Hope day party

“So, are you going as the son of the Domei of Didina?”

“No, I’m going as the step-son of the Groom. I guess my mom’s in common to both ranks, but he made sure to invite me separately.”


“Let’s get your questions out of the way.”


“You only go oh when you’re furiously thinking about something you’re not saying… I suspect in this case, you want to know about the rumors he’s really my father.”


“And what?”

“Is he?”

“No one will say, and I’m not asking mom.”

“Wouldn’t she be the best person to ask?”

*tinny voice* “Oh, Mom, I been meaning to ask, you named me after one man, but am I really the son of the dude who stole you away from him? Kthxbai.”

“Err, how close are you to your stepfather?”

“Not really close, I think I met him twice, at official functions.”

“Oh. But he’s your step dad?”

“I guess… You live with your step dad?”

“it’s … complicated.”


“I got… one natural dad, and two step dads.”

“So your mom’s practicing polyandry?”


“More than one sweet baboo…”

“Sigh, yeah, she got involved with two guys aboard ship, as their chaplain, so, title 64 got into things, I was born…. Then she got promoted off the ship, met dad number 3. Who she had dated once, before she got promoted, it just didn’t go anywhere. Years later they hit it off again.”

“And now she lives with?”

“Dad number 3 now. Dad number 1 and 2 mostly have me visit without her.”

“How do you get along with them?”

“Pretty great, and we do have family gatherings with all three dads, it’s not that they don’t get along, it’s mostly everyone’s worried it’ll turn into dads trying to impress mom again, and that’s just awkward.”

“Oh, all three?”

“Yeah, they’re all pretty smitten, it’s at times frustrating, pathetic, cute, funny and just awkward.”

“And your mom?”

“Yeah, what’s the question?”

]“What’d she do to have them so smitten?”

“She's her plus, she has the two records for the fastest rise to Striped Javelin Bundle, and THEN to Nessun, in the history of the Navy. That’s just professional accomplishments, apparently, they also like how she looks in a skirt...” Her tone was tart.

“Faster than Maelle?”

“It counts as faster, because your officer cadet cruise counts, and mom didn’t have one. Otherwise it’s so close, it should probably count as a tie.”

“A tie? Maelle broke the previous record, by about seven Ardnts!”

“I know… Mom was conspicuously older than Maelle, too, but that’s kinda normal, considering she’s double-dipping.”

“Well, my mom sees my dad every so often, but they don’t live together. He lives with most of his other wives though.”


“Six of the sixteen don’t live with him, and two travel a lot, but technically live with him, if only by lack of a fixed residence elsewhere.”

“Who’s that?”

“The Hunarch and her half-sister, they live in Moniq, my mom, and the Aumhavar-Meiho, and the two Aumhavar of Mountain Home don’t live with the Earlmage. The Paramount and understudy Grand Fortuna don’t live permanently with him, but seem to enjoy visiting when their other activities permit.”

“How does your mom like it, being second fiddle?”

“Says he’s even better than dad was at understanding her, and he’s very diligent at doing his duty, but they both have duties that keep them apart. So when she visits, she always makes sure to spend a lot of time with him to make up.”

“We’re kinda similar that way, both not having just two parents, and the ones we have kinda complicated…”

“Yeah, I kinda noticed… Is that why you’re close enough to bump noses?”



“Smooth, really smooth, Amarat, you almost had me swooning.” The tart was back in her voice.

“Hey, “


“I was seeing a bit what your dads was seeing, about your mom.”

“Come again?”

“That professionally impressive, impassioned leader, who happens to be a very pretty woman.”

“Oh, ok, now you got me blushing for real.”

“But it’s true. Besides, when you're blushing, you're kinda cute.”

“Uh huh.”

“No, really.”

“I’m not impressive like mom, I mean, I’m not even graduated from flight school yet.”

“You’re already commanding your own skycutter, Miss Rolli, entrusted with one of Meihomei’s finest craft and crews, doing an important, and difficult job. It’s so important, and you’re so good at it, they decided not to wait until you graduated, and named you pathfinder, you’ll be the colours squadron of the fleet for your craft for its first year...”

“Oh, and this impresses you, Mister Veneer? Despite having the same situation, entrusted with the second in command role of the same skycutter, with additional responsibility for keeping the faith for an entire crew? And you being a Feyd yourself, and the son of a Domei.” She fluttered her eyelashes.

“Those aren’t even my most important title…”

“No, which one is it?”

“I am great-grandson to Meihomei Beltran… I am Bameimeito.”

“Hmm, remind me what that is again?”

“My mother, may she live forever, is second in the order of succession, after Shen. my second cousin. Then me.”

“Then you?”

“Yeah, that’s why she got that Domei thing, showed how important she was, and trusted by Meihomei.”

“I heard it was also because she was Meihomei’s forbidden lover…”

“Hey, let’s leave the sulfurous rumor out of it…”

“I guess it’s all tied together.”

“What do you mean…”

“Meihomei trusts your Mom, personally and professionally.”

“Yeah, just like Maelle trusts yours, I guess?”

“Is she that important?”


“Is your Mom as important to Meihomei as my mom is important to Maelle?”

“Just how important your mom is to Maelle? I hear they don’t work together anymore.”

“Mom’s kinda graduated out of Maelle’s direct influence, but Nessun-OPM to the Honour is a pretty close bond, I guess that’s one difference between the previous Honour and her old OPMs.”


“Well, Maelle and Mom worked closely together for a time, they have a close bond. Closer than Valias Herringbone and Fersen Osker had.”

“So you think Maelle isn’t worried about Jima Rolli enforcing title 64?”

“Hmm, well Maelle KNOWS Jima Rolli, and they both were tried for title 64, so I guess they wouldn’t joke around with that.”

“Hey, why do you say KNOWS, like that?”

“Hmm, well, they’re not on the same ship… anymore, but dad number one and dad number two were on mom’s crew, when I got conceived. This happened on leave before they got new orders, which Maelle delivered herself.”


“It happened on leave, so it wouldn’t trigger a title 64, but that’s the only reason.”

“Oh.. So basically, your parents went on shore leave, and you happened?”

“The way my mom told me, she and dad number 1 and 2 were on shore leave, celebrating a pretty sweet deployment, and drinking a bit too much, and things got touchy feely.”

"Touchy feely?”

“Kinda like a certain Amarat Veneer, Junior, a moment ago, when he was telling he I was pretty impressive…”

“But we weren’t touching…”


“But that could easily be remedied… Why you pouting…”

“I didn’t quite have touching in mind…”

“Oh, then you should tell me, just what exactly do you plan on me to do with you?”

“I was thinking I’d start with a kiss..”


“So you got conceived while your parents were having group sex?”

“Ugh, it sounds so bad when you say it like that.”

“How would you say it?”

“I got conceived when my mom involved two of her coworkers in a ritual of power.”

“I thought your mom was a Dutiful?”

“Power is her third element.”

“What’s second?”


“Oh, guess it makes sense she’s got three husbands then.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, obviously, I’m no expert, but Duty, Union, Power, those are all long-term focused elements. It only makes sense she would draw men into longer-term relationships.”

“What are you saying? That my mom can’t get one night stands?”

“That if she gives someone a one night stand, the person will want more…”

“Is that what happened to you, Mister Veneer? Got a one night stand, then decided to stay?”

“No, almost the opposite. I wanted to stay, as a friend, I didn’t think of it as a relationship, but the first night convinced me It wasn’t gonna get any better than this, so I better convince you not to dump me.”

“Oh, so I corrupted you?”

“Is that what that’s called? And how do I get you to do it again?” He said, salaciously.

“Oh, Amarat Veneer Junior, you pervert!”

...Fade to Black, then later…

“I should ask you what your elements are…”

“First is Gallant, Duty, Unity, then Feral… Your turn…”

“Duty, Physical, Power, Unity…”

“So… the fact that I look good naked is kinda important…”

“Hmm, well, I am interested in many things, how you do your duty, how you dedicate yourself to me… How dedicated you are to taking care of your body…”

“And you… like giving orders?”

“I.. grew up idolizing a fantasy version of Maelle Comma, who always was a scion of power. And leadership, and getting people to go beyond themselves was always part of that… I just outgrew it as a way of seeing the world.”

“But you’re…”

“But I still appreciate it, and like my mother, I’m keen on people doing their duty… Don’t judge me…”

“I’m not judging… I’m trying to understand what you’re saying, is all… And this is deep stuff, with potentially lots of nuance, usually, It’s pretty intimate to ask a priest’s elements, even if you declare your own… Does this?”

“Does this what?”

“Do I get to meet ‘all’ your parents, next?” He said lightly.

“What, you think you’re that important to me?”

“No, you’re that important to me…” Which was, apparently, the right answer…

...Fade to black...

Flora was putting her clothes back on, looking for a missing sock.

“I wish you wouldn’t go…”

“We both have Duty, silly. Our shore leave ran out…”

“Yeah, I can probably get dispensation though…”

“Don’t you dare try getting one for me!”

“Why not?”

“Duty first, remember? Even if you got me to agree, I’d get in trouble with my main Element.”



“Hey, I’m just finding it very hard to motivate myself to go back there… Someone was rather… both enthusiastic and skilled…”

“Oh, is that important?” She blushed...

“I don’t normally scream.”

“I don’t either… But I screamed your name twice, I hope no one heard”

“That’s the good part about being Feyd Veneer, no one lives in this wing of the Mansion.”

“No one?”

“Well, except me.”

“I… almost live here now… I bet your mom has an opinion about that…”

“Yeah, probably ecstatic, first girlfriend I’ve had that lasted more than a few weeks.” There was a knock at the door..

“Fancy you should mention that Son…”

“Mom! Please, next time, warn me! I’m not decent!”

“I’m a priestess dear, you got nothing I’ve not seen before… In fact, it’s part of what I wanted to talk to you about…”


“How you resemble your father, and… well, implications for everyone in this room…”

“Shouldn't I leave you two alone?” Asked Flora.

“No, please, stay. I want to ask you a few questions.”


“What Son?”

“Well, are you gonna ask your questions?”

“Have you heard the rumors that my son isn’t Amarat Veneer Senior’s son, child?”

“I.. have…”

  “What do you think of them?”   “They… must affect you profoundly…”   “They do affect me, but not as much as you fear…”   “Can I ask why not?”   “I won’t let them… And… I have enough challenges, I can’t let them…”   “Would there be truth to them?”   “That my boy, my beautiful young boy, who looks like a sculpture of male perfection, is not the song of my late husband, whose resemblance to a tub of lard was many times ridiculed… There must be.”   “And… you’ve never told him this before?”   “No…”   “Why not?”   “I was afraid, afraid he’d hate me… For cheating on the man who died for me, died for his duty.”    “And, do you?”   “Do I what?”   “Hate her?”   “No, she’s my mom, I love her…”   “But?”   “But… I don’t think I’d make her choices… Duty focused or not.”   “You shouldn’t expect to.”   “No?”   “No, you’re a different person, you may have the same duty, you can never see it the same as someone else.”   “My, humbling, and from your third?”   “My first, although I’m not near his level, let alone yours…”   “Your first element is _DUTY_?”   “LIke my mom… Shocking, I know…”   “Duty isn’t my first… Although it’s a near thing…”   “I’m not trying to sleep with you, but what is your first?”   “Advantage.”   “Advantage?”   “I’d be third understudy paramount, if I chose to claim. And close enough to make the first and second uncomfortable.”   “And you don’t?”   “Oh, it’d go over well.. Woman whose husband died defending her turns out to be totally selfish… That’d go over well..”   “Is that the only reason?”   “What, why this question?”   “Don’t you get to fleece more victims this way?”   “You think that is the reason?”   “No, but I know others will.”   “It bothers you, what they think?”   “Even if it didn’t, it bothers him, I can tell…”   “Can you not talk about me, like I’m not here?”   “It bothers you, doesn’t it Amarat?”   “I’m naive, aren’t I?”   “Unseasoned maybe, unable to ignore what’s possibly an irritant, but hardly more…”   “You can tell?”   “I can tell, and I can tell you think it’s beneath him to notice… beneath him to care… You’re wrong though, he can reach the common folk, best by caring, and it’d hurt his character not to try.”   “And your advice?”   “Don’t cut his wings, advise him, but let him do his own thing, be his own person. He is not you, nor is he any of his fathers… “   “And you think this benefits me?”   “And doing your duty doesn’t benefit you? You’re his mother, I know better, I know his success reflects on you, no less than your success shows off his potential.”   “What about you?”   “Am I just a sycophant, a fair-weather friend, you mean?”   “I could have led with any number of alternatives, but they all boil down to ‘what’s your interest in my boy?’ so you can answer the question however you like.”   “I thought his interest was in me, and he is a diligent, dutiful priest, on the skycutter we share, he is ranked as chief of staff, for our smaller unit, while I have been getting half-stripes, enough to make and keep colours. After we write the pathfinders book.”   “Colours? But you’ve not even graduated yet.”   “Everyone told Meihomei, Meihomei replied: ‘what does it matter?’ And that was that. My skycutter would be pathfinder alone, except traffic control allows no one crew to own the sky.”   “So you are the best?”   “They deny me the best possible crew, by saying Amarat cannot crew with me, but otherwise, I have the best unit possible.”   “And you knew of this Amarat?”   “I knew, and I was relieved…”   “What? The best plane possible was denied to you, and you were relieved?”   “Mother, the best possible plane would have landed me a title 64 in short order, I was relieved to avoid court marshal, prison or worse makes no heroes. And I am in her unit, her XO, I participate in her success, without exposing myself”   “Explain your reasoning to me.”   “Mother, it’s simple, best unit or not, pathfinder or not, I can’t be in closed spaces with Flora.”   “Funny, I get more of a girl next door vibe from her, not a hot model type, naked on your bed sheets.”   “MOOOM!”   “What? She isn’t… and you’ve had a few…”   “Mom, I was kinda hoping to break it down to her, gently…”   “Well, the panties on the hanger in your cupboard kinda did that for me. Be honest though, any of them have visiting rights? Any of them come back from time to time?”   “What, no, they blacklisted me… They can’t handle me. I'm too much for them."   “And I can?”   “You… planned this!”   “Of course I did, if I’m to confront you about the other women, I better be prepared, I better know what I’m prepared to let slide, and what I’m going to walk out on…”   “And…?”   “And what? You didn’t even admit to them, all that I know is that there’s some other young women’s panties, hopefully, in your cupboard.”   “Yeah, younger than you, actually, seems I’m not making it through with anyone above my own age, it seems…”   “Apparently, I’m only slightly more mature, being a year younger…”   “HEY!!”   “What, if the shoe fits…”   “I resent that, I’m sure I’m closer in maturity to you than you just implied…”   “Why, because you’re a priest?”   “No, because I didn’t completely blow it, after six months of being my crew’s adult, basically…”   “Ok, that was humble, honest, but probably quite accurate too… Except I was our crew’s adult, you were the crew’s adult when I wasn’t there…”   “And they look up to you, don’t they?”   “That’s a small sample.” Interjected Mikhala.   “What bigger sample are you going for?”   “Which one of you is going for wing chief of staff? Which one of you for Maelle’s third in command?”   “Those are open?” Her eyes were like saucers…   “Not on the open market… But even ship chief of staff is very prestigious, on a constellation class”   “Oh, my.”   “And you don’t want it?”   “I didn’t say that… But what about you?”   “What, with my mom who’s basically chairman of the joint chiefs of staff as Nessun-OPM?”   “Oh, so like, your mom can tell you what they’re all looking for?”   “Has been telling me, I can’t say I’ve been listening.”   “Just how high she expects you to go, and say: ‘not really trying’?”   “I think anything below Medjen is ‘not really trying’, considering how high a boost I’m getting from contacts, knowledge of how everything works, her friends wanting to court HER and make me look good, etc…”   “Medjen?”   “Medjen of Meihomei’s Own, or ring mistress of same. The latter is vacant since the incumbent is now wing mistress sixth fleet.”   “How far is that mother?”   “No clue dear, that one’s a direct, personal choice of Meihomei.”   “But… how many does she have to beat?”   “A lot, Medjen of Meihomei’s Own, which is usually a Tujen, and possibly a Taimine, is routinely the post that gets someone a Nessun job on their next promotion… their wingmistress is barely below that. Whoever put that as a placeholder, until she can do better, put that as a challenge… Someone expects you on Maelle’s own bridge, as a Goshawk, or Eagle, telling the Honour: ‘Are you out of your floating mind? The Vision didn’t downrank me so I can listen to this tripe!’”   “An eagle, DOWNRANKED?”   “Well, ok, I misspoke, an EAGLE, waiting for the Vision to quit, and give me her job…”   “Not really making more sense...   “I’m trying to convey the impression that there’s a lot of people angling for that job, it’s prestigious enough to backtalk the HONOR, by itself. I know, because Maelle did it, before she was a Nessun..”   ...Later   “Oh, you, let me get that…”   “What, my tie?”   “We don’t have all day, they expect us there in ten.”   “How come it always looks easier when a girl does it?”   “That’s sexist, it’s easier for someone who isn’t you, doing it from the inside is just more difficult.”   “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.”   “Well, if you asked another guy, and figure out a way not to make it sound like you’re coming onto him, you’ll see for yourself.”   ”Yeah, hey wait, how come I’m not coming onto you?”   “Because I’m volunteering, dummy.”   “Oh, so does that mean you’re coming onto me?”   “Not before we meet my parents, silly billy!”   “Awww.” He threw puppy dog eyes her way.   “You don’t get to do that, not with us about to meet my family.”   “You got how many?”   “Well, I guess the Randjiks are one, the Rolli women are another, and there’s the Dandelion Dynamic Duo, and the Andermani Associates. She grinned.”   “Just how many people are coming?”   “We should be over 20, why?”   “Twenty, for an early hope day party?”   “Yeah, but we’re not celebrating as sorceresses, get your mind out of the gutter.”   “Bet your mom will get hit on though.”   “Ugh, don’t remind me. She has warned all three of my daddies, that she would retaliate with slaps if they got out of hand, like last time...”   “Oh, seems this is a common problem?”   “It’s happened before, men, trying to one-up each other, for a pretty woman.” She dimpled at him.   “The fun part about going to a party with the only eligible bachelorette, is that you got preselected, presumably, for sparkling personal qualities.”   “Oh, like?”   “In my case, it’s simple, I’m not Dad#1, Dad#2 or Dad#3, I think it counts for something.”   “It certainly does.” She said tartly.   “Now, there’s no… other males at this party, is there?”   “Why, you think you won’t hold my attention, if there are any?”   “I’m just trying to prevent bloodshed, if someone tries to take you away from me… It’s what us hidebound, royal-blooded aristocratic nincompoops do, after all…”   She giggled. “Oh, you do get a point for that one.”   “Oh, just one?”   “Self-deprecation only counts once, no matter how many adjectives you use.”   “Damn, but I had researched some quality adjectives!”   “I’m sure, but this is quality company.” She walked besides him, not missing a beat, and reaching her mother.   “Nessun Rolli, it’s my privilege to present Namei, Feyd and Five Pointed Dagger, Amarat Veneer Junior.”   “Not worried about the title 64, yet?”   “The regs do state we’re allowed one public occasion per trimester that’s not ‘obviously fraternising’, Mother.”   “Oh, yes, I forgot, I sure hope I’m not the one who has to determine ‘introduced him to my parents like he was a suitor’ was ‘not fraternising’, you wouldn’t get a pass, dear.”   “Mooom.”   “Graceful hostess, it’s my privilege to present to you…”   “Stow it, I appreciate you trying, young Namei, and seriously, if anyone should get a pass, it’s you two, or at least, anyone who should not count as senior officer and chaplain, it’s you two.”   “Mom, you’re being rude.”   “You’re right.” She sighed. “I’m sorry to interrupt you.”   “I’ve asked Aumhava Mikhala what would be a proper present to bring. She said that Temple Guardian is a proper gift to a priestess, in any and all circumstances.”   “Your very mother, who was the judge who almost threw me, and two of these gentlemen, to jail?”   “I’d like to think is that only Meihomei’s closest family could be asked to be impartial to you, since you and your fellow officers aboard Meihomei’s Own were both above reproach, and yet, anyone who’d acquit you would be targeted by accusations of favoritism.”   “So your Mother is…?”   “My mother is only one step below Meihomei, precisely in case you had asked for an appeal.”   “An appeal?”   “If you had appealed, it would have been to Meihomei herself.”   “To… Meihomei?”   “Just who do you think I am? I called Beltran Grandfather, I call Amalthea ‘Auntie’, and she returns it with “Nephew’, my mother says either ‘Cousin’, 'Sister' or 'Dearie', and it is _returned_, when Meihomei doesn't just use her personal name or a more familiar nickname. Only a peer of the realm could have judged you or Maelle, simply because Green Law of Megamisama is Maelle’s Aunt and stepmother, and Silver Law is her Stepfather… No one ever suspected this could even happen! But the law says, recused appeals go up!”   “So, we got a Domei?”   “You got Meihomei’s closest living relative at the time, simply because if Meihomei had judged your case, there would have been major conniptions.”   “Couldn’t have the appeal gone to the privy council?”   “Loaded as it is, with priestesses? Not likely!”   “And where does that leave us, young Namei?”   “You have a daughter, I’m smitten, she’s intoxicating. I tried to beg off this meeting, for a smaller audience, less people, but she wouldn’t have any of it.”   “Have you considered why?”   “Err, no, why?”   “Everything you do as Bameimeito, as Namei, is in the public eye, dear… She’s surely considered it important to invite you to this public event.”   “Is it really that public?”   “No, but it does have a few of both your parents’ peers.”   “Like?”   She gestured to an aircar pulling onto the curb.   “I don’t think there’ll be need for presentations for these guests.”   The Honour herself drew to her considerable height, followed by the Telbun’s considerable height and bulk, squeezed out of the aircar like only he could, then the Taimine’s uniform shoulder boards sparkled off Maelle’s shoulder boards, then Hamburg’s massive frame shuffled forward, and the procession was closed by Caith Sealer, Green Law of Megamisama’s diminutive frame.   “I beseech a boon from this house, the welcome of a guest and friend.” Said the Honour, with precise, clipped tones.   “Your fame and reputation is known, your friendship is valued, be welcome, and your friends as well.”   “You hear that, Tadros? I didn’t even need to tell them your name.”   “I suspect we were expected, Honour Herringbone, indeed, with a member of Meihomei’s family in attendance, I’d be shocked if we weren’t.”   “I guess I’m considered a friend of yours, Valias, grr, but I guess there’s worse fates.”   “I’m no enemy of yours Hamburg, Maelle makes sure of that.”   “Will you two put a sock in it?” That was Taimine Maelle Comma, piping up, fresh like a rose, her cheeks pinked with the chill of the air. “None of the guests paid to see you two argue.”   “Maelle, honey, I swear those two are flirting.”   “Me, with him?”   “Valias, dear, we both know your taste in men starts around where Hamburg’s bulk is.. And as your circle mate, I know just how you look at Hamburg when he’s naked.”   “Oh dear, and his wife… and his… mother in law… Are going to castigate me?”   “No wonder they didn’t let them judge your mom… Seems they got permanent title 64s of their own…” Amarat whispered in Flora’s ear, who said nothing,   “You know I don’t usually accord dignity of a response to those witticisms of yours.” That was Caith.   “Thank you for having us, Taimine Rolli, I’m sorry my colleagues don’t see fit to respect the holidays’ peace.”   “Oh, I doubt we’ll have a peaceful holiday, but thank you, Green Presiding.”   “Oh, you expect trouble?”   “Oh, not particularly, but my family is never peaceful at hope day.”   “Please, do make the introductions.” She purred.   “This is Mastboy Rikks Randjik, retired, late of KMMS Shediac.”   “Honoured.”   “These are, in protocolar order, so I don’t get my ears handed to me, Honour Valias Herringbone Ryder of Constantinople Township, Aumhavar Silver Law Hamburg Schweinfurt , Green Law Caith Sealer, Telbun Tadros Dandelion Ryder Templum, Taimine Maelle Comma. Honoured Zims, these used to be my shipmates, Ballista Juraian Andermain and Andei Dandelion, although, some are known to some of you already.”   “Yes, I’ve met my second cousins before, thank you.”   “And I’ve been introduced to both your shipmates when they were honored by Meihomei, herself, I am glad to see them again.” Hamburg smoothly spoke, trying not to let Tadros work more sarcasm into a subject that obviously could generate quite a bit.   “I’ve met them as well, seems this is a gathering of acquaintances.”   “Andei, Juraian.” Maelle walked in for her kiss on each cheek from both. Then she shocked everyone, walking into Amarat’s personal space. “You, young Namei, need to produce some explanations.”   “What is there to explain? Flora Rolli is your finest officer, and the finest sailor I’ve been privileged to meet.” He tried to gain time.   “No one here doubts her mettle, many doubt your intentions.”   Another aircar stopped at the curb, after the first one vacated. Meihomei’s cousin, Amarat’s mother, Mikhala, Domei of Didina, stepped out, a strapping man, in his forties, perhaps, stepped out, arm in hers, while the   “Mother!”   “Yes, Amarat, please meet Dan Ma, Domei of Garay.”   “The very man rumored to be my father.”   “Your father. Dan, meet Amarat Veneer Junior, your son.”   “Now I know why you asked me not to invite anyone else from the circle.”   “I imagine he wants to introduce you to someone…”   “Err, Hi D..ad! Please meet Skua Flora Rolli, commanding 51st Skycutter Squadron, World Surfers, aboard KEMS Northern Diagonal Flare.”   “Hi, young Namei, I’m Dan Ma, Domei of Didina, Earlmage. Pleased to meet you… and your… commanding officer?”   “Aye, I am second Chaplain, 51st.”   “Not bothered that she’s stealing some limelight from you, I hope.”   “She can have all she wants, all it’s ever brought me was trouble.”   “What?” She frowned at him.   “Whenever I get attention, people use it to attack me or someone I care about, like Mom.”   “You think it’s easier for me?”   “They’ll use it to attack me, not you, that I’m not as authoritative, not as smart, not as confident as you are. I’m ok they waste their energy that way.”   “Why?”   “Do I need to be authoritative or smart or confident to be a Namei? No, I might need those to be GOOD at those things, but I’m a Namei, with or without them. And I’m ok that you’re better than me at any of these things, if you want to be.”   “And do you think I’m good at any of those things?”   “If you weren’t a born leader, they switched id tags on you with someone who was…”   “Oh, you flirt.”   “What, most people wouldn’t think this hot lady is a born leader is flirting…”   “But I do, look at the company you keep, the people who show up when your MOM says ‘let’s celebrate hope day’. It’s some compliment.”   “It might be a compliment, but you’re certainly earning half stripes like it’s not an accident.”   “Oh, and you’re paying attention, aren’t you?”   “I’m chaplain in your unit, we all grade you, it’s our duty.”   “Oh, and you’re giving me good grades?”   “No, I’m giving you the worse grades of all five chaplains in the squadron. Enough that my vote doesn’t count, at all.”   “What?”   “My voice is so divergent from the others, it’s excluded from consideration.”   “What?”   “Hey, give me the credit of a little sense. Considering the history of trouble around title 64s in your family, I’m just making sure I’m not making it easy for them.” Valias and Caith spit in their wine.   “You think it matters?”   “I think if it wasn’t your own mother at OPM, it would, and it might, but I’m just not sure.”   “Don’t be silly, I have a five person task force on title 64s, and all of them know I have a daughter in the service, they’ve all flagged, AND cleared the both of you twice already.”   “Cleared?”   “Well, more like they got bigger fish to fry at the moment.”   “Oh.”   “So you’re not giving me any half stripes?” She asked, her eyes hooded.   “No, I didn’t say that, I’m giving you half the half stripes anyone else is.”   “And…?”   “And you’re still getting that sweet Harfang red leather.”   “Oh, really? But… Isn’t that one DCAG?”   “You’re not getting DCAG, you’re getting DCAW.”   “DCAW?”   “Deputy commander air wing, southern diagonal.”   “I… gotta move out?”   “You’re mustering out of the 51st next week, if all goes well.”   “And you, you’re staying?”   “I’m not being promoted out. Yet.”   “Yet?”   “Well, you gotta get to OP-04 to promote me to OR-04, right?”   “Oh, yeah, you think I should?”   “Honestly, I think you shouldn’t… I don’t think I’ve earned it.”   “I know you have, the ORs are the only one I need to keep an eye on half stripes for. I know your totals.”   “What, you think I should expect my sixth point?”   “I think whoever isn’t me that hasn’t given them to you is being stingy.”   “But?”   “Either that or they expect me to show my hand and give them to you.”   “Face it, we’re a great team.”   “As Warbler, I won’t rate a chaplain.”   “Who says? I thought the Warbler rode a TCA.”   “No, a Warbler rides the flag deck, SDF.”   “So you’re a bridge bunnie?”   “Ugh, I don’t bounce that way.”   “Oh, cute.”   “Oh, you.”   “There’s been a mixup, for sure.”   “Yes, there has been. We don’t have an open DCAW position for Southern Diagonal.”   “No?”   “No there’s an open CAW position for Southern Diagonal. We’re waiting on a wingling, not a warbler. Several candidates are being evaluated.” That was Maelle speaking.   “Yes, I know, I had to recuse myself from that one.” Added Jima.   “You did? I was considered?”   “You were considered, and you made the short list, my angel. For Shrike not Harfang.”   “What, but I’m barely an adult yet.”   “We don’t exactly have many people with your degree of spatial awareness, there’ll be practical tests, simulations, even a full blown exercise with each of the three shortlisted candidates in command, but if you pass those, and beat the other two, you’re getting that brass..”   “Damn, you’re kidding!”   “No, angel, that’s why we’re here, actually, as much as I love hope day, I’d not have celebrated with such a large group, if it was the only thing I was celebrating.”   “But it’s premature, I’m just shortlisted.”   “Dear, you are considered for a senior flag officer role, before you can vote. I think we’ll celebrate even if you don’t win.”   “Senior flag?”   “OF-06 is the least you can hold as CAW. You’ll be reporting to an OF-09, after all.”   “What?”   “Ria Baker, seniormost flyforce officer in Sixth Fleet, is picking her second, that’s the job you’re considered for.”   “Her SECOND?”   “Now you know why I’m thrilled that you’re even considered dear. And that I won't let a single dark thought get in my head if you don't get it.”   “Tcha-chai, you didn’t ask her, right?”   “What, to pick an untrained kid who legally can’t drink to run a fleet? She’d laugh at my face. There is only one way you’re getting that job, Pumpkin Spice”   “And that is?”   “By beating the other candidates, honestly, I don’t expect you to win.”   “Why?”   “I made it so young because Meihomei put her thumb on the scale, you don’t have anyone doing that, partly because it hurt my career, not helped, so I wouldn’t do it, precisely because I don’t think It would be doing you a favor.”   “You’re saying Meihomei didn’t do you a favor then?”   “No, she didn’t, I was fighting a Nessun, as a Ballista, a quite unfair fight, and they were fighting me because she was influencing choices, hiding what merit I had in being considered in the first place.”   “So, I won’t be…”   “You might not get it, this early. You might still make DCAW later, Honey, I’m thrilled you made Skua faster than I did Adjen, you know.”   “What?”   “Three days faster, it’s still breaking my record.”   “Isn’t the youngest to OF-03 army?”   “Now it is, there’s a strapping upstart in a Pilder that’s a few days younger than you were.”   “Wait, you said, Senior Flag, didn’t I get my own flag when I raised?”   “Flyforce flags are based on aircraft decoration, you pick the one, and it determines the other.”   “But I don’t get a flag to carry?”   “There’s one, on your squadron staff car.” She pointed to the car that had brought Amarat and Flora to the vent.   “Flying anchor? That’s pretty on the nose.”   “Well you get one, I just get the green drop.”   “I thought you weren’t jealous of my success.”   “I’m not jealous you’re more successful than me, I’m not saying I’d mind markers of progression of my own.”   “Oh, so you are jealous, at least a little?” She hooded her eyes while looking at him.   “Well, if you must know, someone…” He said that last word quite archly, “..said that I was just ornamental to your success. Like a trophy boy.”   “Hmm, a trophy boy? Hmm what a delightful idea.”   “Hey, I’m not your trophy.”   “No?” She turned her liquid, puppy dog eyes at him, pretending to cry.   “Bad enough you call me a boy, I’m not something for your mantle, Zim.”   “Well, you called me Zim, I can’t dress you down for insubordination, either…. What am I going to do with you?”   “Seems you two are at the adopt him as a puppy stage, and he’ll eat in your hand.”   “Mommmmmmmmmm!”   “What, it worked for me.”   “For which?”   “Hmm, all three, no wait, all four now.”   “Four?”   “Yeah, if we ever do celebrate hope day properly, I’ll introduce you to my new male toy.”   “I’ll never get used to how you call them that to their face.”   “If anything, I exaggerate that, they’re not exactly expendable. But I don’t want them getting ideas about my availability to them, either.”   “We’re not expendable, huh?”   “No, well, not quite expendable, Juraian.”   “Glad we got the secrecy out of the way though.”   “You knew?”   “She… never lied to us, any of us, about how many of us she was involved in dear. We all want her for our very own, but there’s no misrepresentation on her part.”   “You know this fourth?”   “Yes, he’s part of the same party that Maelle, your mom and Zar met on that fateful night in Kannie’s in Megamisama.”   “Oh. Friend of dad number three?”   “I understand they’re the best of friends.”   “Gotta be, they’re gonna run out of women, at this point.”   “They’re mostly playing a long game, like me and Andei are…”   “What long game?”   “Best choice of women we laid eyes on, don’t argue with the other guys, but enjoy what you can… So far it’s working for all four of us.”   “Mom, Dad#1, this is too much information.”   “I’m saying she makes us happy dear, not our fault your mind is in the gutter, pipsqueak.”   “DADDDDDDD!”   “Ok, ok pumpkin, I won’t call you pipsqueak anymore. At this rate, you’ll outrank me, and I’ll get an insubordination charge.”   She still pouted at him.   “Do I get a hug? I didn’t even get to congratulate you properly on your LAST promotion.”   “Hmm, Dads rate a hug, always.”   As soon as the words left her lips, Rikks Randjik, Andei Dandelion, Juraian Andermani, Maelle Comma and Jima Rolli were squeezing her tightly.   “Hey, lil room here, being squished! Halp! Halp! And Dads rate hugs, Mom rates hugs three thousand, but Tcha-chai? Ok, you rate hugs too...”   “What about trophy boy?”   “Nu-uh, do not rate hugs!”   “I’m ok, I can’t let myself be tied up like that.”    “Meihomei.” She saluted   “We need to expedite this case. Can we get a plea bargain in place?”   “They’re hinting at it, very clumsily.”   “What angle are they using?”   “That they were trying to discuss the matter privately with Maelle, to avoid a scandal on your most prestigious ships.”   “Not… unreasonable, I might have told them to do that, myself, if they’d done their job and told me about it!”   “You can’t do everything yourself, cousin.”   “No, but the very reason I’m the regimental officer of Meihomei’s Own, is to prevent me from being out of the loop! It’s important from a public relations standpoint that the whole fleet element be squeaky clean. Plus I actually OWN the ship, least they can do is tell me there's trouble on my property!”   “I’m afraid we’ll have to keep on soldiering then.”   “No, there’s an alternative, you put in a declarative injunction and remand the case to me for any appeals.”   “To you?”   “Silver law of Megamisama can’t judge a case involving his own fiancee, in a case this blatant, when he shouldn’t possibly wait to withdraw from the case, you can specify alternate appeals to save time.”   “Is he even confirmed yet?”   “Yes, it was on the docket this morning.”   “And what kind of injunction are you expecting? I’ve not heard enough to make up my mind.”   “About her guilt, or just her negligence?”   “Oh, dereliction of duty is apparent, if not to the letter of the law, at least it’s spirit.”   “But this case busted open out of her case against Andermani, for knowing too much about Gatch.”   “I could enjoin a resolution to that, but do you expect me to rule on Gatch, as well?”   “I need Honour back, and Maelle, at least.”   “I’m here as long as a single Nessun is involved, so I’m moving to Gatch’s case if it’s not resolved.”   “Guess we won’t get an injunction either.”   “No?”   “No, this requires an Edict.”   “What?”   “Gatch and Precess will be demoted one rank, Osker will be demoted one rank also, which means she will be transferred out of OPM, and onto a regular fleet.”   “Taimineh fleeting up?”   “First fleet moves to OPM.”   “Operations stays where he is. But we need two Taimine to move up.”   “And I was about to earmark one for fifth fleet.”   “Why do we have a fourth and a fifth, but not third?”   “Because third is you, dear, third fleet is always where the Honour is, and includes the Academy, Megamisama Drydock, Operations, OPM, Meihomei’s Own, and other odds and ends.”   “So how many Nessuns will we have left?”   “Just three, Operations, First, Fourth. We need someone for OPM, second and fifth.”   “And you’re moving First to OPM, but he’s going to retire in a few years.”   “So our best evaluated Taimine are Rosval, Kannedich, Venkat.”   “Venkat’s pretty young.”   “Next point of contention, who else besides Maelle is moving up?”   “What, you think she’s ready?”   “Osker was sitting on a review of her command, for accelerated promotion, due to the evaluations all of her ships were receiving. Apparently, the review is withholding the stripes she’s short for Taimine.”   “Venkat’s doing what these days?”   “Roving troubleshooter for OPM, making sure ship assignments, crew assignments and logistics all match up. He was looking at Megamisama, and referred the case to Osker.”   “Rosval?”   “Shipbuilding, he’s been tending to Byzance Naval Yards.”   “Kannedich?”   “Naval Attache to New Etrusca.”   “Why?”   “What’s Vallardi doing?”   “She went down with Harhui, that was held quiet for morale reasons.”   “What, we lost a Founder-class?”   “Yeah, over in Rannick, they were very impressed by the circumstances of her sacrifice.”   “Osker will take over Naval Attache duties, but for Rannick, reassign Rannick’s attache to New Etrusca, Gatch will go to Byzance, and make sure Precess is assigned nowhere near there. Comma gets fifth fleet once the paperwork clears..”   ...Later   “Gatch quit, Precess too, Osker’s being a trooper about it.”   “She should be, she’s getting an easy one, after Vallardi.”   “She was, but she managed to get Rannick to offer to build a Founder under license, with favorable terms.”   “How favorable?”   “They buy two, we can build a third from the profit.”   “Damn, I was wasting her in OPM.”   ..Later   At terciem first, first shift, first bell, Officer Maelle Comma, serial number 1237582385-7219-28-11 is to assume the dress of a Nessun, and remove from her duty uniform the distinguishing mark of Meihomei’s lifeguard, she is however, to retain it, and wear it with formal uniform, and is allowed to wear the lapel decoration version with formal civilian dress if she so chooses.   Why do they put that bit about the mark? I haven’t worn Meihomei’s lifeguard’s sigil for a year already. She thought to herself. She didn't know this note had been sloppily edited recently, but had been prepared, originally, 18 months before.   “Officer Comma is to present herself to the Nessun College, on Megamisama Drydock, Mezzanine floor, to receive her new command and further orders.”   ...Later   “Maelle!”   “Honour, Vision and Loyalty, you do honour to my name.”   “Stop that, we’re late for the ceremony.”   “Oh, but we’re not first bell yet.”   “We’re also on the fourteenth floor still, we’re expected downstairs.”   ...Nessun College, First Shift, First Bell and two minutes   “Order, order!”   “Nessun-President Gloval, I bring the newest member of our group.”   “Thank you, Nessun-Honour Valias, welcome, new Nessun. Oh, I know you from somewhere?”   “I made the news, Nessun-President Gloval, when I was a Medjen.”   “Yes, I remember now, Nessun Calloway, please lead us in prayer.”   “In the name of the elements, and under Meihomei’s protection, let our deliberations save the lives of her sailors, and advance her cause.”   “So say we all.”   “Nessuns Rosval, Kannedich, Venkat, Mine, Innokenti, meet Nessun Comma, from newly constituted sixth fleet.”   “Nessun Comma, you know Nessun Calloway, but the others probably aren’t familiar.”   “Thank you, Nessun-President. Yes, I remember my time with Nessun Calloway fondly, and look forward to knowing the others.”   “Venkat is no longer the youngest of our number, so he will no longer need to write the minutes, that will fall to you. Not too disappointed I hope , no one has ever, to my knowledge refused to join our number, let alone refuse then accept, on their terms "   "I felt joining this exalted company without the tools to help Meihomei best was a mistake. This has been rectified to my satisfaction."   "Ah, yes, your brainchild, the Constellation(the word is star-formation, in Arndan) class. Which has two as part of your new assignment."   "That is excellent news indeed. I am to deploy soon?"   "Err, we expect you to deploy to help finish the ships first. Byzance has the Southern Diagonal, and you'll have to shuttle back to Megamisama for Northern Diagonal, which is closer to completion."   “Oh, I won’t need to assign myself personnel just yet.”   “As the Nessun of a fleet, you rate a chief of staff, a separate adjutant, and a second in command, the rest can indeed wait.”   “Oh, my adjutant can’t be my chief of staff?”   “It’s not explicitly forbidden, but you’re likely to be keeping whoever so busy, I strongly recommend getting a third person, three for three shifts is a bit… thin.”   “What bridge would I keep watch on then?”   “Oh, sorry, no you don’t need shifts for that, but you do have many ceremonial duties as a Nessun, they will have to spell you on quite a few ship-watching details. The more so, with both ships in different docks.”   “How would I go about getting authorization to finish commissioning Southern Cross in Megamisama?”   “The authorization you already have, you just can’t fit two ships that size in Megamisama.”   “Just how big IS Northern Diagonal?”   “Enough for one hundred planes, someone got ambitious at bureau of ships.”   “Just one hundred?”   “One hundred fast movers. I believe the term is, five twenty plane elements .”   “Any gunskycutters?”   “Ten, with ten-plane elements.”   “And pilders?”   “Ten squads of ten pilders.”   “So three hundred flying?”   “Yes, that’s per deck, you sound alarmed.”   “I… expected half those counts, I didn’t think we’d have enough fuel for everything.”   “Ah, yes, that was Meihomei’s call.”   “With respect, Meihomei can’t make a fast mover fly without dinitrogen tetroxide, despite her obvious other capabilities.”   “What would you have done?”   “Size the ship down according to the fuel.”   “So, say, instead of ten wings, carry say five, and use the rest for supplies?”   “They are fine planes, but they can’t fly without fuel.”   “You get to be pathfinder, you write the book you want.”   “Oh.”    “What’s with Nessun-President?”   “Oh, that’s been like that forever, the Nessun’s college is technically a tribunal, convening to sanction illegal conduct."   …Later, on the fourteenth floor of Megamisama drydock, Maelle returns to her old office, but is stopped at reception   “Scorpion Andei Dandelion? No, he’s no longer here. He’s been reassigned, and it’s Ballista now..”   “That’s wonderful news, so who is in command of Yesugai now?”   “That would be Na-Scorpion Ria Baker, on an interim basis.”   “Is she available?”   “Yes.”   “Can I see her?”    “Ria, you rogue, not telling me you flagged up?”   “Hey, you’re the reason I’m even still here.”   “What?”   “I want second-in-command of one of your new Constellations, I want it so bad.”   “Funny you should mention that, I need a fleet second in command.”   “FLEET?”   “You don’t notice anything different?”   “Only one slate plate per pauldron? You made Nessun?”   “Nessun of Sixth Fleet, composed, as of present, of Southern Diagonal, a Constellation-class Flycarrier, Northern Diagonal, a Constellation-class Flycarrier, Founder-class cutter Piquard, Founder-class cutter Shannter, Companion-class cutter Rikker, Companion-class cutter Lafford, Companion-Class Cutter Skinner, Companion-Class Cutter Troia, eighteen case pink escorts, five tenders. Current staffing level, one Nessun.”   “When are they setting forth?”   “In a year, if I’m lucky, the ships aren’t finished building, half of them are just laid down.”   “Any of them can be used for plane training?”   “Why?”   “Plane training for a fast mover is going to be a concern, you want to get started on that. I know I had all sorts of problems getting everyone trained up.”   “You want the job?”   “What?”   “Getting everyone trained up in sixth fleet.”   “How many, and what’s the ratio?”   “We’re pathfinder, for flycarrier, not for fast movers though.”   “So you’ll have lots of extras on deck, but 2.5 fitters per flyer?”   “Yeah, at three hundred fliers, per deck, I’m moving up in the world.”   “Three HUNDRED?” Ria just keeled over, lightheaded.   “Someone call a medic! First Aid here! Medic!”   “Silly, I’m ok, and besides, you’re a medic, right?”   “Err, yeah, horribly out of practice, if that wasn’t obvious, but I can do basic stuff. I completely forgot that I could too.”   “Who else will we need?”   “I apparently rate a chief of staff and an Adjutant.”   “Chief of staff is Jima, unless she’s gotten that sweet Telbun job already?”   “She’s… probably available, if she’s forgiven me. We had words.”   “Oh.”   “And for Adjutant?”   “What’s Mariwolfe doing these days?”   “Oh, she’s like fourth in command, Byzance drydock. Working on her Kon.”   “Nice, so she went navy?”   “Jima put in a good word for her.”   “Guess if I can get Jima to forgive me, I have my fleet staffed, for now.”   “What, a fleet, with just four?”   “Until I have the ships.”   “Well, you have your own air wings, or they’re on loan from Flyforce?”   “I get to choose if I want either.”   “I’d recommend against building all on your own.”   “Could I get two on loan, fill out the rest?”   “That’s ambitious. I’d advise half and half. You don’t want your overwatch to be all the trainees, while the experienced ones are snoring.”   “Ok, I doubt I’ll get them all at once, anyways, but I’ll ask for experienced Flyforce crew as a priority.”   “Your ships, they have case pink escorts… they have their own?”   “Only two handfuls, deck space.”   “They don’t have to be on deck, case pink can launch from underdecks.”   “Oh.”   “Sounds like bureau of ships let some amateurs try their hand.”   “Politics reared their head again.”   “Well, I can’t exactly redesign the whole ship, but considering neither are finished, I can possibly make alterations.”   “That’s splendid.”   “You do know the only reason I’m even trying is that I want to command one of them, right?”   “Between you and Jima, one’s my flag ballista, the other gets a ship, check.”   “Be serious.”   “I am, and Jima dropping rank to go back to Scorp certainly made waves.”   “She’s … still at that rank?”   “It’s Jima, I’m surprised I didn’t have to salute her in Nessun country. Last I heard, she was a Medjen.”   “Be serious, I mean, you’d have heard if she had her own fleet element, right?”   ..Elsewhere, later   “Nessun Comma, an unexpected surprise.”   “Taimine Rolli. I’m here for two reasons. One, to apologize.”   “I was… angry, very angry, for a long time… But Maelle, you were right, and you had no cause to stay away that long!” Jima hugged the other woman. “What’s the other reason?”   “I need a chief of staff. I was hoping you’d either be interested in the job, or could offer… recommendations.”   “I’m number two at OPM, I’d like to think I can offer recommendations, but no, I… like being able to go back to Flora and Ian each night too much. Thank you for the offer though, I miss that crew, I miss you too.”   “How’s your babydadas?”   “Juraian made Taimine, Andei made Medjen under Venkat.”   “And now that you dropped out of the race, who’s going to make Telbun when Tadros retires?”   “Would you believe Striped Javelin Bundle Cavill?”   “What?”   “He’s Juraian’s chief of staff for Meihomei’s Own.”   “So Juraian fleeted up enough he got TWO promotions?”   “Ominari just rubber stamped everything from Opsland, gave him half-stripes from classified sources.”   “And Jima didn’t down-check them from OPM, so he was good.”   “Hey! I wasn’t involved in the review. I know I’m way too fond of him to be impartial.”   “I was teasing, join me for dinner? Kannie’s still open?”   “Until two hours before first shift, must be murder on their employees. So you want to hear some recommendations?”   “I’d invite my second-in-command over, and my adjutant candidate if she can make it.”   “Oh, haven’t started with her?”   “No, didn’t know how to reach her, I kept relying on my chief of staff for Mariwolfe’s number.”   “Oh! Like old times eh? I’ll call her.”   “Well, no, it’s not that, my favorite people, really. At least, outside the circle. The ones I spend time off with.”   “Who’s second-in-command?”   “Na-Ballista Ria Baker, currently of Meihomei’s Own.”   “Damn, almost a family reunion.”   “I expect Juraian will throw a tantrum.”   “What?”   “He hates so much when I take his command people.”   “Well, you outrank him now.”   “I’ve always outranked him, it’s never stopped him before.”   “Oh, yeah, when you met him, that day, way back, he was still a mast, right?”   “Green like a leaf, or close enough I couldn’t tell.”   “Now you’re… the youngest Nessun?”   “I am, Venkat was the youngest Nessun, ever, but his career is still double the length of mine.”   “What?”   “Most Nessuns have mostly grey or white hair. Venkat’s getting premature balding.”   “And you have grey hair… one or two.”   “What? Where?”   “I’m kidding, so easy to bait you Tacks.”   Later…   “Ever wonder why Masts outrank Flags?”   “Oh, that’s covered in HR training dear, it’s so Flags, who are the trainee officers, the ones who don’t know ship mechanics yet, get to meet everyone senior to them, when they receive everyone’s everyone’s flag to raise at reveil.”   “Oh, so it sounds prestigious, but it’s actually more menial?”   “No, well, it’s team building… Flags start their day getting to know everyone and helping everyone else know about the chain of command. Which also reminds them that everyone outranks them, and they can only go up A ship without an actual Flagboy, Flaggirl or Flag hands that duty to the next most junior Mast, usually. Like we did at Yesugai.”   “Oh.”   ...Later, at Kannie’s   “Welcome to Kannie's, how may we serve you today?”   “I’d like a booth, and a table for four, Navy business.” Maelle and Jima had left their uniforms across the street, and dressed down semi-formally, but the host wasn’t fooled about Maelle’s tone of authority.   “But of course, Zim.”   “Four?”   “Mariwolfe wrote back, she’s coming.”   “Oh, good news.”   “So we shall expect your friends, what name can we expect them to give?”   “Comma or Rolli would do. Or my reservation number, 3141592654”   “Oh, you had a reservation? Please let me check my console, I hadn’t seen it. Oh, Medjen Rolli, OPM’s always welcome here.”   He leads them to a closed room.   “They know you by name?”   “We do take out a lot of people here to celebrate promotions, adoptions and other personal victories. Kannie’s is very appreciated by the crews.”   “How come I didn’t get taken out?”   “You get promoted too fast, by the time we get our invite out, you’ve been promoted again. Besides, you got to dine with Meihomei for two of your promotions, nothing we gonna do about those.”   “I meant my reaching Taimine and Nessun.”   “Those… are managed by the Nessun College, we don’t get to celebrate them.”   “Oh?”   “The Telbun and Honour usually split Taimines, amd Nessuns get to dine together every month, kinda not the same, considering Drydock plaza has its own chef..:”   “Oh, I did dine with Tadros. And… I guess I’m expected back every month then?”   “Something like that, the Nessun minutes are published, and they’re the 7th of every month, usually, except on if it falls on a weekend, where it gets pulled or pushed a handful of days.”   “Excuse me, Zim, I just got pinged, at least one of your party is at the front, I shall go fetch them now.”   “Mariwolfe! Ria!”   “Nice to see you Zim...s.” She stammered at the amount of slate and synthetic emerald, especially the latter, Jima had on.   “Yeah, not going to be joining you on this cruise, ladies, but I am expected to help Nessuns find the best crews as part of my job, and that I will do gladly.”   “Taimine? Weren’t you getting cut back down to Scorpion?”   “I was, then I ranked up, Ballista, Medjan, Tujan, Taimine. I’m Gloval’s heir apparent for OPM, so Nessun’s not exactly unreachable.”   “Congradts, wow, Randjik would bend your ear over that one.”   “Oh, I ran into him…”   “Oh, there’s a story?”   “Oh, yeah, a good one, so let’s wait until after the food.”   “Ohhh, goodie, a story!”   “What about you, Ria, anything new?”   “Hmm, where to start, for one, I’m still with Yesugai.”   “What? How come?”   “It’s kinda bad form to leave when you’re getting promoted to fill your promoted commanding officer’s shoes, I hear, at least, I hear the Navy don’t like it.” The others chuckled.   “So, Juraian?”   “Taimine, and Medjan of Meihomei’s Own.”   “Andei?”   “Ballista of Great Kagome. Last I heard.”   “He’s fleeting up to Medjen, he’s got a three-cutter fleet element to mind in Dunkehl.”   “Striped Javelin Bundle Cavill?”   “Chief of staff, Meihomei’s Own.”   “Striped Javelin Bundle Quinn?”   “Chief of staff and second in command, Keekyo.”   “Who’s YOUR second in command, Ria?”   “Adjan Mareeyev Duhbloon.”   “And you Mariwolfe?”   “Would you believe I made Decorated Dagger Bandolier?”   “I thought you were Navy now?”   “Oh, In Navy parlance, I’m a Decorated Javelin Bundle.”   “Actually, you’re in drydock, I thought you got Ground Rank when you did that?”   “Ugh, yeah, but let’s not say I’m a Whoopi too loud ok?”   “Some of those names are ridiculous, but wait, a Whoopi’s a priestess, a high ranking one…”   “I’m Reg-Chap, Third Dock crew.”   “Not bad for someone who couldn’t cast spells last year!”   “Will you be wanting something to drink, to celebrate then, Zims?” Dantrag reappeared, like a ghost, a useful skill he had learned in butler school.   “Oh, don’t scare me like that, Dentrag, but yes, do bring us plum wine, the Lavali Castle, from the reserve.”   “My, someone’s got money to burn, that’s expensive.”   “I’m indulging, this one time ladies, I can only make Nessun once!”   “What? This is a new promotion?”   “Of course, I have to fill those positions too, or I’ll get in trouble with OPM.”   “Not with us…” Gulp. “With Meihomei.” She attempted an imitation of her ruler’s voice: “You’re too skilled, valuable and expensive to be sitting idle on that beach, so sue me, get those people to help you, so I can get you the ships you need to defend Kagomei.” The others were crying with laughter.   “Perfect voice, really.”   “So good!”   “Lavali Castle, Exclusive Reserve, the 845, will this do, Zim?”   “Oh, yes, that will do splendidly Dentrag.”   “Just how much does that cost?”   “A few weeks’ salary for a Nessun a bottle, easily.”   “Good thing the house is paid!”   “Or?”   “Err, or my sweet baboo would be disappointed with me, saying I shouldn’t spend so much on parties.”   “He’d be right, we don’t NEED anything that expensive to celebrate your promotion. But it’s your money.”   “So you've brought files?”   “Yeah, Kneecole McKibbins, Leviathan Desus, Dheevhonne Enoteca, Harmon Krabbe, Sarah Kenziemac.”   “Glad we aren’t too prejudiced to include male names too.” That was mariwolfe, who planned to transition from neither, to female.   “Leviathan transitioned to male, he was… non binary before.”   “I’d like to think it won’t affect me, or the people at this table, but it might affect the crews?”   “He gets to pick them, so I’d think he’d pick people who’d not be affected.”   “Oh, silly me, I don’t get to pick them, either.”   “You get to pick those four officers, they pick the rest. It’s a mark of Meihomei’s trust 6th fleet’s chief of staff doesn’t pick you, actually.”   “It’s a bit more complicated for pathfinders.”   “Yes, I know. And a fleet is not a simple thing, no matter how you slice it, I was involved with fourth and fifth fleet, and it was quite complicated finding everyone for all the jobs that need doing.”   “But how big is sixth fleet?”   “Over three thousand sailors. Sixth fleet needs, for its 600 flying crew, 1500 fitters, that’s NOT including anyone for ship navigation… “   “What? Where are they all going to sleep?”   “Ladies, let Jima show you the crew chart for a constellation flycarrier, please.”   “Yeah, so 600 flying, 1500 fitters, technical specialists, etc… 500 maintenance and technical specialists, 250 tactical crew, 250 supply and morale, 100 navigation and command including junior officers. Total complement 3200 approximately. Sixth fleet has two of them, plus a bunch of cutters. OPM’s having a fit because we don’t normally assign anything that big, even to a Nessun. The total is six and a half divisions in size, easy, and we’re going to need a computer upgrade, just to track em all.”   “Why did we build them so big?”   “We saw what the other side was preparing to send our way, we can’t replicate it yet, but we can try at least, to project as much power. Their Consolation-class Skycarriers are truly terrifying, 2600 crew in a flying dreadnaught.”   “And we build them in twos?”   “We expect we’ll need to service them a lot more than they hoped to, we are in a defensive war.”   “Don’t we have enough land bases?”   “Not yet, and even if we did, they’re not all fully staffed. Giving them a mobile command post to focus our defensive posture makes sense.”   Oh, so basically we take Megamisama airbase with us?”   “That’s the numbers you see, 300 flying is the high mark of what we got flying in Megamisama, so having twice that in a pair of ships is thought to be a major centre of defense.”   “You got case pinks?”   “I’ll need your help, Ria already chewed me for letting them put on the upper deck.”   “And what do I get out of this? Your adjutant doesn’t rate even javelin.”   “No, but you don’t get demoted for it either, chief of staff would be div chap, except I got more than one division, so there’s more than one division chaplain job to go around. You'd be senior to the others in rate, since I'm picking you first.”   “What?”   “A navy division is a thousand sailors. Under the command of a Nessun.”   “We don’t exactly have a senior Nessun rank either.”   “No, so I am expected to recruit some willing Taimine, Tujen and Medjen, down to Ballista and Scorpion, for the navy complement, almost a full division and a half, per ship. And a division and a half of Flyforce and Navy Fliers, again, per ship.”   “Who’s ringmaster of this?”   "It’d be a Goshawk, I don’t like the idea of inviting another OF-09 to this party.”   “But you must, at least a division of flyforce without an Eagle, their own divisional-rank officer?”   “Oh crap, you mean?”   “If you can find a flyforce officer with experience in divisional-sized operations, he’ll be an eagle already, and I doubt he’d accept a demotion just to play with your toys.”   “And you don’t have files on any?”   “No, but I do.”   “What, Ria? How?”   “Then-Tujen Maelle Comma’s suggestion that we let chiefs of staff of any unit above one hundred troops keep an eye on promotion candidates and staffing levels all the way to the top isn’t Jima-Level of Impress-the-brass, but it didn’t get missed either, by high command.”   “Oh, yeah I did say that.” Maelle sheepishly grinned. “And they…?”   “I am a flyforce officer, with chief of staff responsibilities, even if I’m assigned to a navy ship, so they sent me files to evaluate, officers I’ve met, for instance.”   “Eagle De Byzance? I love the air Big Cake breathes, but she’s staying put in Dunkehl, if I have anything to say about it.”   “Yeah, I so happened to make the comment she was too senior as a civilian for me to evaluate objectively and got “please answer the questions anyways, Officer Baker.” for my trouble."   “Just who is handling personnel for Flyforce?”   “A join task force of Navy OPM and Land Army procurement and personnel, for now.”   “So flyforce chiefs of staff are feeding HR people from the army and navy? No conflict of interest there…”   “Not the way you think, we’re not asked if it’s a good idea, we are asked to help pick the best person for a role, but someone will get picked.”   “And if you pick badly? I mean none of you are flyforce…”   “We’re not the only input, we just act as discriminants after people like Ria, who pick promotion candidates, and who are flyforce, end up deadlocked. Eagle De Byzance was a shoe-in, but a few others were more complicated.”   “Why was she a shoe in?”   “How many flyboys can say they flew their pilders into the palace to slice someone off Meihomei’s maid? While Meihomei was watching?”   “Oh, ok, that’s a kinda shoe in, but does that mean she’s a good general?”   “She’s good, organizationally, that’s how she got Kautanissian.”   “Kauta? She’s… first on Arnd for the belt of fire?”   “She’s Seventh of the Nine, and executive secretary, signs all the folderol, countersigns treaties after Meihomei. Not bad for someone who was a roaming lumber camp inspector.”   ...Later   “How goes Southern Diagonal?”   “Pretty good, she can float now, at least.”   “And Northern?”   “Soon ready for her readiness trials.”   “I may just borrow her then.”   “I… may have strong words for you if you do that, Nessun-Honour.”   “If she’s ready for trial, she can do ceremonial duties.”   “She’ll be ready for trial, when she’s crewed, I don’t have aircrews, I don’t have navigation…”   “None of that is expected from YOU, you have staff for that.”   “Yes, and I’m liaising directly with OPM, and I get maybe half their output, they’re filling ten bunks a day. OPM tells me recruitment doesn’t expect to replace, or add, more than five per cent of the fleet per year.”   “Their estimates will have to be revised, if 10000 crew a year is more than they can supply.”   “In raw numbers, they can, but I need specialists for four out of five bunks.”   “Yes, and that’s not recruitment’s job, but promotions. And that’s what your chief of staff and second in command and adjutant have been doing?”   “No, they’ve been recruiting a cadre of ten OPM-qualified officers, to handle recruiting and promoting the rest, give them the credit of some sense.”   “I see you’re not as naive as some expected you to be.”   “Sixth Fleet is also anywhere from 6.5 to ten divisions, normally with each their own chief of staff… If anything, we’re still undersized.”   “You don’t need just OPM, though, you need your leadership cadre for the ships next.”   “Flag Ballista?”   “Flag Taimine. The first, ever. Constellation-class Flycarriers are forcing a redefinition of just what a Navy Divisional Force Group is, by including three a piece.”   “How much of that is Aircrew?”   “You have the best part of a Flyforce division per ship, don’t play coy with me.”   “Do they all have to be navy?”   “What?”   “The officers, do I need everyone aboard to be navy crew?”   “No, heavens, no, that’d cause a mutiny.”   “So… I need an Eagle aboard?”   “Wingmaster, Southern Diagonal, Wingmaster, Northern Diagonal, are the titles, Eagle George Fokker, Eagle Jova Trimidad, Eagle Ria Baker, were shortlisted.”   “With respect, don’t I get to meet those officers, first?”   “I know Ria is your second in command already, the second in command of a Flycarrier should be the Aircrew commander.”   “But she’s my second in command, not the ship second in command.”   “Wingmistress, Sixth Flyforce would fit, but I want her where she can fly again.”   “Fast-movers?”   “Mariwolfe and her suggested a command and control skycutter, carried on one of the Flycarriers.”   “A gunskycutter?”   “Not quite, look at this design…”   “So, a huge fast mover?”   “Not fast enough to be a fast mover, but with these, it can loiter in place, and these sensors, these jade banks, and the crew complement, it can coordinate the whole sky over Kagomine by itself.”   “I’ve visited first air tower, you plan on twenty crew?”   “Ok, maybe without the redundant safeties, those would be on the ships.”   “Why not a redundant skycutter? Or two?”   “Hmm, even with their endurance, that’s an idea, but they require lots of supplies... “   “Pilder supply runs.”   “You… talked about this with them?”   “With Ria and Mariwolfe? Yes, I have them on staff, I’ll be damned if I tell them to shut up and look pretty.”   “None of your crew ever had that problem.”   “What? Look pretty?” She sounded insulted.   “None of the crew we send your way learn to shut up. None of them seem to run out of intelligent things to say either.”   “Oh.”   “That’s a compliment, you bring out the best in a bunch of mavericks and lunatics and people who’d normally think Navy life is boring… And turn them on our enemies, who say ‘Uncle’. I wish you could teach that.”   “I’m trying… Ria’s a good listener.”   “Did you ever find your own chief of staff?”   “Yes, Maryeehv Dubloon, from Keekyo.”   “How is she working out?”   “Learning from Jima, she will be a terror.”   “Oh, Jima didn’t come back?”   “No, being number two at OPM behind an ailing Gloval is apparently career-enhancing, and pleasant, who’d have thought?”   “Yeah, but I didn’t think she was career minded to that degree.”   “OPM stays on shore. She has two children.”   “Ohh!”   “Yeah, so she is teaching OPM all her tricks, kicking all sorts of hidebound people in the fundament, and teaching Noncoms a trick or two, one at a time. While looking forward to a Nessun’s Golden Anchor.”   “From the fitness reports increase I’ve seen, around thirty per cent, year over year, we barely deserve her, and will probably need to do more than Nessun to recognize just how good a job she’s doing.”   “She’s bored with the Meihomei’s Cat, and the Merit of Honour can only be awarded for combat service.”   “Meihomei’s thinking about renaming an academy building after her.”   “The soft sciences building?”   “Yeah.”   “She’ll have to move the name off it first, Rembrandt is a favorite of the students.”   “What?”   “It was named after the cat, has been since the cat saved Meihomei.”   “Oh. Maybe the administrative building.”   “Why don’t you let her run OPM on her own first?”   “Oh, that’s two, three years in the future, there’s a feasibility study.”   “Oh, those don’t move fast.”   “Flyforce asked for a school, next to the navy’s, so the Flycarrier can train.”   “Who has the time?”   “They’d help, they’d help a lot with the intake, if you could just recruit, instead of interviewing Aircrew for lateral transfer.”   “Yeah, but a school, takes maybe ten years to build, staff, program.”   “Yes, but there is a reason Meihomei wanted me to mention it to you at this time…”   “Yes?”   “Maelle Comma Naval Flight and Aerospace Academy.”   “...” Maelle couldn’t breathe, she passed out.   “You ok?” Valias Herringbone hadn’t used her healing powers in years, she was glad she remembered how.   “Yeah, my, give a girl some warning before you push her buttons like that.”   “Sorry, I don’t announce things like these often, and apparently, I’m bad at it. Jima had a similar adverse reaction when I mentioned honours for her."   “Whoever thought I’d be the best person, and not, say, Mariwolfe?”   “Mariwolfe gets the mess hall, Ria gets a dormitory. It’s already being prepared.”   “And it can change before the buildings open.”   “Yes, but we try not to, makes the people who prepared the plans look sloppy if we change it for anything less than ‘was secretly a serial murderer or traitor’.”   Maelle tried not to laugh.   “Quinn?”   “They don’t want to mess with his candidacy for Telbun. He can satisfy himself with a few Meihomei’s Cat in the meantime. Which brings the more serious matter I wanted to discuss, why I want Northern Diagonal.”   “I’m listening.”   “I’m taking Meihomei’s Own with Meihomei to Moniq for a diplomatic summit, I’d like us to carry extra firepower, Northern Diagonal, Rikker, Troia, Piquard and Shannter, any available escorts.”   “So, three actual Founder-class, seven or eight Companion-Class, one Constellation, just what threat would justify that?”   “Well, between the rumors that the Invaders want to strike the summit, Meihomei wants to impress Xiang a bit.”   “Will we have airspace permit, with such a large group?”   “No, not the whole thing, and they won’t be ready yet, not in a month, but your Colours Squadron of each, perhaps.”   “Ok, so Gunskycutter 456th, World Movers, Pilders 27th, Choosers of the Dead, Fast Movers, 18th Jolly Rogers, plus as many of those three Air Control skycutters as we can train, World Surfers, if they're trained up.”   “Oh, you think they’ll be important?”   “Mariwolfe reminds me the case pink is almost at limit, unless we get better telemetry, seems something these Air Control Flyers will do in their sleep. They got Harhui, and Keekyo’s in repairs dry dock because they got through.   What do you expect to replace Keekyo with?”   “I can’t, we’ll have to make do with three founders and seven companions, plus my new flagship.”   “I'm not staying behind!"   "What? I thought you said you were taking them.”   “Meihomei’s taking a joint task force of parts of third and sixth fleet, task force 7.”   “And?”   “And we’re both coming along for the ride.”   “Why do you need me there? There’s something you’re not saying.”   “Meihomei wants to get used to you.”   “What? But I'm nobody.”   “A Nessun is never a nobody.”   “Compared to Meihomei, a Nessun is a Senior Navy Officer, but one of many. I’m also writing the _MINUTES_ at Nessun meetings.” Her sarcasm was biting.   “And Meihomei wants me to retire, become a civilian, Minister of Defense.”   “Oh, and what’s that got to do with me?”   “I’d help her pick an Honour, a Vision and a Loyalty.”   “What?”   “You were thought of my successor when you were still a Mast, nothing you’ve done has disabused people of the notion much, either.”   “Surely, I didn’t do that well as a Taimine.”   “No, but you didn’t do any obvious mistakes, and that fleet is in fine shape right now. Not everything you do will be ‘save Meihomei from the invaders’ either.”   “And as Tujen?”   “As Tujen, Nessuns were looking bad compared to you, I was getting complaints that it should be impossible for you to be so successful with a smaller crew, that someone had to be cheating, that you had to have a bigger ship's complement than was reported.”   “We were underreported, compared to the treaty.”   “Yes, but so were some of the complainers. Except they had multiple Founder-class, to your one. No one else had shot down more of the invaders than you did, of course, they were coming for Meihomei, so it was normal.”   “And as Ballista?”   “As Ballista, you knocked the socks off anyone who looked at you sideways. Meihomei bent the rules to keep you from getting promoted a half year, just so the others didn’t complain. And this was to a level below their level, or at their level, not promoted above them.”   “And as Mast?”   “As Mast, please, you remember the infamous simulator incident?” (Which had led to her promotion as Adjan and then to her spending a ridiculously short amount of time as Adjan, why it’s not mentioned here)   “I do.”   “I never told you I had to have you investigated, because I had THREE Nessuns in my office demanding something must be done, that you had to have cheated. I was utterly vindicated by the review board, and they had quite some egg in the face after that. Face it, they have something, no one else ever had as smooth a climb to the top, they got that right. What they got wrong is that it was deliberate and arranged by someone higher than you.”   “And now, you’re thinking of?”   “Taking a six month sabbatical with MY sweet baboo, then coming back to a civilian job, while we tend a garden, get some rest, he’s given enough, and frankly, so have I. This new job is mostly to get Meihomei to delegate, so I’m hopeful it won’t take too long.”   “You’ve been trying since you’re the Honour, and you think you can do it in a few months?”   “This is the first time she’s actually agreed to enumerate people we’d delegate authority to. Dreamy Domei Dan, Domei Conservat and Domei Mikhala also get to shine.”   “Ministers?”   “Executive Secretaries, Interior, Education and Foreign Affairs.”   “No one for industry, revenue or finance”   “That’s going to the Circle’s Executive Secretary, she’s doing that already anyways. As prime minister.”   “What?”   “The circle employs more people than the Navy and Army put together, right now.”   “...” Maelle’s mind boggled.   “She is delegating, not enough for my liking, but she is doing it.”   “And when you retire, who ends up with Defense?”   “No one, It folds into Foreign Affairs at the end of the war.”   “So you’re staying on for that?”   “I… I don’t think I could go tend my orchard, if we’re still at war.”   “Ok, I can understand that, just as long as it’s because of something you want.”   “Yes, but thanks.”   “What?”   “You, asking that question, you just made me realize, it is what I want, it’s why I’m worried about this… I don’t know how to tell Tadros I won’t be able to retire before the end of the war, but I will have to find out.”   “And? He’s actually retiring?”   “I’ll have to ask him.”   ...Later   “Striped Javelin Bundle Tadros Dandelion, reporting for security duty, Minister Herringbone.”   “What’s this? I thought you had retired?”   “I retired because I thought you did… It’ll do me good to leave the job to someone younger.”   “And, thank heavens, not someone related to you.”   “Telbun Cavill will do nicely, he’s already taken a few at the Academy under his wing.”   “Who’s my first meeting?”   “You have to ask? Your first briefings every morning are with the Honour, then the Loyalty, then the Vision. Then a joint meeting with all three.”   “And the agenda?”   “Get to know only for today, plus the implications of having a ten-division task force floating around with just a divisional officer in command.”   “Have they made progress?”   “Nessuns in two colors, one for the regular divisions, one for the outsized one.”   “I don’t see that working, too little difference between a Fleet Nessun and a Force Nessun. We’d need a separate title.”   “Or you push everyone down a step.”   “What?”   “Make it you have to command a flycarrier to be a Nessun, make the rest Taimine.”   “That’d… be like herding cats, but… The Honour will have to learn how to do that. Any of the others have outsized divisions?”   “Not permanently, the fact that it’s aboard ship is what complicates matters, the others have maneuvers without quite so many as the unit.”   “Is the Loyalty still suggesting we have Pilder-only infantry?”   “She has put some moderation into that, she still thinks it’s a good idea, but agrees the resources aren’t there.”   “And the Vision?”   “The Vision is focused on building out her force, Planning, Provisioning and Personnel is their main war horse, and they’re doing a terrific job, for all the challenges they’re facing.”   “I’m so glad you’re here…”   “What?” His mask broke, infinitesimally.   “It’s reassuring to have you, a Soldier’s Soldier, to advise me on these matters. Plus, well, you won’t be using that small room they assigned you, you know that right?”   “I wouldn’t call my four room suite small, Minister, but are you implying I won’t need it?”   “No, in fact, I’m no longer your commanding officer, as per Title 63 AND 64….” She wafted satisfaction.   “It’d still cause quite a stink, if we got caught.”   “But we’d have to get caught… Unlike in the armed forces, which have magical sweeps, just to find us out.”   “I’ll still be swept.”   “You’ll be swept, for your subalterns. Like my driver and batman.”   “Thankfully, not my type.”   “Yes, I know.” She purred.   “They’re yours though…”   “What?”   “Young men, fresh from the Academy.”   “Oh, I’m past that phase, Tadros, I won’t be caught with the younger men…”   “Oh, why not?”   “I have a little bit of catching up to do, with an older one…”   He blushed. “You want me to go into that meeting like I’ve done something wrong, don’t you?”   “Maybe, Maybe I like the idea that the Honour will have to keep you on your toes.”   ...Later   “Thank you for joining me, Honour, Loyalty, Vision.”   “Thank you, Minister, for your time.” The other two echoed Maelle’s statement.   “I don’t need to introduce you to Tadros, do I?” She pointed to her hulking “assistant”, still in his military uniform, fully seconded to her civilian office by Maelle, who was under no illusions as to his loyalty.   “Not I.” Maelle piped, “We go back to my Academy days.”   “There’s two or three cadets who haven’t yet met, nor heard of Tadros Dandelion’s ruthless prosecution of incompetence, hubris and neglect as Telbun, I’m certainly not one of them.” Said the Loyalty, her hair glistening gold.   “We’ve met, on Great Kagome, it’s a privilege to do so again.” Spoke Vision Fokker.   “Exalted Dignitaries, I but do my duty.”   “Tadros mentioned that one possible solution to the thorny problem of Navy division size is to make all ranks above Adjen and below Nessun command smaller units, with Nessun commanding Fleets of above divisional sizes. Your thoughts?”   “How would that impact Wingmaster and Ringmaster ranks associated with those units?”   “No determination has been made, how do you think it would affect them?”   “As of now, one of the Fleets should carry one Ringmaster per division, with one Wingmaster in command, but those are not formal ranks.”   “I see no need to change that, but I would see minimal ranks for those titles, so that we do not have a Kestrel Ringmaster.”   “Surely, if a smaller craft only has a pair of squads, you can call their commander something?”   “Why not call him by his actual rank? We only need to do something special for the navy, because there can only be one shipmaster, whose rank varies from Adjen to Ballista.   “And yet, if an Adjen commands an Escort on detached duty, with a squad of ten Pilders, a Kestrel isn’t outsized to command them.”   “The way I see it, I’m making an exception for command size on the Navy, I don’t like making one for the Flyforce.”   “I’d argue it only makes sense to have the same exception, when a ship’s complement of fliers is large enough to warrant special treatment.”   “Oh, that’s interesting. You don’t see a need for land-based flyforces to have an exception?”   “I see friction from my flyforces when they outrank a navy officer, but are subaltern to them, and they appreciate the Wingmaster or Ringmaster titles, as a kind of mollifier.”   “How often does that happen now?”   “It should be less and less frequent, thanks to the Academy.” He didn’t need to say the name, everyone in the room was invited to the inauguration, set for Octem twelfth.   “But it can still happen?”   “When flyforce OF-06 commnders get crowded out of fifth mast, it does set a sort of negative precedent.”   “There’s only one fleet element where that’s likely to happen, and we all know why. Rubbing elbows with Meihomei is hardly career ending. And while the flags are one way for Meihomei to know who the commanding officers are, it’s hardly the only one.”   “The others?”   “Meihomei’s briefing documents from Mister Tcha include the ten seniormost officers in any theatre, I asked.”   “Ten?”   “Meihomei said, if we have five flags, we would be exceedingly unlucky to lose five, but it could still happen, so double it. It’s up from six, when Navy ships had three. And the rule transferred over to non-navy..”   “So, say if she visited 9th Airwing’s Airbase, down in Dunkehl, they’d list her the ten most important Flyforce officers there?”   “Yes, not that the nine others will have anything to do but get out of Eagle de Byzance’s way, of course.”   The others giggled.   “She is a bit hands on, I’ve been advising her to take it easy. But it doesn’t come naturally.”   “She IS also on a first name basis with Meihomei, closer than anyone but you Minister.”   “Oh, that’s not quite true, Eagle de Byzance is also Prime Minister de Byzance, and certainly closer than I am to Meihomei, right now. If anyone is closer to Meihomei, it would be a personal relationship, like Bameito Shen.”   “Or Dreamy Domei Dan.” Maelle chortled.   “He’s not THAT dreamy. Scrawny lil git.”   “Only you can say that, Tadros, and you’re lucky he doesn’t use his powers, or you’d be the one helpless.”   “Well, I do outweigh him, by a third, all muscle…”   “No one here argues that, Tadros, but none of that makes him less dreamy, not everyone likes your muscles, either. He’s… certainly made his share of conquests. But we digress, so apart from Meihomei’s Own, fifth flag isn’t quite so contested anymore?”   “It’s manageably contested, minister.”   “And you, how are your folk working out, Loyalty, I understand you had a struggle.”   “Not everyone was convinced I was the best officer, I did have to convince a few. But we are working now, better than before, fitness reports show month over month improvements.”   “That’s good, you three, my door is always open, please do let me know of any concerns or questions, I am the one who parrots what you say to Meihomei, so I’d appreciate knowing when I’ll have egg on my face, ahead of time. And yes, I think that’s why I have a parrot flag.”   “I do have a small quibble, could you possibly use my proper title? I’m not Meihomei’s Armies Loyalty, I am Meihomei’s Laurana or Laurana Gloriana.”   “Oh, it’s a gendered title?”   “The title, if one is female, is named after the actual first holder, not so if one isn’t, or not exclusively.”   “Thank you for correcting me, is it correct to use by itself? Laurana, or are you Meihomei’s Laurana, formally?”   “It’s just as proper as Honour, Loyalty, or Vision, proper without, formal with.”   “Thank you, I didn’t know that.”   “There’s not been one since you’ve been alive, minister, it’s hardly surprising it’s obscure.”   "Are you saying I'm old?"   "Old enough to know better, young enough to still try some, like most Senior Military Officers, Minister."   ...Later   "Was she right?"   "About what?"   Me, being old?"   "Hear me out."   "Ok."   "You have been thinking of retirement for how long?"   "Err, eight Arnds."   "So, eight Arnds ago, you decided you were old, but didn't tell anyone. Now that she noticed, you mind."   "Just how disrespectful do you plan to be, in my very own bed?"   "Very, I always speak truth to power, you know that."   "And I'm old because?"   "For the same reason I am, we decided we wanted to wake up to each other on the regular and do the beast with two backs right after instead of serving Meihomei."   "That makes you old?"   "Old compared to those youngins serving Meihomei with their lives and whole hearts."   "And you feel old?"   "Old enough to know better, young enough to want to try."   "Seriously, we don't need to go for thirds,it won't prove anything."   "And it won't be fun?"   "I didn't say that."   ..Fade to black   Knock knock.. "Minister? Meihomei calls."   "Yes? Get me a robe, she's early."   "She called two hours ago, but I rescheduled since you were asleep."   "Two hours?"   "I can't really reschedule her a third time today. It's past mid-day."   "Midday?"   "The sun will set in about an hour… Officer Dandelion was very generous, but perhaps not on days where Meihomei is expected to call?"   It dawned on Valias just what her Batman was saying… She'd slept through six hours of a day, expected to start with her Vision, Laurana and Honour meetings, because, well her and Tadros had been heard…   She blushed so hard, it felt like a physical sensation.   "Valias! Are you ok?"   "Yes, I just celebrated a bit last night…"   "I heard,no more title 63 or 64 for you, right?"   "What?"   "Come on, even if I'd been blind, the attraction between you and Tadros was never subtle."   "What, me? And mister muscles?"   "You lie like a used car salesman, he only got the muscles to impress you. I'm no men expert, but I know he was hoping to get lucky… now you're six hours out of touch.. recovering?"   "Recovering from what?"   "Whatever had you screaming 'Tadros! Tadros!' of course."   "You just want to embarrass me."   "And you didn't when I got pregnant with Shen?"   "Ok, I totally deserve that."   "How’s our task force coming along?”   “They’re doing nicely, I won’t have two flycarriers, but I think I can get you one, at least.”   “More would be better.”   “I’m bringing almost five divisions!”   “Oh, five thousand people?”   “Close to that, depends on if any ships get taken out of action between now and then.”   “Hopefully not the flycarrier?”   “That one has to be taken into action, as we’re still preparing it.”   “Oh, it’s still being built?”   “And crewed, just finding all those flyers is apparently very difficult.”   “Just how many flyers?”   “With the TAC aircraft, almost 650 just for those with a permit to fly.”   “Oh, and how many fitters?”   “Rounded ? Fifteen hundred.”   “A division of fitters, just on one ship?”   “A division and a half.”   “That’s a lot…”   “That’s a very many planes, you insisted.”   “You think I should have gone for a smaller deck?”   “No, I don’t have an opinion, I do have a written document that says the dinitrogen tetroxide packed in that ship is not enough for more than a week’s operations. Written by your protegée, Maëlle, who’s thinking of including in her pathfinder manual that there are too many gunskycutters on board, and to replace two squadrons with the equivalent volume of fuel.”   “Modular fuel emplacements?”   “That would avoid the review and shakedown… Her officers, half of which are certified engineers, are actually proposing plan modifications.”   “Oh, so we’d deliberately lower the carrying capacity?”   “Is that the concern you had, what we _published_?”   “Oh.”   “I see no reason not to publish the original specs, and let whoever can find out about our ships, and can read the relevant plans, deduce we are changing things… They’re making even more modifications, by moving the Thunders down off flight deck.”   “Oh?”   “Apparently, very few people had even read the manual, but Aircrew Tannenbaum has, and the case pinks can fire from the sides of the ship.”   “Arrange a meeting with them, I want to know what it all means.”


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