’d never been close enough to see a member of nobility in person. How did one act in the presence of an Eshuvani baron? The most basic protocols for such an event eluded her, and now she had to prepare to receive him as a guest of the enclave? The family of her kiala Vadin traveled in that social group, or at least closer than she’d ever been. Still in the middle phase of his training, would he be up to the task of training the rest of them? If not, she could borrow the social hierarchy specialist of another station for a crash course.

Pavwin raised an eyebrow. “Nobility? Here in the buffer zone?”

“Yes.” Emyrin leaned back in his chair. “He’s meeting with the governors of the human states that overlap our territory.”

Amaya looked up at a corner of the room and recalled an overlay map of human and Eshuvani territory. “So, that’d be Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.”

Pavwin squinted for a moment and nodded. “Yes. We overlap parts of each.”

With the tura coming from the Texas Panhandle and the governors coming from Oklahoma City, Austin, and Santa Fe, somewhere in central or western Texas would make more sense. Was there any way to talk them out of this? Ill-equipped with undertrained staff, any other station would be a better choice. “Good to know, but Woran Oldue and Las Palomas are small as cities go.” Amaya steepled her fingers. “Wouldn’t a larger city have more of the facilities they’ll likely need?”

Emyrin waved a hand in dismissal. “It’s enough for you to know you need to be ready for his arrival.”

If he thought he could brush her off that easily …

Amaya squinted and frowned. “If you want me to protect him with limited resources and half-trained personnel, I need more information than that.”

Emyrin’s ears turned pink.

He drew a breath, but before he spoke, Pavwin leaned forward and cut him off. “It would be helpful to know why they chose to meet here of all places. Neither the enclave nor the city has much to offer such august persons.”

Amaya glanced at Pavwin and nodded. Aside from some tourist-trap establishments, Las Palomas was as sparse as the enclave on the matter of fascinating things to do.

Emyrin twisted to face Pavwin directly. “The wives of the four delegates will be here and two are bringing their children. There’s talk of visiting the beach, our aquarium, and the humans’s museum.”

This got better with every passing second. Three governors, the tura, their wives, and children? “They’re bringing their families?” Amaya’s left hand drifted down to her right shirt cuff, but the bracelet was gone. After coming to terms with her grief, she’d given her wedding bracelet to Ed to regift or dispose of. The bare twinge of sadness was still there, even if the bracelet was not. She rubbed her wrist for a moment then steepled her fingers again. “Kiat, we should advise a different coastal town. I’ve only been training the Las Palomas police for almost a month, and they’re not yet equipped. Nor have we gotten the local crime wave under control. We’ll have a hard enough time securing the tura and three governors, never mind wives and children.”

Emyrin wagged his finger at her as if she were some petulant child. “Your only concerns are the tura, his wife, and his children. Let the humans take care of themselves.”

How terribly mercenary. Would the tura agree with that? “Then I’ll coordinate with Las Palomas police to make sure all is in hand.” A visit with Ed would be imperative. His captain might have been freer with information.

Emyrin slammed his palm on his desk. “You will not leave the security of the tura in the hands of humans!”

He could pound the furniture all he wanted. If she had to prepare, then she would take full advantage of all available resources, including LPPD.

“But if we don’t communicate with the humans, we’ll trip over each other in our efforts.” Pavwin shook his head and tapped his fingers on the seashells studding the arms of the chair. “We may even take contradictory actions and interfere with each other’s plans.”

“I suppose.” Emyrin glared at Amaya. “But keep your priorities in order.”

She had every intention of maintaining “priorities,” but he shouldn’t be too surprised if hers failed to align with his.