Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Temple at Chiyor

A full cycle has now passed since I have been the King and Emperor. I mark this day by decorating my father's container with flowers in his least favorite color. I want to keep this a quiet day but the people seem to be intent upon celebrating. I make a brief appearance on the balcony over the main courtyard of Manaleh then leave my people to their festivities. The spring is upon us yet again and I enjoy the fresh cool air while awaiting my traveling party.

Tomorrow we will all be departing for planet Waiut to dedicate the newly restored temple at Chiyor. The Priests and Priestesses have been very pleased with my work at rebuilding the temples both here on Forth and elsewhere in the Empire. Our Gods are alive and well once again. Prosperity has been returning to us in great strides and I am so proud of my people.

Today there are a few final plans to be solidified. Midiri, Hanta, Giihio and his family will be coming along with Shilne who will command the military travel escort and Seriku who has been responsible for organizing the restoration effort on my behalf. This will be her first journey to another of the Imperial worlds. Her instructors are finally satisfied that she is ready to accompany her Emperor to such important events. She is nervous, however. Shilne is pleased that he will be able to stare at her constantly while he works. Hanta reminds him to remain focused on his own duties so that Seriku may make the most of this event and learn how to comport herself on a military vessel.

We board the carrier Tokei together and join the number of the 102nd fleet in orbit around Forth. Our flock heads for the local skip point. From there it should only be three days of travel. I pass the time with work, being part of Seriku's training, and also allowing Muiy to braid my hair as she is so fond of this still. She is becoming rather skilled and does not make me look a fool. It entertains her while she sits with me on the command deck of the carrier.

"Someone is coming." She says to me as she has finished some of her finest work.

"Hnn? Who?"

She shakes her head, "I don't know. But they're angry."

"Majesty! We are picking up a small fleet heading this way from the border zones." One of the deck ops calls out.

"What is their origin?"

"They are human. It is a small group of Alliance vessels, mostly support vehicles. One main carrier."

The cost of moving so close to the borders for this journey. I sigh.

"Ignore them. Keep on course."

Muiy starts to examine her handiwork, "You look very nice." She concludes.

"I hope so. I may need to speak with some angry people today."

"Yes you will."

"Muiy, I do wish that you were not correct so often as you are." I smile for her.

"Me too." She hops down from my lap and wanders away to see what some other people are doing on the command deck.

"Majesty, they are closing on us quite rapidly. They know we are here."

"Ignore them." I repeat.

A while passes. I can see these vessels coming into view on one of the monitors.



"They are powering weapons."

Shilne finally takes notice and gets up, going over to the man who has noticed this.


"They are indeed, Royal High Commander. We are being hailed."

I get up, facing the monitors, "Respond, open a channel."

The forward monitors change to a view of the bridge of the hailing human vessel. One of their officers is before me.

"This is Alliance battleship Kansas hailing unidentified Imperial carrier. Respond."

"What do you want of us??" I feel no need to disguise my annoyance with their approach.

"Ah, Prince... What a surprise."

"No small talk. Power down your weapons now!"

"We will not."

"Then I have nothing to say to you for your rude behavior. Keep on your side of the border, human." I cut the transmission, "Border-facing shields to full power. NOW."

"Yes, Majesty."

"If they dare fire upon us, no mercy!" I call to the fleet that surrounds us.

Hanta winces at my tone, "Knew this was too peaceful..."

"Majesty, they are hailing us again." The communications sergeant informs.

"Ignore them! I will not speak to their unwarranted hostility." I throw up a hand.

They continue to hail and finally their weapons are powered down.

"They are hailing again."

"Bring them on."

I rest back in my seat on the command deck to wait for the signal to attach. Now there is a General before me. One I am familiar with.

"Well Prince, what brings you out here?" He asks.

"Ahht, good General Yarboro. It has been a long while. I see you are still as concerned with the affairs of others as ever you were and I am just as unwilling to share my business with you. Why have you come at us in hostility in this neutral area?"

"I think you know." He scowls.

I return his sentiment with a frown, "Some sort of unimaginative assassination attempt? You think to win a promotion with the death of the Imperial Prince?"

"I darn near do wish that was my mission at the moment, but it ain't. Believe you me, nothing would put a smile on my face more than to see you in a pool of your own blood, son."


Muiy comes over to me again and looks at the strange man on the screen then giggles. I cannot help but smile and the General looks rather shocked to see her.

"What's this? You bring kids with y'all? Some sort of living shield? Yer more of a monster than anyone imagines."

"Please... Do not be so foolish. We are not here on a military mission. We are traveling. On our way to a religious occasion. There are a number of women and children aboard and you have approached us with unwarranted hostility. Are you proud of yourselves?"

"This ain't about pride, blue." He snaps, "Is that your kid? The next generation of murderer?"

He is certainly in a poor mood today, not even close to sharing niceties. I wonder if his investigation into the circumstances surrounding the war yielded nothing, and so now he simply sees me as a deceiver. Perhaps this is the reason for his anger. Perhaps his own people have managed to lead him toward the belief that they instill in the rest of the Alliance citizenry—that we are the invaders, not the invaded.

"She is beautiful, but she is not my child." I reply.

"Why are you so mean?" Muiy surprises him with her question and placing it to him in his own language. "It's not nice to call names."

"She speaks our language??"

"Muiy is a very smart girl." I praise her.

"Are you being mean because you lost something?" She asks and her little eyes go wide, "They lost people. They think it is your fault." She tells me.

"How does she know that?" Yarboro grunts.

"She is the daughter of a priest. She has the gift of sight and so she knows many things... Muiy, go to your father for a moment."

"All right." She wanders away.

"Is this why you approach us in hostility? You blame us for a loss?"

"Absolutely. Your warbirds infiltrated our territory and took a transportation vessel containing people who were on their way to a farming colony to live. They came this way when they were retreating."

"Nonsense. We have no such things going on. We keep to our side of the borders as we ask you to keep to yours. If there are such things happening it will be dealt with swiftly."

"Good! Then get on with it!" The General turns up a view screen behind him and shows some of the footage they have captured of the incident.

I set my teeth with anger at seeing that our own vessels are indeed attacking this traveling party. However, it does solve a mystery.

"You have done me a great favor, General. Shame upon you!" I laugh.


"I have been looking for these traitors. Those ships were stolen from the Empire by traitorous members of one of our divisions. I had thought they might have come your way and given over the stolen craft for sanctuary in your territory."

"Instead they've been raiding our ships."

"Give me the last known path and we will go and find them with great haste."

"We want our people returned to us unharmed."

"I have no idea of what they have done with your people and so I cannot guarantee this. If they are well I will return them to you well. You will get them back as they are."

"We're going with you. I don't trust you as far as I can throw you, kiddo."

"I do not trust you either." I reply to his anger with a cheerful smile then let it drop quickly into a frown, "Stay on your side of the border. Pass the information to us now or we will be on our way and you will come away with nothing."

He hesitates only for a moment before passing it on.


"I have it. Bringing the Imperial repeaters on line."

"We are going with you." Yarboro restates.

"Do not test my patience." I snarl.

"In my position you would do the same."

"Perhaps." I nod. "Yet in my position you would also do the same..."I think for a moment, "I will allow you to board our carrier if you wish to supervise this yourself, but I will not allow your ships into our territory."

"Majesty..." Shilne warns, "It may indeed be an assassination attempt."

"Disarm them then." I change languages again to speak to the General, "Are you coming or staying?"

"Coming... Assemble a boarding party!" He says over his shoulder, his men hurrying to respond to his command.

"Keep mindful that we will not tolerate foolishness from your people. Make certain those that accompany you are disciplined." I cut the transmission, "Prepare to meet them in the landing bay. Akuuo! Take your men and greet them. Be hospitable, but do not bend to their nonsense. I want them all disarmed."

"Yes, Majesty." He bows and goes on his way.

"This is not a good idea." Shilne warns.

"Perhaps not. Yet he is correct. I would want the same in his situation. Right now I simply want to get my hands on the throats of those who have embarrassed us."


The command deck is alive with activity as they work on finding the traitors while I watch the exterior view screens. The Alliance ships are hanging silent and still, facing ours, waiting for any sign of battle. Finally one transport shuttle immerges from their command carrier and heads toward ours.

"Contain the landing bay. Do not let our men into it yet. Full shields. If they do something stupid I want the damage contained."

"Yes, Majesty!" One of the ops officers on deck barks and hurries to do as I ask.

"How many are aboard?"


"At least he is not being excessive..."

The shuttle lands without incident and the bay doors close, re-pressurizing. Shields go up outside and inside the forward shield comes down so our men can go and meet them. I watch the view screen of the bay, seeing the tension. Akuuo has done a fine job of keeping his men calm as they request the visitors to relinquish their weaponry. At first they refuse of course.

"You will not be allowed further into this vessel until you disarm." He states, "Make your choice. Return to your shuttle or disarm."

They disarm instead and Akuuo and his men surround them peacefully, escorting them on the long march up to the command deck.

"What progress?" I inquire of those who are searching for the traitors.

"We have tracked them. They are not too far from here. The humans were on the right coarse in pursuing them."

"Do we have any troops closer?"

"High Commander Resual of the 74 has a fleet in the area." Shilne remarks. "Our long lost friends of the 53rd appear to be making for pirate space."

"Then hail Resual. Have them stopped then lay in a course to meet them. Leave half of our forces here to watch over the humans. I do not want them in our space. The rest come with us."

"Yes, Majesty."

Our view changes as we turn away from the human vessels and head back into Imperial territory.

"Full speed."

"Yes, Majesty."

Shortly one of the sergeants comes onto the deck with a bow, "Royal High Commander! Your visitors are here. Allow them onto the command deck, Majesty?"

"Please do." I rise from my seat and briefly Hanta fusses with my attire then retreats.

The ten humans arrive on the command deck, greeted first by Shilne.

"Welcome aboard the carrier Tokei. I am High Commander Shilne." He says to them and they nod, "You have had your weapons removed from you by our men. I suggest to you that you do not offer us any difficulty for we do not wish to offer you any. We will return you and yours to your own soon... General, come forward."

He escorts Yarboro over to stand with me—already scanned for all hidden weapons and found clear, I have no worries.

"General, our Prince and Commander of all the armed forces." He lies in his introduction. "Bow your head."

"I will not." He scowls at me.

"You will show your respect or you will leave." He states. "Bow your head."

He has no choice and though he grumbles, he bows his head to me briefly much to my amusement.

"Welcome aboard, General Yarboro. You are a proud man but I am glad to see you have some sense."

"Have you found our people yet?" He moves away from chatter.

"Straight to the point." I laugh.

"We ain't here for a tea party..." He says, casting his eyes about the command deck.

"We have found them and are on our way there. A commander of the 74th division has troops in the area where they have fled and I have hailed him to bring his forces to contain the traitors until we arrive. It appears that they were on their way to sell your people to pirates in the slave trade. At least that is what we assume from their course."

"Fantastic." He looks back to me, "You're looking healthy."

"Unfortunate, is it not?" I smirk.

"That's round about what I was thinking." He nods.

"Take heart, General. There are some things that you may not like that will still serve you well on this day."

"Mmh. We'll see."

"So little trust. It surprises me!" I say with some sarcasm.

"Right... You're just as full of horse hockey as ever, son."

"And what does that mean? Some more of your negative slang for my ears."

"Pretty much." He smirks, "I'm just amazed your eyes ain't brown." He chuckles at his own joke.

"Your negative sentiments are returned with great enthusiasm. Be glad you are standing on my command deck instead of in a detention cell."

He ignores my threat, "Not dressed up for combat I see."

"As I said, we are not on a military journey. Thus, no uniform."

"Where y'all off to?"

"That... Is none of your concern."

"All right... Then what's the skinny on the traitors you claim?"

"That is also none of your concern. Let it remain that we have our own internal struggles to contend with. We will deal with them and return your people to you."

"Okay I'll try again... How do you know that the raiders that took our people are the ones you are looking for?"

"That is rather simple. The video you took of the attack shows that the craft were of an old style. There are no more vehicles in our fleet that resemble those... Aside from those that were taken by the traitors."


"Majesty, the targets are in range of the 74."

"Good. Request that the 74 intercept them only, spread out and meet them head on. No fighting yet. Just contain them."


"Time to intercept?"

"Quarter taik."

"Splendid." I fold my arms across my chest and smile. It will be wonderful to see these commanders again. "It will be a short while until we are at their faces." I say poorly in the human tongue.

"What do you plan to do? Negotiate?"

"Gods, no. I do not negotiate. I will divide and conquer. You will see."

"I don't want my people hurt."

"Of course not. I will do what I can for them."

"Majesty." Mercifully there is an interruption before the General can protest that this is not enough.


"We are in scanning range. They have approximately 1,000 lives onboard the stolen human transport."

"Saich... Very well. Can you separate out our people from human?"

"Yes. That was the complete number. Ours are approximately 50 in number."

"Good good. Hurry things along."

Shortly the traitors realize they are being confronted by the 74 and take evasive maneuvers.

"Surround them!" I call to my troops and watch the fun happening on the view screens. "Hail them. Open a channel to the lead stolen vessel."

"Yes, Majesty... Channel open."

"Traitorous members of the 53rd... Deserters one and all. Answer your Royal High Commander! Speak to me, you cowards!"

No response comes.

"Come now... Do not miss this rare opportunity! Speak before we destroy you all!" I laugh.

No response.

"We will play it your way..." I cut the channel, "Override all of their communications systems. I want my voice on every deck of those ships."

"Yes, Majesty." The communications officers hop to the task quickly, "Done!"

"Excellent. Open all channels."

"Channels open."

"Traitorous former members of the 53rd..." I begin again, now assured that all can hear my voice, human and traitor, "You have been led astray by your commanders. I offer you a chance to prove yourselves and to rejoin your brothers in combat. Piracy is no honorable life for a warrior! Your commanders would have you think that your former division members were executed. This is not the case. All have been assimilated into other divisions fully and serve the Empire proudly once again. The only life taken was that of your former High Commander and that was of his choosing. You have opportunity! Take it my brothers. Bring me your commanders and you will be free. Do not make me wait long for your response. You have a half taik to make your decision." I signal to cut the channel and it is done.

"Cleared, Majesty."

I turn back to the General with a smile, despite Hanta's expression. "Now we shall wait for a short while."

"What the hell did you say to them?"

"I gave them the opportunity to do the right thing." I say and once again we are interrupted.

"Majesty. There is a mass of movement aboard the carriers."

"Weapons being powered?"

"None of the lead carrier's weaponry but smaller arms are being discharged aboard that vessel and the human vessel."

"Perfect." I grin. They are tracking down their commanders for me. They are not the fools I have taken them for.

"What's going on??"

"Patience, General." Perhaps the human trait of impatience is due to such short lives. But then my patience is rather short as well...

"We are being hailed by both the Kaitur and the human transport." The lead communications officer calls out shortly.

"On screen if they have video." I wave a hand.

The screen divides and shows me both command decks. There are a total of 3 sergeants assembled and they bow to me quickly which causes me to make a mental note not to cause them too much harm when they come aboard.

"I see you have done something smart today." I smile.

"It should only be a few more moments before we have acquired the last commander, sire."

"Good good. Making for the borders to sell some humans, were you?"

"Yes, Majesty. What shall we do with them?"

"Return them to their people. I have one of their Generals here with a flight crew to do just that. Should I have any concern of sending a boarding party over to their transport?"

"No, Majesty. All will be safe."

"You will be well rewarded for your quick actions." I assure them, "Have your commanders brought over here within the next quarter taik. Restrained, unconscious, or dead if necessary...And those of you who will speak for your men also. I will be sending the boarding party to the human transport to take over there. Your men may reboard Kaitur after the systems have been transferred back to the humans."

"Understood." The higher sergeant bows.

"Close channel."

"Done." The communications officer states.

"Well... That was pleasingly simple." I comment. "Akuuo, you will send a team with the humans to ensure that there is no stupidity to be found over there. Once they have things in hand, and you are sure there are no traps, send that crew back to Kaitur so they may be escorted home with their support vehicles. Bring yourselves back here along with those sergeants and commanders. I would like to speak with them before sending them onward... We will fly alongside the human carrier to return it safely to their side of the border, then we will be on our ways again."

"Yes, Majesty." He approaches with his seconds.

"General, your people await you... Go with Akuuo. Do not do anything foolish, if you would be so kind. I would hate to have to destroy you all after such a peaceful transaction." I smile neatly and he frowns in response. "Cooperate with my people and you will be well on your ways before I begin dealing with the traitors."

"No killing." Hanta mutters.

"What was that?" The General has caught her speech.

"Ahht... A comment on how I will likely deal with them. Hanta does not care for my temper."

"Your wife?"

"No." Says Hanta, surprising him with another of our own speaking his tongue. "I am our Prince's Senior Advisor." She bows slightly.

"Sounds like you have a hell of a job, lady."

"That I do. I rather enjoy my work." She smiles a little. "It is never dull."

"I'll bet... Well... Here's to salt in old wounds." He thrusts a hand toward me and stands there expectantly while I raise an eyebrow at him, not sure what to make of this gesture. "Shake." He prompts.


"He means for you to take him by the hand in a display of thanks and friendship." Hanta interjects.

"Not necessary." I tell him, "Be on your way."

He frowns once again and drops his arm back to his side, "Can't be civil even for a moment, can ya? I guess it's true what they say... Some people will never change."

"There is a long way to go before I will take any of your side of the border by the hand... I do not intend to make that journey." I tell him, "Do hurry along. This situation has already caused us to be late to our destination... Shilne."

Shilne comes along and takes over.

"Follow me, General. The Prince is done speaking with you."

He mutters some things I do not care to worry about understanding and leaves the command deck with his men.

I stand forward and watch the activity on the monitors. Everything is going smoothly. They must not have enjoyed being parted from their families and regular military duty. The smaller skiffs and pyatons are being forced aboard the 74th's carrier to be disarmed and have their pilots detained. Shortly Akuuo and the human group are heading to dock on the human transport. No incident. He returns with our men all in order, after sending the Imperial soldiers back to the Kaitur which is then towed into the 74th lead carrier for transport back to Galrea.

"The reclaimed human carrier is hailing."

"Open channel."

There is the General again, "Everything seems to be in order." He says, "There are a few bruises and scrapes on those who resisted the abduction, but other than that everyone is still healthy."

"Good. Then you will be on your ways. Await our escort and do not deviate from the path we set, if you please. Gods keep you, General Yarboro."

He nods and then cuts the channel. I have simply made him angry again it appears. He seems eager to either hate or to make peace and there is no middle place. I am glad when I see their reclaimed transport powering and aligning itself with our vessels. My own men are returning with the commanders and sergeants from the 53rd. One of the four rogue commanders is dead, one is unconscious, another two badly beaten. All four are deposited on the command deck at my feet.

"And so it ends. You will be returned to Galrea so that I can... Spend some time discussing your poor decisions with you at a later date. At least you were loyal. Unfortunately you were loyal to the wrong cause."

"You are the traitor, half-breed disgrace." One of them has the fire to still curse me.

"I can see that our discussion will be particularly entertaining." I smile at him.

"Give me a blade and I will show you just how entertaining it will be." He snarls.

"I will, if you still feel that way when next we meet. My father is gone, Commander. I am not so sure what you think you are fighting for."

"I am fighting for our ways. For the truth of our race, our purity."

"Purity." I scoff, "I have heard it for all my life. Still I am Emperor. Still I lead our people to prosperity. They are our people. Not yours, southerner."

"You simply infect our people. You prosper on the hard work of your proud southern father. The Empire was his achievement, not yours. Galrea was his achievement, not yours."

"True enough. It was his will that united the kingdoms into an Empire. I am here to carry on the good that would come of that. Galrea... That is different. It may have been his ego, his pride that built it... But it was mine that tore it down."


"Father's Eastern port is no more. I have built my own in its place. It is quite beautiful and made by many minds, many hands that represent the vastness and diversity of the Empire. Northern and Southern both are celebrated in its making. You will enjoy seeing it when you arrive. I hope you will enjoy the new cells. They are much nicer than they were." I feel a great satisfaction from their expressions of surprise, "Akuuo... Take them to the 74th with instructions to keep them in their care to the cells of Galrea. I am sure that their High Commander will be pleased to escort the whole lot of them back home. Sergeants... Go along with them. Go home to your families. When you are ready, contact your local bases and find reassignments."

"Thank you, Majesty." They bow along with the senior sergeant, "You are most generous given our failure."

"Nnh... I am... I hope you will keep that in mind in future times when people will speak poorly of my rule. Your families need you. Things are much better these days, but it must strain them to be without your support. Do your best to counsel your subordinates to this fact as you journey home. Things are different now. It may take some adjustment. You will be debriefed at Galrea."

"We are in your debt. You will not be failed again."

"I know this. Go now... Akuuo..."

"Yes, Majesty." He bows low and gestures to his men to take them out of my sight.

"Impressive." Hanta notes, tapping along on her katsuna.

"What?" I cast a sidelong glance at her after sending off my thanks the High Commander of the 74th.

"You did not kill anyone."

"It was not the right time. I do not wish to go off to the temple dedication with blood on my hands... We will see if that angry Commander truly wishes to face me in combat. Then things may be different."

I return calmly to my seat on the command deck and wait until all the end details are sorted through then call to resume our journey. The human transport joins the movement back toward the neutral zone. Seriku brings me a cup of water and bows away as Hanta arrives to question me further.

"Why did you decide to set the others free?" She pesters.

"Nnh... It was my decision to make."

"Yes, but why?"

"I saw their expressions when they saw Giihio... The first priest they will have seen on a military vessel. Then they saw Muiy. She smiled at them and I swear I could see they were on the verge of breaking. They miss their families. I know for certain that they will go directly home to them after their debriefing. They will heal themselves and their families and then they will return to service. Perhaps in their own communities, perhaps in the military. I doubt that most of them will return to active military duty. They will stay close to home. They will be grateful that their failure has given the opportunity to do better instead of death and they will not fail again. I am satisfied."

"They also see you differently. They will pass the news of their gratitude on to their families and community."

"I had also thought of that." I smirk.

"Hnnn... You are being hailed on a private channel from the human transport." Shilne mentions.

"Bring it on screen."

Once again it is General Yarboro, "I need a private word with you..."

"Private... Comm Sergeant, transfer this channel to my quarters."

"Yes, Majesty."

"Should I go with you?" Hanta inquires.

"Not necessary." I get up, "Command is yours, Shilne."


In my quarters I settle in for a smoke and bring the secure channel on line.

"What is it?" I frown at Yarboro where he sits on the other side of the line alone.

"I needed to tell you that I looked into what we discussed in our last private chat..."

"Did you then?" I smirk and take a long draw on my smoke.

"Yes... Since it's just you me and God here on this line, I figured I'd tell you before I got back into Alliance scanning range."

"I am grateful. What did you learn?"

"Jack-all... Lips that are usually flappin' in the breeze are tight shut. The more I poke around, the more walls I hit... So I suppose what I am getting at is that I tend to believe ya."


"Same with Vioal and Paikur, right?"


"My condolences for your people's losses."

"I am appreciative of your sentiment. It is the first such thing I have heard from your side of the border."

"Yeh... It's how it goes, kiddo. You and me are military men. We get our orders from politicians and we carry them out. Some of us go beyond that to find room for justice even when there seems to be room for none. We all want to believe that our cause is the right cause to fight for. Keeps us going. But when the politicians start doing things out of greed and not justice... Something has to be done. It's unconscionable." He frowns, this time not from my comments to him. He is bothered by what he has learned.

"I agree with you. I have done some battle with our own corrupt politicians recently. It is the same for all peoples, Yarboro. It is not based on skin color. There needs to be someone to stop it though. I have done my best with great result. It has caused turmoil in the short term... But in the long term... Prosperity and peace. Will you take up this cause for your people? Are you that man?"

He shakes his head, "I don't know... Let me just say this... It wouldn't have happened on my watch... No sirre. Woulda told them to shove it... But I know plenty who wouldn't have... We've got issues over here, but not so much to justify mass-murder."

"Your politicians are not used to asking for help. They are used to taking what they think they need. Demanding... May I tell you, years before I was born, your people were testing ours. Peace talks were not working. We would have helped your people. We have helped many peoples over the long years of our mastery of space travel."

"The Baltans prove your point. You needn't convince me any further..."

"You are a just and proud man. You will do the right thing. Yet I advise you not to rush at anything. Go carefully. Nnh?"

"Only way to go in this case... Do me a favor."

"Favor? What favor?"

"Reject some of my calls, would ya?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, everyone seems to think that I'm the magic key to your kingdom, that any time they want to talk to you they should ask me to do it. I'm sick of it, frankly... And it's also drawing unwanted attention to my... Investigation."

"I so look forward to our conversations though." I chuckle.

"Yeh yeh, you're growin' on me too, kiddo. Just reject some. You savvy?"

"Ehnn...How will I know if it is an important conversation I am missing?"

"I'm smart enough to talk to you privately." He taps a finger on his temple and then his shoulders drop, "Sweet Jesus, I need to retire."

"Not quite yet, old man. You have work to do. One day, you and I should share a drink and smoke in more peaceful surroundings. Do your best to keep alive until that day, neh?"

"Believe you me, I have every intention of staying alive as long as I can." There is a beep and he palms a device with a small screen, "Coming into comm range. Time to say good bye."

"I am pleased to have met with you again. Keep care."

"Thanks for the assist...I owe ya one."

"I will keep that in mind."

"I don't half doubt you will... Well... Don't take any wooden nickels." He waves a hand and cuts the transmission.

"Wooden...? Hnnn..."

This has been the first time I have met the man face to face instead of over a video channel. He was shorter than I had thought he would be, however most humans are that way... He also looked rather tired... I look forward to the day when we will share that drink, share tales of combat and adventure. No doubt his are large tales given the way he usually speaks. My katsuna signals as I am watching the traces of our conversation being wiped from the human transport's records. He is no fool.

"What is it?" I inquire.

"The humans are going back across the border. We will resume our course once they have reached their fleet safely."

"Very good. Carry on."

I break the connection and sit in silence for a time before returning to the command deck. Many things have begun to unfurl in the dark corners of my mind, many things that needed to be stopped before I returned to command. Plans upon plans, laying themselves out like a map before my mind's eye... Conquest... Complete dominion over the human race.

"Hrrr... Enough!"

The old wound in my hand protests its being slammed on the table and I wince. At least the pain has refocused my thoughts on other concerns... Concerns that are also inappropriate in their own ways while journeying to a temple. The remainder of the day's journey is quiet however and I find it easy to keep my thoughts away from what I will do to those traitorous Commanders upon my return. Muiy returns to the command deck to sit in my lap again for a while, humming and re-braiding my hair, soothing my mind further.

"What think you Muiy? Have I behaved well?"

"Yes." She nods. "You need to practice your singing though."

She is right. I am not going to be very good at singing at the dedication. I cannot believe I have agreed to do it at all. Fortunately the priests and priestesses there will also be lifting their voices in song. I hope enough to cover my own poor voice.

Seriku is celebrated for her efforts after the temple dedication. She is filled with blushes at the praise and Shilne is puffed with pride. Soon she will be done with her education. Soon they will start their lives as one. That will be a grand celebration indeed. It may even put this planet-wide event to shame.

On the journey home Hanta brings me a message with a smile, "Look what else you have done."


I take the transfer from her katsuna to my own and read. It is a message from one of the Sergeants who had returned to his family from the group of traitors of the 53rd. It is filled with praise and thanks and pictures of himself with his young sister who looks much like Muiy, yet with a lovely ridge on her forehead. He reports he returned to a grand welcome even though some of his family was angry for his desertion. It seems that my forgiveness won him much of the same with his own. He will be going to join the local enforcement to be close enough to see his sister's every traditional dance recital. He also reports that many of his subordinates are doing the same. It is as I had thought. That they would will return to their families and start their own with a new appreciation for their lives.

Now that the peaceful time on Waiut is done, I find myself not so much looking forward to my coming visit to Galrea to speak with those commanders I have had detained. While that place is far less heavy in feeling, far lighter even in color, it is not a place I will ever long to be. It will never be a home to me as it was to my father. The center of his pride... It is just filled with dark memories. Others do not see these specters, but I feel them.

They praise the architecture and the openness. They praise the speed of its raising, the improvements in the military quarters, the expanded facilities for civilians to reside, the massive greenhouse built at its center in hopes that one day those plants will be brought outside the walls and thrive. It is what I hoped for—awe inspiring in every way. Even those Southerners who were disgusted by my decision to destroy father's grand achievement—once they have visited the newly raised structure—speak of it as an even grander thing. It has changed minds and employed thousands. It has changed lives.

I have left it to the competent care of the one man who has loved it for tens of cycles—Laiet Diya Anovahn. He was promoted from Senior Commander of the castle guard to High Commander. That title never existed for a port structure, but for him it is what he is meant to be. He will never leave that place, no matter what her face changes to.

When I arrive at the royal entrance to the castle, Laiet greets me along with a contingent of his finest honor guard.

"Welcome, Baika, Ishinoa." He bows graciously, "We have some men in our keeping that you have sent. You are eager to speak with them?"

"Not so much as I was when I sent them." I join him on the long march through the castle halls to the detention center. "This place is even more filled than when I was last here."

"It has become quite lively indeed. I have enjoyed it."

"I am glad you do."

"You have found some calm at the new temple, Baika. I am glad... But I hope you will find your anger soon for at least the one man is ready to take your life if you waver. You do intend to face him, nnh?"

"I do indeed. Only the one man wishes to face me?"

"True. The other two have been settling themselves to the facts of their situation. If you would allow, I would be willing to take them into our number here at the castle and keep watch of them."

"You have that much confidence in them?"

"I have seen some hope there, yes. The other man, he is lost to your will. He will do nothing more than attack you if you set him free... Yet he wants to fight you and so it would be the honorable thing for you to give him a good battle before his death."

"So I will. The others will be released to your command."

"I am grateful, Baika."

In the detention center exercise room I meet with angry Commander Kamukuranai. He assures me he wishes to finish our argument with blades. I sigh, shake my head, and the moment my hand finds the hilt of my sword, my calm is gone and the will to fight fills my spirit. It is a short while before I am wiping the winning strike from my blade. Laiet looks to the other two commanders who have watched to be witnesses to a fair fight.

"Will you fight your Emperor? Or will you take an opportunity and join my forces?" Laiet inquires quite cordially and they accept his offer quickly, bowing down to me before being ushered off by some of his sergeants. "I will have rooms prepared for you so you may rest." He says to me.

"No... I will not be staying."

"If it is your wish... I feel I have offended you for the small amount of time you have spent here." He chuckles.

"Never that. I look forward to my time with you, yet not in these walls. Come see me at Manaleh and I will have rooms prepared for you." I sheathe my cleaned blade.

"Perhaps one day... I am still like a new parent, worried to leave his child to another's care. Shall I see you back to the docking platform?"

"Not necessary... I would however like to have the greenhouse cleared so I may visit it for a time before I depart."

"As you wish. It will be empty by the time you arrive. Gods keep you."

He waves to his guard to escort me through the halls. Once again I am surprised by the mood in the halls of Galrea. There are many civilians here carrying on commerce these days. Traders all around engaging in friendly arguments over supply prices. Politicians meeting on neutral ground to discuss charged issues. They have brought their families with them. Children are running about just as troops are marching down the main hall to the barracks. They stop to watch with wide eyes. Perhaps they look up to these men and wonder if they will wear a uniform one day.

In a quieter hall I can see that the castle guard are just finishing the removal of visitors from the greenhouse walkways. Now it will be my turn to enjoy them in quiet. Two stationed guards bow and open the elaborate glass doors for me to enter. Inside the humidity is a wonderful feeling after the dry halls. The botany masters from the universities have outdone themselves. The Avasjan scientists are also to be commended for they feel they have done enough work with the outside surface that they may soon attempt to grow something there.

I smile and forget for a while, walking the garden paths, enjoying the colorful birds that fly through the canopy. It rather reminds me of the lush landscape surrounding the temple at Chiyor. I was honored to be allowed to reside within the restored temple grounds during my stay on Waiut. That was a true blessing for at night it is even more silent than Manaleh. There is no close city, the closest town is too far to be seen. The only sounds come from the night creatures, the light is provided by the stars, the moon and the luminescent insects that float on the warm breezes. It embodies peace in a way I have not known.

I have a new appreciation for the importance of the Gods in our people's lives. The middle place temple to Fao is truly that—somewhere on Waiut where the citizens of the three kingdoms could come together without politics and just be at peace. The long walk one must take to reach the temple has the history of calming even the most angry of spirits... And now one of the many newly restored elaborate walking bridges that carry temple visitors past the dense vegetation and over the clear creeks, bears the name of a human Princess. My gift to her on her coming 19th birth anniversary. How time has gone by...

On to 25