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"Did anything come on the rail for me?"
Emeroma looked up from the forms.
Jerumal was tragically young. Stupidly young, the science leader amended wryly in her head. And tragically handsome.
Another woman might have feigned ignorance, stretched the moment out a little, teased him. Emeroma was not that kind of woman.
She stabbed a finger at the basket on her desk. "Four packages down. Two copies. I've already sent the third to the local records."
Copies of all major licenses came to her, as the ranking scientist on the site. It was a 'perk' of the rank, and one that Emeroma didn't appreciate.
Jerumal, with visible restraint and trembling hands, began shuffling down in the pile of papers.
He drew out the license in question, two copies wrapped together with a slim paper ribbon. The licenses were thick, fine quality paper, the kind of paper you expected to last a lifetime: they were copies of a marriage license. He brought it up close to his face, breathing in the fine fresh scent of the ink. "Finally."
Emeroma could not quite keep from making a sour noise of disgust, though she regretted it at once. Jerumal straightened, and tucked the licenses carefully into his pouch.
"Denel will be at the site of the new school," Emeroma said, almost apologetic, pointing out the window of the tent which served as her make-shift office. She knew she should say something else - something helpful and optimistic, but those weren't things she was comfortable with, so she only mumbled, "Congratulations," and returned to the form that an assistant had made too many mistakes on. Jerumal didn't linger.
"There will be lights in time crystals hung on these arches all throughout," Denel explained eagerly, drawing a finger over the illustrations spread out over the sheltered worktable. "The library, here, will have a clocktower, and there will be wings of schools from here, over to..." she flipped through several pages. "Here, where the waterworks plant will be." She pointed out across the slope, only half-leveled by the monstrous, creaking construction machinery. The raw land was mottled green, and where they had sliced into the ground, it was dark and rich, sharply broken by white rock. Bright flags marked important spots, and were littered halfway up the mountainside and most of the way down it behind them.
Jerumal clearly found the view in the other direction more arresting - the city being built was at the top of the Rim, higher in elevation than any other city in the Empire, and the view from the site was awe-inspiring. Tiflail was barely visible near the horizon, a tiny, unnatural blot in an otherwise green and white and blue visage. The mountain range curled around to their right, taming as it approached Tiflail, into modest hills, and the spectacular cliffs of the Northern Rim dropped into rolling green land. The farms and forests stood out as alternating dark and bright patches on the land, and the cliffs looked like a bright ribbon across the landscape. The time mines would be somewhere in the green carpet between the cliffs and the city-in-making, but the settlement was too small to be seen through the forest, and the mines themselves were invisible.
"We'll have the dancing marshdeer, here," Denel said slyly. "And the pits for pagan Purist rituals to the east."
"Sounds lovely," Jerumal said automatically. He realized what she'd actually said, too late, and looked sheepish. "I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention. It's just... this view!" It was a lie. He was thinking about the thick paper that he'd slipped into his pouch.
"This view is why the Empire thinks it's worth building a City this far north, at such expense," Denel said without anger. She was so impossible to offend or surprise. Jerumal could not help grinning. Maybe, this time... It was everything he could do not to pat his pouch.
"Show me which parts you did," he said warmly, wishing to make up for his inattentiveness.
Color rose in Denel's cheeks, and she managed to look adorably embarrassed and proud, all at once. "I sized the beams for the library," she said, opening the plans to that page with less grace than she had previously used. "As well as the damping and bracing in the machine rooms for the waterworks, and I worked with the team that did the equations for the arches along the lower retaining walls." She pointed out the individual drawings, and traced the cross-sections with abashed pride.
"It's lovely," Jerumal told her, not looking at the drawings.
"No one will see most of what I've done," she said shyly, not noticing his gaze. "The architects will get the glory, and the sculptors."
"It's still a remarkably prestigious posting for a first year scientist."
Her pleasure transformed what was admittedly a plain, placid face into something lovely. Her brown eyes glowed, and her pale skin had flattering color. A mountain breeze gave life and body to her mousy, shoulder-length hair. Would she believe him if he told her she was beautiful? Jerumal wondered.
"Denel," he started, but he was interrupted by the scattered arrival of Oranaan, who dropped an armful of papers onto the unrolled plans.
"Emeroma wants these filled out and filed with the clerk," he said carelessly.
He would have slouched away as quickly as he'd come, but Jerumal asked suspiciously, "Did she tell you to do it, or ask you to give them to Denel?"
That earned him an ear-to-ear grin, a shrug and a wink, and the scientist left with more speed than he'd come. Denel was already scooping the papers off of the plans and tapping them into a tidy pile. "Don't worry about it," she told him quietly, and Jerumal bit back the scold he wanted to make. Stand up for yourself, he wanted to tell her. Don't let them push you around!
But he didn't want to spoil this day, and Denel was already looking anxiously at him. "He's a terj," he satisfied himself with saying.
Denel smiled cautiously. "Do I want to know what that means?"
"It's ancient," Jerumal said with a return smile. "No one's sure exactly what it means, but the context is never flattering."
"Oranaan's a genius," Denel said gently. "He's just not always..."
"Smart? Responsible? Driven?"
"All of those things which you clearly are," Denel said slyly. Jerumal could not help a bark of laughter. Denel's sense of humor was always a surprise, usually well-contained behind a sober face and careful speech.
It was her careful speech that had first caught his attention, the way she was so cautious about what she said, always choosing the right words and speaking kindly. As a linguist, he appreciated accurate speech. She was only an assistant, then, high in her engineering class and on the cusp of being a scientist, just as he had been. Jerumal found her charming and intriguing, was honored when she opened up to him, and had never expected to fall so entirely in love with her.
He laughed with her now, and she relaxed again, smiling up into his face. His pulse quickened - this was the moment, and he was suddenly, unexpectedly, shy to take it.
"Do you remember about seven months ago, when we were still waiting on the test results?"
"Of course! We were all so sure we wouldn't make the cut." Denel was sorting the paperwork, and Jerumal had to reach out and take it away from her to get her attention. "We filled out practice justification forms for every crazy job we could think of, just in case we didn't."
"Not all of the applications were practice..." Jerumal handed her both licenses, and she went completely quiet and still, staring.
She opened her mouth several times to speak, and failed, and finally squeaked an outraged, "We were going to wait - how could you - you fooled me!" The words alone were not an encouraging reaction, but the rest of her was - she turned red and pale by cycles, and her hands shook, all while she was smiling and glowing irrepressibly, eyes as joyful as Jerumal had ever seen them.
Relief coursed through him. "We're married!" he laughed, and he swept Denel into a crushing embrace that she returned with all the strength in her arms.
"This is the best surprise ever," Denel sighed, when he finally let her down.
"I've got a mentoring offer from Affamarg," Jerumal told her. "We can apply for a house there, since we're married-"
"Married!" squeaked Denel.
"-We might be able to license a pet... maybe even a child."
"It will be perfect," Denel breathed.
Jerumal agreed, "It will be."
He had never been more sure of anything in his life.
Emeroma could feel the glare on her face, and directed it at her notebook instead of at the happy couple. Even from here, far across the courtyard-to-be, she could see the uncharacteristic joy and release in Denel's posture.
It was unreasonable of her, she mused, to feel so jealous. She had no desire for a relationship - she was proud of her accomplishments as an independent woman.
Emeroma scowled more deeply, flipping the pages of the paperwork she wasn't looking at. She should be happy for the young scientists. She should be supportive. It was hard enough in the back-biting ranks of scientist without the bitter ill-wishes of a relic of another age to sour their happiness.
It was hard enough getting her work done without wasting time thinking about a relationship that didn't concern her. "What will be, will be," she muttered fiercely, and she set to her paperwork with vigor, determined to make this city into something magnificent.
This is an entire re-write for me: the first version was cast with entirely different characters and fell remarkably flat!
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