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“Trust? I was a Reisen once, my lord, I’d be worshipping her if not for you. It’s just that she’s so… overwhelming. She welcomes me, and makes ancient things in me scream for obedience; she speaks to me, and a millennium of thoughts whisper to me like stars in the night. To try and talk to something like Her Majesty… how are you supposed to do that without drowning in her?”
You shiver, blushing with the recollection of that first link. Maybe, just maybe, you should really try to explain it to the Adjutant… but words fail you, and the memory of Her Majesty’s touch is making you just a little too uncomfortably aware of your heartbeat. Resting your hands on the parapets, you sigh, returning your focus to the view below.
“She is a god, Adjutant. A real god… not some imperial king fueled by infidel’s blood, but a force. And maybe you’re right, and I could understand her, but not now. Not as I am. So, please – forgive me if I sound faithless, but I need you for this, my lord. Need you to remind me why I’m here stalking after some rebellious boy and his damned grandpa, rather than losing myself in Her Majesty’s rapture.”
The air is silent for a long time, save for the spring breeze; then, almost as quietly, the Adjutant chuckles, resting her arms beside you.
“Hah… I wonder that sometimes myself, Commander,” she admits, looking down at the almond trees before shifting her gaze back to you. “Alright, I owe you an apology... and some answers, correct? Where would you have me start?”
You think for a moment. “From Her, my lord: her past, what she wants, what she is to you. You gave me so many memories, but nothing about the Princess …”
“I’d hoped that I wouldn’t have to use them,” she says with a nod. “But yes, it’s a good place to start.”
Messages trace across the comm networks, and Eirin winces as an instant full of mission details and status reports flood her mind. When she regains control, you can briefly see the blankness in her eyes; a second, though, and it’s gone, a light smile hiding all. She gestures to the stairs, revealing little hints of the probes and sensors on the suit under her cloak.
“It’ll take most of the morning, and I know you have more you want to know – but we seem to have free time, and I want your questions answered. Come.”
[[The first thing you should know about Her Majesty is that she is human.]]
As you descend the central staircase, the sky quickly darkens from its hazy green to a quieter purple. It remains like that for a few brief seconds, auroras trailing lazily in its deep – but then it brightens back to its proper hues.
[[She was always human. Born from the Empress Consort’s womb, from the Emperor’s seed…]]
Royal security drones rise past like balloons. Scouts slip by like ghosts, a flicker of their stealth suits the only sight you catch of them. And on all of them, a white disc encircled by a white ring. When you close your eyes, you can see that mark everywhere, millions of it staring at you ceaselessly – Her eyes, dark brown god’s eyes pretending to be human – but strangely, you don’t feel much of anything from the image. Just a slight desire to be near the Princess again.
[[That she has power doesn’t change that.]]
Soon, the two of you reach the third floor’s main hallway. A half-circle according to the floor plans, the empty corridor is awash with the ruddy morning light, the beams flooding from the ceiling, glinting where the composite glass tiles meet… and in that light, Eirin almost looks vulnerable. Her skin is soft and pale like the Princess’ – but where Her skin is milky, your lord’s is a stark white, barely warmed by her blood. Her short silver hair frays where she cut off her last braid; dull blues and dark blood-reds each cover half of her skin-tight encounter suit, fitted layers of reactive composites hinting at the thick bulk of augmented muscles and lean flesh underneath. Plateless deflector boots cover her feet, and nanosyringe gloves cover her hands. She is one step away from being a purpose-built machine, but even so…
Her smile is warm; and despite yourself, you nod obediently. [[Yes, my lord.]]
[[Good,]] she replies, moving out of a wire runner’s way. [[That’s really the answer to all your questions. She wants her Empire to unite – but she is human, so she loves it too much to discipline it with force. I love her, so I stand by her side – but she is human, so she hates what we do, no matter how she rationalizes it. The past is the same.]]
Eirin stops by a set of double doors, opening it to reveal a wide conference room stretching out to both ends of the villa. She closes her eyes, searching for enchantments in the room; the walls light up with rows of image sigils connected to a control mark on the table’s center. One by one, they link up to the hundreds of feeds in and around the building, the room filling with videos...
Just in front of her is one from the courtyard, a large olive tree taking up much of the view. Under its white blooms lies the Princess, resting while her assistant keeps guard. The two of you sit down in the chairs before you.
[[A thousand years ago, we were regular people – wealthy, but of no particular importance. She grew up as a Terran noblewoman, and I was a Yagokoro, spending my days in labs and war rooms. That was our lives for a long time… but finally, the youkai gave in, and she was taken from the world she knew. The old Emperor was dead, and while his body cooled, his subjects fought over who would keep the newfound power we had witnessed. The Yagokoro were the only ones who truly stayed loyal to his house, and so when Her Majesty was brought to the throne, they took up the search that belonged to His Highness: find an Adjutant for his orphaned daughter. I do not know how many others they considered – but I do know I was not the first. I could see it on Her Majesty’s face.]]
The image changes, this time to the courtyard wall. Two trios of Guardsmen walk the circle like machines, the two groups crossing paths every few minutes.
[[The day we met was probably the worst day of the Princess’ life. The people she loved were gone, on Earth and in the heavens. No home on Earth, thanks to the planet’s endless wars; nothing to greet her on Luna, only courtiers and ministers who she had met only days before. So she was quiet when I met her.]]
You look to Eirin. [[If that was the case,]] you ask, [[why were you accepted? Because you are a Yagokoro?]]
[[No – it was because I was the only one who would approach her. Until then, no candidate could enter her presence without immediately fleeing in panic. And nobody else could approach her and still speak… only me.]]
Eirin’s channel remains open, but after a moment she quickly closes it, her nostalgic smile the only thing she manages.
[[I can’t tell you exactly what I said,]] she says, [[only that I managed to get her to look from the ground to me. She asked me what I could possibly do for her, and I promised her one thing: if I were her Adjutant, I would make sure she would never feel afraid or lonely again. And when I said that… she cried. No sobbing, no wailing, just a few silent tears. She may not have believed my promise, but at that point she accepted me; after that, there was no question. I was her Adjutant.]]
[[And after that?]] you ask quickly.
[[After that, we ruled. Guided by the Yagokoro council for a century, then fended on our own when the Yagokoro were nearly wiped out. One coup, five would-be invasions – then the Reclaimations. In between, we’d plot out the course we would set for humankind together. That was our lives for a far longer time… Best centuries of my life, aside from the wars.]]
As Eirin relaxes, something strange begins to happen on the feed: a dot of the courtyard wall darkens. Then another, and another. Soon, they’re uncountable, droplets collecting and dripping from the villa walls.
[[She’s right,]] Eirin mutters in jest. [[I am jealous of that man. Anything else you’d like to know, Commander?]]
You pause, thinking about your last question; finally, you speak. [[Yes, my lord, but it can wait.]]
[[Then let’s go,]] she says pleasantly, the feeds closing simultaneously. [[We still have a building to inspect…]]
The rest of the day is fairly uneventful. Unlike the big mansions in the comedies you saw as a child, the villa turns out not to have trap doors, bookcase escapes, or a secret basement… just a roof access, a regular study, and a regular basement (stocked with some very good Lunar wines, to be fair). The grassy hills have no snipers waiting behind their summits, and the trees have no strange men lurking in their branches. The other residences have people… but a cross-check with Aria Sec shows them to be little more than property guards.
So you have lunch. Nice lunch, a planetbound sandwich with real cheese and lettuce and tomatoes. The leads on the Houhei boy turn out to be false starts; on Dubal himself, there’s still nothing. Nothing but hours and hours of false trails, and useless data. But you continue. You have dinner in the intel room with your crew, once it gets set up. While you eat fresh-made curry, you track down FIREFLY. When the sun dips below its horizon, you dig up what you can on the rabbits. When Her Majesty pops in, returning something…
…When Her Majesty pops in, you take the hat you apparently forgot, and thank her as gratefully as she’ll allow. But then you keep searching, till there’s no time left to trawl the net. You all only manage to find one definite piece of information, but it’s a big one: FIREFLY’s status. Alive and well, and interned aboard a low-orbit station just a few hundred kilometers from Aria. According to reports, he’s to be taken from the station to an interrogation center on the 80th floor three days from now.
“Alright,” you declare, “Our time’s up. Let’s get some rest; tomorrow we case that floor.”
And so you all leave for your beds, abuzz with the prospect of catching the rebel. You enter your room, neat and untouched save for the packs of supplies lying by the work desk, take your uniform off, and slip under the equally neat covers, your pistol just under the other pillow.
You lie there.
Lie there some more.
You can’t sleep, it seems. You try focusing on something…
[ ] A tension binding your wrists.
[ ] Old people, running the world.
[ ] The olive tree.
Yeah, you're right. It's also too much trouble, so screw it. If I have to delay, I'll just say it.