RP: Asteria [Asteria] Ivory Tower

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Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
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#1
The Ivory Tower.

Or, how Asteria gained its capital, and two old enemies became friends.


As the dauntingly tall woman strode down the halls of the ship, she couldn't shake the odd feeling looming over her head. It all felt like something that had been seen before, something that had been done before, but she knew well enough that it wasn't the case. No, Fate reassured herself. Though this meeting echoed the one she had held several years ago, one to prevent war and coax its embers to glow all at once, this time, all the events surrounding this one was different. Watching the shuttle come in and land, the distant thruster wash toustling her white hair, she stood firm, the only guards she had staying far back and in the distance.

Watching the ramp drop, the Fyuunen's sharp eyes already saw that this was very different indeed. The woman once known as Morioka Naoko was pregnant. The wide sash of the dark general's broad golden obi hid it well, but Fate saw the bump despite the garment's form-smoothing qualities.

The new Asterian Mikado set foot on the ship's deckplates, flanked on either side by her black and green uniformed guards. Both sides had produced an honor guard, suitable and proper to both their cultures. The beleagured, recently released Lorathi soldiers under Fate's command bore up surprisingly well with pride and saber, and the surprisingly well equipped but slightly less formal Colonial pirates who wore their clan symbols openly upon their haori as badges of alliegance held hard expressions. The two sides did not meet eyes, but stood where they needed to, and walked where they must. Though they had not been enemies, now or in the past, both bodies of men and women were aware that times had changed and the meeting might not turn out as peacefully as before.

In the end, Morioka and Fate ended up face to face again, though this time in person instead of over private video feed.

"It seems working together would benefit us both again," the Fyuunen began, towering over the former Star Army Taisho by an entire foot in height. Though she had once stood over the dark skinned woman by a much more considerable margin in the past, the rumors were likely true. She was an elf now. Fate leaped right into business, knowing she had to keep momentum on her side. "I have a fleet and its support assets, but no nation to berth at. You have a fledgling nation, second-hand assets from the UOC, and not enough crew. A working agreement between us is in order."

The moment Fate had mentioned the newborn nation in passing, she regretted it, mentally fumbling with her words and giving initiative to Bhelith. It made her uncomfortable and uneasy, that new life inside the other woman.

Bhelith Morioka looked up at her with a sort of strange serenity, and pregnant or not, Fate could feel the intensity behind the expression. At first she had seen a wolf in the woman all those years ago, hopeful and greedy for the hunt, but now she realized the wolf had set its eyes on a different mark than she had assumed. Did she even factor into it?

Silent, fey-eyed, the dark elf looked long at her before nodding towards the path that they would be taking towards more private quarters. It had been cleared in advance by the Lorathi troops, the way made obvious, and the Mikado took it without asking and left Fate to follow.

"I see you do not trust your own," the former High General observed, her face stony and cold as always. That haughty arrogance. That aloof demeanor. As she ended up following, and on her own ship no less, she quietly fumed to herself for slipping. This wasn't like herself, and she knew it. Walking down the hallways of the recently repaired ship, Fate's scarred, toned arm soon reached out, and with a hiss, a door opened.

A meeting room usually reserved for briefings, now being used to discuss the fate of fleets and nations. Fate herself briefly stared daggers at the snacks and drinks laid out, but quickly moved - despite her stern expression, she pulled a chair back for Bhelith to sit. She did, settling politely into the place provided for her, and then she shifted her attention to the chair across from her. For the first time during the walk, her hands left her sleeves; Bhelith motioned for Fate to sit as well.

They stared at each other for a few moments. Eventually, the two guards that had come with Bhelith, strangely masked, took a few steps towards the door, where they stayed afterwards.

Finally, the gold-haired monarch spoke, watching the general with the faintest of weary smiles. Her voice was a little more weathered than it had been as a nekovalkyrja, but the elf seemed supernaturally austere. Not perfect, like too-precise video feeds, but somehow ephemeral, her utterly, infuriatingly authoritarian voice coming from somewhere otherworldly.

"I will legitimize you, ennoble you, and allow you to take control of the assets that you had upon Asura before Yui removed me from command. I am told many of them are still there, planted among the governments on the surface. I will also help you find the ones that will wish to ursurp you for your betrayal of their priests, but the wise ones will see this for what it is and accept it. We will no longer war, even by proxy, as I understand that the peoples of Asura and the peoples of Lor were never enemies, and I shall not make them so.

"You will be allowed to maintain with your own soldiers the rest of your fleet, will be appointed a national general of rank equivalent to command our combined forces without question. Your culture, your religion, your social hierarchy, shall be maintained, along with the dignity of your station. You will be responsible for your granted territory, for your people, for their law and well-being."

Settling back against the chair's cushioned upholstery, Bhelith continued, "In return, I will have this ship, temporarily, for a capital. You will formally hand it over to me along with any ships of carrier, or capital classes, still operational in your fleet. Additionally, I will receive your personal fealty and the fealty of your next of command. You will mobilize troops for the national interest, for governing those who wish to follow the banner I shall have you strike."

The Mikado - that's how she acted, now, and the formality seemed precise enough to at least lend that title a bit of credence - didn't seem half as frustrated as Fate felt. Not unwise herself, Fate could read between the lines; this was, perhaps, a little more than could have been expected. They had set their bargaining positions. This was politics. Empress Vishta had released Fate relatively unharmed, when she could have done a great deal worse, and it seemed that Fate now had the opportunity to stare the reason in its yellow eyes - and the yellow eyes, somehow, knew the nature of the gift. Fate could have said anything, done anything, and it might not have changed this meeting, or the way the elf held her eyes, one damn bit.

After a few moments pause, Fate realized that it was her turn to speak.

"Your perception is excellent," the Fyuunen tried not to chew on the words. A single vestigial wing twitched in annoyance however. Deliberately or not, Bhelith had a tendency to get under the woman's skin or push the most aggravating buttons, and this was no different. "These terms are acceptable," Fate added after another moment's thought. Deep down, the Lorath woman knew that there was likely more she should have pushed for, but politics and negotiations were not something she was born or bred for.

More than ever, she resented the caste system and its rigidity.

"In addition to our agreement, I am also here for another reason," Fate began, briefly glancing at that pregnant belly - again, that feeling of revulsion returned, though she fought to crush it. Quickly. Quietly. If Bhelith noticed this, she patiently ignored it. "Empress Vishta of the Gartagen Union sends her good regards, and is hoping for future relations between our nations," she began to explain. Fate loathed having to relay a diplomatic message, but kept on at it. "As a sign of good faith, she has given us several support vessels to aid our logistics chain, and hopes that an alliance will be beneficial." Now, the part where she was more comfortable in. "It is her belief that war is coming."

And as always, there was never enough of the good part around.

This, too, the elf accepted without undue strain or comment. Instead, she looked around her new demesne as though for the first time. Fate could tell that she had relaxed a little bit, though, as usual, assumed it were some manner of deception. This woman had teased her like a cat when she had been a Yamataian admiral, and why would now be any different?

Bhelith returned her hands to her sleeves, though she didn't seem cold. It seemed an excuse to settle them over her stomach. She was uncomfortable! Suddenly, the woman's abrupt manner made a little more sense to Fate, what had seemed off about her old nemesis. The thought of why the elf was uncomfortable only made the Fyuunen herself uncomfortable, however. It conjured back memories of Destiny and her own children, now all gone.

It didn't seem to change what the elf said next, which was, "War is always on the horizon. I expect you to fight for your people when it does come."

"Agreed," the Fyuunen readily replied - it was her specialty after all.

"You may address your men when you feel it appropriate. I will remain onboard this ship to take command of it. Beyond this, you may speak informally to me if you wish before you make this public commitment." The fey woman's golden eyes shifted back to Fate. "Is there aught you would say?"

"Yes. That we are home."

A pale blonde eyebrow and an incredulous look met the declaration. The elf left the statement alone for just that moment before she tested it. "Are you?"

Disappointment. Fate got the distinct impression she had said something wrong. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait to find out what. Bhelith continued; "Politics have never been your virtue. In truth, they are rarely my virtue either. You do not need to mouth politeness for its own sake, I have enough people kissing my ass. We have matched wits before. You deserve the chance to speak. At least, to why you rebelled if you honestly have nothing else to say."

Words. How was she to say this?

"We are...few now," the Fyuunen slowly began, showing the first real glimpses of emotion on her face since they met again. "Stating that this is our home, we will know our backs are to the wall," Fate explained. It was, more or less, something she had said to herself, and soon, would for her own people. They were in a dangerous, precarious position now. The specter of extinction was something that disturbed her sleep. Again, she furtively looked at Bhelith's belly before meeting her eyes again. "As to our rebellion, there were many reasons."

Yes, there were quite a few, drawing in even the most unlikely allies.

"Some felt this was our home. Others believed it was an elaborate suicide, following Velor to serve even in death. Plenty feared to find new, alien guns being leveled at them," Fate spoke. "If it were not for so many reasons, the insurrection would not have been as widespread, or long as it was." For once, she smiled. "Not even our absurd Intelligence could keep pace." It became a frown, however. "You know how the moment of truth ended." The words weren't meant to be harsh or hostile, but simply a statement of fact. Fate was never the wordy kind of woman.

"Often, things we set aside for ourselves, or for our friends, end up in the hands of our enemies," the elf observed, more gently than her previous tone. "That is often simply the way things go. For what it is worth, I thought that you might end up in a position such as this, and you have my sympathy."

The circlet held most of the Mikado's hair out of her face, but she moved what few strands had found their way forward aside thoughtfully.

"If you are being serious with me, I suppose I should accept that. I do have one other question since you have not asked for clarification. Though my terms are harsh, I wonder if you understand them?"

"Too well." Fate paused for a moment. "I was expecting worse," she bluntly added. Staring at Bhelith with her typically cold, dispassionate gaze, the Fyuunen went on. "I will be loyal, as long as you are loyal to our peoples," the former High General replied. One could have taken it as a threat, but for Fate? It was simply stating the facts. There was no other way to gain and then maintain her loyalty. They both knew this. Fortunately for them, it shouldn't be a problem. At least, in theory anyway. Looking away at the view screen, Fate then said something completely unexpected.

"I don't like the idea of being bred," the Fyuunen finally admitted, her words dour. It was the biggest thing that Bhelith's own pregnancy made her think about. In turn, the elf blinked at her, perhaps a bit taken aback by her bluntness - for once. A bit bemused, Bhelith answered, unable to maintain such a straight face as before.

"I had not proposed to do so."

"You misunderstand," the white-haired Fyuunen bluntly replied again. It couldn't be helped - the elf had been a Nekovalkyrja for the longest time. Or, perhaps she was always that way? It didn't matter. "I have been uncomfortable since meeting again - I understand why now." Crossing her arms and pushing up her ample bosom, she continued. "Selective breeding is important. Ensures our numbers, or strength. Now, more than ever, and I have been failing to find a proper source." Her words grew more bitter. "I do not look forward to doubling my efforts to find one, finally finding one, or what comes after."

The elf flexed her fingers within her sleeves, perhaps clasping her hands together in her lap as she listened. After Fate had finished, Bhelith explained, "I had only been joking with you. It seems that everyone I meet instantly begins to think, like you are, about children. Perhaps I should start sending other people to these meetings." Ruefully, she gave that statement its alotted space, just enough that it could carry some weight. Then, she continued, "If you want my advice, you would leave this to others and do as you will. Your nation is dissolved, so far as we are concerned, and you may safely dissolve or remake its customs with it. You and I are not so dissimilar in this."

Thoughtfully taking in what Bhelith said, Fate couldn't help but smile, just a little bit.

"Yes. It would seem we are not too dissimilar."
 

Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
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#2
ON: THE EAGLE

Wherein Honno and Kelda meet, and exchange faces.

When Kelda entered the room, she observed a wolf-masked woman kneeling, in what appeared to be relative ceremonial comfort, upon a cushion. A pair of blades, Yamataian daisho, had been settled neatly in front of her. Twelve other positions, apparently meant for them, were arrayed in front of this first position. Each bore a pair of daisho in similar style, each unique. And each bore a mask similar to the woman’s; they were white, or black, or red in styling, and though they were relatively flat each was styled in a manner that bore some resemblance to a wolf, a fox, or some manner of animal.

Of the woman in front, it could easily be said that, aside from the trappings of the room, she was the most notable. She had stripped to the waist, to her black, pleated hakama trousers, and displayed a full-body tattoo that depicted a range of fell old demons consorting with young and apparently willing women. The ink tableau was no illusion. The ink had faded, blued a little in places, and the woman appeared to be a Jiyuuian anyway, which meant that somewhere along the line she had submitted to the painful annoyance of having something permanently branded upon her. Considering the taboo, and how prominent the tattoos were, and how she displayed them, this hadn’t been accidental.

“Take a seat,” she said to Kelda. Kelda had been first. She would be first, she found, for the next several minutes of awkward sitting. This didn’t seem accidental either.

"Don't mind if I do," the Neko said as she sat down, mimicing the other woman's sitting position. The set of Daisho nearby her chosen position had a silver tsuba guard, a black handle, and seemed straighter than the traditional Yamataian blades. The mask was that of a white fox, with red stylings.

“My name,” the yakuza introduced, “Is Murasaki Honno, former retainer of the Motoyoshi no Jiyuu, and recently, shateigashira of the Chou family, a chivalrous organization.” In translation, and briefly from what Kelda knew of Yamataian custom, this translated simply to; ‘I was a samurai once, and now, I am a criminal.’ A high ranking criminal. “I understand you were a mishhuvurthyar slave. I wanted to meet you before the others.”

"What?" Kelda asked, smiling at Honno's remarks as she looked the ex-samurai over, "Are the other people not as impressive or are you getting the hard one done first?" The real question is what I'm doing in a room with a weird yakuza, she thought.

The black-colored wolf mask seemed inscrutable; that was one of the purposes of masks. However, the woman's voice was soft, polite, and while not methodical to the point of monotonous, she had a certain tone that seemed borderline disinterested. "Both. It is also that, apparently, you have been guarding the Mikado for a little while now already, and I do not wish for there to be any conflict between us. I am informed, she wished for someone with experience as a Samurai and a bodyguard, and that is why I am Captain.

"Given your history I trust this will not be a problem, for you?"

"Oh, I'm sure you'll do a much better job," the NMX Neko replied, waving away the other woman's concerns. "Though, if that's it, then I got a few months of whoring to catch up on, now that you're in charge of keeping the Boss Lady safe."

The yakuza cleared her throat, faintly. "Actually, no."

Kelda sighed dramatically at the denial of her freedom. "Alright then, Ms. Fancy Mask. What'cha got for me to do? Take a shift for you so you can get some fun time in yourself?"

"No," Ms. Fancy Mask said, her hands having not twitched a muscle from where she sat with the two of them upon her thighs. She might have curled them a little bit. "You will be helping me train the others. Apparently you are not the dumb slut you appear to be."

"Ehh," the whore replied, adding a shrug in for good measure, "I know a few things." Sobering a little, she asked, "We're just training them to be more bodyguards?" Sounds kind of boring.

"You are actually sitting in what will soon be the headquarters of the bakufu's secret police." Honno turned her head slightly, the black hair bound back away from the edges of the mask seeming a little more severe for the black-on-white contrast.

The room itself was unremarkable; it appeared just like any other room in the Eagle-class Battlecarrier that the Mikado had temporarily assumed residence upon. The only remarkable things about it were the things sitting in it, and the two individuals watching them.

"Oooh," Kelda said, her smile returning to the fore, "I call teaching torture techniques. It'll be fun to be on the other end of those lessons." But if the wolf-woman felt bothered by the smile, she seemed outwardly nonplussed.

"The mask and the swords are yours. The mask is your new identity in public, and the sword is how you will identify to other members of our society. In the handle, here," she indicated, by lifting her own middle-length, straight-edged sword, "Is some manner of technology that can recognize your sakki - if someone like you has a soul, anyway."

"If that's what being able to use a ST machine means," the Neko replied, lifting her own blade off the table and testing its edge with a finger. "It's cool and all, but how are we supposed to know each other by our swords? Couldn't someone just kill one of us or something and take it?"

"Only you can carry that one. If someone else draws it, everyone else will know immediately, and we will kill that person." The Okami-Captain said it plainly, without embellishment or further explination. Apparently, Kelda was meant to just believe it.

"Uhuh," the whore said, putting the sword back down before looking at Honno. "So, a secret police, huh? How many agents we starting with? From what I hear, Boss Lady has big plans and I can see how this could be useful."

"Thirteen. Some of your fellows will be joining us, though they're considerably less useful than you. Others come from the chivalrous organizations, or defectors from our sister nations."

"Thirteen?" Kelda asked, raising an eyebrow. "Okay, I guess that's a start. We going to turn some of the others around and help train the next group?"

"Essentially. I find it's better to start with a small, core group, train them properly, and then have them train others. This is how yakuza have trained to avoid Yamatai's prolific police forces; in cells, with few connections. This is something the Mikado has been particularly impressed with, I am told. In public, we will be her ceremonial guards; in private, we will be anyone we choose to be."

"Makes sense," the Neko said, looking off to the side as she digested what the samauri had said. So serious. Wonder how I'm supposed to crack that facade? "So," she said after a moment, her smile returning, "we going to do some kind of initiation or something? Sign something in blood, have a massive orgy, what?"

If anything, the wolf masked woman seemed disappointed. Maybe she sighed out of disgust. Even yakuza had some sort of honor, didn't they?

"You and I will drink. Doing so will give you the key to drawing the sword, and afterwards, the real work will begin."

"Ahh, a working initiation," the honorless whore said, nodding sagely as she mentally laughed. This'll be fun, she thought, before picking her own mask up. "Guess I can save the fun stuff for later."

The Okami watched her in silence, apparently waiting for her to try the mask on. The bottle of drink, presumably sake, was sitting beside the wolf-faced woman, but she hadn't moved to touch it yet. All of this seemed very formal. The small table, to the side. The cups. The rest of it. Particularly the woman's silent demeanor.

I'd sneeze if I was allergic to formality, Kelda thought, before shrugging and putting the mask on, pulling the included strap over her head until it sat snuggly on her face. "Not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be," she said, looking over at the ex-samurai through the transparent material. She couldn't determine what it was by touch, but it seemed to be some sort of wood. The inside had been treated like a holographic HUD, and she found that she could intuitively control it with her digital telepathy. Shiny. She watched the yakuza woman pour from the cup at her side into a shallow bowl, no bigger than the palm of her slender hand.

When she had finished, she slid the mask up to lift it to her lips and drink, one-handed.

She left enough of it in the bowl for Kelda; that's when she realized that Honno was pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way. Deep brown eyes, a round chin, small lips, and a nose that was just a little long. Not a perfect Yamataian beauty, but it seemed that she had a touch of reality to her that struck as odd compared to the casual radiance that people like Bhelith or other nekovalkyrja exuded.

Their eyes locked for a moment as Honno silently offered the bowl over.

"It will become more uncomfortable before it is over, I assure you."

"Are you trying to make me crack jokes?" the Neko asked, snorting as she took the bowl in both hands. After taking a breath, she said, "To your health," lifting her own mask before drinking the bowl's contents.

The liquer tasted sweet, and was surprisingly viscous considering the alcohol content. When she sat the bowl down again to look at the fox-masked woman sitting across from her, a bit down on the dias, something felt strange about it. It was like seeing something through a pane of lesser-made glass, wavy in places until it solidified. Everything felt differently. Her ankles ached a little, which was strange, because she hadn't been sitting on them until just now.

Then she realized that the woman setting the bowl down in front of her wasn't her.

The room was different because the perspective had changed. She was looking at the place that she had previously been. She was looking at herself.

Okami removed the fox mask from her new face and offered it over, explaining in Kelda's voice, "Here. And, if you could pass me mine, please."

What the fuck? she thought, as she took the new mask and handed the other over. "Well, this is new," she said, sounding like Honno. No, she was Honno. The back of her bare arm bore a motief of a young geisha. The person she had been took the wolf's mask, and wore it, and then stood up.

Honno was shorter. Kelda was taller. The nekovalkyrja paced around, and after a moment, the 'real' Kelda realized that her wolf-faced partner intended to trade places, which she acceded to, still disoriented as she dealt with longer limbs than usual.

They resettled, Kelda-now-Honno taking her previous place, and Honno-become-Kelda in the place of Captaincy, as she had been before.

"Disorienting, isn't it?" Okami asked.

"Just a bit," the Kitsune responded, looking over at her old body. "Raises questions about sex and which person's really getting the pleasure, but that's probably best left for later, isn't it?"

Okami laughed Kelda's rich, bemused, sultry laugh. She lifted a hand, observed it, glanced down to her new and considerably more svelte and attractive body, and then tested out a less formal seating posture more akin to what Kelda had used upon first entering the place. She hiked a knee, casually.

"I should not be surprised that was your initial thought. What we have just done is profane in Yamatai, but it is our greatest weapon for reasons I am sure you will realize soon. Take a moment and try to remember why we are here."

"About to become the most elusive of secret agents," the 'new' Jiyuuian replied, kneeling as Honno had been, "Cause what better way to sneak past security than have a different face on?"

Okami waited, quietly. It was like looking at a mirror, except that the mirror didn't move with her, didn't breathe with her. Gradually, the memories started coming. Honno had been sitting on the cushion for a half an hour, meditating on Kelda and planning this exact moment. Kelda could remember it as though she had been there herself; this would repeat. Each person would come in individually. But, not today. Honno had something else in mind, like something on the edge of her own memories; yes, they would drink with all of them, all eleven. This would happen several times, and...

The memories were like a flood. She could remember two bifurcated timelines, and it felt like residing upon a cloud, watching a livestream, more than it felt like living.

"Yes. But, it will take practice, and I wanted you to get used to it first. That shinobigatana is yours, and will check for a memory of this room, of seeing your own face - so draw it, now. Think hard and fix this moment in your mind. When you leave the Mikado's side, this sword will stay in our armory. When you return, you will take it up again, along with the mask.

Kelda-Okami unfolded, rising up on her lithe and shapely legs, and stretched. She dropped a hand to her hip, looked down at Honno-Kitsune through the wolf mask, her own straight-edged sword held loosely in her other hand.

"Take some time. Delve my memories. Kelda is meant to protect the imperial consort on his visit to Leo Star Fortress, and so you will have ample time to understand me as I understand you."

"Just make sure to share the memories if you get the chance to jump on him," Honno-Kitsune replied, chuckling an unfamiliar laugh before taking the sword off the table.

Kelda-Okami gave a quiet chortle, and replied, "Let Honno teach you patience."

"And learn how to have fun with Kelda," the sitting spy-to-be replied, balancing the single edged shinobigatana's blade on her free hand as she gripped the hilt in the other.

Okami stopped at the portal, the unremarkable metal door sliding open for her. She didn't look back, but Kitsune got a good view of her - well, her own ass - when the yojimbo turned slightly.

"It will change you. It is hard to tell the difference, where one stops and another begins. I strongly recommend you practice. From what I am learning of you now, I can already sense you might not, but you should, anyway."

Okami faced forward again, and left Kitsune alone with herself.

Both selves.

END.

 
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#3
Leo Station, Asura System

Morioka Ember sat behind the desk in her office, the stacks of data pads and papers were large but neatly distributed across the desk's polished black surface. Her dark blue eyes were focused on a polished black and gold volumeric projection frame that hung prominently on the wall across from the desk at eye level.

The frame contained pictures and names of every Jiyuuian and Yamataian that lost their life during the war within the Yugumo Cluster and it rotated every 15 seconds. The rest of her office held a few mementos of the people that touched her life. She had continued this practice of rememberence and mourning for almost 5 years now. She wore the proper uniform of a Star Army of Yamatai Chujo now, her Type 35 was immaculate. The white panel was snow white and well pressed. Her curly auburn locks were loose past her shoulders and cascaded down her back.

The Crown Princess of Morioka waited.

And her newly appointed Representative didn't leave her waiting for long, walking into the office a few seconds before the alloted time. The Minkan was a contrast from her boss in a few ways. Her own black hair was put up in a tight bun, kept in place with an old fashioned pencil, while she wore a dark green button-up blouse and tan skirt that emphasized her figure. Her civillian status was made clearer by the non-standard, extra-wide datapad that she held by her right side. Walking until she stood before Ember's desk, she gave the Chujo a deep bow.

"Thank you for setting up this meeting, ma'a, er," Astridr started, looking embarrassed by her faux pas, though that might have been more blood running to her face. "Your Majesty? What am I supposed to use again? Still not used to this royalty buisness."

Ember rose from her chair when Astridr entered and returned the bow. She tried not to roll her eyes at the "your majesty" comment. "Whatever you prefer, just not profanity, please," she replied with a smile. "Please, have a seat, Astridr." She motioned to the empty chair in front of her desk. The office was still sparse in decoration, the only real change were there were more drawings from the children framed on the walls.

"Of course," the civilian said, returning the smile as she sat down in the offered chair, putting her datapad in her lap. "And I'd never use profanity for something as serious as that, ma'am. Wouldn't have taken the job if I thought of you that way."

"I'm sure after a few court appearances your feelings on that will change," the Chujo replied taking her seat again. She folded her hands together and leaned forward on her desk.

"I think any profanity that would cause would be more directed at those at court, not you," Astridr said, waving off any of the other woman's concerns as she crossed her legs. "Whoever your, umm, Lady Blackspear decides to cavort with is not something you could control, unless you're holding out on some kind of superpower."

"No, the Lady will do as the Lady damn well pleases," Ember replied. "I miss acting like a Nepleslian, this is all too formal and stuffy for me. But I would not be offended if you got mad and called me something awful one of these days."

"Ehh, that's what Katashi will be good for," the civilian said with a shrug. "Take all my complaining while he tries to force me out of his office with that glare of his. In any case," she continued, tapping her double-sized datapad to life, "I was wondering if you could give me some details on what goals I should push for as your Representative. Wouldn't be much use if I have to keep bugging you with every little detail that pops up after all."

"I am horribly biased as a Chujo and I am beholden to the Star Army. I would never encourage another rebellion from Yamatai... this ended horribly and was incited by the SMX. I don't think this region can take another massacre, we need to stand united with our host nation so they will leave us to our own governance." Ember paused for a moment, "I just want our people to be properly taken care of. We have orphans every where that will need families, homes, and eventually jobs but for now education. Aside from that, I have no agenda." She pursed her lips together. "I'm not sure whate else to really encourage, self defense is always good and expansion will eventually come with some stability but we need to colonize this system better."

"Uh huh," Astridr murmured, tapping away at her datapad for a few moments before looking at Ember. "So, essentially make a stable nation that can provide for the citizens and build slowly, while making sure we're taking special care of all the war orphans?"

"Some thing like that. I don't think I can handle adopting all of them. I guess, in a sense, you'll be babysitting the court for me. Talk them down if they start getting crazy. Morioka told me at the beginning that the UOC was dead and it would have to stay dead for us to move forward. I get concerned that we might end up on that road if we're not careful." Ember sighed. "I'm not sure this helps?"

"No, no, this is fine, ma'am," the Representative replied, leaning forward as she patted the Chujo's hands a few times before going back to her datapad. "You've given me your priorities and a goal to shoot for. And from what I've seen of Lady Blackspear, she'll probably need some reining in." She paused for a moment, then looked up at the other woman with a small smile. "Promise to bail me out if she throws me in the dungeon?"

"Of course. Oh, please avoid marrying me off without talking to me first," the Crown princess added with a wink. "I don't need the Lady micromanaging my love life."

"Don't play matchmaker without your permission, got it," Astridr said, chuckling as she finished her notes. "But I'll let you know if anyone promising shows up."

"Did you need anything else? I pretty much never leave the station these days so my door is always open."

"Nope, I think that's it for now," the Minkan said, turning off her datapad's screen. "I'll let you know if anything serious comes up in the weekly report I'll send you. It'll have other minutiae as well, but I'll make sure to highlight anything that needs your attention. If not, then I guess it'll be good bedtime reading."

"I'm certain... just watch your back. I would recommend wearing body armor under your clothing in court in case someone gets a notion and with that," Ember unhooked the front panel of her jacket, letting the flap hang down to reveal her undershirt underneath, "Have a drink with me before you go, if you aren't tied up with anything now." She pulled a large decanter of Nepleslian Whiskey from a locked desk drawer and produced two large tumblers.

"Not at all," Astridr replied, chuckling as she put her datapad underneath her chair. "I was more worried about taking up your time."

"That pile of paperwork there, has not gotten any smaller in 5 years, I can spare a few minutes for you, especially since you are doing me a solid favor by volunteering to be my Hands in the court with the Lady," the Morioka chuckled. She removed the stopper on the decanter and poured a decent amount of whiskey into both glasses before replacing it again. She pushed one glass to Astridr. "I know it's not sake, but I can't help but regress to being a Nepleslian every so often."

"It's nice to get a change every once in a while," the Representative said, smiling as she picked up her tumbler. "To your health, Morioka-chujo," she continued, lifting her glass in a toast.

"My life is nothing but change, and to yours, Mitsuya-san," Ember returned Astridr's toast with one of her own before taking a long drink from her glass. "The Almighty and Chiharu protect you from what might come."

"And let's hope I don't need Them," the Minkan thought as she drank from her own glass.
 

Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
2,777
615
138
29
Adventure & Intrigue
stararmy.com
#4
ON: Fort Asura

Whereupon two old friends meet, and several soldiers stand around looking awkward.


To render proper honors was not just tradition, but the duty of any proper officer in the Star Army. Respect was the foundation of any good, fighting military; it was a concept that needed to be bred into a soldier so that they knew who was in command. From common courtesies to fellow enlisted, to the hard-wired salute to be given to any greater officers, to the answering bow of any great official. Greetings and etiquette like this bled through Yamatai, its war-like history demanded it. Courtesy was the core of it all, if one could not find respect, then courtesy was all that was expected.

A line of Daisys, squarely formed up in a single rank, held LASRs at the ready, awaiting the call to render their own special salute. The courtesy of today was a curious one. An Uchuugun commander paying honors to a visiting dignitary with her Rikugun soldiers. The soldiers were no stranger to discipline, but no more familiar with the intricacies of a good greeting. Living on the ground, or so far away from Yamatai, it was to forget the pomp and circumstance that surrounded visits like this.

It was a beautiful day, for Asura, at least. The air was a bit warm, and anyone not in armor bore with the heat with their own rigor. Some waited for the shadow of the massive spire behind them to catch up, some hoped that the ceremony would be over before that happened. There was a certain rustling everyone felt in their feet and legs. A beautiful day, the end of a duty day, and they were all standing in ceremony. Normally, and especially with the prior commander, there would be some light conversation to make the time go by.

Few chose to speak in the presence of Shosho Fujiwara Miu, who stood at the head of this small gathering. Some began to mistake her for a misplaced statue, or a bland looking doll. The occasional gust of wind would remind people that it was a real person standing there, and not a sculpted image that better served on an Elysian cathedral. Her icy stare made people uncomfortable, and the worse reminder that she still moved was the glance in the direction of anyone who spoke.

In truth, Miu didn't mind if people spoke, in fact it bewildered her that no one was. Her mind was rolling over the situation: the possibilities, the questions, the frustration. The Admiral needed a distraction, and sought one in the possible ways she would need to regard this Mikado. How would one address such a person? Was she ready to?

Miu's brow furrowed, and the entire ceremony tensed.

"They were running late at the gate," piped her Senior Heisho, the older man sensed her frustration, but was much more comfortable with senior officers than the others present. "The shuttle should be here in a minute."

"Hm," hummed Fujiwara, causing those around her to tense again. "You remember what I advised?"

"Heh heh," the man chuckled, shifting a bit in his stance, "seems a bit a rude not to look someone in the eyes, ma'am."

"You have never met an elf before," answered Miu, tersely.

When the speck of black appeared upon the horizon, cresting one of the mountains in the distance that seperated this province from the next, Fujiwara squinted, zooming in.

Still too far away for perfect detail, it seemed to be a Lorath shuttle - one of the Merula class she had come to be familiar with in her current tenure. It dipped lower to the ground, following the contours of the landscape, skimming the tops of conifers that retained their piney green hue even in this late season. She could even see the vague outline of its sonic wake.

The boom came after it landed, after they had all been treated to the view of the Asterian flag, sunburst bright against the darkness, blazoned upon the turning transport. It lowered its wheels and settled on the road before the base. None of them could see it after that but they could hear the discussion at the gate.

It didn't take long before the two great durandium gates shuttered open to allow the small unit to pass through.

"Post!"

The Daisy clad soldiers stiffened, most of them not used to the call to ceremony. There LASRs were brought to their chests, and with a marching precision they cut half an angle to their left. There was a short silence as the procession made its way up closer. What officers were present were not as privy to the admiral's advice as her own staff had been. A few them eyed the Asterian leader with her own guard detail. For some of them, it was if they had stepped out of a book rather than a shuttle.

Miu carefully watched the group, not the individuals, to an untrained eye she seemed to be following her own advice. Truthfully, her mind raced with what to say. There were many things that could be said, many emotions to be felt, and certain things better forgotten. She drew a deep breath.

The call for the honor detail to fire was made, but she didn't quite hear it. She noticed some of the greener officers jumped, likely from the discharge of LASR fire into the sky. That was the best of it, though, that was all she could take in from her own ceremony. The Admiral hadn't even paid much mind that her Hei making the calls had used the wrong word.

And then she looked up, and really saw them, and her breath caught without her meaning to lose it.
A few paces before her, Morioka Naoko - no, it wasn’t her. This woman was too tall, nearly a head and a half taller than Fujiwara. Her eyes were too sharp, a cool gold where Fujiwara’s former commander had been honey gold and cream, the same color as the golden diadem which denoted her new nobility and held back the lion’s mane of silk-thin blond from spilling over her expression. Her lips were too thin, her ears were too long, but in that moment, it was just those gold eyes. That gold hair. The complexion of a woman she had known personally, and closely, in what felt like a previous life, though it had been stripped of its deceptive softness. What had replaced it seemed impossibly imminent, proud and fair and confidently martial, and weakened the knees.

The guard behind the Mikado, and to her right - a woman in a black shroud suit that fit her form nicely, a front-opening longskirt in the Morioka clan colors, and a mask that seemed reminiscent of a kitsune, plain and white beneath a dark hood proclaimed, formally, "Lady Bhelith Blackspear, Duchess of Asura, the Mikado, Protector of Asteria and Marshal of the Free Companies."

The halberds that they were carrying all clicked upon the smooth courtyard tiles. The small colored pennants fluttered in the wind. They were armed in a more modern fashion too - holsters with pistols, and each of them carried a short barreled energy rifle in perfect symmetry slung over their chests - but it was the ceremonial weapons that caught the eye, and the way they held them in perfect stillness.

They were all nekovalkyrja, or jiyuuian, and all around Fujiwara's height. The elf among them seemed all the more imposing for it.

The staff at the head of the ceremony were stiff, some of them were a bit off-put by the level regalia. Star Army uniforms were practically Nepleslian in comparison, save for the skin-tight fitting on most. Some could've said they felt a little under-dressed, but that wasn't the core of which Fujiwara wished to work with here. In a perfect, practiced unison, the staff bowed at a sharp incline, enough to pay respect to the Mikado's rank and status.

All of whom, except for Fujiwara herself.

Her executive officer gave her a side-long look without breaking etiqutte. When the rest of them straightened, there was a small level of bewilderment that could be felt. The timing had been right, in fact, Miu had telepathically signaled them. There was little doubt in their mind that she didn't know to do the same. Despite what seemed to be a fluke or misstep, they all stood stiff, unaware of what boiled within their commander.

"Greetings, Blackspear-san," began Fujiwara, her chest rising just so, as if a small ball of fire worked inside of it, "It is the honor of the garrison and its command to greet you here at Fort Asura."

Bhelith smiled disarmingly at her. "Fujiwara Miu. I am pleased to see you have changed but little, and pleased to have you commanding this garrison."

But little, was true, as Miu's gaze was as cold and unmoving as last they met. "Do you judge your commanders as swiftly as you meet them? I don't quite remember earning such trust."

The Mikado folded her hands behind her waist, standing to her full height and looking around at the assembled soldiers, in armor and dress uniform, taking in the scene that had been prepared for her in its entirety before looking back down to Fujiwara.

Telepathically, a voice, a little higher pitched than Morioka's and male besides, offered in quiet serenity; "She does when she selects them." It confused her until she traced the signal, and found a red, jeweled eye on a snake-coiled armband that Bhelith was wearing, bright against her dark skin. Elves didn't have telepathy, no matter their subspecies, but this one had clearly found an intermediary.

"I trust myself as a proper judge of character, and I am certain that the Admiral has appointed you for no small purpose. Shall we proceed inside? I have heard this base was built to resemble one of the Lorathi towers that could launch itself from atmosphere."

"I find it excessive, as much as I find most things inspired of the Lorath," plainly offered Fujiwara, unmoving. There was a small air taken in by her detachment. Her staff, flanking her, faced off from her side, and marched off to the edges of the walk-way. There they dismissed themselves, along with the remainder of the ceremony. Even the Daisy honor-guard cleared a distance before launching off to rack their armors.

They all left the lonely little Shosho in the presence of the Mikado and her retinue. For a moment, it seemed as though they were to stand there, but Shosho evntually turned. "As with any proper Yamataian integration," continued Miu finally, "It serves its purpose, with little mind to the excess that would burden a lesser nation. Truthfully, I feel an over-head fleet would serve similar purpose, and send a more proper message."

They fell into step, and as they fell into step so did Bhelith's blackcoats. This seemed a strange take on the Samurai that Fujiwara might have expected a Yamataian clan to have, but Bhelith had never really been traditional. Perhaps she had been traditional, after all, but to a different culture.

"I am of a similar mind." An understatement, and Fujiwara knew it; Tenth Fleet had maintained its complete mobility right up until a direct order had posted Leo Starbase in orbit of Asura. It seemed strangely nostalgic walking next to the elf.

"She wishes to know if you have been practicing," asked the serpent.

"If she wants to know then she may ask," came a menacing, cold reply. The Shosho became much more aware of the green blade at her hip.

"She did."

As though aware of the conversation, Bhelith shifted her attention back down to Fujiwara. "I assumed you would not wish to be overheard. That is Chishiki, one of two artificial intelligences that I keep around." She then tapped the ceremonial diadem, the crown that graced her brow, indicating it.

"I remember you being capable of doing such a thing," noted Fujiwara, making sure she kept a lead as they progressed into the reception area of the spire's base, "unassisted."

As they passed the front desk, the watch stationed immediately stood. They bowed, deeply, and opened their mouths to speak. Fujiwara caught them, "Carry on."

They froze, waiting for the procession to pass before letting the group move foward into the unadorned passageways of the tower. The Spire was relatively spartan, lacking in furnishings and most of all, personnel. Compared to the existing bustle of Fort Asura, its tower felt spacious for the lack of life in it. In fact, the most decorated things that could be seen were the Asterians themselves.

The Shosho looked over her shoulder, affording her one pleasant, passing glimpse of the Mikado, "It must be a great convenience to you that I am little different."

"Of a sort," Bhelith responded, keeping pace with Miu without exerting much effort at it. Infuriating. Stupid. Sexy legs. Why were they so long? Why was there a slat in the armored skirt that showed off that much brown, supple thigh? "I said that, but I do not actually believe it to be true. I expect you have changed quite a bit, in fact."

"I do hope you don't mind being dissappointed," mildly answered Miu, looking away from Bhelith. The group was coming to an elevator, a wide one. "We Neko are quite the still people. All that changes is war, and the way we fight it." She pressed the button to summon the lift. "A simple truth, but one that our lives center upon."

With another, little glance, she added, "Most of us."

"And when the war is over?" Bhelith asked, seemingly just to keep Fujiwara talking as they passed through the sparse passageways.

"Have you forgotten your history?" asked Fujiwara, her gaze flat and cold. When the lift arrived, there was a telling sound in the gravimetric engine under it subsiding.

"The Abwehren find peace, if my memory does hold true. Though we live in endless war, peace yet tends to appear in pockets. All of my life has been devoted to the practice of war, as you well know, but as it is an expression of such purpose as can be found in it, an extention of the axioms by which we preserve what is worthwhile in the world, I find it worth considering."

The elevator was very broad. The six of them fit into it in reasonable comfort, with a fair amount of space. Volumetric windows spread on each wall, showing a comforting view of the outside as they ascended.

"How did you find them, if I may?"

"They are honorable, rugged, and more realistic in their approach of war than any other race I have met," explained Fujiwara, not minding to speak of the iron-boned people. In truth, she had come to enjoy their company greatly. Her fondness showed in the shifting of her boots on the floor. A sign of yearning that Miu had never cared to tame. "I spent very little on Jaspis, but what I did see was an admirable society. I will enjoy the day when we meet them on the field."

Detecting the former neko's interest, the admiral cut a glance to Blackspear, "How did you find Francia? I hear it used to be very cold."

"I spent much of my time on Francia in a bunker," Bhelith replied, settling her forearm on the long hilt of her strange sword; it was not the twin of the one that Fujiwara carried, but seemed to be set in silver, and hilted for an alien hand. "I should liked to have stayed in the Union." The elf tilted her head just slightly, as though thinking - a habit she seemed to have retained from her nekovalkyrja days . "Though, I found the weather pleasant enough, along with the company on Francia."

"I hear you met someone there as well," broached the Shosho, taking a vivid interest in a shuttle taking off from the base's spaceport.

The elf smiled, and murred enigmatically, looking sidelong to the Shosho with as much interest as the latter pretended not to have. "Mhm."

Sensing her eyes, Fujiwara turned her head a bit more. Those white-tipped ears fell a little bit, sinking just lower than they normally hung from the edges of her head. The sound of air-conditioning and gravimetric pulses took over for a passing moment. Then, the Admiral looked to the Elf again, bearing that same colorless look. "And your clan, how are they?"

"Larger than they were, and happier, many of them. My daughters do well. I am pleased to know that Ember still does me small favors, such as rediscovering you for me. The one that I adopted and manuvered in the Union makes me rich, and the last, whom I just adopted, makes me happy and helps me practice. I fear I am not quite as deadly as was, but they humor me."

She lifted the arm nearer Fujiwara and, with her typically radiant smile, she flexed lightly. Fujiwara's stone-colored eyes were tempted to look. The elf was wiry as a hunting cat. If she reached out and touched her, would it feel like ...? "The practicing, at least, feels more organic to me."

"Truly, that is one thing that never changed," spoke Miu, cutting her stolen attention to the fore as the volumetric window dropped. With a pleasant ding, the wide doors opened into a more lush hall. The administration sector, judging by the sign, and further down, a set of doors lined with a more pleasant atmosphere. "You never needed to be deadly."

The Shosho stepped forward, clarifying, "You had a knack for drawing people to their purpose, at most times for your purpose."

The austere elf reclasp her hands behind herself, following Fujiwara out into the hallway with an unconsciously confident shrug. It was a bit uncomfortably dark, even if it were after hours. Were it not for the few yeomen that could spotted not doing their jobs at their desks, it would have felt as they they were walking into a sort of ambush. Miu was not someone for such flair, she thought, as the concept crossed her mind.

Crossing the length of the hallway, they approached the doort at the end of it. A sculpted placard placed upon it.

It read, Office of the Commandant

"Are you always accompanied?" asked Fujiwara, staring at her door. She felt the tall elf loom at her shoulder, and could hear the creak of her armor when she turned slightly.

"Honno, as you see fit."

The fox-masked guard dipped her head and Fujiwara could sense the buzz of telepathy and communication, even from the coiled, sentient jewelry around the Mikado's arm. The blackcoats split from their flanking positions and took up positions. Two of them stood, for all the world like halberded statues, one to either side of Fujiwara's door. The other two found positions along the hall, one of them staring through the mask at the uncertain yeoman who hadn't quite been living up to whatever standard of decorum that Bhelith's Ceremonial Guard did.

Bhelith turned back to the smaller, plainer, paler nekovalkyrja and nodded her forward. Fujiwara curled her neck, and as if shying from her gaze, the door opened.

The Commandant's Office was a sweeping room that appeared to be meant for large gatherings. There was a great deal of space between the entrance and the solitary desk that sat near the edge of the tower windows. Other than an ornate door on one of the walls, there was not much to it. Furniture was arrayed around a common table that seemed adaptable in becoming an actual meeting desk. Everything felt very cold and purposeful. If the previous commandant meant the space to be welcoming, the current one had not.

At the moment they entered, Fujiwara's feet cut off the floor, and she glided over to her desk, far from Blackspear. Her boots made a lonely tap onto the floor, and made her way over to the chair. She did not sit, in fact, she politely distracted herself with something outside.

Behind her, the greaves were less silent, the supple but quite mortal low-heeled boots heralding the elf joining her. Bhelith did not bother to acknowledge the seperation of the desk, but simply stood beside Fujiwara, looking out over the broad, rolling fields and rustic, nearly untouched and untamed greenery that surrounded the foreign metal and strange walls that Yamatai had placed upon its face and nestled within the land's bosom. The real jewels were the hundreds and hundreds of flowers, of all colors, which grew in colorful bursts here and there on the plains, competing with tufts of brush and the occasional sparsity brought on by this planet's fall. It could have been a painting, and been less perfect for the duplication.

Looking at all of it, one would have to imagine the faint susurrus of wind; imagine, because here in the cold tower, they couldn't hear it.

The winding road, carved by industrious Jiyuuians several years before when Yamatai took official possession of the planet, wound like a black snake through the tall and waving grasses. Or maybe it was the great beasts tail, and they were seeing through its eyes.

Looking out at this, Bhelith said nothing, and Fujiwara could tell that the elf wasn't in a hurry, and didn't bother feeling the gravitas that the large, empty office exuded. At least, not while it oversaw such a view.

Those pale fingers of Fujiwara's sank into leather of her chair. She had wanted to throw it at the elf, but the futility of it all choked another muted sigh from her lips. For the first time in years she had her, she had her right there. All the questions and screaming and accusations frothed in her throat. Every ounce of her being anchored her boots to the ground, no matter how much she wanted to go kicking and screaming. Morioka had taken her into her fold, trained her, molded her, known her, and then had just walked back in.

Rather, she had willed her presence back to her side. It seems one could never truly escape the suns pull. At one time, it would have excited her, thrilled her, even, to be in swirling draw of her charisma. Now, all it did was force a lump in her throat, a lead ball made of her own emotions. How she envied the people that could walk with her, talk with her, love her. All she wanted right now was time to turn back, to her Taisho to be there smiling that knowing smile. Just to have the attention of that golden visage, feel the worth in herself again.

In truth, why had she brought her up here? Now it had simply become harder to talk, harder to avoid looking at her. She was even more beautiful than the first time she saw her, and then alone she had sworn she had the most awe-inspiring beauty.

Now the Elf stared out at the world, her dominion, and the Shosho could only stare at her. Because of the starkness of the room, or perhaps because of its comparative emptiness, the woman shone bright as polished metal could make her, one of the biggest figures in Fujiwara's life. Somehow, against all logic, against all odds, she had become a queen - but hadn't she always acted that way?

As the silence dragged on, Bhelith eventually turned to regard the Commandant, wearing a softer smile than usual. That little smile took her breath from her flattened mouth.

"Naoko..." Fujiwara eyes searched into Bhelith's, as if she had seen something familiar in them.

The elf sighed gently through her nose. Then, she touched Fujiwara's cheek. After a few seconds Fujiwara realized why; the Mikado's fingertips trailed to the edge of her close-clasped lips, to the very edge of her customary frown.

The woman's voice was low, serious, and a little wistful, as though Bhelith had sensed her feelings, or guessed them. "Miu. It is not as though anyone would judge you if you smiled."

"This, coming from the woman who cannot stop smiling?" The Neko leaned into the elf's hand, that sense of familiarity striking her square in the chest. The sense of loss rose in her breast, and she closed her eyes, a pair of tears winking down her cheeks. "What is there to smile about?"

Without another word, Bhelith pulled Miu into an embrace. Despite the armor, Miu could feel the woman's breath, and smell the cloyingly warm amber of her perfume. The long strands of the woman's hair cushioned her cheek against the breastplate, along with that ridiculous-looking tuft of fur that had been added for style. It should have smelled like sunlight, of course, but that was a thought born of shock and a little bit of madness.

About the height of her white-tipped ear, Miu heard her mentor ask, quietly, "What indeed?"

 

Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
2,777
615
138
29
Adventure & Intrigue
stararmy.com
#5
ON: The Eagle

Wherein two old friends meet, discuss their lives up to this point, both strange and regular, and wherein Redak Di is raised to peerage.


Redak sat strapped into his chair as the bridge of D'jehendrazade shuddered softly. The buzzing that reveberated through out the ship was a result of the inertial dampners being pushed to their limits as they tried to mitigate the friction of Asura's atmosphere as she made her descent. To the people below she would have the visage of a shooting star streaking accross the sky, save for the fact that it was slowing down.

The bridge crew was silent as Redak did not need them to report to him what they were doing. He had served with this crew for years, fought in dozens of engagements with them. Entering a planet's atmosphere was always a stressful event, but he had an air of calm. The Lady always protected them.

"Bring us to hover at the designated coordinates." Redak said with his Gravely voice.

"Aye Commander." The Helmsman parroted back robotically.

The Lady slowed, and flew over what appeared to be a grounded Lorathi ship, one that would have been familiar to Vista, were she here. She soon came to a hover nearly a mile above. Her white battle scarred hull still glowing from the intense heat inflicted by the friction.

Far below, on the broad and rolling plains of one of the planet's greenest expanses. It reclined like a beast of war while the makeshift harbor around it buzzed with repair and resupply activity.

With the ship at a hover Redak unfastined his harness, and stood. "I will be going planet side. The Bridge is your's XO." He said softly, his voice rumbling as he stood and started to leave the Bridge.

"I'll have the RRF as your escort." She responded, her ebony face and eyes locking onto the Back of her Captian's head.

Redak paused, and fingered his cover. Not turning he responded. "No. I need to do this alone." He said flatly. Before Tines could respond Redak was gone.

Redak Piloted the Gumia down to the grounded star ship, and sent out a simple docking chime. One that the soverign of this world would remember. A chime that indicated that Redak came alone as per their rare meetings face to face.

Has it been five years? I am sure she is still the same. I wonder if I have changed any? No. Salt does not age.

Once the signal was accepted Redak would step off of the Gumia, and into the alien docking bay. He wore his brimmed captian's hat, and coat. It was buttoned and secured with his thick leather belt. At the belt was the Iromakuanhe cloth blades. He had put on about 20 pounds, and his skin had gone from a soft blue to a dull almost grey blue. Though the old salty officer looked as hard as ever. His age only seemed to make him look sterner, and stony, rather than geriatric.

He was met by a wolf-masked woman in what he recognized as a form fitting Shroud suit beneath a open-faced robe in green and black. She had an elbow hooked at the handle of a straight-edged sword sheathed at her side, like a Yamataian daisho without its smaller partner. They were about of a height. She had a halberd, which looked quite ceremonial.

"She's expecting you," the wolf-masked woman stated.

Redak responded at first with a blink. "Indeed. Please, lead the way." He said trying to make his rumbling voice as soft as he could. He got the sense that the woman was sizing him up, half for some honest purpose, and half out of some other curiousity. Nevertheless, they entered the ship and soon they were well on their way. Most of the crew were Lorathi, though a fair number of them were robed in black and green and the rest were wearing a bodysuit uniform that Redak did not recognize. It must have been the newest iteration of the Morioka Clan's, or perhaps it had been taken for Asteria's working uniform.

The Lorathi ship had winding corridors and had been built with a sense for austerity by a people that, compared to the Gartagens, were entirely too full of themselves. The Admiral's cabin was accessible through a private lift. They waited for it only a few moments before he found himself again upon the threshhold, looking into the office of his old, and similarly full-of-herself friend.

The lighting was soft, but more intense near the desk where the gold-haired elf sat waiting. Most things were wood paneled; it contained a full bar, and apparently some sort of access to the galley on the far side of the room. The carpet was huge, and broad, and deadend even his heavy footfalls, and the place smelled a little bit like purfume and a little bit, again, like smoky incense.

Off to the left was what appeared to be a lounging area, with a richly upholstered couch, a recliner, and a low coffee table with several floral displays upon it.

And, last but not least, a banner hung from the bulkhead behind the desk, even as it had graced her former Jiyuuian outpost all those years ago - it likely took the place of honor where "Fate" Fyuunen's house banner had previously resided. In the warm golden light, it shown verdantly green and brilliantly gold. The woman beneath it had claimed this Lorath battle carrier in the same way she had claimed the Jiyuuian base all those years before.

It seemed to be a trend. Here was the legendary Asterian lady of war, living in her claimed spoils, like a dragon on her hoard.

She smiled at him when she saw him in the elevator door and rose. The flaxen-haired elf glowed like a goddess in lightly-colored white and gold robes that contrasted well with her dark skin, and though the cloth hid it well, he could tell she had an odd vibrancy she had not had before. This was a different woman, physically, from the short nekovalkryja he had matched wits with before. Yet, it somehow seemed more real. He could tell from the cast of her shoulders, from the way the warrior's robe bound close, that her strength bore physical truth. She looked strong, and tall, and beautiful, and she had been waiting for him.

"Commander Redak. Welcome again, it seems. How long has it been, now?"

Redak bowed to his escort, who stepped aside to the door, where she resumed what seemed to be a ceremonial position. But did not speak, his eyes took in the entire room, but for all of its vibrant eloquence it pailed in comparison to the Mikado. His eyes locked on to hers and a small smile formed. Then his powerful nose took effect. Beyond the incense, the past visitors and what they had for dinner, he could smell the new life in her. "It has been about five cycles...I." He then took a knee and bowed his head.

"I am shamed my dear Mori---Mikado Bhelith---I was unaware you were with child. I'd have brough you a gift." He said being genuine. To come so far, and to not adhire to his culture was slightly distressing. "As usual you have me off guard." He said chuckling. "Last we spoke you had a uniform, and a mission. It seems you have exchanged that for so much more. It suits you if I may say so."

"You flatter me," she said, though he knew that with Bhelith, flattery was rarely an error. In truth he found Morioka--on their first meeting to be a handsome creature.

The Mikado came around her desk, her expression a little rueful, a little exasperated, but with her usual, casual amusemenet. "Too kind. Yes, I am pregnant and I had thought it well hidden - is it so easy to tell? Perhaps I should be more careful."

"My eye sight tries to fade on me, my nose is as sharp as ever. I wont breath a word of it." He said rising to his feet and advancing. "It is good to see you well. Last I heard you were on Nepleslia. With the political tension between Gartaga and Nepleslia I had feared we would end up foes. I am glad that has not come to pass."

She touched her nearly-flat stomach thoughtfully. In a moment, she had returned her attention to the situation at hand, approaching the small, well-upholstered lounge area. She took the recliner, her waist-cinched, fold-over robe seeming paradoxical against the Lorathi sense of furniture style. Beyond her house's Mon, the only ostentation seemed to be a gold diadem that sat cerimonially upon her brow, defying the informality she exuded when she spoke. "Come, have a seat. A great deal has happened, not all of it good, and not all of it bad. Where shall we begin, Redak? Would you like something to drink?"

"Official capicity as per the usual. It would be impolite of me to decline the offer." He said as his face went back to stone and he took his seat. The thick Gartman didnt relax, he maintained his military posture seeming rather stiff, though he did curl his tail around his waist when sitting on these alien chairs.

He let out a sigh, hating protocol. "Well, I have been sent to you by the Empress herself. She is aware of our past dealings, which she quietly benifitted from as you anticipated. But it had the added effect of gaining my self her favor and attention. With that she wished convay her approval of your new station, and as part of her diplomatic tour has opted to use me as her herald. The Empress Vishta wishes for your permission to come here to officially recognize Asteria as a nation under Yamatai."

He then paused allowing for Bhelith to take in that little bit of news. She had been watching him in her patient, feline way. He soon removed his hat. "Now that gibberish is done with, please...from the begenning?" He said steepling his talons together and leaning into the conversation.

Bhelith obliged him as her bodyguard went over to the bar, pouring not two, but three drinks, maintaining one for herself. If the Mikado noticed this, it didn't seem to bother her. She accepted the drink, but did not sip from it. "Simply, I retired when Yui noticed she had an admiral without a fleet. I was removed over this planet, and a disagreement about how to handle it and put behind a desk. However, admirals are almost never demoted in Yamatai, and the fleets needed to be reorganized anyway, so she gave the order that unassigned Admirals would either retire, or be demoted to a much less prestigious position.

"As you see, I chose to retire. I visited Gamjie for a while, hunted dust trout with some of your people, and generally enjoyed my retirement. Our 'daughter' has made me quite wealthy, and I do not regret investing all of my backpay. It has paid off quite well.

"She always did have a nose for money." Redak said pensively.

"Yes. As far as the Nepleslian issue you mention," she intoned, a practiced recollector, her smile unfaded, though smaller. In this lighting, Redak noticed that Bhelith wore makeup - there wasn't quite the shine that there should have been upon her dusky skin - and seemed somehow older than when he had last met her. Perhaps it was her new body. Morioka Naoko had been an intimidating nekovalkyrja, and now she seemed a wisened elf. The edge hadn't quite gone out of her though. "As far as that - I took a mercenary contract with one of their Senators. Apparently, the new Sky Marshal had dissolved the senate for some small while, and Nepleslia has always been quite dependant upon private interests. I put together a mercenary army and set out to rig an election for him, but money talks louder than morality, I fear, or love of freedom. So we retreated."

"The Nepleslians have always been a paradoxical people. They love their freedom, yet submit to a military dictatorship. Of course, for all of their tough talk about being manly. My people have gotten them to stand down from that disposition three times. " He said chiming in as she spoke.

Here, she fell silent for the moment and sipped at her drink. The bodyguard had resumed her place, and though she must have drank, Redak couldn't tell that she had ever removed her mask.

Redak laughed after a bit of silence. He stuck his hand into his navy coat and pulled out a scroll of paper. A simple print out he encountered on Niburu station; a wanted poster of Bhelith Blackspear. He handed it to Bhelith, who took it quite gracefully, perhaps guessing at what it was before giving it a cursory glance. "3,500,000 DA? I should turn you in and retire on some paradise world filled with naked everything." He then took whiff of his drink before he sipped on it. "I figured you might want that, as a trophy."

"Perhaps. I do enjoy having powerful enemies," the newly minted Mikado mused, "Yui has always quite disliked me, and now I am reviled in another country. Fortunately, it seems that I am rather difficult to slay properly, and some people still think I have my uses." She looked up and around, motioning with the rolled paper to the room with an airy whimsy and a she-wolf's smile. "Do you think that I could make a country of naked everything? We escaped Francia with somewhere near twenty former sexual slaves, previously brainwashed by one of the Nepleslian criminal gangs. It is, more or less, all they know. What do you think, a pole over there by the bar?"

Redak smiled and leaned back puffing up slightly. "You are Mikado---I beleive that is a very old Yamataigo word for emperor? I may be wrong. But the Mikado can do what ever she wishes."

The elf confirmed with a nod. "Whatever I wish. For the sake of the Jiyuuians, who understand the term, I am Mikado. If I were in my home country, they would call me Lady Empress, as Uesu was once called Lord Emperor. In trade, it is all the same, as it is in practice."

Redak then finished his drink in a swift gulp. He paused then spoke rather carefully. Perhaps it was stating the obvious. "You are in charge. For better or worse, this is your home country now." Redak knew he was stating the obvious. But he found it oftend helped to say it aloud, for all parties involved to properly understand the concepts being convayed.

"But president is hardly fitting for the great Morioka Bhelith. I prefer Mikado. Far harder for the small folk to disobey a Mikado then it is for them to disobey a premier or president."

"Which brings me to the second part---I am an officer of the Gartagen Union...at best an unofficial contact nation for Asteria. On entering this star system our initial scans showed ships...old UOC craft...the planet has a very mixed population, some of those Gartagen soldiers that were stationed in the region seem to have settled into a new life."

He then sat up, his dark blue eyes shifting to the lupine faced bodyguard. She stared at him, silent. "I'll quote my Empress; you have the nation. Now the hard part is to keep it."

The Mikado folded her arms, slipping them into her robe beneath the loose fold-over shirt. Beneath that was a similarly loose and light-colored shift, though Redak doubted that Bhelith, who had never been particularly shy, had been thinking of modesty when she chose it. "One would think from listening to you, my friend, that you were about to ask me for an official appointment."

"My people have never been shy about sharing their technology and weapons. Nor are we our expertise." He said calmly. "I could sit here and waste you time telling you my pedigree, clan affiliation, training, and the specifics of my military career. Yet I feel that would be redundant. You have that Lorathi woman, yes, yet you have actually seen how I fight. Which means you know me better than most. Also like wise."

Redak paused for a moment, his eyes turning into slits. "I though for a long time about what you said to me, after that wargame scenerio. About dying and coming back due to the nature of the Yamataian. In my time i've seen this process. They dont remember their moment of death...those Yamatians..I found this rather intriguing."

The white-garbed elf set the glass aside and leaned upon the opposite arm of her reclining chair, giving him a dubious look. That had not been all they had spoken of, during the meeting that had started it all - from their joint adoption of a promising wayward, to their war games, to Morioka's money and rise to wealth and Redak's political ambitions carrying him further by proxy than he had ever suspected his career could take him alone.

The gold-eyed elf asked, "What dies?"

"Everything." He said in response. "The point I am making is that since that time, I havent lost. But I suppose the question is....what is it you need?"

"Officially?" queried the elf, perhaps put out by his avoidance of the philosophical conundrum, the seed of which she had planted quite the while ago. As usual, she recovered well, though he could see the pique anyway. "Or as a friend?"

"As a friend." Redak said. " Officially....I never thought I would be here, today. I always assumed I'd serve out my term patrolling frontier space, and get quietly pushed into retirement. Yet here I am. The way I see it I should use my blessings to do some good."

Bhelith waited. He could tell that some of the woman's good nature, real or imagined, had waned from her posture and expression. She actually seemed, for just a moment, to be a little tired. Perhaps she had wanted a different answer. Perhaps, she had been enjoying herself before the business of actually running her country had intruded upon her reunion. It showed in the narrower caste of her eyes.

Redak winced slightly. "Though, as a friend I will warn you the political wheels are turning. That Lorathi woman should be being paraded through the streets of the Old Imperial city naked until her feet fall off. But. Two near wars, and a threat of the a new one has allowed for some mercy. The Empress is going to offer you assistance in an effort to have as many ships in the Kikyo sector ready for what ever she thinks is coming our way." He hated to spoil their meeting with his bluntness, yet Redak Tam had never been one to lie or try to manipulate people.

When he had remained silent for a suitable enough amount of time to signify he had finished, the Mikado, pointy ears metaphorically perked, asked, "And?"

Redak chose his words rather carefully. She was doing her old trick of keeping her responses short. The pit yawned before him. "I just thought you'd like to be aware of the situation."

The elven general was slow to respond, but when she did, she sounded almost disappointed in him. "I had guessed there were some other motive behind this appointment, and you allude to a danger in abeyance that I am not aware of. It could not simply have been my dearest friend, Yui-denka, doing my species a favor by appointing their errant noble to rule somewhere else. I had assumed I was placed here to quell insurrection. Even the Lorathi mentioned it. Now, as though dropped by fate, an old friend appears with troubling news. I suppose that I should not have dared to hope I would gain any rest. So, where do the blades turn, now? The Motoyoshi, still in hiding? The Mishhuvurthyar? The Kuvexians? Or does Gartega plan a war with Nepleslia, and wish to make my yard their playground?"

"Gartaga is currently playing the long game. Vishta as far as I can tell is looking for winners, her rather quiet endorsement and recognition of you is a compliment. Then again I have never truely understood the logic of the high born, so I wont pretend that idea is anything more than the speculation of an old space hunter."

"From my experience with the Yamatians? She probably wanted to see what would happen, and so here you sit. My people have never been interested in conquest of other species. Our industry isnt tied to military expendature---food production is our motivation economicaly. I'd suggest Vishta wants you as an ally, rather than an enemy."

Redak always found he spoke quite a bit when ever he encountered Morioka-Bhelith. A talent of hers. He had something of an admiration for her- but these days it was as if she had the weight of several worlds on her. "You never answered me however. What can I do for you as a friend?"

The Mikado mulled that over for longer than she usually might have. A function of an elvish body, he might speculate, as opposed to a digitial mind. In the silence, he could hear the quiet whirring, the sounds of a ship in operation, but the carpeting and the thickness of the bulkheads largely dulled it. The chair's upholstry, some sort of leather no doubt hunted by avaricious Lorath nobility for sport, creaked a little as Bhelith shifted her weight.

Strangely, he also heard the rustling of some avian in the room. To his surprise, a small kestrel which he had assumed, on first glance, to have been stuffed, ruffled its feathers on a perch nearby her desk. Strange he had not smelled it.

When she did speak, it seemed with reluctance. "I take it, your Empress would forgive you, even encourage you to take service with me?"

Redak nodded yes. "The Empress and I have something of an understanding. Politically, I likely will never advance beyond what I am now. I am too old, my birth makes it difficult. Even with the endorsement of the Empress.

"She would probably grant me comission to be an official advisor. Yet you need capable people and loyalty. Not forigne advisors." He said steepling his talons once more. "She...reminds me of you."

"She picked a messenger she knew would be accepted, and seems to have forgotten to give him a message," Bhelith pointed out, without rancor.

Redak remained stoned faced and silent, but he did not deny the assertion. Redak merely diverted his attention to the kestril and slowly extended his right index finger up to encourage the bird to come to a perch. "My people get famed as warriors. The truth is our entire fleet and troops could drop dead or be exterminated right now. Yet we would have another fleet ready in a matter of days. My people are builders. Engineers. Tinkerers. But if you don't need any of these things, it is fine by me. I may look about purchasing some land here. For retirment."

Her Highness Morioka-denka, lady of war, tapped the small rolled bounty in her hand on the very edge of the chair's arm a few times. If there had been a fire nearby, or perhaps if this low, warm lighting had been the light of some old, outmoded candles, he did not doubt that Bhelith might have set fire to it. That was the sort of way that she looked just then, mulling over the import of his news, his message, and his presence all at once.

She hadn't missed that he had said this after handing her a notice of her own bounty. Likely, too, she hadn't let pass any of his other inferrances. Redak was a soldier, not a politician. The things unsaid weren't very far away from what had already been. Bhelith, too, was a soldier, but not any common sort of one; she followed a much more ancient path that required a certain amount of banal, dominating acumen.

A momentary distraction, the small sporting hawk flapped its way over to his outstretched hand and alighted there, tame as he could have hoped.

Redak didnt even seem suprised at the animal. He simply turned his attention to it and studied the alien creature. It ruffled its feathers and peered at him, through one eye and then the other, as its mistress began to speak in the background.

"Inform me when you have retired, and I will name you a peer, and for your holdings, give you the governance of the province most settled by your own former soldiers. You will be required to field a free company for national service, and attend a council of peers, when it is summoned.

"What I need most is loyalty," the golden woman behind him concluded, "May I have yours?"

"When have you not had my loyalty?" The stocky Gartagen said not taking his attention off the small falcon.

"My consort, the former senator - Count Izgimmer handles many of these appointments. He is not a man of war, and I may over-rule him where I please, as in this case."

"Indeed. Not every choice is a military matter. But with my comission's time line coming to an end I have options. I can take my ship and become a reserve, or as the empress suggested....I and a squadron of others can be of some use. I am a man of war."

"I have spent much of my life in the navy. House Tam as it stands has some rescources. I can relocate much of my holdings to this world at a moment's notice. I'd prefer the choice be yours. Mikado." Tam said as his eyes turned and locked onto Bhelith's. She didn't shy from them, and Tam got the idea that perhaps, somehow, this conversation had been on rails for a little while.

"Honno." It was the first time she had addressed the bodyguard in the room, but she looked away from Redak and addressed her. "Would you come up with some sort of official ceremony? I wish to make Redak Di the Duke of Tange."

The wolf-masked yojimbo glanced over Redak again, and then said, "Yes."

"There you have it." The Mikado sat the little bounty paper on the laquered coffee table and picked up her glass again, settling back into the recliner, instantly changed, like sunlight breeching a momentarily distracting cloud. "By the time the director of ceremonies, there, has solved what to do about the clash of cultures, I expect you will have received your retirement, assuming that your Empress does not intend to retire you immediately upon your return."

Morioka flashed her teeth at him.

Redak smirked. "She told me to remain planet side until her arrival. But she is also my friend too. So in a civilian capacity she is a connection, and i'll be one for her. That being said if there is a grocery list of supplys, equipment...let me know. She did send some advisors and teachers back with Fate. That Mobile refinery will be cranking out raw materials.... I suppose I should get those Gartagen settlers organised and producing. That being said, have you selected a name for your child?"

The elf laughed to herself, a sound suddenly, starkly feminine, if not outright motherly for the old Admiral. He shared the laugh with her. Afterwards, she resettled, sipped from the glass, a clearer liquid than Redak had drank, seemingly just to regain her footing in the conversation. It did not take too long.

"No, I have not decided upon a name. To tell you the truth, I have not even asked its gender, though of course I could know if I wished to bother anyone. By the hells, you can likely even smell it, too, I wager. And yet, I do not really wish to know. I did not even want this child, and it has been inconvenient. The amount of times I have puked today would surprise you. It does not seem to be the sort of problem that will go away if I ignore it, is it?"

"My wife gave me four. She used to walk around crying about how bad her feet hurt. Bhelith is a good name. I hope you have a girl, name her Naoko in honor of your former life."

"Naoko?" the elven Mikado queried. "I have worn a lot of names and titles in my time. Morioka Naoko is simply the name I took when I entered the Grand Star Army. It did not feel right, to have an elvish name in a foreign service. It was just a moniker."

"I rather enjoy it. The name you wore as a synthoid, now reused for something born of flesh. That being said, what ever you name the child, i'd volunteer my self to take him or her in as a ward for a time."

"But, to me, neither bears much meaning," the Mikado insisted. "Even the clan that I have formed is a face, just a pattern, a ceremonial motion that gives me power through appearance. Eventually that perception became a truth, and now it is a ruling clan, and I have daughters, yours and mine, and retainers like John, or Kelda, or Nenna - or any number of those who gather to my banner - and a private army, the like of which has but rarely existed."

She seemed not to have heard his offer, but she had. She tapped the edges of her glass with nails that she had allowed to grow longer, but she did finally address it after she had wound down and considered.

"You are kind to offer, but I would not wish to rob John of that. To him, this child is a dream come true. Like as not, my child will bear a name he wishes."

"Indeed Well, all I can offer is my self. My friendship isnt contingent on the station you hold."

The elf laughed musically again and settled back, into the deep leather Lorathi chair, legs moving beneath the shimmeringly white robe to fold, one over the other. Redak found himself recalling a similarly reclined nekovalkyrja, sitting in a Captain's chair and talking about living gods. Some things never changed.

"You may meet him. John, I mean."

Redak let a small smile spread accross his his old stone face. "Did he tame you? Or you him? I'm joking. Though if I do say, the man to managed to marry you must be something worth meeting."

"He would be," noted the fey woman with a sly smile, "If I had married him."
 
Last edited:

Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
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Adventure & Intrigue
stararmy.com
#6
ON: The Eagle, Primary Wardroom​

A young woman arrives who sees strange colores. Asteria's first military action is engaged, and passes; a new Captain joins the cause. Frank is defeated.

A young, buxom blonde woman was flirting with one of the Honor guard. She laughed and was running a delicate finger over the edge of his armor. The deep blue of her dress accentuated the deep ocean blue of her eyes and every curve of her well developed body, leaving little to the imagination but covering everything that it should. "... the angle of pentration depends on the length and force of the thrust."

The guard snapped to rigid attention - well, rigid in this case - and Ginger felt a presence behind her.

The air rippled around the young Morioka and she turned with a flourish. The colors registered and exploded in a burst of gold as she focused. Ginger smiled. "Oh! Grandmother! It's nice to see you!" She said with a girlish glee. The light from her hair reflected deepening shades of gold.

The guard, who's conciousness used to go by Kelda Matsuda, relaxed by a few degrees. Damn, so that's what being on the other side of the gender divide, he thought, having a difficult time not focusing his observation on the sexy girl in front of him.

Redak's head slowly lifted from the hard back book he was a reading. The title was written in old Yamataigo and read "The truth about war love and war." A simple smut novella he picked up off the book shelf and decided to practice his skill at reading the language. Redak's lowered the book to peer over his bronze framed eye glasses at the voice of the girl who was speaking. Looking down at her, his eyes shifted over to Bhelith. "You never mentioned a grand daughter." He said rather sharply with his gravely voice.

"Grand daughter?" the tall Nepleslian man started with surprise. Nervously running a hand through his hair, Johnathan had never felt so suddenly uncomfortable. Just how old was this blond bombshell? Because the way he was definitely looking at her a moment ago - was she a Neko? Minkan? Yamataian? Geshrin? The standards were all rather....difficult and different for each one! The scoundrel of a man wasn't sure how to react; even he had standards, and this was uncomfortably close! He looked to the fey elf by his side for guidance.

'Kelda' had a difficult time not snorting at the other man's discomfort. Whatever Jonny-boy is, Ex-Senator, Queen's Consort, he sure is silly at the best of times. Despite the humorous circumstances, he put on his best stoic mask and kept up his sentry duty, only lingering on Ginger's ass for a few moments every now and again.

Bhelith, who had walked with him into one of the Eagle's various lounge rooms - this one being reserved for her private family, friends, and higher level associates - narrowed her gold eyes just slightly at Ginger. Otherwise, her expression remained unchanged as she tilted her head to the side, a bit down, traveling over the young woman from head to toe without responding to either Redak or John. She took her time on this one.

She wore her armor; the colors Ginger saw were vibrant, brilliant in intensity, and yet the armor obscured much about the elf; it didn't dim the strange aura that she had. Things just seemed to interact a bit differently with the elf on this light spectrum than with the others in the room.

The young Morioka had the audacity to break all conventional norms and leapt up and hugged the Mikaido, who caught her automatically, surprised or not. "I was just waiting for you and this nice young man was keeping me company, talking about swordsman ship in this modern era." The dress seemed to protest at the quick movement but held firm with its fine stitching. "Mother sends her regards but cannot be torn from her office on Leo."

"Ember." Bhelith said it quietly, and seeming to know the answer already. She glanced up to the guard in the fox-mask, perhaps considering her personal retinue a little lax in duties, before asking Ginger; "It will be your birthday soon. If I recall, you are about to be ten? Or, is it eleven?"

Ginger beamed. "Ten this year but mom said I could come planet side for a little while since I already finished my college Psychology program and I was getting so bored on the station! The Star Army is no fun, though the nekovalkyrja are interesting to be around."

"Ah." The Mikado, not normally one to be awkward in any circumstance, smiled gracefully. For a moment, from her manner, she looked at John for a little assistance - but just as quickly, almost immediately, looked back down to Ginger. The last thing that anyone needed right now was John's 'Assistance' with her grand-daughter. Trust was one of the things that she found valuable in a man, and she could reasonably trust him to do many things; she could trust that, if she had children, she would leave those children with him.

As children. And only as children.

"I expect you will find Asura entertaining."

Redak certainly had never seen Morioka taken aback by anything. But this was certainly a notable change in her demeanor. Though Redak remembered the same sentiment when he met the first of his own grand children. The thing Bhelith had endured in recent times, and this humble reunion had her at a pause.

Redak loomed over the edge of the book watching the exchange between the elder and her grandaughter. "This is most certainly a side few will ever get to see."

For a moment he was worried about the bad news concerning Tange would distress his Mikaido. Though she'd probably not be awkward about the fact that a local fiefdom on the planet was not submitting to the rule of the Diadem.

Remaining silent, Johnathan cursed the heavens. Ten years old, and right out of college. Was she a kid, or a college student? Was she a woman, or the ultimate jailbait?!?! Looking off into the distance in thought, he realized that as Asteria was forming, it would need laws. Firm, clear laws. Unambigous laws. Ones that would govern and keep them all within safe boundries. Laws that protected the public from traps and jailbait. Yes. But, realizing this, and turning to look at Ginger again, he realized...that didn't help him at all right at this moment!

He wanted to groan as Ginger peeked around her grandmother at the other people with them, watching their colors fluctuate wildly with their body temperature and their heart rate.

"Everyone here seems really nice! I haven't really had to say anything and they've been incredibly helpful." She stepped back a little from Bhelith and watched her colors shift too, though strangely. "Things keep getting knocked over when I walk by though; so I keep picking them up." She tapped her chin with her finger with a shrug.

Not the object's fault that you bowl it over, the guard thought, studying the way Ginger moved. It's like you're doing things to just observe people's reactions.

The elven grandmother arched a slender eyebrow and settled her hands on her hips, though one of them found the hilt of the sword and stayed there. It didn't seem to be a threat, but the dubious, and now notably amused smirk that Bhelith wore in addition to it - she knew. "How unfortunate. I am sure you have been helpful."

Redak placed a white silk book mark in the book and closed it. He then rose from his seat, and bowed to Bhelith's new grandaughter. "Ojo." He said softly. When he came up. "I could be wrong, my Yamataigo is rather rusty. I am Duke Redak Di of Tange and I'm sure the stewards of this ship will be more then able to pick up any objects that fall over as you pass them."

The stocky old blue Gartagen had shed his old navy coat, and was dressed far less flamboyantly. Yet, his stoney old face, and hard thick body still maintained the appearance of control and command. A simple brown leather jacket, black slacks and a pair of dusty boots. Though, accross the jacket was a fine silver chain denoting his station as the Duke of Tange.

Ginger tilted her head to one side as her attention moved to the Gartagen, his colors were slightly off but she had not encountered one of his species before. She was unsure if the colors would mean the same. "Things seem to fall over without warning, it is puzzling." She shrugged again. "Who are you friends, Grandmother? Is your man friend sick, his color looks off?" She looked to Jonathan for a moment, concern in her deep blue eyes.

"Count Izgimmer is sick in the manner of most men, I think, little sorceress." Bhelith no longer seemed the least bit surprised. As though on cue, Johnathan tried clearing his throat while tugging at his neck to loosen the tie. "He is a personal friend of mine, and my consort; Redak has introduced. The man you find so endearing is one of the Ceremonial Guard. His name is Kitsune."

"Kitsune is missing some tails," Ginger pouted. "Consort? Oh, I see. So he's not for sharing?" She batted her long blonde eyelashes at Jonathan before looking back to her grandmother again.

Most of them are hidden, Kelda agreed, thinking to 'himself' as he was put further off balance at the 'girl's' obvious, if strange, abilities. Now I just got to keep them hidden. Don't think the boss would like her guard so easily noticed.

"Am I for sharing?" Johnathan brazenly asked, glancing at Bhelith with a faint grin. Though some of his normal confidence returned, part of him wanted to treat her like a woman, and another? Well, didn't. "I guess it doesn't matter - I'm kinda surprised a college girl like you isn't with her friends during a break," he observed, the colors in Ginger's eyes cooling. Usually, college girls traveled in groups, making them more difficult, yet more rewarding to assail. Why was she alone?

"John," said Bhelith, and the name carried with it a slew of meaning. It meant, mostly, shut up. The color whorl in Bhelith had stabalized, but beyond what it had been when she had walked in. In fact, it was sort of like, illogically, the elf had fallen asleep?

In the more regular spectrum of light, though, John knew that look. It was the deadly look. Sakki eminated in his direction. Of course, he only beamed back at her and shrugged - this was something he loved about her. She would never actually kill him. They weren't spiders.

Ginger, however, got the Mikado's attention ultimately. "You are not what I expected. Perhaps we should speak on this later. In the meantime, I trust you will not get into too much trouble?"

"Yes, I can keep myself entertained. Mother said you had a large library that I could use for my research, otherwise, I was just planning to explore a little on my own. I think Kitsune was offering to give me a tour," Ginger said sweetly as she glanced back at the guard with a smile before looking back to the elf matron. "Oh yes! I think Astridr-san got lost! I haven't been able to find her since I arrived."

The young Morioka crossed her arms under her voluptuous breasts pushing them up higher, causing the strap of her dress to slide off her shoulder. "Now that I remember it, mother might have said something about Astridr needing to introduce herself as her representative in court. I'm sure she'll find her way soon!" She added with a slight bounce. "If mother picked her, she's sure to be great."

As if summoned, a black-haired Minkan burst through the door, gasping for air as she looked past all the other high-level nobles and zeroed in on Ginger. "Good to see you made it, Ginger-san," she said, before bowing to Bhelith. "I apologize for being late, Mikado. I had lost track of your grand-daughter and was attempting to find her when I was told she had already made it here."

Bhelith lifted a hand in acknowledgement, and might have said something except that her impetuous grand-daughter cut her off.

"Astridr-obaasan! Daijobuu desu ka?" Ginger spoke in heavily accented Yamataigo with stresses in the wrong places as she watched the chaos of Astridr's colors. She realized her mistake and bowed deeply, with a flash of cleavage to the Crown Princess' representative. ”Gomen nasai, Obasan.”

The representative couldn't quite stop herself from rolling her eyes, but hoped that not too many people noticed, since she hadn't straightened yet. "Daijobu desu. Ginger-san wa mada Yamataigo o manande imasu, ne."

"Let us not toss that term around so lightly," warned the room's actual grandmother, a bit rueful, though certaintly the elf seemed amused as well. She settled her hand atop her granddaughter's head for a moment, the fingers of the gauntlets spreading slightly to encompass some of her scalp and wind through the strands of her hair. Bhelith seemed to check the color. The young Morioka's hair was a richer blonde at the roots.

Again, it was strange; compared to the others, Bhelith had become very, very difficult to read.

"Nor would I appreciate becoming a great grandmother, anytime soon, hm?" At that, she glanced to Astridr. "I trust you will no longer be dipping away from your minder?"

"Of course, grandmother," Ginger replied sweetly. "The nekovalkryja on the station were very informative on the no babies part. I promise, there will be no babies for at least another 8 years." She tilted her head slightly to look at Astridr again, "I will try to take shorter steps so I will not lose her next time."

"And I will endeavor to keep up better," the representative replied as she straightened, pushing her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. "Sorry for barging in. What were you talking about?"

Bhelith quite companionably slipped her arm over her grand-daughter's shoulders, nestling her in and seemingly claiming the young woman. Whether or not this actually denoted acceptance of Ginger's apparent propensities, it put her hand on the girl's shoulder, and Bhelith squeezed it a bit in warning. Nowadays, they didn't make Nekovalkyrja with that sort of strength.

Ginger nuzzled against Bhelith, happily squishing against the armor. "I would love to meet your tailor, grandmother. It's so lovely and old fashioned."

With such an eyefull, Johnathan coughed.

"I believe that Lord Redek had news about Tange."

Redak reacted by being directly addressed by deliberately plaching his hands behind his back and looking towards Bhelith through his specticles. "I was going to bring it up later." He said in response. "I did not wish to spoil a meeting with your family member by discussing affairs of state."

"It is the opposite. She is interrupting you, and I thank you for your patience." The elf watched him with a wolf's curious eyes. "Go on."

The old man paused breifly, and his flat expressionless face contorted to a small slight scowl; the corners of his mouth dipping only slightly. "One of the local Barons had opted to not submit and swear fealty to the Mikaido. Some local population then attacked one of the Gartagen settlements three days ago, murdering most of the population."

"I have given orders for my levys to return the sentiments. Rebellion and disreguard for the crown's authority can not be tolerated."

"Your authority in this case." Bhelith remained with her grand-daughter for a few moments more before releasing her from the grip and walking to the head of the wardroom's table.

"My authority, is the crown's authority. With out the Mikado, I have none."

Again, the Eagle was a Lorathi ship, and they had a certain flaire for ostentation; in this case, the captain's chair was a bit larger than the other chairs in a suspiciously throne-like manner. This wardroom had been converted into a sort of long hearing hall, and the tables moved accordingly to clear space in front of the head table. Near Bhelith, Count Izgimmer stood off to her left and a little behind. Her Grand-daughter, naturally - the little Lady Morioka. Though, 'little' was hardly a descriptor, and 'Lady' might be a subject of current debate - plopped her fluffy butt into one of the nearby seats.

The guards retained their posts, with 'Kitsune' taking the closest spot to the Mikado.

The room's lighting dimmed, down to the point where when the vision of Tange IV swirled into blue and holographic being, the territories were clearly visible. Primarily, they were looking at the recently re-colonized territory occupied by the titular Duke of Tange.

Lady Blackspear braced her back against the high seat and examined the battle lines, along with some of the spaceborne assets - particularly the Kevish classes that orbited the planet. Curiously, a number of NMX star ships were in formation with the Duke's own ships. She considered this for a few moments in absolute silence.

The implication was clear: Tange was officially a war zone. The surface of the planet was experiencing minor stratigic bombardment from the NMX ships. A simple perspective switch would change the view to the Gartagen levy's on the ground as they moved through and old ruined city under the flashes of the orbital bombardment. In the distance NMX neko were supporting them.

Redak didnt react to the image. He merely pointed out. "The system had a local NMX warlord lurking in it. I gave him an option, swear fealty, or ready for war. They swore fealty, and now fight for Asteria. Unfortunately, the people we are fighting on Tange appear to be committed, we are mostly fighting militia. Men, women, and children. I've offered them generous terms of surrender. Flat refusal. The only option... is one I'd rather avoid. I suspect our new NMX allies have only solidified their resolve."

The elf maintained her attention on the province in revolt. "And who are they? Who leads them?"

"They call them selves the Tange colonial alliance. Jiyuuan settlers, pirate haven communities. A mixture of people with the same ideological mindset: we don't want to be ruled."

"I do not suppose that attacking them with their old enemies at your side has helped our case very much," Bhelith observed, carefully neutral.

"They weren't too pleased with our presence. Something about alien occupiers. I opted to use the Neko Levy troops when negotiations failed and they drew first blood."

Redak continued watching, and was being unemotional. "The leader is a self styled King of sorts. I beleive he was of, initially of the pirate kind. King Frank he calls him self. He particularly likes to say fuck the Mikido."

Johnathan chimed in.

"I can definitely agree on that, but I'm guessing he doesn't mean it the way I do," he couldn't help but grin. It faded quicky however as a little spurt of flame indicated a particularly large bomb going off on the surface. Apparently someone's power plant had caught fire. "This is going to be a PR nightmare, but if he's a pirate or even was at one point, I can defintely take that and go of running with it." Initially silent as they discussed something outside his expertise - war - they finally hit on something that was in his ballpark. "Since the media is being kept out of there, we'll need to be careful what does get out. I can get a team togther real quick, and we'll come out of this looking good," he promised with an arrogant nod.

The little Lady Morioka watched the projected images with growing interest, the colors from the chemicals in the various explosions were almost hypnotising, even through the filter of a recording. She leaned forward in interest on the edge of her seat, pressing against the table. Her eyes reflecting the colors of the projections oddly. When the recording ended, she leaned back again.

"Half of my soldiers are pirates." The Mikado's eyes shifted over to Astridr, who had lingered near the end of the table, and who had not been speaking. When she continued to say nothing, Bhelith encouraged her, "I understand my daughter sent you here to represent the Jiyuuian peoples, and their interests, and these are Jiyuuians."

"Yeah," the Minkan said, frowning at the NMX ships before sighing, "It's obviously a mess and I don't wish to have been in the Duke's place when he entered the system. So, skipping over the crying over spilled milk tirade, I just wonder if having the Mikado," she continued, nodding at Bhelith, " - or someone to directly represent her, go to Tange and speak with the rebels might have better luck. Maybe even with additional ships so we'll be ready to-"

Redak spoke up his voice growing slightly firmer. "I'd have to disagree with anybody...in particular the Mikado speaking to them.This will only serve to embolden them, and possibly create more rebellions on the side. This isnt an independent nation. This is your world. By treaty, ratified and recognized by multiple nations. The question isnt should we be fighting them. Or what do they want, the question is what to do to prevent more of these little fiefdoms from rebelling on other holdings. We need to make an example here. Normally i'd have handled this my self, maybe sent a report, but our ruler needs an oppertunity to set the tone of her rule."

"Can I just suggest in the future," Astridr said, having taken the time the Duke spoke to calm herself, " - to not side with NMX leftovers before the natives of the planets we'll be ruling over? Who knows how long we're going to have to deal with insurgency operations there. But," she continued with a shrug, "I guess that's the choice you made."

"What battle did you fight against the NMX?" Redak asked.

"I'm not a warrior, Duke Redak," the Minkan said, with the patience of a graduate student being lectured to, "But I was a suvivor of Taiie being blown up by the Squids."

Redak nodded respectfully. "I am sorry about Taiie. There was little warning. we would have....nevermind. I was at Ether, Azorea. The battle of the blue rift. The Frontier Blitz. A dozen other skirmishes and clashes; I fought the NMX. But that war is over. Other problems are on the horizon. If I can set my bigotry and emotions towards the NMX...after the horrors i've seen them unleash...then almost anybody can."

"Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of us are cut from the same cloth as you are Lord Diez. I'm sure they're tough fighers, but like almost everyone, I don't feel very kindly towards any ex-NMX," Johnathan began, looking at his own forearm in memory. "We need to keep them out of the spotlight at all costs, and if we don't, try to pitch this to the general public," he pointed out. "It'll be a hard pitch, but for now, try to keep the ex-squiddies out of this. It'll make things a lot easlier on us in the long run once we have the proper propaganda in place."

Astridr nodded in agreement, but kept quiet for the moment.

"They are our subjects," said the elf on the suspiciously throne-like Lorathi captain's chair, settling one of her gauntleted hands in her lap so that she leaned upon her elbow. "And until what seems to be this morning, living free lives. My lord Redak, I assume you made this clear that they would be able to retain the lifestyle they enjoy, as long as they answer the call when it issued? As a free company?"

"Yes." Redak said truthfully. "The attack came the night before our third negotiation. A suprise attack on a civilian target. I beleive they were trying to intimidate our civilians into getting us to leave. They have a small fleet which is in orbit on the other side of the planet. They are staying clear, cut off from their supply line. Count Izgimmer is correct. Media black out needs to be maintained which is why I am here in person. If I came looking for a fight, those Neko levy ships would be burning in space."

Ginger pulled a small object from a necklace chain that had been hiding in between her cleavage, it was an old bullet casing. As her elders talked about the old war and the new one, she thought about being a cast off of the survivors of those wars. "Why would they rather die than become stronger as a larger nation? I thought that was why the United Outer Colonies fell," she spoke softly, "They were too many individuals fighting lone battles on all sides... and then someone saw it and murdered them all.. leaving us behind as orphans in ash."

The bauble drew the Mikado's attention for a moment, and she curled her fingers together, finally folding both her hands in her lap as she watched her overly developed grand-daughter. She didn't answer the girl. Instead, she turned to regard Izgimmer.

"A media blackout will not hold. This is the modern era, not the age of messenger birds." She tapped her fingers against one of the baubles of her mailed longskirt, then looked back up to Redak's battle map.

"Agreed," the Gartagen replied.

"You're right, the media blackout won't hold. While it does, I'll get the PR ready, and we'll be the ones to break the news before someone else does, but with our spin on it," Johnathan replied.

This time, the Mikado was not done. "The fleet that they have parked on the opposite side of the planet. The one that you have cowed. Who commands it?"

"Intelligence suggests a Jiyuuan woman," Redak began. "King Frank's queen. She was the one who initiated the talking when we hailed the planet on our initial approach."

"She seem the more reasonable of the two?" the Ex-Senator of Francia asked. "We could try pressuring her instead," Johnathan suggested.

"Somewhat. These are hard people. Harsh conditions bred them. But yes, she was making something of an attempt," Redak replied.

Bhelith held up her hand, indicating silence for the moment.

She watched the little flotilla of ships lingering there, on the very outskirts of where the space-to-surface battle happened. It was clear at a glance that Asteria's forces - more specifically, Duke Redek's forces - had them outgunned, if not heavily outnumbered. This being a live feed, the seconds seemed to matter. Clearly the battle had been going on for some time already.

Here it was - the first real decision in Asteria's short lifespan. So much seemed at stake; so few people seemed to have real answers. Bloodshed was already engaged, and the death of the defenders an inevitability. No doubt word of this small conflict had already made its way to other Jiyuuian settlements as well. As Ginger watched her great-grandmother through her strange color-sensing eyes, she noticed that, for once, a bit of color began to touch high on the woman's cheeks, around her eyes, and at the very tips of her ears. On a human she could have read it like a book; on an elf? On this elf? It seemed the first real change in her demeanor, and it didn't show on her expression.

When the Mikado finally spoke, it was with a sort of certainty. "Hail her and offer her the same deal that you offered her husband." The elf blinked, seemingly for the first time in this entire discussion, and perhaps without meaning to she blinked several times, eyes fluttering half-shut briefly. "My meaning is, inform her that we are not interested in killing any of her people, and are willing to recognize them as self-governing, as you had spoken of in your peace talks."

Redak nodded in agreement.

"It does not appear as though the surface is capable of returning fire. If I were you, my lord, I would call a truce to initiate that talk. I will give you a moment to convey the orders."

Redak paused opting to chose his next words carefully. "As you command, your grace." Redak stepped off and out of the room breifly. His gruff voice already demanding to speak to the Admiral of the Levy fleet. Bhelith's elven ears would actually hear Redak say an NMX name after the word "Admiral."

Redak returned a few moments later. "We have initiated contact, the enemy fleet is open to terms of surrender, they simply wish for Amnesty. I have granted the Amnesty. When King Frank is taken into custody, we will have him sent to you Mikado, for a proper trial. Unless you desire it to be dealt with quickly and quietly."

"Can you come up with a better name for him?" the elf asked. "King Frank sounds completely ridiculous."

"I suppose Frank the fool will do." Redak said with a sharp small smile.

Bhelith allowed herself a brief smile. To Ginger's eyes, it was as though she had never glimpsed whatever thought had colored the tips of her ears, or the heights of her aquiline features, such a strange shade of purple. "What is the woman's name?"

"Captian Ai" Redak said feeding the information as requested.

Bhelith looked back over her shoulder to John.

"Find out who she is, and make her a hero."

"My pleasure," the man smiled.

 

CadetNewb

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2009
6,651
1,364
138
#7
ON: The Eagle

A young politician and an old soldier come to talk about the consequences of war.
Redak had moved out of the Mikado's audience chambers and went back to the ship's lounge. He found him self peering out of the window and down at the small city that was forming around the ship. Redak observed filthy tents their occupants moving about doing their menial chores. Where it not for the green of the fields beyond the newly birthed city the hustle of civilization below would have reminded him of his home. The figures in the city looked like little fuzzy blots to Redak's old eyes. The curse of age was one he'd likely never be able to escape, though age did bring temperance, or so they say.

None of what had transpired had been easy calls. Taking fealty of former NMX obviously would have consequences. Yet the consequences of not would likely cause additional issues. He should take solace in the fact that he saved lives. But at the end of it he did have a world to govern, perhaps to secure his own authority he should have attack all sides. Then again he could have capitulated, but some how that wouldn't secure the authority that was needed for a new nation. This was different then his life in the military. He didnt have to worry about the consequences of politics, merely accomplish the objective, and survive.

"Boy, you sure aren't making this any easier," a familiar voice remarked. Coming up to stand behind him, the Nepleslian man sighed. "I really wish you didn't use ex-squiddie troops or at least held them back in the reserve or something," Johnathan added. Despite appearances, the full prosthetic cyborg was currently processing everything that needed to be done, and he had a lot to do now. "I gotta ask, what was on your mind when you decided to use them?"

Redak tensed slightly at having the serenity of quiet solitude interrupted. "I was thinking about the safety and lives of the men and women I was sending on to that planet in the name of the crown. I could have held the Neko Levys back, but it would mean more pressure on the Gartagen Levys. More casualties on my forces." Redak said in response to Jonathan's question.

"I also had to reason that the new Levys were no longer NMX, and were in fact now under my banner. To not use them would be to not flex my power in the face of opposition. I'm an old soldier. I use every tool at my disposal to achieve victory."

"Weeeeell," Johnathan began. "You're more than just an old soldier now," he pointed out. "You're a duke - that means you have to worry about a lot more, let me tell you," the Nepleslian man chuckled for a moment. It was all too bitter of course. "I don't know how things are back home, but here, public opinion is pretty important. By using those ex-squiddies, we're getting backlash. Backlash that might turn into another one of, well, these." It was an unpleasant thought, and as friendly as the average Jiyuuian was towards aliens, the Mishhuvurhtyar were a line that they wouldn't cross.

Redak turned his head to look at Jonathan. "Something is going to piss every one off one way or another. I merely went with the solution that allowed those people to continue to be alive in order to be pissed." Redak said flatly. "My people have quite a beef with the Lorathi you accepted into your ranks - Fate viewed as specifically leading the attack that murdered thousands on Gamjie. Do you wish to know why the Gartagens in Asteria are not attacking every lorathi they come across?"

"I've got a few guesses as to why, but shoot," the Nepleslian replied, letting the older alien continue.

"I told them to get over it." Redak said with out any emotion. "If this diverse nation is going to work, the past needs to be the past, and the future needs to be the goal. "

"Yeah, but the Lorath haven't been raping your people for years," Johnathan shook his head. "I get what you're saying though, I totally do, but put your ears to the ground," he suggested. "Jiyuuians are all the pioneers and rebels that dared to leave Yamatai. And here, in Asteria, out of those guys, we got the hardcore mo-fo's who stuck it through the collapse." Again, the younger of the two sighed. It wasn't a pleasant thought. None of this was. "If I had more time, I think I could get them to accept the ex-squiddies with some good PR and such, but this was a shock to the system." Looking at the Gartagen, he added, "I just want you to be more careful later on, since it makes my work harder too."

"My people went to war with the NMX for a reason. Half of the settlements on Tange, are NMX who settled down after the main invasion withdrew. They seemed to have left in a hurry, alot of the ground pounders were simply abandoned. The squids came, and many of them are still here." Redak then turned to the young man and looked up at him, the short stocky Gartagen being dwarfed by the taller cyborg. "When I showed up in force it was a shock to everybody in Tange. I don't think any one expected the new Asterian government to do such a thing so swiftly. I understand appearances, but we cant keep fighting a war that already ended. "

Johnathan gave a bitter laugh.

"I get you old man, I get you," he fondly replied. "I don't disagree, by the way, but it's just that there's more to worry about now than your soldiers or even Tange. The picture's gotten bigger, and what you do is going to make ripples in our pond, and I gotta clean that up," Johnathan explained again. Changing it up a little, he suggested something perhaps unexpected. "Try getting a political officer or something with you - they might catch something you miss."

"Actually that's all of us. Rocks tossed into a pond making waves. If you get me then what is the alternative? I execute every NMX I come across in Asterian space? Tell me.Where you in my shoes what would you have done?"

"Well, I'm not a military man, but I guess I can take a crack at it," Johnathan admitted. "Maybe send in just the Gartagens. Maybe less bombardment. Maybe wait for more pinkies and synthies and borg to do the job and look good on camera," he suggested, using the Gartagen's own slang for the various races. "Hindsight's twenty-twenty though, but we might as well learn from it."

Redak remained stoic as Jonathan spoke about what he'd have done. "With out the bombardment those pinkies, synthies and borg are taking missile and artillery fire. But the camera shot of them pinned down and taking heavy heavy casualties would have a lasting effect on how Asteria is perceived. With out the squids on the flanks the insurgents will have the primary spear head surrounded. In my experience the public likes to hear stories about victory rather than defeat.

"Yeah. But it's a lot more tricky when it's all in the family," Johnathan noted.
 
Likes: Acewing13

Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
2,777
615
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Adventure & Intrigue
stararmy.com
#8
ON: The Eagle

Wherein Bhelith discovers Ginger's past, and Ginger uncovers one of Bhelith's secrets.


Bhelith paced the halls of the Eagle like a roaving predator, and though her anger didn't show in her expression or upon her carriage, she could feel it in the measure of her breathing.

For years and years before she had become a Nekovalkyrja, Bhelith had practiced a battle-trance, a type of focus upon the body so specific that she no longer needed to sleep. It had been unnecessary as a synthoid, but now that she found herself re-inhabiting her true species - for the last time, she hoped - she found that perhaps she was a little more out of practice than she would have ever specifically admitted to anyone.

Redak Dies, of the House of Tam!

How could she have been that blind? Hadn't she known that the fellow would be a conquerer instead of a liberator?

Her heeled greaves echoed off of the wide and spacious halls. Every once in a while, a Lorathi sailor, or one of her own personal soldiers, stepped aside to let her pass. Otherwise, Bhelith suffered alone with her thoughts and her concerns, at least for the moment. She had let a soldier run a planet, and should have predicted that he would run it like a soldier would, and with a soldier's mind. The Gartagens, when she had visited them, had been remarkably clannish; she had perhaps overlooked, or forgotten, that they were also extremely violent. Maybe it had been because she had been there to hunt and fight and enjoy her time away from the Star Army. Maybe she had just taken for granted she was as violent as they were.

Jiyuuians!

There were three billion of them on this planet alone, and likely more, slowly returning to their planets, and to her newly founded country. The city that had sprung up around the Eagle, the nation's mobile capital, was mostly Jiyuuian people who had come for the opportunity to be at the center of everything. Now the plains where the great Lorathi carrier had squatted, an angry and warlike crescent moon of dark metal and death, were surrounded by a bustling city with modular buildings that had been swiftly erected.

They had hung banners on the side of the ship. She thought she had even noticed them light them in the eveningtime.

She stopped in the middle of one of the wide corridors, letting the through traffic part around her. Mumbled greetings from either side. Mikado. Lady Empress. My Lady.

Would they be so respectful if they knew she had not provided any oversight to another monster bred of war? That one of her newly appointed governers had taken into his head as a bonnie good idea, jovial as you please, to use freshly conscripted soldiers of a racial enemy to bombard a Jiyuuian planet?

Would she have done any different, in that circumstance? His people would have needed him to do something. Battle would have been the only thing they could have turned to. He would have had to allow them to fight. They had ships, most of them were trained to fight like that from childhood, and so naturally they had torn through the Jiyuuian's militia. Like a knife through lard.

Bhelith had wanted to scream at him. She had wanted to leap from her chair and shake the old Gartagen like a leaf and demand to know why he had fired on civilians. But, she had sat calmly in her chair and respected the authority that she had given him. Authority he would have to get used to wielding, the same as the civilians that had hovered around her chair arms like gnats, too afraid to say what they had all been thinking. At least Bhelith had an excuse.

Soft footsteps followed behind Bhelith. She turned at the oddity, at the steps coming from behind rather than before.

- * - * -​

The young adopted Morioka had watched the tempest swirling around the Matron's lithe form since the meeting ended. She was perplexed by the complexity of the depths within the heart of the storm that was her grandmother. "Grandmother," Ginger softly called.

The tall, austere elf regarded her cooly, hands folded behind her back just as she had been walking. Yet, the troubled matron softened somewhat, perhaps at Ginger's concern and sincerity.

"You do not have to call me grandmother, child. Ember accepted adoption for political reasons, and does not love me. You are not obligated to pretend filial love for my sake, either."

"I have no real family, I am no one... To me pretend is all I have," Ginger wrapped her arms around herself as she spoke. "I know that you, Taisho Morioka, were the one in charge of the Ryuusei when I was taken but did they ever tell you why?"

Perhaps just a little bit curious, the elf shook her head.

"If you can accept my company unaccompanied and have access to a device that I can share my memories with you," the woman child shifted uncomfortably for a moment, still hugging herself, "It would be easier to show you. I don't think knowing will calm what is troubling you but you should know who I am."

The elf watched her carefully, particularly the way that she had folded her arms. Bhelith seemed dubious of her at best; likely she had seen through much of the charade that she had performed earlier. The shadow of her gauntleted grip still lingered in easy reach, enough she could almost feel the woman's hand again on her shoulder.

Suddenly she seemed to decide, "You can accompany me. I have decided to go hunting."

"Thank you, I will wait then to explain," Ginger let her arms fall back to her sides.

The elf's thin, but beautiful smile broke the tension. "You need not. I have a friend to introduce you to."

- * - * -​

Without her regalia, though Bhelith could not under any circumstance hide that strange, alluring aura that followed every elf that had ever appeared in the eye of the public - and certainly, to Ginger's eyes, she walked beside the strangest humanoid ever encountered - she seemed almost normal.

"Normal". Ginger had never seen a bow, either, or a quiver of arrows. Left to her own wants and desires, the most powerful single person in the country seemed to prefer binding her hair back and wearing quite too much leather.

And beyond even that, Ginger had certainly, having grown up on Leo Star Fortress, never met a hawk; but there one sat on the elf's upraised arm, grasped onto a bracer that seemed to be tooled out of some manner of glossy scaled hide the color of ink. The noble, if small kestrel presented with bright and alert eyes, its narrow cream beak and gold-splotched breast a contrast as fine as that of marble and dark granite against the warm brown of its wingfeathers and smooth crest.

The Mikado seemed pleased with her, cooing and coddling him until they had walked far enough away from the burgeoning capital city and into the grassy, scraggy plains that surrounded it on nearly all sides that the two of them could presumably have a private conversation.

"Go on then," Bhelith said.

Ginger had been about to speak when the bird said, in a soft, feminine voice, "Hello. I am Chii."

The young woman stared in awe at the talking winged creature with the strange colors. "Hello, I am Ginger, it's nice to meet you." Her deep blue eyes wide and shining as she stepped closer to the animal. Chii shuffled a little closer to Bhelith's elbow and craned her neck to peer at Ginger. The little bird cooed a bit.

Ginger heard Bhelith laugh lightly, and the amusement carried into her voice when she offered the bird nearer. "She is not a real bird. Before we left Francia, John insisted that I needed a few artificial intelligences, to make up for my loss of a digital mind. Chii is an Aria, like most Jiyuuians. He knows I am fond of hunting, and she is as good as the real birds at catching field mice, or whatever exists to fill their place on whatever planet, though I often feel as though I am cheating."

The elf jerked her elbow a bit, as though to good-naturedly tease the bird, and held Chii a bit closer. She looked to Ginger and said, "Go on. Your sleeve is thick enough, I think."

Ginger mimicked Bhelith's arm postion timidly in front of the bird. "I have never seen a bird before, is that why her rainbow is different?"
Chii wobbled precariously. The bird leaned its beak out to touch the girl's arm, judging the distance before it side hopped carefully to the trembling arm. Its claws gently clasping for purchase and tearing tiny holes in the blue fabric.

"I hold Chii like this?" Ginger watched the creature's movement full of questions. She did not mind the pinpricks on her skin from the bird's talons.

"Make sure to keep your arm level." Bhelith adjusted Ginger's arm, her attention gentle but firm. The matron seemed inclined to teach. Perhaps she felt like passing the uncommon knowledge on. Or, maybe she just wanted to be out of the ship, or some other reason. For a brief second though, it seemed like the elf actually smiled genuinely. "With hawks, there would be jessies - little hoods - so that they would not be tempted to peck you. Birds are proud. They look down on all other creatures. Chii is kinder than that. Are you not?"

The hawk ruffled its feathers in response, perhaps embarassed by the attention, but just as curious about the girl holding it.

When Bhelith seemed satisfied that Ginger had the hang of it, or that at least Chii wouldn't be mishandled, she set her foot at the end of the composite bow and heaved it around, stringing the old instrument with easy familiarity and grace.

"In case we find something larger than field mice," she explained, to the curious look. "A normal bird, also, would not flush, but Chii sometimes scares smaller animals out as well for me. Cheating, horribly, as I said before, but it was this, or some manner of dog."

"I have read a little about hunting but I do not know how it works in reality. There weren't many actual dogs on Leo," she held her arm steady, unused to the weight and the position. Ginger wanted to tell Bhelith more but she waited for the elf to lead back into the topic. She remembered that much from her etiquette classes with Ember. "That's a bow, ne?"

"Yes." The elf offered the strung stave for inspection, turning it up and around.

The object was simple, carved out of some manner of wood that Ginger couldn't identify, but the grain and color seemed rich and dark. A few embellishments had been carved to mark where she assumed the grip must be, as well as the nock. The knotwork seemed intricate and purposeful, and the lingering body heat from the elf's hand had colored the top brighter than the carved indentions. It looked like some sort of long-clawed lizard design.

"Some Yamataians practice archery as a hobby, but it is only mimicry, I think. I have never known a human, Geshrin or Nepleslian, to have carried a bow before meeting my people."
Again, Ginger saw the coloration of the elf's face change, and this time to a more understandable warmth. "I once saw a clever fellow with a much shorter bow and a series of arrows with different styles of tip, containing poison dust, or water, or blunted, and one that would burst into light mid-air. He was considered an eccentric. I was fond of it for a while but in war, one uses the weapons most suited to the task."

She found the strange, luminescent golden eyes upon her again. "We should head out further, now. In the meantime, if you have something that can communicate telepathically, Chii can accept your data."

"I haven't had to make a connection remotely in a while but I will make the effort," Ginger waited for her grandmother to walk ahead to follow. The elf inclined her head, and then turned to wind her way through the bracken and low grasses, following the trails in between.

The young woman's ocean blue eyes lost their color and luster as she followed the elf, carefully holding the hawk and projecting her memories.

- * - * -​

The first image was of Bhelith's back as they walked through the woods. The landscape was alive with a depth of color that was beyond the usual literal hues. There was almost a heat map of the elf's nervous system mingled with another aura of color that could be interpretted as emotion that stood out from the vivid rainbow of chemicals and temperatures of the landscape around them.

The next image was darkness. A muffled thumping, a weak heart beat and the bubbling of fluid. The image became brighter but grey as the eyes focused on tiny fists banging against what was glass, suspended in a grey fluid. Beyond the glass were the vague outlines of humanoid shadows, some had larger shadows pertruding from there backs.

The feeling of hopeless confusion and claustrophobia permiated the memory. The voices were muffled beyond the tank. The colors were grey.

The scene flowed to the next as the world went dark again. The people were clearer now but everything was still grey and blurred. The voices spoke strangely as they leaned over in front of a bright orb of light. Water gurgled as she coughed green liquid from her lungs and tried to cry. She didn't understand why they were hurting her. She didn't understand what they yelled. Tiny hands thrashed as they reached for her.

The chair was huge and grey. She didn't like the thick straps. She was too small to fight them as she was forced down. She screamed and she cried but she couldn't move. Her head was secured to the chair, the pressure on her forehead hurt.

A cold metal device that Bhelith knew was a eyelid speculum was forced into place, causing little eyes to dart madly around. She was shaking, she didn't have the words to make them stop. The roar of a drill terrified her and starting blocking her vision. Her heart raced as the bit was the other thing that she saw. It got closer and closer and it pierced the surface of her cornea. Her throat was raw from screaming before everything went black.

It was dark, the tank fluid was freezing. The voices were clearer, speaking a language the girl didn't understand but Bhelith did. It was a dialect of Lorathi. Her hands found the smooth surface of the glass, she was pounding her fists against it. Her body ached, it felt like her head was exploding. she was all to aware of the tube that was forced down her throat to keep her from drowning in the fluid they kept her in.

She felt warm hands grasping her shoulders and dragging her out of the cold fluid. The tube was quickly removed by unseen hands as she vomited on the ground beneath her. She felt the bindings loosen from her eyes. She couldn't open her eyes, they were caked with muck. A female voice spoke gently and stroked her face with a warm scratchy fabric against her eyes.

The effort to open her eyes became easier. The light became brighter, too bright. Color was everywhere and everything. The woman was a monster of reds and orange with fiery wings. She looked at her own hands and saw blue skin warm to pink. Her hands were bigger now. "Her eyes have recovered, time for more tests."

Time passed as she was subjected to tortureous tests that broke her mentally and physically. Everything hurt. She understood their words but she did not understand why. She saw monsters everywhere, what more did they want? They took her out for walks and hit her if she strayed. They told her to tell them if she saw any monsters and when she did, they were pleased. When she didn't, she felt their anger.

One day, she was able to escape. She wasn't sure how she was able to slip the leash but she ran. She found a man standing outside a store. She looked everywhere for the monsters that would be looking for her...

Makoto turned and knelt to be around the girl's height. “Hey, sweetie. What's your name?” he asked gently, looking at the clues on her dress. Bruises and dried blood.
Bruising meant blunt force. Was someone beating her? It would explain the bloody lip and bruises. But it couldn't be too recent because the blood was dry, not fresh.

“Are you hurt?”

Ginger's ocean blue eyes peered into Makoto's brown eyes and revealed an undeniable terror. The grip she had on the medic's clothing tightened with the continued trembling of her small body. “I can't…” She whispered as she inched closer to his ear. “I'm not safe… can you take me to a safe place? The monsters will get me if I say it here.”

Blood trickled lightly onto the back of her hand from her nose and tears stared to roll down her dirty cheeks. “Onegai.”

Makoto looked around. He had gone into tactical mode. No one visibly paying attention to them. But this was an awkward position. As a Forest Ranger, he was part of law enforcement. Here, he was a soldier. He dealt with external (excepting the last mission), not internal, enemies now. Plus, he wasn't entirely caught up on the realities on the ground...

He wanted to help. She had to cling to someone that was different. He was her hope and then.. she saw them. She wasn't safe. She had to run. Then... they caught her and dragged her down into the hole. She screamed, begged and pleaded, beating tiny fists against the monsters. In the tunnels, the monsters stopped using the stealth capability of the Shroud Suits.

A sob escaped Ginger's throat as she severed the link. Her ocean blue eyes regained their color and moisture spilled down her eyes. "It hurts to remember. I am no one. I have no one. Everything about my life was fabricated.. the only thing real was the pain of their tests and the sympathy of that Star Army soldier that I found. I had no family until Ember claimed me and gave me a life without terror, pain. "

- * - * -
Bhelith stared at her. She had experienced the vision as she usually experienced them; through the diadem that read her mind. It wasn't quite Nekovalkyrja telepathy, but the AI did well enough in translation; maybe she didn't feel it as deeply as Ginger had intended, and perhaps the limitations of Chii's intelligence had somewhat simplified things.

In a clinical way, Bhelith understood.

They had not moved far. In fact, when Chii had started transmitting, Bhelith had chosen to stop walking and listen to, and watch the narrative.

A number of things crawled into her mind, into her thoughts, and not all of them were as compassionate or as long-suffering as she sometimes fancied herself. Here she was, striding around in a field, and for a few minutes she had thought that she would have found some respite from the endless march of the work of building people into things better than they were.

But.

Ah, she thought to herself, but. It just didn't work like that. The world didn't align itself just because she wanted it to, so she had to align herself to face the world. She centered, found the anchor of her balance in her waist.

So centered, she reached out and clasped Ginger's shoulder, letting her bow hang loose in her other hand, and she was careful not to grasp as hard as before. In fact, the girl's shoulder felt soft and particularly pliant; for a moment, Bhelith wondered if she shouldn't set the girl to some sort of exercise more strenuous than walking a few miles.

"This is why you act as you do?" She phrased it as a question, but meant it more as an observation.

"My body matured beyond my peers, my adopted family and people started treating me differently. The nekovalkryja just assumed I was completely synthetic like they were and encouraged me to explore my newfound maturity. I saw... that people wanted to use me in a different way," the girl replied softly. "I had to take my power back to control them so they wouldn't hurt me."

"It wasn't my fault I became like this. I wanted to play with dolls with Ami but I was... beyond that. I read books on human behavior to try to understand why those... people did that to me. I was a baby. Why would they do that? Tie me up, rip me apart..." Tears continued rolling down her cheeks. Bhelith resisted the urge to frown. Of all the things that the elf could claim she was, a mother wasn't one of those things, despite whatever biology might demand out of her. Tears had never appealed to Bhelith. A hundred years ago, she would have been twice this girl's age, and even then she had never been allowed to blubber like an imbecile. She had cried too many of them herself in private, where they belonged.

Still, this girl's suffering seemed legitimate. And she was barely a decade old. And Bhelith should have cared, SHOULD care. It made her feel bad that she couldn't seem to bring herself to.

Mentally, Bhelith called Chii back, and the bird shuffled onto her shoulder in her usual way, expressing wordless concern. The elf could feel the talons digging into her shoulder, but the jacket was padded, and the kestrel could keep its balance or fly off. She pulled the shorter woman into a hug, and rubbed at her back. Through the thin fabric of the dress, a patchwork of scars broke the illusion of smoothness.

"No one will hurt you so here, child."

Ginger blinked through her tears and saw that the Matron's luminance was wrong. She sniffed. "You said that I shouldn't call you Grandmother because Ember felt no love for you, but is it because you don't care... you have a life inside you. I pray that when they are born you will find your heart again."

The urge to throttle the girl hit Bhelith so hard and so suddenly that her hand actually twitched for it. She withdrew it, as though from a hot iron, and flexed it for a moment in the safety of her own personal space.

Someone who could read her so easily didn't deserve to live, came the calculated thought. In answer to it, she felt her shoulders tense, and relaxed them instantly. She came back to her weight on the ground, to the feel of her clothing, and to the soft background noise of the world around her.

She couldn't just kill her own grand-daughter, even if she could physically gut her like a deer without blinking, strange eyes or no. But Bhelith found, after a moment's reflection, that she didn't really want to. She just wanted to kill her own child, which arguably was worse.

"Everyone seems to know," Bhelith observed, unable to keep a bit of bitterness out of her voice. "You can see it, with those eyes. Redek can smell it. That Lorath Fyuunen, all she did was stare at my stomach, even when she knew I could have had her slaughtered, she would not so much as look me in the face as I decided what to do with her. She just moaned like some sort of animal about how she did not want to mate with anything, like some sort of sad Nepleslian bovine. I am not even showing. How dare all of you pry into my personal business."

The statements seemed aimless. They were truthful enough, though.
"Blame the scientists that made me. I don't know what it's like to have a real family. Or to have a life growing inside of me. Did you want this to happen?" Ginger asked softly.

"I have never wanted children."

"What will you do with her? You are rare but it is your body. But, you also have a nation of people that look to you as a Mother, a figure head. In essence, by claiming your power you have gathered an army of children looking to you, surely, one in your own image wouldn't hurt?" The young woman looked down for a moment before looking back up again at the saturation and bled off of light and shadows around the elf. "What was it like for you, when you were younger?"

In answer, Bhelith all but shoved the bow into Ginger's hands. With a resolution too cold to be born of the heat of anger, but forged in bitter fire, she said, "Draw it."

Ginger grasped the bow by the handle and raised it carefully, testing the weight of the weapon. She reached for an arrow from the quiver at Bhelith's hip, but Bhelith stepped away. This wasn't an archery lesson, bow or not.

"No," she said. "Draw it and hold it there."

The girl carefully grasped the bow string at the serving and pulled it shakily back with her fingers. Her form was poor and she held the grip oddly. She managed with effort to pull the string back.

Meanwhile, Bhelith settled down onto her heels, examining her grand-daughter from a position of relative ease and comfort. She delved her memories. Time was, she could have recalled all of this as clearly as she recalled her breakfast, but time had a funny way of messing with the truth, and she more than suspected that transferring through so many bodies, terminating in her current, had perhaps fogged the exacts.

But she remembered this.

"If you cannot hold this for ten minutes," Bhelith said, picking a reasonable number and basing it off of how badly the girl's arms shook. "I will disown you. I will find some slaver to buy you and forget you exist. I will lie to your mother and she will believe me. You belong to a noble clan, and failure is unacceptable."

Ginger felt the strain in her arms and remembered how failure felt. She remembered every waking moment of pain the scientists put her through. It became a silent mantra to hold, to force herself to stay in position. She had survived worse, she could endure the ridiculous draw weight.

Bhelith had gone through something similar to this, and she found herself resenting the girl's resiliance. Still, she had wanted to answer the girl's question in a practical way. Academically speaking, she would best understand in this manner. It wasn't a fond memory, and for some reason she couldn't quite place, Bhelith wanted to hurt this girl. Killing her would have been more logical, and more practical, but unnaturally, she wanted the girl to feel the pain.

But, for no reason she could particularly place, when about a minute and a half had passed, Bhelith decided to have mercy.

"Alright, I am satisfied. Slow as you can, ease it back."

Ginger's mouth twitched. "I can't look at you to see if you are lying to me... and I will fail your test and be sent back to how things were before." She wanted it to be true that it wasn't a trick. Rather than answering her, Bhelith stood up and crossed opposite her, fitting her practiced hands over Ginger's and catching the string firmly in her own fingers.

She eased the bow and afterwards took it from the girl, rubbing her fingers together for the feel of the string, which after a while she imagined must have felt like a knife. Well, at least it had felt like a knife to her, after a while.

"It is difficult to explain in words. It is a long story, child, and I can not just give you my memories. Perhaps I am foolish for having you do this. But, I had to do this at your age. My father, who had a position as the guard of an important site at a place called Rowaden, said that I had to do so in order to take his place.

"Perhaps this is not the physical torture that you have endured. Maybe there is no equivalency at all. But if you will keep it, I will tell you a secret."

"I will keep it. I have no reason to break your trust," she replied softly, massaging the ache out of her bow arm first.

"Whatever kept you going there, I lost it a long time ago." Perhaps just for the muscle memory of it, she drew one of her white-fletched arrows and set it to nock. With a mental command, she set Chii to flying - though she had to close her eyes while Chii carved the air with her wings to get her start without a launch.

"I focused so hard on my art, for so long - holding that bow back. Holding the swords up. At the end, nothing else mattered to me, and though I have tried in recent years, I cannot help but feel bitter. I simply do not feel much else. I will be kind to you, though."

There were no marks in sight. Far above, through Chii's eyes, Bhelith discovered that their conversation had mostly driven what game there had been off into different directions. It disappointed her.

"When my child is born I will give it to John, and he will love it. It will deserve a parent. I am not capable, myself. Eventually, even normal people discover that I despise them. It is better if I do not ruin my children in that way."

"If you do not mind, I want to still call your Grandmother. I like the notion that I have a family even if it is a lie... love can happen over time, but I do want to spend more time with you," Ginger smiled sincerely for the first time since she met Bhelith. "If you can tolerate the knowledge of what I can see."

Bhelith let go of the idea she would be shooting anything worthwhile today. Suddenly she didn't like being out here. Suddenly, she wondered why she had even come out here at all. Had it been after a memory?

"I can tolerate a great deal."
 

CadetNewb

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2009
6,651
1,364
138
#9
ON: The Eagle​

Where a representative becomes a bureaucrat, flirts with the Imperial Consort, and discover it's called "Covfefe"​

Great first day on the job, Astridr thought, leaning against a wall near Count Izgimmer's office. Managed to get lost on the ship, have Ginger run away and get to the meeting first, and then get treated like I didn't know what I was talking about. Which, yeah, she admitted to herself, rolling a stylus in between her fingers, I went into economics, not foreign affairs or the military. But who knows how long we're going to have a nascent insurgency now that Tange is ruled by a guy who decided siding with NMX was a good idea. Thankfully it was pretty much over by the time the rest of Asteria knew what was going on, but still. If that's all the examples of governance that the Mikado has right now, this is going to be a very short desk job before heading back to Leo while Asura burns.

"Penny for your thoughts?" A warm, masculine voice spoke up from behind the woman. Johnathan Izgimmer was taking a walk through the ship, talking to the crew and such, after his talk with Redek. "I can tell when someone's troubled, and I wouldn't mind you venting if you need to," he offered with a kind smile. Of course, his reputation preceded him - the former senator of Francia was a womanizer, through and through. A shameless scoundrel.

"Aah!" the lady yelped, dropping her stylus and taking a half step away from him. As usual, she'd been distracted by her thoughts and was thus surprised by the Nepleslian's sudden appearance. "Oh, sorry, I didn't see you there, Count Izgimmer," she said, her knee-length pencil skirt sliding slightly up her thigh as she reached down to pick up her stylus. "Yes, I did want to talk to you. Probably best to say it, um, in private though," she continued, looking at him through her half-moon glasses. I just need a few minutes with him. If I have to go an extra mile to get it, I'll go for it. "It's about the meeting we had a little bit ago."

His eyes never did seem to leave hers.

"Well, I think this is private enough," gestured around them. The crew was busy, and taking a smoke break wasn't the highest on their to-do list. "Besides, as long as it's nothing that could cripple nations and start wars, I think it's fine." It seemed that when he wasn't actively chasing someone's tail, he could be quite charming. Considerate even.

"Uh, sure," Astridr said, a little surprised that he wasn't quite matching up to his reputation. Come on, you're supposed to be relieved that you don't have to do any tricks, she thought, taking a moment to shake her head to clear it. "So, obviously I'm not happy about the whole Tange, u-umm -" she stammered, trying to keep her voice to polite levels, " - situation. Now, I'm not asking for the Duke to get punished or anything, water under the bridge at this point, but I do have a few suggestions for mitigating some of the problem."

"Well, seeing as I'm currently implementing some of these mitigating measures, I'd like to hear what's on your mind," he offered. "Though, I think Redek could use a press or political advisor," Johnathan added thoughtfully. As a cyborg, he could think of many things, and act on many things at once, but he always appreciated another view and feedback. It didn't make him infallible after all.

"Sure, so long as I'm not being volunteered," she replied, chuckling a little before continuing, "Anyway, I was mostly thinking about some goodwill projects to start off with. Help rebuild homes and businesses that have been destroyed over the years of wars, orphanages and schools to make sure all of the kids are taken care of, that sort of thing." Got to keep the boss happy, after all.

"Yeah, we'll totally be doing that, but for the time being, somehow softening the fact there's ex-squiddies running around is our primary objective," Johnathan pointed out. "Diverting attention away from that's also pretty important," he added, thinking of various different ways to manipulate media and spin the stories. "Already, I'm focusing on that queen and making her a hero, so that makes her take center stage for a while."

Is it really all about the short term? she thought, doing her best to keep a frown off her face. I mean, yeah, if you don't have a short term, you don't have a long term. But running around just reacting to everything leads to its own problems. How to get through to him... "Have her at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the pilot school," Astridr said with a shrug. "If you are worried more about the short term, then I guess we could focus on the humanitarian angle. Do we know if there's any refugees from this war? How's the basic food or medical supply? Maybe the Duke is already doing this stuff. If he is, play that up. If not, start it and then say it was his idea."

"Oh, you're right!" Johnathan realized, gently bringing a fist down into an upturned palm. Briefly pointing at her, he continued, "We can focus on the aid and rescue efforts. There's been some orbital bombardment, so we can have all these nice snapshots of Asterian rescue guys doing their thing. It'll be great," the man remarked. "I'll have to check with Redek's boys and girls, see what they're already up to."

"Sounds like a plan," the representative said with a smile, brushing a stray hair behind her ear. Whew, glad that worked. "Anything I can help with on that front? I was in charge of Leo Station's civilian logistics department before Ember-chujo picked me for this job."

"Sure. Maybe some references and such - the world runs on connections after all," the ex-senator smiled. "We could grab some coffee too, or whatever it is the Lorath might have on hand," he offered. Now that he thought of it, he wasn't entirely sure if they were tea or coffee people. Or, did they drink something else entirely?

"I just had a good cup of the local version of coffee this morning, had a funny name," she said, putting a finger to her lips as she thought back. "Think the stand is set up a few minutes walk out of the port."

"Sounds good," Johnathan smiled.

*****

"Wow. So they drink tea. This is kinda surprising," the ex-senator admitted, taking a sip of his southern sweet tea. The cafe was one of the few permanent structures to go up in the short time that the Eagle had been landed. Bright and shiny white paint covered its wooden walls, with a door and serving window set in the front of the shop. There was little sitting inside though, with the kitchen and storage rooms taking up most of the small structure's space. Instead, a dozen or so tables littering the ground in between the cafe and the rudimentary road that lead to the capital ship that dominated the city skyline.

"They have quite a variety," Astridr agreed from her seat across from him, sighing after taking another drink of covfefe, the Asuran version of coffee. "Talked to the owner earlier and found out about half of the shop is storage for all the different types of drinks. Doesn't seem that profitable, but I guess they make up for it with the variety."

"Well, the way I see it, if the drinks keep for forever, it doesn't really hurt," Johnathan pointed out. Taking another sip first, he asked, "So what was it you wanted to talk to me about anyways? I was on my way back from taking a walk when I noticed you in front of my door." Everyone wanted something, and he was pretty sure she was no different. It was only human of course, but this was likely politics or policy related if he had to guess.

"What," she asked, smirking as she put her cup on the table and crossed her legs, "You don't find ladies standing outside your office all the time?" How to go about this, she thought, keeping a smile on as she went mentally through her options. If anything, the meeting showed that I need a better position than being the Jiyuuian and Ember's representative if I'm going to get anything done.

"Well, I do, but they always want something from me," the man slyly smiled. It was true as well. The Lorath warrior caste and their society in general was female dominated much like Yamatai. Of course, they were physically quite different too, as were their demands. Emphasis on demands. With the Eagle landed, there was just so much work to do.

"Good point," the Minkan said with a shrug. "I guess I was wondering how I could help in the administration. I haven't been here for too long, but it does feel like you guys are still in the phase of getting everything running and dealing with problems as they come up. Right now, I'm not sure what responsibilities being the Crown Princess' Representative entails or how to help except to make sure Ginger doesn't do something too embarrassing. Not quite at the point I'm twiddling my thumbs, but it is a difference from helping to run a busy space station."

"Crown Princess' Rep?" Johnathan began with a hint of alarm. "Oh boy, I know what that means," he began, taking another good sip of tea for emphasis. "You get to do the taxes. The system that Yamatai had in place is still intact, but that's if you can call it that to begin with." Jiyuuians left Yamatai of course. There was no reason for them to be happy about its return. "Back when Bhelith was going around as Morioka, she kept her footprints in the area light, and avoided upsetting the locals for a reason. You'll basically have to build up that infrastructure and get the finances coming in."

And that wasn't mentioning what to do with said finances afterwards. Public works and the like were a chore, but an important one, and the both of them were talking about it moments ago.

What?! Astridr thought, carefully swallowing her covfefe and not spraying it across the table. They're giving me control of the purse and all I had to say was I'm bored? "You don't have a finance minister yet?" she asked, unable to keep an eyebrow from raising. "Are you just running on a bunch of savings right now?"

A little bit of childish guilt creeping into his voice for a moment as he replied, "Well, no." Shifting in his seat for a moment, Johnathan explained for her how it worked. Sort of worked. "Bhelith's got a Gartagen food and grocery enterprise running I think, so she's making money off of that. Plus, since the government she's made is very bare-bones, everything is mostly locally run." Of course, he didn't mention his own offshore accounts, and didn't want to dig into those quite yet. "Right now, our biggest financial burden is keeping, maintaining and staffing all our ships, and anyone who's in the military business knows it. It's an open secret that The Eagle is basically a white elephant for an example."

Whatever those were.

The professional economist in her got the message. "That would explain why its sitting in a random field without any existing facilities," she said, calm enough to take another sip of her drink. "So, right now you don't really have any kind of civilian administration and you're top heavy with military expenses. Not only is there not an established tax base, since the corps are going to throw a fit when we try to touch their hordes, but the government is getting what little funding it has from a grocery store chain?" Fuck me, its like they didn't even ask for an opinion from a 'civie' before they set up shop.

"Yeah, it's all a rush shop. Smoke and mirrors. It's an open secret really," Johnathan admitted. "If you're thinking 'fuck me' or something like that though, call me," he warmly smiled, making the phone gesture with his hand. Yeah. He knew what kind of puddle she was stepping into - it was the same one he was going to once he finished with this whole military mess. But, if she wanted to go for it first before he did...well, Johnathan wasn't going to stop her.

This is a really bad idea, the Minkan thought, holding her lukewarm covfefe in her hands. Smart money is running back to Leo and telling Ember that Asteria is going to fall apart in a few months. But...if it does work? It'll be a lot of hard work. A lot different, in kind and quantity, than running Leo's logistics. And I was getting bored anyway, right?

"Well," she said, extending her leg to run her foot against his calf, "As long as you think I can stay on the Mikado's good side in either case, I think I'm up for the challenge." Heh, haven't had my heart race this much since I defended my thesis.

"That's good to hear," Johnathan smiled, rubbing his leg back against hers. "It might look like a disaster waiting to happen, but the opposite is true too." Taking another sip of his tea, he added, "I could always stop by and lend a hand too, if you don't mind," he offered. As always, Johnathan knowingly smiled.

"I do work late," Astridr said, returning the smile after finishing her drink. "From what you said, I should have plenty of stuff on my desk, so if you feel like helping me clear some of it off, I'd be grateful." When was my last ST again? Probably should get another one, before Lady Blackspear finds out and I get 'disappeared'. Oh well, its not my fault he fits my definition of tall, dark, and handsome.

"Gladly. A man like me never sleeps," he grinned, leaning in.

"Guess we'll see if you can put that energy to good use," she said, putting her elbows on the table as she leaned forward as well, until only a few feet separated them. Come on, break off and close the deal. Don't have to play with too much fire. "So," she said a few moments later, moving her chair back as she got to her feet, "Mind getting the positioned finalized as I go and find an open office? Might as well start while there's time left in the day, right?"

"Sure, no problem," Johnathan replied, doing the same. Taking a final sip of his tea and slurping the empty bottom for a moment, he deftly tossed the container away. "I swear, this is a pretty important spot you've found for yourself, though I don't envy you either," he couldn't help but laugh. Full prosthetic cyborg or not, he still didn't like doing all that number crunching - it just got on his steel nerves.

"It'll be interesting, to say the least," the Representative said, chuckling as she started walking towards the Eagle, hips swaying a little as she walked. Oh yes, very interesting.
 
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Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
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#10
ON: Soran Nast

An old man ends up walking all over the place, and somehow ends up here. A new endeavor is launched.


A man in a silver coat and sword walked through the early fall weather, the leaves of the Sakura trees gently fluttering in the air beneath his feet. The soft sounds of metal plates clinking together being the only sound generated besides the click of his heels.

The former-medic, dressed in his ceremonial armor and covering it with a silver coat to hide the insignia of the Army of the Precious Sword. His family's sword and sheath gently swayed in it's leather bindings, hidden for the most part by his helmet which laid perched on the end of the hilt.

The air was cool, and Isao wondered what the land would look like come winter's snow.

He came eventually to one of the Yamatai-inspired bridges that forded a stream no deeper than someone's ankle, bedded by rocks in an artistic way not unlike those he had found in many of the parks in that far-off place.

Standing upon it was a young Jiyuuian woman, dressed in loose clothing, with her shoulders bare to show the intricate tattoos upon them. She had a short, straight sword at her hip, though no second one. The wood was pale like white ashwood, with a dark veiny grain beneath the polish, and so was the handle. It was bound in the same green as the woman's open longskirt, black and green, and her hair was bound up like a priestess's from old Yamataian legend.

Taking careful steps and leaning on the rail about two arms length from the woman's right. After smiling, he spoke with a calm and content voice, "The sakura look truely remarkable in the fall. Almost as if they had not a care in the world for the ways of universe."

"The Jiyuuians planted them," answered the Chivalrious Person - Yakuza, clearly, though she wore a strange wolf's mask to obscure her features. Isao noticed it, after coming to stand nearer her, to see where she watched.

It turns out, after he got close enough, that he got the feeling she was watching him. Rather, he sensed it, in the way that old samurai could sense an impending strike. The strike didn't come. Instead he got to watch the black wolf mask turn a little to regard him.

"You will not enjoy what has become of your son."

Isao, at this point, knew that by some reason this woman knew who he was. He felt the weighted words melt into his skin. He personally didn't know why she knew him or if she meant harm to him.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't enjoy what became of me. There is a point in life where you cannot protect your children any longer, and have to watch them grow. Throughout this journey you may lose contact, that is life. All you can do is love them."

Despite feeling slightly threatened, Isao kept both of his hands visible on the bridge railing. His face was covered in neutrality and self-thought, he knew even if he wanted to he would not survive a violent encounter, so he chose not to become violent.

The black mask didn't change.

"Why have you come all this way?"

"I'm a soldier of a bygone era, I left with the Emperor on his fleet to go destroy the Mishhuvurthyar on their own worlds, but it seems all we were was too late."

Isao lifted the coat to show the black and white triangle of the former Army of the Precious Sword before letting it drop. "As for why I am here, it can be simply answered as sightseeing. I never came down this far, these worlds are all new to me."

The yakuza nodded, hands settled in the wide obi sash beneath the loose, low-cut jacket. "New world to us too." The water made musical sounds as it passed beneath their low bridge overlook. "New universe."

"It seems in this ever-changing reality of differences, we have one thing in common." Isao's gaze shifted back over the water, a quiet yet content sigh breaking the relative silence. He looked back over before he spoke, this time more inquisitively.

"So who does hold sovereignty here?"

"The Mikado." The Lord Emperor. Isao recognized the archaic term. It wasn't in common use in Yamatai, having fallen out of fashion as the trade language had gained prominence. But that is what it meant. The stoic yakuza continued to watch Isao, as though waiting for him, as he might have been waiting for her. "In Asteria, she rules. In this county, it would be Lord Ankiseth "Steadfast" Llmanel. You used his port faculties. His soldiers thought you strange."

"I do agree in hindsight this probably wasn't the best choice of attire, but it was better than a unifrom for an Army I no longer serve or the one that I chose to not join."

He leaned back off of the railing for a moment, stretching his hands out and back in a couple of times before leaning again.

"I am guessing if you know my son, and you know who I am, there is a reason to all of this."

"I have seen that emblem once before, on an antique. I wondered if you were worth my taking you to the owner. Turns out, I looked into it, and one of her former soldiers is a match for your facial structure. I thought, why is one of Uesu's soldiers here? For his son? To kill the Mikado? Or something else?"

"If you want to take me to the owner, the Mikado, or the son who I believe thinks I am dead. I will leave that choice to you. I am just a rambler who was a soldier, and now tries to reconnect with the world he left behind."

"Then I will take you to your son, first, and you can see what has become of him."

Isao leaned himself off of the bridge and looked to the woman, staying quiet as if silently stating that he planned to follow.

She turned from the river and went into the town, and he followed her, while the slender, winding stream passed beneath their feet.

- - - -

The town of Soran Nast had sprung up around the beached hulk of the Eagle carrier. Some people had traveled there from a sense of greed. Other people had come because they had been summoned, as the Mikado had eventually moved the seat of governance from Asura City to the interior of that carrier. But the people who had come, that Isao saw as he walked through the sometimes paved, sometimes graveled, sometimes just dirt streets that wound through the outskirts of the city must have come out of curiousity and they seemed like curiousities themselves. This far out, people had erected motels and inns, bath houses and eateries both covered and uncovered. Someone selling T-Shirts sat next to someone hawking bits of what must have been fake jewelery, made in a style that he recognized from what now seemed to be ancient history; he had seen it once before when Uesu had conquered Geshrintal. It seemed as though the Mikado had placed the frippery back into style.

Gartagens, Jiyuuians, Lorathi - Helashio, and Yamataians, and even a few uniformed Star Army soldiers. Every once in a while he saw a guard, or maybe a police officer, pass by, liveried in a manner that Isao was only vaguely familiar with, but strangely fit right into. Now the wolf-masked woman he followed didn't seem quite so strange, since it was as though Nepleslian police had taken a sudden interest in capes and chivalry. Revolvers and guns of every make hung next to short swords and pennanted halberds, creating a contrast that seemed incongruent and ridiculous.

Off in the distance, as the hill sloped upward, he could see that the more formal city planning had started to radiate outwards from the Eagle in streets and fabricated buildings of regal make. The banner bedecked carrier crouched in the very center of the expanding city like a dragon upon its mountain, and dominated the view; it was the largest thing for miles. It appeared grand. White panels had been erected around the space between its lowest hull and the ground beneath it, giving the ship the appearance of a building so long and massive that it seemed a city all to itself. Its guns, massive cannons that the Lorath had built to rival Yamatai's extravagant artillery excess, had been hung with bunting that displayed so many pieces of heraldry that had Isao been given all the time in the world an an interest they might still have escaped his understanding.

They passed through the outer district into a better maintained, much more organized district.

Isao observed while tailing the woman, beginning to wonder on how many people were here in the sprawl. His mind took liberties in numbers, proceeding to change his thoughts back onto what he was expecting to see.

Judging by the massive Lorath battleship adorning the center of the city, this might as well be some Lorath remnant city led by an admiral or other high ranking individual, but that thought dwindled with the varied population. He'd been unaware of the Lorath ever being this welcoming. The colors of the banners and heraldry caught his mind, and only mere sections of it made sense to him. Then again, he was the outcast. He'd followed an Emperor into battle so many times and cast off in his shadows to burn a warpath, forgetting himself partially in the process. The entire Kikyo sector had seemed to have changed in the years since his absence, and he would have to adapt.

Isao took a handful of weighted steps and long strides to catch up to the woman, having fallen slightly behind. He didn't say anything, just observed her with a curious demeanor. Everything about this world was curious.

He nearly missed her dipping beneath a canopied awning, colored blue with white Yamataian lettering, pushed aside. When it fell back down he could read it entirely; this was a yakitori place. The smell of fresh meat cooked over charcoal wafted out of it in mouth watering miasma and the barking roar of laughter from the interior seemed an assault on his senses.

The armored warrior dipped in after the slender, hooded wolf-woman into the strangely airy place. It seemed more spacious than he had at first imagined, the tables were far enough apart for comfort and formed into peculiar, woodland shapes. Someone who had cared a lot about presentation had spread great, clean mats beneath those tables over the packed dirt of the market streets and opened the ceiling to the light of the planet's colorful, ever-present rings.

He could look up and see them between the ornately carved, latticed ceiling, and it took a while to realize that this yakitori place had been roofed in something that looked like glass. It was clear as crystal. Though the food was Yamataian, and the method of entry had definitely been flagged in that manner, this certainly didn't feel like the low and rowdy place he expected.

Then he saw it - an elf. He was slender to the point of appearing a bit frail, and he was busying himself with several other cooks, radiating a certain confidence and mastery that suggested he not only worked with them, but mentored them with the weight of his presence. It nearly hurt to look at him, though Isao did anyway; he had not seen an elf for a dozen years or more. They never left Xiuluria.

And yet here was one of them cooking Yamataian food!

His attention found the man across from him, and fixed as surely as an arrow, even to the point where he could forget the strangely beautiful creature. His son sat at the low counter, eating.

Isao spoke in his accented Yamataigo, his arms and hands relaxed. "My son, they tell me you have changed for the worse. Say it isn't so." They looked close alike, though Isao did not know of Kunio's Minkan body. It was easy to tell the two were blood relations, but the fire that brewed in the back of the younger's eyes was something that echoed the young one's thoughts.

"I am guessing you came here for me." Kunio spoke flatly and with no certain emotion. The wolf-woman stood aside, though she gravitated towards the edge of the counter where one of the cooks worked industriously, and quietly began to speak to him.

"Not exactly, I already know you probably want nothing to do with me. I am the one who left you and Yami behind in a feigned attempt at guaranteeing your safety. I learned how she died, and I learned of how you left. The people who collected your baggage left the place only slightly in disarray."

Kunio only looked on, blinking slowly.

"At any rate, I just wanted to know you were safe, alive. Good day to you, Kunio-kun." Isao looked to the wolf-woman and spoke back in trade, "You can take me to this Mikado now, there is nothing left to be said here."

The wolf woman sat down and, for the first time, he saw her face. She had pushed the mask up a bit in preperation of eating the skewered, grilled chicken she had purchased.

He could only see the curve of her chin and her lips as she turned her head to him, asking, "For what reason?" He had never quite answered, and the wolf-woman hadn't missed it.

He turned, his arms still relaxed. "The reason in mere inquiry. You had mentioned that you had seen the insignia of the bygone army on some relic, to which I presume must be the Mikado, and had agreed to take me to them. I can assure you that my reasons are peaceful, I bring no one harm that doesn't wish me the same."

"Your son serves her. Doesn't that interest you?"

"I have the decency to know when the son wishes to not speak to the father. He blames me for the death of his mother, and despite all the training you put into him to keep him emotionless, his tell is always in his eyes."

- - -

They passed from the restaurant in silence after that. The yakuza ate her food on the way through the streets, and their passage seemed hardly marked despite the strangeness of their attire; what surrounded them seemed even stranger.

It seemed that the main throughfare was shuttlecraft; the roads beneath were left for pedestrians, and packed with people going back and forth. The uphill road to the Eagle was an endless stream that ebbed and flowed around them, and they swam through it like lazy salmon.

Isao strode just off her left side and about a pace and a half behind. He was deep within his own thought, outwardly looking solem. Every few steps or so he'd look up to the woman to make sure she was still there before looking back ahead blankly. They proceeded on with the shuttles zipping by overhead until they reached paved streets and heavy construction - the city crawling outwards like a beast and eating the makeshift structures as it integrated them into white streets and high apartments and offices, businesses and sundry.

Eventually they came to what seemed to be a retaining wall; it had been built up seemingly out of the ground itself, though closer inspection revealed more sturdy masonry. It reminded Isao of a military base, because it was; soldiers patrolled the perimeter in green, black, and white, and these soldiers seemed to mean a bit more business than the ones that had been wandering the streets.

They watched the people passing into the Eagle's large landing area, checking faces, likely against a database. The wolf-woman passed by without a check. Isao had to stop for a brief scan, but they didn't take his weapons after they logged them.

Then they were in the yards, where buildings had sprung up a few feet from the high, protective walls and stern, tall guard towers. The way was clear, but up close he could see that the panels that had been erected to smooth the contours of the massive ship concealed a fanatic and frantic pace of work going on to patch several rents and tears, angry and black against the purpled surface. It seemed a deal louder than he had imagined the otherwise serene image to be.

The loading ramp had been dropped, and barriers erected. At first they must have been temporary, just meant to direct people away from the ongoing construction into their proper place on the long gangway ramp, but whatever temporary measures they had taken had been replaced by barriers more permenant. Someone with an eye for ostentation had lined the causeway leading to the ship's open maw with the same broadcloth green banners that he had spied from afar. The golden sunburst of Asteria spread its rays from above the white and black bars that bifurcated the flags, and these billowed gently in the wind coming in from the far mountains across the nearby plains. Flowers of all sorts had been cultivated beneath these banners to create a huge staging area. It almost seemed as if he approached a castle instead of an ongoing repair operation in the middle of an active base.

Isao could have marched several companies of soldiers down that causeway and spared room for a few more to either side. At the very center, before the huge open mouth, a torii gate had been erected. It stood proud and red, ceremonially guarding the entrance to the ship, and all traffic passed beneath it.

He almost bumped into the wolf-woman when she stopped before it.

"Beware your manners, here," she warned.

Isao nodded and put his coat around the left side of his katana, making it hard to actually graband hopefully showing a sign of peaceful will. The wolf-woman must have spied this, because she reached back to her long ponytail and undid the white, cloth bow that had held it back from her shoulders. Though she wasn't beautiful and her hair seemed a bit drab instead of silky, he couldn't help but notice how smoothly it spilled over her shoulders.

The black mask turned to him, and the outstretched hand offered the little strip.

"Can you tie a peace-knot?"

Isao gave a sign of relief, nodding and calmly taking the strip. He slid the Katana and it's sheath out enough to easily tie and bind the swordarm with a graceful knot and tight groupings.

"It might not be the most beautiful, but it shows better and is easier seen. Thank you."

The blackwolf nodded, and they continued on.

The great bay area at the top of the long ramp was guarded by two ceremonial guards. One of them wore an owl mask, and the other wore the face of a demon out of lore. They were both female and both of them wearing black uniforms, girded around with an open-fronted skirt of white and green. They carried halberds in addition to their sidearms, and stood with their hands clasp around the pommels of their short swords.

They didn't acknowledge the wolf-woman.

The two of them passed out of the bright and prismatic light that made Asura such a popular tourist destination into a cool, sterile brightness. The open bay had been converted, like the landing, into something more suited to a government bakufu center. There were shuttlecraft parked, in rows, to the right of the causeway. To the left was a display of Lorath fighters, lined up in pristine condition. Doubtless all of them were functional, and could be called back to service just by kicking over the red rope that seperated them from the march of government clerks and workers busying themselves on their errands to and from the capital ship.

It felt like they walked for forever before finding a door at the bulkhead and passing into the corridors that wound throughout the ship like the veins of an elephantine beast pumping people as blood. They passed offices, and then they passed workstations, and bays for repair, and eventually as they moved forward and forward, they came to what seemed to be a sectioned off part of the ship.

Then they came to it. Another soldier stood at the door, a man in a white kitsune mask.

"Honno," he said.

They passed through, again, wordlessly.

- - -

The Mikado's office was the captain's office. The lighting had been kept low, and the room had been redecorated with white wood paneling. There were greens as subtle as a meadow in summertime, and golds as rich as the budding dawn winding their way into artwork that seemed grown from the very walls themselves.

This place wasn't a Lorath office any longer. The great, heavy desk had been replaced with something lighter, and the heavy furniture had similarly been exchanged for more demure asthetics, clean lines, and an elvish trademark simplicity - at least, in design. The intricate work that had clearly gone into each piece made them seem as though they belonged in the museum downstairs, or in an art gallery, rather than in the office of a functioning dignitary.

Of most immediate note were the windows behind her; they had to be volumetric, because they displayed a view of the Asuran plains uninterrupted by the triviality of the actual facts of the city's existence. Here, in this study, the land's governess held forth in peaceful beauty.

She looked up from her desk and the panels spread there, and Isao beheld the Mikado, crowned in light and glory, with the slender diadem settled lightly upon her brow, near the same color as her strange and shining eyes.

The door closed behind the two of them.

Honno said, "Lady, this is Sutauto Isao, of the lost fleet of Uesu."

After looking him over and dismissing a few of the surrounding windows, Bhelith smiled faintly at the man. "A long way from your master, are you not?"

"A fair ways. I am the only survivor of my recon team so effectively they left me behind thinking I was a dead man." As he finished he gave a bow and slowly came back up. He was calm, though inside his mind was on everything.

The white-robed elven Empress folded her dark hands together on her desk, leaning forward amicably on her elbows on the carven, whitewood desk. She watched him like a cat watches its playthings, or a mouse that had wandered into its territory, her expression musing. At Isao's side, Honno stepped away; he could feel the absense of the yakuza keenly beneath the monarch's gaze.

She didn't seem to quite know what to make of him.

"Your friend here said you've seen this insignia before, and I didn't believe I would ever see an elf away from Xiluria." He lifted his coat to show the insignia of the Army of the Precious Sword before letting it drop again. "At any rate, it is an honor to be in your presence."

"You seem to be a few years too late," the monarch observed, her tone unhurried. "If you wish, I could loan you a history. I have considered writing one myself, but do not seem to have the time any longer."

"I had only heard rumors of a 'UOC' when we had departed, and only just learned there was another war in which I should have been here for. Loaning me a history would be welcomed as long as you tell me when it's due."

She lifted a hand and made a brief motion, as though a bit dismissive. "I am sure that it will return to me eventually." The monarch stood up, gracefully guilding from behind her desk to a bookshelf that might have been for decoration, except that she pulled from its boughs that ancient fruit of knowledge, the old-fashioned book.

This, she gave him. Standing instead of seated, Isao noted that the elf was just a bit taller than he. Her smile from before remained as she offered him the book. "A history of the seperation, as written by one of my daughters. She recalled it to one of my pets, and it was transcribed into this analog."

Isao nodded as he took the book, looking at the cover before setting it into his left hand, leaving his right hand free. "I have also heard you command my son, and as his father I hope he hasn't troubled you too much."

The smile had teeth. She glanced away, briefly, as though recalling something humorous. It did not last very long.

"He is a young fool, but I suppose that can be forgiven him. He has grown since. I fear, he has learned the pain of love outside his species, and that has harmed him somewhat."

"I haven't been around to be the best fatherly figure, though I am eternally in your debt of being the one who has kept him at least sane through all of this. He may hate me with the fire that burns the suns, but a father will always love his child until he dies."

"I can not promise sanity, but he is whole, at least, in body."

Isao gave a half smile, the emotion of a sad father evident in his eyes, but his stocity held up. The Mikado folded her arms at her chest; this close, he could smell purfume, the scent of a woman, and yet he could still get a sense of the physicality of her. The robe hid a hunter-goddess's form, and the scent was a bit lighter than sandalwood, as though somehow the nearby forest had crept into her aura.

"Now I must ask whether you have come to join your son, or whether you have come for some other reason. This planet does call to one, does it not?"

"I agree that this world seems to call to the soul. My intentions are peaceful, as I am a wandered without a real home on a few thousand KS remaining for his name. If I join you, I request only a question."

"Yes?"

His question was simple, just like his voice, "What would I become?"

The Mikado serenely asked, "Do you have soldiers?"

Isao blinked, "I've been one, but I have none."

"Do you intend to raise them?" The conversation seemed a bit more rote; it seemed she were finding somewhere to place him.

"Well, judging by how there isn't any visible unrest from your rule, I feel all I would need to do is place posters and criers to spread the word of need and you'd have a trainable mass within the end of the week at most." Isao seemed to be thinking, placing items together in his mind while his eyes remained locked on Bhelith's.

She narrowed hers just slightly, the small gesture giving her a rather vulpine caste as she studied him. "Then, I shall give you a small test. I have an acquaintance, Lady Aniseth Whitemeadow. If you wish, I will put you upon the next ship to..."

Her eyes glazed for a moment. Her mouth barely opened for a second, as though she hesitated, or were considering how to form the words.

"Ah," she said after that moment, "I expect she shall rename it, whatever the case. If you take service with her, I expect you would do this country some good. Though I shall warn you, she is a little harsh."

"Define harsh?" His question was honest, a brow slightly raised.

"Young, perhaps, may be the more correct term. She has not yet left for her new demesne. A planet that was claimed by one of our roaming scouts, but has not yet been colonized. Since the captain who ventured there as a scout did not wish to claim it for himself, I have given her the task. It shall be the first of many expansions to our galactic south. Does that suit your disposition?"

"If it is your will, Mikado." Isao bent down to a half bow before coming back up, "Any other information?"

"I expect that you should ask her."
 
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Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
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#11
The Eagle

Wherein Bhelith and her Grand-Daughter discuss perspective.


The sky was pitch black with a sliver of a moon illuminating the darkness. The birds had quieted and the insects chirped as the activity on the Eagle wound down for the day and dimmed its lights. The silence was broken by the footsteps of the guards that roved the passageways at night. And as a patrol passed, a young woman quietly walked in the opposite direction, mindul of the noise of her soft slippers against the deckplates.

Ginger had spent most of her day under the resentful watch of her designated chaperone, Astridr and was bored. She had been unable to sleep due to her desire to go outside and stare up at the stars. She had spent most of her life among them but never had she watched the sky from below. It was not difficult to pretend to sleep and wait for Astridr's colors to mellow to stillness. She had waited for several minutes before she slipped out of their mostly shared bedchambers.

Her curveous frame was draped with a light nightgown that was a slightly more modest version of her preferred daytime wear, actually covering the curves of her ample bosom. Her blonde hair cascaded down her back in loose waves as she made her way from the Eagle to the gardens outside.

She found her grandmother, again, though this time in a more formal mein. The elf wore a short dress in her favorite light green, welted with silver threads wove closely, but intricately, in her similarly favorite patterns. Since becoming a surface dweller again, Bhelith had seemingly indulged herself completely and immersed her cares into her favorite past-times. This welting depicted what looked like a boar hunt, or some similar animal.

The silver glittered in the garden's light, and reflected the colorful ambiance of the prismatic rings above that had made Asura III a tourist destination and coveted dwelling for individuals of all stripes. The affect was as though Ginger approached a hunting deity, prowling heedlessly with easily worn pride.

"Good evening, Grandmother," Ginger intoned softly to alert her elder of her presence. She admired the way the design sparkled and moved in the moonlight against the yellow illumination of the artifical light from the Eagle. Her slippered footsteps were quiet against the stone pathways that wound to the lush green of the garden.

The young Morioka's attention was drawn to the large blossoming white flowers to the right of her grandmother, giving the elf a deeper etherial presence. The buds had opened their petals in slow motion, filling the air with their perfume. Ginger's vision painted the evening in silver and golden hues intermingled with rising shades of red and blue. "What type of flowers are those?"

"Calla," the elf answered. "They are a sort of lily, I believe. These were from Jiyuu."

The elf looked over to Ginger, and beckoned her closer and nearer to the plants.

The garden kept within the boundaries of the Eagle's fortress-like enclosure opened to the public during the day, but at night-time, the two of them were practically alone and there wasn't another person for many yards, save that Ginger could see the outline of the shroud suits her family's guards used hovering at distance over their charges. At least two of them seemed to linger near Bhelith at all times, even when she seemed to slip their grasp into the city beyond, or the forest and plains beyond even those boundaries. Had Ginger been Bhelith's true grand-daughter, she might have thought she had inherited her rebellious streak from her matriarch.

Ginger's eyes watched the guards pointedly as she moved closer to Bhelith. Her childhood had not endeared her to the consistent use of the equipment, though she understood that when properly used, it was beneficial. She did not trust the monsters of her youth.

"Can you not sleep, child?"

"No. I wanted to see them from here," She pointed up at the stars in the sky above. The light population of the Eagle marred some of the view of the sky above. "I never left Leo before."

The elf's eyes fluttered a brief instant, and Ginger knew that she had surprised the matron, at least momentarily. Her eyes, golden in a normal light spectrum, peered at her, sharp and warm, but thankfully unpertrubed. Asteria's Empress had a fickle temper in her private life. "It is strange, is it not? When standing upon the ground, it seems to be magnificent. And yet, when standing upon a star ship, or a station such as Leo, it is the planets that look beautiful."

The young woman looked up at the ardent sky of her unique sight and smiled in childish delight, the colors seemed more vivid now that she was not among them. They pulsed and she knew she was looking at phantoms, these stars and galaxies no longer existed in their own continum and lingered. "We long for what isn't apparent to us at the time. The stars are ghosts but the planets we dwell above are alive. Life will bear more influence than death... in an ideal world."

"I wanted to reach the source of that light once, it saddened me to think that I would reach my destination to find... an emptiness of something that was beautiful and radiant."

"Are they dead if you can still see them, here?"

After even a short time around the elf, Ginger had realized that, in some manner, Bhelith was interested in her opinions. Perhaps Bhelith didn't care for her, like a family member, and perhaps she never would; interest seemed to have filled in for filial bond.

"It's like asking if souls exist."

The elf smiled, amused. "It is exactly like asking if souls exist."

"I don't know if I believe in true ghosts, but I see things that make me believe there are possibilities that are beyond logical thought. In an emotional sense, the starlight is alive."

Bhelith looked back up to the stars, crossing her arms loose and swaying to the side. Ginger had pleased her. "An emotional sense?" she asked. "Do you mean to say, the star is alive in your vision, or in the way you feel about it?"

"Scientifically, the light is there because of the way light travels. It was alive once but it is a distant impression of something that once was but that change has not reached here. If I look at it and say, 'this star is alive because I see it burning and irridating its warmth', it would be only partially true. The child in me wants to argue that it is real because I see it there. I see all the colors caused by the chemical composition of the light in infrared and UV filtered through this planet's atmosphere. I WANT it to be alive because I see its soul burning brightly across the light years between me and it."

"A body," explained Bhelith, helping her grand-daughter, though watching her keenly, "does not have to specifically fit a definition. One body of that star is dead. But another body is very alive, existant, real. You are seeing it here. Yet another body exists in your mind. Do you understand?"

"You argue it is alive because I see the impression that was left beft behind and have formed my own impression of its soul? I think it is alive, therefore, it is?"

"Rudely, yes." The elf gave her a peculiar look. "You are a strange ten year old. You seem about thirty to me, at times, and sometimes, much less."

Ginger's strange eyes turned to look at Bhelith again. "I don't know the full extent of what the scientists hoped to accomplish with me. Whatever their plans, they needed me physically mature. I don't think this body was meant to take that accelerated growth, I'm afraid that I will only live a few more years, but I don't know. The notes and the scientists are gone, lost in the chaos of the purge of Leo Station."

"Do you think you have a purpose?" The elf's hand had found her collarbone, and she toyed with a necklace, likely given to her by John, her lover. It was a little, silver emblem of a sun, though a little different than her family's chosen mon. Beneath her fingers, Ginger could see the residual warmth.

"The sight experiments led me to think they wanted a spy. The abuse, a slave. I was made to do something. Mother has tried to steer me towards finding a purpose but I might just not wake up one day.. or... I will be something else entirely. I just want to live." Her hand found a stray strand of blonde hair, she toyed with it as she controlled her urge to cry, the distress made it as far as her voice. "I can't be transferred into another body... this is all I get to be."

"A strange thing to say, after the conversation we just had, is it not?" Ginger watched the elf pluck out one of the white-petaled flowers near the stem. She ran a nail around it, discarding a few of the small leaves to clean it, and then with her usual amused serenity, she cradled Ginger's chin and cheek to turn her head up. The flower made a pretty hair ornament, or at least it must have, because Bhelith smiled at it.

"You may live many millinea longer than you think."

"I would need to burn brightly to reach people to live in their memory across the years," she replied softly now that the elf was in front of her. "Is it better to become a ghost than to live forever?"

The elf's hand lingered near Ginger's face, tucking her hair back and fussing with it. It had always been hard for Ginger to read the woman's expression, because her temperature usually remained quite normal. The proximity didn't arouse her like it did others, and the elf seemed immune to Ginger's physical charms. The words coming out of her mouth didn't stir her heart and rush her blood, either, though the subject matter felt heavy enough it could have been boxed and shipped. Bhelith seemed a constant star of her own, or perhaps just the echo of a star that might have died a long time ago.

"In truth, I find more evidence that our bodies continue, than that we end in the manner most imagine. Sometimes, the ones we believe are dead do more work than the living. Just because that thing we fancy to call our soul dies, or goes to another body..."

Bhelith blinked, refocused. "As to which is better? Who can say? I have met many who prefer the ending to the continuing. At a point, perhaps it is better to be a ghost."

"One day, I hope I can reach someone. For now, I just get to bask in brighter, living stars." She noticed the movement of the guards as they shifted around at the edge of her vision. Bhelith noticed the cast of her eyes, and cast them out for herself; she watched along the girl's attention, and then looked back to her with a slight smile.

"Out there, are they not? Perhaps we shall escape together, next time."

"It's hard to stop running once you start."

A slight change in the color near the elf's nose confirmed, "And yet, being treated like a piece of fragile crystal annoys me. When these fine men who ride my skirts have cut their teeth, I may leave them to it, for a while. I feel as though I run out of time."

It took a while for Ginger to read it, but the chilly colors confirmed that, too; Bhelith was afraid. At least she felt fear. Apprehension, maybe. It seemed a little too subtle to be sure, and a little too sudden to be untruthful.

She understood in a sense. This area was votile from all of the reports that filtered into her mother's office and from all the lectures on area history and politics that Astridr had lectured her about. "Your time is yours to control. You have that much power," she politely commented. "We can escape them for a time, if you want to leave."

For a moment it seemed as though Bhelith would say something more; it was true that the smile faded from her, and the rest of those strange and unnatural colors with it.

"You should attend, the next time that the council meets. I should like to see what you say."
 

Gallant

Praise the Sun!
Oct 28, 2006
2,777
615
138
29
Adventure & Intrigue
stararmy.com
#12
ON: The Eagle

How war is all about logistics and finances, and not sheer numbers.

After taking to the taxes and finances as Johnathan had suggested, Astridr had found herself in a sort of financial purgatory. Looking through the numbers, it soon became apparent that with the current budget, it was impossible to take any sort of humanitarian action or public works that she wanted. Meanwhile, there was barely enough funds to bribe or otherwise spin the media in the way that Johnathan suggested himself. Worse? There just wasn't enough money to keep the current military running either. It was bloated with ships that required regular maintenance, and there weren't even enough people to man them. Even if they were fully manned? Well, those people needed pay.

It looked like there was only one solution, but Astridr had to tread carefully. Unless she made the person in charge of the overall military understand that this was necessary, proposing the idea to the Mikado and getting it approved would cause friction at the very least. So. She needed to start talking.

Hopefully the schedule I got is correct and she is indeed awake and not sound asleep, she thought, taking a deep breath before hitting the call button on her screen. "Countess Fyunnen, this is Viscountess Mitsuya," she said, doing her best to hide the rush of adrenaline that came with calling herself that, "Please meet with me at your earliest convenience." You can do this, you can do this.

"Understood," the cold, clipped reply came. Dealing with Sen’yhty "Fate" Fyunnen was never entirely pleasant, and the moment the other woman appeared, it became apparent why. Tall and daunting yet slim and toned like a ballerina, the Fyuunen was especially eye catching considering her buxom, womanly curves. However, the way she looked at Astridr? Fate's stare was always cold and piercing, making the smaller woman feel like she was a bug that could be squished at any moment. "What is it?" she flatly asked, unblinking.

Keep it together, its just like defending your thesis. "I need to talk to you about a couple of things concerning the fleet," the Jiyuuian said, threading her fingers together as her hands sat on the table. "Specifically, how we're paying for it."

Crossing her arms under her bust, the enviable act was rendered cold by the Fyuunen's narrowing eyes. "Go on." Fate had yet to say only a bare handful of words, but already, she was speaking volumes. Though she wasn't tapping her foot, it almost felt like she might as well have. Usually, upsetting a Fyuunen meant getting broken arms. Or broken hips, but in this case, Astridr definitely didn't want either.

Got to love the monosyllabic replies. "First off, I've looked at the numbers, but I'm not a military woman," the Viscountess said, giving a small shrug. "So, I want to know from your point of view how many of your ships you can man at this moment and in the near future. I might be wrong, but I'm not sure what use it is to Asteria to have a bunch of uncrewed ships lying around."

Amazingly, the taller woman took in a deep breath and sighed, one hand falling to her hip as the other was left by her side. "This was inevitable," Fate remarked, a woman of few words. "Only a quarter of our total fleet can be fully staffed," the Fyuunen answered. What was perhaps taken by the ignorant as a feathery decoration on her shoulders flicked in annoyance. The small, vestigial wings settled again however, blending with the black dress that she wore. "Your solution?" the Countess demanded, the words neither loud nor soft, yet hard nonetheless.

That does hide pretty well, Astridr thought, momentarily distracted by the black wings before refocusing on the conversation. "For the short term, I think that we should cut back to at least that quarter that can be fully manned with our current capabilities and either breaking up the rest for spare parts that we can use later or selling the ships on the open market. Obviously, we don't want to get stuck there forever, but that will help us get closer to being somewhat budget neutral." Somewhat being the operative term. I'd be a lot happier if we could cut back to a sixth or an eighth of our current, on paper, strength. I mean, do we really need that big of a fleet when SAoY isn't too far away? But I don't know how hard I can push her.

"How?" Fate plainly asked. Though it was only a single word, it was a very heavy question. Astridr was, more or less, proposing taking away much of what belonged to the Fyuunen after all. Military personalities tended to be rather protective of their things, and it was all too possible that Fate was no exception. Despite this though, she didn't seem to stiffen or narrow her eyes. Rather, she simply stood there, waiting for an answer.

"Well, first we need to evaluate which ships we're keeping," the Jiyuuian started, going over her list, "Depending on what you see as our needs going forward while keeping in mind the costs of keeping one ship manned versus another. Then we hire a nearby shipyard to help with the scrapping that you decide is necessary to keep the ships we're keeping operational for the foreseeable future. And after that, we sell the rest and use the funds we get to keep the military running." And let me use some of the other revenues for other projects.

"That is acceptable," the towering Fyuunen replied. "However, we should sell ships in addition to simply scrapping them to increase profits," Fate soon added. "Those that have no buyers are best scrapped," she pointed out. Surprisingly enough, the warrior-soldier caste woman was being very reasonable and pragmatic. Briefly glancing away as though in thought, that unnerving stare leaving Astridr for just a moment, the Countess soon nodded as though in approval. "Forward this proposal to the Mikado. I may be out of contact soon as combat operations begin."

Without another word, the buxom woman simply vanished in a blink. Even as a volumetric image, she was unnerving and intimidating to deal with. But, as it was now apparent, also clever; Fate had left Astridr to be the baroness of bad news.

"Fuck me," the Viscountess said, sighing as she leaned back in her chair. No, stop that line of thinking. Can't go in front of Lady Blackspear while pining for her consort. Shaking her head, she picked up her datapad and sent a message off to Chii to get an appointment set up. If I'm lucky, it'll be in a week or something.

- - -
Soran Nast
- - -​

The Mikado was in the field on the outskirts of Soran Nast, somewhere east of the gardens, and beyond the city's outer natural limit.

She had discovered, somewhere or other, an animal that resembled a horse in enough ways that the distinction came down to its colorful presentation. The one that Bhelith had picked out, once Astridr had found her, had white fur that tended towards being shaggy and that was spotted near the big creature's rump. The horns resembled those of a deer. The eyes were black and wild. And it had managed to chew through the rope that had caught it and now industriously pawed, with hooves like black cinder, at the post that had previously held it bound by that rope. Someone would have to go in and lash it down again, but nobody seemed to be in a particular hurry.

The Mikado had visited what seemed to be a farm on the outskirts, and in her field attire - Astridr couldn't help but notice that the woman seemed resplendant in whatever sort of leather that was. She was watching this process from a seat upon the gated fence. Her guards stood off to the side, generally clearing the area, but they were in clothes as plain as the Mikado's. After all, who would think the woman would leave her ship, anyway? And without the regal trappings?

It helped that she had dyed her hair black as the animal's hooves, and didn't seem to have much bothered with makeup having clearly gone to some pains to conceal certain aspects of her gender, and therefore her identity at a glance. But, she was still beautiful of course, at least from the rear; all elves were beautiful in that odd ethreal way that they had. Tight pants helped.

Guess I should feel lucky that Johnathan is literally tireless? the Jiyuuian thought, shrugging before she walked up to the elf, still in her buisness dress. "Excuse me, Mikado," she said, standing behind her monarch, "I didn't know you had left incognito. I can leave you to this and return to the Eagle if you want."

The elf leaned back slightly from her perch upon the metallic fence, turning her head to see who had addressed her. When she saw, she said, "Well, you have found me. Best be swift. I am considering whether or not this beast can be tamed. It has a bad temperment."

Probably for the best to not take that as commentary, right? "Yes, of course," Astridr said aloud, "I need to run a proposal that I've discussed with Countess Fyuenn for funding the military, your Majesty."

Her Majesty flipped her dark braid to the other side of her shoulder, and beckoned the business-attired Astridr up to a spot on the fence beside her. "I am listening."

In the large pen, the horse-looking deer-thing emitted a peal of rage that sounded like a woman's scream. Asura was a tourist destination. Doubtless something like this belonged out running free in the wild, far away from decent people. Or, maybe, loaded down with sedatives and placed behind inch-thick clear durandium.

The Viscountess did as she was bidden, doing her best to not clutch on the fence in nervousness from being this close to two deadly beings. Hopefully they just don't deign that I'm more of a nuisance than its worth. "Currently we can only man a quarter of the ships we have on the books," she started, focusing on the not-horse, "And honestly we're running big deficits that we can't pay with our current revenue. So, we propose to cut down our inventory to that quarter we can keep in fighting shape and either sell or scrap the rest to keep us in the black."

She felt the Mikado's eyes on her. For a moment it seemed a bit difficult which beast to be more afraid of.

Then the elf nodded, acknowledging her report, and looked back to the animal in the pen. It had savaged the thick post, but hadn't managed to snap it. It seemed not quite done at trying, though, it appeared to be taking a break to re-evaluate its options. The beast was quite single-minded. Similarly, Bhelith had heard her, but didn't seem to be in a hurry to address the fleet issue.

"What do you think we should call this? Locally it is a 'Shiroshi', and I understand the Lorath call it a 'Kirikal'. Shall we name it again, do you think, or does one of those suit?"

"I'd stick with Shiroshi, but I'm biased," Astridr said, not sure if she could feel relieved at the change of subjects.

"Do you? I think Kirikal rolls off the tongue, but the name in Yamataian is 'White Killer'." For a moment, just a brief moment, Bhelith leaned her shoulder onto Astridr's companionably, as though to tease her, and then the elf straightened up to her full height again, watching her new toy with interest.

"The ships are wealth," she explained to Astridr. "Whatever their condition."

"And sometimes you got to spend money to pay the bills," the Jiyuuian replied, looking at the elf, who seemed patient.

"Who would buy them?" The elf seemed to know the answer to her own question, but then again, the elf seemed to know the answer to everything, by the way she carried herself, and so that was hard to prove.

"To larger corporations who'll take them, free companies that can man them for us, heck, maybe get a museum or two to take a ship or two," the Viscountess said, resisting the urge to look back at the Shiroshi/Kirikal.

"Which?"

"The Star Army Museum, maybe Hanako's Military Museum," Astridr said, listing off the possiblities, "Not to mention there's the local Asuran Museum of History that'd probably love some genuine Lorath ships."

The monarch slipped off of the fence into the enclosure containing the beast that Astridr did her best not to look too closely at. Supposedly, looking animals in the eyes directly constituted some sort of challenge. Bhelith held out her hand to one of the nearby, black-suited guards. This one wore a fox mask. He was holding the rope.

He said, "Count Izgrimmer asked, if possible, we stop you from doing anything that could damage you or your child."

That had been the wrong thing to say. Bhelith turned on the guard and stared at him until he offered over the lasso. The Ceremonial Guards were like statues, though Astridr was sure that real people resided beneath the masks. She had even met one or two of them going about other business with the masks off, and they looked and acted just like normal people right up until the point they threw on the shroud suits, the robes, and picked up those weapons of theirs.

The lasso in hand, Bhelith uncoiled some of it and began to run it through her palms, getting familiar with it. She eyed the animal near the post, which began to gradually come to the understanding that someone had decided to try tying it up again, and then looked back to Astridr.

"Have Johnathan summon the council. We are overdue a meeting."
 

Kim

スター軍の司書
Feb 19, 2003
3,820
837
148
34
A shattered universe
studiohnh.com
#13
The Eagle​
Wherein the Council discusses the fleet, and the nation's finances; a decision is made.

The council met in the Eagle's wardroom, summoned as they were by the Mikado. Most arrived to find that she had aleady seated herself in the leading chair, and was waiting for them in the white, layered robe that she oftentimes wore when the armor became onerous.

When they had all found their seats, those of them that could physically participate, they got a good look at those in attendence. The Viscountess Astridr, and Viscountess Ginger, along with Count Izgrimmer and Countess Fyuunen, the nominal Admiral of the Shield of Asteria, which served as the diadem's direct fleet. The Countess attended through hologram, sitting in the seat reserved for her in all but physical form. Her wings phased through the chair's high back.

So far, the Mikado had appointed four Dukes, but only half of them attended physically. The other two were busy with their affairs. Lord Whitemeadow, who was an elven boy of strikingly pale complexion and a midnight black braid, seeming much younger even than Ginger, and Duke Redek, of the House of Tam both sat across from each other to the left and right. He wore a smooth, nearly form-fitting robe that gave him an effiminite caste, though it was as black and gold and finely embroidered as any of the others', and bore his arms ensconced on the shoulder. Of the two of them, only Duke Redek had troops under arms, and he had been residing in the capital for just such an occasion as this. Lord Whitemeadow had not yet left for his domain, a very recently claimed planet on the far reaches of the southern frontier, and had only a handful of personal retainers, none of whom were presently in attendance.

They all sat there, in their various levels of readiness, staring at each other quietly.

"Astridr," said the Mikado, breaking the formal silence.

"Yes, your Majesty?" the Viscountess asked, looking up from her datapad, where she was putting the final touches on her presentation.

"You should begin."

"Of course," the Jiyuuian said, saving her work before throwing it up on the (hologram projector), where a large fleet appeared, hundreds of ships floating in the air above the table.

"Lords and ladies," she said as she stood up, dressed in a dark green blouse and matching skirt, "As explained in the summons, we're here to talk about Asteria's navy and how to keep it going. As you can see, we have hundreds of ships from both Empress Ketsurui's gift and Countess Fyuunen's rebellion. On paper, we are a power to be feared. This is a perception that is unfortunately false.

"First off," Astridr continued as she tapped her data slate, which highlighted a number of the ships in blue, "Our manpower is limited. The Yamataian ships didn't come with crew to bring them to fighting shape and the Countess' forces were (damaged) during the brief civil war. Thus, we're currently only able to fully /man about a quarter of our ships.

"Second," she said, highlighting nearly half of the fleet in red with another tap, "Due to the Lorath exodus from the Kyoko sector, we have a limited supply of spare parts and other items to keep the Zahls and Raptors operational. These can be supplemented with other sources, but at the end of the day, its more costly to keep them up and running than the Amaterasus, Ionoches, and Ayanas.

"In short," the Viscountess said, looking around at the gathered court, "We have a bunch of ships that are just sitting around in orbit and are costing us a lot of money to upkeep. Any questions so far?"

To his credit, Johnathan only looked at the buxom Fyuunen once before the meeting began, and since then, had focused on the topic at hand, silently taking in what was being said. Fate herself sat firmly in her seat, unmoving save for the occasional blink as she listened to the presentation as well. Finances were an important part of running a nation, and when it came down to budget cuts, nobody would be happy, no matter the choice.

Ginger listened to Astridr's presentation, far more interested in the Jiyuuian's riot of colors than the topic at hand. She had questions but the woman was not done delivering the bad news. She had chosen to wear a gown in a similar fashion to her grandmother's robes, just to her taste of low cut clothing. "I'll let you continue before I start fielding questions, Mitsuya-san."

The Jiyuuian nodded to the youngest Morioka, and did her best to bury the burst of annoyance that flared up when the other lady spoke, before looking around the room, double checking that there were no other questions.

Redak stood of quietly making something of an effort to remain respectful of those speaking. He was watching the presentation intently but, had so far opted to keep his thoughts to him self on this matter. He was in charge of a system, not the entire nation. However there had been much progress since his last visit to Asura. Talk of war was already brewing, and the tall Fyuunen who spoke was known to him. She had been apart of the attack that had slaughtered thousands of his people. But Fate had received the imperial pardon, and though Redak retained his grudge, he would not disrespect the woman while at court. None of what was occurring here this moment was what had invoked his presence.

"In that case," Astridr said, "I'll get to the conclusions that both I and Countess Fyuunen came to a few days ago. To keep our navy running and get our budget back in the black, we'll be cutting down our fleet to that quarter we can fully man and maintain and either sell or scrap the rest, to give us the spare parts we need to keep the active fleet going until we have a native shipbuilding capacity."

Ginger leaned forward on the table with her chin resting on the palm of her right hand. "Are there buyers already in line to purchase our ships?" She seemed to be weighing the pros and cons of this mass sales approach.

"We have a few of the Free Companies that have shown interest in buying some of the Raptors," the Viscountess said, glancing at her datapad to double check her answers, "And a local museum wants one of each."

"But this seems like a short term solution if the deficit is really that bad. Don't nations usually tax their citizens to alleviate the cost of national defense?" The young Morioka was trying to remember the economics classes her mother encouraged her to take with the hopes that she'd be interested in helping manage the station logistics.

The Jiyuuian cleared her throat, the visible sign of her annoyance flaring up again, though this time it was 'brighter'. "We're currently in discussions with the local corporations about setting up a tax system that they would be willing to subject themselves to. The Star Empire wasn't collecting much tax from the area before we took over, so the corps are being...territorial at the moment." In other words, they were stonewalling her.

"I believe that may solve itself soon," a new voice began to speak. Clad in a black dress, the strange lizard-like alien strode in on its bent legs and took a seat before explaining. "As you all are already aware, the Kuvexian War is underway, but as my little birds have told me, we may be seeing some of it ourselves." It was the first time Friede had showed itself in front of all these people, but, there didn't seem to be any concern about this. At least not yet. As it spoke, one of Friede's eyes flicked over to the Fyuunen in the room, who had been silent up until this point.

"Correct," Fate tersely replied. "A Kuvexian force may soon arrive. I will be there, if needed." Straight and to the point, it also explained her absence. A shield was no good if it wasn't being used to block after all. Narrowing her eyes slightly, she added, "If that is not enough, we could force them by gunpoint. Last resort." The words were clipped and cold. Ultimantly, they did hold the big stick in the area, but hopefully, they wouldn't have to use it.

From the throne, the Mikado explained, following Fate's response; "This is Lady Friede, a normally silent backer." The elf stared at her from over the long table. "Though, I do not know why she has chosen to break her silence, now."

"To apologize," the alien replied, opening its rigid jaw ever so slightly so that its voice could come out. "Just as I and my Noble House have taken interest in aiding you, those of Other Houses may soon take interest in doing the opposite." A clear membrane flicked over its eyes as it paused, just for a moment. "They may soon trouble us for sport - naturally, we don't have to protect certain individuals if they do not pay their tithe," the alien pointed out with a clawed finger, the feathers covering its reptilian face rippling ever so slightly. "Best we make the most of it."

The young Viscountess looked at Friede oddly. What in the world is it? The young woman couldn't read its light like she could others - the feathers somehow hid its heat. And every time a ripple ran through them, it seemed to sparkle and shine like a mirror shattering in the sun. Her attention was divided by the flaring temper of her chaperone and the things the Friede was saying. "I've heard of that before, it's a protection racket, like the yakuza do?" Her eyes moved from Friede to her grandmother curiously for a moment for confirmation.

The elf leaned at the arm of her chair and stated, "A protection racket that I shall not run. What is the value, if my men become bandits again?"

"Mmhmmhm," the alien almost seemed to laugh. "Is that not what every form of governance is?" it countered, the red of its feathered crest briefly flaring. "Governance promises protection from forces internal and external...so long as the tithes are paid. Spare the tithes, spare the protection." Friede's sharp toothed jaws seemed to open up just a bit more.

"I don't like the idea of that," Johnathan spoke up, arms crossed. "We should provide protection regardless - if what you're saying is true, they'll be idiots not to," he added. "Kuvexians, Mishhu, your people - it's all the same. We just need to do our jobs as a good government."

"These people are distrustful of the government due to what happened when the Colonies fell. Threatening them with destruction if they fail to pay only solidifies their apprehension towards our presence here," Ginger added. "Perhaps, telling them of the impending battles to come will spur some notion of self-preservation. If they know death is coming, they might volunteer something for defense, be it people, equipment, or funds," she suggested.

"I agree," came a soft voice from the side. Lord Whitemeadow, looking younger than even the post-adolescent Ginger, offered, "Some of the people who volunteered to come with me and form a colony have been very brave. You graciously gave us a ship and some of the tools and although I do not know much about warfare, perhaps it is a little similar. I am sure people would fight if they could."

Redak watched the conversation shift back and fourth. But he kept his mouth closed. They all had their differing views. He did almost speak up about building a nation based on fear. But so far all intel that he had before he left the Union suggested the Kuvexian threat seemed to be focused upspin, and coreward. Of course intel often changed and it was always best to prepair for the worst. Redak placed his hands behind his back and continued to observe.

Astridr held back a smile at the lizard's cynical view of taxes, since she had heard many a professor argue the same thing. "If there is a way that we could earn enough public goodwill to push a tax system through even if the corps don't like it," she said, nodding to Ginger and Whitemeadow, "Then that would help me sleep at night. The fleet cut backs will be relatively short term fix, but are most likely still needed even if we get some tax revenue coming in."

Ultimately, that decision of how to deal with the corporations and special interests on Asura would be up to the Duchess of Asura, a title presently held by the Mikado herself. She seemed to have been weighing the discussion, like Redek, without offering immediate comments. But, as the conversation had lulled a moment, she spoke.

"When we arrived on this planet, I used much of my wealth to purchase the debts of many of the government officials that had been running this planet, hitherto," she explained. "The corporations had previously held those debts. It is how we presently rule, here, without contest. I do not doubt the men we have ursurped will be eager to lash back when it is convenient."

Looking to Fate, she asked, "Has it been particularly difficult, integrating the few Free Companies with the national forces?" The returning look was cold, as always.

"Minor issues. They are not worth noting," the black dressed Fyuunen replied, a finger momentarily tapping against the arm of her chair. It was something brief, that could be missed in a blink, but a person did not need Ginger's gift to understand what that meant. It had bothered her, but to what degree, couldn't be said. As far as Fate thought, the Free Companies would serve as proper fodder. She couldn't complain about the fact their quality varied, or if they were sometimes rowdy or undisciplined. Of course, the woman kept this to herself. "We will operate effectively," she added.

"Then, nothing stops us from granting the ships we cannot man to the free companies of Asura, so long as they man and maintenance them." Bhelith had met Fate's eyes unflinching, which hadn't been any surprise to anyone; the elf didn't seem to know the meaning of 'flinch', or to have the inclination to bother learning it. "Provided we grant them this, would that not solve the problem entirely?"

"Gartagens...which I bring up respectfully, nationalized their space forces. Countess Fate was on the receiving end of that policy if I recall." Redak said in the pause. "Now, I recognize that things are different here, but uniformity of training is paramount. So what I am suggesting is a standard at the very least be set that these free companies should abide by. If not they will be a waste of ships and lives."

The young Morioka returned to silence as she let her elders who had some sort of military based experience speak. She remembered the reports of what the Lorath had done after the Fall and she also remembered the most recent incident on Tange. She continued to watch the others in the council but her attention had perked. With her, Lord Whitemeadow had gone quiet.

Astridr also was quiet, still standing as it was still technically her presentation time, and waited to see if she was still needed or if she could collapse back into ther seat and go back to messing with her slideshows and tweaking her tax brackets.

The Mikado, Bhelith Blackspear, stared at Redak, but did not decide to interrupt him. Her silence seemed to indicate she did not yet wish to talk about that particular issue - or perhaps that it might not have been the cause of the current discussion. In either case, she gave no answer.

Redak then looked at Astridr. "But if we are talking about war. Ships, and people are fine. But we need logistics. Money" He said nodding to Astridr. "Supplies. The mechanisms to sustain a war are what is paramount."

"I understand that I am tasked," began Lord Whitemeadow, gently, "with turning a habital planet to our galactic south into a farming planet. I think that it will be our first terraforming company. Perhaps the other planets have some minable resources?"

"There are some resources," the Viscountess said, "But a lot of the territory still needs to be prospected and catalogued. SAINT apparently sent a ship around here earlier in the year, but they're not willing to give us any survey information."

"Well have to keep that all in mind," Johnathan interjected. Looking over to Astridr, he continued, "Right now, we need a stable source of income - you were working on a tax system?" he asked. The little details would have to wait. Unless they had that tax system in overall, there was no way they'd be able to take advantage of the various resources or other opportunities at hand.

"I have one that I'm working on, yes," the Jiyyuian minister said, shifting her weight as she tried to think of a way to not present her incomplete plan. "Still trying to figure out what would be acceptable to tax the corporations and how else to cover our predicted expenses."

Ginger watched Astridr curiously. She had some smaller project ideas but she didn't think they would truly help in the bigger scheme of things. "Perhaps... mother can filch some of the system data for us? She should have some access to it as a Chujo."

"Though my daughter is no doubt capable of that," stated the Mikado, reclined in her chair at the head of the table, the diadem crowning her brow somewhat dimmed in austerity by her expression, which now seemed to bear out some annoyance. "Taisho Ketsurui Yui has assured me that SAINT will hand over the data, where requested. To refuse to do so would be defying her direct orders."

Her attention shifted around the table, "We have resources we have still not yet tapped. That shall happen on its own, should it not? Astridr?"

"It should, your Majesty," the Viscount agreed. "If it doesn't happen organically, then I'd suggest putting up some kind of contract or tax break to incentivize the Free Companies or other businesses to do it. I know of at least one who is planning on performing such missions."

((In progress))
 
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