Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Into the City

In the morning Laila wakes me with her usual pillow barrage and goes shrieking into the outer rooms as I rouse and begin to retaliate.

"I love you!" She calls to me from safety.

"My morning meal had better be good!" I yell back at her.

Menoh is also out in the main room when I come out from the bath in my robes. She and Laila bow to me.

"Good morning!" They say in unison.

"Do you know... There is such a thing as too much cheer in the morning." I frown at their happy little smiles and sit to my meal.

Today Laila goes off to see to some chores and I am left with Menoh. She lays out my clothing, picking bits of lint off it that are invisible to my eyes while she hums a little tune. When I am finished with my meal she clears my mess and I go to change my attire from sleeping to waking.

"Too formal." I say as I look upon what she has laid out.


"Menoh, I need something a little less... Grand to wear today."

"But Hanta said-"

"Never mind what Hanta said. I am not going into Namida this way."

"She will be very cross with you." She remarks and gathers some clothing she knows I will like.

"Do you think that I care?"

"No." She smiles.

"Then you know me well already. Tsh tsh tsh!" I hurry her out of my room and close the door so I can clothe myself in peace.

Again I return to my main room and again Menoh bows to me. "You look very nice."

"Thank you." I smile.

"Aht! I get first smile! I win!"

"Ehn?" I raise an eyebrow at her as she claps her hands happily.

"Nothing." She hurries to take the plates and utensils of my morning meal away on her little cart, "Hanta is coming!" She warns as she closes the doors behind her.


She comes in next, laughing, then stops quite pointedly when she sees what I have chosen to clothe myself in.

"What is this??"


"What are you wearing??"

"I am wearing comfortable clothing that will not intimidate our people. I will not go out wearing all of that which you had instructed Menoh to put out for me. No argument. I want my people to speak to me."

"Very well." She sighs.

I have won for a change and so quickly! This will certainly be a fine day. Akti and Shilne arrive soon. I remove their military helmets and jackets from them and give them a pair of my plain black armored jackets to match their other body armor. It will draw less attention than their standard military issue attire.

"We go!" I announce and Hanta jumps. "Woman, you are nervous today."

"I am! I do not like this at all." She grumbles, "I have a transport waiting outside."

"Tell it to go. We will be taking shikan."

"Ahhlll..." She moans and follows us out to the livery.

Taking the two wheelers into the city will be better than the transport she has likely acquired for us with the imperial colors on it. Hanta is not happy about this at all and clings tightly to me where she sits behind me before we are even in motion.

"You will cut off my air!" I tell her.


I test the engine and launch it forward for a moment causing Hanta to screech and dig herself into me further. It is a good thing I am wearing armor for she might have broken my flesh with her fingers.

"Gods woman. The way you have latched onto me your husband must surely enjoy you!"

"You are disgustiiiiiiinnnngggg!" She cries out as we pull away from the livery and leave through the main gates.

Down we go into the city. It has been a long while since I have visited the streets below the palace. The day is bright and cool. Perfect weather for riding. Hanta does not appreciate this at all, complaining of this and that the entire way.

This trip into the city was a fine idea though it disturbs me. My people are hungry and still unemployed. Many of the stores in the business section are shut. Many of the homes are in disrepair. The government and military sectors are still quite active. There are places where the buildings look burnt out and still there are people who are trying to live there. There is a definite line between those who are still well fed and those who are not.

Everywhere we go I find more of the same. Those businesses that are still moving serve the interests of the government, education or military. Those who are still employed and can pay. By the afternoon my mind is full and hard at work trying to see what it is that can be done.

I stop my shikan and Shilne and Akti pull up beside us. Hanta lifts her head from where she has buried it in my back.

"Have we stopped?" She sounds hopeful but only for a moment when she sees the place we have stopped, "Keep moving." She grips on tightly again.

I remove her from me with some effort and get up, taking off my helmet and setting it on the front of the shikan.

"You are joking." She hisses. "Tell me you are joking!"

"I am not."

This section appears to be a dead area. There are people gathered around barrels with fires in them wearing clothing that looks as though it has been on them for tens of seasons.

"I must say I agree with Hanta." Shilne registers his protest and gets up off his two wheeler along with Akti who already has his hand on his sword.

"You are both armed, combat-hardened commanders and you fear your own unarmed people? Ridiculous!"

I turn my back on them and go off toward the crowd that is beginning to gather at the sight of our presence. As I approach them they spread out, taking steps away from me until I stop amongst them all. They are silent, thin, their faces are hollow. None of them bow to me. I am not sure they know who I am...

"My people are not like this... They should not be like this." I think, "Why are you all here?" I ask them.

No answer, they look at each other and back to me.

"Answer me one of you!"

"Where else would we go?" One of the men inquires.

"Where are your homes?"

"Here." Another responds.


"This is what one affords when one does not have work."

"You all look able enough!"

"If you have work for us we will take it." Another responds.

The children look to be starving along with their parents. It is not right.

"I will find you work. What is it that you do?"

With that question I am surrounded in responses. Every occupation is represented there. There was just no call for their employment in the wartime economy. I can see plenty of call for it all around me in just rebuilding this community. By Gods this is going to be a great deal of work. Hanta has given up on her worry and is talking to the people as well as I. Shilne and Akti keep watch. The commotion brings the local enforcement out to see what is happening, trying to disperse the crowds that have gathered in the empty streets.

"What is going on here?? Get out of the streets!!" The commander calls to them.

"Why should they? Their homes are as open to the air as these streets." Hanta scolds for she is the first they encounter.

"Woman, what are you doing here?"

"Trying to help!"

"Ehn, you are Yuki's wife." One of them recognizes her.

"So I am." She nods.

"You should be up at the Palace with the King, not down here."

"The King is here and so I follow."

I leave the crowds and come to stand beside her, they bowing down to me, "Baika, what are you doing here with these people??"

"Trying to sort out a better future for them. Do not disperse them, yet I may need your help so keep your men ready."

"Yes, Baika."

"What are you thinking?" Hanta asks.

"It is not much for all that needs to be done yet it is a beginning. I cannot let these people remain hungry, but there are no supply packing cubes readily available. There is a closed restaurant across there, and it gives me an idea to open it up again."

"You are going into business, nnh?" Shilne laughs.

"No... But it will look as though it is the finest restaurant in town!"

The closest supply of assistance for this and food too is the Namidan Military Academy. They always have large amounts of food in store for the constantly ravenous young men and women that are in training there. I contact the head of the academy and tell him of my plans.

"...It does not go along with their regular day I know, but it will teach them to be of service to their people, remind them of what they are learning to defend."

"I agree with you, Baika." He nods, "There will be cartage transports of food and many young students there in the next taik. We will open you a fine restaurant this very day."

"Good good."

I smile with satisfaction then instruct the enforcers that they will have to keep watch to ensure that when the food comes there will not be a fight. I know from my own experience that a hungry man creates a danger. They have likely been fighting within their community members for every scrap of food even though they might not ever have another reason to fight amongst each other.

When the cartage transports arrive the community's interest is piqued. One of the Commander Instructors from the academy approaches me with a few lower level sergeants, all bowing low.

"Baika. We have come to open your fine restaurant. We will begin by distributing bread to the people so that their hunger will not cause a fight. If a fight does come we will be ready for it."

"Good. Take care with our people. Remember they are only hungry."

"Of course."

The students are sent out in a fan, widening the edge of the crowd and then the cartage transport's doors open. Bread comes out quickly and cries go up. It is a noisy scene and only a few fights come, ending when the strong young students fill hissing mouths with bread.

"Shut up and eat." One of them laughs.

The bread settles their will to fight and then the students go to work opening the restaurant with the supplies they have brought. A large part of being in the military is feeding vast numbers. They are learning to do this as well as learning to fight. It is a good feeling to watch as the half-starved community lines up to have their first full meal in a long while. Other students have joined in and are helping to close the broken windows on the buildings that are poor shelters for these people. Medical students arrive and begin to see to the health care needs.

"Baika, we will keep this restaurant open for you if you will provide the food." The Commander tells me.

"I will do that. You will have help from the community too. If they wish to eat, they will have to work. They will work in the restaurant and in fixing their damaged surroundings. I will see to these details... Rather Hanta will."

"Ahhllll... So much work!"

Still she smiles for she is pleased to see enjoyment replace hollow, hungry expressions. I address the crowds, telling them that if they want to eat, they will have to help keep the restaurant open. Everyone will take a turn working and I will provide the food and management. They will be provided building materials and tools for there are many builders in their numbers. If they want to have better surroundings, they will be given what they need aside from their own arms and legs and skills to provide that for their families and communities. I have great hopes that the emotions behind their cheers and their memories of having their bellies filled for the first time in so long will carry them onward to better days.

We turn away from the crowds to head back to the palace. Hanta is more relaxed now and actually laughs as we go along.

"I am proud of you." She smiles as we leave the shikan behind to wander inside.

"I am proud of our people and their will to do better. I hope they do not forget."

"I do not think they will."

"Since you are so keen on helping them, you will take late meal with me tonight. Call to Sholan for he will be joining us as well."

"As you will, Baika. Seume." She bows away.

The answer to these local problems is clear from this day... Some of the imperial funds must go to work giving them jobs in rebuilding their communities. Since it seems to be mostly a financial situation I will bother Sholan with it over late meal.

Sholan is nervous in my presence as usual but calms once we fall to talking of things with which he is familiar. He eats slowly and listens to me as I tell him my thoughts after spending the day in the city.

"I will do what I can, sire." He sighs. His head seems to be as full as mine.

"What is wrong? I do not like the look on your face." I sit back from my meal and enjoy my tea.

"I am having... Conflicts within the Ministry of Finance. They are not happy with your plans to release the slaves being held by private citizens. I believe this is because they themselves have such slaves. It is a personal matter to them. The only way of finding where all of these slaves exist is through tax records. Your father was taxing for privately held slaves—another way he was increasing his money belt. They do not appreciate my sticking my opinions in." He rubs his temple.

"They are truly giving you this much resistance?"

"Yes." He nods regretfully.

"I will put an end to it." I nod, "Sholan... It is time you had a new title."

"Ehm?" He looks worried rather than pleased and this lets me know that my choice is correct.

"You will be the new head of the Ministry of Finance."

"Erhhh... There is already a head."

"Not after tomorrow... I am having 10 of the food containers from Galrea brought to Namida City. I have had Hanta contact all the local governments to find out where food and supply is needed and there will be more distributed over the next few days. The 89th has gladly volunteered their services to assist with this as they have just come off of leave for the first time in many years and seen for themselves what is happening in our cities and towns... Here in Namida the Academy will be assisting as they can. Sholan, those who resist our attempts to feed and keep our people in safety will be removed. I have no time for or interest in playing games with such people. I do not care what they think of me or if they will be loyal though considerations. If they do not care for our people more than for their own gain, I am done with them!"

I realize that my increasing tone has worried Sholan and so I make an effort to settle my temper.

"Things are moving forward. Anything or anyone who gets in the way will be removed. If you tell me there are members in the Ministry of Finance that are playing games they will be stopped. I know I can trust you to do what is right. Will you accept the position?"

He seems to be thinking hard on it and his skin is losing its color.

"The University... I am not sure I am ready for this!" He blurts.

"All the better reason to give you the job, Sholan." I smile and tap my fist on the wood table that separates us, "Eh, do not do it for me, do it for your people! You have done a fine job so far with no title at all."

"Ehnnnn..." He shakes his head, "I will on one condition."

"Condition?" I am surprised by this from Sholan.

"That if I do take this position you will not kill any of those who need to be removed from the Ministry. I cannot live with that thought."

I smile again, "Done."

"Ahhlll..." He rests his elbows on the table and begins to rub both of his temples with great vigor, "I cannot believe I am doing this."

"Is it so bad?"

"I have never considered such a thing for myself. My wife expects that I will become old and forgetful with a solid University tenure. She depends upon me to be dull." He laughs. "And with all of this happening so suddenly..."

"What? You are afraid she will leave you?"

"No. She is just not sure what to make of me now. She still loves me... But every night I come home and have a new story for her. It is not what we have been used to. You should see her eyes! They get so big!" His hands drop to the table and his wide eyes stare at me in demonstration of his wife's expression.

"It is wonderful for you that you have a patient wife and I believe you will find it wonderful too that there will be changes in your life. Do you think she is entertained?"

"I do. Gods help me."

"Gods help us all." I smirk, "You will do well."

In the morning I go to the Ministry of Finance, calling all their highest members together in body or via video link. Before them all I smile neatly and then remove the head of this particular monster without a sword, placing Sholan there and removing a number of other obstacles along the way. There are many who are not pleased with this but the complaints end quickly when I draw my sword to ask for any challengers.

Sholan has made recommendation of replacement for these people from their other employees that he has had a chance to interact with. Over the next few days I watch things change as a result of the change of guard at the Ministry of Finance. The list of privately held slaves is produced with great haste. Funds are made available to begin projects of rebuilding the bad areas of the cities by employing those that live there. Not only will they have the satisfaction of rebuilding their homes, they will have income. I call upon the building Diyas again, starting on the suggestions of those who are doing the work at Aykovas. They will lead the contract and hire those that are needed to help.

So many meetings—my days are filled from end to end—but it is all for good. When I go down into the city again I can see that the building Diyas have already begun preparation for reconstruction. Those that were gathered about fires previously are now working along quite happily and the restaurant is quite busy still. Even before I leave for Mycenea those who have been going hungry have been fed even in far cities. Shelter has been created of what is left of their poor housing and things are beginning to change for them.

Again I have found that the crops being grown near and far are going into government storehouses. I put this back into the general marketplace with the help of a very eager Ministry of Agriculture. More volunteers are coming from the divisions to assist with rebuilding and feeding our people. I am proud of our military and continue my small meetings with the division High Commanders as they come through on rotation.

Aiwulan, High Commander of the 89th, comes to meet with me along with the Commanders of the 76th, 99th, 21st and 45th. The discussion is good, regardless of the fact that Aiwulan has been a long time friend of my father. I can see that he is watching my behavior carefully and seek to test him with my words at the same time I praise his division for assisting in feeding our people. He keeps himself still and even.

"...We have come to speak with the 89th and are thinking of dividing our numbers into a new division as we have both grown greatly. Many of our numbers have great interest in participation in the rebuilding of the empire. The proposal is that the new division would become somewhat of a relief division of the military. We have many engineers and doctors and such. Think you that there would be a need for this?" Kiyomizal of the 99th lays his hand on the table to indicate he is finished speaking.

"It is a fine idea. There is much need for it. Have you enough between the two divisions to make another complete division?"

"Not quite, yet there are other divisions who have members that would like to transfer into this newly created division. It would be complete."

I nod, "Who will lead this division?"

"Our suggestion would be Senior Commander Muriwara of the 99th." Aiwulan speaks slowly.

"One of your own, Kiyo." I note.

"She is a fine and respected leader. I believe that you know this well. She will bring great pride to the empire with her works. You will see... I will of course miss her being my second, yet I believe she is ready for more than being a Senior Commander."

"Very well. Assemble the new division. Present me with the personnel counts and proposed equipment allotments. I will do what I can to bring Muriwara good ships and whatever else she might need to make a success of this command. Bring her to me as soon as you are able. I would like to meet with her before granting her promotion."

"You will have her presence and the listings before the day is done, Baika." Kiyo bows his head to me briefly.

"Nnh... Never would my foolish father have thought of such a thing happening. I thank you all for your attention and your service on behalf of our people. Continue to do your best. This meeting is concluded unless there are other issues to bring out for talk."

All heads bow and I rise, they following suit and coming to take my arm in friendship before departing to see to their divisions.

The last to leave is Aiwulan. He looks at me for a long while and I offer him my hand as the doors close behind the others. He reaches back and then instead of taking my arm his hand shoots forward and takes hold of my throat, the force of it throwing my back to the wall. Hanta shrieks and topples her chair as she rushes toward us.

"Hanta... Stop." I urge out of myself through his grip on my throat.


"Release me, Aiwulan." I snarl. "I will forgive this insult."

His hold on me does not slack.

"Boy, I will bow to you yet I will not tolerate your so constantly holding the name of your father on your tongue with such ill will." He growls, "Your father was my friend. Your father was a fine commander. Your father was a powerful ruler who united all the kingdoms under his boot. He created the empire you now rule as much as he created your life. I know he was not well in his later years, that he was often far less than a father to you... Yet your skill in battle is from him, the sword you wield is from his armory, your training begun by his hands, the comforts and luxuries you have lavished yourself with over the years have been from his wealth. You will offer him some small respect, child."

"I will give him what I feel I must... And that is my spite and my will to change what he has ruined for our people over the cursed years of his life!"

I punctuate this by shoving him back from me as hard as I am able and still he hardly moves for his size. Fortunately I am free enough of his grasp to draw one of the blades I have hidden on my person. Hanta did not do such a fine job of disarming me as she usually does before meetings.

"Go on then, boy. Try your best. It will not change the truth." He scowls.

"I have no quarrel with you, Aiwulan. I do not wish to fight you. I wish to have your loyalty to bring about better days for our people."

"You have that. I am pleased with what you have done and what you appear to be working toward. When you took to the skies in battle against your father and his men after their attack on Altea... I fought on your side of the conflict. Mark it, I did not fight against your father, I fought against what he had become." He thrusts two fingers toward my face, ignoring my weapon, "I will not hear your tongue move in hatred for him. He was my friend. Do not think I have not missed him since his mind left him. I have missed him like a brother who has passed."

I put away the blade, "I understand. I have never known him to be anything other than a madman."

"That is not true." He snarled, "You just do not remember... It has been a long while..."

"You are right. I do not remember."

He puts aside his anger with me now and comes closer, placing a hand on my shoulder, "Your father... In his good days, he would have been proud of you."


"By your leave, I will go."

"Go then. Serve our people well."

"I shall... Ashio ka nai, Baika." He bows and departs.

Hanta has stopped breathing and her mouth is slightly open.

"You can settle now." I smile a little.

"By Gods! What is happening?"

"Now I know that even the friends of my father are on my side." My smile grows.

"A dangerous way to find out!"


"I do wish you would warn me of impending drama!" She falls down into another chair with a sigh.

"You seem to believe that I always plan these things. Quite often they simply unfold." I laugh, "You credit me with a great deal of foresight."

"Gods, this will be the death of me!"

"Naii... Likely just myself..." I wander over and right the chair she has toppled, "See to it that we have a good meal to greet Muriwara with tonight."

"As you wish, Baika." She drags herself to her feet, "Do try to keep the rest of the day peaceful."

Kiyomizal returns in the evening with Senior Commander Muriwara at his side. He bows from the waist and she removes her helmet, going to her knees and laying it at my feet with her head bowed low in respect.

"Welcome. Rise up, Muriwara."

"Thank you, Baika."

She comes to stand before me—a proud, strong and tall northern woman. She has a fine reputation for her skill with a sword and for commanding her troops. She has a high kill rate, a low troop loss count, and the respect of those who serve under her. While it is rare for a woman to rise so high in military service for her combat skills, she is one of the finest that we have. Usually our women find service in the military in strategy and tactics, preferring to leave the combat to we men.

"Join me for late meal and we will talk of some pleasant future times."

"I hope as much, Ishinoa." She smiles as Menoh takes her helmet from her and from Kiyo.

1st Imperial Relief Division is formed this night. Muriwara accepts the position of High Commander of the new division quite gladly.

"... We will keep the honor code while being able to bend with the need for different things." She says with a proud smile.

"You are looking forward to this."

"True enough. I am eager for the challenge, eager to show the empire our best service and skill. In every type of action! Air, water, environmental, engineering..."

Her enthusiasm for the task and her record of dedicated service give me a good feeling about her future as High Commander. Kiyomizal tries his best to keep his steady air, but I can see that he has great pride in his former Second. I offer the hospitality of the palace for their resting and they stay the night, rising early to join me for morning meal and a run in the woods before their departure. I smile as I watch their cruisers disappear into the horizon.

"Hanta..." She has come up to my side on the northern terrace, "Bring me the Armory Master. I have work to do."

"As you wish, Baika."

The trade routes are being defended by our divisions as well as all outposts, colonies and imperial held planets. Safety is beginning to come and stay for our people. The humans are still apt to bicker with us over borders and trade routes but tend to back down quite quickly when they see that our supply carriers are well defended. I argue with their generals myself for entertainment.

They demand to know what is going on, for the can no longer peer at us to see what we are doing. They demand to know why we have ended the war. They demand to know why we have so tightly closed our borders. So many demands! I just laugh at them when they find their ability to annoy Banrek at the Communications Ministry to the point where he asks if I will speak to them.

"Keep out of our territory or be killed." I warn the latest group of uniformed, medal-wearing, highly placed military humans. "There is no debate over this. It is fact."

"Look here... Y'all need to start talkin and stop playing games."

"Why?" I ask with a shrug.


"Why? It is a simple question. Or have I used the wrong word?"

The ten uniformed men on screen before me burst into an angry torrent of speech. It is great fun to annoy them. I am grateful that Hanta did not teach me much of the human slang or curse words. They come out at me in waves every time and I just laugh at their strange sounds. They even argue amongst themselves for their frustration. Hanta clicks her tongue and shakes her head, able to understand their words well and ashamed for them.

"Look you... No more fukkin around! Tell us what happened to the people on Mycenea, Vioal and Paikour!!"

"It would take a long while for me to tell you of what happened to every person on that planet one by one." I smirk and another outburst follows.

Finally another enters the viewing area that I have been familiar with and I greet him over the noise.

"General Yarboro. Welcome to the foolishness. What will you contribute?" I chuckle as they stop their talk at my acknowledgement of their peer.

"I'm here to listen." He takes a seat.

"To listen?? A strange position for you to be in. From all I recall of you, you have always been telling me your opinions."

"Son, it ain't my druthers to be sitting here looking at your ugly mug. Let's get it on, I'm tired."

"And I am hungry. Perhaps another time we will talk. It has been a while since I have exchanged words with you."

"Not long enough for my liking."

"How is your lovely wife?"

"Hey now..." He scowls at me, "Keep my wife out of this mess."

A bar lights up on the console, alerting me to their attempted intrusion of the secure line.

"It seems that your people are attempting to invade us again, this time through our communication. This conversation is therefore concluded. Do pass on my regards to your wife, General." With that I cut the transmission and the Communications Ministry locks the channels fully again. "Such dishonorable behavior!" I remark to Hanta who rolls her eyes up and carries on with her daily work.

Later on I am surprised to hear again from Banrek. This time it is only the fine General Yarboro who wishes to bother me.

"Would you like to be further entertained, my great Emperor?" Banrek laughs.

"If I must. I will eat my late meal and talk as I feel like it. Make the connection."

"As you wish. Gods, they have been annoying today. I am going home after this! One of my juniors will close the signal for you."

"Very well. Enjoy your peace while it lasts."

"I will I will!"

Laila brings my late meal which she calls 'dinner' while the connections are sorted out.

"Do you need anything else?" She asks before leaving.

"Just some quiet."

"I think you might not get that quite yet. Sorry." She shrugs. "Anything that I can actually help you with?"

"Not this night." I smile for her.

"Then have fun. I'll be back later." She leaves me with my food.


I shake my head and start to eat until finally the Communications Ministry hails me and completes the connection to the view screen in my main chamber. Yarboro is in front of me again though not dressed in his uniform.

"What brings this further irritation?" I ask him.

"Ain't my idea, son."

"Then why are you speaking to me?"

"The higher-ups have the opinion that you might be more talkative with me since you chimed in earlier today when I arrived." He frowned.

"I will gladly talk to you of how your wife is." I smirk. "How is she?"

"None of your business, that's how... Look, let's cut through the bull... What have you got cooking over there?"

"Cooking? I do not understand your words. Speak with less slang in your meaning." I wave a vegetable stick at him.

"I mean, what are your plans?"

"To finish my meal and find my bed."

"You're trying my patience there bubba."

"Nnh? Then the feeling is mutual. Our plans are our own. You are not in them."

"So you're serious about this 'war being over' thing... Sounds like a load of hogwash to me..."

"Hogwash... I learn many new words from you... Yarboro... There are no plans to cross the borders. Be content with this. I do not know why your people refuse to take me at my word."

"Now there's a joke. Give me one good reason we should." He frowns further and folds his arms over his chest, resting back in his seat and looking at me sidelong.

"I have none but the evidence you see for yourselves. There is no Imperial presence in your territory, just along the borders keeping them secure." I shrug and enjoy another mouthful of noodles.

"And where's your daddy's ugly mug, kiddo? We haven't heard a peep out of him about this whole thing."

"Father... Has left me to deal with you. He has other things to contend with. You are not so important as you might like to think." I smirk.

"You two buried the hatchet then, hmm?"

"Buried the..."

"Made peace, boy. Made peace. We saw the fight y'all were in after that stunt on Altea."

"Ahht... We have made our peace."

"Done in the Princess' daddy. Proud of yourself?"

"It was not my hand that took his life. You know that as well as I." I scowl at him.

"That's not what the papers are saying over here."

"The 'papers' are wrong."

"So what happened there then?" He now takes out a cigarette to smoke while we talk.

"Father tested my patience by invading my property. I repaid him for the insult and evened things. Our dispute is done now."

"And now you're just leaving your 'property' behind?"

"It was an unjust attack." I clench my hand into a fist. It still feels a twinge of pain every now and again, remembering the cause of its most recent scar. At least it will remind me not to fail so again. "Altea will not be seeing our war birds again. Nor will your side of the border if you stay clear of our territory... Mark my words to you... If your people press their luck they will see the full force of the Imperial divisions. As I have said before, this should not indicate to your people that we have no will to fight. You know that we do."

"Unfortunately." He nods. "Look... I'm as pleased as a pig in mud that you're not blasting us anymore. You need to know that everyone over here is bracing for the next wave."

"There is no next wave." I sneer, "No matter how many times you ask."

"Why not open trade then?"

"We want nothing to do with your people. Especially with trade."


"I know something of your history, Yarboro. I have understood that your people use trade to take a foothold and then overrun those populations you have claimed to extend friendship to. You have done this with many on your own home world. You have done this with our people on Mycenea."

"What are you talking about?"

"You may cease to play stupid with me, General. You know what was done to my people. You came in and offered friendship to our population... And then you enslaved them."

"Bull crap."

"Apparently you only know half the truth. And you have told less than that to your people. Even to those that you sent to start new lives on Mycenea once you had taken it fully. Why not ask for more information about this? Ask of those divisions of your military that were sent forward to explore. I think you might be surprised."

He is silent for a moment, taking in what I have said, "I'll do that."

"Good good."

He has shown me over the years that he is willing to find fault with his own government though he still remains steadfast in his loyalty.

"Granpa? Mom says that dinner's almost ready." I can hear a child from off screen.

"Tell her I'll be in in a minute."

"Who you talking to?" A little boy comes into the viewing area, "Woah." His eyes grow large at seeing me, not the human he expected.

"So you are speaking with me from your home?" I chuckle.

"Yes. Don't get any bright ideas." He puts out his cigarette and picks up his grandchild. "David... This is the Prince of the Empire."

"No way..."

"Indeed. I greet you young human."

"You look different than what I thought." He says.

"Do I? How did you think I would look?" This is surely amusing.

"I thought yer ears would be bigger and you'd have great big fangs!"

"I hope I do not disappoint you."

"Nope. This is so cool. I can't wait to tell everyone at school!"

"Go tell your mom I'll be out shortly but don't tell anyone who I'm talking to. Grandma will have a fit and then I won't get dessert." He kisses his grandson and sends him on his way.

"So... Big ears and great big fangs." I muse.

"Yeh well they don't draw you pretty in these parts."

"I have seen before. Your government refuses to release images just drawings."

"Hell the only pics we have of y'all are from our confrontations and those are considered classified information." He shrugs.

"Why are you speaking to me from your home?"

"Told them I would try to talk to you. I didn't say from where. I didn't say about what. Hell, I'd talk sports with you if you knew football." He laughs, "They've all but ruined my Christmas with my family... So... Here I am on Christmas Eve, yappin' with you... I ain't in this for the money. I'm in it to keep my family safe."

"I see."

"One day you'll understand when you have some kids of your own."

"Perhaps." It is amusing that he thinks I am so young when we are in fact almost the same age in years. "Tell me something..."

"Shoot. You talk, I'll get back into the eggnog." He raises a glass to me.

"How is the Altean Princess doing these days?" I can feel my face betraying my worry and fight against it.

"Can't really say. The Alteans have been less than pleased with the support they got, the Alliance hasn't been pleased that our surveillance of the Empire from Altea has been interrupted. They've been keeping pretty quiet... She buried her father beside her mother and that's pretty much what I know. You spoke to her when you closed the borders so you know she's unharmed physically."

"True enough. She looked in good health..."

"Did what ya could to stop it, didn't you?" He takes another swig of his strange drink.

"I did not do well enough."

"You did something at least... Kid, I don't mean to be so blunt, but your dad's a bag of mixed nuts. Fall far from his tree."

"Ehnn?" More of their strange allusions.

"Just don't take after him if you can prevent it. Seems like you've matured a hell of a lot recently... Or at least you started taking your Ritalin." He laughs. "Tarnation, she put a lot of Southern Comfort in this stuff. I shouldn't be talking to you drunk."

"Ahht... It is amusing me at least. Your superiors would not be pleased."

"Yeh, well... I've got a turkey calling my name so Merry Christmas. Y'all try and stay under the radar so I can have a peaceful rest of my holiday, know what I'm sayin?"

"Enjoy yourself. Try not to fall asleep in your food, old man."

"Yeh yeh. Over and out, ya big blue bastard." He chuckles and closes the connection.


I finish my food and watch the signal trace. It is as he has said, he has somehow managed to make a connection from his home on Earth. He must have some friends in their own communications groups that were willing to do this for him. Even more surprising, there is no additional trace on this line. No one has been listening in.

"An honorable man." I nod, "What is Daytona? Hnnn."

I find myself bringing up a map of their planet and locating the origin of the signal— peninsula on the continent of North America. This 'Christmas' thing is a large holiday for them and many of their military will likely be drinking or drunk, much as my old friend the General was in speaking with me. It would be an ideal time to attack, to take them all by surprise.

The dark voices are whispering to me of conquest and death. It is a delicious taste, the knowing of a sure victory. Still many lives would be lost, for in their nervousness of our renewed attack they will have divisions on alert to meet any foes even during their holiday. My mind churns with plans and calculations until Laila returns to clear away the remains of my meal, breaking the chains that have wound around my mind with her smile.

"You were hungry tonight! There's nothing left!"

"I was pleased with the food." I nod, still trying to shake off the last of the hunger for enemy blood.

"What's wrong? Was your talk not so much fun?"

"It was relaxing, surprisingly enough." I take a long drink of tea and erase the connection map to the General's home to provide him the security he seeks for his family. "Laila..."


"Merry Christmas." I smirk.

"Is it Christmas?" She grins.

"Apparently so. The General spoke of it being Christmas Eve."

"Wow. I've really been out of it. Merry Christmas to you too, Baika. And to all a good night."

She kisses my forehead in parting for the evening, leaving behind a fresh pot of tea and myself smiling with amusement. I hail Shilne next to have a report of how things are on the borders. Fairly quiet with the human holiday.

"Do me a favor..." My smile grows.

"What is it you have in your mind, Baika?" He laughs.

"Have the Commanders, should they have dialogue with the humans for the next day, wish them a Merry Christmas."

"Ehnn?? Ahht... They have a holiday. I remember." He nods, "Why would we do that?"

"To confuse them... And to let my friend General Yarboro know that I am thinking of our conversation tonight. The results could be amusing. Let us have some fun with this."

"We could use some. Done done. Enjoy your night."

"I shall."

The days between my request and my departure to Mycenea are filled with video clips of our various level of Commander greeting the humans that come close to our borders quite cheerfully. My favorite comes from Banrek and his Commander Kiatan at the Communications Ministry. They have been annoyed further with requests to speak to me and so respond with much joy.

"Merry Christmas!!" In unison, with large smiles on both of them.

"And a Happy New Year!" Kiatan adds in as the rest of the staff in the room starts to sing one of their traditional songs. They had been working on this plan it seems.

"What the?? You've lost your friggin' minds!" The man on the other end is taken quite by surprise.

"And so have you if you think you will be speaking to anyone on this very important holiday! Do not call back." Kiatan grins at them and cuts the connection also ending the video clip.

"That is soooo funny." Laila laughs along with me, "I can see why you've been in such good humor."

"Nnh... It was a good idea. I have enjoyed the results thoroughly."

"Commander Kiatan's cute."

"Ahhhl... It must be breeding season for you."

"No! Sheesh! I can't even look at a guy with you around."

"I simply find it fascinating that you could refer to an accomplished Commander as 'cute'."

"He's a guy too, not just a Commander."

"True enough."

"And he looks much less dangerous when he smiles."

"Less talk, more packing." I wave at her to continue her task of putting together clothing for my upcoming journey.

"Oh, fine." She rolls her eyes up at me and goes back to her work.

"Everyone has to do their part to rebuild the empire. This is your part."

"And a glamorous one at that." She laughs.

On to 15