Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Why Drinking is Not a Good Thing

You know how you look when you are drunk... Your face curled into a smile, eyes drowsing, saying things in a language only half your own. You are a fool.

I do not know why I let myself do these things. I do know that I blame Shilne for this. I had been trying to keep such excessive behavior as part of my past, and yet he has pressed me to this debauchery. To his credit, I believe he feels that I simply needed to relax and so it was a means to that end.

Out of the drink come more dreams... Deep dreams... Those dreams that I hate for their torture upon waking from their warmth.

I look out across a field in the sun, seeing Shilne there, many children with him and filled with smiles. Just as he has said he wishes... Children hanging off him like moss from a refnan tree. He is happy and I am happy for him. Something attaches itself to my leg and I look down, seeing a young boy looking up to me with bright eyes and a big smile.

"Father." He says and offers me a small stone he has, "Mama founding this for you. She said me give it to you."

He is trying to speak to me in human words and I take the stone from him, feeling its weight and texture so clearly that even in my dream I marvel at it. Even the warmth of it for the sun it had been lying in.

"Where is your... Mother?" And I look up from his face at the motion near by, seeing her there, smiling toward me with such affection that my heart feels as though it might stop.

"Staring at Shilne's army again, are you?" She says as I marvel now at her presence, her beauty, and the feelings that she brings to me.

"I love you." I breathe towards her, watching as she smiles more.

"The country air is making you romantic."

I reach for her, so wanting to feel her textures, so wanting to feel her warmth against my hand.

"I love you."

Just as I am about to touch her, she fades away and my life fades in.

No... Just once... Stay...

I wake in agony, head pounding from the drinking of the night before, heart aching from the dream that has passed. Sitting up, I realize that I am in a strange place. Curse me that I have been lead by my gender again. The weight in the bed beside me is of one of the female entertainers from the night before. To no great surprise I see it is Sachay when my eyes can focus... These are her rooms and this is not what I want. I want to be back in my dreams, standing in the sun-warm fields with my sweetest of desires.

I rake my fingers through my hair, holding my throbbing head and gritting my teeth. Perhaps if I can just leave unnoticed... In shifting to move from the bed I wake her and she yawns and stretches.

"Why are you up so early, nnh?" She asks sleepily.

"I am leaving."

If only gravity was not holding me back from standing...

"So soon?" She sits up now, brushing back her long dark hair, "Ahhll... Such a look on your face. Your head must be scolding you for all the drinking."


"Aich, you are short with me... What is the matter, Kou? After all of my pursuit of you have I been less than what you had thought?" Her hand runs down my arm and I pull away, "Neh... What is the matter??"

I wince at her voice then feel her come and slide next to me, leaning on me.

"Excuse me."

"What is in your mind?" She asks, kissing my shoulder.

"Sachay, I should not have stayed with you. I was not of my correct mind and I have behaved shamefully."

"You behaved very well as far as I am concerned." She leans forward and smiles.

"Quite honestly I do not even remember coming here."

She laughs at my plight and rises from the bed, going to the bathing room to bring back some pain medication for me.

"Have some."

"Thank you."

I swallow the two pills as she settles behind me on the bed, rubbing my shoulders.

"Perhaps when your head clears we can go again so you can remember this time."

"Sachay... No."

"Ehn, why not?"

I turn a bit and look at her for a good while before answering.

"Sachay, I have no idea why you have pursued me for these many years."

A smile grows on her face, "Because you are handsome and strong and intelligent and difficult and stubborn and short of temper and wonderful in my bed... I do wish you remembered that last part."

She pushes me back on the bed and straddles me, closing her mouth to mine, and for a moment I relax, still feeling the aching to taste such a kiss from my dream.

I love you so...

My mind reaches out to the sweet creature that is so far from my grasp and I tense now, pushing myself apart from Sachay. "Stop." I sit up, knocking her off me in the process.

"Ahuu, but you are impossible." She concludes. "That must be why I like you... You do know I could have any man I want, Kou... But it is you that I want."

"You want a challenge. You do not want me."

I grab my pants off the floor and pull them on, rising from the bed and stumbling a bit. My head is not steady in the least.

"Is it so hard for you to believe that someone might actually care for you?" She growls then throws a pillow at me, "You are ruining my conquest, damn you. Finally I have you to myself and you can only think of flight."

I pull on my shirt when I find it in the wreckage and smile at her.

"Sachay, you are a beautiful, intelligent, talented woman. A great musician with a magical voice... Any man would be glad to have you."

"And why not you?"

"Perhaps I am simply not ready for such a thing."



"You love someone else, neh? Is that the name I heard last night?"

I feel a shock rushing up me, "A name?"

"Yes..." She frowns, "It is true then."

"I have no idea what you are talking about." I busy myself with gathering my topcoat and footwear.

"Look at you lying again." She laughs, "What is so special about her? Hnn?"

I shake my head, "Who knows what I was thinking last night? I certainly do not."

"By Gods... Such a liar." She clicks her tongue, pulling her legs up and resting her chin on her knees. "Come back to bed, Kou... I will make you forget her."

"I have to go." I smile, "I hope you will forgive me."

"I have no choice." She sighs, "Talk to me soon." And she falls back on the bed, pulling the covers over herself.

"I will."

I work my way out of her flat, finding a pair of my assigned guard keeping watch outside the door. Shilne must have seen fit to have them follow me...They congratulate me.

"A good night, sire?"

"If I could remember it, I would let you know." I mutter and they take me back to Manaleh.


The heat and steam of the bath begin to cut through the haze of alcohol that still clouds my mind. It does nothing to restore any memory of the events of the night that has past. I growl quietly—for my head is still aching with any noise—then sink slowly downward until the warm water is well above my throbbing head. Perhaps if I stay submerged the pain and sickness will end... When I drown.

Instead I return to the surface, taking a deep, humid breath, staring up at the intricately carved ceiling which seems to be rippling before my eyes. I gulp back a wave of nausea. My body will not escape its torment so easily. I hope that it will keep the memory of this foul feeling, thus preventing me from a repeat performance.

What could I have said last night? Whose name did I speak to Sachay in our passions?

It must have been that of she who still so haunts my spirit. I have a hope that Sachay has lost all memory of our night as have I. It is bad enough that I have spoken the name of another woman whilst in her embrace... To have her remember that name and begin to learn more would be worse.

Before I can fall asleep, I drag myself out of the hot water and under the heat vents to dry off. My body is clean but my mind still feels coated in muck. Perhaps Hanta will see my pained state and have mercy upon me enough to cancel the day of meetings that I have scheduled. I feel a bit of a smirk come to my face, knowing that instead she will likely add to my plight to punish me for such poor behavior. Gods, what a poor showing. Perhaps I deserve whatever punishment she sees fit to give me.

Hanta comes and finds me shortly after I have left the bath, standing beside me on the balcony with her eyes burning holes through my spirit.

"Good night?" She snips.

"Rrrhhh." I frown more than I already have been.

"Are you quite pleased with yourself?"

"No I am not if you must know!" I fume at her and she backs down in surprise. "Do not chastise me, Hanta. I am not a child... and I am already chastising myself."

"Ahht, are you then?"

I look back over the valley of the city towards the lake. "Yes. I will never forgive Shilne. Curse him."

"Him?? You were the one throwing them back one after another. He did not force you to it. And he did not force you out of the club to her home and to her bed!"

So the palace guard have told her all of it.

"I am a fool." I squeeze my eyes shut, "No more drink."

"I have heard that come from your mouth before." She folds her arms, "On more than one occasion, I might add."

"I mean it this time."

"And that."

"Silence..." I cast a sidelong glance at her.

"Ahhhllll..." She makes a face at me then pretends at sympathy with my plight, "Does your head hurt still? Perhaps I should sing for you. Would you like that? I wager that I can sing better than Sa-chay. Nnh?"

"By Gods, no! Quiet yourself."

"Hnnn... I will see then if I can get the cook staff to bring up some food for you."

My face tightens and I swallow hard on another wave of nausea, "No."

"A nice thick stew."

"Hanta..." I warn. She is positively grinning at this torture. "And you would accuse me of being a harsh person. You have no heart."

"At least I do not let my sex lead me around like a brainless fool." She prods me in the arm with a finger.

I feel the shame of it myself and hang my head, not denying it. How horrible, to dream of sweetness and love only to wake to realize that I am still only driven by my basest desires. I feel as though I have betrayed this love. I have betrayed myself... And I do not even remember!

"Well you seem to have enough of this on your mind... I will bring you something to settle your stomach." She leaves me there to be angry with myself.

"Forgive me." I say to the wind then return to the inner chambers.

Hanta brings me some soothing food before she begins the day's work with me. There are people to meet with so I must pull my wits into me. Trade accords, commerce routes, finalizing of building plans for Galrea now that the grounds have been completely cleared, new worlds that wish to join with the Empire, pirate attacks... The list goes on. She lays out the day for me and briefs me through my haze.

"Sho sho... So sweet." She comments at one point.


"A message from Menoh. Ryuaki is missing Laila very much and so she and a few of the palace guard are planning on spending an evening with him to keep him company. She is asking if I and Yuki would like to join. It is so nice to see this little group forming."

"Yes..." I rub my aching head a little.

"So ends your morning briefing, my sore Baika... But for one more thing that may not be appropriate under the circumstances."

"What is that?"

"Another offer of alliance through marriage."


"This latest offer is from the Kingdom of Tastian. It is on the northwestern border of the Empire. The royal family has a young daughter to offer you and while they are a relatively small kingdom in their holdings, their positioning is quite good." She passes me an image of the daughter over the katsun-link. "She is pretty. Looks a bit humanish."

I frown, feeling sick now for a completely different reason.

"Perhaps... I will consider it."

"You joke!" Her eyes grow wide.

"I do not... It may be time for me to accept my responsibilities in this position. To stop being led by my sex." I sigh.



"Before you decide on this foolish thing... Let me make offer to the Altean kingdom on your behalf." She says it as gently as she can.

"You are out of your mind." I mutter.

She leans forward, continuing to speak softly, "It is what you want."

"You are speaking out of place!!" I erupt, tightening my gaze upon her, "It is a human world, supported by the Alliance. Such a thing makes no sense."

"It makes perfect sense. You say you want to not be led by your sex... Be lead by your emotion instead."

With that I stand from my chair, slamming my hands onto the table that separates us. Hanta jumps, sitting back in her chair and leaning away from me as I lean toward her.


"What would you have me do, woman?? What?? Go to them, fall on my knees, and beg forgiveness??"

She winces under my screaming, "You... You could go and tell them the truth. The truth could repair so much..."

"The truth will not bring back the dead! The truth will not erase the past! The truth will not make me become a small, pink, human!!"

"In your own way, you tried to keep them safe. I know this. I have watched you!"

"In my own way... I have tried to destroy them." I snarl.

"Then open your hand to them now and help to repair the damage done."


"Offer assistance! We have helped many civilizations over the years. We have offered it to their ancestors on Balta! Why not to them? Show them a different side. Offer your open hand and help them to their feet!"

"Neh..." I glare at her, "Let us imagine how that would go... Good people of Altea... I bring this Imperial Division here to you to assist you with recovery. What? You say you are worried? I do swear we are here peacefully... You do not believe me? I am surprised!"


"Wait wait! Let me try again... Good Princess, I bow before you humbly to beg your forgiveness and offer you peaceful times. What do I ask in return? Only that we are able to offer our people safety while they are here to help you rebuild... By closing the borders of the Empire around your space to defend against your friends in the Alliance who will be angry that we have come to you. Do not be worried, we mean you no harm... You do not believe me? I am surprised!"

She opens her mouth again but I interrupt.

"Good Princess, it was not I that caused the death of your father. I did try to prevent it in fact. Ahht! You do not believe me? I am surprised!" I hold up my hand to stop her from trying to speak again, "Or perhaps I should try to explain how we are not the instigators of this border war. Do you think she would believe me then? Truly, Princess. It was the fault of your greedy, fat politicians. They wanted our fertile border worlds for their own. Enslaved our people! Killed them by the millions after pretending at friendship."

"It would take time!" She blusters before I can stop her.

"Time... Fah!"

"The Sisterhood of Advisors would assist in discussions and then-"

"The Sisterhood?? You would lead your group of university interns down to that hostile planet? How brave of you... Once you have finished with that little task will you then move on to change the minds of the rest of the Alliance citizenry?"

"It will not be a little task. I know this. I have my deep doubts that the Alliance leaders will ever take down their anger in order to speak in a civil manner to our people... But there is a good chance with the Altean colony."

"I have no idea how you can suppose such a thing!"

"There is a Baltan living there. He could be of assistance in speaking the truth that lies on the other side of the border."

"The little one that declared yustunai?"


"You think he will be so eager to speak on our behalf when we have closed our borders around his own home world? He is prevented from returning to his home, his family."

"I think he would speak with honesty instead of anger. Baltans are well known for their honesty and equity."

"Perhaps they would simply declare him a spy." I muse, "Then what of our own people? How happy do you think they would be to see their very new Emperor humbling himself to humans? Hnn? Offering them our help and taking food from our own people's mouths to feed those who had killed their families and friends... Do you suppose that the Empire will split at the seams? That war between the royal Diyas will erupt at what they will surely see as a sign that my much-whispered about human genetics are causing me to be weak? They will fight to take the throne... And then the Alliance could walk in to the fray and take as much as they wanted."

"Nonsense. You have already done great works here and throughout the Empire. Those that worry about you are silent from it. They can say nothing."

"That would not prevent many things being said." I growl, "Those Alliance fools... Had I crossed their borders to take their home world, they would have delivered her to me in a breath in order to save themselves."

"Is that all she is to you then?"


"Is that all she is? A trophy to be won? A piece of territory to claim? Had I known that, I would never have suggested making an offer to the Alteans. Saich, what was I thinking? You have released her people from slavery but she would be a slave to you. Just another thing... I thought you had some sort of emotion for the poor girl." She clicks her tongue, "Then I will hurry to speak to the Tastians on your behalf, for you do not care at all for what will become of her life. She will eventually marry and have children and grow old quickly—as humans do—and die... And it will not effect you at all. You will not have a regret or shed a tear for her."

"You know that is not true."

I struggle with my words as visions from my dream come. Visions of a loving wife and a fine young son. How will I feel when she is married off? How will I feel when she is mother to children that are not mine?... When she passes from the universe in so very few years from the old age that comes to humans so quickly.

Can I live with never speaking the truth to her? Can I live with never being a part of her life? Can I bear to watch at a distance as she passes and is buried, as it is her people's way to do with their dead? I would never be able to so much as stand at her grave to mourn her loss, to take a bit of the cruel soil that holds her to carry with me in remembrance of her.

There are so many doors that are closed between myself and my desire. So many obstacles. I find myself desperately thinking of ways that the Sisterhood of Advisors might be able to begin to make a way for our people to heal the old wounds without destroying everything I have worked for.

"Ahhlll... What is that look on your stubborn face? Is it emotion? Is it the truth at last??" She snipes.

Gods only know what I look like at the moment—in pain from my night and the distance from what I want of life. Seeing my inner turmoil Hanta becomes bold and stands up herself, hands on the table and leaning toward me, scowling.

"If you choose duty instead of a wife...You will never have bond with anyone. Can you live with that?? Or is that not a part of you because you are part of humans??"

Her reference to my mixed heritage cuts me, shocks me deeply for some sudden reason.


"Shut up!!" She screams back her interruption, "You... You are part of them whether you like it or not. They do not know that. You do... Do you not experience bond? Did you never taste bond with your mama??"

"Of course I did."

"Then do you want to never feel bond with your wife? How empty a thing might that be I wonder?"

"How dare you speak to me in this way..."

"I dare well. Dismiss me if you like, but you know I am speaking this to you as a friend. I care for you and your life. I do not want to see you miserable and alone though joined. You would not be miserable with her."

I shake with rage as I stand face to face with her, all manner of things to say to her flowing through my angry mind. She does not back down from me and I have no way to save myself. I have known her too long. I know she is not speaking in insult... And at last I shake my tongue free, my words angry but dry.

"This conversation is concluded. Your intention is appreciated... But you will not speak of it again... On to the first meeting." I turn and head out, Hanta following me with an exasperated whine.

The events of the day pass by through my mess of emotion and the aches I still feel from the previous night. My temper is short. Hanta is scolding. I do not want to be here now. I do not want to be hearing these petty concerns, bickering between the royal Diyas, the voices of the southern purists who complain of the freed slaves becoming part of their community... On and on it goes. My mind is far away and every time it is pulled back to reality, I grow angrier.

"... And so we would like to create a by-law in the Kianumatne city charter to limit the areas where humans can wander." General Counsel Biakuran bows as he finishes his presentation.

"What?" I shake my head and come back to the issues at hand.

"Ehnnn... As I was saying..."

"Gods, man... Stop droning on. Summarize or leave me." I snarl.

"Our citizenry is worried by the humans who are so much more visibly present in our streets."

I scowl more, "They do not like seeing the humans..."

"Yes. We would like to restrict their movements, keep areas of the city only for our true citizenry, Majesty." He bows again.

"Humans are your true citizenry, General Counsel. They have been granted full rights. They will wander where they will, as would anyone. I suggest that you and yours come to terms it."

"Majesty, it is all well and good to say so, yet that is not how our people feel. They do not want to be seeing these humans wandering about freely."

"Then I suggest that they move to Gyokete where there are no humans living!! I am ill of hearing such foolishness. The residents of Kianumatne City need to spend more time examining themselves and less time worrying about others."

"But Majesty... Surely you will concede..."

"Do you have any other things to place before me, or will you continue with this foolishness against my advice to you?"

"Majesty, I must bring to you the concerns of your people. It is my job to do so." He bows again, "Please at least consider these few requests. They are not so many restrictions as you might think."

"Sergeant..." I wave to one of the palace guard, "Take him to the holding area until he is ready to talk of other things."

"Yes, highness." He takes the man by the arm, "Come with me, General Counsel. Baika is finished speaking with you."

"Majesty! This is absolutely without merit!" The General Counsel blusters.

"Keep talking, and you will see more." I tell him sternly and he is silent then as he is taken away from me. "The rest of you... I am in no mood for more foolishness. If you have something worthy for me to hear today, something that will be helpful to our people instead of simply being done for appearances... Then bring it to me... Otherwise... Leave my presence until I am in more of a mood to be entertained."

"Majesty, he was doing his job." Another Counsel nods.

"I understand he believes he is doing his job. It is my work to make him realize he is not. If you are doing your job, you are coming here and bringing important issues. You are not going to waste the time of your king by talking of petty things." I stand up from my seat, Hanta taking a quick pair of steps away from me. "Every day I am here, listening to you and yours. Every day a kingdom sends its representatives before me. I have heard many valid things from the far kingdoms and have been duly impressed. Today I am here listening to my own kingdom's people speaking through its sworn representatives. I am not sure I have heard any sense at all so far. I am embarrassed for our home world. We are supposed to set an example here for the rest of the empire to follow... Not to whine and cry like selfish children."

I survey the crowd of Counsels who have gone surprisingly silent. No one seems willing to say anything more to me.

"I am here to listen to you. I am here to hope that my request to you to search in your communities for some creative ways to bring employment and success to our people has met with some results. Where are these results? Hnn? Does anyone have any such results?"

No one...

"Sit down." Hanta whispers, apparently thinking I've placed fear in these politicians by standing.

"Someone SPEAK!!" I bellow, regretting it quickly for the way it makes my skull feel as though it will splinter.

At last a southern male bows, "Majesty..."

"Come forward..."

The crowd parts, allowing him passage to bow before me.

"What have you to contribute?"

"I am Baiaranon of Akanu City, northern continent."

"Yes yes." So he is from the southern part of this continent. It is an area of mixture. Southern and northern living together. Shilne's family home...

"I have brought your request before a general assembly and we do have several ideas to better the lives of our many residents."

"Then let me hear."

"The university has suggested that they be allowed to offer selected classes to the public at no cost. That would result in bettering the education of our population, increasing their abilities to find employment and thus provide for their families. It would also bring back to the city a number of fine educators who have been lost to areas where there is funding to educate. It would also offer work to the publishing houses to put together the many books that would be required. Our education system has rather fallen apart over the course of many years of poor economy... The illiteracy rate is high. Our children are kept at home to work on the vast farms that surround our city. They should be in school..."

"I see... It is a problem with many parts."

"It is." He agrees. "The central part of it is that we have no funds to attract educators to our city. Those that are still with us need to be paid better."

"If you will put together numbers I will be glad to bring them to my next meeting with the Ministry of Finance."

"We are grateful, Majesty." He bows and offers up the packet of paperwork to do with his request to one of the interns Hanta is grooming to assist her.

"I am grateful to hear something worth my time today... No complaints of freed humans wandering your streets?"

"No, Majesty. We have long since accepted them in our community. They have not been dealt with in Akanu City the way they have elsewhere. We opened vacant lands to some of the humans that came from the southern continent so they could start their own colony." He shrugs, "They do not worry us. They are small, they do not eat so much... Visit our marketplace and you will see for yourself."

"I will."

"Traitor..." Someone in the crowd mutters.

"Ehn!" Baiaranon turns about and scowls a the man who has spoken, "You keep your opinions to yourself! You do not have to live with us. We are happy as we are. That does not make us traitors."

"You are a traitor to your pure southern blood, man. You waste your seed on that northern wife of yours."

"May the Gods have mercy upon you and not cause your mouth to rot and fall off." He turns his back on the man, "Excuse me, Majesty."

"Of course... Southerners have kept slaves, they demanded them from my father... Never before have we kept a conquered population in servitude. Southern egos wanted these little humans to be their servants and be humiliated. Now that they are free to leave their masters and find lives of their own, southern egos are bruised. They feel like they are living in the impure north! Horrible, neh?"

"It is." The man who has spoken out agrees. "We want them gone from our territories. Akanu can keep them if they are so fond of them."

"They are welcome to come to our friendlier borders." Baiaranon growls.

"You cannot force people to live amongst you in servitude and then expect to be rid of them when they are freed."

"And why not? Send them from our shores! We will praise you!"

"Hnnn... Again I will suggest that you move yourselves to Gyokete if you so object to their presence amongst you. Live with that which you have brought upon yourselves. If not from your constituent's demands, they would not be there at all, they would be all scattered on various farming colonies. Put your mind to work at making your community better for everyone that lives there... Or do not come here to complain to me of how poorly things are going."

Baiaranon grunts his agreement.

"You should not be so proud either. You need to learn, along with the northerners you live with, that southern purists want to antagonize you and chase you away, just like humans. Do not take their bait, for that is half their joy, to see you angry. Nnh? Show them you are better than that... All of you. Do better. We are here to set a high standard." I look across the group to see which faces are showing the agreement I seek and those that are not so happy, "Now... If there is no further business that I am willing to hear, this gathering is concluded."

No more comes forward to my relief so I make my way out of the audience chamber and into the halls, a wave of intern advisors and palace guards in my wake.

"Sergeant... Take me to the holding area. I have things to say to General Counsel Biakuran." I growl to the man on my left.

"Yes, Baika."

"I am coming with you." Hanta announces and hurriedly cuts herself free of the interns to follow us down another hallway.

"If you must come... You will say nothing. Not a single word, unless I ask it of you. Is that clearly understood?"

"Yes, Baika."

Biakuran is pacing in the cell he was been placed in when we arrive, muttering to himself. He stops his movement and glares toward me through the bars. It is an old-fashioned method of containment but it serves its purpose well.

"Release me from this chastisement. This insult."

"You are a bold man to make demands of me. I am not impressed by your bravery however."

"I have no care if you are impressed or not."

"Perhaps I will not make an ally of you today. You are content to speak for those whose pockets provide you with luxuries. You live on the west side of the city, neh? In the good sugarai communities? Or perhaps on the ocean? No doubt with a fine southern wife and many children with a proud ridge."

"And what of it all? That is my life."

"Nnh... It was your life."

"What are you talking about? You cannot kill me."

"I cannot? Why do you think this?" I smile most cordially.

"They would never let you get away with it. You know it would destroy any ties with the southern population."

"Would it? You are so important? I think not. Those that support you will find another to support in your stead if I place your head on a spike at the front gates... Or would it be more dramatic to simply carry on as though nothing had happened? No bloody remnants of you to be seen, no evidence of your passing. It will be a great mystery... People will wonder for years what became of you... Hnnn... I could also keep you alive here for my amusement. How quickly do you think your wife would find a new husband? I will be certain to bring you news of her marriage and images of her new children."

"You would not dare detain me."

"No. I do dare. I am doing it now... I have time..." I smile at him more, "Senior Guard, release him. Take him to the front gates and be sure he leaves this place. I want everyone to see him back in society again."

"Yes, sire." The guard I spoke to unlocks the barred door and opens it wide.

"What are you planning?" Biakuran wonders and does not depart the safety of his cell.

"Nothing at all, good Counsel. You are free to go. Carry on with your life as well and long as you are able."

"Hhrrrr... What is that look? You will free me and then I will disappear one day, hnn? Is that your thinking??"

"Never such a thing. Please... Go on your way. I hope our next meeting will find us able to accomplish something meaningful. Good journey to you." I nod to the guard who goes into the cell to extract him and escort him away. "There. That is done." I go down the hall and Hanta follows after.

"What was that? What did you just do? Are you going to send enforcers after him?"


"You let him go... With not so much as a scratch!"

"I did."

"You must be thinking something..." She hurries up to walk beside me and look at me in that way that shows she is trying to read my thoughts.

I shrug, "I was more angry when we began walking down here...Biakuran... Will not be a friend to me. Not now... But he means well by his people. He wants to follow their wishes... He lives a good life and he is supported by his constituents... But not as much as many are. It would not have been right to kill him for doing something that he felt best served the interests of his people. He honestly felt that. Not only to line his pockets... So he is gone back to his life now, but he will be thinking of me every day from here in. Do you think so?"

"I am sure he will have trouble sleeping for the next little while."

"I hope that over time of thinking about me every day, he might see the same in me. That I am doing the best to serve the interests of my people... And then he will be a friend to me and to my causes, even if we do not see eye to eye on some things."

"I hope you are correct. I am glad you did not even look as though you would draw your blade! Very impressed..."

"Ahhlll... Woman, go find your interns to treat like children instead of me for a while. Go."

"As you wish, Baika." She smiles and bows away, going down a separate hall.

Such a long day and still my head feels a twinge of pain. At least I will have a few moments to myself now. In my chambers I find Menoh putting away clothing that she has freshly laundered.

"Good afternoon, Baika." She smiles, "How has your day been?"

"Painful in many ways, Menoh."

"Should I go then?"

"Please stay as you will. You do not disturb me."

"Alright. Be sure to tell me if you want me to leave."

"Have you known me not to speak my mind?"


She laughs a little and goes about her business while I remove my jacket and select a book to divert my attention, sitting in the main room. When Menoh finishes her tidying she stands beside my chair.

"Excuse me for interrupting..."

"Nnh?" I look up.

"Tonight I am going to have dinner with Ryuaki... To keep him company... And then we're going to a play... Would you like to join us?"

"I thank you for the offer, but tonight I am not leaving this place."

"You did not have fun out with High Commander Shilne and the men last night?"

"Perhaps I had too much fun."

"Ahhlll... I see your meaning. Then stay in and relax."

"So I shall. My best to young Ryu."

"I will tell him you are thinking of him." She smiles and bows away.

Alone again, I sigh and place the book across my lap, resting back in the cushions and staring up at the intricate ceiling much as I had in the morning. It does not dance for me this time. From here, there will be no more mistakes. There will be no more losing control of my senses to drink... Or fury.

Hhnnn... Perhaps I should not decide on that so soon.

But things will get better from here. I will practice control to master it... And I wonder about that flock of interns. I wonder what would happen if Hanta lead them as her little nervous, advising army to Altea. Will there ever be a day upon which that would be welcome? Will the borders always be closed? Certainly it is the best thing for the short term... Our ancestors never imagined that things would come to this place when they found the humans that we now call Baltans, stranded in space.

Leaving behind my book, I go find some history records and sit at my desk, staring at the view screen. They looked harmless enough... They have proven over the many years that they were trustworthy and good new neighbors... Perhaps they were merely grateful for having been saved.

Before them, humans had no concept of our people, no thought of us. They must have been surprised to see blue faces coming to their rescue. The commander of the trade vessel that had come across them—their crippled few vessels—reported being surprised himself. Surprised mostly that once the Baltans had calmed, they spoke galactic trade language. They had been teaching themselves while they traveled in hopes that they might meet another race to speak it to. The language had arrived on their home world as space junk that was deciphered and then published. They told us that most of their people had thought it was a hoax.

With the permission of the Imperial Counsul—the way that things were handled amongst the kingdoms before my father became Emperor—the Baltans were brought to... Balta, the planet that we had used for years as a waypoint on trade routes. By all accounts they were very excited simply to breathe natural air after so long. They settled in quickly, creating a community and using whatever tools were given to them by the traders in order to live their lives.

They told our military about Earth, the political struggles, the rush to get into space and find other planets. They also told us about the space junk that had inspired their own journey—the knowledge of another space-faring people that had brought their technology far ahead of itself. They also warned us about their people and it was a good warning. They had not left their home without cause and we found out soon enough that they were right.

The Earth humans eventually managed to make contact with their lost kindred, they who now proudly called themselves Baltans instead of humans. In a few hundred years they had managed to turn a waypoint into a prosperous colony within the Imperial borders. Their people grew smaller as a result of heavier gravity and quite strong too. They were a determined people and happy. Their numbers grew alongside ours peacefully there... And then the Earth humans began to make demands. They wanted to claim Balta for Earth. They wanted the Baltans to agree to it and convince us that it was the best thing. They wanted to bring their military there and many more citizens. The Baltans refused. We were glad... But that is where the true trouble started.

Many years later—even after very abruptly closing the Imperial borders around Baltan space—the Baltans are still friends of ours. I was greatly surprised by their acceptance of the border closure when I addressed their governing body. They had met with their constituents and there had been no major objection to the termination of relations with Earth and related colonies. If anything there was an air of relief that they would no longer have to suffer demands from the Alliance.

The non-human half of the Baltan government was simply pleased that they would no longer have to expend so many resources containing human traffic at their very very busy port. For many years it had been more of a headache than even I had suffered that morning. So much work to make sure that they remained within the port center of Mykonos. No Alliance citizen had been allowed past those gates into the general population of Balta. Even so the Alliance protested greatly, feeling that their last view into the Empire had been blinded. Regardless of our conflict with the humans, I have always been amazed by the Baltan people and their refusal to act as informants for their ancestors.

I wonder why it is that not all humans can be as good at being neighbors as these Baltans. They are one of many groups that our people have given aid to. We live in harmony with many types of creature, more than we fight.

Gods, is there any way that our assistance might not be seen as a threat to the Alteans?

I have at my disposal an entirely new division devoted to recovery, and I cannot use it to extend a hand to the Altean people. There is no way that such an action would be able to be concealed from the whole of the Empire, no matter how many assurances of secrecy I extracted. It would have to be done publicly. Worse, the Alteans would have to have some sort of assurance that we would not use assistance as a gateway to domination. It would take much more than simply having Hanta share a cup of tea with their Colonial Minister. Such a mess...

I put aside my history reminder of the Baltan people and pull up the detailed reports of the destruction my father's troops had inflicted upon the Altean colony. It is worse than what I had last seen. My stomach tightens. Father was very thorough. Every major ground transportation artery has been broken. Their military installations have been decimated, communications cut, crops burnt, storehouses merely holes in the ground.

I sit for hours and try to sort out the details of repairing so much damage. Hanta finds me working as the sun is gone.

"Ehn, what are you working on there?" She raises an eyebrow.

"A private few projects." I sit back in my chair, sliding a blank page over those I have been filling, "Do not be so curious."

"I am always curious of what you are thinking on. You have a look on your face of great concentration. I can either be worried or curious or hopeful that you have dedicated your energies to a wonderful new project for our people. Which should I be?"

"I would suggest you be hopeful... And keep clear of my affairs for I still have an aching head."

"Ahhll... Even after so long?"

"It appears that the Gods wish me to remember the results of my spent evening for a long while. Who am I to deny them their lesson to me?"

"Only a man." She smiles a little, "Am I forgiven for this morning?"

"Which part of it, may I ask?" I scowl.

"All of it... Save for the parts that were meant in your best interest. I should not be screaming at my King and Emperor... Regardless of my personal feelings."

I nod, "Perhaps it is best that you have some concern for me beyond being my advisor. I have seen the benefits of it over the years... I have no ill will toward you for your behavior this day that has gone... I have some appreciation, in fact."

"I am glad then. I will have something soothing brought for your late meal and some tavisk tea to calm your aches." She places a few pieces of paper before me, "If you will be good enough to review this by morning I would be grateful."

"I will do my best to labor through it... Hanta..."


"I have been thinking..."

"Of what?" She encourages as I am slowing my speech.

"What you suggested this morning. Offering assistance and reparation."

She comes closer to my desk, cautious but curious, "Go on..."

"I have been thinking of many things. I need your honest opinion, your opinion without personal feelings."

"I will do my best to give it to you."

"Do you believe it would be possible now to offer the Altean people assistance? Without upsetting the balance in the Empire, without upsetting the Altean people."

She weaves her fingers together and thinks hard before answering.

"Baika... I believe that your initial assessment was correct. That it would cause problems in the Empire to assist a human colony openly at this time. And too, that it would be nearly impossible to convince the Alteans of our good intentions. It is likely best to leave them to their own ways, just to let them try to recover without worrying about us for a while. One day perhaps we will be able to extend our friendship to them... Right now... It would not be so good, whether or not I would like it to be." She frowns.

"You have good thoughts, Hanta. You want the best for all people."

"Thank you... Gods, I hate it when you are right!"

"In this case, I hate it myself." I offer her a conciliatory smile. "I would appreciate it if you would let me know when you believe it might be a good time."

"I will do that." She sighs.

"Until then I will continue to devote my energies to our own people's recovery. I hope to have your continued assistance with this grand task."

"You know you will have it. Without fail." She smiles, "I will go and see about your late meal now, nnh?"

"Good good. I had almost forgotten to be hungry. Hurry!"

"I will I will." She laughs a little at my sad attempt to lighten the air.

She goes on her way and I sit, still thinking over the problem. For now it will not be solved. I do have to concentrate on other things. The best way to help the Alteans now is to leave them alone...

On to 20