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  • 📅 April 2024 is YE 46.3 in the RP.

RP The Yontô Hissy and the Rusteater


Convention Veteran
RP Date
YE 44.7
RP Location
Pisces Station
Pisces Station
YE 44.7

Aliset leaned back at her desk, seeing the classroom before her. Sure, she knew she was on one of Pisces Station's volumetric decks, and merely a telepresence in this command class, but she wished there were some way to make the hours pass easier. The fractional seconds of latency between her volumetrics chamber and her telepresence drone made it difficult enough to keep up with her class, forcing her to think and react faster than anyone should reasonably have to.

That part she didn't mind so much. It just meant she would make a better commanding officer when the time came. What she did mind was this strange and alien command structure she was being taught to run. That commanders weren't people who knew every weld, or who hadn't grown to age aboard or been selected by their ships for their skill and prowess. She was a pilot, selected at her Trials by Soren for the comand training. She could park any vessel she flew with a hand's breadth on any side even without the augments some part of her desire. She understood much of the necessity. After all, military command was far different from civilian. A civilian captaincy could be as simple as owning the ship and paying the crew.

But military... Far more involved. The selection of her ship was more important, the crew had to trust the command staff. She knew this, intimately. Instinctively.

Although she usually attended in person, her permanant residence wasn't far from campus, the lanky Separa'Shan also sat in a voumetric deck. That she was read in on some secrets had opened a oppertunity for her to advance the study of genetics in a unique way. It would also serve as the thesis she needed to graduate with her MD. For now, what that meant was she also was attending remotely.

"Alright, folks. Today's simulation day. Each of you take a tablet and go stand under the number displayed on it." The instructor was already talking as he walked in, a full two minutes before class was scheduled to start. "What are your questions?"

Sacre glanced around, looking for her number and joining the Senti who stood at it. She took stock of her partner, the Senti were ever rarer than Separa'Shan. Even though Separa'Shan joined the millitary at a higher rate than average. There were only a few hundred million of them total in the tens of billions citizens of the empire. Senti who had joined the Star Army and eliginble be in this advanced class could be numbered on one hand, probably with fingers leftover. Nevertheless, Sacre had studied thieir unique physiology and genetics. She noted how Aliset's gait was slightly off, and hips seemed slightly awkward. It was probably a bent pelvis. Similar to how the last couple of feet of her own tail landed slightly off due to some injuries sustained in the war.

Sacre wasn't proud of many of the countless scars that crisscrossed her tail, body, and face. They were the result of pride, weakness, and what had scarred her soul more than her body. However, the ones that she had earned serving Yamatai she was proud of. They were the good scars, the kind that came from doing something worthwhile with their life.

"So, why do I have to carry them through this simulation?" Sacre asked, pointing a thumb at her partner. However, her words didn't match her emotions, she was fairly indiffrent if slightly negitive to anyone.

The instructor nodded, "This is a pair assignment, each simulation has been programed to play to each of your strengths and weaknesses."

Aliset gave a small chuckle as she listened to Sacre's pride and confidence, deciding to speak her mind in Essian, no matter how terrible her accent. "I think you'll find me more capable than you first think."

Sacre looked annoyed at the intrustion of Essian into the conversation. She strongly disliked her native language. She had practiced for years to remove every trace of it's accent from her speech. She hated feeling inarticulate, and being looked at as the 'one with the funny accent' had driven her to work hard to excise it. She couldn't even remember the last time she had actually spoken in Essian.

She didn't put hands on Sacre, no pat on the shoulder or back, and was very careful to avoid the tail, having beem bitten before and not yet knowing the difference between pythus and venis. As she made her way around her partner, she offered a smile and a hand before speaking. "Aliset of Koun. I'm a helmsman, right now. You're... Medical, right? This sim's gonna be interesting. We allowed to know what we're getting into?"

"Sacre Sanssinia. I've also been a team leader for a squad backing special forces. So it really could be anything." Sacre replied.

"This simulation will put you under the command of a superior who will direct you through a crisis situation." The instructor explained.

"Alright, sounds like a plan... I was captain of a postage freighter for ten years, and a Ginga pilot with the 17th SBW during the Battle of Glimmergold, so we both clearly have strong leadership potential. I just have the knowledge and skill to do inflight repairs if we need. Here's hoping we can avoid bumping heads too much, right? Knowing these command types, it's gonna be a lot more complicated than our instructor says, but I highly doubt it'll be harder than my Trials. Shall we give our class a show?" Ali's smile only widened, never dropping as she slipped into a casual parade rest and faced the instructor.

"It's never as simple as the mission brief says it will be." Sacre said, joining Aliset in a casual parade rest.

The instructor looked out across the groups. "Allright, people attending by volumetrics, you will be dropped immediately into the simulation. Everyone else report to your volumetic deck. Good luck."

With that Sacre and Aliset were standing on the bridge of a Medical frigate.

Ali's first action was to walk to the helm, tapping the occupant on the shoulder to announce her presence as she looked over the current location and spatial situation. Furrowing her brows, she double checked the location of the little medical frigate, then looked to Sacre, and the captain in turn. "I could go for a briefing. I mean, we're in neutral territory, everything looks normal, aside being neck deep in a nebula."

"A wildcat colony settled Echronedal three years ago. What they didn't know and wasn't on the survey, is that the whole ecosystem of the planet apparently breaks out into a aether firestorm. A sort of natural uncontrolled version of what our power plants do. It's being swept by the wildfire and we've been sent to the rather chaotic evacuation to save as many lives as we can. We'll be arriving in five mintutes, what are your thoughts?" He asked.

She quickly scanned the bridge and helm controls, attempting to identify the class of vessel. "No weapons to disable the aether storms, only a handful of shuttles, too deep in the nebula to call for Flotilla assistance..." Aliset spoke quickly, rattling off the facts she knew too quiet to be heard at any real range. "Standard doctrine would claim we land medical personnel and control, use the main ship for orbital tracking and comm relay to bring the civilian fleet into the evacuation... And I don't speak the language..."

Sacre looked at the map of the evacuation. "It doesn't help that the dunderheads put their city in the forest. Lots of animals running from the fire make thermal less useful. We should deploy science teams ahead of and behind the wavefront, see if the eggheads can pull something from their asses. We need soldiers to coordinate the city on the ground. Three prongs for the mindy search teams. One in front of the firewall, moving forward. One following whatever passes for roads in theese parts. One doing a search pattern coming inward towards the city."

"If I can maneuver the ship into low orbit, and I mean really low, we can use the thrusters to maintain geosync. I'll need some software engineers to reformat our gravitic shields to form a lagrange point inside the atmosphere and pull the atmosphere up to us, while using the distortion drive's continuum anomaly to slow the fire down. This'll allow their aircraft to enter our docking perimeter, but it'll make gravity real interesting down there. Make it easier for the Mindies to make their jump, too. We'll have to use some of the onboard weapons to keep clear sattelites, cause we'll be running with almost no shields up here." Aliset's idea spilled out before she could stop it, and she furrowed her brows, trying to consider if it was good or bad. She shot a look to Sacre for confirmation.

Sacre considered Aliset's part of the plan. It reminded her of Gravity, and part of her was suddenly sad, but she hid it quickly. "It sounds, intresting, although I'm not an expert on drive systems."

"I mean, it's not that different from the gravimetric distortions used by certain organic ships to avoid reentry. I used on Soren at Akina, but we didn't have much of a shield, so it was still a little rough. I also only had fifteen people. Fact of the matter is they probably don't have enough of a spaceborne fleet to handle the evacuation. Besides, multiple trips takes a while, especially dodging Aether storms. About fifteen minutes to break atmo, eight to enter. The less fuel and braking time we can use, the faster turnaround for civilian pickup. If their aircraft can land on the hull to drop passengers, even better. I like your plan. Took it into account with mine," she bluffed, turning to the simulated superior officer. "Captain, permission to take the helm and engineering boards?"

The Captain nodded, "We'll do it." He said as the medical ship arrived on the planet. Sacre issued orders to the ground team and started coordinating the search and the evacuation. Mindys and dropships deployed from the ship as it descended into the atmosphere.

With Aliset's direction to the helm and engineering boards, the continuum distortion drive spooled, even at maximum power, this close to a gravity well, it was only running at about eight percent efficiencey, not enough to move the ship past light speed. But that wasn't what she planned to do as she fought with the software. Atmosphere lifted to envelop the ship as the lagrange point was set, the shields inverted to form a simulated gravitational mass that would allow aircraft to maneuver in the atmosphere, and she looked up for a moment. "Comms, could you inform the folks down there on what we're doing, broadwave, repeating, use our com towers as a landing beacon if you have to. I'm having trouble with this... This drive was never meant to be repurposed like this. Neither were our shields. I'm reading half burn just to maintain altitude. We're gonna start overheating and burning things out if we hold this for more than a few hours... Helm, please start descending again, target altitude two five kilometers, reduce shield and lagrange to match. Descent rate five zero meters per second."

Sacre moved to the ground controll station, pulling up a map of the area. "All right apes, deploy out before it gets too crispy around here." Her hands swept over the map marking areas of responsibility. "Groups one and two, you have the city. One help with the evacuation, ir's your job to keep things orderly so we can get as many people out as possible. Two sweep the city to make sure we aren't leaving anyone behind. Three, sweep inward from the storm front to mark emergency pickups. Four your sweeping out from the city. Medics are assigned to the small craft. Triage injuries on the way up so we can prioritize treatment." Sacre explained as blue blips marking shuttles and powered armor poured out of the ship.

Anyone could see how Aliset was stressed, bouncing between stations and communicating across as many systems as were on her board, even slipping a few times into the notoriously information dense Shuristan for a few words before catching herself. Still, she was focusing on the ship, and using its systems to maximize Sacre's effectiveness on matters outside of the vessel. The MEGAMI system's constant software blocks and the technical limitations were starting to wear on her, though. Even with portable conn panels floating around her as she stood between the stations. She was deeply thankful that the other people on the stations had summoned additional boards to grant her simultaneous control as a tertiary. "Ghods, this level of control would be easier with a SPINE implant... Okay, looks like we're stabilizing. First point of failure's gonna be the FTL drive. How's that evac doing down there? Cause if I need, I can start redeploying tractor beams as docking webs and start pulling craft in... Right now the smallest I can manage is a small bus."

Sacre looked up from time to time from her monitor to the rest of the chaotic bridge before diving back down into giving the infantry more precise orders. Her words were terse and sharp as she gave a few informal reprimands to vital sectors. As her tension rose, her words became more professional. "I can have the small craft stack up so the tractor beams don't have as much work to do." She advised Aliset.

Breathe, Ali. What do you need to do better? The departments know. Let them handle it. They have the intimate knowledge. Let them do the shenannigans. You just have a bad idea and a freighter captain's instincts. The thought crossed her mind as she took a deep breath, moving the helm panel off to the side. The secondary helmsman had started settling into a groove with his primary and the requests of the command team. She could hear them chattering between themselves and passing information as they controlled each thruster with a precision she simply couldn't. She found her hand there idle as they didn't need her there at the moment. "Alright comm, could you pass me a headset, command channel? Who needs what, Engineering, I'm gonna switch over to take a look at some other systems, please let me know if something's up with the drive. I'm gonna use my helm panel to designate targets for FTL suppression."

Sacre started getting into a groove as well with her teams. The commands were given with an occasional sharp remark on how to improve. "With sector three cleared, you dunderheads need to move to sector seven to help team three."

Medical isn't too busy, yet, and they resupplied before we dropped out of FTL... I'll keep an eye on them, soon as they hit 50% supply, I'm gonna need to ask Fab to start spooling up... Which is gonna take more manpower away from other stuff. We should be in the groove by then, just gotta stay there. "Infantry, you got any guys need something to do? Cause if we have the portable graviton emitters for it, a few guys on the hull to catch people as they get caught in that gravity well would be a lifesaver. Also surface side triage if you can. Anybody who's not off the ship or already neck deep in something. CIC, if you can please help Engineering, helm, and other systems get around MEGAMI's safety limits, that would be amazing, cause I can't get infromation to support you folks while fighting with the ship. But try not to pull her offline, I need her to coordinate power. Sensors, could you tie in your feeds to engineering and helm so we can play a round of whackamole with these storms? Who's got ideas? Cause I need as much help as you folks are willing to give me."

As they worked the aetherflame wall moved steadily, devouring acres and acres of what had once been prime wildland. Sacre looked at her board, "There shouldn't be anyone directly below us. Medics are trialing on the way up." Sacre informed Aliset.

Suddenly, the aetherflames surged, smashing into the ship. The shields flicked, preventing everyone from dying, but the ship was like a toy in a vices dog's mouth as it was shaken.

She gave a sharp yelp as she tried and failed to lock her mag boots, proceeding to be thrown across the bridge with one particularly violent pitch, and immediately regretting not tying in sensors earlier.

The ship took a plunge, crashing into the surface behind the wall of flame and digging a trench. Everyone was thrown from their seats on an Impact that sent a title wave of burned dirt into the sky.

Sacre got up, sliding over where the captain lay deathly still. She put two fingers to his neck, before looking up and announcing "The Captain's dead." Even though she had been suspecting that this was coming, she was still shaken slightly by it, even though she didn't let that show.

Aliset groaned from her position on the floor, dragging herself to her feet as she moved, shaking off the dizziness and the surely newly bent bones. Feeling the gravity below her, she had trouble telling whether the artificial gravity was working or not. Locking her boots to the ground, she looked at each station and the recovering crew. "Damage reports, please. Sacre, how're your people doing? If they can, we need to keep the evac effort up. I'll work on getting us back in the air."

She would not ignore the Captain's death. But for now, they were still in the middle of a planet quite literally on fire and stuck planetside. She couldn't do anything about it right now.

Sacre checked her screen as the damage reports came in. The aether wall had leaped forward almost a kilometer and while there hadn't been any infantry, two shuttles had been destroyed. The ship was mostly intact, the tough armor taking the brunt of the damage, but the surface of the ship was scoured of almost anything that jutted out too far. There were casulties across the ship from people and things falling and crashing into each other. The engines were also damaged, unable to operate at their full capacity.

"We've lost two shuttles. The flamewall is a problem. I don't think we can survive anouther surge like that. Engineering, we need to focus on getting the ship back up so the shuttles we still have can land and drop off their passengers. Science, did you detect anything before the surge? Medical, what do you need from us?" Sacre asked, trying to be proactive in the situation.

Aliset let nodded at Sacre's observations, finding her boards to let her fingers fly across them and get readings on systems as they recovered. "Do we have external comms? Engineering, what's the ETA on getting us off the ground? I've got Megami handling damage control and hull breaches, so let her do her thing. Fab looks like they're coming back online, now. Goddamn, those girls work fast, so we should have parts en route to their needed locations momentarily. Helm, you got any power?"

"Coming back online, now. Waiting on Engineering."

"Gotcha covered. Stand by, take us up to safe altitude as soon as you can. Engineering, you mind reversing my shield modification soon as we have engine power? Medical, I know you're kind of overwhelmed right now. We'll get you as much help as we can. Just bear with us, okay? Comms, I'm punching in an old Shuristan equation, now. With a tie-in to sensors and engineering, it'll let us use our CFS as an external antenna."

From engineering a voice asked, "Those orders are somewhat conflicting, who's in charge up there anyway?" The engineer asked.

"Sorry about that, Engineering... There's a little chaos up here, too. To clarify, I got MEGAMI handling the hull problems, so try to get us in the air as fast as you can, okay? Soon as you're able, we could really use our shields unmodified to help keep those fires off us. Sacre, you mind taking the conn? I'll go duke it out with the computer."

"I have conn," Sacre said, moving towards the center of the bridge. Her eyes darted around the bridge as she assessed things, reports starting to filter back to them about what the status of the ship and the evacuation was. She had been focused on her part of it, and the crash had damaged the ship. So a lot of the information was new. The ship gradually righted it's self and moved upwards. "Place us behind the colony, and keep a distance from the aether wall. We can't afford anouther hit like that again." She ordered.

"It looks like some of the tractor beams were damaged in the crash." One of the hanger bays reported.

"Got you, pulling up your diagnostics and ordering parts from Fab, now." Aliset's voice cut through the comm, her marker popping up as she parsed out the diagnostic data. "Looks like a couple Megami drones can handle the repairs."

For an instant, it wasn't clear whether the voice was in Sacre's mind or her ears as Aliset flashed her a thumbs up and spoke. "I got your back, Captain."

Sacre nodded in return, thankful for the words. "In the meantime, I think we can use powered armor to control the shuttles and make sure they land efficently." She said agreeing with Aliset.

She turned her attention to the next issue, and together they managed to work together to rescue a lot of the civilians trapped before the wall of fire completely destroyed the colony as the ship escaped. The simulation paused and noted that they managed to save 86% of the Civilians. This was noted as being a excellent score for that aspect. Sacre didn't show her emotions outwardly, but she was flooded with an immense anger. She marched over to the display and tried to find the 'replay assignment' button, but it was greyed out. She hit it several times anyway in frustration. "We should have done better."

Reaching over, Aliset placed her hand in the way. "Sorry. I should have done better. We'll have another shot at this simulation later in the year... If they want to show us how much we've learned."

Turning, she gave a smile as her form shattered into motes of light, leaving behind an echo of an impression. She was just as shaken. Just as angry. "We got a few moments before we gotta get back to the classroom. just need a drink of water. I'll be back in a handful."

"Right," Sacre said, disappearing as well and stepping out into the hall of Pisces Station to grad herself a drink as well. She looked over to her left and saw Aliset exiting another one of the volumetric decks. She felt amused by this, "I thought I had gotten rid of you when I left my deck." She said, sounding acerbic even though her emotions didn't match it.

"Hey. Sorry about using Essian back there. I... You're here... Well, that explains the emotional imprint.." Her brows furrowed, walling off her own emotions as though to protect herself... No... It was something else. "Sorry. You were amazing in the command chair. I got a lot to learn."

"If the amount you had to learn was a race, you would be light trying to get to the edge of the universe." Sacre commented.

"I haven't spoken Essian in a long time. When I joined the army, I bearly spoke Yamataigo well enough to join. One of my first nicknames was
Yontô Hissy." Sacre explained.

Just the diversity hire, Ali. Captain Belmont may think different, but you have no promise that this girl will think diff-- The thought cut off, as though the walls had finally settled into place, not that she had cut herself off. It was clear that Aliset was still dealing with a lot of insecurity as she finished her glass and folded the silicone away into her pocket, starting to move back to her volumetric chamber. "Yeah. Some of the nekos on my ship call me Chui rusteater. Kinda dumb, really. Thanks. I didn't know I needed to hear that. Yonto Hissy sounds a little asinine. Good to know their insults haven't changed."

Tsulrati weren't psionic. Nothing in Sacre's studies showed more than a basic ability for telepathic or empathic abilities. Lower psionic potential than humans, or even Separa. The only discrepancy was the burial steel, but every race had outliers, and there was next to no verifying research on its claims, anyway.

That amused Sacre, once again reminding her of Gravity. The Senti woman was attractive in her own way. She was assertive and eager to try new things in a way that Sacre wished she had more of in her life.

"C'mon, pretty one. We don't want to face the teacher's ire more than we have to. Would rather she not turn off the safety restricters from her end and strangle me for being a smartass." She gave a cheeky smile over her shoulder. "As entertaining as it would be to watch a 120lb cat girl try to get a good grip on me."

"She could tell me to do it. If I strangled smartasses when they were being idiots, I don't think I'd have time for anything else." Sacre replied, rejoining Aliset in the classroom that had most of their classmates returned and lounging around talking while they waited for the instructor to come back.

"On the plus side, we actually scored really high for our first run through the simulation," Aliset gace a small smirk as the classroom faded into view, immediately returning to her partner's side. "Gotta admit, you'll make a Hell of a captain, one day, Sacre. It'd be an honor to serve under you till a ship decides to select me. I'm in the astronav class next period, but got lunch before that. I hear there's a great little Duskerian joint on deck 22. Rumor is they serve real pack roach."

Sacre didn't know what she meant when she said the ship would slect her. She decided to ask her sometime. Sacre nodded, she wasn't particularly hungry, but having lunch with Aliset would be enjoyable. "Lunch would be intresting. I was slicing slides all last night so I didn't have any time for breakfast. I wonder if they serve the packroaches whole."

"You sure you can handle a thousand pounds and two meters of murder bug? I mean... I'm sure you could, but that's a lot of bone, from what I hear. It might take you a few days to be able to move again." She gave a small laugh, the mental defenses dropping just long enough to let the image of Sacre bloated full of pack roach and curled up under a restaurant table slip through. "And my room's a little toasty for most folks, but I'm sure the small space is a bigger problem or I'd be willing to say you're welcome to crash out. I'm buying, but let's try to keep it limited to like a leg quarter or something."

Aliset was correct, but that wasn't exactly the deterant she might expect. It probably wasn't polite, but she wanted to show off a bit for Aliset. Sacre opened her mouth fully, her jaw unhinging, cheeks unfolding, and throat widening to show she could probably swollow something pretty large whole if she wanted. "Separa'shan usually have their own division in extreme eating contests. I don't know if I could, but it might be fun to try However, I'll content myself with one of your small meals." She commented, radiating amusement despite the deadpan way she said the words.

"I don't doubt you, not in the slightest. But a whole pack roach is a very large, very expensive thing. Like smallish Kodian big. One of my flight school mates was on the officer exchange problem and got to go hunting with the Duskerian Legion once. She sent me back photos and two words." She gave a shrug, smiling. "Dunno if it was a pack roach or what, but it tore up a Mindy pretty good. I hear Sirrus is a deathworld. I think she might have been a bit biased on just how big those things are."

She tried to avoid staring at the inside of the jaw, especially the upper, but after being bitten by a Venis, she had to ensure those fangs wouldn't be going anywhere near her chest again. But Sacre didn't have fangs. Come to think of it, her form was a bit stockier, her face a bit softer and less reptilian and her tail longer, more muscular and powerful. Must be an ethnic thing, she dismissed the thought offhandedly, in stead, turning her mind towards the first time she had seen planet Yamatai as more than a simple blue marble, standing on the hull of some golden hulled piecemiel cargo ship delivering mail in the form of recruits, herself included.

"But yes, I'll get you a meal none of the smaller races would be able to finish," she laughed. "Then... Well, I hadn't planned that far beyond that... Maybe there's something you want to do later? Sorry, I'm not real creative."

Sacre finally felt like she was starting to understand Gravity a bit more with the attractive Shuristian. "I've got classes and a lot of research I'm doing. That said, with Shurista's achives opening up, I'm going to be going there soon to see if they have any records of what I'm looking at. I don't know much about your people. So just getting to know you would be useful. I enjoy making knives and knife throwing, I think there is a place to do that somewhere on the station. What do you like to do?" Sacre asked.

"There's a really nice--" Don't let your heart cost her life, Ali. Not like it has for the others. The thought cut through Aliset's defenses like a knife, ripping its way free like a scream from her throat and carrying the smiling faces of her fallen husbands on it, turned to closed eyes splattered in blue blood, then glowing steel for one. The other, the shattered husk of her sister in law after his disappearance. Shaking her head, Aliset continued. "Deck forty five. Aah, there's a little shop down there. An old Samurai blacksmith, retired and enjoying his obscurity. I don't know how helpful it'll be, considering I've never forged a knife in my life. Let alone thrown one. But it sounds like fun!"

Sacre nodded, feeling grief, but unsure as to why. "Making knives is both useful and fun. Long as you don't permanantly scar yourself, a likely outcome given your dexterity, you may be able to make something that at least resembles a knife."

The smile Aliset gave seemed hollow and indistinct, but the attempt at sincerity was there. "And a research nomination to the Shuristan Grand Library? That's really impressive. What are you planning?"

"It's not technically a research nomination, Admrial Fletcher..." Sacre trailed off for a moment, not sure of how much she could say. "Is very concerned about a new threat, I'm going through the Millitary Intelligance program which has some sort of priority, but from my understanding of things that I really don't there is some contriversy the eggheads are sorting out. I don't really care, but they seem to."

"What, like Senti being psionic or something dumb like that? I mean, don't get me wrong, digging around in the Library may reveal something, but it's far from a complete repository of the Universe. There's an equal chance they've never seen it before." She gave a shrug. "Good hunting, though. I really do hope something helpful is in there."

Sacre shrugged, "He's also worried about stuff like that, what with the Rathankans. He doesn't trust them. Not that he trusts much of anything that isn't a part of Yamatai. but I'm on a new external threat. I've been to where we think it comes from and I'm pretty certain that Shurista hasn't been there. However, if they do have records, it means that we might be wrong which would both be a relief and its own sort of worrying. Someone has to track the information down, so I'm it."

"Atteni Soren is an archivist. Mention me and she'll help you..."

The last of the students and the teacher entered, and the class fell silent. "I'm sending each of you your computer scores. I'll also be doing an individual assessment. Congratulations to Chuis Koun and Sanssinia for having the highest score of anyone in this class. What do you think the purpose of today's assignment was?" The teacher asked.

Aliset balked, looking confusedly at the teacher. What? Is she talking about us? Uuh... Adaptability? Teamwork under fire? Something like that? I dunno. I was just kinda winging it... Sacre's the real hero of that sim...

Her body spoke before her brain as she raised her hand as though she knew. Which she most definitely didn't. Put your hand down, you dumb xeno bint! But Ali was not as stubborn as herself, it seemed, as the psionic signal controller in her breast pocket sparked and let off the tiniest puff of smoke. "Damn it, those are expensive..."

Sacre glanced over at Ali, hearing what she sait and noticing the thin whiff of smoke that no one else probably did. She wasn't sure what it meant, but she would probably ask later.

The teacher pointed at Aliset, "What is your answer?"

Sacre was brought back to the question and her answer rose to the top of her mind. It was command, the simulation was designed to push us into conflict about who was in charge. There were three major factors in our sucess. First, we were able to establish quickly who was in charge. Second, I knew how to conduct a evacuation. Third, Aliset's innovative ideas probably allowed us to increase the rate we were able to get shuttles docked then back out and repair damage. The thoughts had a strong undertone of obssession with getting the simulation right and saving everyone.

Thank you, "The simulation's exercises had several factors defining success or failure. In the case of Sacre Sanssinia and myself, it was a challenge of who was in charge of the situation combined with a complex exterior situation a sparsely equipped rescue vessel. With our differences in command style, there was expected to be an incompatibility and argument. However, our passing score was based on those same factors that should have made it difficult to pass. In establishing early who had overall control of the situation, we managed to rescue 85 pecent of the possible civilians. We will be working on ways to improve our future scores, as we don't believe that the score we got was acceptable."

She offered a smile to Sacre. putting her hand down and sitting back down in her seat as she took a deep breath, beginning to wrestle her emotions back to something approaching calm.

The teacher nodded, "Sometimes in the fog of battle, it can be unclear who is in charge. This lack of clarity most be resolved quickly and efficently, often it matters less who is in charge than that someone is in charge and taking control of the situation." There was class discussion for a while longer, addressing various aspects of the simulation before the class was finally dismissed.

Within half a second, the tsulrati had disappeared, and could be found outside her volumetric chamber, a set of tools working on what appeared to be a personal psionic signal controller surffering burned shielding. "Cheap ass piece of substandard civilian junk..."

Sacre exited her volumetric chamber and looked over at the electronic mess. "I can't say I've ever seen someone so inept they can break electronics just by being around them, but I suppose your inneptitude is exceptional." She said, her tone dry. Her mood was midly curious and amused, not knowing what it was that was broken.

"To be fair, it comes in a five pack, and I really don't want to break out the null glass." Aliset looked up momentarily, then downturned her head until something in her hand sparked and fell, exhuding a foul smoke as Sacre could finally see the remains of a civilian grade psionic signal controller. "And I just shorted the power supply... Great."

"You get what you pay for." Sacre shrugged, "You need to grab a replacement before we eat?" She asked.

"I should be good. It's fine. Not like it was really there for more than keeping me from getting a headache around so many Nekovalkyrja." She shrugged, scooping up the charred plastic as she crushed it into a foil ball and tossed it away. "Thanks for the save back there. I was kinda panicking and I kinda winged it in the simulation."

"You were the one who suggested that I be the one in charge." Sacre said, unaware of her helping Aliset in class.

"I meant... Never mind. Let's go get food." Aliset gave a soft, warm smile as she straightened. "I'll grab a new PSC from the vendors on the way. I think I have the credits... Oh! Right, YSE uses KS. Sorry. Anyway, you still want a whole pack roach to show off?"

That wasn't what she had said, but perhaps what she had meant. The two of them moved down the corridor together. "I've learned to live with Yamatai's rather irregular feeding schedule, lots of small meals. If you got me a pack roach, I probably woulsn't need to eat for a month. So something smaller will be fine."

"Yeah, let's go with a leg quarter, keep you full for a week?" Her joke was punctuated by a shake of her head. "I dunno. I think you'll really like Shurista. It's beautiful. Lots of parks. Real stone houses. Real wood. And most of the clothes sold on board are natural fibers. They have a universal basic income based on what we use and the waste produced. It's very different. Just remember that the water credit doesn't exchange with the KS, yet... Which is why I have problems buying nonmilitary clothes. Gets real expensive when you're not on UBI, anymore."

"It sounds like a beautiful place. My original solution was never leave where it's acceptable to wear a uniform. What's a water credit?" Sacre asked, curious about Aliset's home.

"Oh!" Aliset quickly lifted her necklace out of her uniform, unclasping it to dump a series of metal rings into her hand. Reclasping her necklace, she offtered the weighted steel rings, each with a different colored gemstone.

"So most gems are kinda useless to us, especially sapphire. So we artificially induce colors in them to help color code our currency. Each of these weighted steel rings denotes a volume of water. This little white one is a deci, or one tenth of a liter. The brown is a single, then we have increasing quantities by muliples of five." She separated out each of the notable currency units, and quickly counted up. "So these would be a total of... Just under five thousand liters of water in value. This is about one month's income for a postage freighter captain like I was, not counting the Ubi.

"I'm probably not going to be able to bring several onsen of water with me." Sacre remarked dryly.

Gently, Ali took Sacre's hand, dumping the currency into it. "Then take these. I have a few hundred thousand liters. Nobody out this side of the lonely expanse takes Shuristan credits. The credits are based on water volume on the Flotilla. Both in use and in the greywater system."

Sacre flinched away from the unexpected contact, causing the gems to fall and scatter acorss the corridor. There was a bright sharp panic that threatened to overwhelm the normally stoic Separa'Shan. What looked like a knife of bone suddenly sprang from her wrist. Sacre stopped herself from doing more. The bone knife slid slowly back into her wrist. "Sorry, I... don't like being touched unexpectedly." Or at all a voice inside her added.

"I was one of the first Separa'Shan to leave our homeworld. I was young and nieve, looking for adventure in whatever came my way. It didn't end well, and there's still... shrapnel." She added in explaination as she stretched out with her tail, using it as a sort of broom to gather the scattered gems.

"I get it." Ali stooped to help gather up the fallen currency, offering a warm smile. "I've never seen an implant like that. It's really impressive. But I am truly sorry for what made that necessary. "I'll keep that in mind. I... There's a solid dose of trauma on my side, too."

Sacre put them into a pocket, "Thank you for the loan, I'll be sure to repay it when I can."

"What's a loan?"

Sacre gave Aliset a odd look, not understanding how someone could not understand what a loan was. "Sometimes you need more money than you have, so you agree with someone that has the money, but doesn't need it right now for them to let you borrow it. In exchange, you pay them some money for the service." It was vastly oversimplified, but hopefully enough to get the idea across.

The concept brought furrowed brows and radiating confusion from Aliset as she tried and failed to fully comprehend it. "Weird. Senti have this belief that any negative action puts everyone at risk, while doing something positive for others, with or without an expectation of repayment allows everyine to prosper. So the general expectation is to pay it forward, not back. It's one of those cultural things that I'm still wrapping my head around."

"My father was very good at making loans that benifited people. I don't have many good memories of him, we fought, a lot. But I do remember this one debt that he forgave and he explained that anyone can lend with the expectation of repayment, it is much more difficult to lend without a real expectation of repayment even though it helps everyone." Sacre explained reaching back to things from a long time ago.

"Do you have a good relationship with your parents?" Sacre asked.

"My grandmother volunteered me to the Shuristan Councils without my knowledge. My father killed my assaulter and then proceeded to coddle me for fourtieen years. I suppose my relationship can be described as average." She shrugged again, smiling. "Aside from your father, do you have any family? People you're honestly close to?"

"I used to have a very large family, but the way I understand it is that the senator from Essia was from my hometown. My father was rather... defiant during the occupation. So there's not much left but a smoking ruin. I'm not good at relationships. I have a girlfriend, and well I'm not sure what Hildr is. There is Klaus and some others from various postings. But I wouldn't describe my social life as exactly thriving." Sacre explained.

"Ah... Same, honestly. I don't have a lot of folks I'm really close to. There's this Consort, Sayako, and my Captain. But my husbands are dead. I have no siblings, just cousins, and I may have burned the bridges that would make me welcome on Shurista. So I'm kinda out on my own. Little lost xeno girl. With just enough known by my ship medics to not kill their diversity hire when she got bitten by a Separa Captain. It's been a long few years." She gave a soft, hollow grin, considering her position. "You were there, once. The Star Army isn't exactly our normal. So I got awakened. I'm working with our CMO and Say to make an implant that'll help me feel the ship. Normal stuff to bring me up to something approaching standard."

The two finally arrived at the Duskarian resturaunt. "We're two sad sacks aren't we? It might have been harder for them to accidently kill me, but have you ever tried going up stairs with this tail? Don't even get me on the expectation that your able to fly. Yes, I do enjoy being a blimp." Sacre comiserated with a bit of sarcasm, waving her tail in the air for emphasis.

"Oh, my gods, and when they expect you to be able to just sleep in gravity? I never snored once in my life before joining the Star Army!" Aliset laughed, "Now I'm waking myself up literally twice a week! And personally, I think you have a rich and beautirful coloring and pattern on your tail. While yeah, stairs and zero grav channels are hard, at least you don't have a medical profile requiring you to wear mag boots so you don't go sliding across the bay floor during PT."

Breaking away from the conversation, she quickly ordered and paid for the whole leg quarter of slow roasted pack roach, and a barbeque plate for herself. It was a pleasant note that they offered to change up the recipe for her species, one she took without thinking. "And half their controls are either psychic or deadass just "Oh, just connect this little USB port in your left ass cheek. Like I have one, Megami! Also, the Nekos like refridgerator magnets."

Sacre didn't laugh, but she was highly amused. "Have you ever seen us do a jumping jack? No, because it's made for ridiculous biped physiology. I've got a great idea, I'm going to fall over and than catch myself repeatedly. Yes, this is a sensible way to do things. Nekos like refrigerator magnets? How so?" Sacre asked, finally taking a bite of the huge packeoach leg.

"I have seen that. It was sad and dumb. Any idiot can see that jumping jacks aren't good for either of us. You fall over, I leave a dent in the deck. Gods, I hated flight school. And yeah. Magnets. My bones are ferromagnetic. So magnets stick to me. Apparently that was really funny to the kittens." She took a forkful of her barbecue, giving an eye roll. "And then they keep it so cold in their ships! I'm stuck in a 30C and I still have to wear a thermal layer and a heater. I've gotten about staying just dehydrated enough."

"You're species is warm blooded at least right? Why are you so lethargic Sacre? It's like two degrees out, not even freezing! I was made for twenty five minimum. If you aren't sweltering, than I'm probably trying to figure out how to conserve energy in a blizzard. Why is the heat lamp glued to my tail? You guess."

"I'm risking hypothermia below thirty, and I'm comfortable between forty and eighty, so I get it! I went out in the snow one time, woke up in a hospital. It was like one and a half degrees out and apparently I was unconscious in five minutes."

"Mmm fourty. I might have to see if I can use you as a heat source. I was assigned to Ralt once, way up in the north. I hated every second of it. Everyone else is like yay! Snow. I'm by the fire and trying to figure out how to get closer without actually being in it. What's been your worst assignment so far?" Sacre asked.

"Easily shore leave on Freebeer with the Wrath of Nepleslia, during the disaster relief after Turassiel, " she gave a chuckle, though it was dark, not quite so soft. Clearly more had happened there than she was about to say. "You think Ralt's cold? Freebeer's a ball of mud and ice full of gun nuts and incoherent boogaloo noises. I still celebrate Lois Pascal day, but damn it, I don't want to be digging bullets out of my half frozen ass half the time Or trying to run on any high G world. You think these are made for running?"

Aliset grabbed and lifted her breast, before letting it drop. "What about yours? Worst or strangest assignment."

"Everything is so much lighter out here." Sacre thought a moment, "Strangest has to be the time I heard a insane dead God talking to me and I helped destroy a universe. That one was weird. But it's probably the combination. Riding dragons was fun. Once you've spoken draconic, nothing else is quite the same." Sacre said, turning the leg over and eating the other side.

"If you dislike low gravity, you will have to get used to Shurista. There is no gravity. We never needed it. Our physiology lets us use magnetic fields in the place of gravity. So... Yeah. Good luck?"

"Magenetic fields? I don't hate low grav, but I do like having the ground under me, or at least thinking I do. On the other hand, there are plenty of Separa'Shan who swim, and I've heard being in zero g is like that." Sacre worried slightly.

"You'll be fine," she started focusing again, radiating confidence in her smile. "You're among the top of your class. You did your zero gravity training before the Draconic Wars, you learned to speak the language. Considering what little I know of our universe, I would assume that Draconic isn't simply an extragalactic, but an extradimensional language. Don't ever doubt your ability to adapt. Not to me, please."

Sacre didn't really see herself that that. There was a lot of fear and insecurity she still felt. "You don't know me very well... but I suppose I have adapted. From hunting in the jungle alone, to being wrapped in a giant metal caccon. Perhaps your on the opposite journy and you'll end up being a lone hunter in a jungle."

"You're as insecure as I am." Aliset offered a forkful of her barbecue, a bright smile on her face. "And that's perfectly fine. Knowledge of your limitations is a powerful tool. One I learned to use too late. For all its flaws, you get to see something truly beautiful. And when you get back, tell me how the sun sets over the hull disk, and tell me how the hullsong feels, okay?"

"Hullsong? What is that?" Sacre asked, the encouragement from Aliset perking up her feelings.

"How do I describe hullsong..." Aliset looked off to one side, her forkful of barbecue just within reach if Sacre wished to lean forward and claim it. "You know how in an older ship... When you hear the creaks and groans, the slight vibration when the engines light or she hits atmosphere at the perfect trim. It's literally the song of the hull. And... I know it's weird..."

Sacre thought back to a old cago transport that she had been stationed on, one of the fans was supposedly completely within maintinance specs but it had this tiny hum and on the ship Sacre could tell exactly where she was based on what the hum sounded like.

She shook her head clear of the memories, trying to keep her confidence up. "It's probably just some silly superstition. And I've been thinking it more and more now that I'm on ships that don't sing. It's kind of... Unnerving. I don't know how to share memories with people. Can barely peel apart enough encryption to activate controls or talk to the crew of my ship."

"Our ships don't sing?" Sacre asked, not completely understanding what Aliset said.

"Our starships are living amalgamates of our ancestors. Literally built of half a million years worth of the cremated remains of... My species doesn't die. Not in the traditional sense. When our bodies die, we get cremated, folded into steel that makes up everything from our ship hulls to..." She pulled the fork back, setting it on her plate to pull a necklace from her uniform, an ornate and abstract shape of burial steel and white, opal like slag gem nearly the same size as Sacre's rank pin. She unclasped it from her neck, placing it on the table to slide across.

"Cookware, tools... Even jewelry. This necklace is part of the remains of Setiel Soren. My mother. Every ship's soul is the amalgamate of those who lived and loved in its hull. When we die, those emotions and energies don't just dissapate. Those memories don't just dissapate. Sorry, that probably sounds like a bunch of religious and superstitious hoogedy boogedy from a weird ass spacer nomad, doesn't it?"

"Pretty much, I'm an atheist. But it does remind me of a old Separa'Shan belief. We're born into this world, and we make friends, enemies, lovers, and more. We are then reborn with the chance to remake ourselves and fix the relationships we have broken. Eventually, we will fix all of the relationships with everyone in the universe, and everyone will live in harmony. It's a stupid anchient belief that really doesn't make sense, but there you go." Sacre explained.

"It's the way Shuristans believe." Ali shrugged. "I was raised in the culture. I'm still learning what was real and what was just myth. But that was my main source of training and learning. It helped me feel the ship around me. Let me do things that weren't strictly by the book. And it's part of why I got so stressed out in that simulation. I still find myself listening and feeling for it."

"I don't think any ship can tell you what to do, well the ship's AI might, but that's not the same thing. I don't get a sense from a scalpel 'ok, make an incision there', and if I did, I'd probably be labeled as crazy." Sacre responded, finishing the leg and putting the bones on her plate.

"I was called crazy. Flight school sucked. I dunno/ Might be some artifacting AI combined with instinctive sentimentalism. Throw in a bit of jerry rigged engineering and a loose beam, and bucket of bolts, five or ten thousand years of rust, and anything'll start loooking like ghosts in the metal." Somehow, she didn't sound convinced as she gave a soft shrug. "I dunno. Forget it, I guess."

"What was leaving there like for you?" Sacre asked.

"Like I cut away a piece of myself. A piece that had abandoned me thirty years ago. I've grown stronger for it. I wasn't going anywhere with my career with my own species. I'm sixty kilos overweight, got a twisted pelvis, and my heart costs lives. I'm better off here. What about you? You grew up planetside, right? What was that like?"

"I grew up before Yamatai came, my brother told me that I actually tried to bite one of the away team that first visited the surface. I'm not sure I believe him, but it was right before my ascension and I was eating everything I could put my mouth on. My father was a tradtionalist, so I spent a lot of time in the jungle, hunting, learning how to survive on my own. My favorite way was sitting in the branches of a tree over a game trail and then dropping on whatever came by. There was this one rock I'd hide under at night and then look up at the sky. I always wondered what was up there." Sacre said wistfully.

"I didn't get along with my father, we fought a lot. So when I decided to leave, it felt freeing. Like I was where I was meant to be, and there was a universe of possibility. Instead, I found a universe of pain. Hopeful, nieve, childish are the words I'd probably use to describe myself when I left. I haven't been back since. I think we felt two very diffrent things leaving. I was rather glad to have it behind me." Sacre explained.

"Not so different as you might think. My whole life, I grew up listening to the songs of peoples who could look up and see the stars lensed through an atmosphere. Not half a meter of glass. The first time I felt sunlight on my skin, it was... Indescribable. I used to sit on Soren's hull and watch the void. Wondering if what I was always hearing on the comms were just more echoes of the dead and dying. Then we picked up a beacon. I'd been Soren's captain for maybe...Ten? Twelve years before we caught a beacon. Refugee camps at Akina. I thought if we made contact, and forced Shurista to make contact then maybe we could finally see something real. But then two years later, nothing had happened. So with the Kuvexian War heating up, well, I figured I needed to help out. So I got warranted as a bomber pilot... Okay, pretty different. I mean, I passed my Trials at sixteen." She gave a shrug, picking up her biscuit. "Maybe Turassiel wouldn't have split if I didn't decide to be a hotshot. Maybe we would be a bunch of derelict remnants of a half million year dead culture. Who knows?"

There was a lot in what Ali said that Sacre didn't understand. "Turassiel, who's that?" She asked.

"Turassiel is... Was one of the sister structures to Shurista. Ninetey three hundred kilometers across, population of nearly three billion. It operated out of Nepleslia. Two years ago, the Gift of Song was leaked and it was attacked. Eighty five percent of the population was lost. My husbands and I were pulled to the Wrath of Nepleslia to perform search and rescue support. The Grand Library was completely ruined. Ninety eight percent loss. I hear they're starting to rebuild, now."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know about that. But I'm not sure why you would blame yourself. I don't think your the type to leak something like that." Sacre responded, the single structure had almost ten times as many people as there were Separa'Shan.

"I wasn't. But thank you. I don't think we ever found out who leaked the songs. They likely died in the attack. All I know is I still some times have nightmares about it. But that's unimportant in the long run. They're a hardy, industrious people. They'll recover. What of Essia? I hear it's a beautiful world. Full of beautiful people. Now that may be a bias with my first experience with a Separa being that I got bitten by the Captain of the Wyvern. But I'ld like to form a more honest opinion."

"I'm probably not the best example of the beautiful people. In my memory, their just people. The thing that's there that I've not really seen many other places is the density of... life. It's packed in everywhere. Everything constantly moving, growing, changing. What I remember is a lot of hard work, taking care of animals, stoking fires for the forge. We were semi-preindustrial, so none of the conveniances you find on starships. There was this one ridge, where you could look out over a valley filled with life and see the sun set over it. A warm red glowing ball sinking between the splashes of clouds. Always unique and beautiful. You should go there if you get a chance. Hopefully you won't rust from all of the humidity and rain. Because it's like a lot." Sacre said.

"Not the best example? That bone knife you almost took my hand with is a really interesting and unique augment, you have a softness and warmth about you that's lovely, and... Anyway, I've never been planetside to really see a sunset. Or a sunrise. I mean, it's happened, but... I've never been able to just appreciate it." Pushing her empty plate away, she kept nibbling on the biscuit, as though chewing on her thoughts. "It's a common misconception that humidity leads to rust with my species. I'd be more worried about a lichen or moss infection."

"Then you should probably include whatever lichen-off you have in your bag. When it comes to a sunrise, get there while it's still dark. The rise it's self is beauitiful, but also how the jungle changes as the sky does. From black to blue to pink and purple. There are a lot of animals active around sunrise that aren't active the rest of the day, so getting their early is your best chance to see them." Sacre explained.

"It sounds beautiful. And the fact that there's no solid barrier between the ground and space doesn't bother you? I always found it strange and disquieting how atmospheres work. But it sounds stunning."

Sacre shrugged, "Physics? I find it much weirder to grow up in a tin can than on a nice solid planet that anchors you to the ground. It's a lot harder to destroy a planet than to poke a hole in a wall."

"And it's harder to kill a ship than that, too! I mean, dozens of redundant systems and safeguards, knowledge of the... You're screwing with me, right? I'm the weird one for my first experience with walking in gravity being at Akina?" She stuck her tongue out, teasing.

"No, I'm clearly the weird one for having the experience that most people throughout time have had." Sacre said deadpan.

"Oh, I dunno, considering how fast Senti reproduce and how many Flotillas are out there, you planetborns might be the weird ones." She gave a shrug, throwing her hands wide. "Fact of the matter is that since it's next to impossible to know where all of the Flotillas are, and it's hard enough to find even one, an actual population estimate would be impossible to make. But yes, I'm the strange metal woman from between the stars. Least I could have done is be cute, but I can't even do that, can I? I'm all dented up and have a visible love for this strange planetsider food called pizza."

Sacre thought Aliset looked very cute. "I think that when it comes to cuteness, you are such a failure that you have utterly failed to fail."

"Wait, huh?" Just like that, Aliset's confusion sparked, as though something had ricocheted off her consciousness. Her face flushed a soft blue as she rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sorry, you're the pretty one, here."

You have a girlfriend one part of Sacre's mind reminded her. Who's practically given you a blank check the other part added. Sacre looked down, to hid her own flushing cheeks. "I haven't been pretty in a long time. I know you and Gravity think so, but..." She traced some of the scars that ran up her neck and onto her face.

Tsulrati are polyamorous, some part of Aliset's mind snapped back as she offered a soft smile. "Your girlfriend? Gravity's her name? A smart and lucky woman, to have your heart. Why don't you tell me about her?"

Sacre hadn't said that, but it was an easy enough infrance. "Callsign actually, she's a pilot, like you. We met while we were serving on the same ship. I was a lot more... acerbic back then. More than once when someone touched me accidently, I sent them flying to land on their asses. Once during a mission even. I was a Santo Hei, but I'd been all over the enlisted ranks. Kept getting busted down for fighting. I didn't like people." Sacre explained, relaxing and thinking back.

"So our pilot, Gravity, decided to break me out of my shell. She was so annoying, but also... radient? She had this enthusiasm for life and doing things. I felt more, alive, when I was with her. She pulled me along on a lot of adventures, and I began to realize that I wanted more of that 'spark' in my life. One thing lead to anouther, and you can't lie in Draconic. It will pull the truth from you, one way or anouther." Sacre said, looking at Aliset, but her mind somewhere else.

"So even with the truth that I'd fallen in love with her, that I trusted her, confessed. Trust being in some ways more important. There were a lot of bumps along the way, but we tackled them. Her with endless optimisim and energy, me with logic and stopping her from doing things a bit too hairbrained. She put up with me when I was at my worst, so I give her my best. She's changed me, for the better and how can you not love someone like that? Want to help them grow and change for the better." Sacre finished, finally coming back to the moment. "Have you ever felt something like that?"

"His name was Levente Barna. He was a Nepleslian exchange pilot on the YSS Tokyo. I was a Santo Juni. He was my escort pilot. Funny enough, he was the grounded and reasonable one. His sister, Grand Admiral Irene Barna is so much like him. But she's the logical one. He went missing on a routine patrol. All that was recovered was his knife. The one I gave him." She gave a soft shrug, her smile never wavering. "It's a wonderful feeling. Maybe in a couple centuries I'll be able to persue it again."

Sacre nodded solemly, "I'm sorry for your loss. If I lost Gravity, I hope I'd be able to find it again someday." Her communicator buzzed and she glanced at it. She stood from the table, "Duty calls. I've got to get to a meeting. But I'd like to do something with you again."

"Yeah. Maybe something with brighter conversation." Ali looked at her comm. "Oshit, I gotta get to my xenolinguistics class..."


JP with @HarperMadi
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The meeting had been a long one, but profitable. Admiral Fletcher had wanted details about the planned mission to Ayenee. However, he had seemed pleased at Sacre's intelligence if not always her mouth. Now Sacre was in her assigned quarters on Pisces station. She flopped into the nest and curled up, "Computer, Call Gravity." She said, sounding a bit tired. The simulation and the meeting had taken a lot out of her.

Gravity picked up, volumetric projected into the room. "Hey, what's up babe?" The blue Neko said with a grin.

Sacre almost never smiled, she hadn't even ever smiled at Hildir. However, the sight of her girlfriend brought a smile to her face. "Not much, just figured I'd call you to talk and stuff."

Starlight and Ophion swarmed Gravity, perching on her shoulders. The robotic pets called Drakes looked like small versions of Dragons. Starlight was green with golden eyes and resembled Apollo, the Dragon Gravity had bonded with. Ophion was electric blue with golden flakes.

"Awesome! How much can you talk about what your doing?" Gravity asked, moving to lay next to Sacre in the nest.

Sacre checked to make sure they were on a secure connection, they were. "Fletcher wants to keep a lot of the things I'm working on more secret. However, you've already been read into a lot of it. You remember the briefing we were given about the alien swarm that ravaged Ayenee with endless waves of creatures?"

"No, I don't remember anything about apocalyptic threats." Gravity said with a touch of sarcasm.

Sacre reached out to touch Gravity's image, but her hands passed through the volumetrics. "Well, I've confirmed that they are very similar if not the same. This means I'm being assigned to go back to Ayenee and see if we can find any remains or perhaps even a living part of the hive that was left behind."

"Apollo." The single word from Gravity was a choked whisper. The pilot had bonded a Dragon on Ayenee, becoming a Dragon Rider. The separation had been the hardest thing when they left. Even Draconic had been stripped away from them. A heavy silence hung in the air between them. "I miss him so much, I... I think if it wasn't for you I'd go and join him. Be his..." Gravity started to cry softly.

There was a long silence and Sacre wanted to wrap herself around her girlfriend to hold her tight. However, the distance separated them. "I know, so I want to bring you along." She said simply.

"No... I can't go." Gravity cried, bowing her head.

Sacre looked confused, "Why not?"

"Because... because I love you more. Because if I go, then it all comes back and I'll want to stay. I don't know if I want to hurt you like that." Gravity explained.

"Because I'll almost never see you." Sacre said, trying to puzzle things out.

"Exactly, Apollo and you are the two best things in my life, I don't want to have to choose between them." Gravity said earnestly.

Sacre nodded, "I understand."

"No,you don't. You still have the Army. You still love it. I hate the army. It's taken Apollo away, it's taken you away, if it wasn't for Hildir, I'd have nothing left." Gravity said with a sudden intensity.

There was a brief silence as the two worked through the emotions of that statement. Sacre thought for a long moment and nodded to herself, a decision reached. "Ok." She said simply.

"Your planning something. I can see it on your face." Gravity said.

"I'm not, I... want you to be happy." Sacre explained.

Gravity clearly didn't believe her, and changed the topic. "So how are classes going?"

Sacre shifted, trying to let the emotions she felt fade, but they stubbornly refused to. "Do you know Aliset? She's assigned to the Koun."

Gravity thought for a moment, "Mostly by reputation, she's a good pilot, but a bit of a wildcard."

"She's in one of my command classes. We were assigned to do a simulation together, and well, we managed to hit it off better than I've hit it off with almost anyone. I enjoyed her company at lunch after class. It was... enjoyable." Sacre finished lamely.

"oooh, it's about time. Sacre and Aliset sitting in a tree-" Gravity teased.

"No. it's not like that." Sacre interrupted Gravity. "I think we might be friends in a weird way?"

Gravity nodded, "You need to give a side piece, relive some of that" Gravity paused for a irritatingly long time to build to something. "tension while you are out there chasing around an army of bugs." Sacre's brows furrowed in annoyance. Gravity laughed, "You love me."

It was true, "I don't love it when you do that." Sacre said, determinedly stoic.

"Well, if you want to go and get you some hot Senti, I'm not going to complain." Gravity added.

"I don't want that. It's disgusting." Sacre replied, a bit sharply, but also blushing.

"I don't recall that being what you felt right before you left." Gravity said with a lecherous grin. "P U D D L E." She spelled out.

Sacre flushed red at the memory of that steamy night between the two. "If you were here-"

"If I was there, or you were here, I'd..." Gravity said, suggesting a few options for Sacre to indulge herself in. The rest of the phone call was surprisingly exhausting for just being two people talking.


"Sir, can we talk for a minute?" Sacre asked Fletcher as the crowd gathered in the meeting room.

Fletcher glanced at the time. "We have a bit before the meeting, What about?"

Sacre slid over to a corner of the meeting room and Fletcher followed. "It's my girlfriend. I'm not sure what to do and I think you might be able to help."

Fletcher looked concerned, folding his arms. "Go on." He said cautiously.

"Sir, as you are aware, my girlfriend is read in on Ayenee. What you might not be aware of is that she formed... a friendship there." Sacre said, not sure how to say it.

"She became bonded to the Dragon Apollo. Both of you learned Draconic. You two also visited the hidden Dragon city, and you traded with a local merchant. I am well aware of your... adventures in Ayenee even before we needed you for this." Fletcher said quickly.

Sacre was surprised he knew all that. However, he was a Taisho, there was very little he wasn't cleared to know. "Yes, sir. She's always been homesick for Apollo. She hides it well most days, but there is always this... longing. Apollo is almost as important to her as I am."

Sacre took a breath, knowing she didn't have much time. "I... I want her to be happy and to have both of us if she can." She explained.

"What do you want me to do about it?" He asked.

"Is there an assignment she would enjoy that would let her keep a foot in both worlds?" Sacre asked.

Fletcher considered for a long moment, looking at Sacre. She shifted slightly under his gaze. "This is really important for you." He said. It wasn't a question, but Sacre nodded anyway. "The number of people who are even aware of Ayenee is limited. Those who have been there recently, even fewer. Fort Miller isn't somewhere we keep a large force. There may be a few strings I can pull, but Ayenee isn't my area of operations. I can't make any promises."

Sacre nodded, looking down.

"May I touch you?" Fletcher asked.

Sacre furrowed her brow, but mentally prepared herself. "Yes sir, if you have to."

Fletcher rested a hand on Sacre's shoulder reassuringly. "Everything will be fine. Know that even though I have a lot of people to take care of, I do want what is best, even if I can't manage it."

"Your a Taisho, you can't manage anything without a Juni breaking it down beyond usefulness first." Sacre said, trying a joke in her serious sounding humor.

Fletcher frowned, but then gave a small smile. "Don't make me send you to the Humor College of Tania."

"There isn't one?" Sacre asked, confused.

"Which makes it all the more embarrassing if I have to send you there." Fletcher said with a small laugh and a grin, returning to the meeting.


Sacre was in the lab, preparing equipment for the next day's work. It was the small diligent things that made everything work right. It also reminded her that while she was studying to be a doctor, she wasn't one yet. Her communicator buzzed and she saw it was Gravity. She put the call on speakerphone. "Hey beautiful. I'm working, but I could use the company right now."

"I was asked if I wanted to go back to Ayenee today. I... I don't know how to respond." Gravity said.

Sacre nodded, "You have wanted to go back there, what's the job?" She asked.

"I'll be on a Fuji, same sort of thing as the Kaiyo was doing, but my understanding is with the increase in base personnel, we'll be going back and forth more often. I'll be spending a lot of time away, and... and... I'm not sure what's going to happen." Gravity admitted.

Sacre was quiet for a few moments while she thought about it. "Well, it could be worse, Apollo and I could be divorced too."

Gravity laughed at Sacre's stupid joke. "I don't want you to feel abandoned."

"You won't be abandoning me, you'll be happy and you being happy makes me happy. Comperson. If this assignment lets you have both of the things you want, then take it with both hands and have them both." Sacre said, trying to sound more confident than she felt. The truth was that she had a small pit in her belly, a worry she wouldn't see Gravity again. She knew it was foolishness, but it still lingered.

"Right, and perhaps I can smuggle you back and we can ride dragons together, and have more adventures." Gravity said, becoming more enthusiastic.

Sacre nodded, even though Gravity couldn't see it. She wasn't sure how to tell her girlfriend the next part. "I'm going to have to stay here mostly. I feel your love for Ayenee, I really do, but it's not something I feel myself. It's a great place to vacation, but it's not home. I..." She trailed off, not wanting to say it out loud. "I love Yamatai and Star Army. I can't really see myself without them. Their something I've been a part of my entire life and I don't see that changing."


A long silence hung in the air as Sacre worked and Gravity processed everything. "Then I don't know if I want to go back, I have forever, I can wait."

There was another silence as the weight of death pressed down on them. Sacre wasn't suicidal, however, the fact she didn't have a backup and would age and eventually die permanently without one and Gravity kept hers up to date so she was effectively immortal wasn't something they talked about much. Sacre thought for a long moment, trying to figure out what to say. "You could, but there is a part of you that would be dead inside. When we came back and you lost Apollo, I saw the toll that took on you. You want me, which is why you stayed. However, you also want Apollo. Don't think I don't see the far off look in your eyes when you look at Starlight."

Gravity was quiet for another moment. "Alright, I'll do it. Just... Just don't be mad if everything goes sideways. I don't want it to, but..." she trailed off.

"I'm enough of a badass I can rescue my princess from wherever she's been trapped. Even if I have to duel a Dragon to do it." Sacre said firmly.

"You'd fight Apollo for me?"

"If I had to, but I was actually hoping to be fighting with him in that scenario." Sacre admitted. Gravity laughed and they moved on to lighter topics as Sacre worked.
It was a few days later when their schedules had managed to work out right together. The old Samurai Blacksmith had been pleased that people were looking intrested in the old ways of making things. Yu Kurosaki looked anchient, with white hair in a topnot and a beard. Despite his age, he was muscular with a bright gleam in his dark eyes.

Sacre arrived first to talk to him, she had been a blacksmith's daughter and had learned much of the art from watching her father. Then from making and balancing her own knives. So they were able to chat happily about some of the more technical aspects of the craft while Sacre waited for Aliset.

Aliset was not far behind, carrying her own apron gifted to her by her Smith grand mother, and a burial steel sledge on her hip. She offered a deep bow to Yu Kurosaki before offering Sacre a sweet smile. "I brought one of my grandmother's hammers, if that's okay.

"Is it going to hold up? I don't think I've ever seen a golden hammer before." Yu remarked with a look of concern.

"Burial steel. I'll offer it to the forgemaster for inspection. As is Senti tradition, when bringing your own hammers." Aliset offered a smile. "It's good to see you, Sacre! How are you?"

She lifted the hammer out of the belt loop on her hip, setting it gently on the counter with another bow to the forgemaster. To his eyes, it was a simple 3.5lb shaping hammer, one horisontal cutting edge across the base with a solid octagonal face, a soft back angle and rounding ensuring a solid, square hit at just below the line of the hip.

"Thank you," He said taking it and inspecting it carefully. He hefted it, checking the weight and feel in his hands. He hit it against a anvil and inspected it again. With a nod, he pulled one of the things he was working with out and hit it with the hammer, then inspecting it again. He finished his work with the hammer before returning it to Aliset. "A fine hammer, it should serve you well."

"Not being burned at the moment, so not terrible." Sacre responded dourly.

"That's good!" Aliset picked up her hammer again, offering a bow to the old smith. "My grandmother gifted this hammer to me while I served on the YSS Tokyo,"

Her smile didn't waver as she accepted her hammer back from the forgemaster and slipped it into her hip. "What shall we learn? I was actually... When I was Shuristan, my grandmother fought for my right to a Smith's training, and was denied. I was denied until someone had to bury a Senti aboard Tokyo. I was the only one approaching the skills. I'd like to learn more than just burial rites."

"Burial rites?" Yu asked.

"Aah... Our bodies have a really high metal content, and when combined with the fact that we've been nomadic for so long... Well, we get cremated. And then the resulting steel is forged into... Pretty much everything. So... Yeah. Nobody ever..." Ali's brows furrowed as she caught herself remembering something. "Anyway. Yeah. Our burial rites revolve around the forges. So the Senti find places like this to be holy."

Yu nodded, stroking his beard. "Perhaps I should visit this place. I'm sure you have many intresting things and techniques." He said.

She gestured to Sacre with a smile. "Last time this lovely lady and I got together, she told me she'd be studying at the Shuristan Grand Library in the near future. And I heard that they intigrated a Zodiac fortress to Shurista's hull, so I'm sure..." She glanced to Sacre, offering a smile.

"I'm sure the people of Shurista will be happy to show you their techniques. I heard some of your discussion... Sacre, I didn't know you were a Smith."

"It's a hobby, I learned a lot from my father, but I wanted knives with the ballance I liked, so I had to learn to make my own. That lead to me making other things from time to time, but mostly knives." Sacre explained casually, still not quite getting the importance of smiths to Shuristian culture.

Aliset looked to Yu, then back to Sacre, her shoulders relaxing as a smile grew across her face. "I think it's more than that. I know the culture and stories of Shuristan smiths. But the first time I swung a hammer was last year, after Glimmergold... Could you maybe... Teach me?"

"Sure, what do you want to learn?" Sacre asked.

"I was denied the right to train when I was a little girl, so I know... Really next to nothing. Can we start with like a simple knife or something?" Aliset seemed to stiffen, not sure how to begin. She knew the basic sciences of metallurgy and theory. Yu could tell she had never made anything aside a single collection of ingots. "So... Yeah... Let's get started! I barely know how to hold a hammer, so you're the lead here."

Yu considered for a moment, "Knives are flashy things. What we probably want to do is start out with something that teaches the basics. Sacre, grab three irons of stock." He went over to a cubboard and pulled out a metal leaf who's stem curled over to form a sort of key ring.

He gave the small iron object to Aliset. "It's simple, but has a lot to teach you. I made a lot of theese when I was a young smith. I'll go first while you two watch me, and then you'll follow the same steps that I do when your metal is ready. Does that make sense?" He asked.

She considered the piece of metal, feeling the way the steel had flowed under the hanner, letting her psionic abilities flow through the metal. Sure, it wasn't burial steel, but the principles were the same. She let her mind reach into the metal, feeling the flagellates, microscopic crystals of steel and tiniest impurities that made it stronger. "I think... Yeah, that makes sense. I have a few people I'd like to make some gifts for. Building the skills now will be a great help. Sacre, I'm glad you had this idea!"

Sacre nodded, starting her own work across from Aliset on her own anvil. She worked carefully and skillfully, critiquing herself as she worked. "I wasn't sure if this was something we would both like." She admitted, enjoying the sight of Aliset working with her. The Shuristian woman was very attractive to the medic turned doctor.

As Aliset watched carefully, she found her eyes drawn away from the metal by Sacre's movement, and sharply looked away, covering her rising blue blush as she watched the forgemaster's instruction. "I don't know why you'd think that. With how the smithy is crucial to Shuristan culture, it's the second most popular date idea to galley duty. I know it sounds dumb, but mine is a working culture."

When she had seen Yu drop the finished leaf into the water to quench, Aliset nodded, moving back to her anvil. Placing her hammer next to another few, she picked a simple flat and round hammer from the rack, gently setting her bar against the anvil and guaging her strikes carefully. It was slow, but she was being careful, and before long she had her point, already adjusting to start working her taper.

"Then again, we also have a lot of farmer's markets, so that's a pretty popular date, too. Something about mundane intimacy... Or was it intimacy in the mundane? I dunno. Anthropology was never my strong suit."

"I've tended towards the bit more exotic for my dates. Things that we wouldn't normally go see or do. Well, for the big dates. There are also the little weekly dates I'd go on. On ship it's almost always to the small garden we had on the observation deck. A special time just for me and them to be apart from our usual routine and with, really with, each other." Sacre said as she pounded the leaf into shape and bent the metal into a little circle to finish her first leaf. She quenched it and looked at it carefully to see how she could do better. "I think it might be intresting to go to a farmer's market again. I don't think I've been to one since I left Essia. Do you think there are any on the station?"

"There might be, I've been so busy with work and school I haven't really had time to look." Second heat and Aliset started drawing out the stem of the leaf, reminding herself that metal would curl, and that's not what se was trying to correct right now. Elbow set, bar level, drawing it forth and hoocking the leaf blob to straighten that tang as she started rolling the metal under the soft beat of her hammer. "They're all over the place on Shurista. Can't throw a ball without hitting a street vendor of some kind. I don't think anyone owns anything that isn't hand made by someone. It's actually really weird for me to look at factory made coffee mugs."

"My father was a blacksmith, but he was also something of an industrialist. He was one of the first to really make machines for making machines far as I know. So the idea wasn't something completely new to me. However, the scale of it was impressive. A billion perfect copies of a neko, with a billion perfect copies of everything. What does a single unique and imperfect thing have to compare to that? But for a unique slave, people will commit murder. It turns out that we don't crave perfection, we crave uniqueness. We crave being valuable. Imperfection is in its own way unique." Sacre took the leaf she was making as an example. "I was a bit bad on the shoulders and too agressive on the right side so the centerline is off. A press could probably make a thousand in the time it took me to make one. But the one is valuable because it's unique. I don't think I could make a identical one if I tried." Sacre mused thoughtfully.

Finally, she had achieved a basic shape, deciding to gently pull her hammer blows towards herself to attempt to get a heart shape. She knew her hammer blows weren't perfectly centered, and decided to work with the curving of the metal, shaping one lobe at a time to allow the centerline to curve and give an illusion of symetry, knowing she had missed the line.

As she twisted off the taper and then wrapped the end into a hook for her last heat, she gave some thought to Sacre's words. "That slavery comment's oddly... Specific... But I get it. A billion perfect coffee mugs can't replace the one I have in my room from Nicol. He got it from a street vendor on Turassiel the first time I made a postage run there. Something about the hand feel of a hand made mug you don't get from a factory made one. Or the weight. We have factories for things that need to be made that way. Fuel. Medicine. Computer chips and individual components."

Finally taking her little leaf out of the heat, she gently pushed the stem backwards, gripping the leaf in her tongs before rolling both wrists to form the ring and pressing the end of the ring to the stem, pinching the joint in pliers to be dunked and swirled in the water. Picking up a wire brush, she started cleaning the metal, checking her work. "That didn't go to plan..."

"How so?" Yu asked gently, joining Aliset.

"Oh, aah... Well, I accidentally caught the first centerline strike with the corner of the hammer, not the edge, and tried to correct for the fact that it was off center with a bit of a curve. I mean... It sorta worked? And that ring is way off square. Easy fixes, I'm sure. It's nice, though! I think."

Sacre nodded, "It's good for a first try." She said, thinking it was indeed good. She offered a few tips on how to hold the hammer for a edge strike to reduce the chances of it happening. Yu also had a few ideas that would help her with the next time.

"So you want to try again?" Yu asked the pair. Sacre wanted to, but she looked at Ali to see what she thought.

"Yeah! Let's go for it," her excitement seemed boundless as her enthusiasm.

"Excellent!" He said, putting the stock back into the fire.

Sacre enjoyed watching Aliset's enthusiasm and excitement, she didn't have enough of it in her life. Someone who wholly commited enthusiastically was intoxicating in a way. You already have Gravity. one part of her thought, If one is good, then why not two? Gravity's given you permision. Anouther argued back. She's a widow, and she as much as said she's not looking right now. The conflict raged for a few moments until Sacre realized that the stock was hot enough and grabbed hers to start back on.

She postioned herself at her anvil so she could see Aliset. "So you can see what I meant as we start making the point." Sacre offered, hitting the hot stock.

"This is completely different from cold carving," Aliset lifted her stock, quickly hammering out her point as she let herself relax. The first one didn't go so well, and she had two excellent teachers who had given her advice. The knapping sound of their hammers against the stock filled the room as she lifted her stock vertical, blunting the tip she had formed before starting her initial draw. Doing it once gives a lot of confidence, even if the first attempt wasn't necessarily good.

Tapering was easy, as long as she kept the metal good and hot, hiking her hand up on the choke of the handle, and watching her force. It was more attention to detail than anything, as far as she felt. Looking up, she shot Sacre a smile. "You're thinking loud. I can't really make it out, but you sound kinda... Nervous? What's up?"

Sacre thought for a moment, hammering at her piece for a seond longer than she needed, trying to figure out how to respond, so she gave the response that gave her the most time. "Thinking loud? I'm not prone to babbling every thought that enters my empty head like some people are." She asked, trying to figure out if she should just tell the truth that Aliset was perhaps the second person she was attracted to in her life or say something else.

"I'm still new to the whole telepathy thing... Amazing what modern surgery can do. I mean, yeah, it's a bit difficult to decipher... But I can kinda hear whispers, some times. And recognize voices. Yours is really pretty. When you're not arguing with yourself. And I really don't want to intrude and invade your privacy by sitting here just fighting through a translation when I can just ask you."

Taking Sacre's advice especially in mind, she attempted the heart shaped leaf and curved spine again, using the round back of the hammer in a sharp draw towards herself to pull some of the material towards herself, before one quick cross strike pushed the spine into a curve.

Sacre hammered the flat heart shaped pattern of the leaf. "I've fought Mishuu psionics before, it wasn't fun. Kinda left a bad taste in my mouth for the whole thing. My understanding is that Separa'shan have thick 'walls' for such stuff. Which is why I wasn't effected as much. That's not what I know, but what I was told. But I don't know much about them. So what can you do?" Sacre asked, hoping to perhaps deflect from a thorny question of feelings she didn't know what to do with.

"I've never dealt with Mishhu before. I've read about what they can do, though. It's why I got the implant. The ability to match and exceed that kind of ability and defend my crew and my family was really important to me." She offered a smile, setting the keychain back into the heat. She supposed the injection could be an implant. But the training she had recieved had been minimal. "You're the first Separa'Shan I've met since the surgery, so I don't know. But I do know I don't want to fight. Not you. I like you. Why would I betray your trust like that?"

"Because you are secretly a jerk who is lulling me into a false sense of security so I go along with whatever hairbrained scheme you want to use to take advantage of me." Sacre responded with more than a notable hint of bitterness.

"I'm... Why would I..." Aliset's confusion radiated off of her as she pulled her steel out of the forge, brows furrowed as she picked up her hammer again. "I'm not one of them. I'm a navigator., not a..."

She considered her next hammer blow, but the blow never came as she closed her eyes, planting a hand on the anvil as she set the hammer down with a soft click Taking off her apron, she reached over to turn off the little forge and pull her unfinished keychain, cutting it off before sweeping it into a quench bucket as she put up her stock. "I get it. Really. Sorry. I think you'll be happier if I'm not close enough to hear your mind. I can't put up walls that thick."

Sacre moved around closer, touching Aliset's arm. "I didn't say you were that way, I said that's why you might betray my trust. I've had several betrayals happen in my life. I wasn't a good slave, and so I tried to escape. It never worked, but the times it was closest was when someone I thought I could trust betrayed me back to our masters." She tried to compose herself and think of happier thoughts than the darkness that swirled at the back of every interaction.

"I've lost a lot in my life. At some point, I kinda became jaded to it all. If I couldn't keep friends, why make them? Why let that hurt back into my life? I walled myself off with thorns, keeping everyone and everything from reaching where it might hurt me again. I resisted Gravity even while I was falling for her because I was scared." Sacre admitted.

"A lot of people think I'm brave, they see a blazing sun and think confidence and courage are what define me. They want to join the army to be like me. What I can't show them is how it feels inside to be me. I'm depressive and there is a lot of anixity, bad habits, and fear that are constantly threatening to overtake me. I don't like people. Sometimes I do like people who aren't like me. Who are constantly putting themselves out there, who take to things with brightness and determination rather than stoic resolve." Sacre took a breath and decided to tell a truth.

"That's you, and... and... I feel something with you that I've only really felt with very few people. I'm not certain what it is, but I do want to know where it goes." Sacre said, pouring her heart out.

As Sacre's hand stayed Alistet's movements, something started to become visible, swirling colors and scars that showed and highlighted her history and memories' effect on her psyche and abilities, like a soft glow or aura. Nothing was really clear, but there were certain things that could be obvous, such as the smoldering wound in her side, as though a piece of her had been ripped out, not once, but twice.

"Look, I... I appreciate it, really." Offering a smile, Aliset looked back, and Sacre could see the corrupting influence of her grief fade just a little bit, though her fear seemed to creep from those wounds. "I haven't been through what you have. But I can see where you're coming from. You scare the Hell out of me, because what happens if I start falling? Is that gonna put you at risk like it did for Nic and Lev? I want to see where this goes, too. But I'm tired. I know I don't show it well, but I kinda miss the simple life as a postage courier. But my home's a combat ship, now."

She gave a soft shrug, breaking contact as she scratched at her bent ribs. "So yeah. I'm a telepath. I'm not a monster, and I'm sworn by culture, career, and power to help people. But I just kinda want... My instincst are screaming at me to build a familial network, and I've been fighting it because I know my heart costs lives, and I could stand to retire and be just a little old sweetwasp lady in some back corner of an ag dome or some random planet... But there's some part of me that wants to be proven wrong."

Finally, she slid her barstock into its shelf. "I'm willing to try. Maybe you can teach me Draconic."

"I don't have the same community building instinct. Mine's been warped into a weird pretzel, generally around those few I can call 'not idiots';" Friends. "Unfortunantly, Draconic isn't something that can be taught here. I can screech at you in a rumbly voice for a few hours if you want though." Sacre said, trying to lighen the mood a tiny bit.

"I mean, I learned Essian because of someone a lot less cute and a lot more venomous." Aliset gave a small laugh, rolling her eyes. "With no help from people that spoke it, just a translation from a ship that... Well the jury's still out on whether or not Koun-Chan actually likes me or if she thinks I'm as dumb as I do."

Aliset reached over, lightly touching Sacre's nose with a soft "boop" sound and a widening grin. "Maybe on round three we can go somewhere you can teach me?"

Sacre's eyes went wide as she touched Sacre's nose. Sacre tried to move away from the terrifying touch, but it happened. Sacre slammed down iron control, and just pawed at her nose for a bit. She remembered something Admrial Fletcher had said. "We'll see."

"Sorry about that. Either that or we could take a volumetric trip to somewhere we can both be comfortable. I mean, the thermal suit does itch some times." A soft smile at that cute pawing crossed Aliset's face. "I dunno, maybe a beach or something. I can't swim, though... I could bring my husband's guitar. I'm not real good with it. Better with a Shuristan Khatakara. But it's similar enough... Sorta. The Khatakara has a single fretboard of eight strings and then nineteen harpoid strings, and they're all silk monofilament... And the guitar's made out of wood with only one resonating chamber where a khatakara has three chambers and is made of burial steel..."
Pisces Station
“Sweet spot”

Every ship, every station, had a sweet spot. That place where gravity didn’t quite work, or didn’t work at all. Where the direction of down changes or between the output nodes of the gravity generator, there was always one or two comfortable chambers where someone could bask and relax in the null gravity. If they knew where to go and how to get there.

Floating there with her tools around her, Aliset let her back curve, sailing through the air with the practiced ease of thirty or more years never experiencing gravity’s pull. She could finally move, finally breathe as she folded her worries away, turning over once to touch her hand to the deck plating, her fingertips seeming to gently brush to stop her arc, rotating her body to kick off the bulkhead with that same practiced, balanced gentleness that barely made a sound and yet stopped her rotation cold in a cloud of red hair like a flaming ball of blue green eyes and silver skin. It was hot, here, between the cooling pipes deep in the bowels of the station, deep in the reactor and gravity core sector. An uncontrolled maintenence hatch like what Aliset had climbed past to get here could easily reach sixty degrees celsius. And this was perfect for the metal fleshed young woman who came here to meditate and consider.

A small sprite of a young woman appeared. Akita wasn’t the main station A.I. but she was a station A.I. Keeping watch over all of the digital and physical systems that a huge station like Pisces had. “If you were anyone else, I would be calling emergency services for your burns. It’s good to see you here again.” She said brightly.

“Akita, how are you?” Aliset reached for her jacket, carefully folding that and placing it against the plate as she blushed a dark blue. Her camisole and shorts betrayed that the rest of her uniform lay discarded about the chamber as Aliset’s secret little place where she could truly be comfortable was slightly less private, now. “Sorry, I’ll clean up. I know this isn’t supposed to be a place to relax, but… Hi!”

“Well, I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything lately, but I wouldn’t know if I did.” She said with a laugh, trying to deal with her new assignment with a bit of humor. “What brings you up here? It’s a long way from much of anything you're probably involved with.” Akita asked.

“Just had some thinking to do is all. You know how cloudy a Senti brain is when we can’t sleep because nobody wants to put my bed in the Koun’s sweet spot. Haven’t found it yet. So I get bad dreams and snore myself awake and it’s so damned cold. You know Chui Sessinia? Sacre?” Ali seemed to zip around the room, casually gathering her clothes and gear as she set up a makeshift null grav bed nest in one corner. “I was gonna take a nap after I got used to it again. I’m off duty, and it’s the weekend. No school tomorrow.”

“I know of her, she’s highly decorated for a Separa’Shan and an excellent medic by all reports. However, she also has a reputation for being… prickly. Before being assigned to the Kaiyo she was most well known for having the most justified stabbing incidents. Did you meet her?” The sprite summarized.

“I was partnered with her for my last command simulation. We went out for lunch afterwards. And then to the forge down on deck… Can’t remember off the top of my head. You know, Yu’s place that makes the really nice officer’s swords, and who fixed my service knife when the handle came apart.” She unwrapped a hammock like roll from one of the smaller bags, a simple two point sling design that seemed designed to close around her and offer support and pressure like a cocoon. “Anyway, I really like her. You mind if I set up a napping spot in here?”

“Sure, just remember to take it all back down. So are we talking like or ‘like’ like?” She asked, hovering around to see the hammock that Aliset was putting up. “I don’t think I’ve seen a hammock like this before.” She commented.

“What’s a hammock?” Ali looked at the sprite confusedly. “This is just a bed. My people don’t have gravity. So we have beds that offer support and pressure without it. This one’s made of stretchy wool and silk blend, with a fur lining from a felinid animal native to the Flotilla. Can you touch in your present form?”

Finishing the hookup, she offered a grin. “I think I really like Sacre. But I’m nervous. She’s… She’s really pretty, I’m not normally attracted to women, but I… I dunno, it’s probably stupid. I take it you were watching the simulation? Hard to not get bored out here..”

“Not currently, I’m basically a volumetric right now. I could bring over one of my drones and touch it that way. But it looks pretty. Sacre’s very imposing, I’ve seen a lot of men who were less mascuine in certain respects than her. I didn’t watch the simulation, I don’t get bored as easily as a biological. What happened in it?” Atika asked.

“A flaming shitshow that Sacre was not impressed with. It was the Echronedal simulation. You know, the one with the naturally occurring aether storms. We got 87 percent. But Sacre was pissed. I took her out to lunch, then she took me to a forge, and now I’m debating what to do for outing number three, if we’re a couple, and if she’s gonna get hurt. I’d really prefer not to be putting people at risk just because it’s well recorded that my heart costs lives.” Climbing into the bed, Aliset began winding the tiedown ropes across buttons, drawing the bed closed to wrap herself in softness and fluff. “Sacre’s very imposing. But I’m not really that scared of her. She has a lot of trauma. And that causes her to be prickly. I get it. I’m not exactly virgin in that sense, either.”

“She’s a perfectionist, I don’t think there is an extra credit on that, but she would probably still be frustrated with a 100 because you didn’t get it fast enough. The amount of time someone spends in the volumetric decks practicing isn’t something I can share.” She said, making an implication by not saying anything.

“Your heart costs lives? You’ve mentioned you're a widow, but that seems extreme?” Atika asked, trying to figure out what Aliset was feeling.

“Look up my marriage records and the status of both of my husbands, please. The man who bent my pelvis was killed for what happened. All of the people I have loved romantically have died fairly shortly after I fell for them.” She gave a shrug. “And now I’ve gotta worry about that. So I’m torn. I’m wanting to let myself go. I know she can take care of herself, but then there’s Lev. Second Mishhu war veteran from Nepland. Missing in action.”

Atika nodded, floating upwards to sit her small sprite on the Hammock. “I doubt you are cursed. Statistically, it’s uncommon to lose more than one spouse. However, there are numerous occasions on which it has happened. Many of those who have lost more than one spouse do go on to find love again. More importantly, you deserve to love and be loved. She might not even feel the same way about you. You should find out, and then make a decision rather than worrying about unlikely hypotheticals.” Akita offered, trying to help her friend.

“I… Thank you, Akita. I have three centuries, but it’s really hard to think of myself as anything less. One or two, sure. But three for three? I’m sorry, that sounds like a pattern. I do like Sacre. But her being an exotherm makes date ideas difficult. Combined with our differences in cultures and prior traumas and responses, it’s gonna be a challenge. I’m up for trying, but it’s still gonna be complicated… And I’m way too nervous to approach this directly. Like I know I’m culturally prone to hero disorder, but I can’t see a way to handle this that doesn’t backfire, so it’s just looping back to overthinking and stress.”

“How does her being an exotherm make things difficult? Sacre has lived in Yamatai a long time. Accommodations being required for Separa’Shan personnel are mostly recent. She’s used to things being outside of her comfort zone. The upper end of the temperature range that Separa’Shan are comfortable in is the lower end of your species comfortable temperature range. Don’t over think, do. What is the most popular thing for you to do for a date or just getting to know each other? Do that. And if she doesn’t love you back, you can still be friends.” Atika suggested.

“Most popular is kitchen… You realize you sound like my grandmother, right? Besides, we’ve done things culturally important for my species, and less for hers. Like going to a forge, or out to lunch. She’s a smith, as well as a medic, by the way. Far better than I could ever be… Anyway. Is there a date idea that’s more Separa centric?”

“Go sunbathing? Separa’Shan form a lot of their relationships sitting around in a warm place just talking while they warm up. A sunning rock is a social center of sorts for them.” Atika suggested.

You know… That sounds kinda nice. I’m kinda… Well. I’m sure you have access to Senti beauty standards and healthy body shapes. And by that know I’m distinctly not that pretty. Like at all. I’m continuously shocked that anyone finds me attractive, and I gotta admit, it’s a bit odd.” She gave a shrug, nestling deeper into her furs as she slipped out of her shorts and top, now fully covered. “But I guess she’s not of my species, is she? I dunno, it’s still weird! Cooped up in a bridge for fourteen years and then I come out and I’m suddenly attractive?! What the Hell?”

“What do you find attractive about Sacre?” Atika asked.

“Uuh… She’s sweet, precise… Highly skilled in a lot of fields. She has soft features and a bright smile… And she has a great sense of humor, her tail coloration’s really nice, and she’s got… Are you recording this? I know how mischievous your model can be, if you go to Sacre with this information and my insecurities… I probably wouldn’t be mad because I’m way too insecure to do that.” Her head popped out of the bed, looking to the sprite with confusion and a deep blush. “You’d tell me if you planned to do something like that, right?”

Akita gave Aliset a mischievous grin, “Nope. What’s the point of a practical joke if you spoil it? But now that you’ve asked, I’m not recording any more than you are. Anyway, half of the stuff you listed isn’t physical. It’s about who she is as a person. How you feel being around her. It’s also the most important stuff, because being hot doesn’t make you funner to be around. So if she loves you, it’s going to be how you make her feel rather than how you look. That’s not to mention that you actually are attractive, for a several ton hunk of metal.” She jokes.

“One hundred and seventy kilograms, thank you! My love of pizza and flat breads put me at only forty kilos overweight, but not several tons! That’s the force it’ll take to pull me out of your core if you want to go down that route!” Ali’s arm popped out of the bed to point with five fingers in a mock outraged knife hand. “And you’re pure chaos, aren’t you?”

Atika giggled and nodded, “I’m not pure chaos, I’m also whimsy and delight.”

“Except that delight and whimsy can be derived from chaos. Don’t make me tell your mother you’re giving people relationship advice when they’re naked in bed and hiding in the maintenance shafts to take a nap in the closest to comfortably warm this station can provide.” Aliset shot a pouty look. “And maybe I won’t have to teach you the name of a Senti chaos entity that loosely translates to goblin or gremlin.”

“You shouldn’t threaten someone with a good time.” Atika wore a mischievous grin. “So have you decided where you're going to take Sacre?”

“I’m not bringing her here! Volumetric deck, maybe? Sunbathing on the shores of Rok’Veru’s Southern Sea? I dunno, I can punch up a quick and dirty volumetrics room program… Nah, that’s kinda dumb… Do we have volumetric simulations on the personalities of Nicol Sanger and Levente Barna? I’d like for her to be able to meet them in some way, even if it’s as NPCs at a pool or something. Or I can have a couple faceless NPC pool boys to ogle. I don’t know!”

“I don’t believe we have them currently, however, they can be created. However, they would be simulacrums, not the real thing. You would notice the differences, Sacre probably wouldn’t as I don’t believe she knew them.” A volumetric pen and paper appeared in Atika’s hand as she took notes for how she might be able to help her friend.

"Yeah, thinking on it, I might just go with photographs… Like a normal person. So. Sunbathing at Thor's Crater on Rok'Veru?"
Sacre looked around at Thor’s Crater, unsure why Aliset had brought her there. “I don’t know if the middle of nowhere has a middle of nowhere, but this sure looks like it.” She said with a serious sounding tone, not really sure why Aliset had brought her here. After two weeks of being mysteriously gone, even by the standards of operational secrecy, it perhaps wasn’t the most encouraging thing she could say, even if she meant it with a tinge of humor.

"Well, we're… Volumetrics are amazing. But this is a moldavite mining town on Rok'Veru. I kinda wanted to sunbathe on the edge of the crater." Aliset shrugged, having herself just gotten back from the salvage mission at glimmergold. "I brought us some picnic stuff."

“Sounds like fun.” Sacre said dourly, looping up at the edge of the crater. “Have you ever been to Thor’s Crater?” She asked as the two headed up towards their destination.

“Not in person. My husband, Levente, often said it was beautiful. A green flash in the morning as the sun sparked off the moldovite in the crater floor. I’ve wanted to go in person for a long time.” She offered a soft smile, keeping her eyes to the horizon. “If you prefer, after this, I’ve got to open my salvage. I found some… interesting things on the manifest, and I’m not sure what to do with it.”

“Your husband?” Sacre asked, she was good at controlling her emotions, but there was still a note of disappointment there. She used her tail to clear an area for them to sit with the picnic basket that would give a good over look of the crater as the sun’s rays started to hit the other rim.

“One of them. They’re both dead, far as I know.” She let her voice soften, almost growing too quiet to hear as she looked to the coming sunrise, the air already growing warm enough for her to take off her jacket before setting the basket to the side and spreading the blanket. “You sounded disappointed that I was married. Something you’ve yet to tell me?”

Sacre took a breath, trying to find the words to explain herself. “I’m sorry to hear that, I was hoping you were single, but not like that…” Sacre trailed off, realizing her words were perhaps sounding callous. She shifted, trying to find a way that navigated a thorny pit of emotions she wasn’t good with. “I’ve loved few people in my life. Gravity loved me despite me being…” She was going to say unlovable, but that was a contradiction. “Thorny. I feel something for you, something I haven’t felt for many people. Gravity says I should explore it, but while she has her girlfriend, I haven’t ever felt like this for two people at the same time. It’s confusing.” She said, trying to be honest.

“Aah. I’m… Trying to see where you’re coming from, that it can be confusing to love more than one. But the hope that I was available, and that Gravity approves of your feelings, I’m glad for.” Offering a smile, she started pulling off the tee shirt to reveal a simple black two piece swimsuit underneath, folding the shirt away carefully. “I am… Confused, myself. I’ve never felt attraction to another girl before… Well, the Captain of the Wyvern emptied her venom glands into my shoulder and left me with some very confusing emotions and hallucinations. Stuff I’m still trying to work through. I like you. And I know there’s a certain infomorph spying on us to sow chaos.”
“Atika? She introduced herself a couple of weeks ago while I was dealing with some missing laundry. It was right before I left. She does seem to have a mischievous streak.” Sacre said, considering what Ali had said. She took off her top, revealing a practical black sports bra. Below her breasts in a quick release clip hung a surprisingly large fighting knife. “I wasn’t always attracted to women, sometimes I’m still not sure. I had some bad experiences, mostly with men. I hated everyone after that, but men especially. However, just because something bad’s happened to you doesn’t make your natural drives go away.” Sacre laid out her long lanky body, 420 centimeters from the top of her head to the tip of her tail next to Aliset’s comparatively diminutive 165 centimeters.

“I know. It’s been really hard for me to acclimate to a new crew. My instincts tell me to build romantic connections, a family network of spouses that ensure my safety and ability. But all the men I have ever loved are dead.” Laying on the blanket, Aliset undid her belt, sliding the cargo pants off her legs to lay in the morning sun as it crested the crater, washing the sky in bright green for a moment as the glass of the crater floor reflected the light. “I don’t want to put anyone else at risk if my heart costs lives. Three times cannot be a coincidence, can it? Atika says it’s statistically unlikely, but equally unlikely that I’m cursed.”

Sacre considered this as she slid her skirt off, revealing the full extent of her scars. They were everywhere except her forearms. Her back was a spidery web of scars from the many punishments she had endured. “I’ve been as close to death as it is possible to be and live. I’ve also lived without love, pushing everyone away. Living without love is worse than death.”

She tried to avoid looking at the scars, but curiosity overtook her as she finally glanced, then looked away. “I… Yeah. I suppose.”

“You can look, everyone does. There are nine hundred and seventy six of them. I’ve counted.” Sacre said quietly.

Rolling onto her stomach, Aliset took a deep breath. “You’re very pretty, you know. I know it’s probably a hard change of subject, but I’d like to maybe move to something… Maybe a little happier than asking who gave you those scars and then… Well, I don’t know. I see the way you flinch every time I’ve offered physical affection. I’m sorry. My culture is a bit more intimate, and I’m trying to get better about asking.”

Sacre nodded, scooting closer to Aliset and resting on her side. “Sorry, I’m still working things through. Separa’Shan when they are sunning often crisscross their tails and touch each other a lot during that time. It’s a very touchy and social activity. I’m not really equipped for either of them yet. I’m worst with a stranger’s touch that I’m not expecting. If I’m expecting it, want it, it’s a lot better. Or if I can trick my brain into it being me touching you, it’s a lot better.” Sacre said, taking Aliset’s wrist and moving her hand to rest on Sacre’s waist where the scales met the more skin like texture to demonstrate. “You're warm,” She said.

There was a slight hitch in Ali’s breath as she stiffened momentarily, then relaxed her hand across Sacre’s skin. “And you’re soft. You know, Atika never told me how touchy this idea was, I thought going sunbathing with a Separa would be just laying on some towels in the sun and talking. I’m noticing a trend with that little AI.”

“It’s is mostly laying in the sun and talking, there isn’t anything sexual about it. It’s just that we are long and really lazy sometimes. You get hundreds of us together, and well, that’s a lot of tail. So not touching anyone isn’t realistic. You get used to each other’s texture and the feel of them. Everyone feels a little different, has their own way of moving, own heartbeat.” Sacre put her tail over Ali’s legs to illustrate the gentle pressure of having someone lay on you. Aliset’s heartbeat was strong, slow despite the growing blue in her cheeks, her skin more human-soft than the metallic lustre would have implied as she rolled to one side and faced Sacre.

“I must admit, I’m fighting my instincts a little, here. Part of me wants to lean into it, part of me wonders if pulling this null glass out of my neck so I can really feel would be worth it.”

“What are your instincts telling you to do?” Sacre asked.

Gently, Aliset rolled a shoulder, pushing herself closer to Sacre’s form, not to avoid the growing heat of Rok’Veru’s sun, but to offer her own warmth. “I… Don’t know, really. My species relies on our minor psychic ability to decode our senses, and to decode the input from the subconscious portions of my mind. A few weeks ago, I was given a drug that would enhance those latent abilities, and when I scared some people, those powers were suppressed. Completely. It’s… Everything’s bland, and kinda colorless. I can feel your scales across my legs, and your weight, but it’s dulled, like I’m in a volumetric simulation, and not really… Here. I just know that some part of my mind wants me to do something, and I just can’t tell what. But the only thing I can feel any real detail in is where the implant is.” Lifting her hair out of the way, Sacre could see the scar in the skin, probably the only exterior marring to Aliset’s skin, right where the shoulder met the neck. “It’s why I haven’t been able to hear your emotions since we got here.”

Sacre took a look at it, her fingers probing gently. “How does null glass work? I’m arrogant enough to think I can remove it. However, if there would be consequences, we might be able to optimize it a bit. Let you feel what you normally would, without letting you use telepathy. It would probably take some trial and error.” She asked.

“It’s a little shard of purplish glass, kind of like an old psionic signal controller. It…. Well, anything it touches becomes psionically dead as long as it’s in contact. That’s all I know. It’s not really important, though. I’m kind of enjoying this time with you. It’s really nice, even if I can’t really hear myself think.”

Sacre considered, “Any time you want it adjusted, you can come to me.” She said, moving her green eyes from the scar to Aliset’s own iridescent blues. “How does it feel in your head? Is it that your own thoughts feel muted or is it that there are other voices pressing against your own?” Sacre took a breath, “Sorry, I’m being a doctor rather than just being me. When people I like are hurt, I tend to go a bit overboard trying to fix them. I’m probably going to be obsessing over this for months.”

“It’s fine,” Ali gave a soft laugh, letting the light spark off her eyes as she lay back. “Yeah, my own thoughts are muted as well. When I had the powers, I could feel the emotions around me, hear whispers, my own senses and mind were clear, like a ringing bell… I could feel the creak of every individual bolt and rivet in the hull, feel the power flowing through like my own heartbeat… I know it sounds weird. My people call it hullsong. It’s like the voice of the ship surrounding us. A natural part of how we do things in Senti culture. Our ships are, after all, the living avatars of our ancestry and history, made of the metal of our bodies and the souls of our dead. I know you’re not superstitious. It’s probably stupid.”

“I’d want to run repeatable tests. Like if you could tell one ingot from another identical one based on various cues. If it’s repeatable, we can do science on it. If it’s not, we can do history on it. Science and rational inquiry, not old wive’s tales. I reject the supernatural, but not that we don’t fully understand everything yet. There is a lot of the universe we have yet to explore. We do ourselves a disservice by cloaking the edges of our knowledge in mystery rather than using it as a guide to where we need to shine the light of reason.” Sacre explained.

“When you put it like that, it feels wrong that I was mocked for it in flight school. My powers were not nearly so strong, and I could not feel my training vessels. It was… Unnerving. But the Star Army was able to chemically replicate burial steel. It was cold. Lifeless. I appreciate the effort. But it wasn’t my mother’s steel. My necklace is made of that. I can’t feel it, now, but it is her.” Aliset shook her head, looking away for a moment before she lifted the woven mass of golden steel and white slag gem over her head, offering it for Sacre’s inspection. “If you want, you can touch it.”

Sacre took the necklace, for her it just felt like metal, warm from contact with Ali’s skin. She didn’t feel whatever Ali felt when she touched burial steel. It was certainly finely crafted. “Some people, when they die, have the carbon in their bodies compressed into a diamond.” Sacre thought out loud, wondering how a diamond made like that would feel to Ali. She placed it back around Aliset’s neck.

“I don’t have anything like that, I lost my knife and stone a long time ago. However, I’m never alone, I’ve got my Coralians.” Sacre showed Aliset her wrist, there was a tiny, almost undetectable line that opened up, pushing a small flat knife made of bone out. “They are a symbiote that lives under my skin. My forearms also had scars until the surgery. I got them with all of the options, so I have to take some biological metals and other nutrients they need that I don’t.”

“That’s the knife you almost got me with when we met… May I?” She gestured, as though to attempt to feel out the edges of where the symbiote sat. “My body has its oen symbiote, a bactirium that renders me immune to viruses and nanomachines, at the cost of medical injections of them being lethal to me.”

The knife slid all the way out into Sacre’s hand in a very natural movement. She handed it to Ali. “You can keep it, every so often I need to clear out the top knife to keep my little buddies in shape. Bacteria symbiote? Interesting. One of my interests is in genetics, partly because of these guys, partly because I work with genetically engineered supersoldiers. I’m not nearly as accomplished as one of my old crew mates, Mochi, but I’d like to think I’m good.” Sacre explained.

“Wait, Iemochi… Aah… What was his name… Ahm… Fayani? The director of SARA?” Aliset held and examined the knife carefully, noting its razor edge, before she reached into her discarded pants, pulling a small golden metal compass from the pocket. “He’s the one who approved my project to get implanted with Yamataian starship connectivity implants. Preferably without nuking my immune system. Here, this compass was given to me by Nicol Sanger, made for me by him. It points to a mass of burial steel in my quarters, always. No matter how far away or if it’s in FTL. It always points to a mated compass in his personal effects. One I wear with me. When he made it, it was so we could always find each other. No matter how far away. But he’s now a mass of steel in a Ginga and in my personal effects.”

“No, Seinosuke. Not sure what he’s doing now, we mostly lost track once we were no longer serving together. I’ve heard he’s doing some government thing now too, but I don’t know what it is. I’ll have to see if I can get on that project, give me a good excuse for a ‘close physical examination’.” Sacre said with a hint of suggestion. She smiled a little bit, “I think Gravity might be rubbing off on me.”
“You need an excuse?” her tone turned teasing as her face started turning a deep blue. She looked away suddenly, considering. “The compass is yours, if you want it. My people offer burial steel as a gift in the form of something precious about someone we want to bring into our families. Something they see as normal, but we see as precious.”

Sacre took the compass. She examined it, a part of her curious how it worked. However, it was more important as a symbolic connection. “Thank you, a compass to always point me towards where a part of my heart is. And no, I guess I don’t.” She said, leaning over and kissing Aliset on the forehead.

The kissed woman gave a soft sound of surprise as she stiffened under Sacre’s weight, the heat in her face growing enough for her to finally feel it. “I… Aah. Hi! Sorry.”

Sacre pulled back from Aliset quickly, “Did I do something wrong?” She asked, an edge of nervousness creeping into her voice. She had multiple awards for combat valor, but relationships still scared her.

“No, no, you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just… I’m not a pretty woman, by my species’s standards. And I’ve never… Well, I’ve never gotten into a relationship with someone of my gender before, so I suppose both of us are a little nervous?”

Sacre breathed in relief, moving back to Aliset’s side, pressing in a bit more to actually cuddle with her tail. “Good, you're warm; like most Nekos are like a bit warm, but you're a lot warm.”

“I mean, my body temperature isn’t much higher than a Neko, usually… Might be that my biology’s iron based. I’m more thermoconductive. I think that’s what the medic called it.” She set the knife aside, softly maneuvering her body to a slightly more comfortable position, nestled against Sacre. “This is nice. After I earn the right to have that implant removed, it’ll be better, right?”

"What do you need to do to earn that?" Sacre asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t hurt anyone, thank gods, but it did cause some awkward situations. And during the injection, I may have blown a Plumeria’s PSC.” She gave an awkward smile, deciding to leave the situation vague. “I thought I had broken the First Law when I picked up on and mirrored someone’s emotions, and caused a rather awkward situation. My ship’s doctor stipped me of my powers, claimed they were too dangerous for me to use, especially with my mental health.”

“Yamatai isn’t fond of telepathic powers. Many of our enemies in the past have had them. I’ve fought them and it’s easy to see why. You might want to talk to them and see if they are willing to modify the null glass to make you feel more normal. My mental health has always been a bit fragile, but I’ve noticed that I’ve been growing more resilient recently.” Sacre said thoughtfully.

“During our date at the forge, I could feel your emotions. As during the class. It was why I stopped you when you were so angry with yourself for not scoring perfectly. I could feel you from across the volumetric bay. It was why I’ve been so nervous. I could never hear your thoughts, just kinda feeling an emotional impression. I’m sure if I had projected it, or decided to not try walling myself off, you could have felt it, too. I came face to face with something that scared me. And I wanted to be able to defend my family. My crew and my ship. It was stupid.”

“And now you don’t know what I’m feeling?” Sacre asked.

“I do not. Nor can I hear my own thoughts. Like a simulation. I’ll admit my curiosity, but I am growing used to it.” A soft shrug was her response before nestling deeper into the soft skin and scales.

Sacre cradled her, soaking up the warmth of both the simulated star and Aliset. “A simulation? your talking to me, so you can think. I’m not sure I understand.” Sacre said.

“Well… It’s complicated, I suppose. Like if I’m not focusing on a train of thought, it just fades to static. Everyone thinks in different ways, from running narrations or movies, to collections of sensations… We all have our own internal language that has to be translated into words that we then translate back into our own thoughts and streams of consciousness to understand. For me… It was always impressions, images, sensations. When I hear someone else’s thoughts, I know it’s not mine, because it’s whispers or images, feelings that are easy to separate from my own because I don’t think like that. It’s really hard to gain useful information telepathically. From a Neko, not so much, because it’s a constant string of logic that just kinda translates itself, one way or another. When I finally heard the burial steel for the first time, truly heard it, it was like touching a copy of my own mind, but far more ancient and powerful, memories and history… Like an emotional imprint of my species’ ancestors. Beautiful, but… Intense. I can still think, but I have to focus on it, or it just gets… Lost.”

Relaxing into Sacre’s grip, Aliset looked up to the simulated sky, brows furrowed as she dredged up clear enough thoughts to try and really speak on the matter. “I suppose it’s why I’ve been so one tracked since my powers were suppressed. I was impulsive, reactive and adaptive before. But just like how I can’t feel the difference between glass and metal anymore, I can’t just switch trains of thought. I have to go find it. And meditating is difficult.”

Sacre really wasn’t sure what to say to that. “Well, you can feel me. You're here now and we are basking in a beautiful sunrise. See down below us? I think the sunrise is about to hit the moldavite.” Sacre pointed down into the crater.

Looking to where Sacre pointed, Aliset’s thoughts faded back into the blank static as she smiled. “Yeah. And I like this. Tell you what. I want you to decide when to remove my implant. It’d mean a lot to me if you were the one to pull it.”

The huge rock of molddavite didn’t look particularly impressive in the shadow, then in a matter of moments the sun hit massive green gem, the power of the sun coursing into it and lighting it, almost from within the entire gem flashing into a sudden green flash of brilliance. “He was right, this is pretty. I bet it’s even better in person.” Sacre said with a touch of awe.

“He was from here,” Aliset let the reflected light from within the stone wash over her, smiling at its brilliance. “And yet, despite that we went to his home world for leave once, I never got to see this. Maybe I’ll find a way to take you there. If my sister in law will let us pass, that is. It’s almost as beautiful as you.”

“The reflected sunlight must be in your eyes.” Sacre said with her serious sounding humor. “Beauty fades, bodies age, but a good spirit, one that keeps you up when things are down and lifts others up to. That’s what I’m drawn to in you.”

“My vision’s not strong enough for that to be a problem,” Aliset gave a small chuff of laughter. “The way it makes your scales sparkle is magical, though. You’re a medic, it’s in your nature to help people, no matter how hurt you’ve been. But that’s not what drew me to you. It’s your confidence. Part of my ability, when I touched you that first time, I could see the scars. Imprints on your aura from your past. So much pain and anger. And yet, unchanged and immovable. Like the hull of my homeship, pitted and scarred, but still protecting everyone and everything precious. You have that same soul you find attractive about me.”

“I think for a long time, I didn’t want to be attractive. It’s brought me a lot of trouble, caring hurts. So I tried to keep the circle of people I care about small. I feel like I’ve grown, but old habits.” Sacre said.

"By Senti standards, I am not an attractive woman. Dented bones and a figure too full. Most of my species are lean and muscular. I have an obvious love of pizza and other things that cannot be made in null gravity. So I have trouble seeing what you and Sayako do." A slight shrug from Aliset's form denoted some level of uncaring in her words, if not her tone. "Old habits. I dunno. Caring does hurt sometimes. But it's worth it, in my experience. Don't worry, you'll know when I ask for permanence in this."

Sacre nodded, “ok.” She said, and was quiet for a while as the two cuddled in the simulated sun.

“Only one question… May I kiss you?”

Sacre blinked, and felt everything in her head grind to a screeching halt. Everything seemed to be clamoring for attention at once. “Ah.. uh… one moment.” She breathed out and collected herself to straighten out her rampant thoughts. It was what she wanted, she was enjoying cuddling. They had been talking about their relationship, their romance. However, she hadn’t been thinking about what they were doing in that way. The part of her deep in her brain that she had to suppress that found sex disgusting but also craved it deeply roared at her. It took a moment to stuff that dragon back into it’s cage so Sacre could do what she really wanted to do rather than what her brain told her. She sent a tightening pulse down her tail that Alsiset could feel. She closed her eyes and put her head down as she mentally composed herself. “Sorry, sometimes I’m still…” She waved her hand vaguely. “Resistant to what I actually want. I’m trying not to sabotage myself, but that’s hard. What I want is for you to kiss me and I’m not going to throw you over the moon. I mean, un–”

Sacre didn’t have time to finish as Aliset wrapped her arms around the Separa’s back, pulling her close, using her weight to drag herself in. A hand snaked up Sacre’s back, gently supporting her head and pulling her down to Aliset, where the taste of metal awaited her.
OOC: With @HarperMadi

Atika hovered above a small pile of crates. Each of which was prominently stamped with “Second Chance Salvage Giveaway YE 44” and a name. The tiny sprite had a couple of robots standing by to help her move what she got. For the moment, they stood still while AI waited for her friends to arrive.

Sacre and Aliset came in together and the AI’s avatar swooped in with a grin on her face. “Soo. How are things going?” She asked brightly. Sacre narrowed her eyes at the volumetric representation of the AI as Aliset blushed a deep blue, looking away.

"It went great. I kinda want to go there for real instead of a volumetric deck you could have been watching."

“I wasn’t watching, I’m not a peeping tom.” Atika said, slightly indignant. “Who knows, you might get a shuttle in this salvage so you can go!” She said waving her hand at the pile of crates with the three of their names on them.

“It’s not winter festival. Probably just junk I’ll once again wish I hadn’t gotten.” Sacre said dourly, looking at the crates and putting hers into a short separate pile.

“My former people have a long history of finding uses for junk. Making it into something beautiful.” Aliset looked over the crates with her name on them, considering them. Most were too large to simply stack like Sacre was doing. No, two of them were easily large enough to hold a body. One… Well, that was significantly larger. Nearly half the size of a land vehicle the Star Army was always so eager to use. There was one small crate. One that couldn’t be bigger than a few magazines or books. “Papers can be copied to digital. The wood pulp recycled and broken down for cellulose. Or for building materials. Hull glass is always needed, though silicon and oxygen are byproducts of our method of aluminum production.”

“Recycling, putting something old and worn out back to good use. I’m glad we don’t recycle people then I guess.” Sacre said, opening one of her boxes. She pulled out a datapad. “Huh, I wonder what’s on it?” She asked thumbing it on and opening a file.

It took a moment for Sacre to realize what she was seeing, she dropped the padd, recoiling in shock. Playing at full volume was rather embarrassingly loud moans and gunts of a porn with a Separa’Shan, a younger Sacre, displayed. Sacre hissed at the tablet and Kusanagi, her fighting knife appearing in her hand. Atika was quick, turning the screen blank. “That… was unexpected.” Sacre said, perturbed, picking it up and trying to decide if she wanted to stab the datapad to destroy the memories she felt welling up inside of her.

Aliset peeked up from her manifest, furrowing her brows before turning to Sacre. “Hey, you okay? That… Sounded like you.”

"It was me…" Sacre paused for a long moment as she processed her feelings. It still hurt, she was still angry. However, she didn't want to find the bottom of a bottle or get into a fight anymore. "Those perverted morons don't hurt me the same way they used to. Atika, how much of my… disgusting library is on here?" She asked.

Atika's eyes went to the mid distance for a moment as the AI accessed the tablet. "All of it, and quite a bit more, whoever owned it they appear to really like-"

"If it isn't mine, wipe the slate clean. My stuff put into a single folder."

"Including the fanfiction?" Atika asked.

"Fanfiction, what kind of hideous pervert would do that?" Sacre asked, stunned for a moment.

“I imagine there are many.” Aliset gently approached, gently taking hold of the top of the pad. “Atika, could you get me the names of all people involved in the manufacture of this material? And then send it to any contacts you have on Shurista, along with their entire criminal histories. Maybe we can make this sector just a little safer.”

"Affirmative." Atika responded.

She offered a soft smile to Sacre. “Are you okay?”

Sacre took her hand and stood back up to her full height. "I'll be ok, just knocked me for a loop. A lot of what happened was semi-legal at the time. So a lot of them don't have Criminal records. Most of them are already dead, Sanssinia used vaguely legal methods, but didn't murder any of our slivers. Ven… Ven didn't even blink at being… disproportionate. The few still alive, like Poseidon, are very hard to kill; not for a lack of trying." Sacre used the other two parts of her full name like they were other people.

Sacre glanced at the tablet than at Aliset. "I gave this… collection to Gravity. I don't know what she did with it. Symbolically, it was me taking off the crushing weight of everything that happened while I was a slave."

Sacre offered the tablet to Aliset. "This is all the parts of my life that are horrible and disgusting. I'm not going to let them put that back on me."

Gently taking the tablet, Aliset looked at the blank screen, the handful of glass and metal, and slowly, casually, with an ugly crack, folded the tablet in half. “Then we’ll keep that weight off your shoulders. The Senti have something called the First Law. The idea that autonomy of mind, body, and soul are holy. That every being capable of feeling and communicating its needs is worthy of that reverence. Any who would take that autonomy away, violation of mind, body, or soul, are immediate threats to the community. Not people. Monsters to be hunted and destroyed without trial or ceremony. And I will ensure that the few people who survived that event will never harm another soul. Okay?”

Sacre gave Aliset a hug for a long moment before releasing her, "Thank you."

Placing the crushed tablet into a back pocket, she offered a warm hand. “C’mon. Let’s look at the rest of this stuff. I got something about a helashio in a box, so I’m pretty sure you get the opportunity to free someone else.”

"I wish I didn't know what a Helashio was, so I could imagine it was something nice, like chocolates." Sacre said, joining Aliset as they moved towards the imprisoned fox-person. She readjusted the medkit she always carried on her belt, just in case.

“And ruin your appetite with a grizzly surprise? I’ve heard these things are still popping up. Disgusting practice.”

"One that's still alive and well outside of civilized space." Sacre commented.

Kneeling next to the box, Aliset picked up a handful of tools, beginning to pry open the crate, revealing the cryo storage unit inside. “Atika… Is this thing stable? Does it have power, and if so, how’s the occupant?”

Atika accessed the storage unit. "Everything seems fine in terms of the unit. No errors or loss of power or temperature." She said.

Sacre brushed a bit of gathering condensation off of the small display and put her knowledge as a doctor to work. "The numbers look right, whoever we have in there is probably healthy and can survive the standard wake up procedure. No need for a medbay."

“Alright. We got a medic, here, so no need to call them. Let’s get this open.” Aliset tried to brush some of the frost off the viewglass, until she recoiled with a hiss, holding her hand as the biting cold rushed straight to her steel bones, and she could feel her flesh contract slightly. “Aow. That’s facking cold!”

Sacre turned, and looked at Aliset. She moved closer and took Aliset's hand to examine it for frostburns. "Did your mother never tell you never to touch something cold?" Sacre asked with a serious sounding humor.

“Yes, I know, cold metal looks like hot metal…” Aliset rolled her eyes with a small laugh. “I’m find, it just stung. Kinda like when you go outside and take a deep breath and… I think the humans call it a brain freeze. When your skull shrinks slightly from the cold air? Don’t worry, I’m okay. Funny that I felt that past the psi damper."

"Probably because cold is even more dangerous for you than it is for Separa’Shan. So it activates a stronger response." Sacre said before completing her examination.

Sacre returned to the cryochamber, "You might want to stand back." She warned.

“Might?” Aliset chuffed, obeying to stand clear as she quickly disrobed her jacket to help warm up the occupant as soon as they were out of that damned pod. “I’m clear.”

Sacre's fingers ran across the controls. Atika turned into a live image of what was happening for Aliset to have a better view. A cold fog rolled off the cryro pod, falling to the ground and moving outwards. Inside the pod, there was a Helashio who was curled in a fetal position. After a moment, Sacre said. "Temperature normalized, you can approach and not get turned into a popsicle."

Taking Sacre at her word, Aliset approached, ensuring that her jacket's heaters were still on as she gently reached it into the fog, wrapping the heated soft cloth around the shoulders of the entombed. She proped the skin, checking the cool flesh for frozen spots and injury before reaching in and beginning to lift the form to a sitting position. "I wonder if this one has a name."

“I didn’t see a name anywhere, some masters decide to give them a certain name they like regardless of what their actual name is.” Sacre responded as she helped Aliset put them into a seated position. She looked at the Helashio. “Can you understand me?” She asked in Yamatingo, then again in Trade. Atika hovered over Sacre’s shoulder and repeated the question in Lorath.

The Helashio was understandably groggy from their long stasis, and Aliset's warmth wrapping over them was welcome as the young creature pulled the jacket tight across their shoulders. They didn't speak, hiding behind hair and an operations grey heated uniform jacket.

"It's okay. You're okay. We're here to help." She didn't know if the youth could understand her, but she kept her tone low, even, warm as her jacket and soft as velvet as she cleanly translated to heavily accented Trade. "Do you have a name?"

The Helashio looked at Atika and said something in Lorath, Atika nodded and said something to him. “He speaks Lorath. Let me get you both a translator earpiece. I’ll have to translate your language into Lorath.” She said, a flying drone arriving a few moments later with a pair of ear pieces. Sacre picked up the earpiece and placed it in her ear.
Mirroring Sacre to a point, Aliset showed her earpiece to the young Helashio, offering a soft smile before placing the translator in her ear. "So we can hear you. Not sure if it translates well."

There was a weird doubling, first in Lorath then in Yamatingo as Atikia asked the Helashio the next question. “Thank you for your patience, I had to get Sacre and Aliset translator earpieces so they can understand you. What is your name?”

The Helashio nodded, seeming a bit submissive. However, she furrowed her brow at the question. “I don’t… I’m sorry mistress, I don’t remember.”

Sacre frowned, “May I touch you?” She asked.

Atika translated and the Helashio nodded, “Of course mistress.”

Sacre’s frown turned into a flat unhappy line. She brushed the hair away from the collar, revealing faint dark lines. “I’m not a mistress, I’m not anyone’s mistress.” She grumbled as she examined them.

“How do you wish me to address you?” The Helashio asked.

“Sacre will do fine.”

"Is… Is that a collar?" Aliset leaned in close to look at the darkened lines under the Helashio's skin. "Definitely Lorath make. Should be a remote somewhere around here…"

Aliset's hand squeezed once, reassuringly as she began digging through their guest's case in an effort to find anything that looked like a remote control. It was in a box.

"Atika, did this pod's transponder make any hits? I'm going to want everything I can get on this person for when we free them."

“We have the equivalent of a shipping label, but she was probably considered cargo. The Lorath may be difficult to reach.” Atika responded.

“It’s a nasty collar too, all of the ‘upgrades’.” Sacre said as they examined it with a bit of anger under her voice. “Atika ask her if she remembers anything before just now.”

The Helashio considered for a moment and shook her head. “My first memories are of you two helping me up.”

“I’m going to strangle her master if I ever find them. They wiped all of her memories. The good news is that it probably means she’s ‘strong willed.’” Sacre said, with a growl rising in her throat.

"We don't give predators that level of ritual or prestige. A clean kill will do. Can you remove her collar? Preferably intact enough to get the serial number." Gently, Aliset moved an arm, giving up the chase for a bit to slip one arm under her ward's knees, wrapping the other around her lower back to interlace fingers. "Up we go. Let's get you some clothes."

Sacre shook her head, “I’ll need a medbay for that. Can you give me the controller?” Sacre asked.

Lifting the Helashio out of the crate, Aliset gently set her on the edge, supporting her back to keep her from falling back in as she reached down and finally found the cursed device, handing it quickly over to Sacre.

Sacre looked at it and fiddled with it for a few moments. “Whoever set these defaults is a sadist. Memory wiping every day, direct mind control option, active tracking, all of the punishment settings at max. There is even an added bit here where it will automatically punish her for certain types of thoughts. It’s worse than mine was.” She commented with an agitated swipe of her tail through the air. She focuses on the controller. “Ok, they're all off now. It shouldn’t do anything to her until we can get it off. It’s not going to be easy, this one is designed to be really invasive.” Sacre explained.

Sacre looked at the Helashio. “If I give you a knife, will you promise not to stab us?”

The Helashio had been watching everything with curiosity and intelligence. “Of course, Sacre.” She said, with ‘Sacre’ sounding a lot like ‘mistress’ had.

“Good.” She reached under her tunic and brought out Kusinagi in it’s sheath. She handed the knife and the controller to the Helashio. “These are yours.”

“Do you really want to give a slave a knife, Sacre?” She asked.

“No, because slave’s don’t get weapons. I gave you a knife, so your not a slave.” Sacre said, a bit of her agitation calming.

"We have never been your masters, youngling. Nor ever shall we be. It's illegal in both our cultures. In fact, even claiming you as such would obligate someone from my culture to end your master's life. You are the master of your own fate, okay? There's a good bit of learning and history we have to… Hey, Sacre, would it be possible to use the collar to… somehow download languages and information? Like how to take care of themselves, what's happened since they were sealed away, that sort of thing? Use it as a teaching tool before removing it, rather than a slaver's tool?"

Sacre considered for a moment, "It might be possible, but I'm not sure. Atika?"

The sprite bobbed a moment, "It's not as straightforward as a Neko would be. Can I take a look at your controller?" She asked, floating in front of the controller.

The exslave had a brief moment of panic and confusion cross their face. "I… I feel conflicted mistress. Letting you have control is something that scares me, but I don't know why. I also feel a strong urge to just comply with whatever you say. It's disconcerting."

Atika nodded, "I'm asking because it's your choice. If you don't want me to, that's fine."

The Helashio nodded slowly, "Promise you won't… do anything bad?" She asked.

"Without hesitation." Atika responded before putting her hand on the controller. The Volumetric avatar of the AI closed it's eyes. "Wow, they really didn't want you to remember anything… but I think if I manually repurpose this code… got it." Her eyes popped back open. "If a Neko is a eight lame highway directly to downtown, this is a meandering eight hour bus on a one way road through mountains. I can give you some stuff for your immediate perception, but you'll have to transfer it to long term storage on your own. Do you want to learn Yamatingo?" She asked.

"Ok." The enslave said.

"Here we go… try saying something…"

"Something?" She said in a heavily accented voice.

"Better than nothing!" Aliset quipped with a giggle. "Great work, both of you! How are you feeling, friend?"

"A bit dizzy, and naked even with this coat on." She admitted in heavily accented Yamatingo.

"Oh! I did promise you clothes!" Aliset jumped up, out of the crate, to begin rummaging through her pack nearby. No underwear or socks, but a clean tee shirt and slacks, just in case some of the machinery had decided to vomit its oils on her nice clothes. These were offered quickly and with a warm smile. "Unfortunately, my culture requires something called the Trials of Adulthood before I can call you an adult, but the choice to go through them is yours. I'm sure you're of Yamataian legal age… Right? Anybody know how old this girl is?"

"Biologically, young mature. Roughly equivalent to where a Neko would come out. With soul transfer and the number done to her memory, who knows." Sacre said.

"What are the Trials of adulthood?" She asked.

"Just a series of practical and written exams designed to determine your skillset, aptitudes, and ability to care for yourself. All Senti go through them," Aliset gave a shrug. "Failing a portion means foster care for a year to learn the needed skills, but that's not a bad thing. They usually start around… three months before the sixteenth birthday? Ish? I dunno, mine were almost twenty years ago. But passing them means full right and privelidge as an adult. One of my crew mates didn't pass until he was nearly twenty one, so he had a lot of experience on other ships. Made him a really high value candidate for any crew. Thing is, you're not Senti. So you don't have to. It's one of those you're your own master now things. Also, Sacre, the biological info you just gave could be anywhere from fifteen up. You know how my species ages, I have a real hard time telling with other races."

"They age roughly at the same rate as humans. So between eighteen and twenty four, my guess with likely stressors, to be on the younger end of that." Sacre said with a shrug.

The Helashio thought for a long minute. "Can I take the test and see how I do?" She asked.

"Of course. It'll tell us a lot about you and might help reconnect some of those missing memories." Aliset gave a soft smile, gently lifting the offered clothes again. "And I wouldn't foster you to a new ship this round, anyway. With what's been done to you? You need all the help you can get. Do you have a name? Or something you want to be called until we find yours?"

She took a breath, and nodded. "Ok, I want to take the test. I… I had a name, I think, but I can't remember what it was." She concentrated, "I… I don’t think I was called it very often." Her face tightened as she tried to remember. "A pretty yellow thing on a green thin thing?" She said with a frustrated shrug.

"Aah… What was the word for it?..." Aliset's brows furrowed as Yamataigo seemed to slip her mind for a moment, her brain growing hazy. "Atika, what's gėlė in Yamataian? Could you show yellow ones with a green stem? We might be able to tell what kind by what she recognizes."

Atika’s avatar turned into a flower. “The word is flower. Here are some yellow flowers. Sunflower, Pansy, Dahlia, Carnation, Zinnia, Yarrow, Goldenrod, Marigold, Daffo–”

“Please, stop, go back one.” She said.

“Marigold?” Atika said, her avatar turning back into a Marigold.

“That’s not the right word for it… but I recognize it and feel an attachment to it I guess?” She said.

"Your native language is Lorath, right," Ali pulled the datapad from her thigh pocket, opening a translator app. "Sorry if I mess this word up…Co-- Cohagisd? I think? I dunno, Lorath isn't one I can call a language I speak, yet. Pronunciation's all over the map…"

“Cohagisd…” She said, looking away and trying to get the feel of the name. “It is hard for you to pronounce. Something’s off about it, but I can’t put my finger on it. Cohagisd. Marigold.” She repeated the two words a few more times before she shook her head. “It’s more, right, than Marigold. But I don’t know if it was my name. I don’t know. Marigold sounds prettier in Yamatingo.”

"Partially because Lorath sounds like a drunk Katamuran taught some Neplelians Turassieli and they used it to shout at Shuristans whilst more high than normal…" Aliset responded in rapid fire Shuristan before shaking her head. "Isn't Helashio in the same language group? I could have sworn there were like four or five languages there…"

“...I don’t remember.” Marigold said.

“Though a few tribes speak them, The ancient languages of the Helashio are effectively dead. My databanks don’t have any of them. Hici'emi is a dangerous place to visit since the departure.” Atika informed them.

Marigold sighed, “Marigold it is then. For now.”

"Till we find the real one," another shrug. "We still have a lot of crates to get through if you want to help. Otherwise, we can take you to Medical, or we can go ahead and deactivate that collar permanently. The choice is yours, Mari."

“I think I’d like to help out.” Mari said brightly, turning to the pile of boxes.

“I guess, I can go next. As long as it’s not a live hand grenade, It should be better than the last one.” Sacre grumbled, taking down another one of her boxes. She pried it open and there was a canister of what looked like a glob of a white substance, floating in a containment vessel.

“I don’t want to alarm you, but that’s anti-matter.” Atika said softly.

“Of course it is.” Sacre said with an unamused look on her face.

“On second thought, I’ll be waaay over there. Outside of the blast range.” Marigold added.

"Sahweet!" Aliset pumped her fist, rushing over to examine the containment unit. "This is enough antimatter to run a Plumeria for two, maybe three days at full steam! You know how expensive this stuff is, right? We can power anything off this stuff!"

Giddy, excitable, even whilst her lover was holding megatons of explosive potential in her hands. But the containment looked like it was perfectly fine, and stable, as though freshly pulled from a reactor core. "Very nice find!"

“Is there anything you want to use the power for?” Sacre asked, not sure what she wanted to do with the concentrated source of matter-antimatter reactions. The fuel was valuable, most ships that weren’t in Yamatai’s military could use it.

“Not really, I don’t have anything that runs on antimatter, far as I know. But if I get anything runs on Aether, I’d really love that shit ripped out and swapped for fusion or anti as fast as possible.”

Sacre nodded, “I’ll have to look into it, probably a couple million if it can run a Plumeria for a few days.” She said casually, putting it aside.

“One point four with current prices and grade, if you want I can broker it for you for twenty percent.” Atkia offered.

Sacre considered this for a moment, “You're robbing me on the brokerage fees, that includes delivery which is what five percent? How about fifteen percent and I’ll deliver it to you?”

Atika gave a brief confused look at the Separa’Shan. One of her robots was literally standing there, ready to take the antimatter. Then she nodded, realizing “Ok. I accept.”

“Marigold, I need to get this antimatter delivered. Five percent of the value, if you can manage not to drop it with your clumsy fingers.”

Marigold approached, and took the container. “Yes, Sacre. Where do you want it delivered?” She asked, shifting uncomfortably and not quite sure how to hold the container.

“Over there to that robot.” Atika said, pointing to one across the cargobay.

Marigold shrugged, and walked over to the robot and put it in the waiting robot’s arms.”Delivery complete, I’ve created a bank account for you and deposited your five percent and your refugee relocation funds into it.” Atika said, displaying a bank account with just over seventy thousand KS in it.

Marigold nodded, “Thank you, mistress.” She said, not really sure what the little charade meant or how much seventy thousand was.

"Damn, they're giving refugees enough to buy small houses, now…" Aliset gave her soft comment. "That'll set you up pretty good for a hot minute. Like I rarely spend more than a few hundred KS a month to feed my big ass and keep out of hypometallicism…. Alright, Mari, we'll get you sorted and settled in, here. And I'll get you out comm codes so you can call us anytime… Here. This was my mother's. Now it's yours."

Lifting the necklace off her head, Aliset showed the glittering slag opal and burial steel, before settling it over Marigold's neck and claiming her as part of her family. "Atika, could you mark miss Marigold as an adopted sponsored dependant on my pay stub, please?"

"There is some paperwork, most of which I can prepare. Marigold, do you want to br provisionally classified as Aliset's dependant?" She asked the Helashio.

Marigold looked at Aliset, "Yes, I think that might be for the best." She said with a nod. A form popped up for Aliset to read and sign, and with a slight flourish, Aliset signed over half of her pay.

"In Sacre's capable hands, you're gonna do fine. Let's get you to Medical to get that collar removed and see if we can restore some of your memories, okay?"

Marigold nodded, and Sacre came up beside Marigold as the three headed to medical.
Pisces station had a full blown hospital, with specialists in everything. It also had a good lab and Sacre had honestly gotten a bit pampered working there. The lab wasn’t particularly large, but it was designed to have everything they might need and be a bit away from prying eyes. It was very clean, with everything in it’s place. It had a surgical table that was honestly used more for naps than for surgery, and a lot of different equipment designed to help her study a wide variety of biological things. It was meant for more breadth than depth.

Sacre led the parade of Separa’Shan, Helashio, Senti, and AI into it. “This is where I work, it’s a horrid tiny little place, but at least I get left alone.” Marigold looked around, trying to take in the space.

"It's cozy," Aliset conceded, brows furrowing. "Shouldn't we call a neurospecialist and make an appointment for after we get this collar out?"

“We should, I think Dr. Kamagawa might be available. Let’s get some good scans first, and see what I can tell her. Can you lay on the table so we can get some scans?” Sacre asked Marigold.

“Yes, Sacre.” She said, sitting on the surgical bed and laying down.

Sacre maneuvered a scanner on a robotic arm, creating a very detailed 3d image on a screen. The collar was actually embedded into her skin, wires running from it to her spine and deep into her brain. “This is custom work… with some traps… whoever made this didn’t want it removed.” Sacre said, looking at the scan.

“I’ve never actually seen one of these before…” Aliset knelt down next to Marigold, looking over the collar as she considered it. “Fascinating, but… Horrifying at the same time. And this was considered acceptable to do to people?”

Standing, she offered Marigold a smile, then stepped to Sacre’s side, pulling a datapad from her cargo pocket to search the directory and make an appointment with Dr, Kamagawa. “Maybe it’ll be easier to restore her memories after we get this out… But my experience is… Well.” She gave a questioning expression. “I’ll just stay out of your way, Sacre. I’ll go… Clean tools or something.”

Sacre reached out with her tail and pulled Aliset closer. “I’m good at hiding it, and there is a problem I can work on here. But I’m also very… angry and I can’t stab the person who did this. Having you next to me is good.”

“I…” Aliset’s brows furrowed, thinking. “Yeah. I’ll stay. I want to help, but I’m a navigator, not a surgeon. So what can I do but make sure your tools are clean and ready?”

“The autoclave is over there. Allright, Marigold, I’m going to give you some anesthesia.” Sacre said and the Helashio nodded, sacre slipped a mask over her face and Marigold’s eyes closed.

“I guess the real reason I want you here is because it means I’m not alone right now.” Sacre explained as she read some highlighting on the scan. “I’ve been somewhere like where she’s been and the collar reminds me of my own. It’s designed for someone who is particularly… poorly behaved.”

Leaning over to kiss Sacre’s cheek, Aliset gently stepped over Sacre’s tail, moving to the autoclave. She remembered setting a similar device up during her trials, her cousin’s medical bay being well equipped for a Senti vessel. This one, though, was significantly more advanced, and she took her time going through the features, even looking up an operating manual on her datapad. “The fact that you had one of these once disturbs me. Knowing how strong you are… it’s a scary thought. What tools do you need sterilized? I think I got the settings down.”

“Once I touch it, it needs to be cleaned again. I’ve always been strong willed. I fought with my parents constantly. It’s part of why I ran away to space. It took them a long time to break me, but they did eventually. A collar like this was a part of it. Afterwards, well I took my chance when I got it. I would like to say I nearly destroyed the ship, but I wasn’t anywhere close. I was in bad shape after my rescue, but I knew that I didn’t want to be weak ever again. There was a war on, so I joined the army.”Sacre said, as she located a power supply and carefully extracted it.

“Understood, setting for repeat cycles, five of each blade, plus two handles.” Laying each out on the tray, Aliset double checking that she remembered to place an indicator strip. Sliding the tray in, she closed the autoclave and pressed the cycle start. “I’m sorry to hear that. You became one of the most highly decorated officers I’ve ever seen. And you easily outrun me in class. Your grades are easily twenty points higher than mine.”

“Part of that is that the Army is able to parade me and some other Separa’shan around to show what a great empire we are. Tiger was better at it than I was though. I prefer study and alone time, books can’t hurt you.” Sacre cut into Marigold’s neck to get at a wire she needed to cut.

“I don’t know. In my experience, when books are the only interaction you have with the world, it can be quite painful. I left Soren because I felt trapped on the bridge. I suppose it’s just a different frame of reference.” Putting on a mask and gloves, Aliset carefully opened the autoclave, handing over a sterile set of wire cutters with a test strip on the tray with them. “I don’t think you’re bad at being a good officer… Sorry, I know that makes no sense. You’re a lot better suited to leadership than you think.”

Sacre finally cut through a part of the collar and Aliset could see tiny bits of the skin it was bonded to come off. Below was a ugly mess of tissue and blood. Sacre didn’t seem bothered in the slightest. “I want things to be done right. Most people are idiots, but if you are patient you can teach them simple tasks. Like a dog learning how to fetch. You’ve actually led people, you were a captain of your own ship.”

“I mean, yeah, but it was a postage freighter.” Shaking her head, Aliset averted her eyes from the mess. “Hardly a combat ship. And even then, the most I had to do was dodge Katamurans and pirates. You led the way on our training missions. And it showed. It was a beautiful thing to watch. You made it seem as easy as breathing.”

She took the used blades and handles, wiping them clean and setting up a new autoclave tray as she set the clean tools where the dirty had been, and started moving the removed pieces of the collar away. “And the way you’re able to do this, you’d make any captain proud to have you. Not for diversity’s sake. But talent and skill. Power is nothing compared to experience and wisdom.”

It was starting to come along now with Sacre removing various wires that looked like they had hairs growing off of them. She stopped and concentrated on a piece at the back of the neck before dropping a silvery bit into the tray. “Wisdom is gotten by smashing your head into the wall and figuring out that’s not a good idea, and so stopping. I’ve smashed my head into a lot of walls. So have you, you are better than you give yourself credit for.”

“Most of the time I’ve found walls are better for giving yourself brain damage than experience,” she gave a soft chuckle, settling into a rhythm. “Easier to find a way around them than to bounce off. You know I wanted to be an astrocartographer when I was little? What did you want to be?”

“I grew up before contact, there was this rock I liked to sleep under and look up at the sky. So I wanted to be a priestess-astronomer, but that was before I figured out it was all nonsense.” Sacre explained.

“I’ve heard a lot of nonsense in my time. But people don’t eat bad food, do they? It kinda sounds nice, sitting under a rock and watching the… I’ve got an idea for our next date. Have you ever flown under coronas before? Or ridden the shockwave of a nova?” There was a bright smile on Aliset’s face for a moment, before she turned back to the work. “I dunno. I like spending time with you. Even when it’s… Surgery. My people aren’t really good at this. You’re a better doctor than Sutessetu Soren. She’s been doing this for sixty years, and yet.”

“I’ll show you why I’m good sometime. I’ve seen a couple of interesting things. I’ve escaped from a collapsing universe with Gravity. I would love to see all of those things with you.” Sacre said absent midedly, giving Aliset a squeeze as she peeled the last piece of the collar off. Marigold lay there with a collar of red raw exposed flesh that oozed blood around her neck. Her peaceful look and the violence of the collar contrasted. Sacre took a sample of the skin and put it into a machine.

Watching Sacre work, there wasn’t much more for Aliset to do. Still, she leaned into the squeeze, before a soft humming sound escaped her throat. “I’m going to talk to a counselor after our next mission. We’re on the Glimmergold salvage mission. And I kinda want to make sure to be the best version for you. And for Mari.”

Sacre nodded, “Mari, I think there is a lot more going on with her than meets the eye. With us deployed so much, we’ll need to find a school or something to put her in.” The machine finished it’s cycle and Sacre removed a long strip of new skin. She put it on the wound, using something that looked like a lightpen to fix it into place.

"I'm sure there are some good schools on Pisces. Unless we want to send her planetside," she mused. "My culture says to take her with on field missions, let her eke out a place in the crew. I know that's not how the Star Army operates, though. We could send her to Soren, or Shurista, but the climate may be a little… warm for her."

“The Toyotomi Training Institute is accepting new students. It’s a specialist school on Yamatai for former Helashio slaves.” Atika noted.

“Sounds like a perfect fit,” Aliset lifted her datapad, finally confirming the appointment for later in the day, then looking up the academy. “I can cover her tuition, it’ll make a lot of my stuff more expensive, but it’s worth it.”

“It will make your other stuff more expensive?” Sacre asked, focusing on getting the skin on right, not sure she heard Aliset right.

“Expensive on a cost benefit analysis. Fresh cannonfruit lichens, various foodstuffs and things from Shurista, natural fiber clothes, et cetera. Nothing I can’t live without. I’m perfectly happy with that prospect as long as Marigold gets those nice things. Funny thing, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to support someone like this. Not till I was seventy five or eighty.”

“Makes sense, if you want to do that, then I can provide a place for her to live. I’ve got a quadplex on Yamatai she can stay at. So why did you think you wouldn’t have any wards till then?” Sacre asked.

“Not that I wouldn’t have fosters, but since I joined the Star Army, I’ve been discounted from the Shuristan foster system. Combined with the fact that children would be dangerous for me, and it becomes very unlikely. It was hard to accept, at first. But she’s perfect.” Sacre’s used surgical tools were taken up, gathered as she started cleaning them to be rerun through the autoclave for the last time and she could start working on the application to send Marigold to school. “I shouldn’t be surprised you own a place on Yamatai. But I find it hard to remember some times that people choose to live planetside.”

“I got it when I went to Tania, I needed a place to live and perhaps a little bit of profit. The little place seemed perfect to have a small group of people who lived there. I should show it to you next time we are on Yamatai.” Sacre said, finishing and taking a step back. She leaned over to give Aliset a kiss, and took her hand. “We’ll do our best, together.” She assured Aliset.

Returning the gesture with a squeeze of Sacre’s hand, Aliset gently drew Sacre closer, resting her chin in the crook of Sacre’s neck. “I know we will. You’ll be an amazing mom to her. She’s gonna learn so much from you.”

“I’m just a soldier and a doctor, mostly at the same time. You’ve done so many more things than I have, been to a lot more interesting and exotic places. You're also going to be a great mom.” Sacre said, holding Aliset for a long moment.
“Next time we have a child, can we not find her in a box, please?” Aliset’s joke was softly delivered. “C’mon, let’s wake her up and get her ready for Dr, Kamagawa.”

Sacre nodded and touched Marigold gently, “I’m a egg layer, all of my children have come in boxes.” She said with a touch of humor as Marigold awakened, and Aliset gave a soft laugh.

Marigold sat up and touched her neck, finding new smooth skin. “It’s gone.” She said with a note of surprise and relief. She looked at herself in a mirror and there was still a obvious band where the collar had been.

“The skin will fade to be closer to your natural skin tone. We’ve made an appointment with Dr. Kamagawa, she’s a memory specialist who I think can help us.” Sacre explained.
Marigold nodded, “I don’t know how to explain it, but there was a ‘pressure’ in my mind. It’s not gone, but it’s less now.” She said.

“That’s good to hear. I’m glad you’re okay. And I think the last of that pressure will fade with time… Hopefully. But Sacre did really great with removing that collar. There’s probably going to be a lot of wiring stuck in there, but she removed all of it she could.” Sitting down on the bed next to Marigold, she offered the datapad. “If you’re up for it, there’s a school on planet Yamatai specially for people in your situation.”

Marigold considered for a moment, “If you think they can help me, then it makes sense.”

“Excellent. I’ll finish up the application tonight, we’ll know by the beginning of next semester. That’ll give you plenty of time to recover and for us to double check that everything’s in order. I know today’s been a rush. But soon as we’re done with the memory doctor, I promise you can get some real rest, okay?”
Pisces station had a full blown hospital, with specialists in everything. Dr. Yui Kamagawa was a specialist in memory as Sacre’s genetics and surgery specialties didn’t apply as much. The four of them were gathered in a Dr. Kamagawa’s lab where she could run tests and perform some procedures. There were certainly perks to being on the inside of the Medical establishment. Sacre had done more with much less.

She took a soul transfer of Marigold, and several other scans to give them a much better idea of what they were working with. “Ok, so what most people don’t understand about memory is that it’s kept in lots of little backups, some as small as just seventeen neurons. Memories are triggered by association, and forms a sort of web. Most people think of memory as being linear, but it’s a lot more like a web with a lot of little redundant nodes. A poor memory wipe will catch most of the big connection centers, but overtime as the connections are rebuilt, a lot of the memories can come back.”

“Is that what happened to me?” Marigold said pensively, but with a touch of hope from her as she sat on a medical bed.

Dr. Kamagawa looked down, and shook her head. “You got almost the opposite of that, I’m going to simplify here, but your level one and two catches are completely gone. Your level three catches and below are damaged, and I can’t predict what will or can come back. I can stimulate some growth between some catches I can identify, but most of it will just have to come back with time. I don’t know how to explain this, but your strongest remaining one has to do with language, but it’s also the one most thoroughly and repeatedly damaged. That damage meant that it had to rebuild in other parts of your brain, making it much more redundant than a lot of other memories.”

“So…” Marigold said.

“So recovery is going to be a long road. I’m going to give you something to stimulate the growth of new connections. It will help, you will probably have vivid dreams as your brain tries to put everything back into order. I’m sorry I don’t have better news.” The Doctor said apologetically.

"To be frank, it's better than I thought it was going to be. I mean, Senti medical technology is pretty far behind on that front. So I was kinda figuring we'd have to hope for the best and start from scratch." Aliset offered a soft smile. "I think you're gonna be okay, Marigold."

Marigold took a breath, trying to adjust mentally. “I just feel like… something was taken from me and I don’t even remember what it was.”

Sacre nodded, hugging the young Helashio woman. “I understand.” She said softly.

A soft squeeze of Marigold’s hand her her know that Aliset was still there as she considered. “I get it. I think. Doctor, could you send me any research you have on memory restoration treatments for home use? I’d like to work with Marigold in my spare time.”

“It’s like you have a word at the tip of your tongue, but you don’t know what it is.” Dr. Kamagawa offered.

“Exactly.” Marigold said.

“So there are some things you can do at home, memory games and the like to strengthen pathways. Also being socially active helps.” Dr. Kamagawa replied to Aliset.

Aliset nodded, considering as she itched at her neck and the implant scar. A second thought on it told her that even if she could reach Marigold’s mind, enhanced meditative techniques would likely not reveal anything new. More, it might even cause more damage. She didn’t know how Marigold’s thoughts worked. “I’ve signed her up for a school on Yamatai. One that specializes in formerly enslaved people. Hopefully being around her own kin will help, as well.”

Dr. Kamagawa nodded, “What school is it? If you want I can send them her medical profile and some recommendations. A school like that should have specialists in trauma as well as directed socialization programs.”

“Toyotomi Training Institute. Sacre told me about them. I filled out the application while she was in the scan. I’m waiting for a response, but my finances are in the tuition window as a sponsor. I’m sure she can cover it on grants. But I feel responsible, considering we found her in the salvage giveaway.”

Dr. Kamagawa nodded, “Yes, there have been a lot of Helashio found recently. After what happened, there weren’t many Helashio left.”

“What happened?” Marigold asked.

“I’m a memory specialist, not a historian. I’ll tell you my understanding as someone who never really had any involvement with the Lorath. Your species were slaves to the Lorath. Things were getting better. Then suddenly, the Lorath were gone, leaving a massive navigational hazard that most people avoid in it’s place.” Dr. Kamagawa explained.
“I… I feel conflicted about that. I feel like I should feel something, like I’m hurt but I just… don’t? Like someone’s put a pane of frosted glass between me and what I should be feeling.” Marigold said with a confused look.

Dr. Kamagawa took a scanner and ran it over Marigold’s forehead. She looked at a chart, and considered it for a moment. “What’s happening is your memories are trying to reassert themselves. That’s a good sign. However, it does take time. It might happen slowly, but it also might happen suddenly with a wave of emotion. It can be very distressing if it happens suddenly. If it does, just take a seat and let yourself experience the emotions.”

“I’m familiar with that zone. Soren got caught in it, shortly before I joined up. Nightmarish spatial anomalies, hull buckling gravimetrics… Every pulse of the thrusters felt like trying to move through glass. There were people still living in it, I think. I can go there again… If I had a ship. Aah… Anyway, I’m not a xenohistorian, so I don’t know the full details of what happened, either.” She itched at her neck again. “I’m just glad there’s more hope than I thought.”

“The worst case scenario is that Marigold never regains any of her memories. I don’t see any reason why she can’t live a full and happy life from here on.” Dr. Kamagawa said.
The cab set Aliset and Sacre down at Sacre’s house on Starmount Drive. The natural stone wall that surrounded it was mostly hidden by bushes. The gate was large enough to let a vehicle through, made of a natural looking wood with a small blue roof. Over the gate an old Sakura tree’s branches hung. Sacre took Aliset’s hand, “So here it is. Home.”

Aliset's heart slowed at Sacre's touch, and she took a deep breath. Planetary gravity always made her feel sluggish, unbalanced and heavy. The idea that there was nothing more than that and a few kilometers of air separating them from her home in the cold void was surefire to set her heart pounding, as though a simple constant was unsure. But if Sacre trusted it, so could she. "It's wonderful. Not much for being outside, but it's really nice!"

She leaned over and rested her shoulder near Sacre's side, a smile crossing her face. "Maybe you can coax me into settling, here."

Sacre opened the gate and pushed through into the courtyard. “Well, it’s harder to lose atmosphere here, because of physics.” She said less than helpfully. Inside there was a small courtyard with a drive to some parking. There were a few vehicles outside, Marigold’s was missing as she was at some classes. Gravity’s red racer sat where she had left it under the solar sunroof. Sacre felt a pang that her girlfriend wasn’t here this year. However, she was still officially missing in action. The Star Army hadn’t given up hope, and so neither would Sacre.

The gardening company had done an excellent job with keeping the place looking clean and new. The grass was a vibrant green and the trees and made the inside feel like a smaller park next to the larger park behind them.

The building it’s self was made with a natural wood, with white paneling and a blue roof. There was a matching shed behind it. Sacre slid the door aside and through an entryway to reveal a small garden, with a fountain at the center.

"This is more my speed!" Ali's face brightened, seeing the smaller garden. "Your home's beautiful. I can't wait to see the rest… But I saw that look at the car. You okay?"

Sacre put a hand in the fountain, letting the cool water ground her. “I’ll be better when Gravity gets back. We’ve been deployed apart a lot. Today, I’m with you.” She said, taking a seat on a bench.

Aliset was not one to be far away, and she brought a ripe fruit from some portion of the garden, her knife slipping out of its sheath to cut it open. She offered a slice as she took a seat next to Sacre. “If it helps any, this whole Love Day thing has always been really hard for me. How am I supposed to get started on the next generation of Yamataians if I can’t have kids? I get the colonist roots, and the appreciation for loved ones. But I’m not sure I want to do more for some silly holiday than curl up with you or go be a hero and try to make you proud.”

Sacre smiled at Aliset, “Love day is about more than making a family. It’s a day for romantic gestures, and yes cuddling with some of our favorite people. I like to stay in, so I figured bringing you here, doing some cooking and watching some movies or something would be good.”

“We need a holiday for that?” Her grin widened slightly, turning her hand around to place the slice of fruit in her lips. “Really, though, bringing me here means a lot. Thank you. Now do I really have to sweeten the deal with fruit from your own garden? What is this? It tastes really good.”

“It’s an Essian plum, a bit more tart than the ones you find here on Yamatai but still sweet. Like you.” Sacre said, picking one for herself and biting into it.

Finally biting a piece off her slice, Aliset gave a small pout. “It’s extremely sweet. Not like the sickeningly so that Yamataian plums usually are. But… The point was for… Sweetie, do I really have to explain the idea of stealing a bit of fruit from my lips?”

Sacre seemed a little surprised, then swiftly cut off a pice of her down. “Oh, I guess I’ll have to have someone teach me then. It might take a lot of practice to make it perfect.” She said innocently, putting the slice to her own lips. With a small laugh, Aliset leaned forward.

“Alright, now just grip it in your lips and teeth, like you’re teasing me with it. Then, I come in, and…” Her voice trailed off as she slipped just that little bit closer. Her lips met Sacre’s as she stole a bite of the fruit and pushed forward into a kiss. The juice from their plumbs intermingled and lent a sweet fruity taste to the kiss, their lips joining for a few moments.

Sacre swallowed her piece of fruit and giggled a bit, “I don’t think I’ve done that before.” She said.

"Neither have I," Aliset gave a small chuff of laughter. "Worth it to hear that musical laugh of yours. And no, I didn't hit my head."

“Well, we should practice some more.” Sacre said in her serious tone, putting another piece of fruit between her lips.

“We should,” Aliset agreed, leaning in again. Instead of taking the bait, though, she slipped to the side, trailing kisses along Sacre’s cheek to her neck, before giving a soft nip just below the point of her jaw. “As much as I enjoy these plums, you taste better.”

Sacre held Aliset, kissing her on the forehead then drawing her closer to go down the side of her face to nibble on her ear. “I was planning on saving you for the desert.”

"Then so it shall be," Aliset took a deep breath, her fingertips brushing along the point of Sacre's ear. "Save me for dessert, or hunt me."

She leaned back, dropping her full weight backwards to pull free of Sacre's grip and attempt to run, a sharp laugh escaping her lips. Sacre thought about just snapping up Aliset with her tail but decided to have a bit more fun with it. “Ten, Nine, eight…” Sacre started counting down.

It was at this point Ali knew. She fucked up.

Still, she rolled on her hip and made a break for the garden, pushing herself in a dead sprint before attempting to cover her smell with the plant life, sliding under an especially thick bush to disappear.

Sacre opened her eyes and her tongue flicked out. Once, twice, three times as she located which way Aliset had gone. She followed the trail at a leisurely pace. She went up and over the top of a wall, following the bushes until she found where Aliset was hiding. She didn’t feel like jumping into the bushes today, so she curled up and waited, looking down at Aliset’s curves and just generally enjoying the view.

Reaching to her neck, Aliset turned off the collar, checking if she could feel Sacre's presence nearby. Her senses sharpened as the counter field collapsed, and she focused, breathing deep… Before remembering two very important things. Separa'Shan like Sacre were, if anything, psychic null, so her powers were kind of useless. And two… That very powerful tongue had a far better sense of smell than her nose. As she turned the collar back on, she double checked her surroundings. And had two thoughts as she bolted. The first was loosely translatable to be that Sacre was somewhere between surprisingly and annoyingly sneaky when she wanted to be. The second, that Aliset, herself, was an idiot.

Senti are not endurance creatures by any means. Capable of short bursts of great strength, but tapping out quickly. The second sprint was never going to be as fast as the first. She could run two miles in thirteen minutes, but she couldn't push herself much past three. She could make nearly six feet of vertical leap from a single jump… Once. She could not, and never would be able to outrun or hide from a determined Separa'Shan.

As Aliset bolted, Sacre lept from her place on top of the wall, silently descending through the air. As she hit Aliset, her reflex was to wrap around whatever it was she hit. The two went rolling through the grass with Sacre acting like a tire wrapped around Aliset. Sacre’s grip was tight enough that Ali might not be able to breathe for a moment until they stopped and Sacre relaxed her grip to firm, but not suffocating. She adjusted, and kissed Aliset. “Caught you love.”

After the sharp eeping noise that escaped her under the crushing pressure that squeezed the air out of her lungs and the impact against the ground, Aliset found a few moments to breathe. A deep blue crossed her cheeks bound like this, but it faded just as quickly as it appeared. "Did I land on you? Are you okay?"

“I’ve had harder landings with less cooperative prey. There was this one time I got wrapped up in the legs and got stomped on a few times. So pretty good overall for a leaping ambush. You were a bit dense, but that wasn't unexpected. So I should probably be asking you that as I was the one to land on you.” Sacre said, brushing some leaves out of Aliset’s hair.

That blush returned as Aliset squirmed slightly, nestling into the comfortable tightness of Sacre's coils and the silky smoothness of her scales. Letting Sacre pull the leaves and debris out, she gave a wide grin and a small laugh. "I'm okay. I'm squishy. Like a squeaky toy. Not great prey, but we can't blame that entirely on a bad diet, can we? I'm not exactly fast. And you're a very good hunter."

“I think in some cultures the fattened calf is the good one.” Sacre noted as she cuddled with Aliset on the grass.

"Some. Not all. By the way, I was thinking about something, and now that I'm here looking up at them, I kinda gotta question it. You're an egg layer… so the little ones are pretty much able to survive from birth… or… hatching… So why do Separa'Shan have mammary glands?"

Sacre shrugged, “Separa’shan have a lot of different morphs. Some of us do give live birth, some don’t. Some can nurse their young, some can’t. If you have them, then it’s an option. It’s more often done in less traditional households. My father was more on the traditional side of things, so we hunted from hatching. My morph is very common in the wider galaxy because we fit well into Yamataian society. Consider how hard it would be for me to fit in if I didn’t have arms or were sixty-five feet tall rather than six and half.”

"I mean… Fair. Yeah… the Star Army wouldn't let my dad join because he's as big as my grandmother. They had to go on hands and knees to get into the recruiting center… But still, so many morphs of Separa doesn't sound like an entirely…. I dunno, almost sounds like your species is as haphazard as Senti engineering." She gave a soft shrug before craning her head forward and planting a kiss wherever she could reach which turned out to be between Sacre’s breasts.

“Dogs have a lot of morphs as well? Hair color, body shape, size, pattern, ect. It doesn’t matter because they all run the same hardware underneath. It’s the same for Separa’Shan but with a lot greater variability in some respects.” Sacre said, putting her hand on Aliset’s head as she nuzzled between Sacre’s breasts. “Anyway, all this exercise has made me hungry, any idea about what you want to eat?” Sacre asked.

"I dunno… I guess we can look in the fridge and see what Marigold's been stocking the pantry with? Or we could order out. I've been surviving on a steady diet of Yamataian food and mineral salts for too long. Been snacking on ores when I get a chance. So… I know you like my cooking." She considered for a moment, feeling her arms too pinned to wrap around Sacre's belly. At least for now. "You know… Tsulrati have a few morphs, too. I think that or ethnicity is the closest translation. We have Smiths, more attuned for artesinal tasks and heat tolerance. Then Skydasir, like me. Irridescants. Remnant genetics from our predecessor species. Can barely tell with my eyes rusted like this."

“Eyes rusted?” Sacre asked, tilting Aliset’s eyes back to see if there was anything she needed to be worried about. “I’m still trying to get an understanding of your biology and it’s endlessly complex.” She kept looking into Aliset’s eyes, enjoying their beautiful color.

It was easy to see the ring of greens around the edges of her irises, where they had started to heal, and the way it shifted to blue as she moved her head, the rest was a bright red-brown of petina on metal. "Legend is that our eyes rust at the breaking of our heart. The way my cousin explained it, the antidepressants and mood stabilizers our brains release during traumatic events causes iron oxide to deposit in our irises. Slowing our eyes' light response slightly and reducing our visual acuity in exchange for allowing us to work through and recover from grief and emotional trauma. A lot of our biology can switch processes on the fly to survive short term, but makes us real sick in the long term."

Sacre nodded, kissing Aliset’s forehead before letting go. “You have pretty eyes. I just thought that’s how Senti eyes were. I’m pretty sure my eyes would also be rusty if I were a Senti. I’m going to have to start reading up on Senti ophthalmology. However, I think we should start by cooking some good nutritious Senti food.”

"I… thanks. Yours are prettier, though. All of you is. I'm seriously out of shape." starting to climb out of Sacre's coils, she gave another laugh. "You want heavy metal poisoning? Cause that's how you get heavy metal poisoning. But here's what I can do. I can improvise and we can make two batches. One with all the things a growing Senti needs, and one safe for you to eat. You like fish?"

“I do like seafood, although I can withstand heavy metals better than most people.” Sacre said, letting Aliset go and getting up. “What do we need?”

"Aah… A live cannonfruit plant, fronds, preferably near ripe, a I think a salmon will do, I know kale is a carbon safe alternative for you… Spices… And butter. Some kind of easily melted fat, one that can bind easily to the aromatics. You… You have a whole salmon, right? Or am I doing two cause I haven't seen you even snack more than those plums." Her brows furrowed with thought, trying to remember a half remembered recipe that had last been made with the advanced medical synthesis equipment aboard a dreadnought three years ago. "I can do it with synthesized spices, but they're always this stale powder… I think I can pull something off with what you have. Let's get to the kitchen and I'll see what I can do."

Sacre nodded and a few minutes later, a drone delivered everything that they needed. Sacre picked up the box and put it on the kitchen table in her apartment. Her kitchen was beare expect for some staples. It was pretty clear that she didn’t actually live here very often with the deployments. However, the maids had kept the place dust free. “Here we go. Two salmon and everything else we need. So what’s next?”

Aliset had spent the waiting time preparing the kitchen, preheating the oven and setting out skillets, cutting boards, cleaning her service knife and setting out Sacre’s collection of blades. “Could you clean the fish, please? I’m going to start on the cannonfruit. The plant itself is a radiophage, so parts of it may still be a little… radioactive.”

Reaching into the box, she pulled up a terracotta pot, a grey-green lichen filling it nearly to brimming with gently waving fronds. Setting this on the counter, she reached into it,gripping something and twisting sharply to elicit an ugly crack. “Oh, you were ready to pop! That would have been messy.”

“On a scale of a Banana to ship-to-ship weapons, how radioactive?” Sacre asked, assuming it couldn’t be too bad, that said she knew enough of Freespacer Radiovores that the answer could be surprising. She picked up a seven inch filet knife with a wooden handle and damascus patterned blade. She pulled a pair of medical gloves out of her medkit and donned them as she looked up what she needed to do. Her blade work was deft, the only question had been where to cut. She made a shallow cut on the belly and scooped the innards out into the trash. Then moved on to washing the innards of the fish out. Then flipped the knife around to remove the scales.

“Depends on what they used. Soren would use X-ray emitters, nothing more powerful than a high power X-ray machine. But considering Senti can handle a lot of radiation, no telling. Hell, could be a lump of condensed neutrons in the bottom for all I know.” She pulled her hand free, and with it, an oblong fruit about the size of a softball. Setting it to the side, she picked up her knife, starting to cut away the larger fronds that could be cooked down. “I remember something about Freespacer radiophagy. It’s really similar to this. But this lichen’s a staple food in Senti cultures. The fronds get seared in fats, and it took me a while to get it right in gravity. After that, there are a lot of things you can do with it. And when you cut up the plant like this, you can throw some ores and radioactive stuff in the bottom of the pot and it’ll regrow. Just… Try to harvest the fruit before it does the thing.”

“I’m vetoing any home gardening with cannon fruit. Radiological messes are annoying to clean up. I like my flesh not rotting off my bones.” Sacre said, putting in an order for a radiological cleanup drone before returning to cutting up the fish into nice even filets. “I’ll give it a try though.”

“Oh! Here it is… Looks like they used a lump of thorium. Alpha beta emitter.” She held up the rock before setting it back into the pot and setting it aside. Picking up the cutting board, she moved it to the sink, sneaking a kiss as she stepped over Sacre’s tail. “One time I had one of these go overipe on Soren. Blew the cabinet door clean off. We were cleaning up blue goo for weeks.”

“So do I have to worry about getting shot in our cabin?” Sacre asked, concerned.

"What? No! Nono, sorry, the growth cycle of these things is so stable we use it to mark our years. From scrapings like this pot to ripe, ready to harvest cannonfruit is… three hundred and seventy days, give or take twelve hours. Growing on thorium. For tsulrati, it's five hundred sleep cycles. Ish. Depends on if we're sleeping on Yamataian clock or normal hotbunk. We try to harvest it fifty days before it shoots its fruit. So there is a large harvest window. This one had maybe a couple weeks left on it?"

Washing off the fronds, she returned them to the cutting board, starting to slice the fronds into long strips. "I'm thirty eight Shuristan years old. Don't know how old that is in Yamataian. So I usually just say I'm thirty eight. The fruit in our quarters on the Koun was the one Soren used to track my age."

Sacre nodded, “I wonder why it’s that predictable. I was born in YE fifteen, so I’m thirty in Yamatai, but Separa’Shan are considered adults after ascension which happens around fourteen-ish. So closer to sixteen years as an adult. You mention you passed your adulthood tests at sixteen, so that’s what twenty two years as an adult?” Sacre shrugged and moved the cut salmon to Aliset. She kissed her on the cheek, “I love my cougar.”

A small laugh escaped Aliset's lips as she handed off the cannonfruit, starting a burner on the stove. "And I love you. Could you juice half of this and cube the rest, please?"

Tossing the spices into the pan, she let them toast and turn aromatic before tossing butter on top and scraping the cannonfruit fronds into the pan, tossing the mixture to fry. "Don't worry, my kind doesn't get all wrinkly and grey haired. We just get bigger. So I won't get somehow less pretty. Just may get tall enough to not stand on my toes to kiss you. Or eventually tall enough you can ride on my shoulders. By the way, you may want to take any metallic poisoning meds you have, cause these fronds aren't safe for carbon based life."

Sacre tapped her wrists where the nearly invisible slits to her symbiote was. “I’m hard to poison with metals. I actually have to take a metals supplement every once in a while so the knives grow right. It has the added benefit of getting anything toxic like that out of my system.” Sacre explained as she cut the cannonfruit open.

"Oh." Aliset looked to Sacre with a cocked eyebrow as she set the oven to preheat. "So I… shouldn't have substituted spinefish with salmon?"

Sacre shrugged as she put half of the cannonfruit into the juicer. “I thought it was sweet. But no, it wasn’t something you needed to do.”

"Funny, I thought those were just made of bone…. Anyway, I can salvage this hot mess!" She gave a laugh, taking down a baking sheet before placing the salmon fillets into the pan to sear. When she was satisfied with the herb crusting, she moved them to the baking sheet and started scooping out the cannonfruit fronds to bake while tossing the cubed fruit and some stock into the pan. As soon as the juice was ready, she would cook this down to a thick sauce to be poured over the fish and fronds. "I… Thank you, Sacre. I'll make sure to ask next time. But it'll be nice to make something healthy for me more often, knowing that my cooking won't put you in your own medical bay. Maybe I can even finally start losing weight."

Sacre’s hands were covered in blue goop from the cannonfruit. She slipped up behind Aliset and gave her boobs a squeeze. “Long as you don’t lose it from here, I’ll be fine.” She joked.

Looking down for a moment at her now permanently stained and currently glowing top, she figured she would keep the blue handprints on her breast. "Those wind up in my chin every time I wear a dress, though! Don't get me wrong, as cute as it is to see you wrap your whole head around my breasts, they're probably gonna shrink a little. I'm sixty kilos over ideal for my age, hon."

“Well, now that I know you haven’t been eating right, we are going to fix that… soon as I figure out what ‘eating right’ is for you. Then we are going to work out together, muscle burns fat. We’ll get you into shape bit by bit so it sticks.” Sacre said, washing her hands off. She went over to the bookshelf that was filled with various medical reference books and a few torrid romances and started rifling through it to start working on a plan.

Leaning backwards, Aliset turned her head, watching Sacre with a spatula in her hand. "You sure you want to start on that today? I was perfectly happy to curl up on the couch with you for dinner and a cheesy movie. Like By Starlight or some romcom or something like that?"

“I figure we’re going to get to ‘vigorous physical activity’ at some point. So we shouldn’t waste it. You’ve passed your physicals, so you’ve got a baseline of… hmm I actually like the second edition better than the first, but the first is what I have… healthy rate of weight loss given muscular growth…” Sacre said, talking out loud as she started to get into a groove of research.

"I mean, probably, but I'm soft and warm and you haven't eaten this week. Okay, you do your research and pick a movie and I'll finish dinner.". And back to stirring sauce she went, until it had thickened, the fish was done, and she was ready to plate.

Sacre nodded, making notes, almost getting lost in them. But she managed to pull herself away to que up By Starlight. She hadn’t seen it yet, so watching it would probably be fun to do. She pulled out a couple of small tvtables. Sacre ducked into her office and put her books and notes down, activated Ophion and Starlight, and remerged as Aliset was plating the food. She gave Aliset a hug, “Looks good.”

“Oop! A wild pretty appears!” Popping a forkful of the sauce covered fronds into Sacre's mouth, she grinned. "Tastes even better."”

Sacre chewed, the fish and the cannonfruit contrasted strangely. “mmmh. Delicious. Let’s say we relocate somewhere we can chill and I can kiss the cook.” Sacre said, picking up one of the trays and moving over to the couch.

Picking up her own tray, Aliset followed, letting Sacre curl up on the seat before she would nestle into her lady's warmth and strong coils. After kisses. "Okay, let's see what the hype was about. I missed this in theaters, and never got around to it. Sutes said it'd give me a stroke, but eeh, can't be too mad at something that earned so many awards, right?"

Two heads poked out of the office. One was green with golden eyes the other was blue with golden eyes. The two tiny drakes stalked out of the office, watching Aliset and Sacre as they settled down.

Sacre coiled herself comfortably around Aliset, with the two of them like this they were able to crank up the heat to a comfortable temperature. The kissing lasted long enough for Ophion to pad over and poke at Sacre with his nose. Sacre leaned down to give the electric blue dragon with gold specks pets on the head.

"Who are these cuties?" Aliset picked a piece of her meal off and offered the fish down towards the green while Sacre's blue was getting his attention.

Starlight sniffed at the fish. “Their Gravity and my Drakes. This one is Ophion.” She said petting the one with her. “And the one trying to ruin it’s lighter is Starlight.” Sacre said with a glare at Starlight. Starlight shot a burst of fire into the air to show off what they could do.

"Ruin his lighter, what?" The sharp yelp of surprise that escaped her lips almost had her drop the lump of fish. But regaining her composure, she let out a soft chuckle. "Alright, very impressive little Starlight. We're very proud."

Starlight did look very proud, and then tried to crawl up onto Aliset’s lap. Ophion was more aloof as he watched Starlight’s antics. “They can bite, but because of the lighter in their mouths, they have to be careful not to jam it.” Sacre explained.

"Oh. So are they organic or…I dunno what else they'd be." Letting Starlight climb up into her lap, Aliset set her plate on the back of the couch and gently started scratching the drake between the wings, right where she knew it would be difficult for that little head to reach.

Starlight purred into Aliset as she scratched his back. “Their completely mechanical, but you will be forgiven for thinking their not. They're basically a Fars with a different internals and a really good personality module. However, they are as realistic as Jackson could make them and he’s a really good engineer.”

"They're amazing." She took the bite she had offered the little drake and popped it into her mouth, smiling brightly. "By the way, I never got to ask you properly, and I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around the traditions, but…" Her voice trailed off as she used her free hand to dig around in a pocket, then stopped scratching the drake just long enough to take Sacre's left hand.

"I know we connected over being two of the firsts of our respective species in the Star Army. The Yonto Hissy and the Rusteater. But every day, every time you've scared the crap out of me and come back okay, you've made me feel special in a way that I just don't speak any language well enough to describe. So I want to marry you. Under your traditions. Is this okay?"

Sacre took a breath, she knew something like this was coming. “I do want to come back to you, because you are special. Because I like being around you and getting dragged along on your adventures. Raising Marigold together has helped teach me who you are, and it’s someone I always want in my life. So yes. Although I should be asking you about traditions, as your the one who’s been married before.”

"Senti marriages are little more than an exchange of burial steel and a mutual admission of family. It's… Both a lot more simple than I like and a lot more involved than I expected." She finally pulled her hand free, a small box expanding from its roughly credit card sized folded state into one that could be opened. "Every day with you has been learning and exploring. And yeah, some times I fuck up. But I'm not Senti, anymore. Just tsulrati. So I think it's time for a new tradition."

Her thumb opened the box, revealing a white gold ring, decorated with small chips of gemstones that could have been found everywhere, except these seemed different, somehow.

Sacre frowned, reaching into her own pocket and pulling out an identical small box and pulled our a white gold ring decorated with small chips of gemstones that sparkled and glinted in the light. Together, it was obvious that the two rings had been made as part of a pair. They complimented each other coming together to form a whole that was greater than the sum of it’s parts. “I think the joke is on us.” She said with her deadpan humor.

"Your dad made two?!" She slipped into a fit of giggles before slipping the first ring onto Sacre's finger. "He's a cheeky old bastard, isn't he? I mean, I was about to say these gems were a mix of slag gem cuttings from Subati Forge and gemstones mined on Essia, but you probably already knew that."

“He made it sound like my idea too…” Sacre said, with a bit of annoyance. She took a breath, “I’m going to forgive him because he did do a beautiful job.” She said, trying to be more serene. “I think what happened is we asked him at about the same time and he decided to be clever. Well, at least now you see how good of a smith he is.” She smiled, slipping her ring onto Aliset’s finger.

"Not as beautiful as the woman who had it made for me, though." Aliset stretched her back out, craning herself up to kiss Sacre. "I'm gonna call him on it at the wedding, okay?"

Sacre smiled, “Ok, I… want Gravity there. She’s a part of my heart too.” She said, slipping Aliset’s ring onto her own finger and comparing them.

"She'll be there. I was actually planning on that, and a wedding's not happening without both of your wives. I'll get your da to make a third ring in this set. If only to see him all puffed up like when you get mad." The movie had been in the background already, but seemed to fade even further away with the interlocking gem chips of the rings, and the pattern continuing and mirroring as though their interlocked fingers carried a single, unbroken and continuous loop of metal and precious stone. "I will admit, he is a spectacular craftsman."
Sacre grinned, "Yeah, he is, isn't he? And he taught me a lot of what I know. He demanded perfection of himself too." She leaned forward and kissed Aliset again, nibbling and tasting the inside of her cheek.

"So we stealing the Koun to go get her or you think Starbreaker'll handle the trip?"

“I’ve written a letter to some friends, and they’ve confirmed that Gravity isn’t with them. I’ve gone through some of the reports, and it looks like her ship was hit while it was going for help. There isn’t any evidence on our side or where it would have emerged here that it was destroyed. The working theory is the ship got thrown into another dimension which is why she’s listed as MIA.” Sacre explained.

"We also know that Hyperspace Fold can cause minor temporal distortion. Usually only a varience of a few hours, but she'd be coming from an entirely different reality. The chances are slim that she's just displaced. So with your order, I'm ready to go after her. Whether in our space Winnebago or if I'm stealing a damn Izangi to do it. All I need is your word."

Sacre took a breath the cat was out of the bag with the Battle of Ayenee Capital City, but years of secrecy still weighed on her, “It wasn’t a hyperspace fold drive, or a continuum distortion. It was what the Norians used to get here from Ayenee.”

"We got the drive signature of the big evil thing that was mid jump when it died. Someone has a working drive. What better to make the run than something small, fast, and sneaky? One Plumie? Or a Ginga? Or a Lion? Or a whole battlegroup going into a trap they don't know is there. Smaller, faster ships can scout ahead. And I want on that mission. You're not going alone."

“Probably a Fuji if I can swing it. We’ll need a top notch science officer with a very specific skill set.” Sacre said, thinking.

"We'll need an engineering team with expertise in that drive, too. And a tactical officer who can fight an army with a single ship. I think we might already have the crew if you think Sayako has the scientific skillset. She's gravimetrics."

“We’ll see, do you think Alistair would go along with this? Who am I kidding, a jaunt to collect alien babes from across the multiverse, I’m surprised he hasn’t suggested it already.” Sacre said.

"And he's stolen the Koun for unauthorized missions before. Partially my fault, I should have checked the orders and he kinda rattled off a heading."

“He’s the captain, it’s his job to give you the right orders. If he were as competent at that as he is at irritating me with his womanizing, then our ship would be one of the most elite in the empire.” Sacre said, taking a bite of her fish.

"I know. He's kinda useless, his XO is a doormat, an excellent one, but kind of a pushover… While we all know who's really in charge of the Koun, can we not talk about work? I want to lay on the couch, with you and your drakes, eat good food, watch a movie, and be very proud of you. We'll get Gravity back together. But not today, okay?"

Sacre took a breath, trying to clear it from her mind. She scratched Ophion and looked at the tv. “I’ll confess I have no idea what’s happening right now in the movie.”

"Apparently," Aliset took a mouthful of greens, chewing thoughtfully before she pointed her fork at the screen. "They were studying orbital anomalies in asteroids up close and personal like complete amateurs, and found out that the star has a pretty unstable magnetosphere causing magnetic storms that far out affecting iron nickel asteroids and frying their shield. Damage control says it's pretty messy. But it's not actually all that bad. Long range comms and navigation are their big losses. The major issue here is the lack of redundant systems and lack of spare… Sorry. Being a nerd. I'm sure they'll make it. Their navigator's pretty smart, and they got two decent engineers. I'm sure one of them will build a sextant and start finding and identifying nearby stars to navigate by."

“You still need to dumb that down a level for me. What’s a sextant?” Sacre asked.

"An instrument to delineate vertical angle of an object you're looking at based on the plane of another object. By knowledge of rough absolute magnitude of stars and knowledge of what star you're looking at, it's fairly simple to use to navigate. Kinda like telling where you are on a starmap by listening to subspace beacon's and finding the reference point by triangulation. Only with starlight. Most species used such a tool to astronavigate on planetary oceans in their early history, before the industrial revolution phase and discovery of radio. I still have one my mother gave me somewhere."

“Hmm, I wonder if you could actually navigate the Koun using one?” Sacre asked.

"Yeah, pretty easily. I'd just need to go outside, take a few measurements, ID some stars, and guage the distance the star's moved since that light left it. That'll get me a position estimate within a few light months, which is good enough to plot a rough FTL course in the right direction. Now not doing the time adjustment will give you a light year range, which is still not bad, but could put you a bit off course. It's a measuring tool, one that helps find your location and bearing, not a map. If your map's gone like Starlight's is, then you're going by memory and that can get a little entertaining. Suffice to say I was lucky Shurista didn't move during my Trials."

“I should probably take the trials, especially if Marigold is going to be taking them too.” Sacre mused.

"I feel like you'd pass pretty easily. You've survived a hundred percent of your worst days, done things and survived situations that no one and nothing could have ever prepared you for, handling yourself with nothing more than a bit of grace and doing your best… It's really awe inspiring. And I know you're not ready to talk about a lot of it. May never be. But I'm still glad you made it through. That even on your worst days, you're still here. I'm really proud of you. I don't think you need the Trials. Unless you want me to teach you how to fly a starship by the skin of your teeth and repair an FTL drive someone took a hammer to.". Aliset reached up, gently touching one of Sacre's ears before returning her attention to her plate.

An instant later, she pointed at the screen with her fork. "Fucking called it."
Sacre nodded, thinking about it as they watched as the characters made some triangles by measuring angles. “I want to understand your culture in much the same way that you want to understand Separa’Shan culture and it can be something that our family shares.”

"Your trials will be a lot different than mine. So will Marigold's. Perhaps kinder. But not easier. Just remember that the point isn't to pass. Most people don't, their first time. The point of the trials is to show where you are and how well you can take care of yourself. Because end of the day, my home is dark, cold, empty, and the single most dangerous thing in the universe with no concept of mercy or charity. So we have to ensure that all hands are where they can do the most good and receive the help they need. You'll likely never need to fly a starship in your life. But it'd be nice if someone knew the keysongs and could get us to friendly space if myself and the Captain are out of that fight."

Sacre reached over and put a hand on Aliset’s. “They say home is where the heart is, then mine is wherever you are.”

Aliset responded by drawing Sacre's hand to her lips, a soft click of a kiss sounding over the sound track of the movie. "I've got more important things than exploring, now. You, Marigold, Gravity… I'll adapt where you all want to live. Even if that means parking an old Lion shuttle in the driveway and letting it rust. Cause let's face it, that's a little small to be raising kids in… not… not that I can have kids for another forty ish years."
“You can’t, but Gravity can. I would probably have to do some really heavy genetics work for you and me.” Sacre could feel an instability forming in her mind. She leaned over and kissed Aliset to keep herself grounded. “One of the things I’m submitting to the Neko genetics project is some tweaks based on what I’ve learned from your code. If they're accepted, you could be a mother of all of the neko that get updated in a way.”

"I…" her voice trailed off as she considered the genetics involved. She wasn't a geneticist, and didn't know of any feasible way to bridge the gap. If anyone could do it, it would be the woman kissing her now. Then she spoke again, and her brain ground to a halt for a moment. "Okay. Gonna have to explain that one to me. As far as I know, the amino acids making up my DNA and every protein in my body uses iron in stead of carbon. So how can my body's coding work in Neko development?"

“It’s complicated…” Sacre said thinking for a moment as the movie played. They were running around the asteroid belt now chasing something or was it being chased. “Ok, so you know how you can eat carbon based food and iron based food? Doing that requires… a metabolic switch in stomach acid profiles. But it’s not the exact same profile as say a Minikan would have. So by reworking the pseudo-gene meta-framework, we can create the same structure using different materials. My analysis shows an increase in nutrient processing efficiency for the tweak I submitted.”
"So…you… adapted Senti bioplasticity genes, which would normally allow us to go from a standard omnivore diet of various organics to geophagy supplemented… And adapted it for carbon based life? Can you just read genomes like a book?" Aliset's audible confusion was only accented by her expression, the movie completely lost. "Cause there's a lot my species doesn't know about itself, anymore."

“Not like a book, perhaps I can simplify it a bit. Your genetics folds iron-proteins in a certain way to make a structure. I see the structure you make, and then figure out how to program genes to fold carbon-proteins to make the same structure. It’s surprisingly similar given the different bases.” Sacre tried to explain.

"What, like the Senti were evolved from something engineered?" Aliset's question sounded more like a joke in the moment. "I mean, I know my species has a lot of… quirks. Even for other iron based life. But how useful can all that junk really be? I mean, what, we get Nekovalkyrja that can survive by eating metal rich rocks? Any potential side effects? I don't know what all's involved, but we adapt pretty fast."

“No, nothing that extreme. It’s a small efficiency improvement. Important, but an incremental rather than a revolutionary one. Unrealized side effects is why I submitted it. They are going to do more through testing. Like making ten thousand digestive tracts and calculating how much of each nutrient is impacted and from what source. That's why I submitted it to them. They might not even choose to use it. If Senti genetic code was engineered then…” Sacre trailed off doing calculations in her head. She tried to talk to Aliset but wasn’t communicating very well. “...No… but what about … the sequencing path…” Starlight booped Sacre on the side with his head. Sacre reached down and gave the dragon a pet. “You're right, I should be more present.” She said, taking out her hand tablet and jotting down a note for herself to look at later. She kissed Aliset on the forehead. “Sorry, let’s get back to the space adventure that seems to be… doing something entirely wrong with a medical instrument?”

"Your brain was going faster than your mouth and I caught precisely none of that train of thought." Cocking an eyebrow, Aliset looked to the screen for a moment. Recoiling slightly, she spoke quickly "Humanoid limbs can bend like that? And what are they doing with that forceps?"

“They shouldn’t, no. but if I worried about every time they got medicine wrong in a show, I’d worry about nothing else.” Sacre said, shifting to sit back a little bit and actually watch the movie.

The forceps clattered against a tray before one of the characters gave a small countdown and a breath, pulling the other's arm back into shape with an ugly crunch that turned Aliset visibly ill. "Their bones break? Oh, that looks so painful! Why'd they pull the shrapnel out, won't he just bleed through the scab? Where's the cauterizing torch?"

“It is painful, assuming he doesn’t bleed out from the shrapnel embedding itself in a major blood vessel, the scab should hold the blood in. I don’t think they are going for the cauterizing torch, things aren’t that desperate yet.” Sacre said, trying to let go of the nonsense and just ride the wave of whatever story they were trying to tell.

"Well, the engineer's out for the flight… Eew…". About half of her dinner remained and was set out of reach, Aliset's appetite gone as the engineer let the medic character start building a cast and setting his arm back into place as he explained what had happened to the captain. Apparently he had been elbows deep in a piece of machinery when the gravity had flickered, causing him to fall off the railing. It was worth noting that advances in hemosynth technology allowed an actual broken arm to be used for the shot, as the actor had been fine a few days later, no different from a stunt actor getting a few bruises on set. However, that was not a lesson in human physiology Aliset had been expecting.

Dialogue and a few minor emergencies later, then the infamous singing scene, and Aliset had subconsciously begun singing along, some part of her knowing the song from her childhood, despite at some point having fallen asleep with her head resting on Sacre's chest.

Sacre lay back in the couch and let Aliset sleep on her, as she fell asleep with half of her heart in her arms and wondering what was happening with the other half.

In a nearby universe:

“Today’s love day.” Kim said to Gravity as they stood together in the Crow’s Nest.

“I lost track of time. But yhea. It is. What do you think Sara is doing?” Gravity asked, looking out across the expanse of ocean and islands.

“Probably crying or something. I hope not, but she’s the kind to do that. What about Sacre?” Kim asked.

Gravity looked out across the ocean, “I don’t know, but she has Aliset so hopefully they're together… got it. One seventy five, about five miles out.”

Gravity jumped off the crows nest and started flying down to the deck. “Where are you going?” Kim asked Gravity.

“I need my ship back so I can get back home!” Gravity replied.
YSS Koun
YE 45.5

Aliset sat heavily on one of the couches, sipping her glass of pureed cannonfruit and coffee, scrolling through her emails as she considered her career plan. PT with Black Wolf had been going well, and she had already lost some weight, most notably in the pouch of fatty tissue at her abdomen. Plus Sacre’s diet plan had her feeling better than she ever had. Certainly, she had been feeling a bit off, recently, and had been in contact with her cousin about the potential long term effects of her service. That same cousin had told her to put her in contact with the ship’s doctor to order blood draws and analysis comparative to Aliset’s medical records prior to her joining the Star Army.

But that wasn’t what drew a cry of annoyance from Aliset’s lips. Far from it. It was an email that would have been sent to Alastair, to her, and with Sacre having access to her Sync and SACN accounts, Sacre would have likely seen. So she punched up a quick comm to the mentioned Separa.

Looks like we won’t be taking military history together next semester.

She looked over her report card again, scrolling across GPAs and letter grades.

SubjectGrade (After EC)GPAPass/Fail
Mathematics and AstronavigationA+ (A++)4.5Pass
Sciences (Astrophysics 1)A- ( A)3.9Pass
Psychology 1B- (B-)2.9Pass
Starship Systems TheoryA+ (A+)4.0Pass
Crew ManagementB+ (A+)4.2Pass
Military History 1D- (D+)1.8Fail
XenopolicyA- (A)3.8Pass
Public Speaking 1C+ (B)3.0Pass
Elective (Nutrition and Cuisine)C+ (C+)2.8Pass

NOTE: Student has failed one or more classes. These will need to be retaken before proceeding to next subject matter.

She did not forward the report card to Sacre, simply choosing to sit back and toss her tablet on the table with a deep sigh of frustration. One subject. One annoying subject. And her fiance would likely be distinctly displeased by that. “I am not gonna have a good night if my grades posted that bad… So much for Ranger selection this year. And I might have to put off Arctic Warfare…”

She received a reply back from Sacre.

Pride goeth before destruction.

Aliset quickly responded.

I realize that. I think there might be a test out option. But my next year on that class was two semesters of fleet tactics. And they won’t let me take it till I finish military history 2. Bit miffed. I might just test out of both. I could use some help.

There, you happy, sweetie? I asked for help. Letting out a deep sigh, Aliset tossed her mini tablet on the table next to her larger work tablet before chugging the thick glowing fruit pulp and tossing herself backwards on the couch. It was a better response than she was expecting. Perhaps closer to a best case scenario than her mind would have normally allowed her. She wouldn’t consider that for now, choosing in stead to press her hand to her forehead and ignore the tablets for the time being. Perhaps even take a nap. Her bridge shift wasn’t for a few hours, yet.

However, the instant she leaned back the door slid open. “So your lazy and stupid, what an excellent combination.” Sacre said sarcastically as she entered the room.

Without moving, Aliset took a soft breath. “If pride and stupidity are synonymous, then yes. There’s a lot of missing data in the sources I have access to. Moreover, what information I do have access to highlights flaws as clearly as your sharp tongue. It’s been a day.”

Sacre sighed, “I’m not mad, just disappointed. You aren’t stupid, if you were this wouldn’t be the only class you were failing. Every other cadet read the same textbook you did, every other cadet passed their exams. You should have done better, I know it and more importantly you know it. Do you know why you failed?”

“I have a couple of ideas about it,” kicking her legs up, Aliset rolled up from her seat. Crossing her legs and scooting against the wall, she grabbed onto her ankles and leaned forward. “One. Military history is a highly subjective subject based on facts and anecdotal stories from survivors. Thus making it more akin to historical anthropology with military specialization than the hard science it is treated as. Two. The textbook did not translate well into Shuristan. This is unlikely, as it was comprehensible, even if the information did not stick well into my mind. Three, my opinions on the flaws in Yamataian logic and the direction of blame for military events and thus the rampant militarization of Yamataian culture was deemed unpatriotic and somehow wrong. Four. I am, despite my age and my youth with the constant stream of delayed Yamataian transmissions of the 1st and second Mishhuvurthyar Wars, and watching the broadcasts that reported on the PNUgen crisis, my timeline and view on such histories is as fucked as my biology. Speaking of. I need to give you my cousin’s comm codes.”

She considered those options for a moment. “Considering all variables, I have reason to believe that the reason for this was a mixture of these combined with the Tsulrati’s relative newness to the Yamataian umbrella and Shurista’s cowardice. It stands to reason that there may be some bias due to that perception.”

“Wrong. Try again.” Sacre replied.

"I don't have a computer brain. Logic isn't my strong suit." An eyebrow lifted. "I did all the extra credit I could. Information retention and timeline organization was flawed. If it helps, I can do the translation of the textbook, myself, in stead of letting a simple algorithm do it."

“Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, and probably not going to help.” Sacre responded.

"You're better at swords than blankets," Aliset grumbled, looking to the side. "It's possible that my own biases growing up affected my submissions and espoused opinions. Honestly, I don't even like this subject. It's annoying and feels like a bunch of propaganda! And how am I wrong in saying I'm less skilled at logic than a literal computer brain?"

“It’s not why you failed. Your getting closer, but you should shift your perspective. We aren’t taking the course randomly, or so that we can memorize random facts. Tell me, why are we taking the course?” Sacre asked.

Those metallic brows furrowed as Aliset's head tilted. "History allows us to recognize situations and factors, alongside solutions both successful and failing. Combined with the cultures and attitudes of the time, it gives a basic understanding of how our nation and military got to the point it is at now, helping us to understand options for the future."

“The exact words of the book. But there is something it is missing. Something very important for any culture, but especially a military one, to preserve and ensure is drilled into the heads of their cadets.” Sacre explained.

"Ensure? I think I misheard that. But I digress," her breath released in a puff. "I know you meant endure. And I know. That was a bit of a point of friction for me during Basic and Flight School. Could… Maybe I'm not fully understanding. I'm better at making history than reading it."

“I meant ensure. I don’t like just giving you the answer, especially when you are so close to it, but keep framing it wrong. The answer is values, or perspective, or esprit de corps or whatever else it might be called. Military history is not just the study of the facts, tactics, and strategy, but also of perspective on those events. The stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, why we fight, and what we are fighting for. Those are very important and even arguably more important than the actual facts of history.”

Sacre turned, moving across the small room in what might be described as pacing if she had any feet. “Values can change if you aren’t careful, often they will change on you even if you are. The Star Army hasn’t always been as welcoming as they are now to people like us. However, the values have changed. The change is worth preserving, and so when we teach the history of the Star Army, we have to teach the values and perspective of that.”

Sacre turned to Aliset, “You have a different perspective from the rest of the Army, and … I love you for it… but you're too proud, stubborn, and stupid to just accept that so you hide behind ‘factual inaccuracies’ and ‘lack of clarity’. When what you should be doing is communicating that you understand their perspective and are willing to follow the lead of your superior officers.”

At some point, Aliset's eyes had closed, her brows furrowing as she lowered her head in thought. "I… I think I understand. Though I don't think I would have done as well in my xenopolicy classes if that were the sole reason. Law and policy are heavily influenced by culture and perspective. People don't willingly eat bad food, after all. Especially when they know what good is. We heard the distress signal. I almost lost my Civil Service commission making first contact. Each and every event taught to us, every change and every battle, no matter how foolhardy, was because someone thought they were doing the right thing for their people. Logically, I know that. I know I'm a stubborn and proud idiot that has issues submitting to orders, especially if I think those orders are dumb. I'm working on that. It's… Honestly not a cultural strength of my youth."

Opening her eyes, she offered a half smirk. "I love you, but I'm not the only one here who's better at making history than reading it, miss Order of the Blazing Sun. Now knowing your dominant streak as I do, how do you feel about beating enough knowledge of the subject into me to pass the retraining so I can get it tested out between semesters and test out of both the history semesters so I can move on to fleet engagement tactics? You have the unique position of expertise and the ability to make me suffer for my failures."

“I was just doing my job and missing Gravity.” Sacre commented thoughtfully. She sat down on the bed next to Aliset and took a breath. “If I didn’t think you have it in you, I wouldn’t have been talking to you about it.”

“The truth is…” Sacre took a breath, “The army does need your perspective. The change you will bring. To do that, you’ll need not just to be able to see from your perspective, but also from theirs. To grok it.”

That last word must have been from some echo of an ancient language as Aliset's brain nearly ground to a halt focusing and trying to identify and translate that concept of grok. And it took a mere moment for her to toss that focus into the back rooms of her mind to allow to cook as she returned to the present. A small frown pursed her lips as she considered Sacre's words. She could promise for the dozenth time that she was going to go after Gravity, that she understood that pain, or she could offer a soft squeeze of Sacre's hand as she leaned further forward.

"That last word matches no language I know. But I think I understand what you mean. The culture I come from is this weird mix of hypersocial and reliant on each other, and hyper individualistic and self reliant. Makes it really difficult to admit I need help. It becomes really easy to lose one's self when others notice your struggle and offer their version of a solution. Some times it's for the best. A lot of the time they're as misguided as they call you." She gave a soft shrug, uncrossing her legs as she scooted forward slightly.

"I know how much missing Gravity hurts. I… Never stopped looking for Lev. I still call out. Every year. His comm channel. The song he taught me. Plus a few of my own. I'd like you to join me this year. And make your call to Gravity, as well. Maybe it'll help while I get the pieces together to do something so stupid and so crazy that we'll be heroes… or lose our jobs. Either way. Worth it."

“I’ve been told it’s an old word from a language long dead. It means understanding something so deeply that it becomes a part of your own identity.” Sacre explained.

“I would like to sing with you, it feels hopeful, like I might be doing something. I wish I didn’t feel so powerless to find her.” Sacre replied.

"You know I can see that, right? How you soften and brighten when you talk about her. And when you inevitably start wondering where she is I can see it hurts. Like something's stepping on your heart." An arm reached around Sacre's hip, before cinching gently, and Aliset's weight drew back. That mass and leverage put into action to drag Sacre into Aliset's lap where Ali could begin combing the hair out between her fingers, detangle and braid the soft green strands.

"I also know that powerlessness. It's about as false as my skill with xenobiology. I have to talk to the Captain, and get Koun-Chan to allow it. I think he named the AI… Hoshi? I don't know for sure. But we have a few days. And a few weeks before next quarter. You know this one failed class put me going for Arctic Warfare back a semester."

Sacre coiled, hugging Aliset with her tail. “Not if you can pass the test before the semester starts. You aren’t going to fail it. I’m going to make sure of it.”

"I can't tell if I should be fearful or thankful," a chuckle came as the braids started coming together. "No snarky comment about Tsulrati in arctic Warfare school? Or are you gonna do that sexy half glare smirk you do whenever I overlap stupid and awesome?"

“Mostly stupid, I had one deployment to Ralt and that was more than enough for me. Going through arctic warfare school is just a license for them to assign you to some frozen hellhole.” Sacre said.

"Lovey, anything below 20 is arctic for me. You brumate below 10. I'm unconscious in as many minutes, dead in less than twenty. I can't guarantee every mission will go well." Aliset shrugged in her position behind Sacre, beginning to lock braids together as she worked. "I kinda want to make sure I can come after my people and know what they're going through. There are other schools I want to go to. But that's the most pressing survival school right now. And moreover, I want your confidence that I can survive anything. I don't know how scared you were when I got captured."

Sacre liked having her hair braided. She kept her long green hair in braids most of the time. “Having both of your girlfriends missing definitely focuses your attention. I’ve worked really hard to make sure I’m the most dangerous thing around. Make sure that things can’t happen again or if they do, I can fix it.”

"You are, without a doubt, one of the most highly trained and skilled combatants I have ever met. But I don't think you're dangerous." Aliset's hands worked with a precise skill, the same precision and speed that allowed her to park a Ginga with less than three inches clearance on any side, or maneuver the Koun through a dense debris field without so much as scratching the paint carried into her selection of strands of that green silk, laying it around itself in a looping ring of braids that would gather the rest into an interlocking and complex weave Aliset's mother had taught her so many years ago. "That's why I value your opinion so highly. I look up to that training and skill. So that if something does happen again, you don't need to worry. And so that if, for any reason, you find yourself tired and scared and alone, you know I'm coming with wrath and fury that would make Skydas cower. I don't want you to have to be the strong one, here. Granted. I have a lot to learn. But in your coils, I can do that."

She thought for a moment, before her hands slipped from Sacre's hair, to her belt to unbuckle it behind Sacre. From that, she lifted one of two sheaths, reaching around Sacre's waist to unbuckle the belt on her own waist and slip the sheath into place on her hip. Kissing Sacre's neck from behind, Aliset whispered a playful tone, "I'll earn that back."

Sacre touched the service knife, nodding. She knew what the knife represented to her. “I’ll keep it safe until you do.” She said, squeezing her girlfriend in her coils.

Arm hugs are, after all, so overrated, and Aliset seemed to relax and melt into coiled tail. "We should do this more… not the bad grades and the gifts. More of the trying to braid you up while wrapped up in your coils. They feel nice. You're soft and shiny. My cousin, the CMO on Soren, she wanted me to give you her comm codes and tell you she wants you to send her blood draws. Something about mostly female crews over long term when I told her I've been kinda woogy recently. I don't feel bad. Just different."

Sacre nodded as the two cuddled together. “I’ll do it. What do you mean by woogy?”

"I dunno, some days my hips hurt or I have trouble focusing on some things. I mean I expected to have to adjust my clothes doing PT with your squad, so eeh? I don't really know how to describe it. It's probably me being paranoid." Another shrug as Aliset pulled her hands down to reclasp her own belt. "Not like there's even more rust in my eyes than normal or something. It's probably fine. Just might be finally recovering from my crappy diet after all the work you put in."

“You should be getting leaner…” Sacre said thoughtfully, working on the problem mentally. She turned around so she faced Aliset and gave her a kiss. Her hands move to Aliset’s abs, pressing them slighter. “You're definitely harder. Have you been gaining or losing weight?”

"A little, maybe moved a couple kilos around," she looked down, furrowing her brow for a moment. "Most of the weight loss has been in my abs, so there's that. Makes me look somehow even bustier. I'm not complaining, really. This is the best physical shape I've ever been in. I think a couple twinges and some minor behavioral changes are worth that cost. I'm not craving rocks, anymore. I dunno, I haven't been keeping track of my weight."

Sacre nodded, “I’ll make sure she has the data she needs. Perhaps we can collaborate at filling in the massive holes in our data about your physiology.”

"While there's a lot our own doctors don't know, I hope it'll be helpful. Yamataigo's not one of her strong suits, so if you need a translator, I'm sure I can help. It's the least I can do for everything you've done so far. And I plan to be a much bigger help in the future. Even if your response to my joke about my physiology was a lottabit on the odd side. Kinda wonder if I touched on something Eldritch."

“In the deep dark between the stars at R'lyeh Station dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.” Sacre responded.

Not getting the reference, Aliset's head tilted. "There's a lot of things between the stars. I was born there. But I've never heard any reference to this… R'lyeh Station? Or Cthulhu? Honey, you make less sense than I do."

“One of my old squadmates would say that when we were fighting the Mishhu. They said it was from an old story about an eldritch god.” Sacre explained.

"Worldborn mythology is so weird." Aliset's arms wrapped around Sacre's waist again, pulling her closer. "I love it, but it's a clear dodging of my question. Something I've learned to recognize as something I do a lot. Also, dead but dreaming lines up pretty well with burial steel mythology. Odd crossover, there. Probably as coincidental as Senti being as bioplastic as we are."

A soft shrug before Aliset looked up to Sacre, grinning mischievously. "But let's face it. My kin being evolved from some weapon sounds as preposterous as if someone claimed you as some prophet of Nagashun."

“I think a God would need to have their brains replaced with vomit slime mold to think that would be a good idea.” Sacre said with her serious humor.

"Exactly. You as a prophet would be hilarious, but I can't even see you and If'Ni getting along. I don't know much about Nagashun, but I imagine she's a bit less… humorous than the literal spirit of the burial steel." Aliset's smirk widened before she leaned forward again to kiss Sacre. "And your rationalism and humor is very situational."

Sacre nodded, putting her arms on Aliset's shoulders in a sort of hug. "Well, they don't exist, so I don't think they are going to be bugging me rather than just sending out a clearly worded email."

Sacre sighed. "Sometimes… sometimes I wish there was something more to this life than… than this. That there really was someone looking out for us. That if Gravity is… that I'll see her again regardless. If not in this life, then in another. But I suppose wishing Santa was real doesn't make it so."
Pulling her fiance into a tight hug, Aliset took a deep breath, processing her response to that thought. "So do I, Sacre. I know how it hurts. If our gods can't help us, then who can we rely on? The only answer I've found is ourselves and each other. So maybe I can be your Santa? Who… whoever that is. Sorry, I'm good at comfort. Terrible at solutions. Even if I try really hard."

"I don't need you to be good at solving my problems, I need you to be you. Your a lot more active and in a way courageous than I am. I just do my job, you… you seek it out." Sacre explained. Her hands massaged Aliset's back trying to release the tension there. "And you are very good at the comfort side of things too."

"You have a very different form of courage. Honestly, I'm not sure I can match your endurance no matter how much I train.n and you have a lot more patience than I do. But to be fair, I am trying. And I'm glad you're so willing to teach me. Thank you. Shall we get started?"

Sacre pulled out a tablet and glanced at it for a second. “So… what happened at the battle of Yimbor?”
Sacre and Aliset slept together in a traditional Neko nest. It was perhaps a touch too warm for a Separa’Shan and a touch too cold for a Senti, but it was the sort of sacrifice required by the lives they had chosen to lead. Sacre’s long tail coiled around the nest encircling the two of them. Their skin touched, Sacre absorbing warmth from her companion. It had taken a long time for Sacre to be comfortable sharing a bed with anyone, but now she had gotten used to it. They were covered by a weighted blanket that helped with the nightmare. Nightmares the Separa’Shan still wasn’t used to. The shifting of Aliset in a nightmare which awoke her tonight. She looked over at Aliset whose hair was rumpled and kinda everywhere. She reached over, her fingers gently grazing Aliset’s forehead to tuck it back behind her ear.

It was easy to tell the dreams Aliset was having, based on the way her body responded. Clenched fists and gritting teeth were combat dreams. Whines and rolling, the dreams of something she needed to escape. Some times it was a name, or a sudden rise in heart rate, or the sudden thrash as she wrested herself to wakefulness which seemed to happen now after the ST. Four main recurring dreams, but as some unconscious part of her felt the hair be tucked back, Aliset twisted and her brows furrowed, a soft grunt escaping her lips.

Sacre settled back in to try and get back to sleep, her fiancee’s nightmares bothered her. She was a doctor now, completely certified to fix any physical ailment. That was the rub, physical ailment. But this wasn’t something physical, something she could cut at or give some sort of injection to fix. Worse, she didn’t even know how to fix it. If she did, then she would have tried it on herself already. Sacre’s nightmares had three main themes. The first was the fighting ones, Sacre had seen a lot of combat in the over a decade she had been in the Army. Starting with the Mishhu through the Kuvexians and everything in between. Strangely, while they were unpleasant to deal with, they didn’t bother her often. They were scars from serving her nation. Then there were the ones of imprisonment, of confinement, of helplessness. They were worse when she had a hide, which was inconvenient when your species were prone to agoraphobic insomnia. It was a contradiction, one Sacre hated for the past that it dredged up. The last was the worst. The one that left her feeling truly scared and frightened and tasting eggs in the morning. The one she couldn’t talk about properly, not even to Gravity or Aliset. The one that left her more isolated and abandoned each time it came.

One of Aliset’s arms snaked under Sacre’s form, the other over top as she pulled herself deeper into the warmth stealing coils. She could feel the pull of the artificial gravity, pressure below her of the nest. Less pressure above. The smell of the both of them, feeling of soft reptilian scales as she breathed deep, eyes opening. It took a few breaths of grounding herself and double checking her senses, orienting herself before speaking in a half asleep near whisper of apology, assuming that Sacre was already asleep.

“It’s ok.” Sacre whispered back, even though it wasn’t perfectly ok. Sacre felt helpless when it came to Aliset’s nightmares, she didn’t know what to do. She ran her fingers gently through Aliset’s hair. “It’s over now.”

“Not… Sorry. Thought you were back to sleep, already.” Her head tilted to press it into Sacre’s hand as she gave a soft squeeze. “You have them, too. Some nights worse than others.”

Sacre nodded as she stroked Aliset’s head. “Yhea, do you want to talk about it?” She asked.

“Probably about as much as you do. But I feel like you have questions.” She gave a soft shrug, lifting the edge of the blanket just enough to look for the clock and confirm the time. 0304 hours was early in the morning. The ship was still on it’s night watch. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?”

Sacre considered the question, for a long moment. “I don’t know what to say really. Some of them I can’t talk about, I don’t want to go there and hate when I get dragged back by my stupid malfunctioning brain. Some of them, well their about my time as a slave. I feel trapped, I feel them hurt me again, I feel… I don’t know. Some of them, well, before the Kaiyo even, there was a crew I got close to. Then I couldn’t save them, and … their still alive, but the important bit, the part that knew me was all gone. I was a stranger to them. When I have a dream that puts me back into combat, it’s usually there or Malthus.”

“Best one for me is the ST. I felt it. Every instant. Every change. I was… I dunno. No sensation without the lack of sensation, and the self severed from memories. I don’t know how long it was. But there are a couple dreams I’m not comfortable sharing, yet, myself.” Shaking her head slightly as she nestled slightly deeper. “Or Nic. Irene, Lev, Glimmergold. My first unit was the 17th SBW on the Tokyo. But that’s not important, is it? Malthus?”

Sacre nodded, “I’ve been in bad engagements, but Malthus was probably the worst. Our ship was shot down, so we had to take cover in some caves. They kept bombarding us, night and day, impossible to sleep, people keep getting hurt, our supplies running out. There wasn’t anything we could do about it. I was lucky that I could patch people up, but even those supplies ran out. We buried our soul savior pod, thinking none of us would make it out. We did, some of us, but well, a piece of ribbon to go around your neck wasn’t a fair exchange.”

“It wouldn’t be,” she agreed. “When my bomber was hit, we lost a full third of the inner hull. Two of my crew died instantly. I was coming out of an FTL flare in system when a torpedo slipped between the drive field and the shield plate. Broke up and took a good chunk of my right wing. We were spinning. No control. My flight engineer bridged the main conduit with his body. First Senti to die in combat. But it limped us back. Half his steel was used in the repairs. Alongside other alloys. I don’t know what happened to that ship.”

Sacre nodded, “Why do we do this to ourselves? We don’t have to fight, and sooner or later, something worse will happen. Something that will break us even farther. We don’t have to have those nightmares. We could quit now before we dig ourselves any deeper. But I can’t, I won’t. Too many people need me. If I leave, they will just get someone else, someone who’s not broken already. Someone else who will have to carry this pain. At least with me, the pain will end eventually.” She mused.

“We do it because no one else would have stepped up. You and I are the first of our species. Sure, we could have learned a lot and avoided a lot of bad had we known someone like us before. But I don’t think either of us had a choice but to join. And we keep doing it because we’re the only ones who can, anymore. But on the plus side, you’re not alone. You don’t have to carry it alone.”

Sacre’s hand slid down to Alisets and took it, “We’re not alone. We don’t have to carry it alone. Your my partner, I’m your partner. It means we are in this together, supporting each other. So when you have your nightmares, I’m here for you. I don’t know what that means, I don’t know how I can help, but I’m with you.”

“You know, something Sutes told me a long time ago,” Rolling her shoulders up to stretch into Sacre’s rub, Aliset squeezed tight. “The brain is an organ. Just like the heart or liver. A part of our body that can get sick, too. It’s why I always thought it was weird that psychology and medicine are separate subjects. I know the scars go deeper than your skin. They’re on your brain, too. Both of us have scars like that. And some nights we need a little extra help. Just being here is good enough. Did you know I'm an only child?”

“I think you mentioned it, your parents had you late in life didn’t they?” Sacre asked.

“Mom was a construction worker. Had a pretty bad internal injury from when she was younger. At her age she when she had me… probably should have been five or six siblings. Dad said he always thought he was sterile. Mom died in an accident right before my Trials started.” She gave a soft shrug. “Trying to offer something a little more lighthearted. So we both kinda fight with our dads a lot. Probably for the same reasons.”

Sace nodded, “I’m trying to be more… understanding and I think dad’s grown… it’s just… well he’s so infuriating at times… stubborn and inflexible. He thinks he knows what’s best for everyone else. And if you don't agree, you're stupid and wrong.”

Aliset gave a soft snort, choking back a laugh at Sacre's perfect description of herself. "Yep. That's your dad. Take that unyielding will, sense of right and wrong, that inflexibility, add in an overwhelming and stifling protectiveness, a splash of bitterness, and a heaping helping of duty and pack it into a cop sleeve and you have my father, too. I think you'll get along."

"The list of people I need to get along with is growing at an alarming rate." Sacre grumbled. "Before you know it, I'll have to be nice to Alastair of all people!" She said with deadpan humor.

“I think he’d be worried if you were nice to him.” Aliset gave a soft snort as she shook her head. “And you don’t have to get along with my side of the family. I know you will, but I’d really rather you not. I don’t want to have my grandmother or my uncle trying to find excuses to drag me off into the black to do some save the universe bullshit. I barely tolerate that from deities.”

"Deities?" Sacre asked with a raised eyebrow.

“It was… How this all sounds like some cheesy novel or tabletop game. If some greater force wanted us to do big things, they might as well tell us. Probably just my half asleep musings. Better than wondering if I came back wrong.” Aliset’s hands started searching for the bed below the pair. “It’s two in the morning…”

"I don't think there is any greater force guiding our lives, and if there is then they are terrible at their job and should be ignored." Sacre stroked Aliset's hair. "You didn't come back wrong, your still my fiancee, and I still love you. If I had thought there was any risk of changing what made you you, then I wouldn't have done it."

“I know,” she gave a soft sigh, thinking. “I love you, sorry for worrying so much. It’s just… Easy to worry. And I seem to operate best when I’m scared.”

"If you want scary, look around at all of the cheerfully stupid nekos running around and realize that's what the Empress and most of our chain of command is." Sacre suggested, starting to braid Aliset's hair gently.

“Eew, gods, no… Why would you tell me that? Makes me wonder how I’ve survived this long!” A soft laugh slipped out before Aliset gave a soft rumbling sound and relaxed into Sacre working on her hair. “You can see in this light better than I can.”

"A little, I'm working mostly by touch and the braids are probably going to be terrible, but their fun to make." Sacre replied working on the next braid.

“That’s okay. I know how you hate it when you tongue flick in your sleep and my hair gets on your tongue,” she offered a small laugh.

“When it happens, I try to remember more pleasant times with hair on my tongue, but it’s not the same.”

“Not even close and you know it. There’s usually music. By the way, I read Tari’s report yesterday… Do I really have two sets of vocal cords?” She seemed to be dodging something, some creeping thought as she scanned the news in her mind’s eye. “My dad’s on the news…”

“Yes, I don’t know why we didn’t really know about this before. Tari’s report is probably going to be the basis for a lot of future articles about your species physiology.” Sacre replied. “Good on the news or bad on the news?” Sacre asked, slightly confused.

“Can’t tell. I gotta stop having dreams like that… But he was saying something about standard large animal removal and the Star Army showing up. Probably nothing. Just a weird dream and I can’t tell if it’s an actual news article or a dream fragment right now.” Aliset shook her head, considering. “Going on a week, now, I’ve had a little recurring dream of some kind of hexapod. Four eyes. Golden surroundings. A boom and the void howls. Just kinda learned to check the news when I have a dream I don’t recognize.”

Sacre’s blood ran cold, memories flashing back. “There was a Crab on Shurista?” Sacre asked, with a bit of alarm.

“I dunno, I can pull up the article, I think… Still getting used to this implant.” A part of her mind reached out to her tablet, loading the link before reaching to pull it down with her hand. “I mean, if there was, it’s probably dead by now, the Civil Service handles dangerous animal escapes all the time. A clawed crustaceanoid isn’t that big a problem.”

Sacre took Aliset’s hand and put it on a huge scar on her side, one that looked like it nearly tore her in half. “That was caused by a Crab type Mishhuvurthyar. They are heavily armored and very aggressive. Think biological tank, tougher than a mindy, a lot tougher. It’s not just an animal, it’s intelligent like you or me. Well, more like an aggressive gungho assault neko with a bad attitude, but still. Then even if you kill it, if you don’t burn it with fire it will rise again as an advanced type.” A small shudder ran down Sacre. “That’s a mistake you only make once if you survive it.”

Giving a soft sigh, Aliset handed off the tablet, “There’s video. I see why it would be frightening. But not something the Civil Service doesn’t train to handle. The U-238 cutters our mining teams employ can cut through things far harder than such a shell. We call them shellbacks, and though they are fast, they generally don’t get far. Some times one or two finds its way past customs. They are smart. But in the end, they are nothing more than another predatory threat to be handled as such. The species and its allies violate the first law. So we do not tolerate their existence in our presence. They usually don’t last very long.”

Sacre watched the video like the trained soldier she was. “A small one, good, good, does he see that? Good, no. flank, flank. Not like that you balloon headed bumbling buffoon.” Sacre commented, watching the whole article before giving it back. “They were doing ok. It’s just well, Crabs are something to worry about. The Star Army insertion would have been good if they had been working without the civil service. But because they didn’t communicate, things went sideways. The chaos of the arrival and the shot bouncing off the shell let it escape.” Sacre said, her heartbeat slowing down.

Sacre shifted, “Your dad is a handsome man, I can see why you think our dads are alike.”

“He’s a little old for you, hon. Like… Two hundred and thirty years older than us.” Aliset gave a soft chuckle. “It was a little one… Wonder why the YNN is getting so worked up over one shellback, and even then, barely a baby. I mean, I see why the Star Army decided to go nuts. But… Eeh? And why have I been dreaming weird shit like this. I’ll see if I can get the body cam footage.”

“I’m not attracted to men.” Sacre said, “Your dreams are probably just because we have been talking about the Mishhuvurthyar a lot recently. Things have been heating up and there is a lot to worry about.”

"Look, the last time I had weird dreams involving my species was the night before Turassiel was attacked and split by Kuvexians. And I've been researching Misshu. How to hunt and kill them like the animals they are. How to use my telepathic abilities to protect you from them." Aliset shook her head for a moment, typing out a message to Soren to ask for the footage in question. "I get that it means nothing when I have no practical experience. But it's not like I'm going in blind, even if I have no idea what's actually happening with them outside what's been mentioned in passing."

Sacre finished the braids and kissed her on the forehead. “Ok.” She shifted again, giving Aliset a hug with her long tail. “There is a war coming, a big one. I can feel it in my bones. We’re not going up against Kuvexians, were going up against nightmares.”

"Then we should rest as much as we can. When we go hunting, we should be at our best, and we can teach them to fear. Sorry if I'm a little… gung ho and intense about it. I know I'm not ready. You've fought them before. So I need to know everything you do."

Sacre let out a breath, “That’s a lot. But I will, and the whole crew too if they want it.”

Leaning up, turning to press a kiss below Sacre's jaw, Aliset nodded. "In the morning. And I'll practice with my SPINE by uploading those memories so you don't have to go through it too badly, okay? C'mon, it's a little after two. We can either get coffee and get up or we can go back to sleep."