Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
It was all quiet and Illya tossed and turned a few times in the bunk. At least this time it was more comfortable than the little squeaky ones made for other races. He couldn't get comfortable with his boxers on. Each time he turned they would bunch up and gather around his legs and then pinch where he didn't want them to. As if to make it worse the boxers would then rub at the waist band near some of the incisions from multiple surgeries and it would start to make them feel itchy and irritated. With a sigh he pushed his boxers off his hips and reached down inside his blankets to pull the boxers out and toss them on the floor.

After the boxers were gone it was much more comfortable and Illya turned onto his left side to get a little rest. He knew he wouldn't sleep that great with the cough. As the blankets maintained some of the heat it began to slowly get hotter under the blankets and it was comfortable, but it also brought the cough out a little more. It was warming to his chest and he felt the crackling start deep down before he let out a loud, phlegmy sounding cough, but there wasn't anything in it to spit out. About time he was starting to drift off one of his men started into coughing fit and Ehvan rolled over to pass the community phlegm bucket to Bahn. Ehvan was near the center and he volunteered to keep the bucket for starts. Bahn coughed several more times and then hacked out a few more bits of infection before passing the bucket to Saar. Saar had started coughing too. When the rounds were done Illya took the bucket for a round and then passed it back to Ehvan and they all tried to get more sleep.

Finally, it was quiet except for the coughing fit from the Chips on the other side of the room. The heat was soothing for the sore muscles and Illya eventually lapsed into a deep sleep that was suddenly interrupted with a shocking cold wave that started between his shoulder blades and then snuck over his leg. "Ooohooo dat's cold." He could hear Kalizda shushing him and he settled in again, but it took a few moments to get over the rude chilling effect that had run through his body.

Since it was only Kalizda he grunted a sort of response that didn't really come out as anything and settled back in to go to sleep. It was fine till her cold fingers wrapped around to his chest and he huffed a bit. How was it he could warm her bed up and she'd still have freezing fingers and toes? Putting one of his large hands over both her little hands he waited for her fingers to warm so that he could get comfortable again. At last he felt somewhat comfortable and fell asleep only to wake with a coughing fit later and accept the bucket from Ehvan. Later it was Ehvan that woke with the cough and then Bahn and the guy above him. By morning none of them felt like getting up, but Ehvan was the first to pop up. He liked mornings better than the rest.

Walking over to Illya's bunk he saw that Kalizda must already be up and that was fine. "Rise and shine!" Yelling it good and loud in Quoti he jerked the covers back on Bahn's bed and then walked over to Illya's bunk and did the same. Illya peeled his eyes open to see Ehvan hadn't even bothered to put on boxers yet. At first he was going to throw an insult at the man, but he heard a squeak from behind himself and Ehvan's eyes got wide. Kalizda was actually there. With a hasty and rough pull Ehvan threw the covers back over Illya's head and stalked back to his bunk to get dressed.

After that display of Chip morning glory Illya couldn't help laughing. Ehvan might have shocked Kalizda, but he was probably more embarrassed than Kalizda if that was possible. The laughing went through the room and all the men gave good loud calls to Ehvan. "Rise and shine!" With the yelling Ehvan shook his head and collected what he needed to go get washed. "Illya where we wash?" In the middle of a laughing and coughing fit Illya peeled his blankets back far enough to retrieve his boxers and then he got out of the bed and slipped the boxers on. "I'll show you." The men all mumbled in Quoti and began gathering their buckets, but Illya shook his head and explained that the bathing process was different here. With a huff a few of them gathered their oils and washcloths along with towels and then headed toward the showers with Illya.

Already there was a long line and they waited for several minutes before Illya and Bahn got their spots. Ehvan watched with some irritation as there were already several men waiting. "C'mon." Beckoning to a few of the other guys he led them down the hall till he heard more showers and then he stepped into that room. It didn't matter that there were some women exiting the stalls they were simply dressed in towels and they were somewhat private little shower stalls.

Asher had seen the women's sign and he knew the men's shower room was more than busy so he collected a few other guys and headed out to find another men's shower room, but he took the moment to stop at the men's shower room. "Illya, Ehvan es en dah girl bat room." At that Illya about knocked his shower stall over in his haste to finish washing. He couldn't imagine what the heck got into Ehvan's head. The man was probably impatient feeling. Slathering a little more than usual of his cedar oil on his chest he finished rinsing with his oils and then wrapped himself in his towel, held it bunched in the front and grabbed his bundle of clothes. There was a horrible clunking sound of his prosthetic foot when it hit the floor in contrast to the heavy wet slap of Illya's other foot.

However, there was one thing that Illya didn't think of and it was the fact that a little water was on the floor. His prosthetic foot hit a small puddle and he began slipping. With his prosthetic leg going one direction his other leg went the other and he opted to drop his clothes and towel in favor of preventing himself from doing the splits. Instead of making a smooth sort of save he ended up starting to fall backward, threw his clothes toward some unsuspecting guy waiting to shower and fell back. Putting his arms out Illya rolled his back and caught himself primarily absorbing the impact with his arms, but his towel was no longer on him. One of the Chip men saw the fall and grabbed Illya's things off the floor and held onto them until Illya got himself up off the floor and put his towel back on. "Tanks." Illya grunted the word as he bunched the towel in the front again and was a little more careful of puddles on the floor. Taking his stuff from the Elite he nodded and then raced out the door to find out why Ehvan though going to the girls shower room was a good idea.

By the time Illya got to the girl's shower room he heard screeches. It was too late. However, there was a disturbing discovery, this was not all his men accounted for. That meant there were more somewhere else. "No, no." Illya decided to step into a small utility closet to get dressed. Soon as he slipped into his pants he started push his feet into his boots. He was just about dressed, but he heard the one thing he didn't ever want to consider happening here. A girl yelled in the hallway. "There's a bunch of naked guys in the pool room."

This morning was already turning into mayhem. Illya burst out of the closet only half dressed and his pants fell to the floor, but he quickly pulled them back up and began zipping them as he jogged past the lady in hall. "Shet." He knew that's where they had to be. Those had to be his men. There were a few more screeches and they were near the pool room. He knew the morning swimmers were not amused. As Illya turned the corner to the pool room he could see a group of girls and guys standing outside the door with shocked expressions. "Excuse meh." Wading through the group he got to the door and opened it. Inside was Asher with a group of guys. They had filled their buckets with water from the pool, put oils in their buckets and were happily bathing near one of the floor drains.

The men turned around and saw Illya standing there with his pants on, no shirt, and curly hair dripping water down his face, back and chest. Illya took a deep breath and he shook his head. "Dis es nut like bat house." Pointing to the locker room he sighed, "I see yah in dere after yah finish." There wasn't any reason to cut them short. They were almost done anyway. As soon as the men were done bathing Illya met them in the locker room and then waited till they were dressed to tell them to go to the main room for roll call.

Now all he had to do was go find the closet he left his shirt and towel in. Since they were going to be primarily practicing tactical work today Illya and his men would wear their fatigues. Skycorp, or not they would wear their own gear for situations where they would be fighting. The Elite wore what they did for good reason. By the time Illya found the closet where he left his stuff he felt slightly irritated. The panic wore off, but he didn't like what happened. Additionally, his back hurt after getting tackled a few times yesterday, his knee was still sore and swollen and he'd tweaked it again falling in the shower room and made his back even more sore. He was one of the last to make it to the room for roll call and he stepped into his place. He was sure Swyft would have a few thing to say about the morning's events before announcing the teams and dismissing them for breakfast.

*************************

Markus waited for most of the people to pair up before he wandered over to where Swyft stood. Staring at the man he worked his jaw a little and then picked at one of the many jab marks from the zipper tab. "Yah meh partner den eh?" Glancing at the man's shoulder he smirked. "Let's hope dat doesn' slow yah down much."

To Swyft's surprise, he didn't have to find Markus like he thought he would have to. Markus wandered over to him and he didn't look overly thrilled. There was a flash of annoyance over his face as he worked his jaw slightly before the expression was over written by a smirk. "Aye," Swyft nodded. The comment about the shoulder was one of those double edged comments people could sometimes use to sound playful or...which he thought might be the case....to push buttons in order to see which sore point flared. "It'll only slow me down as much as those zipper holes will slow you. I imagine that wont be much."

At first it was a little irritating that the man knew what happened and then Markus decided to roll with it. "We'll see ef yah can keep up." Pointing to the deepest zipper hole on his cheek he got an almost proud sort of smile. "I trained meh boy tah tink like dat. Never en all meh years have I seen man better at dis work. He was always meh best soldier when I was General. Dese jes remind meh what kind of man I make him tah be."

Swyft was not the kind of man to voice his personal thoughts at work and that had probably saved him alot of trouble over the years. He was pretty sure that skill was going to come in handy partnering with Markus who seemed quite proud his son had viciously beaten him with the zipper. Not only that but it sounded as if he was the former general. What sort of response could he give something like that? Swyft tilted his head in a non committal sort of gesture and opted for a question instead. "I didn't know that the General position was passed along family lines," Swyft said, "He trained by you to be a soldier?"

It seemed that this man was just as ignorant as the others. "Et doesn' have tah be passed trough family lines. Dis line of Dark Chippequoti Generals pass trough family because each General had son tah raise and train so dat none would oppose him when his time came tah take dah place of General." As for the second part Markus wasn't sure why Swyft seemed so intent on ensuring that Illya was trained by him. "Yes, I train meh son tah be General. I give him all necessary training."

He found it interesting. It sounded like the position was passed through familial lines and they had elected to do so. Nodding, he acknowledged the reply and offered that they walk toward the cafeteria while they spoke. "He has a great amount of determination and discipline and I could see that through his time as a cadet here," Swyft replied. He thought to turn the conversation away from Illya however. He didn't want to be discussing the man as if he were a child. "If you were the General before your son took the position, what do you do now for work?" It was an innocuous enough questions that might give him a little insight.

The man's conversation turned in a somewhat natural direction and Markus sighed. "I dun have place anymore. Once General yah stay dat way till yah die. Et was tought dat I was dead and so Illya es General. Meh place es gone." Glancing at the area around them he sighed. "Et es well enough. I find place for mehself."

That hadn't been the way he understood Markus' situation to be. The man had supposedly died on Uria over 8 years ago but then suddenly reemerged about a year ago with not a single report where he had been or why he had never made contact. It was one of the reason the man had trouble with security clearance to Skycorp. He was supposed to be dead and had left alot of questions in his wake. Questions he was clearly glad to gloss over with 'I don't have a place anymore'. It also didn't answer his question about what he had been doing since his return. "They thought you were dead and you decided to come to Skycorp rather than picking up a trade? Alot of military men come to Skycorp for the same reason. Civilian life is different."

Swyft seemed to be rather curious about quite a few things and Markus was not accustomed to being asked so many questions and much less have an outsider consider themselves his equal. "Skycorp es trade. Dat es why yah here eh?" That was one way that Markus was sure he could get around his 'partners' pervasive little questions.

Swyft noted that Markus avoided his inquiry again. He was sharp and Swyft could appreciate that, though he didnt like the idea that Markus seemed to be fine leading him around a primrose path. "Aye, it is a trade. It's work but the good work. We have paired with our militaries in the past but the main goal is exploration. I'm here both to protect my home and follow that idea of exploration." He looked pointedly at Markus as they turned the corner. "And you are here to find your place among your people again. It could be a good start to finding your place in the Alliance as well."

"Yah happen tah be good at assumptions. I jes say dat I will find meh place and yah assume dat means among meh people." Markus held Swyft's gaze without a hint of shame. "Ets better tah be careful at listening den quick tah apply what yah tink yah know."

"Agreed," Swyft said amiably, "You are wise in saying so, Markus." He could see the man determined to turn the conversation from himself to a slight on himself as if Swyft had been slightly rude. He also, clearly didnt want to admit any sort of thoughts on the Alliance. "It's always good to listen and perhaps hold back on assuming." Swyft held the man's gaze, though he had to look up to do it and gave him a small smile, flicking up the corners of his lips slightly. He could tell there would be little said between them and only a fraction of what was said might be honest while the other half was a diversion. "I hope you don't make too many assumptions either and that we can work together." That was a truthful sentiment and he motioned toward the cafeteria door. "Breakfast?"

Markus figured the man was like many of his other kind. They seemed to see themselves as the bastions of justice. "Yah dun need tah be getting too worked up. I already have meh assumptions and yah find what dey are soon enough." Markus kept a straight face as he stared at the twisted little grin. The offer for breakfast was hardly appealing, but he figured he could throw his own little joke in. "I wonder ef dey will be serving dah shet bread. I've heard bout dah tings yah people eat." At that comment there were several Chip men nearby that started to laugh and it quickly turned into a wave with the occasional snort.

"Oh I'm sure it will be a learning experience for us both," Swyft said earnestly. If he was honest, he wasn't sure what to make of Markus, but the man deserved as much of a chance as any to volunteer. At least they seemed to be on the terms of knowing they could see and call each other's crap and that was as much as they could probably hope for right now. Swyft raised a brow at the mention of the infamous 'shet bread' and laugh. "Heard about that, eh? You'll be in luck today. It's Terran Food Tuesday. There will be plenty of bread with shit in it."

This time the troop of Chip men were far quieter as they entered the cafeteria except for the coughing. Illya stood in the back to make sure he could spot any misbehavior before it got too far. It was all fine till the first man got shit bread. Bahn stared at the bread for a long moment before he picked it up with the tips of his fingers and moved it to the edge of his tray. They had all thought Illya joked about the shit bread, but this was actually shit bread. One by one the men after Bahn refused the bread and stared at their foreign flight school partners with disgust. How these others could eat the stuff they didn't know. Illya still didn't like the little raisins and he refused the bread too. Bahn walked over to the nearest garbage can and tossed his slice of bread in it.

The Chips knew they were too heavy for the tables this time and they all went to sit in the corner where Illya's table used to be. All 50 of them squished in together and some stood, others squatted and the rest sat on the floor. They had abandoned their partners and sat together. Markus was the only one that stayed with his partner and he grinned. He could practically see Swyft's brain gears turning. Clearly the man didn't know how to get the men to do what he intended. Smaller spaces would only make them isolate a bit more. Giving them more space would not make them mingle, but others would be given the chance and that was what they'd have to do.

******************************************************

Ehud got up early on his day off to go with Priscilla. He'd give a sample if she wanted him there. Perhaps she'd prefer having something from him. He didn't know if she would think it was strange to have a transplant from someone she wasn't married to. Grabbing his pad Ehud decided to check on a few things for the business before they got the testing done. He liked to think that they would feel great, but he knew better. The test would leave them both tender feeling for a few days. While he was busily checking his pad he heard a strange muffled sort of cry.

At first he only glanced toward her and then turned back to his pad. However, it struck him that she was showing clear distress and crying. Setting the pad down he put it back in his bag and slipped out of his bed. "What do you mean? Of course I talk to you. We've done a lot of planning for your business and we've talked about this procedure."
 
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aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Calysta slept better when Illya was close. He had put a big hand over hers and she reveled in the warmth he provided. How had she ever slept so long without this kind of warm? Even though Illya was coughing and she could feel the crackling barks in his chest from time to time, he was still close and that was more than enough. The only time things had truly become uncomfortable was when Illya shifted into her, his long arm stretching out over her and the side of the bed to grab something. When she peeped her eye open, Calysta saw the disgusting bucket all the Chip men were using to spit the lung mucus into and she closed her eyes tightly. If he dropped it they would be covered in it. Thankfully, it passed over her and he hacked up into it without any trouble before handing it on to another man. Chippeqouti really did share everything it seemed. Shuddering some against the thought of all the gunk in that unfortunate bucket, she burrowed down until Illya settled with her.

"RISE AND SHINE!"

Suddenly, the air was cold and light punched through the dark cocoon she had made for herself. Her eyes snapped open and immediately, she saw...man. At first she didn't even know which man had themselves up and had no pants. "Oh! Pants!" It was the first thing that popped out of her mouth considering she was nearly nose to nose with someone's crotch. Her eyes shot upward as Illya jolted she realized it was Ehvan before the covers were snatched right back over her to shield them both from their embarrassment. Why wasn't he wearing pants?! Now that she thought about it. Calysta's little hands shimmied downward to where Illya's waistband should be. No boxers! He had shirked them off at some point because she new he had been wearing some when he got into his bed.

Illya and all the other men seemed to think it was funny as he face turned a deep crimson. "Aye," was all she could reply to Illya when he mentioned Ehvan being more embarrassed than she was. Before she could say much more, Illya was shirking off the blankets and sliding into the boxer's he had abandoned into the floor during the night. As soon as one of the men asked where they were supposed to shower, her husband was up and gone.

If Illya was naked and Ehvan was in the buff, then the rest were probably bare as the day they were born too. Calysta stayed in the bed until all the Chippeqouti had let their bunk room in order to avoid seeing any more unnecessary Chip buns. When the sound of coughing died down, she reckoned it was safe and hauled herself out of bed. Since she had showered the night before, all she needed to so was put on her clothes and comb up her hair nice and neat. As she hopped along into her jump suit, she could hear a few of the females in the room tittering away. They had probably just seen more bare butt and man dangles in the past two minutes than they had ever seen in one place.

About the time she finished pulling her hair into a long pony tail, there were squeals echoing down the hall causing everyone left in the bunk room to pause. "What in the Wilds?" Calysta stuffed her foot into her boot and shuffled to the door. She poked her head out in the hall in took look in the direction of the bathrooms to see a woman in her towel calling into the women's locker room. "There's naked men in the pool room!" Not two seconds after this announcement did Illya come barreling out of the women's shower rooms trying to zip up his pants and running bare foot.

"Oh no..." Calysta winced. Illya flew past her soaking wet and half dressed, heading towards the pool house. She didn't have to guess what was happening now, but she had thought Illya was supposed to be showing them the proper place to bathe.

**************

Swyft was in his office when the first call came through. Someone was screaming in the halls according to security and no one knew why. He reached for his pad to pull up the security cameras while he sat at his desk. More than likely it was some sort of horseplay and nothing truly serious. The security call seemed to think the report came from the women's shower area. Naturally, there were no cameras inside the women's shower and changing area. There were cameras along the hallways though and he could check those for signs of trouble. When the screen came on, what he saw as almost as scary as it was comical in some ways. Illya was trotting down the hall with only a towel wrapped around him.

He was looking well and thoroughly panicked, though Swyft couldn’t figure out why until he saw another man come out of the women’s bathroom as Illya was dashing by with ginger footsteps. The man was Ehvan. He remembered the name because that was the one who looked surly from time to time and he had somewhat of a pretty boy face that all the women had been tittering about. And the women were more than tittering now. At the Chip’s back came a flurry of thrown towels and the occasional shoe as they yelled about a man in their locker room. That would certainly be the source of the screaming.
Swyft started to get up from his chair to attend to the mess that was happening in the bunk room, but a thought made him pause. Illya hadn’t stopped to address that man, he was on his way somewhere else. Where else would he be going?
By the time Swyft back tracked where Illya had been on the cameras, the man was half clothed and making a break for it to toward the gym and the pool house. He knew what had to be waiting there, he just knew it. With a small sigh, he flipped the camera view to the pools. All he could see was the pool’s blue waters, the locker entry crowded with several slack jawed Skycorp employees, and a line of brown butts stooped over the long pool drain near the wall.
The commander rubbed his temple, then eased out of his chair. His shoulder was tender from being shoved back into place the night before and he hadn’t taken any of the medicine to ease the inflammation again. Still, he was going to be putting out fires all morning at this rate and he knew it.

Taking quick, measured steps down the hall, he reached the main area where the bunk rooms connected for the communal showers. As soon as he was within sight, a flock of women scurried over and began pointing at Ehvan, fussing in several different languages. He held up a hand and regretted the motion immediately because he had used the displaced shoulder to do it. “Aye...aye...aye…” he said at the squawkers in Kaerelean, “Just hold on a minute, yeah? They are new here. You weren’t touched, were you? No? Go finished getting dressed, no else is going to come in and bother you.” A few of them shot him warning looks and swished wet hair at him. The only thing he could compare the scene to was a brood of wet hens clucking mad at a rooster. He knew they had a right to be angry but he also knew that the whole incident had to be an accident. Calysta stepped over when they dispersed. “Illya was supposed to be showing them where to shower, but I think a few of them wandered off. Things are done differently for the Chippeqouti, Commander.”

“Aye,” he said, “More than a few of them. I’m headed there next. Just stay here and try to keep them out of the women’s room.”
She agreed and he trotted toward the lockers rooms at the pool. Of course, by the time he reached the pool house, the men were coming out in their regular orderly fashion and...in their fatigues from the day before no. Swyft could already feel a headache coming on in addition to his shoulder and he simply turned right back around. He wasn’t about to go back into the pool house to get hen pecked. They could give their reports to security for review if they wanted.
He didn’t say a word as he walked far ahead of the group and went into roll call to await everyone to assemble. Calysta came in with half the men and Illya marched through the door looking disheveled but dressed for the most part. Everyone lined up, though the Chippeqouti kept their ranks to themselves. He wasn’t going to call individuals out for this, these were the General’s men and he had no ability to discipline them except through the General himself.

“Good morning,” he said, “ Councilwoman Monroe if you will please translate what I say into Qouti….Before I begin roll call and announced the pairs, I would like to give a general reminded about bath house rules. We are a very diverse group with a range of backgrounds and there are many newcomers. We do have several bathing areas, one for males i the bunk house and one for males in the pool house. There are locations for women in these houses as well, in addition to a tertiary location for those who are non-binary. Use the appropriate location for yourself as we have several staff members whose religious and moral creeds do not allow for mixed gender bathing.”

That was as good as it was going to get and he let it be without pursuing it further. Calysta translated the words into Qouti for the Commander and stole a glance an almost sheepish glance at Illya when Swyft was done. “Well,” she whispered to Illya, “It could have been worse.”

*******
Breakfast was a quieter affair than it had been the day before. Calysta sat with Illya among the rest of the Chippeqouti, but she could tell most of the partners had split to eat. It wasn't something unexpected really, but it was slightly disappointing. The Chippeqouti were difficult to know and most people at Skycorp gave respectful distance for newcomers to adjust to the place. That didn't seem to be working so well. And why would it? The people who actually come to work for Skycorp are there because, in some ways, they all have the mind set of exploration. They want to be here. The Chippeqouti Elite were not here because they wanted to be. They were there at Skycorp because Illya was the General and the General had said this is where they would report. Like any good soldiers, they didn't have to like the assignment to do it. Calysta wanted more for them than that though. She couldn't make them like it here, and they probably would never truly like it, but maybe she could make them more comfortable.

While she was thinking, a woman came up to her looking a little cautious but friendly enough. "I think one of them dropped these, but I can't read the name," she said in Kaerelean. In her hands was a set of silver dog tags. "I found them in the hallway." Calysta plucked them up to read the name, tilting her head slightly as she did so. "Oh, these belong to Bahn," she said, "Go ahead and give them to him. He's right over there." She sent the girl off to the tall Chip man hunched over his food.

*********

After the wild morning, the class being held for hand to hand combat almost seemed like a reprieve. Swyft had the volunteers gather up with their partners in the gym and stepped onto the mat along side several others. "We will be going through a small hand to hand combat refresher course. For those who are from the Elite, I imagine that his will be less of a refresher course and more of an example in difference of styles." He motioned for Calysta to step up to the mat and the council woman obliged, coming into the sparring circle. Next, he called for the actual combat and weapons instructor. He was a burly man of Reylian descent and he smiled at the much smaller woman in front of him. They bowed to each other and then took a well balanced side stance with hands raised to block a strike. "The Kaerelean style is mainly a defensive strategy, " Swyft said, "Movements are used to block or avoid hits and any attacks are used to make maximum damage with minimum force."

The Reylian lunged forward with his lead foot and Calysta side stepped to avoid the incoming strike, pushing his wrist to the side with a swiping hand of her own. Then she made a counterstrike of her own, but her reach wasn't quite enough. She was small and fast. That was great for avoiding hits but delivering any counters was nearly impossible. Her opponent took advantage and twisted again, knocking her backward onto her rear. Calysta was up as soon as she fell and rolled away just in time to avoid another strike, then popped back up to her feet. Immediately, the Reylian went at her again. Instead, of sticking to the Kaerelean style, she launched into a something that wasn't strictly in form. Calysta grabbed the man's hand and twisted around till they were back to back, then in one smooth motion launched the much larger man over her head with little effort. The Reylian went to the ground with a solid oof and Calysta's eyes went wide. "Oh! That wasn't in the Kaerelean form." She hadn't mean to swap it up. The move had been habit from years of practice.

Swyft held up a hand and called them to a halt before they could engage again. "That's enough. Thank you for demonstrating, Councilwoman. Swap partners. General, if you would pick a partner and demonstrate a Chippeqouti style? Then we can continue by letting everyone else try.


***
Calysta sat in common room lounge with her pad in her hands, though she had stopped paying attention to it awhile ago. Instead, she was looking over the railing at the volunteers as they meandered around or sat with groups. There was something else that bothered her though and finally, she rose from her spot in search of Illya. She found him not too far on the first level and came up to him while he was looking at something on his pad. She wouldnt admit it, be she liked seeing him focused on reading something. There was something good looking about the way his curls tumbled when he looked down into words. "Hey," she said in Qouti, "Take a walk with me?"

There was an interesting little news article in the Quoti news. It was simply a small sort of communication and people were asking for a counsel to be held like they had in peace. It was a strange idea since they were still technically at war. However, it felt like peace time and Illya knew that he shouldn't simply rule over them because he could. While he was in the midst of thinking of a way to reply to the community newsfeed Kalizda came up and she asked him to walk with her. "Eh...yeah." Turning his pad off he shoved it into his pant pocket and rose from where he'd been sitting. "What we gonna talk about?"

Calysta raised a brow at him and chuckled. He sounded so interrupted and so resigned to the fact that he had agreed to walk with her. "I ask you to walk and you assume I want to talk about something, eh?"

"Of course I'm going to assume that. You know that you usually let me read unless you have something to say." Illya knew she didn't usually interrupt his reading and he wanted to see if she'd admit that she did have a pattern. In some ways it was a good thing that she was predictable most of the time in her own little way.

Calysta blushed a little and sighed. It had meant to be a joke but he had poked at something now. Had she really become that boring and predictable? She shrugged a little and nodded. "Aye I do want to talk if that's alright? We can't go outside because of the rain, but maybe we can go somewhere else a bit quieter?" She offered her hand out to see if he wouldn't mind taking it.

A grin started to slide across Illya's face. "Oh, yah disappointed dat I guess yah want tah talk. Dun worry. Ef I never knew what yah would do, or say I would have many troubles." Kalizda's little hand tilted ever so slightly in offer for him to take it. Illya wrapped his large brown hand over her tiny fingers. "Oh I think I just let you take me where you want." He had started to skip between languages partly out of habit of speaking in Trader's Tongue so much.

She blushed a little deeper but settled her hand into his big, brown paw. The language skipping in his speech didnt bother her so much, she was used to the odd mix of 3 languages at home, four languages if you counted Terran. "Aye you would have many troubles," she replied, smiling at him, "I like to think I surprise you ever now and then though." Winking at him, she lead him from the lounge and into the hallways. She knew just the place to meander to for a bit of privacy. They took a door outside and through a covered tunnel to the greenhouse. The glass was all fogged over from the inside because of the warmth and when they entered, a blast of warm, humid air prickled over their skin. "It feels nice in here, yeah?" Nodded at his answer, she kept his hand in hers and walked leisurely down the rows. They were the only ones here and she could relax some. "I wanted to talk about somethings...I can tell the men are a little uneasy and in alot of ways I dont blame them. Its very different here..." she trailed off some and squeezed his hands. "What would help them?"

The two of them trailed along through the buildings and a corridor and outside and into another corridor before they got to a green house. It was nice and relaxing. Illya liked it inside and he wandered through the rows that smelled the strongest of herbs. It felt very nice. When they stopped for a moment Kalizda started to state it was nice and Illya nodded. Then the conversation moved to the men and Illya took a deep breath. "I think they would feel better if they were allowed a pass to leave at least 2-3 nights a week and maybe let them team up every now and then for some things. Remember, we're all used to finding ourselves surrounded by enemies when they're not Chippequoti."

He seemed reluctant to talk with the deep sigh coming before his actual words and she waited to see if he was going to tell her that she wasn't the general. Instead, he gave her an honest answer and she nodded quietly before thinking about what he said. A pass was understandable and she could do that easily enough. But they were supposed to be working with their teams and getting to know them. They would run ramshod over any of the other teams because they were a special unit. There wasn't anything wrong with healthy competition but she knew they could be rougher on other species on their own. Illya knew that too, and she thought about it for awhile longer. "Would you approve of it, if I got the passes?"

"I would approve of it if you got passes for them. I think if there is something else you want you should tell me. Won't be too many times we can sneak away eh?" Illya wasn't so sure that getting the passes was the end of this conversation. There was a good chance that she wanted to use it as a bargaining chip and he would too if he were in the opposing position.

Was he eager to tend the conversation? It sounded like it, but she knew he was right. "Aye," she said, picking at a strange plant from Terra. It had teeth and would try to clamp over her finger if she poked at it too much. "I think that they should be working with their partners, but maybe they would feel better if they could team up together once and awhile. But not everyone at once. Would that work?" It might even help if the other Chip men had to rely on their partners and work together more than the ones partnered with their own people. "I would suggest it to Swyft," she said

Illya took a deep breath. "Oh, I tink I know how tah make dem team up more. Today was nut so good, but dere are ways tah make et better. I will give one team order tah take out dah small one in dah team and den et es oter team job tah protect little one." They would have to rely on each other that way because the big guy would have to learn to trust the smaller guy to move when he was told and rely on him to get directions for a moving target. "Et es difficult exercise and smaller partner will navigate tah goal dat will be moving." At the end Kalizda seemed to think that asking Swyft was best and Illya nodded. "Aye, we could try."

He had been breathing heavily as if these questions were not ones he wanted to be talking about but she nodded. "I will ask him then. I think he would be alright with an exercise like that," she said, "He wants this to work as much as we do." There were other things she wanted to talk about, but she was hesitant. A moment of quiet passed between them and poked at the little trap plant until it closed with a snap. "I didn't know your father was really coming until he showed up to the test. I thought, maybe he might find it...beneath him when I saw his name as added to the list that morning."

They were almost done with the conversation and then Illya heard that dreaded question from Kalizda. The question about his father. "I didn't expect him either, but he's here." Illya took a deep breath and he thought for a long moment. "Kalizda, please be careful. I don't think he would do something to you here, but I don't trust him not to do something to make you feel strangely about things."

She actually let out a breath of her own, one she didn't realize she was holding, and it was one of relief. So, she wasn't the only one uncomfortable with him around. He had been thinking in some of the same ways as she was and it made this conversation easier. "Illya, I think people deserve chances to change," she said, "I really do, but I also know you're right. I don't trust him, not after what I know now, and for many of the things I'm sure that I don't know. I think he would do something to me if it suited him or I got in his way. I think he would do worse things to you if he thought it would get him closer to whatever goal he had while he was here." There she had said it and it was a relief, even though it made her sound terrible. "A part of me doesn't want to believe that he would, but I worry about him hurting you."

"Well, that would make two of us. We'll just keep an eye on him then." Illya grinned a little and he winked, "I have a few of my men watching him too."

He was making light of it in some ways, but she knew he was smart and she trusted him more than anyone. At his little wink, she smiled and then wandered back over to him. Leaning up, she planted a little kiss on his cheek. "Aye, we'll keep an eye on him. I'll be careful so long as you are too, yeah?" It was relieving to hear he had other people keeping an eye on Markus too and Calysta squeezed her husband. "We'd better get back soon before they think we've gone to work hard somewhere again."

*******

Priscilla didn't look up at Ehud's reply to even see what was happening or what his expression might say. His answer was so simple and it sounded genuinely confused as to why she was under the impression that he didnt like talking to her. The more she thought about his confusion, the more upset she became, and a sob worked it's way out. "How have you not noticed? You arent even interested in me beyond that anymore? Did you just want a mother for Sien?" Priscilla wiped viciously at her eyes and she knew her makeup was smearing across her cheeks. She would look like even more of a train wreck now right there in front of Ehud.

"No, I mean yes, of course I'm interested in you." Ehud blinked a few times and he moved to rest a hand over hers. "I wanted more than a mother for Sien. I want an agreed and a wife." Where all this was coming from he didn't know. "What was I supposed to notice. You never told me that you felt that way until now."

His initial answer of 'no' struck her first and she didn't glance up, mostly because she looked awful and the response hurt, until he managed to correct it. How could he possibly say that when the last 3 weeks had been so strained? And then he didn't even know what he was supposed to notice. For a top military spy, he hadn't noticed something was wrong? She finally looked up at him with little lines of black tears running at the corners of her eyes like ink stains. "You haven't bothered to ask either. You were content to let me be a quiet and haven't asked once how I felt about things. Not even about this surgery. We haven't had a conversation that didn't involve the bakery...and it's been three weeks since we got married. That doesn't strike you as off?"

Ehud thought about what she said for a long moment. "Well, I guess that does sound bad. I just didn't really notice because that was normal when Haza and I were married. We were together a lot and we talked about work and then the rest we knew well enough that we didn't need to say anything more." Taking a deep breath he reached across her bed and retrieved a tissue for her. "Do you not want to do the surgery? It isn't too late to say no>"

Priscilla sniffled, wiping at her eyes. She had plenty of examples and things to tell him if he denied it or tried to say that everything was fine. Those combative words were right there on the tip of her tongue, ready for him to have the gall to say she was being sensitive or ridiculous. Instead, he explained how things were when he was married before, then he reached over to find a tissue for her, offering it up like a truce. She took it gently from him and began dabbing at her eyes. Maybe she could catch the runoff from her mascara in time to keep herself from looking too horrendous. His question came to her and she finally felt his hand draped over hers. It was a bit cool but the gentleness was there and she slipped her fingertips between his. "I...um...I thought about it...you sort of just plopped that news down on me and I did think it over. I've never had elective surgery before...and I was worried. I was worried that I would do this thing and our marriage would continue like was..."

Even if Ehud didn't want to wait for the surgery it was clear that she needed some time and they could have the testing done and know what the answer was for now. "Well, we can still do the test and then we have the information we need if you decide to have the surgery later. Just cause you do the test doesn't mean you have to do the surgery right away. Would it help to wait?" Ehud was doing his best to be kind and let her know he did care.

Her bottom lip was already trembling again and she knew it was silly to have cried like a little girl in front of him. Still, the fact that he was willing to wait and wasn't pressuring her was an absolute relief. Priscilla melted some and nodded slowly to him as fresh tears leaked down her cheeks. "Let's....let's just do the test first...and then talk after. I mean, really talk."

Ehud nodded and he stayed quiet. This was something he never thought of as being a terrifying surgery. Sure, it would be difficult for recovery and probably be a bit painful with some risks, but she could live longer, healthier and probably do quite well. Why that was something to be afraid of, he didn't know. There were so many that wanted to live longer that it was strange to encounter one that may not.

*********

Going home was the hardest part after the testing. Every single jostling of the flyer and every step sent a jolt of pain into her leg once the numbness wore off. Ehud was laid out on the couch under the warm blankets and she was placed in the chair along side the couch. She pulled the blankets higher over herself and slept off and on through the afternoon. Their conversation from before the surgery kept coming to her mind. Ehud hadn't had to come to the testing or give his marrow. Nor did he have to put up with her bawling her eyes out like a child when he had been there for her. Priscilla took in a deep breath and slowly inched a hand over to hr husband, sneaking her delicate fingers under his blanket and curling them around his fingers. "Hey," she whispered, "I wanted to say...thank you. For trying. And for saying it was alright for us to wait awhile."
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Ehud was less than prepared feeling for what happened. Priscilla was still crying, she wanted to wait and now he was flying her home while she winced with every little jostle. When they reached the house his leg was good and sore, but she seemed to be struggling more than him. Ehud did his best to help Priscilla get settled and then he hobbled into the kitchen to get some tea made up for them both.

When he returned with the tea he saw Priscilla was bundled up in her blanket. In many ways the blankets were the best part of recovery. The giant puffy blankets soothed almost everything. Setting her cup of tea on the coffee table near the couch he then sat down in his recliner. After he had the foot rest up Ehud leaned back in the chair and decided he would at least try to sleep a little bit. The more sleep he had the better it would be. Within a few minutes he felt himself drifting only to feel Priscilla's soft fingers slip around his left hand. Despite the fact that her fingers had likely been in her little puff blanket they felt a bit cool to the touch.

Slowly Ehud turned his head and he opened his blue eyes. They were barely slits of brilliant starry pools. "Mmmhmmm." With a contented smile he nodded lazily and then gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. Eventually they would have to get up, but for now they could rest and he fully intended on doing so. Without even realizing it, Ehud had drifted off to sleep. Priscilla looked so pretty in her beautiful white dress with the red and blue flowers on it. He always liked that one. It took him a minute to realize that the dress was one of Haza's and it was the one that he had made for her only a few years after they were married. The dress was long gone, but he always liked it on her. She had long blond hair like Priscilla's and he could barely resist that one curl that hung just in his reach.

When he woke Ehud saw that the house was darker now. Sien was probably busily playing with his friends and that good, but Ehud needed to get up and make something for himself and Priscilla to eat for dinner. The easiest thing they had was a frozen dinner he had purchased in advance. There were a few decent foods he liked eating frozen. One of them was lasagna and he'd found one. It was expensive, but he knew she would like something Terran for a change. Carefully peeling the blankets back Ehud got himself up and he shuffled unevenly into the kitchen. Once the oven was turned on he pulled the lasagna out and then prepped it in the foil and put it on a pan to bake. Then he began to butter some bread and sprinkle a little garlic and italian seasonings on it. She would probably like that too. For the finishing touches to the food he made a small salad and then set the table.

It looked like Priscilla was still asleep and so Ehud took the time to try and fold the napkins prettily. However, his napkin folding skills were a little less wonderful than they had been in the years past. In fact, he never remembered being good at it. Haza thought that it was a great thing to do though. In a moment of desperation Ehud pulled up a small tutorial film on his pad and carefully followed the instructions.

At last the dinner was ready and he was sure that she would love it. Stepping into the kitchen one last time he checked the lasagna to find it only had a few minutes left and then he would pull it out to cool. "Priscilla, I make a good Terran food for you." With a grin he wandered over to where she was sleeping on the couch. "I hope you like dinner."

*****************************

Illya had seen the defensive styles many times. However, deflection wasn't going to really help a Kaerlean against certain kinds of enemies. "Well, dah Chippequoti have different fighting style. Dere are few tings tah keep en mind when yah fighting dis style. One rule es dat everyting es a weapon. Second rule es dat yah fight tah make enemy immobile. Tird rule es dat ef yah enemy still pose risk after yah make dem immobile yah dun hesitate tah kill. Fourt, es dat yah must remember all yah wear es weapon." Beckoning to Ehvan Illya waited for Ehvan to come up. "I show yah practice wit full force and den I will use modified practice because dah rest of yah are smaller. Dat make sense eh?"

Calysta swapped places with Ehvan and stepped down the mat to stand next to Swyft. Illya took to the mat and began explaining his rules for hand to hand combat. By the time he stated the third rule, a few of the instructors were looking at Swyft uncertainly but the Commander kept his eyes on the men standing in the mat. "Skycorp tries not to inflict permanent damage unless its absolutely necessary," Swyft said when Illya stopped talking, "Those types of techniques you may have to go over in detail.

It seemed that the overall expression and then the explanation from Swyft indicated that the students and staff were trained in combat the same way they were trained in diplomacy. It was all about taking stupid risks and getting yourself as close to getting killed as possible. It was complete lunacy. "Ok, I put et dis way. Dah team we will form es nut for exploration. Et es for last defense. Dose yah encounter will have interest tah kill yah. Inflicting permanent damage es nicest ting tah do ef yah dun want tah kill dem. Et takes more skill too, so uh...yah might kill most of dem first try en battle." The more information he gave the broader the grins had gotten from his men and Illya realized at the end that he probably did not ease the concerns of the Skycorp cadets that were not Elite. "Anyway, I jes demonstrate wit Ehvan. We bot will make moves slow first and explain what we do and den we will make et faster, but witout applying enough pressure tah kill. We dun actually want to do dat today. Rest of yah will spar wit Chip partners tah practice what I show yah tahday because none of yah will have enough strength, or skill in combination tah kill yah Chip partner. Ready?"

"We understand that," Swyft said, though he was fairly certain some people in the crowd didn't. He did understand it and that was enough for the others to lead into example for now. "Which is why I asked a demonstration from you. You've fought the Federation on the ground and we are flyers mainly. It's a known issue and it showed on the course. Continue showing us what you'll have us practice." A few whispers of surprise rolled through the volunteers and they looked uncertain at their Chip partners. Ehvan's partner was looking pale, her delicate features not too unlike Calysta's though she was much taller and had blue eyes rather than grey. Calysta nodded for Illya to continue but said nothing on the subject for the moment, though she could feel the uneasiness in the room now as the Chip men began to grin those wily smiles.

Now that they were ready for a demonstration Ehvan nodded and Illya nodded in return. They were ready to start. The first move that Ehvan made was to take a low kick at Illya's knee and follow up with a sharp right hook to the temple. It was fast, but Illya ducked and took the hit to the leg and then grabbed Ehvan's arm, tucked it under his, dropped to the floor, flipping Ehvan over his shoulder and in one smooth, slow motion he took Ehvan's arm, extended it, pushed against Ehvan's chest and stopped. "Ef I pull more, I pull his arm out of socket, or someone smaller I jes rip dere arm off. Next step es tah kick dah teet out." Illya didn't do much other than shove Ehvan's face away with his boot. "Yah let go of dis arm because dey are nut going tah roll on bad shoulder, now dere back es to yah and yah finish dem. Ehvan rolled to his stomach and Illya moved slowly again to demonstrate. "Yah put knees en lower back, put yah cheek next to yah enemy cheek because dey dun have strength tah hurt yah head when et by dere head. Now yah wrap arm around neck and start tah pull up and up. Dey dun have strength tah resist and yah break back. Now dey are immobile and ef dey still seem like danger yah jes hold neck little longer and twist and den dey will have broken neck and suffocate." Once the slow motion demonstration was done Illya ran through it more quickly with Ehvan. This time there hits were audible, but they were still careful and Ehvan tapped the mat each time they reached the point of safely demonstrating, but close to causing pain. After the fast version Illya nodded. Kalizda will practice dis move on meh. I attack and she will pull arm out of socket and break meh back wit sometime practice breaking meh neck. Rest of yah dun be afraid tah go full force on yah partner. Ef yah forget, dey will remind yah what tah do and dey will cooperate wit yah. Ef yah worry about hurting dem dey will know and dey will make sure yah be afraid and yah fight for yah life. So, jes go full force and dun make dem scare yah. Now, ef yah do et wrong and yah start hurting dem dey can tap out, or jes move."

Everyone watched in stony silence as Illya ran through the sequence with Ehvan, first with a step by step instruction and then faster in order to demonstrate the flow. The only sound in the room was the occasional slap of Illya's fist or boot on Ehvan's body in a raw smacking echo that was less painful than it appeared. Illya stated the Elite would yield if they were pinned to the point of injury and that was enough to make some of the instructors nervous. Swyft wasn't apprehensive about the move itself so much as he was well aware Markus wouldn't be taking it easy on him even with the shoulder. Swyft had more training than most and he hadn't mentioned his earlier days in the service as a captain. Unlike Skycorp, those men were taught techniques like this. He looked to Markus and nodded his assent before walking over to find them a place to spar. Meanwhile Ehvan's partner waited for him to return from the mat and smiled. "You make it look easy," she said, "I'm impressed. Let's try it for ourselves, yeah?" Ehvan was a handsome fellow and how she had gotten so lucky to snag him as a partner, she'd never know. Learning from him would be fun in and of itself. Calysta swallowed when Illya said he wanted her to step up but didn't let her dislike for even pretending to break her husbands back show on her face. It made her almost queasy to think she might hurt him. However, if it was her running through these exercises, it wouldn't be someone else potentially hurting him and that was more then enough for her to steal herself against any hesitation and step up, pride intact. Calysta looked up at here Chip and took her stance as she gaze at his eyes to let him know she was ready.

With their partners and spread out across the room the Chip men slowly approached their partners. Markus followed the standard for training as if Swyft were a child. It was the same for all the men. They knew their partners were not as sturdy as they could be. Ehvan studied his partner for a moment. "So, yah gonna jes stand dere like slouch when I pretend tah attack yah?" She didn't even have proper form. "Yah stand like dis." Ehvan showed her and he waited for her to mimic. "Now, remember I come en for kick and hit. Yah have tah take one. Most of dah time yah try tah save yah legs, but dis time yah know dat meh fist would do more damage. Remember dah demonstration." He was paused in position with his foot against her shin and waiting for her to duck because he was moving his fist very slowly. If she didn't remember in time he was just going to bump her head and slowly push till she fell over.

The tall Kaerelean woman looked up to her much taller partner. He was brisk worded and she liked that about him. She took the tap on the legs and ducked, catching his arm like she was supposed to, but was unbalanced in the move. She ended up using him as a counter weight to stay up right, her fingers dragging into his arm by accident. "Oh! Oh!" On the opposite side of the room Calysta looked at Illya and caught his arm like she was supposed to, giving it a fiercely determined tug to mock the move of pulling it out of place. When she managed to get him pinned to the floor, she pulled back on his neck. "Wilds, you're heavy," she puffed as she tried to bow him back.

Ehvan almost had to laugh when his partner started to fall over. "Well, yah jes found out dere are ways tah die anyway." With one hand he pushed her back into standing. "I tink yah have claws instead of nails. Might be good idea dat yah cut dem before yah do much more training. Someday yah break yah nail and et will hurt oterwise. Now, again." Illya glanced around the room while Kalizda tugged on his arm. He had to fight the urge to laugh. The Kaereleans and others looked like midgets trying to fight his men. It was pleasing to see the men patiently teaching and walking the people through the steps though. When the tug on his arm felt sufficient Illya started to roll and let Kalizda leap onto his back. He noticed she was trying to be a little careful. When she grabbed under his neck and her cheek was pressed against his she began to grunt with the effort of pulling up. "Yah need help?"

Suddenly she found herself back to her feet and her partner was already asking for her to come at him again. It was embarrassing to have been caught off balance like that. She grit her teeth and squared off again, dodging his fist and grabbing his arm to give it a mighty tug. "I'm Daphne, by the way," she grunted, "We never fully introduced." He didnt budge at her tug which meant she was going to have to try all the harder. Calysta's cheek pressed against Illya's and it might have been playful to be so close if she wasnt trying to kill him. When he asked if she wanted help, she let out a tiny snort. "My attacker wont help me if I ever have to use this." She redoubled her effort and gave a mighty grunt as she pulled. Unfortunately, her foot lost its hold on the mat and she slid forward bumping along Illya's back with her knees.

"Ah...Daphne. Yah dun have talent, but I tink yah will do well enough wit plenty of training. Dere es time tah learn. Jes worry about technique, nut speed." Ehvan flopped like he was supposed to and waited for her to start pulling his arm. "Yah gonna have tah pull harder den dat. Yah won't hurt yah enemy at all. Do yah best tah hurt meh." While the others were grunting and groaning as they tried to hurt their Chip partners the men primarily flopped in guided manners to prevent themselves from hurting the smaller partners. Illya couldn't help the grin that came to his face when Kalizda mentioned her enemy wouldn't help her. "Yah right, pull harder." Illya was about ready to laugh, but it ended with a groan when she slipped and one little knee ground into his back. "Ugh...dat hurt some. Yah remember dat yah knees should be on meh back anyway. Yah need weight to hold it, or yah jes pull on meh head and I can roll over and knock yah off. Put oter knee on meh back and pull. Yah get more leverage and I help because now I cannot move meh back so much eh?"

Daphne pulled all the harder on Ehvan’s arm using all of her strength and finally she was able to get him to roll over. She planted her knees squarely in his back without hesitation and grabbed his face as she had been shown, their cheeks pressing close together. He smelled nice. Like trees or something like that. She wasn’t sure she could place the scent. At least if they were going to spar this close he had bothered to bathe. The thought of the show she had seen this morning made her grin a little. These big men werent shy and she liked that too. As she pulled his head from the floor, she realized just how heavy they were the weight wasn’t unexpected and some how still surprising as his head slipped from her grasp suddenly, sending his forehead to the floor. “Twin goddesses above, no wonder you could pile drive that brick wall,” she said, “Let me try again?” Calysta hadn’t put both her knees on Illya’s back because she hadn’t wanted to hurt him. His back could be horribly tender and her knees were bony. But only putting on knee between his shoulders wouldn’t work apparently and she had little weight to spare without using all of it. It was possible she had hurt him worse having slid down his back too. “Alright,” she said almost gently. Calysta placed her other knee gingerly on Illya’s back and had her full weight bearing down on him. Once there had been a time when they would tumble like this just for the sake of fun and had broken a bed doing it, but ever since the assassination attempt where Illya’s back had been broken he had been in pain over a year later. It was a fact that still made her angry. He had done nothing but try to help his people and they had tried to kill him for it. She began the motion again and lifted up growling like a tyrei under her breath and for the briefest of moments her eyes settled on Markus who was conversing with Swyft, the two locked in the movements for practice. She could still see Markus there standing in a pool of blood, having killed Illya’s would be assassins. A tapping sound brought her back into focus and she jolted some before letting go of Illya’s head. “Aye, I think I did it right, yeah?” Calysta rolled off of her husbands back and up to her feet while stuffing those other thoughts out of her head. She needed to focus. Giving Illya a small smile, she wiggled her brow just a little. “I guess I don’t know my own strength, yeah?” They both knew he had helped her and she offered her hand out to her Chip to help him up in return.

The Chippequoti remained mostly patient with their fellow mates. Ehvan flopped compliantly with his partner's great effort. He didn't really have to put much effort into this. Laying on the ground on his stomach he waited for her to kneel on his back and then her cheek pressed to his. So far she was doing everything right and then he heard her sniffing? Perhaps she was about to snot on him? Ehvan only clenched his jaw in response. She would be right to keep on going, but he didn't want her nose running all over his head. Then suddenly she dropped him and he almost grazed the tip of his nose and chin on the ground. "Yah jes keep on trying till yah get et. Blow yah nose first. I let yah do et and start from where yah left off." In the meantime Illya let Kalizda run through her little part of the drill. She seemed to be doing well even if he did have to help slightly. He weighed a bit more than she could handle and that was fine and to be expected. Once she had his chin pulled up she started to pull harder and her knees ground into his back. Tapping the mat he made sure she knew he was done with that part for now. It was impossible not to laugh when she mentioned her strength. "Mmmm, I never meet little bird wit such brute strength eh. We do et again." Taking her hand he rolled to his back and then pulled her onto himself. "Whoops." With a grin he snuck a quick kiss. Hopefully he got away with no one noticing. They should all have been busy.

Blow her nose? Daphne's eyes went wide and she backed up from Ehvan, covering her nose with her hand. She must have had something awful dangling from it if he was going to comment on it. "Uh...sorry. I'll be right back." Quickly, she scuttled off, dodging between other teams to exit the gym for the bathroom. How embarrassing! It didn't take too long before she returned, having given her nose a good cleaning and sanitized her hands. "I'm back," she smiled, "Ready?" Maybe he could forget something hanging out of her nose if she made a little talk. "I've heard a few things interesting things about your people," she said, "I was told you were great fighters but also threw fantastic parties. Is that true?" Calysta felt him reach out for her hand and was ready to counter his weight when he pulled, except he had no intention of getting up. Instead, she ended up tumbling down to him and his big chest where he managed to steal a kiss from her. She grinned from ear to ear, not bothering to move too quickly from her suddenly much more comfortable spot in his arm. "An accident huh? I don't think this was part of the set," she chuckled, "Are you saying I'm advanced enough to learn some extra moves?" She kissed him quickly and grinned.. She said the words quietly but tried to use that same tone Tabit did when she was playing things a little seductive ad mostly it just came out awkward.

Ehvan watched slightly bewildered at how the girl darted out of the room. She acted as if he had said the most horrible thing to her. It was only out of courtesy and want to not have snot over his head and face that he had suggested she blow her nose. That sniffing was the first indication that she would need to blow her nose. When she returned however, she didn't appear to be upset and that was good. Instead she tried to chat him up while he got back in position and waited for her to resume her training. "Yep." Answering her question he glanced at her and then nodded. "Well, yah still have tah work on lifting meh head and breaking meh back." Illya grinned when Kalizda started to catch on. "Mmhmm. I tink yah advanced enough for some extra moves. Maybe I let yah teach meh a few tings too. I tink private lesson when we get home would be good." Putting a hand on either side of her waist Illya slowly lifted her and then sat up and set her down on his lap. Giving her a quick kiss he winked. "Now we get tah try dat move again."

The reply was short and Daphne sighed internally. A man of few words and focus was something she could appreciate. She squared off against him again, this time ducking when he swung outward and grabbing his arm like she was supposed to, giving it a hard tug. He rolled down and she planted her knees squarely into his back before pulling at his face. This time, she knew the weight to expect, and did the move properly. “Aha,” she grinned in triumph from his back, “Not too shabby, yeah?” Calysta lifted up to Illya’s lap as if she weighed little more than a down feather and chuckled at his reply. Now she knew he was being cheeky and it made her grin all the more. The playfulness shoved the actual reality of what they were learning to the back of her mind. It made her relax more. Ultimately, that would help her learn the move better and she hoped that she never had to use it. He grinned at her and gave her wink which she traded for another quick kiss. “Only if you promise to be patient and take things slow. I want to make sure the lesson goes very well,” she whispered. Her cheeks were already aflame with her open flirting, and she nodded when he said they should try the move again. “Aye. Let’s try again.” When they reset, she tried the move once more things were smoother. She used both of her knees on Illya’s back, then lifted his head until it was time to twist. He was much heavier and she knew he had to be helping with hauling around his weight. “Better?” she asked, letting him go. Her knees stayed on his back until he moved or said otherwise.

"Dat was better little bird." Illya gave Kalizda a wink and then he remembered that she couldn't see his face. With a grunt he turned and let her tumble off of him before he winked at her this time. "So, I tink we jes watch dah oters. Yah know how dis should be. Ef yah see oters having trouble yah give dem some pointers. Yah know dere size and how et feels for dem better den I do." He was going to keep an eye on her too, but he thought she might like to be helping him check on people in the groups. She was a fellow instructor after all.

It appeared that most of the students were doing fine. Markus was a little rough with some of his tumbling, but Illya knew that would be a given. More than likely the tumbling had less to do with the intention of hurting Swyft and more to do with the fact that Markus did have some unusual nerve damage in one side and it sometimes made a few of the fighting moves a bit more choppy and less fluid. "Here, yah let meh step en for minute eh?" Nodding to Markus he had his father step aside. Swyft looked a little sore, but he would at least get one round where he could practice the skills without having a rough hit on the mat. It would be far more controlled.

Illya rested one foot on Swyft's shin and made the slow motion punch. As expected, Swyft responded and in good time too. It was faster than many of the students. With a practiced sort of roll, Illya went over Swyft's back and landed on the mat like he was supposed to. However, he landed with more grace than his father had and it didn't jerk quite so hard on Swyft's arms. "Alright, now yah jes...Ugh...yep." The man was already jerking on his arm and Illya tapped the mat. "Good." When he turned over he felt the director's knees dig into his back and he winced some, but didn't say anything. Within a few seconds he felt the choke hold tighten and it was good enough to pass for now. Tapping the mat again he waited for Swyft to move before he got up. "Dat was very well done. I tink yah get up and help oters dat are having trouble. Yah know how et should feel when yah smaller den yah opponent." As he worked his way around the room Illya checked on a few students and with each group that showed reasonable skill and understanding they were dispatched to begin helping others.

There wasn't much longer left to the training by the time the entire room of trainees had seemed to master that move. It was a difficult, but effective one. A move that Illya fully intended on using more later on after lunch. Today they would train hard for field experience and tomorrow they would get flight experience and the day after they would begin studies. Some of the studies would be on Chip culture and then the Chippequoti would also attend classes on Kaerelean diplomacy and culture. It was difficult to learn so many cultures at one time, but Illya was sure he and his men would do well if they had the opportunity to sit with their partners through the classes. They would get the instructor and a native perspective at the same time. Every now and then Illya would glance toward Kalizda and he'd smile. He knew she was loving this and loving being part of Skycorp again. The best part was that they were working together.

**************************

There was a small break after lunch and Illya had the stack of passes in the pocket of his pants. "All center." Illya called to them to gather around for a muster. Once they were all in the group Illya made his announcement in Quoti. "Kalizda ask me what she could do to make your duty here more comfortable. I tell her you would like passes to stay off base for 2-3 nights each week. Am I right?" All the men cheered in response and grins began to spread over their faces. "Only one half of the men may take leave to stay off Skycorp premises at a time. You still must report to duty at the gate on time. Kalizda procured the passes for you. Present in order of rank and service to receive your passes." A hasty few shuffles had them in order and Ehvan stepped up first as he rank provided. Saluting Illya he waited until he had the pass in hand and then gave a bow of respect to Kalzda. "The Elite honor you as their empress. It is my duty and desire to serve you the same as I would the General." Rising again he stepped aside and waited as the others also stepped forward and followed his example. Behind their stern faces there was a glint of a smile as each of them made their declaration. Illya stood by in shock as the first few passed and then he eased into an easy nod of approval as each man declared his loyalty.

Calysta was happy it had taken little convincing to get Swyft to approve the passes earlier in the morning. He had seemed willing to make them so the Chippeqouti would integrate better, if that's what it would take. They were also not regular Skycorp cadets, so that also played a part. She was also sure Swyft might like the break of having only 25 Chips running amok at one time rather than the 50 all at once. Swyft had handed the passes off to Illya and now she stood beside him so that they could receive their passes. The roar of excitement made her wince and grin at the same time over the pass announcement and she chuckled some as they all beelined into rank order with Ehvan at the front of the line. All of them were grinning and there was a general feeling of excitement and what she suspected as a little relief. When Ehvan stepped up to get his pass first, he gave a crisp salute to his General and then did something she had never seen a Chip do. He bowed at the waist and looked up to her. She blinked at him in shock. Empress? There were a million things she could have said in that moment and they all left her as her face tinged pink. What was she supposed to do? She had never seen or heard that sort of speech from anyone, much less Ehvan. Especially, Ehvan. To deny it might be rude and to accept it...it wouldn't do as much harm, maybe? . "Thank you," she replied in Qouti, "General Ehvan." He stood and then next came up. Bahn bowed at the waist and gave the same words. She replied in kind and stole a quick glance at Illya. He was nodded in approval, but seemed just as surprised. This was entirely spontaneous? "Thank you, Bahn," she smiled. She knew each of their names and replied in kind with nothing but the utmost sincerity.

As the last man Markus stepped forward to receive a pass. Men would be with him and he knew it. Illya had him watched and he couldn't fault his son for that. When his son handed him the pass Markus saluted and he took the moment to speak. It was one of the few times he was going to get to speak with his son, or at least ensure that his son heard him. "It is as your mother said. You can rule without an iron fist, but even as you've found there are those who will try to kill you. I'm here to serve as my General sees fit. I will give my life if need be." Stepping over in front of Kalizda he bowed. "As long as my empress lives. She will have command the same as the General."

She tried not to stiffen when Markus approached. She was sure that he would take his pass with a salute and then leave it at that. Instead, he saluted like the others and then spoke in Qouti to Illya in flat, but not altogether harsh tones. She didn't like him mentioning the assassination attempt. It was common knowledge on Pyrta because it was public and it was still something that made her stomach turn even if it was a fact. He pledged his life to Illya and then turned to her. She didn't back down or shy away as their grey eyes locked onto one another, both with resolve shining in them. To her surprise, he bowed and then gave an answer along the same lines but not exactly the same as his counterparts. As long as his empress lives was a bit different than simply being considered as such like the others. "Aye," she said to Markus as her eyes locked onto his, "Thank you, Markus."

Once the men had received their passes and done as they intended the Elite began to separate into groups to determine who left in which groups. Illya slipped his hand into Kalizda's. "C'mon, we go talk somewhere eh?"

Once Markus was away from her and the men were scattering, she gave them a friendly wave which Asher caught and returned. When Illya's hand slipped into hers she almost jumped until she realized who it was then she squeezed is hand. "Aye, the green house?" They walked causally through the halls and through the corridor outside to the steamy green house which was warm and private enough the could talk freely. She close the glass door behind them and looked at Illya, her eyes wide. She started to say something, then restarted several times before shaking her head. "That was unexpected."

Illya let Kalizda lead the way to the greenhouse and as soon as they got there she started to talk about what happened. He actually didn't want to talk about that, but she seemed to want to. "Well, eh, I wanted tah say someting else. Et was unexpected." Switching to Quoti he went with his idea before he forgot to say anything. "Kalizda, the Chippequoti have asked that even though we are in war there is enough peace they would like a council again. I have agreed to this council and I will assign elders to deal with many problems that the people have. Some things I will still need to see to and make decisions after speaking with advisers. Will you advise the council as chief diplomat and help me with affairs involving the Alliance?"

Her brain felt like a rusty gear trying to shift for a moment as he brushed aside what just happened in favor of something else equally surprising. She had gone from empress to diplomat in a matter of 5 minutes and had she been anyone else they might have thought the world turned upside down. To her, it was an honor and her confusion turned to a beaming smile. He had thought to ask her for this position and it was amazing. "Aye," she said, "I would be honored to do serve as the diplomat between the Council and the Alliance." Some might see it as a conflict of interest but the home planet had initially sponsored the Chippeqouti on arrival. She would be filling Henaiah's role on a much deeper level where she could help the Chippeqouti even more and assist Illya when he conducted Alliance affairs. "It might be difficult with me as Council woman but I don't see any reason why I couldnt. Other peoples have diplomats within the Alliance like that."

Quietly, Illya waited for Kalizda to make up her mind. He wanted her to say yes, but he had no control over her decision. "It will not be a conflict of interest. You will explain the ways in the Alliance to the Council to help them better understand why they should take your advice and you will advise me the same way."

Calysta smiled and nodded. It would be good to have the council going again and while it may add work to her overloaded schedule it would be good work for everyone. It might even relieve her husband from stress. . "I would be honored to do so," she replied, "I think its a good idea and I'm glad you asked me." In truth, she was proud of him. He wasnt holding onto power and following the imperial style, even if they had just called her empress a few moments before. Calysta took his hand and squeezed it gently.

****************************
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
It was after the evening dinner and there wasn't a whole lot to do yet. The Elite had decided they would stick together in the commons room for some planning and a little fun. While they were standing in one corner of the room and a bit crunched the space a bit of giggling sounded and Ehvan lost it. "Of course yah all laugh like little harpy. Staring at us all when we get up. Yah never learn nut tah look when a man dun belong to yah?" At that comment Illya glanced at Kalizda and sighed. "Ugh..." He knew that at some point Ehvan would lose his cool, but apparently getting stared at while he was calling rise and shine had been too much. "I dun know why yah so embarrassed dat dey look when yah crow like a damn...." About that time Illya stopped realizing what he was going to say and the rest of the men busted out laughing. "Hell, yah know what dat was supposed tah mean yah lout."

Calysta sat with a few of the Chippeqouti, though far fewer than the day before they had the passes to go home, but still enough to make the room feel smaller than normal. A few of the Kaerelean groups were hunched around, an odd amount of women making up the majority of the loungers tonight. She could hear them whispering among themselves and giggling. Apparently, so could Ehvan who clenched his jaw and spit an outburst at them. It wasn't entirely unexpected, but Illya not completing his comment was an unexpected turn. Usually he had no problem just saying exactly what he meant. Calysta raised a brow and asked in Qouti. " Crow like a what?" It seemed everyone else knew in the Chip group but her and now she was curious.

All the men turned to look at Kalizda when she asked what Ehvan was crowing like. Illya quickly changed to Quoti before he answered. "Crow like cock. I didn't remember the other word in Trader's Tongue." As soon as he said it the men started to laugh again. It was impossible not to laugh at the nearly momentous and embarrassing statement.

"Oh," Calysta said, her cheeks flaming hot. It wasnt that she was totally embarrassed but having seen Ehvan full frontal that same morning did make her blush all over again. When the men started to laugh, she couldnt help herself and began to chuckle too, covering her mouth and giving Ehvan a slightly apologetic look. "Well, they arent wrong."

"What yah haven't seen es his badge of honor." Bahn merrily chimed in and in Trader's Tongue too. It was too good of a story to pass up. Immediately Ehvan opened his mouth to protest, but he decided he would rather bask in the moment of glory. Everyone would admire him for his bravery. Ahvah admired him for this moment even if she did laugh at the story. "Well," Bahn started. "Et was middle of battle and suddenly I see Ehvan turn around and he jes trow his arms around meh like I'm his love and we hit dah ground. Almost soon as we hit dah ground he starts yelling 'Meh ass! I dun even know why he would say dat when we lay next tah each oter on dah ground." Illya shook his head He knew the story well enough and Ehvan always had to chime in. "Of course I yell about meh ass. I take shot in meh ass tah save yah puny balls."

Badge of honor? Calysta hadn't heard this at all and she raised a brow as all the men seemed to get ready for a good story. "Do tell," she said, a smile already coming to her lips. Bahn told the story of how Ehvan had bravely been shot in the ass to save his fellow company man and Calysta nearly choked when when Ehvan piped in about puny balls. "Sounds like it was quite a 'tail' when you made it home," she said, "Your rear saved Bahn's life." Of course, she was never going to admit she had once shot someone else in the rear and they had no idea who had done it. Some of her blush was fading and she glanced at Illya, feeling a bit bold. "I didn't see that badge of honor, no."Thursday at 9:38 PM
Silence: "Oh, but yah miss part of dah story." Bahn knew this part would get Kalizda's attention. "Den, while I get up off ground Illya comes running en and he looks at Ehvan and den rolls his eyes. He jes tell Ehvan tah quit wailing bout his ass and tah start shooting before we all get killed."

Calysta stole another look at her husband. Yep. That sounded exactly like something Illya would do. Tell a man shot in the ass to get up and carry on as if he were fine. A small smile spread over her face and she nodded. "Aye? Don't tell me you had to have someone pluck out the bullet?" She had seen Illya pluck bullets from himself as if they were nothing but mere pimples to pop and the idea of one of them having to mash one out of Ehvan's rear was kind of comical.

As soon as it came to the part about removing the bullet Ehvan started to protest, but Illya decided to put in his two cents worth. "Yeah, Ehvan couldn't see his own ass well enough. So Bahn did the honors. I felt little bad after I saw how deep that bullet got lodged Ehvan's flabby butt." This time Ehvan protested. "No, meh butt es nut flabby. Never was." "Nope," Bahn added, "Et sure wasn't when I started to try and get bullet out. Ehvan clenched his ass cheek so tight I jes about had to make bullet hole bigger jes tah get dah bullet out." Now that the whole story had come out instead of just the part he liked Ehvan rolled his eyes. "Yah jes sick."

That little comment earned a bubbling of giggles from the women in the corner and Calysta had to bite her own lips to keep from laughing too. She was positive there had never been a time when Ehvan's ass had been flabby even in the slightest measurement. Illya knew that and was just poking fun, but the girls in the corner seemed to believe that the man couldn't have had a jelly bum either. They were tittering away and stealing glances at him with red cheeks. "So, it's true," one of them said, "Sounds like Chippeqouti really do have buns of steel."

As soon as the story was out the gaggle of girls started to twitter all the more and then they had to pipe in. Without thinking much of what he was saying Illya shot back, "Clearly et's rumor. Ehvan's ass dun deflect dah bullet like steel. Et jes sort of absorb bullet tah be pulled out later." The Chippequoti men laughed all the harder and even Ehvan had to smirk. He liked the idea that the girls might be shocked. It was nice to be the one shocking others once in a while.Thursday at 10:18 PM
aryamajor: The women exchanged looks and giggled all the harder after Illya's comment, clearly enjoying the fact that they were getting to pal around with some of the Chippeqouti. "In that case, he'd be an Iron arse," one of them replied, unable to stifle her laughing, "Iron arse." Now they ere simply having a spot of fun with Ehvan but Calysta wasn't sure how well that would go over.

Gradually the group of Chippequoti men had turned and their circle opened. The women were horribly bold to be still talking about Ehvan's butt and the men stared at them for a long moment. Finally, Illya answered, "Ef yah tink dat es supposed tah be compliment yah wrong."

Calysta watched the interaction until the women grew bolder still. She could see things becoming a misunderstanding quickly as the men grew quiet and their circle opened up, Illya's comment confirmed that much and Calysta looked to her Chip as ever sat in uncertain silence. "They arent trying to be complimentary," Calysta said in Qouti, "They're just poking a little fun over something that everyone found humorous to find common ground with you and the men for the most part. You are just as new to them as they are to you and they are trying to build some comraderie, yeah?"

Despite the gentle warning to the women it seemed that nobody besides the Chip men understood. Even Kalizda seemed to miss the point, but she did manage to reveal that they were missing a sort of social cue too. Illya worked his jaw a little while he thought of what he could, or should say. Finally he came up with what to do, "Et's nut proper for women tah comment on man's body unless she is his agreed and man should nut comment on woman's body unless she es his agreed. All can laugh at funny story, but dere es no comment on bodies. We allow a few mistakes cause yah dun know, but now yah know." With a little nod he then turned to look back at Kalizda and the rest of the group. The seemed to think it was a satisfactory answer and there was no telling how Kalizda perceived that answer.

Calysta listened to Illya's reply and gave the women a pointed look along with a small nod as their faces turned from curious to a bit sheepish, even so far as to blush. One asked what the word for 'sorry' was in Qouti and and Calysta gave it to them without issue. If they wanted to apologize properly she wouldnt stop them. An Imuri woman rose from her chair, and bowed offering a nasally Qouti 'apology' then sat up. "We didnt realize but we dont know the term agreed. This is twining, yes?"

When the women asked about twining Illya frowned. "Eh, ef twining es like born at same time, no. Ef yah mean twining es like Terrans say married den yes." He wasn't entirely sure what twining was, but he had two guesses that he thought were pretty logical.

"Yes, yes, like Terran marriage," the Imori woman nodded, "You are all, twined....er...married....no...agreed?" She was cycling through languages and her Imori accent made some of the words harder but she managed to stumble through it. Calysta looked to Illya with approval in her eyes and nodded. "Aye, I believe all of them are agreed if I remember right. Twined for life like Imori do." The woman flashed a smile of recognition and she bowed again, saying the one and only Qouti word she knew 'apology...apology' then she raised up. "Thank you for telling, we go now, yes?" The other women started to rise to leave the Chippeqouti to enjoy their time off and to escape the mistake they had made more so. One of the women she knew was a Urian and was still looking curious, but said nothing as she scuttled out behind the rest. Calysta looked to Illya, smiling a little. "Now they know and perhaps won't be so bothersome or rude about it, yeah?"

It seemed that just a little explanation had a far greater benefit that Illya had thought it would. Perhaps that was what all the ridiculous diplomacy was about. However, he started to turn red whe Kalizda gave him that smile and looked at him as if he had done a wonderful thing. "Well, ets an old custom, but most Chippequoti dun follow et anymore. I jes say et because I tink maybe et es custom we best keep wit outsiders."

Calysta tilted her head at him, curiosity clearly written on her face. She wasn't going to challenge him in front of his men, but she did want to know his reasoning. "Do only the Chippeqouti from Old Qouti choose not to follow the custom, or do Chips from Qouti not follow it as well, considering it older?"

"Eh, Chippequoti from bot choose nut tah observe dis rule when et pleases dem nut to. I uh...well I used tah break dah rule and sometimes I still do." Illya couldn't help it, he was turning a bit redder by the moment and some of the men began to chuckle. They all knew he didn't say bad things, but he would mention when he thought a woman looked nice, or if her legs were showing.

Calysta's brow raised questioningly and her smile faded some. "So, you look at other women who aren't your agreed?"

"No!" Illya said it a bit emphatically, "I dun look, I will say someting. Ef she wears nice dress I will compliment her and ef I see woman dat shows her legs I notice and I try nut tah look."

He belted out a no with such force she nearly jumped and she saw his face flashing red. "So you look long enough to notice their legs and their dress to compliment them?" she replied, her smile all but fizzling out. "And here you are holding those other ladies to that standard that you don't practice yourself?" She was picking at him partially because she had stood up for him and he had been a bit rotten about telling them off with tradition. The other part of her was a bit miffed that he did, in fact, look at other women. How could he not? Of course, all the men would be staring at her now and watching Illya. She glanced to the rest of the men and nodded. "If that's the standard you want to keep then you should do it, just realize you might have to explain it more than once, yeah?"

Now that he'd said it Illya was wishing he hadn't been completely honest with Kalizda. A few of the men noticed and the others simply chose to remain ignorant. For the most part the men shrugged. "We jes keep standard here because dah women are nut proper. Ef dey were proper we would nut care ef dey say someting because dey would say et proper." Ehvan nodded in agreement with the statement and then gave Illya's shoulder a pat as he stepped past. "Good luck. You stepped in the shit this time." It was ll in Quoti and the men chuckled a little as they heard Ehvans comment. Once Illya was alone with Kalizda he sighed and continued the conversation in Quoti. "We don't practice this in the strictest form because it would prohibit me from telling Ahvah, Elpsbet, Asha, or any woman besides you that she had a nice dress. I simply stated the strictest form because it is better for myself and the men to keep strictest form here. Women here don't seem to be concerned about what is proper. Kalizda, I don't look at other women because I want to live with them, or even have sex with them. I notice if they are pretty and I can't help it if legs show. I just try not to look. So many of your people run around with legs showing and it is difficult sometimes."

She balked at him for a moment. He knew...he KNEW....that Kaereleans had different ideas of propriety and had the nerve to tell her that her people weren't 'proper' in the eyes of the Chippeqouti. Was he thinking this way because he was with his men now? It was considered good to think about other cultures besides his own? Calysta closed her mouth and gathered herself. "Aye, they do, because it's not improper for a woman's legs to show here. It is improper for men to sleep entirely nude in the bunk room though and highly offensive to use the women's shower. Nobody expected you to know that right away and everyone got over it. No one treated any of you strangely for a mistake after all was said and done. I'm glad you try not to look at the other women, but it's also hard for the other women not to look at you too when you 'rise and shine' like you do. They thought you were doing that because you *wanted* the attention, positive or negative. So, yes, we were improper for showing our legs but its no less an misunderstanding on either side." She said her words confidently and with great patience because she knew it was true, even if she was miffed at Illya. "I just ask that you stay patient with them, if something bothers you tell them so they know. Just like you did tonight. They aren't likely to be improper around any of you anymore." With that she slid down from the stool she was perched on and gave Illya a look which attempted to mask what other things she was thinking. She wasn't going to railroad him in front of his men because that would be wrong and she wouldn't do that to him. "I think I'm off to bed."

The response from Kalizda was not necessarily indicating that she understood and Illya sighed. "I did my best to show them where to bathe. It was a mistake and it isn't happening again. Your people will keep on showing their legs and my men and myself will keep on sleeping naked. This is little understanding we have now. No more rise and shining from Ehvan, or others. We will just refrain from commenting on bodies of others that are not of the same gender. This will have less offense for Chippequoti and your people." Perhaps she would understand now. "We do this not be unkind, but to help create a standard ground on which it is agreeable for us and them."

Calysta looked to Illya, stopping her step midstride and allowing him to speak with her full attention. "Aye and now they know your wishes. The women you told will likely tell others and it will no longer be an issue. Its simply different ways of thinking of propriety and if an accord is reached for appropriateness, then thats good. Just realize that they are looking for common ground as much as we are. That's all I ask." It was a simple request and she looked on all of them with a gaze of true belief that they could do this if they kept an open mind. "Thank you for the consideration on the issue as well, General. It is a good accord so long as you give everyone time to adjust." The thank you was sincere and she gave a nod. At least he was trying to make things better, even if she was still a bit miffed.

Once Kalizda left Illya let his hands drop to his side and he gave a huff as he flopped on the couch. Almost immediately he winced. This couch in the commons area was not even close to bearing his weight. A few of the men looked at him and shrugged. None of the others knew what Kalizda was upset about. Illya didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't like he said he saw other women with desire. All of them had looked when the women had their legs out. It was impossible not to. Bahn looked at Illya and nudged him. "You gonna go warm her bed up again?" Rolling his eyes Illya got up. "Yeah, we'll just see if she pecks me to death." The rest of the men laughed and watched as the General sauntered off to go find his little bird's nest. Illya got into the bunkroom and he stripped down to his boxers before he crawled into Kalizda's bed. She must have still been getting ready for bed and he waited for her. Chances were his men would give him a few minutes to get things straight with Kalizda. They all recognized the look she gave him and it was not a good one.
Calysta left and went to grab her caddie along with her sleep clothes which consisted of long silky pants, packed specifically so none of the Chippeqouti could see her legs. With her teeth brushed and her pajamas on, she shuffled into the bunk room to find a large lump under the covers of her bed. Standing on her tip toes, she poked her nose over the mattress to look at Illya. "Want me up here?" She asked. She didnt want bad things between them but she would ask before assuming he wanted her there.

When Kalizda came back she poked her head over the edge first and asked if he wanted her up there. Illya frowned a little, "I think that question would be better for me to ask. It your bed. I just warm it up and if you want me here we can talk about whatever your mad about and if you don't then I know it is something very bad I said. I really don't know what I said though."

He spilled out a little talk and truly sounded confused about what was wrong. Calysta bit her lip and then made her way into bed, slowly crawling in along side him until she was laying with him face to face. Her grey eyes studied him for a moment. At least he wanted to talk with her about it instead of storming off. Now, she was the immature one rather than him, really and she didnt know why she was so worked up. "I was upset,.mostly because you scolded those outsider women when they didnt know what they had done wrong either. I also dont know every single Chippeqouti custom that you do or dont follow either. We're here working as a team with outsiders and its difficult for everyone. I just wanted you to realize they are trying very hard, just like the Elite are. And...I know you can't help it...I just got a little..." she sighed some and closed her eyes, "Jealous."

The result was a it strange. Illya stared at Kalizda when she crawled in and wanted to gaze into his eyes. For a moment she was quiet and then she started to talk again. Clearly she misunderstood what he had meant. "I didn't scold them. It was not funny, or comfortable for the men, so I told the women why it was wrong. My men received the same restriction. I was not unfair in the situation." As for the last part Illya realized she must not know how the Chippequoti defined those sorts of things and she was jealous and she had every right to be as his agreed. "As my agreed you have right to be jealous, but when I say that I look it just means that I look. If I said that I see the woman with desire then there is trouble. I look at the woman, she is there. I see you and I have desire."

"I know it wasnt funny or comfortable for them, but the comments made after made it sound as though you expected them to do some tradition that no one else is required to partcipate in because they are outsiders and for that reason alone. When that was cleared up..I was still jealous. And I-" She cut off in surprise that he had said she had a right to be jealous. She did? Her grey eyes looked over his face, scanning over the hard contour of his jaw and the brightness of his eyes. Heat rose to her cheeks and she inched closer to him, slipping a hand to his waist. "You do see me." He was perhaps the only man that ever had and here she was admitting something to him and revealing her petty side. "I'm sorry," she whispered. It was a strange thing to say how she felt to him for once and have him looking at her like he was. He looked at other women and she knew he was a man. That made looking unavoidable. But he had admitted to desiring her. That made her cheeks grow hotter and she almost made a move to hide her face. Instead, the small fingers of her free hand curled up to his bare chest close to the large scar from his heart surgery. "Jealousy is considered a less than desirable trait in women on Kaereal, so I was embarrassed."

Nodding a bit Illya listened to Kalizda's statement and he thought for a few seconds before responding. "I'm sorry that you feel like I make you look undesirable. Chippequoti don't think that jealousy is bad. We consider it healthy when a woman, or man feels jealous and wants their agreed to give them attention only. I feel jealous if I think a man shows you too much attention because I think he wants to take you away. Then I get closer and I make sure to spoil you so he knows that I take care and you would not be happy with him if he thought to pursue you further. What we do now is proper to show women your jealousy. I belong to you and not them. I would not be content with them."

She hadnt known showing jealousy was not considered bad upon the women in Chippeqouti culture. He grew jealous over her too when a man got too close and he tried to prove himself too by taking care of her. He didn't brush off her feelings or considering them wrong and that knowledge made a great weight lift from her chest. She actually sighed in relief and closed her eyes for a moment to collect herself before nodding to him. "You don't belong with anyone but me. I wouldnt want anyone to take you from me. I'd miss you more than anything...I know I'm not a legs-for-days kind of woman," she whispered, "I would like to think you're happy enough with me to stay though." She said it a little more lightheartedly.

Now that the air was cleared Illya felt better too. No wonder she felt upset, she had been under the impression that her feeling was wrong when it was natural and probably good. "Oh, I'm more den happy tah stay wit yah all meh life." This time Illya switched to Kaerlean for her and all the other women and men to hear. They all needed to know what she did. He wasn't going anywhere she wasn't.

Calysta heard him swap to Kaerelean and she knew it was for her. His words made her smile again and a few other women let out longing sighs from around the room. She smiled even wider and inched closer to her Chip to revel in how warm he was. Those other women might have seen him naked but they could eat their hearts out. Illya was hers and she loved him dearly even when they argued. "That's good," she said kissing his lips with a light peck, "Because I plan is both sticking around for a good, long time.

Since it seemed the argument was done Illya felt better and he relished the fact that she got a little closer to him. "Suppose we jes stay up here all night eh?" He didn't mind sleeping here with her because at least it was a sturdy bunk he wouldn't break it. Her little kiss was more than enticing and Illya leaned in only to discover it was a short, tiny little peck. Just as he started to sneak and arm around her and get a little longer kiss a few of his men came in. "Get pecked tah deat eh?" Immediately Illya shifted in the bed and pulled a blanket over his and Kalipzda's head. "Dere are worse ways tah die."

Calysta could feel him getting snugglier and she let him until some of then men came in. Illya tossed the blanket over their heads and she smirked when one of them mentioned him getting pecked to death. "Oh there are much worse ways to go." Then she leaned into his jaw and gave him as many pecks up to his ear as she could, only stopping when she was beginning to think he might grow uncomfortable for more.

Suddenly Kalizda started the kissing with a furious pace and Illya was already thinking of where they could go. Wen she stopped he kissed her deeply and then chuckled as he spoke in Quoti. "Wanna go find someplace we could go for a while. I can always grab some extra blankets off my bunk."

Apparently, she had revved him up a little too much and now he was asking for ideas on places to go. She grinned and actually chuckled as her face pinked again. He was so naughty sometimes. "Aye," she whispered, "No cameras in the green house, yeah? The windows will be all foggy too." She couldnt help but want to please him sometimes because he smiled so broad when he was being incorrigible and she felt emboldened now too and she gave him another long kiss. "Mmm. Thank you for listening, Illya."

It was more than surprising that Kalizda actually thought it was a good idea. Illya started to slip out of the bunk almost immediately and he dropped to the floor below with a solid thud. His prosthetic foot always made a good sounding crunch on the floor when he landed and he smirked some. The rest of the men simply turned over in their bunks with sigh. They knew better than to ask what was going on. They could only pretend not to notice and feel a bit jealous that it wasn't their agreed sharing their bunk and running away to the green house with them.

Snatching a few blankets off his bunk Illya wrapped one around Kalizda and one around himself. Slipping into his boots Illya tucked the laces into the tops of them and then wandered through the halls with Kalizda. It was dark and every once in a while they would hear the sounds of the security guards making their rounds. A flashlight would stream through the dark and Illya would hide with Kalizda. Hiding from the security here wasn't that hard, it was a little bit fun actually. By the time they reached the green house Illya had a smile nearly the size of a banana. He found a nice looking spot toward the back of the green house and had her get her blanket laid out on the floor while he used his as a sort of drape to hide them from view just in case someone happened to walk into the green house.

Later in the night, or early morning Illya woke up. He had fallen asleep after their fun and so had Kalizda. She had the sense to put her clothing back on after the little night time scandal, but he still had to find his boxers and boots. After a few moments of hunting down his last boot he rolled Kalizda up in her blanket and draped his over his shoulders before picking her up and carrying her back to their room. This time the hiding didn't really seem necessary. The security guards weren't out on their patrol and Illya was too tired to care if they were. His back hurt a little and the cough was starting to get the better of him. By the time he reached the barrack section he and Kalizda were in he felt short on breath.

Instead of putting Kalizda in her bunk Illya simply shrugged his blanket off and then sat on the edge of his bunk. From the edge of the bunk he slowly began to shift his weight to one side and then the next as he worked his way into the bed. After a few moments he was settled well enough to lay down and then grab his blanket from floor. Draping the blanket over himself and Kalizda he breathed heavily for a few moments before a horrible hacking cough worked its way to the base of his throat. It took almost half an hour to get back to sleep and when Illya did finally sleep his chest crackled with the effort of each breath.

The sleep he did get didn't feel like much. It felt like he'd barely fallen asleep and the buzzer in the room went off to alert all the cadets in the barracks that it was time to get up. With a groan he put one hand on Kalizda's side so she wouldn't fall out of the bed when he sat up. He was slower getting up and it seemed that the men were already moving around and a few of them looked at him with a big grin.

"So, yah have good time last night eh?"

Illya frowned a little and nodded. He wasn't feeling like putting up with much and he let Kalizda wake up as slowly as she needed before she collected the things she would need to get washed up. "I need dah bucket." A horrible coughing fit was just waiting in the bottom of his lungs and he could feel the spasms starting. Somehow the need for the bucket rushed Kalizda along and Illya coughed into it for a few minutes before he handed it back to Dane. Dane clearly hadn't been paying much attention and he fumbled the bucket. The entire night's worth of mucus and clumps of infection from the lungs of the men on this side of the barrack spilled all over Illya's head and chest. Bits of it stretched out and began to fall into pools on his lap. "Ugh....Dane!"

All the men gave a "Ooooh bad luck," in unison. Dane did his best to help clean things up and Ehvan tossed an extra towel at Illya before they all grabbed their stuff and headed for the showers. When Illya got to the shower room he was given the front of the line and the men only shook their heads. They could all tell that his fun made him sore and the mucus bucket only made it a little rougher.

By the time roll call came Illya was ready, but feeling less than his usual chipper self. He waited for his name to be called and then he called on all his men and they responded as was expected. This time when they finished breakfast he went out to the gym again and gave a different announcement. "All men will wear dere suits from Skycorp today. Ef yah dun have et on, den yah go change et now yah have 2 minutes. We will learn from our partners tahday about flight. I expect dat most of yah will fly as well as yah swim." A little chuckle rose from the men. They were all horrible at it and while they didn't relish the idea of participating in something where they clearly had poor performance it was also a relief that the others would do just about as well.

Illya glanced at Kalizda and grinned. "Same partners as day before. Meh little bird will make first demonstration of skill tah learn for flight."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
The smell of food tingling at her nose and the distant sound of a familiar voice made Priscilla's eyes flutter open slowly to find Ehud standing by her side, favoring his good leg slightly. He seemed alert and grinned at her with a kind, almost hopeful smile. Blinking a few times, she tried to guess the time, but couldn't get a gasp on how long she had been asleep except that it was evening. The rain was still pounding the roof outside too. "Oh." Closing her eyes for a moment, she took in a deep breath so she could smell whatever it was Ehud had cooked. "Mmmm," she hummed, "It does smell good." Slowly she disentangled herself from the blanket and rose from the chair on her good leg before testing the other. It had a dull throb in her thigh, but otherwise wasn't terribly painful. With that done, she made her way with a little hop step to the dining area where the table had been set.

"You did all of this?" she said, her fingers brushing over prettily folded napkins. He did manage to surprise her from time to time, and she smiled for the first time in awhile. The air between them was still odd but not nearly as strained as before. The food looked delicious too and she hated to admit that her stomach was empty enough to start consuming itself if she didn't fill it up soon. "I know what this needs," she said, holding up a finger. Stepping gingerly toward the hall, she passed by Ehud and slid a hand at his back ever so slightly, before retreating to the linen closet. When she came back, she had a candle in a small dish. It made a nice glimmering centerpiece when she lit it with a matchbook. "There." Now, the dinner looked quite cozy, and that was good, because the more comfortable they were the easier it would be to talk. Hopefully. She sat down, but didn't touch her food or drink until Ehud hand joined her. "Can we talk about this afternoon, Ehud?"

Ehud stood back and watched as Priscilla seemed to take in all that was before her, but then she wanted to add something. What critical element had he missed? All this work to put on a decent Terran setting for her and it wasn't right. It was so frustrating to find himself doing it wrong again when he had worked so hard. When Priscilla emerged with her candle he couldn't help a little grin. All that worry that he'd messed up and it was just a candle that she wanted. Once she was seated he began serving nice large portions on her plate and then his own. After he sat down he barely had the chance to get a forkful of food to his mouth and she asked about the afternoon. Slowly he opened his mouth again and withdrew the fork with the food and set it on the plate. "What part do you want to talk about?"

Priscilla almost wished she had waited for them to eat first before saying anything, but part of her was afraid he might try to move on and just sweep it all away again. Pretend that everything was fine. She was grateful he had taken her tears with grace, but the cause of those tears still remained between them like a thorn, at least that's what it felt like to her. She saw his interrupted bite and paused her own fork over her salad to look at him. His face was handsome in the candle light which put his fair features into sharp relief with shadows and glimmer warmth both. "I'm not sure where to start," she said honestly. At least he had asked a follow up question even if she was having difficulty answering it right away. "I wanted to talk to you about us...the way things have been..." She was starting to stumble over her words, which was very unlike herself. Finally, she took in a deep breath, remember his words from before the procedure. "I want to be a good wife, but I don't know what that looks like for you. I know you said that things with Haza were different and I imagine they very much were. I'm not Haza though and you...you are not Harry. I've been trying to communicate with you as if you were...because that's what I'm used to. And that's not fair." Clearing her throat, she sniffled a little and then looked him in the eye as she waited for a moment. "Will you tell me about her?"

The bit of waiver in Priscilla's tone and voice seemed to be ominous. Ehud did his best to be patient and wait for her to finish. Clearly she was upset and somehow she had determined they were not being fair with each other. "Well, it will be work for both of us to change." He could acknowledge that there were times he treated her like he would have treated Haza. "Haza was the quiet sort. She didn't do a lot of parties, but she did like to go out sometimes. If I planned something special she would ask me to make her a dress and she'd pick out the material. She liked reading, traveling, museums, painting and sculpting. To Haza life was an art."

Priscilla wasn't sure she found the knowledge relieving since she and Haza seemed to share some of the same enjoyments. He still spoke about her with a hint of passion that she would expect from a man who had loved someone. Did he really want a replacement, or did he like the fact that she had similarities for the sake of simply being an artisan himself? Then there was the comment about it being work for both of them to change, as if it were shocking. "Yes, it would be work, but I also think that we are different people from our former spouses and that work is to be expected," she said earnestly, "Even if its hard." A moment passed and she played her fork into her salad, hungry physically but not finding the focus enough to actually eat yet. "Haza sounds like she was an amazing woman...a Renaissance woman...that's what they would call her on Terra. It's high praise. But you didn't talk much with her...you just knew things between you?"

How Ehud described Haza was the best he knew how, but words never did fully express, or describe a person. At first Priscilla seemed to be upset by the description, but she settled with asking more. "We talked some, but not much. Sometimes it was too dangerous to talk much. We knew each other very well though. She was only 1 year older than me and we grew up best friends. We never had to say much. I've never had to work so hard to communicate with someone before."

Priscilla wasn't sure if he was okay with talking about Haza so much and she knew it probably still stung to talk about her, especially since they had grown up together and practically been best friends as well as lovers. "I know that it must be hard and that you miss her," Priscilla said quietly as she forced herself to keep her eyes locked on Ehud's, "I know we aren't close yet. Not like that, but we can't even begin to be closer if we don't try. I didn't grow up your best friend, Ehud. I can't read your mind. And with Harry....I didn't have to worry or work quite so much. We knew each other only the fraction of the time you and Haza knew one another, but Harry never let me sit wondering things. He was expressive in ways that didn't leave me guessing and we communicated often, even if it was as simple as coming in and asking me about my day or me asking what was on his mind..." She realized she had rambled more than she meant to and talking about Harry made her chest tighten with lonliness. "I've never had to work so hard at communication either but I know if we don't we won't grow any closer. "

Momentarily Ehud felt a sting of guilt. Priscilla was struggling the same way he was. That was just life, but it wasn't any easier. "Ok." Taking a bite of food he chewed on it for a long time before swallowing. He wanted to be more responsive to her and it sounded like talking was how she felt he would be a better husband. "Then we'll just make time to talk about the day and ambitions yes?"

At all of this difficult work to say she got a simple 'okay' which wasn't encouraging. It made her feel like he was either brow beaten into saying yes or that he was trying to placate her. A silence fell over them and she saw he went to his food, so she did the same. The tines of her fork prodded at increasingly room temperature lettuce in her bowl as she thought about what she had said, stuck in the same quiet as before. After what seemed like a thousand years, his voice cracked against the silence, offering his solution to the problem. Now, that was surprising. Her eyes slowly lifted from her limp salad to meet his gaze again. Did he really mean that? She studied him and then nodded. "It's a start," she said, "We could talk about more than that too...but it's a start." She took a tentative bite of salad and then followed it up with a bite of garlic bread and lasagna. The food was delicious, though not homemade technically, and she couldn't help but keep eating now because she was starving. While she ate, an idea came to her and she stole a glance at her husband. "Maybe we can talk a little like that....in bed...tonight."

"We could do that." Ehud answered her and took another bite of food. He wasn't sure they had anything to say about the day, but she probably had plenty of ambitions if she wanted to be talking so soon about things. It took some thought, but he remembered that they did talk more before the war. "We'll learn our own language."

Priscilla looked at Ehud and for the first time in awhile, a genuine smile crept to her lips. "Indeed, we could do that." She didn't add in the fact that their own language wouldn't include innuendo because her most recent one had flown right over his head. She couldn't quite tell if he was being stiff or he was just being matter of fact about it all, as if it were a military task. She didn't want it to be that way. He shouldn't want to get to know her and ask about those things, shouldn't he? But what man ever really did besides Harry? Still, she would give him this chance and perhaps they really would learn their own means of communication between them if they tried. They finished their meal and Priscilla thanked Ehud by putting away the dishes and then walking over to him to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek. "Thank you for dinner and for listening, Ehud," she whispered, "Both were good."

Ehud said little to this and she wondered briefly if she had pushed things too far by talking about Haza. She cleaned up and let Ehud do as he liked around the house. By the time she was done cleaning up her leg was beginning to throb some. It was an ache deep into the muscle of her leg, lancing through the bone, and she decided it was time to rest again. Bed was by far the most comfortable place and she saw that Ehud had brought their puffy blankets back into the room so they could sleep. Sien would be staying over at a friend's house, giving them time alone to rest. She didn't think she felt up to any sex either physically or in any other sense, but she didn't want to simply let him go to bed without knowing he was appreciated.

On her way out of the kitchen her pad rang with an incoming message. Maybe it was something about Sien? She picked up her pad and opened the message from a name that sent a cold spike into her chest. Congratulations on your nuptials, Priscilla.- Bryant. Priscilla erased the message and put down the pad quickly as if it were made of hot iron. Agent Bryant had wanted to take part in the capture of her Federation assassin and sharpshooter brother, but she had refused after ardent pursuing that she join them on the colonies. They had tried different means of persuasion from appealing to her sense of loyalty to Harry, all the way to guilting her into participating. This one almost felt like a veiled threat. They wanted her as bait. She was sure the Alliance didn't know about it and positive not even the colonies knew about the organization Harry had begun. Her late husband would be appalled at the tactics being used by Bryant.

Her heart was pounding and she took a calming breath before turning away from her pad and walking back to the bedroom. Bryant could take his congratulations and stuff it down his throat. Maybe he would even choke while he was at it. Priscilla combed out her hair from her braid, letting it tumble down her shoulders in soft, platinum waves, then changed into a silky night gown of pale pink before climbing into bed alongside her husband. They hadn't been all that physical in weeks, hardly even touching in bed, and she wasn't quite sure how to bridge that gap again. Slowly, she leaned back and then rolled to her good side to avoid the soreness in her other leg. Facing each other would be hard because they were both tested on the same side, but she wanted to be close after weeks of feeling alone. Was that strange? Desperate? She wasn't sure, if those were good things. Sighing some, she laid on her side and scooted back until her rear was alongside Ehud and then went searching for his hand.

Priscilla fingers groped here and there, looking for his shoulder, the down the length of his arm until she discovered his hand. Smiling some, she took it up and turned him so he spooned her and then draped his hand over her waist, tucking him in tightly against her as the big spoon. Her head leaned gently against his arm as she wiggled to get more settled into the blankets. He was warm and heavy around her, very unlike her Harry who was all lithe framed and light boned. With a small sigh and her fingers caressing over his, she began to whisper to him. She told him a little of growing up and her aspirations when she was a little girl. Maybe she hadnt grown up with Ehud, but it could help if he knew more about her."I wanted to be a cowgirl when I was younger," she whispered, "I practiced all day long to throw a lasso, you know, like in one of the westerns...that is until my brother informed me that to be a cowgirl I had to smell like cow all of the time and chew tobacco. It was required for any cowboy, after all. I decided it was disgusting and that I would do something else instead. Now, I own a bakery...maybe tomorrow I'll take Sien shopping with me on Kinte for the last few things before opening, yeah? It would be good for him to visit the nearby cities." Her hand tightened around Ehud, giving him a gentle squeeze as her eyes began to drift closed. "Mmmhmm..." She was safe here, and warm too. Right now, it was the best thing she could think about before drifting off to sleep.

********

Dodging through the corridors and having their fun in the green houses was a fantastic thrill. There were guard rounds armed with flash lights and light weapons in case of a break in, but they were a stealthy team, using the corners to skirt around any of the patrols. By the time they reached the green house her heart was pounding not just with the excitement of sneaking around. Illya was looking handsome with that broad grin on his face and his hand over hers as they shifted through the corridors. She was the councilwoman, and a wife and a mother, but every now and then she didn't mind doing something a bit wild. With Illya around, it was hardly difficult to keep out of trouble too. They had their spot of fun under the blankets near the succulent rack at the back of the green house before she curled up with him contentedly. How did she get so lucky again? Calysta tugged her clothes back on hastily and took her spot again, inching just far enough to kiss on his neck until they both fell asleep.

When and how she had made it back to the bunk room was a blank spot in her mind when her eyes opened. She was bundled in the lower bunk with a easily identifiable dip in the mattress beside her. Everyone was beginning to stir and she could hear Illya among others coughing to clear out their lungs from the plehgm built by the Chip Cough infection. She had slept more than well and there was a temptation to burrow back down into the bed and to take Illya's warm self with her for more snuggling time. When had she gotten so spoiled to that? Still, the day was waiting for them and she would be expected to get up with the rest. Stretching from her toes, Calysta yawned and began to roll over to look at Illya when a shadow passed over her head. It was the mucus filled bucket looking over head and she scrambled to the side of the bed to avoid any possible droppings that might come from it. Rolling up from the covers, she watched as Illya hacked into the communal ick bucket with deep, rumbling coughs. His lungs were crackling with the effort and she wished there was a bit more she could do, but they were doing everything possible to help clear the cough from all of the Chippeqouti. He was just going to hack it all up.

She started to reach for her hair tie, which had been lost in the bed, somewhere when there was a small yelp followed by the clang. Calysta looked up from her search and found Illya grimacing. The mucus bucket was rolling away in the floor and her husband was slimy with...Calysta felt bile rising up in her throat. Suddenly, her own spit seemed too gross to be rolling around in her mouth too. Illya was covered in the collective hackings of the entire unit of Chippeqouti men. Dane was giving Illya an unfortunate look, as were the rest of the men.

"Oh...oh....ew..." she sputtered, backing up quickly,"Nope..." He would have to clean that one up on his own. As a mother she had been vomited on, peed on, shat on, and any varying degrees of dirtied, but she drew the line at the entire Elite lung gunk bucket spilled everywhere. She took the time to toss him his towel but stayed far enough away to avoid any slime or globs of yellow-green infection. "Go...go to the shower quick." It was all she could to say that before dodging into the women's bathroom herself.

When she returned having showered and washed her hair, which had a few leaves in it from their escapade in the greenhouse, she found Illya scrubbed clean in the hallway. He was wearing his Skycorp jumpsuit which was a bit tight across the chest and arms. Calysta gave her husband an appreciative look as he announced the required wardrobe for the day. Catching one of the men's jokes she snorted some into her hand. If their flying lessons with her were any sample if their skills to go by, this would be wild at the best and disastrous at worst. Illya turned to her, grinning and announced that she would be making the demonstration for today. That had been planned from the start of the program, but he said it with such pride that she couldnt help but smiling back. "Aye," she grinned, before pecking him on the cheek, "Let's go, yeah?"

********
It didnt take long for everyone to settle into the lecture hall. Chip's sat hacking and coughing next to their counter parts who were crammed beside them looking curiously at the front of the board where a projection of Kaereal waited. The green planet spun slowly on its axis as the instructor on Kaerelean culture, borrowed from the University, bustled about to set out a few props. Some of the props included everything from dried plants to, tyrei skins, to weapons. Calysta sank into her seat next to Illya and waited patiently with the rest until the professor began. She was a wizened old woman with primly kept, grey hair and glittering green eyes which looked sharp and intellegent. She smiled with when the room grew quiet and greeted them in Kaerelean, Terran and also traders tongue. "I'm am Brodey," she said in a heavy Reylian accent, "And I'm supposed to be teaching ye Kaerelean culture t'day. If ye don't know, there are 93 different cultures on th' planet an' well over ten thousand ways t'do something wrong. So, m' job today is t' show the basics all m' people in th' Alliance know, yeah?" The woman waddled further into the room, her tunic in perfect dress code. "Now, most Kaereleans will want t' bow t' ye when they first meet ye. Anyone know why?"

The Chippequoti men all filed into the classroom and they all wanted to sit toward the front. Dane and Bahn were about to wrestle for one of the last front row seats when Illya yelled for his men to sit in order of rank and leave one spot for their partner next to them. It was one way to eliminate arguments, or a repeat of what happened in the children's school only a short few years ago. After they were all finally settled in the men waited patiently with rapt attention as the tiny little instructor stepped into the room and began speaking. The woman looked quite frail as she moved about the room slowly and then posed her first question. Bahn immediately raised his hand and blurted his best answer. "Tah show respect."

The elderly woman's green eyes swiveled to the handsome Chip man who had answered and smiled before beckoning him to rise. "Oh aye, nowadays that'd be th' right answer. It wasn't always so." She offered for Bahn to join her on the lecture hall floor in front of everyone. "It started as th' only way th' men an' women of Kaereal could trust one another. So many people with different ideas on how t' live warred for hundreds of years b'fore peace time came. Now, what would ye do if I was an enemy and I took m' eyes off ye...eh..." Her eyes flitted to his name on his skycorp suit and she read it out. "Bahn?"

All the men were somewhat shocked that Bahn got a semi decent answer. Dane and Ehvan both frowned a bit because their answers were not similar to Bahns' at all. Illya hadn't bothered answering because he couldn't remember and he was supposed to. Bahn gladly walked with the woman toward the front and he nodded as she explained. The next part was his favorite part and he grinned even more broadly. "Dat es when I would draw meh sword and trust et trough meh enemy."

"Aye," she chuckled, "The bow wasnt meant for submission. It is respect between warriors of all creed." She reached for a belted weapon on the table and strapped it on with practiced efficiency. "We bow at th' waist, hands lower at thighs an' away from blade or pistol ...but..." She held up a crooked finger and then slowly bowed, never taking her eyes off Bahn's. "Ye never look down. That's a warriors respect an' that is how th' custom is started. Ye wish t' greet a Karelean, ye won't fail t' be civil here. Ye bow t' me Bahn an' we show respect t' each other."

Bahn waited for the woman to proceed to the next part and he was confused as to why his second answer seemed to be wrong. It was the right thing to do if you faced an enemy and they gave you an advantage. You took every advantage you could and you used it to your benefit. Then she asked him to bow and he blinked a few times. "Yah still meh enemy?"

"Not unless ye intend t' be by attacking first," she replied patiently, "I invite ye t' not be m' enemy an' show no aggression. Do ye bow t' show ye willing t' meet m' as civil?"

She waited, still bent at the waist carefully and waiting to see what he would do. "Do ye allow me th' trust th' bow invites?"

Bahn glanced at the woman in confusion. If she was an enemy she was giving him an advantage bowing like that, but he was supposed to make friends with her instead? Looking around the room he tried to glean what sort of answer he should give, but everyone seemed to be interested in what he would do. Instinctively his hand went to rest on his weapon and he bowed cautiously, very slightly and kept his eyes on her the whole time. "Dere, I bow."

The older woman raised a brow but stayed bent. "Do ye now? Ye hand is on ye weapon, sir. And ye d' not bow at th' waist. I give ye my invitation t' meet civil. M' hand is far from m' weapon an' I offer no agression, but ye act as if I do. This would be considered insulting t' Kaerelean greeting. Is it ye intent to do so?"

The longer he was in front of the class the more Bahn wished he hadn't been so smart as to volunteer his answer. "No..." Slowly he answered and moved his hand before he bowed a bit lower. He was very tempted to tell her that the Chippequoti bowed to no one, but this was not the class to address that issue.

She met his eyes, still bent and nodded as she studied him. "It isnt comfortable, yeah? It is hard t' meet someone this way but this was the way when the peace time was forged. It was th' only way it could be made ye see. Some Kaereleans couldnt so much as look at each other much less meet without violence t' make trade or anything else. Th' bow is not comortable, but it is ye safest greeting if ye dont know th' language. Bowing an' meeting th' eyes is not a show of friendship, but of recognition an' mutual respect." She rose up and offered him to rise. "Ye see?"

Bahn complied reluctantly with the instructor as she described why it was good etiquette. "I see et alright."

The professor chuckled and then sat up, releasing them from the bow. Calysta could see Bahn was uncomfortable and she had hoped that by understanding more they would see why it was important, but she knew now that likely wouldnt happen. Chippeqouti didn't like being on equal foot with anyone generally. She stole a glance at her Chip then watched as she backed up to allow Bahn to take his seat. The older woman seemed to pick up on the tone of her volunteer and just gave a small shrug. "Reys didnt like it t' much either but it is courtesy. M' people will accept a bow but among our own we like things a bit different. Does anyone know th' Reylian greeting?" A pair of Kaereleans sitting in the back drew fists and smashed them together violently before tapping their chests over their heart. "Aye, aye," Brodey nodded, "That's it. If ye ever unsure of th' person ye greet, th' bow is best though." She stepped back and went over to the desk where several other props were waiting to show. "Now, ye practice with ye own partner."

A few of the men grimaced some as Bahn made his way back toward them. It was terrible awkward to have to bow like that in front of everyone and they all felt badly for Bahn, but secretly pleased that they had not offered an answer of any sort. Once Bahn was seated the teacher mentioned a different greeting and it was one that elicited a roar of approval from the Chip men who promptly offered their fists to the person nearest them.

Calysta chuckled at their excitement over the Reylian greeting, one she knew even Illya preferred. Smiling, she offered her fist to Illya to bump as Swyft did the same with his good hand for another Chip. His knuckles smacked hard and he drew away with a little shake of his fingers after tapping his fist over his heart. It took a minute for the raucous excitement to fade and Brodey continued, her wrinkled hands flashing over bits of colored fabric. "Who here knows how to dance?"

After the favorite alternate greeting the Chippequoti men turned and resumed their nearly flawless and attentive expressions toward the teacher. The woman must have really known how to make relations far more interesting than most because she asked about dancing and almost immediately all 51 Chippequoti men jumped to their feet.

Brodey grinned a wide, if not slightly gaptoothed smile as all the men sprang up, causing their assigned partners to shift in surprise. Even Calysta slid out of the way of Illya as he jolted to his feet excitedly with the rest of his 50 men. "Oh, I'll take tha' as a yes," Brodey laughed merrily, "Kaereleans, no matter who they are, love dancing. Kaereleans enjoy group dances as well as paired an' solo moves. Dances are very important t' th' culture. If ye in a gathering an ye want t' dance ye hold out ye hand an' invite." Brodey offered her knobbly palm to Ehvan. "Ye need not take th' hand but ye can nod in acceptance an' join on th' floor. Ye see?"

All the men grinned when Ehvan was offered the woman's hand. The Chip only hesitated a rief moment before he took her hand. "I show yah how Chippequoti dance." Wrapping his large hand around her waist and setting the other on her shoulder he set into a spin.

Brodey grinned as the handsome Chip took her prim figure up and gave it a spin. "Oh aye, ye Chips can dance beautiful. Fast too. Reylians like it." Spry for her age she took up Ehvan in a opposite grip and showed him a quick step in the Rey style, her feet flashing with surprising speed, though not as fast as himself. "An' when ye done, ye give a nod an' exit the floor." Brodey didnt look as if she was going to nod to Ehvan soon, but let him lead one second while she showed him another move between spins. "Ooh ye good an' light on ye feet!"

The woman seemed to take it all in stride and Ehvan couldn't help smiling a bit. Some of the men started to clap and keep a beat while others stomped their feet. When she showed Ehvan a few steps Ehvan gave his best replication of the dance and when the dance came to an end he gave her a nod and then stepped away only for Dane to step up. "I'm next." The Chip announced as he waited for Ehvan to get out of the way. No matter what the next demonstration was, Dane was sure it would be lively and good.

Another tall man whose name tag read 'Dane' replaced Ehvan as the clapping continued. Brodey grinned and took up the man in her grip after offering hand dance with. "Oh are ye fast as ye friend here? Could ye be smooth as an Ewenian?" She lead him into a series of quick spins that took them nearly around the room. Swyft seemed to be enjoying himself and clapped along with the others to keep in a rhythm, while Calysta drummed her boot heel into the floor for a deeper bass sound. The lesson was going much better than she thought it would have before now and it was a relief not to worry for the briefest of moments.

Each time a small session of dancing was over another Chip man lined up. They were all ready to try out this kind of social activity. What was better than dancing? Illya held back. He had observed a few of the customs before and he would rather wait to see how it would all go. It was better to let his men loosen up a bit and feel more open to some of the other customs. Whoever the instructor was for diplomacy, this time they were much better and found the fastest way to teach his men other customs.

Brodey chuckled when she realized all the men wanted a turn and she obliged them as a few of the Kaereleans instructors made moves to dance along or keep the rhythm. "And this is the twin moon dance," she offered to the stern looking man almost double her height, "A common but important dance. Ye dance side b'side in this way and ye've become welcome among ye Kaerelean crew f' life." She turned her body sideways and held up the big Chip's paw parallel to the floor before working her feet into a rhythmic grapevine pattern. She stayed with the music and Swyft saw fit to join in on the opposite side of her, clasping her hand to make a chain. "Oh, Commander, ye dont mind m' saying so, but I think ye comrades here might be better at th' dance than even ye are." By the time they bounced their way across the room Brodey's hair and fallen from its neat braid and sat in silver waves over her shoulders. "Thank ye for th' dance," she grinned at the men, "Now. Ye know Kaereleans like a good dance an' now I know Chip like t'dance too. There is one more thing t' cover t'day. Anyone know th' words for safe travel here?:

The dance was lively and toward the end Illya decided he didn't want to wait any longer and snuck in for a quick whirl before returning to his seat. As he left the front of the room his men gradually made their way out as they took a last twirl with the instructor. Once they were all seated again the woman asked a question that none of them wanted to answer and they all stared at Illya. Having held back all day it was his turn and Illya frowned. He had no idea what the instructor actually wanted, so he gave it his best shot. Speaking slowly in Kaerelean he said, "Safe travel."

"Aye. That'd be th' direct translation..." her sharp eyes took a moment to focus on the name tag on Illya's chest.

"General Illya." She smiled approvingly and stepped closer to look at them all. "A more common term is vaeye raes. Fair winds. It's said t' departing shipmates, friends, anyone ye wish t' see reach their destination safely. Travel between continents on Kaereal was a perilous business when flight came. Ye never knew if ye were seeing th' person leaving again or if they would die on th' trip. So, ye wish someone fair winds when ye want t' see them again safe. Ye see?" Brodey leaned against her desk and nodded. "M' class time is nearly up t'day an' ye will all go t' the flight deck. I say fair winds t' ye all until t'morrow, Aye?"

With the class nearly over and the explanation of fair winds the men laughed. One of them in the back chortled, "Fair winds indeed ef yah ever see how a Chip flies." At his comment the rest snickered like school boys and then they all settled down and waited for the official dismissal.

**********

Lunch came next and Calysta was more than ready for a bite to eat. She sat among the Chip men and beside Illya as she ate her vegetables with surprising gusto. Next would be the flight demonstration and flying on an empty stomach was not advisable. At least not for the type of flying she would be doing. A few of the volunteers milled around, chatting excitedly about the afternoon's display, but it was a fair haired Urian man who stopped at their table and grinned at her. He was shorter than average, but not scrawny in his Skycorp grays. and carried himself with a bit of a swagger. "Council woman," he nodded, "Thought I might stop by before the demonstration. Wish you fair winds, yeah?"

Calysta looked the younger man with her grey eyes and nodded back. He was probably barely 20, given how little peach fuzz was prickled over his chin. "Oh? Well, fair winds, Lieutenant Gydeon."

He seemed more than pleased she knew his name, though she knew most of everyone's name, and he grinned winningly. "And to tell you that there's a bit of a wager going around."

She raised a brow at a him, then took a drink of her water. "What kind of a wager?" This would be interesting.

Gydeon tilted his head some, and had she been one of the younger cadets, she might have thought him to look a bit dashing. "The kind that says I'll be getting the better of you today in the demonstration. Since I'll be playing the part of enemy combatant. They've been wagering that I'll be the one to take down the famous Captain Monroe."

" I suppose your near perfect flight record is enough to build up some good wagers," Calysta said. She had reviewed his flight record when he volunteered. He really was good, if not a aggressive, though he had a small failure which included him attempting the Monroe maneuver as an attempt in showboating a year or so ago. It had given him enough of a wake up call that his record had been perfect ever since, but the attitude seemed to be showing now.

At the mention of his record, he grinned wider. "Aye, and nobody's seen you fly for awhile, either councilwoman. A few of the Cadets are putting their money on a flyer they've seen perform well and not an older, former captain, if you don't mind me saying so."

Calysta put down her cup as her lips curled into a smile, though it didn't touch her eyes. It was her eyes the color of light storm clouds that gave her an intense look behind the friendly face. "I don't mind you saying so. So long as you don't mind losing this afternoon."

A few of the people nearby let out a long 'oooh' and suddenly the wagering began in earnest. Gydeon grinned wider and laughed a little. "They also told me you'd be tough to shake. Fair winds, Councilwoman. I'll see you in the skies."

He turned to go, carrying his tray to the table where his fellow Skycorp friends were seated. They all gave him grinning looks of triumph, as if he had just returned from beating a leviathan, and clapped him on the back approvingly. Calysta watched the young man, sipping her drink and was only brought back to her own food by a comment from one of the Chip men. "Aye, I'm not sure he knows what's coming."

*********

In truth, she was a bit nervous and Gydeon wasn't wrong. She hadn't been in real combat flying in awhile, though it was instinct by now. The younger man was good. Very good. And would present a good challenge. Of course, what he said about her being old bothered her a bit more. Yes, she wasn't in her 20's anymore. She was closing in on 40, even if she didn't feel like it, and in the eyes of the people around her, she was matronly now. A mother and an older woman who would swiftly become incapable of keeping up with the next generation of pilots.

Calysta pulled on her helmet as the transport to the observation deck took off. Illya would be on the transport and watching from the same level that much of the action would be happening. He didn't seem nervous at all for her. He believed she was the best pilot, even if it might be for personal interest too. She clipped in her helmet and made her way over to her assigned ship. She wouldn't be using her private racing flyer for this. It would be the same model provided by the fleet for combat. It was a light, fast model with room for only to pilots and armor piercing defenses. She took the ladder up into the cockpit, then began the preflight checks while Gydeon did the same in his own, identical flyer. The youngman shot her a grin and from behind the glass of the cockpit. He was ready to win and he would come at her aggressively. No quarter. Calysta gripped her controls tightly, enjoying how they felt under her hands before taking a deep breath. Lucky for her, whenever she had been flying in combat, there had never been mercy. She wouldn't be holding back either.

The weather was miserable out in the air. Thunder rolled as rain pummeled her flyer and fierce winds threatened to send her off course if she wasn't careful. Through her comm link she could hear the flight deck and Swyft giving explanations as well as instructions while Gydeon hid himself in the thick clouds around them.

"Now, we'll be watching a demonstration of the kind of flight that will be expected of our pilots. The Chippeqouti are each paired with talented flyers but it's important see what will be happening first from the outside. It tends to keep down the disorientation of an in experienced passenger or pilot if they've seen flights like this first hand. Gold One will be our Alliance ship today and Red One will be our Federation fighter. Red is in a flyer used to protect and destroy enemy flyers that approach larger cruisers. His objective will be to take down Gold. They've been given training shots which will not damage the ship but will ping when vial areas are destroyed. Once a certain number of vital ship parts are damaged, one ship will be considered unfit for flight....in reality you would crash of course...but in the demonstration...the loser will hear a buzzer like this..." A loud buzzer rang over the covered flight deck and in Calysta's ears making her wince. Swyft was used to the sound and glanced upward to the glass dome ceiling that allowed for the best views of flight paths on the deck. "The demonstration will begin now. Red and Gold are engaged."

Calysta heard the words and immediately heightened her attention. Gydeon would use the clouds for cover and hoping to ambush her. She waited patiently as her flyer zipped by the flight deck, pitching slightly with the turning. Suddenly, a roaring sound echoed and she immediately pitched upward, going from almost level to the nose of her ship shooting straight up into the lightening flecked sky.

Gydeon had shot out of the dark swirling clouds and fired on her, missing her by inches. He was pushing his speed enough in the rain that his own flyer was exactly where hers had been a split second before. Now the chase was on. He was behind her and firing away, taking down her every move as she leveled out then pitched this way and that. He anticipated one of her feints because she was cornered by a lightening flare that sprang up and popped her with a lucky shot into the wing tip. it wasn't enough to damage the ship though and she pressed onward, twisting herself into a barrel roll. He was still behind her, though the roll had thrown off his aim some. She needed to get behind him and it wasn't something that was going to be done with regular tactics either.

He was pushing his flyer too fast in the rain and for the conditions, firing in hopes of hitting her without real thought as to aim. His entire focus was on her. Good. Calysta scanned the clouds, her eyes flicking over the striations and the movements of the wind, the way the swept the grey clouds. There were a few things she was going to teach the man today. Paying attention to your surroundings was a starter. Calysta banked hard enough to pitch her flyer into a painfully tight Uturn and their wing tips passed under one another with a breath's distance between them. She could hear him cursing into the comms as he had to perform the same maneuver on short notice. Smiling to herself, she made a break for the heavy winds swirling in the nearest cloud bank. This time, she didn't find the wind when she entered, but let it jettison her out into the storm. "Three...two...one...." Gydeon followed her just in time to get blinded by a arching flash of lightening.

While he was trying to correct his pitch and totally blind, Calysta dropped down below him in altitude, following direction underneath his path where. Gydeon cursed at having lost her and began circling back around, hoping to find her lagging behind somewhere. She waited for him to exit the cloud bank and the shot upward again, getting directly behind his tail, so close the burners scalded at the nose of her flyer. It wouldn't last long enough to be dangerous though.

She squeezed the trigger and fired into his engine exhaust, making her first point and a more critical one than the one he had earned on her. That send him into a bit of angry determination and he shot off, still unable to see her on the radar thanks to the heat of his own exhaust. Calysta matched him move for move, even into his roll until he finally figured out he had been a victim of the Monroe maneuver and cut the same U turn. As he did, she didn't match him this time but pitched herself into an inverted loop based on his trajectory. She fired when she was upside down and above him, effectively shattering his cockpit and ending the game.

The buzzer blared loudly in her ears and she could hear Swyft telling her to head toward the hangar over the words "Gold One wins." Smiling broadly, she began to make her way down to the hangar. Her flyer landed with a graceful swoosh onto the runway followed by Gydeon's.The young looked a bit grumpy, but not entirely sour as he exited his flyer in the rain and removed his helmet. She did the same , feeling more excited than she should have. She could still fly damned well and she wasn't old or incapable. The young man had flown very well, but he made some errors many younger pilots would make. Calysta climbed out of her cockpit once they were taxied inside then tugged off her helmet.

"Well met,"she nodded to Gydeon earnestly,

He gave her a bow and chucked a shoulder at her. "Aye, it was good run. Thanks for the ego check."

Calysta laughed as she climbed down and put her helmet to the side. "Any time, cadet."

About that time, she could hear a transport landing and she turned to see the group returning from the flight observation deck. Illya was already trotting through the rain toward her and she decided to ignore the downpour to meet him, He was looking at her with a wide grin and immediately collected her up from the ground. When her feet left the runway, she squeaked some, laughing for the joy and the adrenaline pumping through her veins as her arms wrapped around his neck. He was more than excited she had one and while it didn't seem necessary, a part of her took joy in seeing him so proud to have her. "Who says I'm old?" she laughed, kissing his cheek. The rest of the Chips were in bound and if they were as excited as Illya was there would be no stopping them from a party.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Ehud couldn't imagine what Priscilla would have looked like as a little girl. Somehow all he could envision was a shorter version of what she looked like now trying to lasso things. Clearly she had a tiny bit of adventure packed away deep in her somewhere and that was good. This entire marriage was likely going to be an adventure to start with. With Priscilla snuggled in tight and relaxing he decided it was a good time to test out her idea of talking. "I remember as a boy that I wanted to be a soldier. I thought they went exciting places and they were heroes. My father didn't approve, but he knew I wouldn't like it. For 3 months he sent me to the barracks and I drilled hard with the men and I didn't get to come home at night. I made the decision after 3 months that I would be pleased to be a tailor." Looking at his life now it wasn't anything like he had wanted to to be then, or now.

"I was never much of a soldier. Hated the monotony of it all. At least when you make something beautiful with material there is variation, challenges that don't involve someone dying and usually a smile at the end. People like what I do." Ehud moved his hand from Priscilla's waist and rested it on her hip. Sitting up slightly he leaned over her some and kissed her cheek. "Maybe you'll let me make a dress for you, or custom aprons for your bakery." As he mentioned the bakery he remembered that she had talked about going to the bakery in the morning and she didn't even mention taking him. "You know I have a few days off too. Can't be gimping about during drills like a lame lizard. If you need some help you could take me with to Kinte and I can help carry things. There are a few places on Kinte that I would like to visit too." He'd heard that there were more options for material there and he had a few things he wanted to buy. Then of course there was the fact that Ahvah and been begging him to get some new material in so she could pick out something exciting for him to make for Ehvan. Whatever the woman wanted exciting cloth for, Ehud couldn't imagine, but he wasn't sure he wanted to.

Falling asleep had happened suddenly and Ehud didn't remember when it happened. He last remembered someone mumbling and he didn't know if it was himself, or Priscilla. By the time he woke up it was already late and he didn't know how long she intended to stay on Kinte, but they were going to be late and he knew that the energy level wasn't going to be there to fly back the same night. Then to make matters worse, he had slept on his surgery side all night long to hold her. His leg was throbbing and he felt every little wiggle of her hips and not in a good way. "Aaagh....Oooh, Pris that hurts." Ehud raised his hand that had been resting on her hip and he clenched the fist rather than holding her tightly. "Just let me move a little bit so you don't rip my leg off." She wouldn't really rip his leg off, but it felt like it.

There really was something to the day after surgery being worse. It was a small procedure, but it hurt and he was glad he took the recommended days off. The more he thought about it the less attractive the visit to Kinte seemed to be. Now he understood why everyone complained about the 'small test' being miserable. "You know, I don't think I want to go to Kinte. Sounds like too much walking and we're already off to a late start. If you want to wait for me we could go tomorrow and stay the night too. I think I'll take all the days off with this little test."

Even while he was rolling to his other side Ehud felt like his leg was about to be violently ripped off. Maybe he didn't have as high a pain tolerance as some, or maybe it really was just that horribly painful to have the bone drilled into and tiny bits of marrow stripped out. He almost shuddered at the idea of what they would do with Priscilla. His part of the test was over. They had refined it and taken a bit more out of his leg so that they could do it all in one to test and then to merge some marrow. She would probably be incredibly sore if this surgery took place and she wanted to do it.

Now that he'd thought more about the surgery it really was something they needed to discuss. "Priscilla, we need to talk about this surgery. Well, actually, I think you need to talk to Kalizda about it. Not common knowledge that she's had it, but half breeds don't live as long as she has and they most certainly don't have children. They perfected the process somewhere and I'm betting she's had it. She might be able to tell you a bit more about what to expect. Don't ask Illya. He'll tell you it is the most painful thing you'll ever experience in your life. Chips have bones that...we'll they're tougher and more dense. Makes us heavy for our size, so we don't swim either. Umm...Let's just say that is where our immune system is and we get pretty sore if you mess with the bones. So uh, yeah, you should try talking with Kalizda about the surgery if you're considering it."

After he had said his peace about this whole thing Ehud decided to try and get up. As he peeled the puff blanket off he found that there was a nice bit of blood in it. His weight on the surgery leg was not a good thing for it. The dressing on the leg had soaked so much blood that it fell off and it was somewhere in the blanket. There was still a bit of blood that was oozing out of the leg. It was a mess and he kept his back to Priscilla for the time. Carefully reaching to his side he pulled the blanket over itself to hide the bloody spot. "I uh, need a shower before we get moving today."

Leaving his blanket on the bed he figured he would take care of it later. For now he was going to get cleaned up. Stumbling to the bathroom he held one hand over the incision and hoped that she just thought he was sore and nothing else. No need to panic her anymore than she already was. Inside the bathroom he sat on the toilet lid and got a few disposable wash cloths to clean the area around the incision and get a better look at it. The incision hadn't popped stitches, but the stitches were strained and there was a little bit of a gap. There was no telling if that one would heal well, or not. Carefully re-wrapping the leg after it was cleaned he grabbed his back up bucket and did a bucket bath in the shower stall. It was a safer option and he didn't need water running into the wound.

When he finished with the bathing Ehud wrapped a towel around his waist and made sure it covered his bandage before stepping out. "Think I might put on some pajama pants and get back in bed." With a weak smile he gimped over to his dresser and dropped the towel. From the back the bandage would look fine, but the front of it was a bit messy and not nearly as neat as the one he got from the hospital. Slipping into the pajama pants he sighed with some relief and then made his way back over to the bed. His blanket looked a little different than when he'd left it and he wondered if it was because she did it, or if it happened naturally because of her shifting about in the bed. Without a word he carefully pulled the blanket up and kept the bloody part hidden and then slipped underneath the edge of his puff blanket. "Your turn to get cleaned up."

**************

That afternoon a young man walked in and he hardly looked old enough to attend Skycorp. The swagger to his step said enough to Illya. Clearly the guy was coming over to their table to make trouble, or attempt to make a point. With the first words out of his mouth Illya was about ready to stand up and tell the man to go away. Just as he was lifting his heavy frame from the bench at the table Kalizda answered. She made it sound like it was a friendly sort of competition and Illya glanced at her before he settled back in.

Kalizda held her ground well and even challenged the young man. When the challenger walked off Illya set up his own round of bets. "I bet on experience rater den young. What say dah rest of yah?" The Elite nodded and those who chose to place a bet did so. None of them bet on the younger cadet. They knew that youth was full of folly and many of them knew the eye of experience. It was an older eye and it was one that Illya had despite the fact that he was younger than quite a few of them in the Elite. He had experience that they did not argue. Kalizda had a certain amount of experience in her eyes too. More than the young man and the ones that cared to bet, were ready to bet on Kalizda.

Illya counted the money from those that bet on Kalizda and he yelled across the room. "I got over 5,000.00 credits for bet on Kalizda. Rest of yah tink yah can match. Tink yah pilot over dere es good enough for 5,000.00 credits?" That got the young people going again and working on emptying their pockets. They wanted to match him and he knew it wasn't quite fair, but they'd make it up later to them. It was good to learn this lesson early on and this was a good place and time to learn it. Once they were matched credit for credit on either side it was fair and even by all standards. Since there were two sides to this it wasn't fair for any one person to hold all the money unless they were a neutral party.

Finding the neutral party was not so difficult. As Illya suspected Swyft had not taken part in the betting and because of his office he could easily be considered neutral in this instance. "All parties submit dah funds tah Swyft and he make sure dat each side submit same amount and dat winners receive correct monies. We dun need anyone accusing oter side of cheating dem from anyting." Taking all the money from the Chippequoti and those that bet on Kalizda, Illya set it in Swyft's hands and let the man verify the credits in front of everyone and then let the other side do the same. "Now I will be ready tah have more money after dah races. Ets all set and fair." Quite a few of the guys in the room laughed. For those of them that knew of Illya's betting habits they were fairly certain he'd win the bet. It was rare that Illya got in on a bet that he hadn't already made certain he could win. Betting the same as Illya was almost always a guarantee of winning, only the other side didn't know that yet.

When lunch was over Illya stepped out with the other cadets to watch the flight demonstration. He stood near the edge of the observatory flight deck and gripped the railing. Illya's knuckles turned a deep brown and then paled some as he flexed his hands. The rail began to groan at one point and he loosened his grip. Suddenly Kalizda was diving and Illya began to lean forward. Still gripping the railing he nearly lunged over it as he yelled, "Yah jes come right back up and take es under side! Get em!" Immediately following his outburst in Trader's Tongue he flew into a slur of excited Quoti with a mix of some Kaerelean and Trader's Tongue and then various dialects of Quoti. None of it was entirely discernible by any listener, but it was enough to indicate that he was invested in the race.

With the final hit on the opposing ship and the win declared to be Kalizda's, Illya put one fist high in the air and pumped it all while yelling, "Yes, yes, yes! Dat's meh wife!" Ehvan who had been standing next to Illya stepped aside slightly to avoid getting bull dozed. Illya was so exuberant with his bouncing and yelling that the floor shook and he needed about twice the space he had when they started. Despite the fact that money was involved it was evident that the money wasn't as important to Illya as it was that Kalizda won. Ehvan had bet, just because he thought it would be fun to see the other side have to swallow their pride and he didn't mind having more credits. Mildly he clapped his hands and nodded like an old man. There was no rush. He hadn't really been surprised by the win and he didn't see the need for Illya to be making such a big deal out of the win. Of course Kalizda would win.

When the transport stopped briefly at the base of the observatory flight deck Illya was the first down the stairs because he jumped over the rails to get one flight of stairs ahead of the others. Somehow that wasn't surprising and Ehvan sighed and kept on walking at his usual pace. Getting on the transport wouldn't get any of them there any faster. It would all go at the intended speed.

The transport ride was brief and Illya practically fell out the doors of the transport when the door opened. Leaping out the door the General ducked and made a dash under the wing of the transport before the rain slapped heavily against his chest. It was a pouring rain and enough to be miserable, but the distance to Kalizda's flyer wasn't so great as to prevent him from going out to meet her.

The rain was already forming in puddles and Illya's feet landed heavily making great waves rise up. His legs were soaked from the knees down. Thick drops of moisture fell from his hair and onto his face. When Illya reached Kalizda there was no longer a difference between how wet his legs were, or the rest of him. It was a good Kaerelean rain and he didn't care. She won and that was what mattered. "Meh little bird flies like a falcon. Fast and strong." Sweeping her off her feet he hoisted her up to sit on one shoulder while he held her legs with one arm.

Calysta laughed as she settled onto his broad shoulder, not caring about the cold pouring rain or anything else besides the rush of excitement in her blood and her Chip's broad hand holding her steady by the legs. She laughed and looked up into the falling rain feeling light as a feather. How long had it been since she felt like this? So light and airy? Grinning, she pushed aside a sodden curl on her temple and then bent down to capture Illya's head in her hands. She kissed the crown of his head with a sweet peck and then hugged him to herself just a little. "Fast and strong," she repeated excitedly, "I can still fly well." She was blushing but happy he had the utmost confidence in her. Kissing him again, she glanced up to see everyone already coming off the transport and exchanging wagers.

"Yeah, I know dat yah fly well." With a laugh Illya squeezed her legs and then started jogging with her back toward some shelter. The rest of the Chippequoti Elite came out to meet them and Illya made an announcement, "Tahnight we have party for eh....Fair winds festival." He was trying to make up some kind of excuse for a party and it needed to sound like it was an acceptable sort of party to the Kaerleans. "We have big open party. More dah better eh?" A cheer sounded from the men and Dane nudged Illya while Ehvan snatched Kalizda from Illya's shoulder and passed her to the next man. "Victory for little bird!"

Calysta felt Illya's pronouncement as a deep rumble in his chest and shoulders more than heard it over the pelting rain, but the effect was immediate and all the men cheered along with most of the Kaerelean crew, young and older professors alike. She sat above them and displayed a grin wider than she'd worn in awhile. They wanted to party and given then air of excitement, seeing them cheer altogether was more than enough to make her want to dance too. A strong, but gentle grip detached her from Illya's shoulder, taking her a bit like a ragdoll and hoisting her even higher on the the tall shoulders of Asher who stood not just above Illya but a hair taller than Ehvan as well. Apparently, she was going to make the rounds from shoulder to shoulder with excitemed frenzy. None were rough or rude with her and so she let them hoist her up though she was soaked from the rain and cheering until her voice cracked, hands held high in victory. "Fair Winds Festival it is!" She exclaimed as they began trotting towards the hangar. She had forgotten all about Markus and all about her worry in the moment, simply enjoying the feeling of being a part of something much needed. She had a tribe and all of her peoples would be coming to the impromptu party. Calysta stole a glance at Swyft who wasnt cheering, but was smiling nonetheless. She didnt need his permission, technically. She was the council woman. However, he gave a slight nod of approval as another Chip picked her up. They both knew that there was no stopping it now, even if they had wanted to. "Lets go to the hall!" She laughed, pointing to the doors to sally the charge.

With Kalizda being passed around the men had a bit of fun and they reveled in the moment. It wasn't often that they had the chance to enjoy such moments and feel as if they were normal people. As they neared the hall Illya called out an order in Quoti. "Pass her back to me and take your own partner to the hall." With a shout the Chip men passed Kalizda back and while their oblivious partners meandered toward the hall with them they made a sudden surge and swept their partners up. Each Chippequoti had a partner thrown over their shoulder as a sack of potatoes, riding on their shoulders, or tucked under an arm. With a roar of laughter they rushed for the doors. The squeaks of surprise they received was exactly what they wanted out of this prank.

Another hand scooped her from Dane's shoulders and replaced her on Illya's, one leg on either shoulder for better balance. She felt him grab her shins to keep her steady as they made their way inside. Calysta quickly realized she wasn't the only one getting hoisted now. Illya had asked them to bring their partners and they had done so with swift efficiency, picking their comrades to toss them over their shoulders or tuck them under their arms like sacks of grasses. Calysta nearly choked with laughter when she spied Swyft tossed over Markus' shoulder, his feet dangling over the Chip's back helplessly. The commander looked shocked at first, and slightly redfaced as he was carted off into the hangar with everyone else. He didn't laugh so much as look as if he were at a loss on what do to other than bear the pain of his shoulder being dislodged from its sling. Daphne squeaks as Ehvan put her on his shoulders, but quickly adjusted to her new height and grinned broadly. "Let's go! " Tiberius was tucked under the arm of Dane, being carried like a confused Terran football, but also more or less helpless as he was carted off to the cafeteria with the rest. A few of the teachers who were paired up protested at being carried away by their partners, but it did very little good to say anything over the roaring excitement. Swyft grunted as he was set down by Markus, and straightened his tunic before even bothering with his arm at all. "Thanks for the ride, Markus," he said, smiling just a bit. Calysta ducked into the door ways from the hangars, holding onto Illya's broad back for support as they stampeded their way into the cafeteria. It wouldn't be long before the tables were pushed to the side and the music began to play, the thought of which made her squeeze Illya's shoulder in anticipation.

One of the men in front kicked the door open and the rest of the Chippequoti stormed in after him. Inside they were a dripping mess, but all smiles. Markus simply nodded at Swyft, but he did have a glint of amusement in his eyes. Seeing the grey tinged man look ruffled was a bit satisfying. The rest of the men grinned as they set their partners down. Ehvan was perhaps the only one who tried to be a bit more reserved as he set his partner down. She was giving him that look and he knew she wasn't ruffled the same was as the others. The squeeze to Illya's shoulders hit one of the nerves odd and Illya started to curl slightly mid step and he wheezed out a strange, high pitched squeak that turned to chuckling. A few heads turned and the men started laughing. There were very few that could find the ticklish spot, but his little bird sure did.

Daphne beamed at Ehvan as he sat her down on the tile floor. "I was getting used to being tall," she joked, "C'mon, when they start up the music you should show me some of those Chippeqouti dances like in the culture class. They looked like fun!" Calysta immediately stopped squeezing when she heard a wheeze from from her husband, then a squeak. Now that was a new sound she had never once heard from him. Had she hurt him by accident? No. He was laughing! "Wilds, Illya," she laughed, "Was that...were you...did I just tickle you?" It seemed like a whole new revelation and unexplored territory. She had tried from time to time, poking here and there, to see if she could discover his ticklish spots. None of the usual places had worked and she had come to the conclusion that maybe he just wasn't ticklish at all. A knowing grin stretched across her lips and she gave the same spot another testing, but gentle squeeze.

"We'll dance. Et's only proper at party." Ehvan tried not to sound too apprehensive. She just looked like a tigress about ready to eat a mouse and he never felt so unsure of himself as he did when a woman stared at him like that. Especially when the woman wasn't Ahvah. Just about time Illya started to recover from the first little pinch to his shoulder another one came and this time it was more gentle, but he still had a raspy laugh as he curled a little further and nearly dumped her off his shoulders. To save both of them from a fall Illya dropped to his knees and tried not to laugh, but the harder he tried not to the more he squeaked and the harder he would end up laughing at himself and the fact that his shoulder was sending odd spasms through his back and neck.

"Aye," she smiled brightly, "Oh, and I think there's extra food stuffs in the back of the kitchen. Stay right there." Daphne scuttled off with few of her friends to go raid the pantries for snacks to bring out for their party, leaving Ehvan in the seating area. Calysta felt Illya pitch forward at her second try at tickling him. He laughed in husky intakes of breath as he dropped to his knees to keep from dumping them both out into the floor. How had she not found this before? He was squeaking under her finger tips. She slid to the floor from his shoulders and then captured up his rain dampened cheek for a quick kiss on the cheek, showing mercy from her tickle testing. "I've never heard you laugh like that," she giggled just as the music began to start up in the hall. He was soaked down to the skin and so was she, but neither of them really minded it seemed. Unable to help herself, she traced a few light fingers over his ticklish shoulder and then slid her fingers down to his hands. "Feel like a dance?"

"Of course I like tah dance wit meh Kalizda." Illya was still grinning after her tickling and he slowly got to his feet. Turning his head to the side he coughed and then pulled her in close after it was all clear. "So after dis first dance I tink I send some of dah men out wit money from winnings tah buy foods and drinks tah make et a party." With the first strong beat of music Illya hoisted Kalizda off the floor and started into the dance. He liked the lively sorts of dances and he figured she did to. Why else would she ask if he wanted to dance with her?

Ehvan knew as soon as the music started that his partner would be back and looking for him. She was off to get snacks thankfully and he dashed out of the room to go find a friendly toilet stall. That was far preferable to dancing with her. Dane watched Ehvan rush past and he frowned a little, but he didn't think much of it till he saw Daphne come out with snacks in hand and hastily place them on the table. That look on her face and idea that she was out for the prowl made him wonder if he was the next target. Turning away he began to slowly make his way toward the back. Ehvan had to come back at some point and she was all his.

With the first song quickly over Illya made an announcement in Quoti. "We have passes. Few of you could use them to get proper food and drink for the party. I send you with the money." His earnings were more than enough to fund the night and a few of the other men pitched in too. A group of them disappeared, but they would be back. While they waited for the others to get back Illya stepped over to the kitchen door and he wiggled the handle a little before slipping a thin metal pin into the lock and shaking it again. With the door popped open he chuckled. "Don't worry we'll leave it clean, but we need something good tonight." It was probably going to be snake with sweet bread and herbs and then gravy drizzled over the top. Who wouldn't want a dab of that? The least he could do was get the kitchen ready and the stove tops hot.

Just as Illya suspected his group of men that went out to get food came back with triumphant yells. The only thing Illya hadn't expected was that Dane came in carrying an entire barrel of Chip Ale. Illya figured a few bottles, but not a barrel. Glancing at Kalizda he knew by the look on her face that she didn't want him having any. He'd given it up and he wanted it, but this wasn't the night to have one. "Get dah food over here!" Beckoning to Ehvan and Bahn he saw Ehvan lift his nearly half a dozen sacks with large snakes inside. The creatures were still hissing and lashing at the sides of the bags. That was exactly what they wanted for dinner, snakes.

The men set to work dropping snakes out of the bags, one man catching the snake and chopping the head off, one shoving small ends of sticks into the mouths for the jaws to clamp on and then scraping the heads into a garbage sack while another gutted and de-boned the snake with the next chopping the snake and handing it to the one frying the meat.

Another group of men handled the bread and in half an hour the assembly line dinner was ready. The Elite made enough to serve themselves and their company at least twice. It would be enough to last the party through. With broad smiles they presented the food to their team mates and began serving large portions onto platters. Illya got in line after all his men had food and served his own. It smelled good. Thick gravy, soft bread and rich, fresh snake flesh. Before he even got to sit down Illya snatched a fleck of the meat covered in gravy and popped it into his mouth. Licking off his finger tips he gave a satisfied "mmmm." There was nothing like snake and gravy served on the bread.

After second servings and scraping out the last of the pans the Chippequoti started dancing again. Ehvan promptly volunteered himself for kitchen duty and stayed in the kitchen even after the second song rotation to be sure all the men got some dancing in. There was still a lot more of the evening to go.

***********

By midnight the Elite had drank nearly half the barrel of Ale and they were ready for a little more fun. Despite the rain they wandered out to the obstacle course which had recently been finished with some Chip funds and materials. It would be stronger and better now. Dane flicked the lights on for the outdoor course and grinned drunkenly at the group. "Who wants to race meh?"

The challenge was met with at least 10 Chippequoti wanting to run it. Illya joined in just for fun. What he hadn't been prepared for was the damp grass and his inability to feel his right leg below the knee. Sliding across the grass he tackled Ehvan, who in turn fell forward and dunked Dane into the mud. Splatters from his fall doused Bahn and everyone else in a five foot range. Illya scrambled back up and clambered up the new wall made with plenty of unpleasantly slick spots on it. Part way up the wall, Asher grabbed his prosthetic and gave a tug. They all knew he didn't feel the foot, until it was too late. The jerk was felt clear up into his leg where the prosthetic was attached. Illya gave a grunt and he pulled his leg free.

When they reached the tight rope walk, Illya slowed down. The rest were drunk and all he had to do was wait for them to fall off and then he could finish the race without them. Illya watched them all fall off one after the other and then he started across. With it being wet outside it was more difficult, but he made it with a wild leap at the end to reach the other platform. With that part out of the way he ran the rest of the course and came in first. The rest of them were just too drunk to remember, or care who won when morning came.

***************

All the Chippequoti piled into their bunks with about 3 hours to sleep till they had to get up for classes. It was thankfully the last day of classes for the week and then they could rest all they wanted the next day. Ehvan hadn't drank like that in quite some time and he had to get up only an hour after getting into bed. He felt horrible and puked a few times in the bathroom along with hacking and coughing. When he stepped back into the barrack room he was assigned he heard quite a few of the other men coughing. It sounded worse than it had during the day and night before. The cold air hadn't done them any favors.

Stopping at Illya's bunk he nudged the General. "I feel sick. Do I have a fever?" Asking in Quoti he waited for an answer. Illya flopped a heavy hand out of his bunk and almost slapped Ehvan. With his wrist he set it on Ehvan's forehead and grumbled out a yes. Ehvan nodded and then put his wrist on Illya's forehead. "Yeah, you got a fever too. Not good. I'll get your lozenges." He knew that Illya would have fever lozenges.

Ehvan dug through Illya's bag and produced the bottle with lozenges. Popping one out he gave it to Illya. "I'll check the rest for fevers and give them a lozenge if they need it eh?"

"Yeah, make sure they have medicine. I'll get up and check in the morning to check everyone again. You tell me which ones needed lozenges before you put the bottle back eh?" Illya mumbled to Ehvan a bit and then snuggled back in with Kalizda for a the few minutes he had before Ehvan came back. When Ehvan came back Illya had barely fallen asleep and he coughed violently upon waking. It sounded like there were 2 others out of the five on this side of the room that had fevers. That meant only of them didn't spike a fever and Illya would be checking them all to be sure when he got up.

With the first buzz Illya groaned. It was already time to get up and he didn't rest well with his fever. Kalizda hadn't slept well either and she felt feverish too. Carefully peeling the covers back he grabbed his boxers and slipped into them. Nobody seemed to want to get up. Grabbing his bottle of lozenges he stopped by the first set of bunks next to his and Kalizdas and checked the men on his side of the room. They all had fevers and he gave each of them a lozenge to get the day started before having Bahn check him for a fever. He still had his and he took another lozenge.

All morning long the men coughed more frequently, winced at loud noises and barely drug themselves from class to class. Illya didn't drag quite as badly as his men, but he dashed between classes back to his bunk to check on Kalizda. By the second class of the day she was shivering and he took his sweater off and put it over her snuggled up under both their blankets on his bed. She was sleeping, but it looked like she could feel the warmth from the sweater and she curled a little more in the bed with a satisfied little sigh. By lunch Illya felt like he was freezing, but he knew it was the fever. When it was his turn to get food from the cook he met her gaze and grinned lazily. "I get soup for meh Kalizda, she es sick today eh? I take et to her. Yah give meh some soup too eh?"

Illya took the two servings of soup and carefully walked all the way back to the bunk room. Setting the tray on the floor next to their bunk he got into the bed behind Kalizda and held her while speaking gently. "Wake up meh little bird. I bring yah soup for lunch. Yah need tah eat tah be strong and feel better."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Priscilla listened intently to Ehud as he spoke about his father. That was something he had never really done before except to say that his parents were missing and most likely dead. It was nice to hear him talk about his past though. Something good and it made sense. He didn't seem much of a soldier, though he did have a knack for attention to detail. He did make a wonderful tailor for some of the work she had seen too. "I think you chose what was good for you," she replied, "Maybe I will put those tailoring skills to the test and we can work on a dress and some aprons too." She did want him to be involved in things so long as he wanted to be. His hand slid from her waist to her hip, the silky night gown the only thing separating her skin from the palm of his hand, and she sighed some. She wanted more, but he was going to earn it come hell or high water. She wouldn't have sex with him again until they built upon themselves, even if she wanted it. He was going to learn. However, he had tried tonight and that was worth something. She leaned into the kiss on her cheek and then gave him one in return. "You could come with me tomorrow if you wanted. Sien likes spending time with you and so do I." Hopefully things were beginning to regulate some, maybe even improve.

The next morning, Priscilla frowned as Ehud grumbled at her sometime before noon. "Aaagh....Oooh, Pris that hurts. Just let me move a little bit so you don't rip my leg off." They had been snuggling for awhile in what she had thought was an improvement over their nearly celibate sleeping arrangements of the past to weeks. Now, she was ripping his leg off. She didn't move to keep from accidentally bumping him as he shifted around in the bed and then grew just as dodgy with his want to go with her to Kinte. Checking the time on her pad, she realized how late it was and knew how long it would take to get ready, then go out. "Mmm...maybe today we will stay. I slept later than I meant to." In truth, her leg ached and she figured Ehud was right about the amount of walking. Maybe it would be better to rest some. "We'll go tomorrow and maybe we can just look at swatches for the table cloths and napkins today. I was also thinking of a few special events for the place...like Japanese tea ceremonies."

It had been a thought rolling around her mind but she hadn't said it aloud yet, mostly due to the reaction she might get. Terrans werent always well liked and she had no idea how a Terran sub culture would be received. As it was, Ehud announced they should talk about the surgery. By talking...he meant ask Calysta about it...which is something she had already done. Apparently, this was his idea of talking about things. A vague explanation and a referral for her to talk to someone else. "Okay," she sighed as he got up for his shower. She didn't have the energy to point out how he sounded. Maybe this was his way of trying to talk more? He went into the bathroom to bathe and she tossed the covers back to get up herself. As she started to reach for her robe, something red caught her eye and she glanced down to the blanket on the bed. A dark, reddish brown stain sat near the middle of their bed. Had she leaked some how? Immediately, her hand went to check her night dress. No. It wasn't that. Next, she checked her leg to make sure that hadn't leaked through. Nope. The bandage was clean and still tightly bound around her thigh. That meant it must have been Ehud.

Something in her softened a little before turning a bit fiery with anger, like a marshmallow melting until it caught fire and charred. Why didn't he want to tell her he was bleeding? Was his leg infected? Had he popped a stitch? She pulled on her robe roughly, then combed down her hair with equal fervor. He could have said something! When he came out of the bathroom in his pajama bottoms then crawled into bed, offering that it was her turn to get clean, she crossed her arms for a moment. "Uhuh. Well, before I do that, maybe I should send these blankets in for a wash. Why didn't you tell me you were bleeding, Ehud? I could have fixed it. We literally just had a talk about communication." She knew men had their pride, but she fairly tempted to cuff him on the back of the head for being stubborn like Harry.

*****************

Swyft watched as the group invaded the cafeteria for the purposes of a little debauchery. They were all soaking wet and dripping on the floor from the rain, but that little nothing to deter them from striking up the music and some how finding alcohol within 20 minutes. Men carted in their partners, food and drinks. Cups began to get passed around while people cheered over the music. Faithful to his assigned role in the betting, he handed over the 5,000 credits to the winners who had bet on Calysta's success. If he had been able to bet, he would have chosen Calysta too. She was smart and one of the best pilots he had ever seen. Age had done nothing but improve her skills.

At the moment, the tiny women was two feet of the ground "dancing" with her husband in a quick tempoed song. She wore a grin wider than any he had seen her have before and he knew that this was a tension breaker their group needed. Sometimes it was best to let things be natural. Flow could be just as important as structure. So, when the drinks came around, he picked up a cup and took a swig. Whatever was in the drink burned all the way down like jet fuel. "Uhg." He coughed with a wince. That was going to knock more than a few people on their rears tonight. It wouldn't surprise him in the slightest if half the crew turned out with hang overs to nurse. A few of the Kaereleans were already drinking the stuff down as if it were water. At least it wasn't some sort of synthetic mockery of a drink the Terrans might have brought. Swyft peered down into his cup of drink, then glanced back to the rest of the group in the room. No one was watching as he up ended his cup and poured the contents down his throat.

Shortly after his drink, Swyft took a bowl of gravy with a light headed smile, and followed some of the men out to the obstacle course where they stumbled their way through. Some of them were so drunk they couldn't run and others merely face planted into the mud. A few were running the course with a ferocity and clambered over one another in the rain to win bragging rights too. He wondered if he should try to get out there and join the fun but one twitch of his arm reminded him that he did in fact have a dislocated arm to protect for at least two more days. Swyft snorted as one of the men tried to jerk Illya down by his fake leg. "Oh, you're at a bad angle for that," he snorted into his gravy before taking a sip. The stuff in the bowl was delicious and he wandered back inside to find himself another helping.

*********

Calysta woke to the soft, slightly raspy voice of her husband as he climbed into the bunk with her, propping her up slightly. The warming effect from her Chip was immediate and she hummed in response until it turned into a wet sounding sniffle. "Mmm, hello love," she said in quiet Qouti as she sat up and turned to face him. "How are you feeling?"Her pale hand reached up to his forehead, touching him here and there along his brow and cheeks. "You feel warm. Then again...you're always warm." Sitting up some more, she kissed his cheek. "Thank you for bringing lunch. We can eat together, yeah?" She leaned down to pick up the tray, her hands shaking some as she settled it over their laps. The soup had no smell, mostly because her nose was stuffed up and she knew tasting it wouldnt give much more sensation. She offered Illya his spoon and took her first sip. It was warm at least. "I haven't been under the weather in so long I forgot what it was like. Before...well...before we met. It would have been much worse."

It only took Kalizda a few moments to wake and she sounded terrible. Her voice was a little nasaly and her nose sounded like it was plugged. He didn't know if this was a serious illness, or not. He didn't usually sound like that unless he was horribly ill. Usually something that like would drop to his chest and he would struggle to breath. When she started to sip her soup he carefully dipped his spoon in the soup and began eating his. Soup was good when a person felt sick and he didn't tell her that he had a fever. She would worry. "Yah welcome. I jes want yah tah feel better. Let meh know ef yah need tah see dah doctor. I leave dah classes early and fly yah back to dah Ehaui."

She knew he meant it too. If she needed the doctor he wouldn't hesitate to fly her to find one. She could hear the crackling in his chest when he breathed to take a bite of soup. If he and the others got much worse, she might be charging an Ehaui to come out to meet them instead. All of them sounded worse than before. She sniffled and took another sip of her soup as a few voices echoed from the corridor in Kaerelean. "Of course not...no..no...I havent said anything to him about it...he's handsome and shy. Look at how he disappeared last night. I bet he's gentle in other ways besides the sparring mat." A general giggle passed through the air. "With those eyes...I dont know...you know.what they say about a man with grey eyes..." Someone made a growl like a Tyrei just as they passed by the bunkroom door. "No. He's strong and tall. And he was very polite...Ehvan is one I'd like to take home." Calysta heard the conversation and sucked in a deep breath of soup through her mouth causing her to immediately start choking.

The next bite of soup somehow tasted better than the last one and Illya quickly dipped his spoon in for another. He wasn't talking much because he would rather eat and then snuggle a little. The fever just had him feeling lazy and he still felt chilled despite the fact that he felt warm to everyone else. In the midst of eating he heard some of the Kaerelean women tittering on and on about a man. Finally, it came out it was Ehvan. A broad grin came to Illya's face. Ehvan would have to deal with this one himself. It felt nice that it was someone else the women were on a prowl for this time. "Wait till Ehvan finds out about dat. He'll invite Ahvah tah come show dem what a jealous Chip woman es like."

Calysta sucked in a deep breath and cleared her throat with a wince as Illya grinned. ". Whoever's talking about taking Ehvan home is talking about dating him, not just a casual fling." She croaked out the explanation and then took another sip of her soup while casting a glance to her husband. "A woman who wants to take a man home is inviting him to court her...at least on some continents. Ahvah will eat them alive."

"Oh I jes dun say anyting I let Ehvan find out on his own. He will invite Ahvah. She es a most jealous wife ef he tells her someting like dis. He dun tell her unless he tinks et es bad ting happening. Chippequoti dun like invitation to be wit anoter when dey are already agreed." Illya explained the custom to her. She needed to know what proper jealousy was and that it applied in this circumstance. "Dun worry, I dun tink dat dah woman who wants tah take Ehvan home will want tah fight Ahvah. Ahvah es very accomplished fighter and quite fierce."

"I wouldnt want to fight Ahvah either," Calysta admitted mildly, "Not unless I had to in order to keep you. I'm not sure whoever it is knows Ehvan is agreed either. He'll have to say something sooner or later." She sniffled some and glanced at her husband, suded

"Ehvan will say someting when he feels et es time." Illya contently picked up his bowl and slurped the last of the soup out of it. About time he finished Kalizda asked him with a somewhat shocked look if he understood all that had been said in Kaerelean. "Yes, I understand et all for long time. I live here surrounded by people wit dat language. I know what dey say, I jes dun speak et well so dey assume I dun know what dey say."

Calysta gazed at him intently and then started to chuckle a stuffy giggle through her pink nose. Her soup had all but been forgotten in her lap as she laughed for a good moment. "I didnt know you had known what we were saying," she admitted with a grin. "I thought you still needed me to translate sometimes. Why didnt you tell me?"

The reaction from Kalizda wasn't what Illya expected, but it was a good reaction. "Oh, sometimes I jes like dah translation and den yah never asked ef I needed et. So I jes let yah explain tings to meh. Sometimes dere were words, or customs I dun understand and I know more cause I dun tell anyone I already know what dey said."

"I never asked because...well..." her cheeks turned a even darker shade of pink as she spoke, " I didnt think you paid that much attention to anything Kaerelean beyond the sweet things you say to me." She offered over the rest of her soup to him. He could eat it quickly before it got cold. "I just didnt know you were interested." It dawned on her that he might have heard her talking to herself in Kaerelean about him. Not that it was anything bad, quite the opposite, but she wasnt aware he might have understood comments she had made after hard work at times. She had just assumed he'd not bother with knowing.

Illya took the bowl from Kalizda and frowned a little. She should eat all of it. A sick person needed to eat healthy and a lot to get better. "Yah jes dun know meh as well as yah tought eh? I pay attention tah many tings." Handing the bowl back to her he nodded, "Yah eat et. Need tah eat lots of food tah give yah body strengt tah become well again."

"Aye you do," Calysta said with small sigh as he denied the soup. She took dozen more sips out of it before she grew tired again and her eye lids drooped some. "You know I do like to know you more," she whispered to him, this time in Qouti.

With a mischievous grin Illya winked at Kalizda and took her empty bowl. "Now yah know what makes meh great diplomat." He figured she would laugh, but he could be a good diplomat if he wanted to be.

Calysta snorted some at his comment and laughed as he gave him the incorrigible grin she loved. "Oh Aye. Makes me wonder what else you've observed and what other talents you have, my dear diplomat."

"I'm nut like meh fater!" Illya immediately protested and then relented, "Fine, but he es brilliant man."

Calysta nearly jumped out of her skin when he yelled an entirely confusing comment about his father and she half wondered if he had a seizure and simply misheard her. With wide eyes, she tilted her head in confusion to look at her husband. "Illya, I didnt say anything about your father."

With a frown Illya stared at her, "I know yah dun say anyting about him, but what yah said makes meh sound like him."

She could see where he might have thought that now, but she had never seen him that way. Bright and highly intelligent, but not so cold as his father. "No. I was mostly teasing you about that. You are intelligent and observant...you are also kind and empathetic when its good to be. You are not your father, Illya, and I know that." She sniffled some and swiped at the wisps of hair stuck to her temples. "Are you worried that you are?"

"I dun tink I have tah worry dat I be meh fater because meh test scores are nut at all like his." Illya tried to move the conversation more to joking. He had simply misunderstood her comment in part and he didn't really want to be serious about this conversation anymore.

Calysta raised a brow at his not so subtle attempt at changing the direction of the conversation into something she hadnt asked. "lllya. I do know you better than for you to just try to sweep that under the rug. It clearly matters to you and bothered you." Her brow knitted some as she sat beside him, a hand settling on his knee. "Talk to me. Yeah?"

There wasn't any hiding it this time and Illya took a deep breath. "I jes always hate dat meh fater has someting hidden. Sometimes what he hides hurts and oter times et was jes better ef he would have said et before. I dun like tah tink dat I do dat."

Calysta let him speak and then sat pensively for a moment or two before reaching for his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "He is a man with no trust given and no trust taken. I imagine it makes him bitter and lonely. A bit like my mother. You wish your father didnt do those things and keep them hidden...you want to know him better than that and not be hurt." More than anything she knew what that was like with her own mother. "I think there were times when we first met you kept things from me. Secrets and such. But I dont think that now."

What Kalizda said really didn't make Illya feel any better and he stayed quiet for a long moment. "Eh, I tink we need tah talk about a few tings. Yah statement es nut so accurate."

His hand sat woodenly under hers, not responding at all and feeling more like a sun warmed statue. They sat in silence for a long moment until he replied with his comment, confirming what the silence had already said. Gathering up her courage, and ignoring the curling feeling in her stomach, she turned her eyes to the green ones belonging to her husband. "Alright," she sniffled, "Lets talk."

Illya hated to tell her this, but it was the truth. "Dere are too many tings tah talk about now. Ets jes, dere were tings dat I dun ever talk about and den oter tings I never tink important tah tell yah. I'm sorreh."

She started to wonder what those things might be, but knew that would just lead down a dark and imaginative road. Illya deserved more than what her mind might cook up. She took a deep breath and let it out through her lips in a slow, steady stream. She wasnt going to let him just sweep this away if he thought talking later would do something like buy him time to not be bothered with it. Her eyes never left his, but her stomach stayed tight like a ball of yarn. "We'll talk later then. But i think its important that its not too much later...if its something hurtful, yeah?" She wanted to try doing this though every part of her instinct waa begging her to shut down the emotion that was making her feel slightly sick. .

"Yeah, we talk about dis tahnight. We go back to dah shep and have talk and good night sleep before we go back home to dah kids eh?" Illya was already shifting to get out of the bunk. "Last classes are soon and I have tah go unless yah need doctor."

She nodded as he pulled away from her and out of the bed. Already the bed felt cold. "I'll be alright." Her voice cracked when she said it, making her wince. I'll pack our bags."

"Mine es already packed. I always have et ready when I am nut at home." Illya didn't like thinking that if an emergency happened he might leave something behind and most importantly he didn't want to leave evidence.

"Alright." Calysta watched him leave the bunk room and didn't relax at all when he was out of sight. What could he possibly have kept from her that would merit such a hard response from him? Clearly it was something important or he wouldn't been upset when he thought she compared him to his father. A little worry nibbled at her gut and she stared at the door, her eyes wide and unfocused. Ever since learning about the imperialists, Illya's past exploits, Markus' original plan for Illya, and Markus' return from the dead on the tails of a conspiracy that made her cringe, she had wondered a few things. The most of which had Illya as using her as an excuse to get off the planet ten years ago under Markus' orders. Markus would have been general at the time and he and Illya had been on at least talking terms. Illya had done undercover before. Had escaping Qouti the first time all been some sort of undercover work? If so, why use her? Being used was something that made her feel strange. A mix of anger and pain that went down with a terrible taste.

Of course that line of thinking is what gave Markus power. He played mind games and Illya had already warned her of that. No, she wouldn't give into that line of thinking. Illya did love her, that much she knew, and she loved him without doubt or hesitation. She would give Illya his chance to explain whatever it is he needed to and they would work through it. Together. As pathetic as she knew her past self would find such a sentiment, life without her husband would be a lonely and bitter one. Just like Markus' at the moment. She didn't need Illya to function, she wanted Illya to love him.

She glanced down and realized she had been winding the sheets tightly in her hands, wadding them up into fists. Quickly, she opened her hands and let the covers drop before swinging her legs off the side. The air felt uncomfortably cool, making her shiver some, but she couldn't sit there. Not with her mind racing along the same speed as her heart. Coughing some, she rose to her feet and began packing her duffle bag with shaking hands. They would clear this up tonight, whatever it was, and would keep going.

Calysta packed her duffle, showeered and changed into fresh clothes before triple checking her bag. Underwear, deodorant, comb and all the rest were still in their proper places. She put Illya's bag onto the bed along side hers, then put on her boots so she was ready to go when he got back. She didn't want to meander or wait around. He would be expecting her to be ready to go. She braided her hair and made sure that they had their rain boots along with their coats and umbrellas. It would be a long walk back to the ship. By the time she was done organizing it all a message came in from Priscilla asking a few more difficult questions about the bone surgery. Calysta typed out a detailed response for her. By that point her face was hot and she felt a cold sweat collecting on her temple. Her eyes felt heavy along with the rest of her limbs too. Would a small nap be bad? She was all packed up anyways now, right? Calysta slowly laid down the made bunk next to the duffles with the intent on simply sleeping for the next hour.

By the time he awoke, Illya was standing over her saying her name while a few other voices milled around. A few of them speaking in light, unconcerned tones abou the upcoming weekend. Everything felt fuzzy and far away, never in focus even if she squinted up to see her husband. "Time to go," she mumbled, trying to look more alert, "Lets go."

**************

Daphne had no idea where Ehvan had gone during the party. She had come back with some snacks for the group and the handsome Chip had vanished. She spent the better part of the night drinking whatever it was the Chips had brought. Then, she had spent most of the morning paying for it. Her head pounded with every beat of her heart and she rubbed at her temples as she walked along the corridor with a few of the other women from the cadet class.

"Oh, Ehvan ditched you, huh?" one of them said.

Daphne rolled her eyes. "Of course not..." Now she was catching a look from her friend and it made her blush. "And ..no..no...I havent said anything to him about it...he's handsome and shy. Look at how he disappeared last night.

Her friend grinned. " I bet he's gentle in other ways besides the sparring mat."

A general giggle passed through the air till another piped up. "With those eyes...I dont know...you know.what they say about a man with grey eyes..." A growl like a Tyrei echoed from her friend as they passed through the hall. The sound of it made her headache and she grit her teeth with a small sigh. At least she wasn't throwing up anymore. "No. He's strong and tall. And he was very polite...Ehvan is one I'd like to take home."

"You think he'll say yes?" her friend asked, "You sound so very determined."

Daphne's fists clenched as they came to the cafeteria door. "There's only one way to find out."

Her eyes scanned the cafeteria to look for her tall, handsome Chip partner. Everyone looked bedraggled at best and absolutely miserable at the worst, all of them having some mixture of a hang over and a cold on top of that. Even Swyft sat in the corner with his eyes closed and a secondary cup of coffee clutched in his hands. Everyone was dragged through the lines, mumbling what they wanted before taking trays over to the tables to be pecked at between bouts of nausea. Evhan was among those looking particularly under the weather. Nevertheless, she smiled and gave him a friendly wave before scuttling over, all thoughts of her hang over gone, at least for the moment. "Ehvan! Where'd you go last night? I went to get snacks and you were gone." He was looking at her a bit like a bird plastered to a flyer window and she tilted her head, her smile fading some. "Everything alright?" Maybe she had said something wrong in traders tongue somewhere along the way.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The look on Priscilla's face said it all. Ehud was in trouble and she thought he was being uncommunicative with her. "Pris, I did communicate with you. I asked you to be careful cause it felt like you were ripping my leg off." His leg still hurt and he knew that wasn't what she meant, but maybe if he played dumb it would help. "How about you just calm down and let me rest a little. I'll be fine. Nothing horrible, but I won't be laying on that side for a few days."

Chances were she'd still be upset with him, but he couldn't control that. "Pris, please don't get angry with me. I'm doing my best." Ehud was tired of feeling like he was constantly failing. She'd more or less told him a short time back that all his attempts to be a good husband were no good. "You want communication and I'm going to give some to you. I don't think you're happy despite my best efforts and I don't know what else I can do." It probably was a bad idea to do that, but he'd just said it and Ehud was tired out. He was tired of trying and trying and seemingly getting nowhere.

Limping over to the bed he sat down on the edge and winced. Shifting on his butt he slowly moved both legs onto the bed and then let out a long breath. "Think you'll feel like walking tomorrow? Based on how things feel I could try, but I'll still be pretty sore."

**********************************************

It was tough to make the day worse. All the drinking had upset Ehvan's stomach to the very core. He coughed more after the drinking, his fever pitched higher, he slept very little and now Daphne came looking for him. He felt a panic wash over him as she stood right in front of him and seemingly looked him over like a chunk of meat. "Eh...I uh...I went tah get drinks and more food for dah party." Shifting uncomfortably he glanced at the others and they were all giving him plenty of space. They didn't want her to come after them too. "I tink I jes go lay down in meh bunk before class. I dun feel well." Getting up from his place he nodded to Daphne slightly and then shuffled off. As soon as he reached his bunk he sent a message to Ahvah. She needed to get here and he needed her to show proper jealousy because they had trouble.

******************************************

Illya set Kalizda on the couch and then pushed the couch in the ship near the galley where he was going to be cooking. "Yah sure yah dun want meh tah take yah to dah Ehaui tahnight?" He still didn't feel all that great either, but he was more concerned about her. Regardless of his offer she seemed intent on not going to see the doctors. "Ok, den I jes tell yah some of dah tings I worry about and I dun say before. I know dat yah happier I'm nut General of all Alliance army anymore, but I still tink somehow dat I am nut serving good purpose in Skycorp. Et feels different nut tah be fighting same way as I do before. Den I worry about nut being good fater. I try nut tah worry yah, but meh back hurts many days and I still want someting tah help. I tink I go find dat Helen woman, dah Pitian and ask her for help. Meh leg hurts too, where dah metal connects dah fake part to meh. Rest of dat leg hurts anyway. Den, I know what Terrans say en dah Terran language yah speak. I know dey have many different languages and I...Kalizda, I dun know. Dere are a lot of tings I know and I jes dun say."

Calysta kept one of Illya's sweat shirts on to combat the persistent chill. The sleeve was far too long and she rolled it around in her hand as he spoke. It was a bit hard to follow at first until she realized each was something that he felt or thought. Shame rolled through her at some of his thoughts and sadness in other moments. She has had thought they were doing alright and that perhaps he was happy in some moments with his choices. The back problem wasnt his fault nor the leg. As far as Terrans went, she couldnt imagine why he wouldnt want her knowing he couldnt speak it unless he used it to spy. Was that all though? If they were lancing a wound she wanted everything else out too. She sniffled and rallied herself some before sliding off the couch and wobbling in her oversized sweat shirt to Illya's side to put a hand on his shoulder just for a gentle squeeze. "It's alright. What else, love?"

The little hand on his shoulder was perhaps the most irritating and comforting thing she could have done. Illya didn't want to say anymore and now he felt like he should. She was trying very hard and he knew by the look on her face that she didn't like some of the things he'd said. "I tink I remember most of our life before I get shot in dah head. Dah toughts are all mixed and I dun know what order dey go en, but dey are dere. Eh," pausing he glanced at her and then gently nudged her to the side so he could get into the cupboard to grab a bit of seasoning. "I jes say et when yah talk about someting dat reminds meh of one of dose times." The more he talked the heavier the deep rattle in his chest became and he had to turn his head away to cough. Once he was done with that he sprinkled the seasoning into the meat and water. It was going to be a Chip style soup. Dipping the spoon into the pot he stirred it and then stirred a little more furiously as he thought about what he was going to say next. "Meh fater, I want tah talk wit him." Illya clenched his jaw, "But I know dat he will do like he always does in dah past. I am dah General now and I can command him, but den ef he disobeys I have tah do someting about et. Kalizda, I feel like very angry man sometimes."

Calysta scooted over at his nudge, her hand trailing away from his back in a flutter of sweatshirt sleeve. He was upset or anxious about talking, that much was clear. His memories brought her a little spark of relief and what she suspected was joy. She didnt have enough time to consider it before he mentioned his father and their precarious position. Not for the first time, the selfish thought of wishing he had never come back came to mind and she tamped it down. His comment about being angry furthered that thought and she held up the wooden spoon he would need for the stirring. "Anger at your father?" He wasnt an overly violent man, or a cold one, but he had a right to be angry with what had been done.

"Yes, I'm angry at meh fater and I'm angry about many tings. Dah Alliance es very difficult tah live wit. Dey wait till I'm injured and den dey trow meh away like garbage and dey dun call on meh men anymore. We are born for dis work and made tah accomplish et. Now Alliance jes makes slow progress and dey will lose ground. Federation dun fear Alliance witout Chippequoti Elite. Dey fear Chippequoti Elite wit Alliance aid. Dah Alliance dun know Chippequoti well enough tah know when we can no longer serve. Dey make standard dat says we cannot and et makes meh angry. I cannot launch attacks witout dah approval of Alliance now. Et es strange position tah be en. I am dah General and yet I hold council wit Elders like et es time of peace instead of war. Meh people are safe for now, but we need tah make more progress en dah war."

Calysta was beginning to think Illya was right. Maybe she didnt know him at all. He was so angry that he had been found physically unfit for duty through Alliance standards that he couldnt stand it. That he had wanted to go out there and fight. She knew he wanted to win the war. And she wanted them to be safe too. Her peace of mind had been a stolen age it seemed. Why was he so eager to leave the children behind and go to places he would deem her unfit to follow? He knew the Federation better than anyone and his statement had many presumptions in it too. She tried to work her face into a sculpted look of neutrality but her voice caught when she spoke, giving it away. "Alright. What else are you angry with?"

The last question was enough for Illya to want to scream. "Kalizda, I....Meh people are becoming impatient. Dey know dat dah safety will nut last forever. Dey do nut know everyting dat happens, but I must tell dem tah be patient. I know why some of dem try tah break meh back and ef I were dem I might have done dah same. Dis es what makes meh very angry. Meh people are safe, dey are free, but dey do nut have dah power tah protect demselves. Dey are governed by dose dat do nut understand dere culture and deemed, fit, or unfit for dah work dey accomplish. Dat es all. I can't tink of anyting else."

Calysta nodded slowly, some what in a daze, and sniffled from her cold as the food sizzled on the stove. She was an idiot on so many levels. "Alright." It was about she could say at the moment until she looked dumbly at the skillet with the meat. "The meat will burn if you don't stir it," she added, still offering the spoon.

When Kalizda answered with single words it was never good and Illya sighed. Taking the spoon from her he stirred the meat enough to get it loose in the pan and then turned the heat off to the pan. Then he transferred the meat to the boiling pot of water and mixed vegetables with seasonings. "Kalizda, I tell yah before dat I have duty and dere es order required. As General meh duty to meh people es greater den any oter duty I have. First, I crush dah Federation and den I give power back to dah council. Dis order es disrupted and et es nut good for Chippequoti. Dey do nut understand dese changes. Skycorp es nut meh career. I find way tah use et so meh men can be of use again."

Now, she felt something bubbling up like a slow simmer in a pot that had been left on too long. Her hands clenched and unclenched but words wouldnt come. The boiling was keeping any discernable sentences from forming, the bubbles breaking them apart over and over as it roiled. "Aye, you told me that." It came out a stubbed sentence through clenched teeth. "And I didnt doubt it. I was just under the impression that perhaps our people were happy and so were you. I havent forgotten the war and neither has the Alliance, but as you say war is tolerable when you keep it off your home planet, yeah? Illya if Kaereal falls it will kill millions and make a staggering blow to the Alliance. Didn't you think you were doing something important by protecting it?" He dumped the meat in and she stepped back to avoid the splatter. Then she stepped back again and again until she bumped into the couch, causing her to trip some. Still, she tried to look at Illya as she stumbled.

Turning to look at Kalizda he took a deep breath to try and remain calm. "Yes, I went down wit meh men because dah Alliance es part of meh duty. I dun want tah see dah people die and suffer ef I can do someting about et. Dere were many monts of pain for meh and dah men dat went down. One of dem died, but dat es dah cost and et saved dah people. Elite have duty tah save dose dey can in dah war. Now I get dem trained tah work wit pilots dat are nut only Chippequoti. We will launch our own missions as approved by Kirit. I begin drafting plans and looking at current war efforts. Et will be short missions, no extended missions. We dun have desperation for extended missions and I would nut want et tah get dat bad. Extended missions are worse den dying."

She wanted to scream and throttle him at the same time. Instead, she just sat silent for a long time. She felt the white hot anger searing into her core. "Short missions," she mumbled, "Wilds, I'm such an idiot. This was your idea all along and you didnt tell me?"

Illya could tell she was mad and he had a feeling it was coming. "Not dah whole time, but et was one dat I begin developing. Wit program as last defense I now know many of dah better pilots and I can offer dem tah be part of dah war effort for short missions. Noting more den tree monts."

"And you just decided to do that without telling me? Not even as a council woman but your wife? And don't...do NOT...say "I'm telling you now" because you know damned well what I mean," she growled. There was so much she wanted to say and it all wanted to come out at once. "I was there too when you were dying of metal in your leg and again when you lost your leg and I thought I was going to lose you again, and again when they bent you over and snapped your back. I was there for the weeks of recovery and even more weeks of addiction that didn't just steal my husband, but turned him into a slightly catatonic lump. I was there when you were trying to get clean and helped you clean up the puke and the sweat and when you got angry with me for refusing to give you more medicine. I did it because I love you, Illya. I do. But now I feel like this whole time with Skycorp really is some big manipulation and you couldn't come to me with what you felt or what was happening because what? You were afraid I would be angry? Well now, I'm not just angry, I feel like the entire time you've been telling me you were happy with the family and me was a lie because you weren't. I'm you're wife and I have stood by you long enough that I deserve the truth, even if its only what you feel at the time. Because we are supposed to work through things together. I don't care if thats not how Chippeqouti do it. That's how WE do it. You and I, Damnit!" Her voice was half gone but tears were pricking at the corner of her eyes and she stood there fists clenched and trembling at her side, her face hot with fever and rage.

Before he could answer Kalizda snapped away the first answer he would typically give. He was telling her now and he hadn't even got that far into the program. "I am happy wit yah and dah children. Dere es duty. I dun say et was joy. Dere es duty I must complete before I settle down like retired General. I know yah dere wit meh for all dose tings. Yah prove to meh when meh brains all scrambled dat yah meh agreed and et was nut a cover designed by meh fater. Kalizda, I dun even start making plans yet for first strikes. Dis es new idea I have after watching yah fly oter day. Et es new idea of mine. I make dis idea because et es answer to many of meh people frustrations and meh anger. I fex et and now yah angry cause I dun tell yah as soon as yah finish yah flight. No, we celebrate yah victory and hold party in yah honor and den I be sick all night and tink of ways tah use what I see. Dis es new idea."

Her anger ebbed, if only slightly, but she still held her ground. "New idea or not, you still didn't tell me about how you were feeling. How the Chippeqouti were. I ask and all I get are kind smiles of approval or in your case, deflection. I can't fix it if I don't know about it Illya. Did you ever think I might have been able to help sooner if you would have told me how you felt when it happened? Did you still not trust me? After everything? Did you think that maybe I would have different ideas and maybe some helpful input?" Now her voice was wavering and she hated it. She couldn't stand it. "I would have done everything I could. Instead, you didn't tell me how you were feeling and what was happening, and I get sidelined to what? Ignorant wife and outsider?" Calysta took in a shaking breath and stared at him. For the first time in a long time she felt like she wasn't quite enough and the fact that it came from Illya stung all the more. "I'm not angry that you're saying it now. I'm angry that you never said anything at all until now and let me believe that everything was alright when it wasn't. I want you to tell me things Illya, but alot of them time when I ask you wont say. Then I thought it would come out in time...like the situation with your father. I never thought that you were so discontent with Skycorp though. I thought it was something good, not the military, but something you would like. And yes, I know you have your duty, but didn't you think you could come to me and tell me that you needed to do more?"

"Kalizda, I tried wit Skycorp. I wanted more so I make program wit yah so I can do more. Et was still nut enough. Now I tell yah dat I make new idea again." She was so difficult to please sometimes. "I dun tell yah all dah tings I feel because how I feel es nut important. What I do wit et es. When I feel angry and upset I find what boters meh and I make solution. I fex dah problem. I tell yah how I feel so dat yah understand why I make dese choices. Dese choices are nut because I dun like yah as meh wife. Ets nut because I dun tink dat yah have good ideas, but we bot tink very differently. I like tah start wit meh base idea and den tell yah and yah help modify ef yah feel et es nut workable. I dun see what es wrong wit way I do et. We talk and I let yah have say on dese tings. Yah look very ill." Wrapping an arm around Kalizda he swept her up and walked her back over to the couch. Laying her gently on the couch he pulled the blanket over her. "We still talk, but yah need tah lay down."

Suddenly he was picking her up from the floor and putting her on the couch as if she weighed nothing and all. His chest was warm and she felt cold all over. He pulled the blanket over her with a gentleness that made her heart ache enough to push through the anger, if only just. She didn't want to lay down, in fact she wanted to jump up and pace the floor. Or go work on something in the engine room to calm herself down, but her body was shaking enough from the cold and adrenaline fueled anger that she stayed put. "Because you've already made the choice," she said through chattering teeth, "You chose for both of us what you wanted and then got my input to make it more tolerable. That's not choosing together as husband and wife or anywhere else. You don't consider alternatives to a plan, just your plan with enough changes no one..." Calysta shivered and closed her eyes trying to control her voice. "will mind it."

There was no getting out of this one and Illya knew it. She was mad at him. "Yes, I make choice. I am leader of people too and I cannot be puppet. I make choice and I talk wit yah about choice and yah help meh design choice tah be agreeable to all dah people in dah Alliance. Dis es diplomacy and dis es what yah expect of dah Chippequoti. Alliance did nut ask Chippequoti what standards Elite need tah meet tah be fit for duty. Dey look at list of injuries and disqualify dem. Dis was decision dat Alliance makes, nut someting dey consult wit us on. Now yah see why I make choices for meh people and den ask for help tah make et acceptable to dah Alliance. At least I offer more cooperation den Alliance offered meh and meh people.

"You think the Alliance has been making you into a puppet?" she struggled off the the couch and stood up, chest out and arms clamped by her side. "You really think that? No. The alliance saw the injuries as said you werent fit for battle like they would any other Alliance man because they wont send a man into battle that isnt in decent condition. They do that to prevent slaughter and mass casualty, Illya. Not because they want to snub you. The Alliance has done everything they can for the Chippeqouti and so have I and still its not enough. And you're right. It's not enough." She marched out of the room, bumping slightly into the door frame as she went. Her cold, tiny feet lead her down the hallway and into their bedroom where her pad laid on the beside table. She never wanted to be council woman, not once. All she had wanted was to protect her people and his. She hated being the council woman and it was sometimes all she could do to stand it day by day. Calysta snatched up the pad and went over to the wall panel where she could control her ship. Punching in a few new coordinates took less than three seconds with her practiced fingers. Luckily she knew the panel backward and foreward because her eyes werent focusing enough to read it anyways. With that done, she marched into the kitchen and tossed her pad on the couch. "I've been working for months on the Chippeqouti council seat for the Alliance," she said, her eyes glassy and slightly unfocused. "I never wanted your people to be puppets. I wanted you to be safe. As it turns out, so do alot of other people in the Alliance. So, General, there's your cooperation right there. You're angry because they told you that they didn't want you to be injured on the battle field due to prior injury and they're trying to make sure that your people have safety too. There have been airbattles on the borders for years, nothing that the Elite could have done anything about though. Those are your people dying too. The Alliance doesn't work unless we stick together and I know that we are stronger together. That's something I believe without a doubt. I hate being the council woman, Illya. I hate it. I do it because it's what is right and I can help the Chippeqouti like I've been trying to do for ten years. So, the next time you want to tell me the Alliance has offered no cooperation think about all the people that you've met. Tikan went with you to save your people when no one else could or would. Sarai gave us save haven on Uria when we had no where else to go. Kinte welcomed you. Pyrta welcome us all back when the entire people left. It's not a debt Illya. That's what the Alliance does. And you're right. It's far time that the Chippeqouti sit on the Alliance council, if they so chose."

Despite the fact that he had tried to explain himself Kalizda was still upset. This was a lot better than it had been for cooperation in the past and she was still displeased with it. Kalizda stormed off and Illya rolled his eyes and went back to work in the kitchen. Kalizda returned a few second later with the pad and a little tirade of her own.

"Oh look at dat, we're bot angry and we bot have some lopsided views. Yah dun tell meh about dis council seat for dah Chippequoti. Dah Alliance knows what I can do and what meh men can do, but dey never tink tah have us help out dere wit dah air battles. Dat was someting we could have helped wit. I never say dey aren't meh people too. I bleed for dem and I dun make light of dere sacrifice, I'm angry dat dey dun let meh help tah lessen dah sacrifice. I know war better den any man sitting in Kaereleal."

Calysta grit her teeth and now it wasnt just fever blurring her vision. "I know you've bled for them and that the Elite have died for them. Just because fighting on the rim in some battles doesnt mean there arent bigger and more important things happening here. Did you not think of that? But you think you've been snubbed because you arent being sent to the front lines every time? I'm not even making those decisions. Kirit is since he's been Alliance General. Did you even ask if he might have a reason or ask for an override? No! You didn't. You let all this anger build up without talking to me about the problem and now we're both here yelling at each other over something that could have been fixed ages ago before you lived for a year at Skycorp, doing something you hated and I lived for a year thinking that maybe I had managed to do something damned right for once in a compromise that I thought we had worked on together!" She was seething and stared at his blurry form. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she shook all over and she wished she was as tall as he was. At least then she could damn well look him in the eye.

"Yes, why do I ask for dese tings when meh people are unstable when dey are still unsure of dah Alliance? I make dem work tah be comfortable here, den dey grow restless as dey are now. Dis es why I dun go tah Kirit. Dey are wore out after dey divide and many die after leaving Pytra. Et takes time. I will nut go tah Kirit until I have viable plans where Chippequoti can contribute. We are stable enough tah be cooperative in battle and I get meh men more training now and dey learn oter customs. I will nut apologize for doing what I must for our people. Dah gods forgive meh for being a man and derefore wrong."

"Aye, this time you are, but has nothing to do with that dangle between your legs," she said hoarsely, "You could have just talked to me Illya. Instead, you keep things from and you blind side me when I have tried to tell you things. If you won't apologize for that, then I'm not sure what else I could have to say right now."

Illya could feel himself about ready to burst from the extreme frustration. "Kalizda, do yah really feel dah need tah be privy to all dat happens wit meh people and meh? I tell yah plans as I develop dem and ets nut enough. Well, ef dat's dah case I tink I need tah live separate for a few weeks and seek council wit dah elders. I can't do dis wit yah right now."

The words struck her like a slap in the face and she stood there staring at him unable to move for a long second. "I tell me plans when you've already made the choice..." she said, this time tears were spilling down her cheeks in a flow she couldn't staunch, "And you can't do this right now? Marriage isn't something that you put on hold. And yes I did feel that way because I thought I was one of those people you're making decisions for...and your wife...and your friend. Do you really want me to live separate for awhile?"

"Nut all dah Chippequoti like what I do, but I do what I believe es best for dem and have yah input as council woman tah make choice acceptable to all. Dat es all yah expect from oter leaders in dah Alliance. Dis has noting tah do wit meh being yah agreed and everyting tah do wit meh being dah General. Dis es why we need tah be separate for time. Dis way we bot understand dat dah General and Chippequoti are part of dah Alliance, but separate people. I am dere leader and until yah can respect dat witout making et personal I cannot be en dah same house."

"You've apparently felt that way for a long time then," she said, her voice thick, "All I expected from you is to talk to me about the way you felt and now I see you can't. You never have been. " She swiped angrily at her eyes. "I'm sorry that I couldn't fix this Illya, but you aren't going to live separate from your children. I will go. The children will expect you home, General, and I have to go on this tour or it will not look well. You will stay at home and I will go." It wasn't a choice. "It wasn't about respect for you Illya. I have more of that than you know. It was about you not trusting me and making decisions for me. It's manipulative and wrong and I'm sorry you felt like you had to do that to make yourself heard." She stumbled toward the door feeling hurt, wounded beyond any physical ache she could ever have. "We're on course for Helena. I kept tabs on her just in case. Go see if she can do anything for your back. I don't want you drinking or doing drugs if you decide you want me back. That's a non-negotiable...And if you go on a mission without me as pilot...I hope...I hope you come back Illya. I do love you." Then she left the room and went to the engine room rather than their bed room. He had known all along what he intended to do tonight. It's why had hadn't wanted to touch her. He had known what it would mean and how she would react to decisions being made for her. She locked the door behind her and cried until she fell asleep.

********************************
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
There wasn't even a chance to say anything and Illya found himself watching Kalizda disappear. She was gone. She'd taken herself to the engine room. Somehow they'd gone a lot further than he ever intended. What was he thinking? Those tears welling up in her eyes had been about enough to make him want to cave. For a good while Illya stood in the galley picking at the food, warming, letting it cool and warming it again. Eventually it wouldn't taste any good if this kept up and he would have to face her.

Then there was the problem of trying to take care of the kids by himself. He didn't know what all she did for them. Who would watch them when they were in Skycorp? What would they do if they were still partners? If they weren't that would be a problem too. There was no way to separate without broadcasting this as a giant problem to the kids and the world. Of course there was the part of him that knew he would want to be in bed with her. He would want to sleep with her and be intimate and he would miss her horribly. He was already feeling badly enough about the situation and missing her.

If they were going to be with the children during the weekend it would be difficult to hide the trouble from them. What would he do? Let her go away? Sleep in a different room? No matter how he tried to think of ways to fix this, it was far from getting better. In fact, it was getting worse. The kids, they would be crushed. Was it that big of a deal? It could be, but they could work through it too.

A sudden panic hit. What if she got separated and decided it was better? She'd been with him long enough to have been disappointed to know he was an addict, she knew he was next to being crippled some days, lost his leg, parts of his memory along with parts of the brain, and had a terribly ugly back. She'd gone through all of that with him and she'd been gentle and caring. Perhaps it wasn't fair of him to have told her that they should be separated. It was probably hasty on his part and he could only hope that the damage wasn't irreparable. If he'd said too much it was purely his fault and he would have to live with the consequences. Just thinking of what he would have to do without her, to explain to the children that he had gone too far and sent their mother away. What he'd done was wrong.

Regardless of his fears he knew he would have to face them. Perhaps the best way to address this was to pick up where they left off. Illya sighed, it was time to eat a few hours ago. They both needed to eat and they both needed to get to bed too. Walking down the hall and then stopping outside the doorway to the engine room he knocked on it loudly. "Kalizda, yah need tah come out and get some food tah eat."

Calysta woke to the muffled sound of her husband's voice on the other side of the bulkhead door. It pulled her from whatever hard sleep she had crashed into and she cracked open her eyes, rubbing the crusty feeling from them. He was there? Asking her to come eat? Her brow furrowed as she stumbled to her feet then stiffly walked to the door. It creaked open as she pushed it toward him. He really was there waiting to see if she was going to reply. She wanted to say something smart or tell him it was fine. She wasn't hungry. Instead, her hands wiped her hair from her fevered cheeks and she stared at him. "Illya..." Her voice croaked, "I don't want to separate."

When the door swung open Illya saw that Kalizda looked terrible. Despite the way she looked and his concern, he was also relieved. "I'm glad yah dun want tah separate. I dun want tah separate eiter. I tink maybe I was too hasty eh?" Gently reaching around her shoulders he picked her up. "We jes go eat now. yah look terrible and yah need food tah get better."

Her eyes widened when he said he didn't want to seperate either and she could feel hot tears threatening to spill over her to her cheeks again. When did she become so emotional? The tiny voice that would have berated her for being wishy washy went silent when he picked her up and she felt how warm he was. This was her Chip and she loved him, heart and soul. The thought of separating for a time was a painful one, not because she couldn't live through it but because of how hard it would be to do so fully aware of how alone she would be. Her tiny arms wrapped around his neck and she rested her cheek against his shoulder with a stuffed up sniffle. It was a relief that he didnt want to leave her and said he had been hasty in saying so. "Okay," she said into his shoulder, "Let's eat. I'm glad you came to get me." Her arms squeezed his shoulders in a sideways hug and she sniffled again as he took her into the kitchen.

Illya kept Kalizda clutched to his chest and he carried her back to the galley. After he had her sat down he served up two plates. The serving for Kalizda was a little large, but she was sick and she needed all the food she could manage to stomach. "Now yah eat and we jes try dis talk again." He couldn't remember everything he said, but he remembered feeling pretty angry toward the end.

Illya carried her back and she didnt protest. He was incredibly warm after the cold air of the engine room and once they arrived served her a massive portion of steaming soup. She picked up her spoon, taking a bite or two before nodding in agreement to his statement. "You were telling me about how you wanted to send the Elite on missions using Skycorp. That it was a new idea." Swallowing some she put down her spoon and looked at him, her brow knitted together. "Skycorp wasn't originally meant for warfare though. They have the best pilots, but they are explorers. I'm not sure how far you could push them out of that role." Her throat was starting to get worse than sore and heading into painful. "I know you are trying to help the Chippeqouti adjust and trying to work with the Alliance too....and I should have realized that sooner. I know you are the General. I know it every day. And I understand now that you're straddling a line." Taking another bite, she winced and continued. "I don't want our people to grow angry or discontent simply because of things that can be helped or a solution found. I'm...I'm sorry I didn't realize your position sooner and how frustrated you were on some things. I'm your friend Illya, and I try to listen when you are upset. I wanted to help and maybe...maybe there are some things I can't help with." By the time she was done, her voice was all but gone and she gazed at him, her eyes searching over his face for any sort of idea on what he might be thinking.

By the time Illya got settled into his seat and he had a few bites Kalizda started eating. She took a few sips of the soup before she started to talk and he frowned a little. It sounded like she understood what he'd said. Now that she made the recap he remembered a little better what the details were. "Yes, yah can help when I ask yah for help tah determine ef what dah people want tah do es resonable. Den ef meh military plans are acceptable to dah Alliance in teory. I jes can't have yah do every step of planning wit meh, or et looks like dah Alliance controls dah Chippequoti council and meh and dat's nut good. Dey want tah be independent and dey want tah know dat dah leaders are dere leaders and nut men and women dat please oters jes for favor. Ef yah serve as advisor den yah show dah people dat yah submit as Chippequoti to dah rule and yah still give advice tah help dem. Dere will be times dat I will want yah advice en private and times dat I want people tah hear yah advice for demselves."

She nodded in understanding, though how 'submitting to Chippeqouti' was going to go over as council woman. Henaiah had become the point of contact when they were new to the Alliance and her closeness with them had been appropriate. Her goals were the same though, and the Chippeqouti lived on the home planet for now, which meant she was bound by duty to them. It was a thin line, almost razor edged, but it would hold. Probably. "I understand and I can't have that either," Calysta said, "I think the military portion will be fine so long as it does hit Kirit's desk somewhere along the way so it can be accepted." She prodded at her soup some and the lifted her eyes to meet his. "I will tell you that it would not be wise to talk to any of the council members and refer to them as making you a puppet though. It's probably one of the most offensive things you could say professionally to a council member mostly because of our history with how the Aliiance was formed. It took decades of mistrust and tragedy to forge Kaereal and to call someone a puppeteer is to bring their entire career and their integrity into question. It also...was not good to hear on a personal level. I would never use you, Illya."

"Ok," Illya listened to her and he thought for a moment before responding. "I will submit all proposed military actions tah Kirit. Yah cannot make final approval on dose and I understand dat. I jes tell yah military idea out of courtesy. Ef yah council wants input den dey come to dah Chippequoti council and submit like meh and everyone else. Chippequoti council es where all leaders and people submit to dah mutual agreement of dah elders and leaders of dah people regarding dere future. We trust dat dah Elders will make wise decisions after dey hear all concerns regarding Chippequoti people. Den dey advise on what dey tink will be acceptable terms and what changes could be made ef Alliance does nut like original proposal."

A simple okay was all it took with Illya sometimes, but she knew when he said that one reply that he understood her. "Most of them would typically appeal with Kirit and ask that the person who proposed such an attack, if its a large one.....Kirit has been running most of it himself...but as the person who proposes an offensive like that, if it does come into question, you could require that the objector meets with your entire council. They would then have to raise their concern with the entire Chip Counsel as you say.' Calysta took another sip of soup and used the warmth of it to soothe her throat.

"Mmmhmmm and en issues of military dah council will defer to meh judgment and since et es time of war I also have ultimate word ef I need et." Illya knew he had this one nailed if he had Kirit's approval. "I know dah rules well."

"Aye," she croaked, "You do." Her eyes slid back down to her bowl of soup which was coming in and out of exhausted focus. She hated being sick but being on bad terms with Illya was worse. Her little hand snuck across the table and reached for his big brown paw. "If you do start missions...you will go. Wont you?"

Kalizda's little fingers reached across the narrow table and Illya paused while her light pink fingers brushed over his brown hand. "Eh, do yah want meh tah go? I can't really go anymore. I work on strategy and organize missions, but meh back es nut good enough for dat."

Calysta squeezed his hand and her shoulders sank in clear relief. He couldn't go out anymore and he had said it himself. She let out a snuffled breath and shook her head. "No...its just...I was afraid you would want to go even when your back was hurting like was. I wouldn't want you to go and I've been worried about that for awhile...which is probably pretty selfish. ...." She sniffled as she trailed off.

"I guess ets a good ting dat yah worry about meh going. Et would be bad ef yah wished I would go and die." Illya thought for a brief moment before he reached over and gave her little hand a pat with one hand while the other hand held hers. "We jes keep on living life. Now we finish dinner and den we go tah bed. I'm tired and yah look horrible."

Her brow knitted together and she gazed at him. Did she really look that horrible? She thought of how her hair was tumbling in her face and how oddly dressed in pajamas she was. "Of course I would be," she said, finally, "I'm-" Her voice let out a hazy squeak and she winced as she swallowed again. "I still want to talk about a few things...I would like to. It's important, I think."

"We talk about et when we get en bed. I hurt and yah need rest." Lifting his bowl, Illya gulped the last of the soup and then set the bowl down. "I set dah stove tah keep food for tomorrow. I put food away den."

His hand pulled away from hers and some how it still felt like a distant gesture, but he was right about one thing and that was the need for rest. Her body ached all over and her throat was raw. Bed sounded good. She nodded and drew herself up to go towards the bedroom where their neatly made Chip mattress was waiting. She turned off all of the lights save for the one on the beside table and peeled the covers back to climb in. The sheets were horribly cold and her teeth began to chatter against the sudden coolness as her muscles drew in tight to keep in warmth they believed they were losing to the fever. By the time Illya came in, she was curled up into a tight ball shivering under the covers and waiting. He stripped down silently and sidled into the bed beside her. As soon as he got in, the bed warmed marginally and she looked at him. "B-better?" she asked curiously as she clutched the blanket. "Will you just t-t-talk with me for a little awhile about some of what you said?"

Illya, let Kalizda get to the bedroom first. He had to clear a few dishes and then set the stove to keep the food for a few more hours. She was going to need to rest before he did. When he was finally ready to go to bed it was about 10 minutes later and he came into the room to find Kalizda already curled in bed. Quietly he got undressed and left his clothes in a heap at the end of the bed before getting in his side of the bed. Kalizda started to roll toward him and he carefully pulled her closer. "Yes, now we talk about dose tings. Nut sure what else yah need tah talk about, but we do dat."

She noticed he was being careful in the way he pulled her close and it made her wonder if all of that anger he had expressed earlier with her had faded. At least he was warm and even if she shivered his body heat did combat the cold some. The man made a wonderful bed heater. She held as still as she could in his grip, as light as it was, and sniffled. "You were frustrated about some things. The Alliance and your father. You can talk to me...about those on a personal level and I will listen. It sounded important to you...you sounded like you wanted your father to be a father even though you're angry with him. I don't think it's a bad thing. Or maybe I'm just wrong. I don't know. I thought I knew somethings, I guess."

"I get frustrated wit Alliance because et seems sometimes dey want tings so different. Chippequoti never have tah comply like dis before and I do want meh fater tah be better fater. He jes can't. Markus liked being soldier and he was good at et. He only choose tah be wit meh moter because he wanted woman and he needed children. He dun like being fater so much. Dere were times he was good at et dough."

"It is different," she replied quietly. She couldn't argue that. It was her hope that they might have enjoyed the benefits of having allies, but that didn't seem to be the case. Calysta shifted some when he spoke of his father. She was glad Illya had chosen her for different reasons than Markus had chosen Yvonne. If he had wanted a sure chance at children, a half breed would not have been the best choice. "What did he do that was good?" she asked. Her little hand inched up and her fingers began to draw little patterns on his shoulder.

Illya grunted as he adjusted a bit. His back was sore, but that wasn't anything new. "Eh, meh fater take meh out tah capture dah lizards at night and he get special one for meh. I keep et like pet and et sleep wit meh and I carry et en meh pocket. Dah lizard he show meh tah feed et wit bugs and keep little bat for lizard. Et was good pet. When et died of old age he tell meh dat I could have desert dog ef I catch et. Dey were fast, but I get one." Despite his promise to not engage in sex for a week he was starting to feel wild and he pulled way slightly. "I'm sorreh, yah jes. Well, I'm a man and I get dat feeling sometimes when I hold yah even ef we dun kiss."

Calysta remembered the desert fox he had brought into their house and what a little terror it had been. Too bad they werent harder to catch. Then again, Illya liked animals and it sounded like that was something his father hadn't thought needed moulding out of his son when he turned him into a soldier. "What did you name-" Suddenly he pulled away and she sat up some. Had she hurt his back? No? "What feeling...oh.." Looking at him in slight confusion, she tilted her head. "I wasn't aware wanting me was a bad thing?"

"Et's nut bad ting unless I wait a week." Illya grumbled a little and he was tempted to move closer, but he knew better. "Dun worry. Give et a few minutes. We dun do anyting tah get meh dat excited yet. Den I can be close again."

He sounded resigned to a week, but as to why he had suddenly decided sex was off the table, she had no idea. "Well," she squeaked, "Are you waiting a week because of tonight?" Maybe this was some sort of punishment? Really it would just give them time to talk instead of crashing out after hard work and she wanted that, but she wasn't sure what the reasoning was behind it. Not getting him excited would be difficult. That much she did know about her husband. "Um, why don't I just lay here on your chest...it might be less tempting?" Her voice was nearly gone now and she gave him a hopeful look.

"Yes," Illya sighed and he looked at her a long moment before continuing "Et es because we dun talk well wit each oter tahnight. Ef I jes have sex because I like et den I'm nut going tah work so hard tah fex dah problem. Now I jes lay here in dah bed and feel tired and sick wit yah and we talk." Giving her a weak smile he rolled to his back and flopped his arm out for her to roll on so he could pull her onto his chest. After she was settled on top of him he relaxed a little more. "I know dis es better way tah fex dah problem. I love yah too much tah leave yah always upset."

Not a punishment then, she concluded. He was trying to make things better between them by opening up different lines of communication. Albeit harder ones, but good ones nonetheless. Ones she hadn't used very frequently herself. Calysta relaxed on top of his chest. With more of his body heat close her achy muscles stopped shaking and she finally started to warm up some. His smile told her that they would be alright and his next comment struck a chord in her chest. "I think you're right. This might be a better way. I've been trying to be better too," she whispered, "I love you too much to let you be angry or worry too." She laid her cheek on his chest lightly and took in a deep breath. "I know it's not much, but I'm sorry about what Markus did that over shadowed him as father. I do know something though...I know you're a good father, Illya. You're their for our children for the small things and the big things too. You protect them and show them the world they're a part of. They love you too. You should know that you are a good dad."

Little Kalizda on top of his body was a bit difficult as a man, but Illya breathed deeply and simply let the initial feeling pass. As long as he didn't think about it too much he would be fine. "I dun tink dat I say et was wrong for meh tah treat yah like dat earlier. I dun know dat some of dah tings I say sound insulting to yah, but et was wrong for meh tah say we should separate. Meh patience was small and I know dat yah show meh much more patience trough dah years."

She was still awake, but her breathing was getting a bit more relaxed. They were both having some troubles breathing still. His cough was worse after the party and Kalizda sounded horrible. It was good they were going to see Helena. The woman would be able to help Kalizda too. "Kalizda, one oter ting. Dun let meh say tings like dat again. Separating es bad idea. I love yah Kalizda and I dun tink I would do well witout yah."

*********************************

Helena barely caught site of the two people headed for her front door and she instantly knew who they were. It was the council woman and her husband, the Chippequoti. She remembered them well, but then again it was hard to forget a Chip man that wore 5 pants at one time and later on needed to have a surgery conducted to pull a chip out of his brain through his nose. Those were all memorable events.

As the two of them arrived she swung the door open. "I take it you're here for medicine." They wouldn't likely have another reason to visit and they looked ill.

Almost immediately Illya answered with a horrible hacking cough, but he nodded and rested a hand on Kalizda's shoulder. "Yah get her medicine first. She es very sick. Worse den meh."

The woman nodded and began rummaging through her medicine. It was clear that there was a bit of a fever for both of them and by the sound of it the little woman had a nasty cough herself. Though it would not be possible for her to have Chip cough. It was simply impossible unless you had Chip bones and the same immune system. Selecting a few herbs she wandered along till she found the usual little mixing bowl. She would take a few little tests before mixing, but she figured it was likely a small infection of the lungs.

"Alright," with a nod she wandered over to Kalizda and peered into her eyes. They were slightly glazed with illness. Feeling her forehead she noted a fever and that had been easy enough to see evidence of, but it was good to confirm it. "Sore throat?" Feeling along the woman's throat she didn't get any indication, but the cough sounded bad. "Open up." Looking into Kalizda's mouth she frowned and then looked at Illya. "Open your mouth." His mouth looked the same. There was that slight pin, prick rash in the back of the throat. It wasn't something that they felt, but it was usually an indication of the Chip cough. One of the more reliable ones. Looking back into Kalizda's throat she frowned and then listened to Kalizda's lungs and then Illya's. Sitting back she waited for them both to break into coughing fits. It was impossible, but it appeared that Kalizda had somehow contracted Chip cough.

After she thought about it she put the herbs back and then got out new ones and made the chest rub at a small dose for Kalizda. She didn't need anything as strong as her husband. Handing the little tub to Kalizda she shook her head, "I don't know how....It's just...You have the Chip cough."

With the woman taken care of it was time to speak with the Chippequoti. It seemed he had back pain and she knew there wasn't much to do. "Well, there is an adjustment I could do, but it does hold risk of making things worse. Otherwise I have some rubs and some herbs for you to try. You'll know if it works in about 3 weeks. If it doesn't work in that time, then you'll need to do something else."

Illya thought for a long moment about asking for the adjustment. He wanted the pain to stop, but he also knew that making it worse would be unbearable. "I jes use dah rub and herbs eh?" Taking the medicine from her and handing it to Kalizda he sent her back toward their ship while he paid the Pithian woman. "Tank yah." Quietly he headed back to the ship. 3 weeks to see if worked felt like a long time, but it wasn't any worse than he was now. All he had to lose was the chance that it might not work and there were still other options.

*******************************************************

If she was going to come show proper jealousy Ahvah figured she may as well be dressed for the occasion. She was in one of her better dresses and everyone on the transport stared at her. Perhaps they thought it was odd that she was wearing a ceremonial sword with the dress. Ahvah shifted every now and then in her seat and when they were finally ready to land she sent a hologram message to Ehvan. "I'm at the port, be sure to come get me." If he'd been prompt about things he would already be at the port because she told him which transport she was arriving on, however he was sick and he didn't feel well. If he partied his stomach was probably giving him trouble too. As she stepped off the transport Ahvah took a deep breath. She hadn't been to Kinte before. There were so many people.

The tall dark woman with flowing black hair pulled into a loose braid and strands of gold laced into the hair commanded attention. Her dress made her look like royalty of sorts and she carried a sword comfortably. By the way her eyes scanned the crowd it was obvious she was looking for someone. That someone was easy to spot as a tall, dark, handsome Chip man that towered above the crowd of people came through the milling crowd.

A broad grin was spread of Ehvan's face as he saw that not only had Ahvah come, but she came in her proper ceremonial gown. The one that made her look astounding. She was amazing and seeing her in that dress was truly wonderful. Daphne would know he was taken and in a glorious way too. There wasn't a woman out there that could compete with Ahvah when it came to beauty, ferocity, and skill. Offering her his hand the two of them walked back to Skycorp together.

The man at the gate saw Ehvan and like usual he opened the gate when Ehvan came. However, they weren't quite expecting Ahvah to stride through the gate in front of her husband. She'd stood beside him while he checked in, kissed him on the cheek and then walked through in front instead of saying goodbye.

"Where is she?" Ahvah asked in Quoti as she strode toward what looked like a courtyard. Ehvan gently grabbed her hand and pulled to direct her toward the commons room. Last he'd seen Daphne she was there.

When the two of them entered the room Ehvan stepped aside to let his wife do her thing. Ahvah had all eyes on her and she looked the people in the room over before she spoke in her less than perfect Trader's Tongue. "I'm looking for dah one called Daphne. She es trying tah tempt meh man and I'm here tah challenge her. I will prove tah her and Ehvan dat I'm better woman."

A shy, tiny little thing stood up and Ahvah saw the look of horror on the woman's face. Perhaps she didn't know the custom, however she was going to find out. If Ahvah didn't go through the process Ehvan would be horribly offended and rightly so. Ahvah beckoned to Daphne. "Yah will come out to dah field and we will bot demonstrate our skill wit sword. First, I will present meh technique and skill and den since yah have no sword yah may use mine tah present technique and skill."

Without waiting for anything further Ahvah glanced at Ehvan and gave a firm command. "Show meh dah place tah demonstrate skill wit sword." Ehvan nodded and immediately turned to begin walking toward the field. She would have a chance to show her ability in the space toward the center of the running track. There was plenty of grass and space for the demonstration.

A crowd of Skycorp cadets piled out after them and more seemed to appear from every which direction. Ahvah simply ignored them and strode comfortably into the grass. "I'm here tah show all of yah dat I'm better woman for meh man, Ehvan. I will demonstrate beauty, strengt, and skill. He will decide at dah end ef he wants meh, or Daphne. Ehvan will show his preference by taking dah hand of woman he wants." There was no question in her mind who he would choose, but everyone else needed to know how this would go.

With ease she drew the sword and raised it up. Though the men had a more complicated dance with their swords, she could still perform well enough. The bodice of her dress kept her arms free to move as she needed, the skirts around her legs made her look almost as if she were floating with each turn, side step and sweep. The sword whistled in the air with each swoop. One hand held the small sword as she directed it and the other was strictly used as a part of the dance. Her free hand would tilt and then her fingers would extend. The entirety of the dance was about beauty and strength. A weak woman would not be able to lift the sword with only one hand.

When she finished Ahvah walked over to where Daphne stood and planted the edge of the sword into the ground in front of her. "Now, yah have chance tah demonstrate yah skill and beauty." Ahvah had to bite her tongue as she noticed the woman hadn't even bothered to dress up to try and impress Ehvan. If she wanted she could have requested that they wait while she got something better to wear, but to mention that now would likely be insulting since it appeared that no one here besides the Chippequoti knew what was happening.

********************************************************

They didn't get home till Saturday afternoon and Illya was already tired out and somehow sicker feeling. The kids were eager to see them and all gurgly with their own horrid coughs. It didn't look like any one of the children slept well. Illya thought about making dinner, but he took one look at the kitchen, thought of all the work and turned around to go sit on the couch. When he got there he felt even more lazy and decided to lay down. It wasn't long till the rest of the family decided to join. Kalizda came in with that longing look and he turned to his left side and made room for her to squeeze onto the couch with him. Then the kids came in dragging their little blankets. Cypher and Lohgan both climbed on top of Illya and perched there while the twins seemed to be content to crawl over top of everyone while cooing and coughing.

Cypher decided it wasn't warm enough and spread the giant gold blanket over the entire family and then turned it on high. With the family comfortably roasting in their self made oven the coughing only got more productive. The longer they laid under the blanket the more comfortable it got and the less inspired Illya felt. He wanted to stay here. However, the kids would be hungry and he was getting there himself. "Kalizda, I tink we jes order. Grab meh pad from coffee table eh?" She could reach it without having to get up and then they could all get food coming. "We jes order and den I pay for et tah be delivered too. I dun want tah get up to go get dah food."

********************************************************************

Sunday morning Illya didn't feel any better. They'd eaten dinner and been lazy on the couch the rest of Saturday night till it was bed time. The kids were in their pajamas all day and that was good. He didn't have energy to get them changed and neither did Kalizda. Instead they went to bed like two old people and cuddled for warmth more than anything with their heated blanket on high. For all that he would have thought he should feel better.

Sitting up in bed he coughed some and then began pushing the covers back. "Ugh...I tink I take bat dis morning and jet sit in dah hot water. Maybe dat help." His chest felt extra tender. After he ran the hot water Illya sank into it and leaned his head back. It occurred to him that he might have a seizure while he was in the water and he almost got out, but decided to stay. He didn't feel like trouble was on the way. "Kalizda yah might get en ef yah want tah make cough better eh?"

When he finished sitting in the tub for nearly half an hour he got out and started to get dressed. His pants and shoes were on and he was reaching for his shirt when a coughing fit started. At first he didn't cover his mouth and quickly did so when he saw a few little splatters of blood fly out of his mouth and sprinkle his shirt. That wasn't a good sign. Turning mid cough with his hand over his mouth Illya stumbled for their bathroom and coughed several more times, this time over the toilet.

After the fit was over he looked in the toilet just to see what was there. The entire bowl was tinged pink, there were some floating clumps of blood, quite a bit of mucus and then two little pieces of metallic something. Almost instantly his heart started to pound. Was he coughing up shrapnel? That was bad, very bad. He did that only a few times. Kalizda came to check on him and she only took one look into the toilet and immediately directed him to get ready to go see the Ehaui.

Even if Illya would have wanted to avoid that visit he knew he wouldn't get to. When they reached the clinic the Ehaui were waiting and they listened to his lungs and then ordered a basic chest scan. It was all routine till the chest scan came back. The doctor rushed in and told Illya to get ready for a small procedure. "You've got a piece of shrapnel moving toward a critical blood supply in the chest cavity. We'll have to remove it. You will need to stay here overnight after the procedure for observation and if everything looks good in the morning you can go home. Earliest you can return to activity is Tuesday."

With a groan Illya started to strip off his clothes. He hated these little emergency surgeries and he would miss the first class Edgar held on Chip culture. However, he would be there for the second class on Tuesday. Perhaps it would be a good thing that the coming week was more simulation and less active classes. Once he was ready for the procedure he gave a wimpy smile to Kalizda. "I be jes fine."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Priscilla crossed her arms and stared at Ehud as he sank into bed.By God did she care about him, but sometimes she wanted to ring his neck. In that aspect, he and Harry were very much alike. He didn’t want her to be angry, of course he didn’t, but he had the nerve to condescend to her too. Or maybe he really was just tired already. Tired of her and whatever effort he thought he had put into their relationship. Hadn’t he already said he didn’t think this would be that much work?

Finally her mouth opened and clicked shut, slamming her teeth against each other before she could try again. “Telling me ‘ it feels like you’re ripping my leg off’ is alot different from ‘hey I think I might have busted a stitch and I’m bleeding’” she told him, “And I’m going to give you some communication too. I’m not happy. Ever since we’ve gotten married you’ve been strange. We dated for an entire year and you were shy, yes...but you were open eventually and sweet. We at least did talk about a few things. Now...now...you act like an automaton. We do things together and we work together but any of that closeness we’ve built feels obliterated. Especially, when you say things like you didn’t even notice how we didn’t speak for three weeks after our wedding.

“I’ve gone through all of the things I can possibly think of, every reason I can imagine, as to why you changed from someone intuitive to letting your wife sit beside you every night without much interest. I can’t figure out what I’ve done or why you suddenly act like you can’t just talk to me like you did on a date or the night before our wedding. The only thing I know is that I’m trying too, but I don’t know how to bridge this gap with you.”

She spilled it all out to him. If he wanted a little communication, he was going to get overwhelmed by it. “And I’m sorry if you think that’s it’s so much work and I should let you rest. Maybe I should just let you rest. I don’t know anymore. I’m not mad anymore...I’m just…” She didn’t want to say the word lonely and it caught in her throat as she struggled.


The tremendous amount of information that burst out of Priscilla left Ehud awe stricken. What was he supposed to say to all that. "Wuh...Well you said you didn't want me to be the spy. I just quit doing the spy stuff and I didn't do the research on you anymore. It's really hard to please you when you don't sit down and volunteer information until you're mad. I didn't want to hold a secret inquisition or anything." Ehud decided to sit up on the bed again and he stared into her face. "Sorry you're not happy, maybe you liked the spy better than the tailor. I'm doing my best and I have to admit I'm about as happy as you are."

Pris was shaking with the effort of everything bubbling up at once and while she knew he couldn't be happy with her, hearing it was hard. Her brow cinched and she looked at him with sadness diffusing the anger. "Ehud, there's a difference between not going overboard with spy work on your spouse and still showing enough interest in them that they don't think they've just married you to fill a hole on a bloody checklist. I never said stop asking. Ehud...that's the only way you were going to get to know me. I'm not the Haza you grew up knowing everything about and I'll volunteer things about myself like I did last night but when someone doesn't show interest it in, even that seems pointless." Now her eyes were burning with tears and she sniffled some. "It didn't matter what your occupation was, Ehud. I care about you and try to show interest in what you love too."

"Then fine." Ehud grumbled. He hated that she was already getting emotional about this and the fact was he felt emotional too. "I'll do what I can. It's just that the spy is hard to separate from the tailor. You're asking me to do something I don't think I can, but I'll try. I will try to be both for you."


Pris wanted to scream but instead she wiped her eyes roughly with the heel of her hand. then folded her arms around herself. Why had she done so much crying over the last few days? "Ehud....you can be a tailor and still ask your wife things about herself....you can still be curious about her. Just like I still want to learn about you. It's not going to be like growing up together, but I don't want it to be some chore that you loathe either."


The statement from her was overboard and Ehud took a deep breath. "It's not a chore. Let's both settle down and lets not get upset with each other for all this. You can't change that I'm doing my best to figure this out and I can't help that you're doing your best and we don't know each other that well."


"No, I can't change that and we don't know each other well," she said. Her voice was quieter between a few sniffles but she didn't make a move toward him. "I want to get to know you better but I don't know how other than to talk with you like I did before. What can I do to make you happier? I don't even know the answer to that because everything has been so strange." She stopped talking for a moment and the realization kicked in that he had been trying to be all of this for her and probably felt just as strange as she did. Just as lonely. "I'm sorry."

At least they came to a sort of truce for the time. "I'll start asking more questions, or maybe just start narrating part of what I'm doing because that's what comes to mind. Really, I don't know what else to do, but narration is good yeah?" Ehud had a slight grin sneaking to his face. He knew it sounded dorky and while it may have sounded like a joke he was entirely serious.

Her blue eyes studied his face and she could see some of that shyness peaking through along with some of his humor, just there between all the chaos. The suggestion wasn't a deflection to lighten the mood despite what the ghost of a grin coming to his lips might say. She knew him at least well enough that when he said things they were most likely serious in nature. A small, choked laugh made her break some and she wiped at her eyes again. "Asking more questions would be good, though I worry what thoughts I might produce from you if you narrated those out loud." She imagined at this point any narration might be accompanied by an exasperated tone. Priscilla took a small step forward and then another until she was standing beside him as he sat on the bed. Lowering herself to the bed was harder than she thought it would be and her sore thigh gave up the effort half way down, causing her to plop gracelessly beside him on the mattress. Her long fingers came up to brush along his cheek where the stubble had been shaved away. "And she kissed his cheek," she said, leaning down to do that, "and said ' I'm sorry. I don't want us to be lonely anymore'" She meant what she said. The bottom line was she did care about Ehud and somehow he had gotten it into his head to be this way. That was her fault and she would try to fix it how she could.

Ehud couldn't help the grin that came to his face when she began narrating. He hadn't really meant for her to do it, but it did sound funny. "Oh..." At least he was prepared for that kiss and he returned it gently. "Well, I don't think I need to narrate this part. I'm sorry too and I love you." Adjusting how he sat on the bed a little bit he kissed her again and then smiled. "Maybe we should take that day out even if we're sore. Go eat somewhere nice."

His grin was brilliant and she chuckle when he smiled at her without some sort of measure for the first time in weeks. Rather than kissing her cheek, he aimed for her lips, kissing them gently. Then he said something she hadn't heard in a few weeks either. I love you. It made her relax some and her heart flutter a bit like a little girl's when he said it and she knew he was serious. Ehud adjusted on the bed a little to kiss her again, this time a little more thoroughly before suggesting they go out and have lunch somewhere nice." Her fingers cupped his cheeks and she could feel his smile beneath her palms. "Hmm...I think we both might look a little rough plopping into chairs at a restaurant. I was a bit ambitious. What if we stayed in with each other today....and then went out tomorrow?"

The suggestion for tomorrow was what he thought he was getting at. He could see how she might have thought he meant today and he nodded. "Tomorrow will be great. Gives me time to think about where I want to take you."

Priscilla smiled as she nodded and then leaned in to give him one more little kiss. "And today we can stay and be with each other. ....after I shower..." She knew she must look like a wreck and a shower was much needed to make her feel human again. Plus, she was positive Ehud didn't want to snuggle a smelly wife. "Don't go anywhere. I'll be back in a few minutes." Kissing his cheek, she smoothed the hair at the nape of his neck and rose with effort to her feet.

After her shower, she emerged into the bedroom freshly shaved and her hair drying in soft curls around her cheeks. It always did that when she didn’t dry it with some sort of purpose or style. Since they weren’t going anywhere, she wouldn’t need to do it in anything overly complicated. She had bothered to put on a little light make up so he didn’t see her completely undone.

Wrapped in her fluffy robe, she poked her head into the bedroom and spied Ehud laying where she had left him. He was handsome, especially when he smiled, and she was sure that he was oblivious to his own good looks sometimes. She plopped down to the bed again and took in a deep breath before scooting just close enough to feel the heat of his skin close to her. Then she inched her head over and laid it on his shoulder. “Hi there.” The shower had helped her relax some and it washed away the feelings from before. Maybe they could start again and she could fix what had been broken between them because of what he thought she expected.

Pris kept herself close and comfortable, then began to talk some. She told him a little about life growing on her large, horse farm along with some of the troubles they’d had. How she would ride her favorite horse, a gelding named Fresco with black and white patches all over him. “He was an easy going horse and also ended up as my first painting subject. That’s how I discovered landscapes were more my strength. The painting made him look like a spindly legged cow.”

She chuckled some and thought back to that painting. It was probably long gone in a landfill, ejected from her father’s home after she married Harry. The thought of her father made a stone grind in her stomach and she puffed out a sigh as her hand drifted up to play with the sparse, soft hair on Ehud’s chest, her fingers petting at him more out of instinct than any conscious effort.

“My father’s name was Fred and he loved those horses too. Our ranch was going under when the breeding business went down hill with the rest of the economic decline though. I still remember how he looked sitting over the bills on the table late in the afternoon. I would have been about twelve or so. That summer he would shoo me outside then lock me out until it was time to cook supper, even if I begged to be back inside before then. And then one day, a man in a suit came with my grandfather and everything was fixed. We kept everything. All of the horses, including my Fresco. Anyways, I didn’t know it at the time but the man was from a company owned and operated by the Federation. Suddenly things got better and we had money coming in again...but I didn’t know the cost of that for a long time...until I went to college.” She shivered involuntarily and adjusted her head on Ehud’s shoulder. “That’s how my brother found work in the Federation. The man just offered him a job and he told me ‘Prissy, I’ll be gone a long time for work, I love you and do well in school’ and that was it. I didn’t know until much later what he did for ‘work’ either.”

Her fingers curled over Ehud’s heart and she sighed. Talking about home got her thinking too much about those things she had kept hidden for a long time. Then again, it could be Bryant’s messages that spurred her into thinking about her family too. They talked a little more, and she left the subject behind in favor of better things until Ehud’s stomach let out a growl. “Oh,” she chuckled, “Stay here and I can go fix us some sandwiches and we can deal with dinner later. I didn’t go grocery shopping.”

The fridge was looking a bit empty when she inspected it and eventually she settled on making them two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She had thick, creamy peanut butter in the cabinet and it only took two spoonfuls alongside some strawberry jelly to make a hefty sandwich. With an expert slide of the chef’s knife, she removed the crusts and cut them into neat triangles.

She arranged them neatly in order on the plate, then placed the plate on a tray and poured up two glasses of nyte beast milk to go with it. Nyte beast milk wasn’t entirely like cow’s milk, but cow milk was impossible to find on Kaereal. Before she took the tray to the bedroom, Pris picked up her pad and thought about what Ehud might like for dinner. She did want to do something for him. Something that showed she wanted to know him and paid attention to his needs too. What would a Chip man like to eat? All Illya ever ate was heart clogging gravy when he cooked. The thought of that meal made her cringe a bit but maybe once in awhile that wouldn’t be so bad if Ehud liked it. Ordering the groceries for snake stew took about a minute using her pad and once that was done, she plucked up the tray to bring him his lunch.

*****************************

The grocery delivery came right on time and Priscilla reached into the grocery bag to remove everything the delivery man had brought for them. She had told Ehud dinner would be a little bit of a surprise and he would just have to wait until the groceries arrived to see what it was. She fumbled around the canvas bag, finding all of the herbs she needed in fresh bundles. “There’s the herbs,” she said to Ehud, placing them on the counter. “Basil, thyme, rosemary and something else the Kaereleans seem to like. The red grass.” A bottle of oil joined the herbs and the last thing she needed in the sack was wrapped in a cold cloth at the bottom. The snake. This was the part she didn’t know much about. Surely, deboning a snake would be comparable to doing it with fish?

She pulled out the snake carcass and uncovered it from the cloth next to the stove where a pan had been set to warm up for pan-bread. “I thought you might like snake stew,” Pris said with a smile, “I’ve never made it before but I can pretty much put it together from what I’ve seen Calysta and Illya do. Hopefully, I can do it justice.” She was hoping he would like it since he was kind enough to make Terran foods for her all of the time.

It didn’t take much to get the pan bread going and a basic gravy with butter and flour with milk bubbling in the pot next to that. She let Ehud julienne the herbs so he could add as much or little as he liked while she turned her attention to the snake meat.

The snake was a sleek looking fellow about 3 feet long and about 4 inches thick around the middle. It still had it’s pretty black scales with the occasional spot of white along it’s head.

“Well, this can’t be that hard,” Priscilla mumbled to herself. She stretched the snake out over her cutting board, holding the head between her thumb and forefinger, then reached for the knife. Suddenly, the snake began writhe in her hands. “Oh! Oh!” It was alive! Priscilla squealed and out of instinct threw the angry critter into the sink. It flopped with a heavy thump and knocked down the potted plant in the window. The pottery shattered into the sink with an explosion of dirt, as the snake made an attempt to escape. “Ehud! It’s still alive!”

*************************************


Daphne stood in the mud staring the sword with wide brown eyes. The blade was nearly as tall as she was and there was no reasonable way for her to even pick it up as deftly as this other woman had, much less use it with any kind of skill. The people gathered around them were stone silent, even her friends didn't know what to say. If she turned and ran away, she'd be marked a coward. If she picked up the sword, she would look equally inept and foolish in front of everyone. All because she'd had a crush. Her lips twitched some and she bit her top teeth over them to stop the nervous tick before reaching for the sword.

]
If she was going to look stupid either way, it wasn't going to be because she ran away. Now, it wasn't even about Ehvan. It was about facing up to whatever she could bravely. Her small, pale hands wrapped around the handle and she gave it a tug. The weight of the sword worked immediately against her muscles and made it clear she would need two hands. Clasping the other hand around the first, she grunted and hoisted the sword high. She had no idea how to use a sword. A machete and bow staff were her people's weapon of choice. Not some clunky blade the size of a man.(edited)


[]
The sword was incredibly heavy but she made her attempts to lift it up, her muscles aching with the effort and her feet bracing in the mud. She used machete swipes, but they were uncontrolled and a bit wild. On the fifth swing, her muscles gave out on the upward motion and the tip of the ceremonial sword, sank against all her efforts, into the mud. Rather than make it look like she couldn't go any longer, she shoved the point into the mud to make it stand up, as if it were a purposeful move then backed away, staring at Ahvah as fiercely as she could and horribly embarrassed at the same time.
When the less than spectacular display was finished Ehvan quietly reached for Ahvah's hand and gazed into her eyes. The Chip woman raised her chin and returned his gaze. Neither of them kissed but she smiled gently and rested one of her tanned hands on his right cheek. "Let me talk with her." Speaking in Quoti she waited for him to agree and then she turned toward Daphne. "We go talk, please." She could only hope the young woman would be willing to speak with her. It was embarrassing and Ahvah had a feeling that the young woman didn't know and she would save her the grief of pursuing any of the Chip men.

Daphne watched as Ehvan wordlessly went over to his girl friend....or his wife....it wasn't entirely clear which in some ways. That sealed the nail in her coffin of embarrassment but she still stood there unwilling to let anyone see her sink further into the grave. A few words were passed between the tall Chip couple until the overly dressed woman turned and asked to speak, adding on a nicety she could have just used before this mess. Daphne's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but nodded. When they agreed to talk most of the crowd around them began to disperse since the fight or display was over.


Since the young woman consented Ahvah nodded to Ehvan and he left with the others. Walking over to the sword she pulled it out of the ground casually and began to speak. "I am sorreh for dis. Ehvan es meh agreed. Et es same as yah say, married? We are togeter for many years, about 160 years. All dah Elite have agreed women and all of dem are wit dere woman for more den 30 years. I do dis because et es expected dat when a woman tries tah get attention of man dat es already taken dat a good agreed will challenge dah oter. At dis time he can choose new woman, but he will be exiled from all his people for breaking tradition. Meh Ehvan es nut one dat will change his mind. He will choose meh same as he did when I turn 17. Do yah understand now? Et would be like meh rejecting him ef I dun come when he call and say dat yah pursue him."

Daphne listened to what the woman had to say in silence other than her eyes widening at just how old Ehvan really was. He was over 160 years old?! He could be her grandfather twice over but he look like a man who wasn't a day over 25 and well within her eligibility range. Apparently, by some tradition, when her man called about someone interested in him she had to come or it would be considered an out right rejections of 160 years of marriage. Her eyes flicked back to her tall partner and then to the woman in all her sparkling, green regalia. Daphne stuck her hands into her jumpsuit pocket and sighed. She was no home wrecker. "I get it. Though, if it was an issue, it probably could have been avoided by mentioning he was married and I would have left it alone. I'm 20 years old and if I'd known, I'd have been a better combat partner perhaps." Her cheeks were burning red hot and the morning mist practically sizzled against her skin. "At least you did come out to defend him. I guess I can't really fault you for that."

"I understand." Ahvah nodded. "We are still learning much about yah customs and I realize when I come dat yah dun know dis. I will talk tah Ehvan and send note to dah General. Sometimes men do nut see such tings and dey do nut know how et hurts women. Dey are different dat way. None of dah Elite would have wanted yah shamed. Dey are sworn tah protect all dose weaker den demselves even ef et means dey must die. Dey will be more careful of yah customs and I will make sure dat dah General and Counsel Woman make dis known. Ef yah want Chip man for yah agreed yah come at dah change of dah season for pecking and yah see all boys dat turn tah men dat season. All of dem 17, or older will be dere. Ef he lose his agreed and he es single he can choose tah stand wit dah young men. Many of dem already know who dey want, but dah woman must ask him and he will agree if he wants her."


"I think...I think that might be a good idea..." Daphne said, "The note I mean...and I might make another suggestion...if you come to Kinte or the other continents...wear a ring of some sort of your left hand. The finger here-" - she lifted her finger to show Ahvah- "It's kind of a Terran tradition, but most Kaereleans have learned from the Terrans it means someone is married...er...agreed. I saw the Councilwoman and Blackwolf wearing them, so I thought that Chips had the practice too. Kaereleans have a dozen other ways of showing they're taken. None of the Chip men have them, so they all look...well...eligible." She winced some as she thought of her embarrassment again. It also stung a little that it was assumed she was weaker. Of course, her little sword display hadn't exactly proven otherwise so she said nothing about that comment. Thinking that the other men didn't want to see her shamed didn't do much for comfort, but maybe she could make sure it wouldn't happen again. Since they were all taken. The tidbit about some sort of season change she didn't entirely understand but it sounded a bit like speed dating.

Of course the young woman had a good idea for the Chippequoti wearing some kind of indication that they were agreed and Ahvah smiled. "I will mention dis." She could not guarantee that it would hold, or that Illya would require it. However, it could be helpful and perhaps it would prevent future misunderstandings. "Usually et es safe tah bet dat ef yah see a Chippequoti older den 17 dat dey are agreed. Oterwise ask dem."


"I'll remember that and I'll probably tell all the others about that too....nobody really knows that...." she said with a nod. Then she remembered she didn't even know this woman's name. Taking a step back, she bent at the waist and give he woman a bow with her hands at her sides, her eyes never moving from her gaze. "I'm Daphne. but you already knew that, huh?"

Ahvah stared at the woman when she bowed and she didn't return the gesture. "Yes, I know yah name. Ehvan es attentive and he knows dis. Meh name es Ahvah Golden Lion 62 Pente of Julius." If the woman was going to formal about it with a bow, then Ahvah would give her best reciprocation. "Now yah know meh name and we are formally introduced."

The woman didn't return the gesture and Daphne assumed it was because she didn't know, which was fine. At least nobody else looking on couldnt say she didn't talk with the woman in good faith now. Ahvah's name sounded like over done royalty titles and Daphne bit her tongue in the effort of keeping the thought from being voiced. "Aye, I guess we are," Daphne said as she straightened, "I think maybe I should also speak with Ehvan. I'm a good pilot, but I'm pretty sure he won't want me as a partner now. I wouldn't blame him." The thought of talking with him made a lump form in her throat. That was going to be mortifying. "But I do owe him at least the choice.."

It sounded as if Daphne were feeling a bit shy about the whole thing. "Yah may ask Ehvan, but dun be so sure dat he considers yah terrible partner. Et es his job tah work wit his partner no matter who dat es." Ahvah figured Ehvan would be his usual quiet self and simply accept the fact that Daphne was his partner and more than likely the woman was a good pilot as she said and that wasn't something that would make Ehvan dump her as a partner. He would only ask for a change in partners if there was real trouble.

"It doesnt mean he should have to be partnered with someone he isnt comfortable with, training or not, " she replied, "And clearly he was since you and I are here." Her eyes flicked to the tall man standing several paces away and waiting for his wife. Daphne wrestled her delicate features into a look of near neutrality and let out a sigh. She might as well go deal with this all at once. "If feels weird to tell you thanks for dragging me out here in front of all of these people and putting on a sword show for the right to your man, but thanks, Ahvah." Her lips quirked up into a small smile. "If he keeps me as a partner and I have to go into battle. You should know that I'd do what I could to make sure he came home to his wife., eh?" She didn't let Ahvah respond before she walked over to Ehvan and gave him a tiny shrug. "So....I guess I lost. I mean....if I'd known I wouldn't have tried. Who can compete with woman that shows up looking like a queen, huh?" She swallowed nervously and her hands worked themselves in knots in her pockets. "If you want a new partner, just say so and we can all go inside."

The little woman made a swift exit and Ahvah let her go. Ehvan was not expecting his tiny partner to approach him after that and he most certainly didn't expect her to offer for him to have a new partner. His blue eyes gazed down into her face and he felt a tinge of guilt. He felt badly because Ahvah really did show up in all her glorious clothing. "Well, I choose meh Ahvah and I tink ets good dat yah dun try tah get meh attention anymore. We still make good partners. I dun like changing tings unless yah need dah change. Too hard tah learn new habits. Ef yah really want Chip man, try going after Markus. I'll watch yah back. He's miserable and he dun have woman tah come defend him, but he's almost tree hundred."

"Well, in the interest of keeping habits," Daphne said a bit stiffly, "Then we should stay partners." His comment about Markus made her wince again. While Ehvan didn't look as old as he was, Markus, if she remembered right was the one partnered with Swyft. He had a blank look on his face most days and a sour one when he looked around at times. She could see why the man didn't necessarily have a woman to run to his defense. "Ah, polite pass. He's over 200 times my age..." Her voice trailed off and she felt the awkwardness growing between them. That little pearl was going to be there for awhile after this. "Anyways. We should go back inside. Its getting ready to rain again." She cast another look at Ahvah and tilted her chin in a nod of recognition before turning back toward the compound.

Ehvan started to laugh when Daphne made the pass. "Probably a good choice. I tink Illya would have saved yah ef yah tried." Ahvah shot him a disapproving look and Ehvan protested, "What? I make jokes!" The Chip woman shook her head. "No, yah being insensitive. Get inside I dun need yah coughing like an infected monkey." She was starting to get the cough herself and she didn't relish standing outside any longer than she had to. "Yah show meh where we get tea around dis place eh? Den show meh yah bunk and we lock dah room. No one gets en."

*************

Swyft sat in his office chair and sipped on his tea with milk. It was a flavorful tea but it lacked the kick of Terran coffee than he wanted. Apparently, Terran coffee in large amounts was not healthy for Kaerelean hearts and his wife had taken all the stuff out of the house, replacing it with something she called Earl Grey English tea. It smelled sweet and tasted alright, so long as he didn’t over steep it. She insisted that it was healthier with a bit of nectar and cream in it. He took another sip, smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t coffee.

He finished the article on genetic mutation treatments on his pad and then swapped his hologram view to the cameras that were networked through the compound to see the cadets zipping about going to their daily activities though there wasn’t any class. A few were in the lounge, studying or reading and there was a lovely woman in a green dress and a sword….


Swyft sat up suddenly. A lovely woman in a green dress and a sword! She stood alongside one of the Chip men and one of the new graduated cadets was thrust forward from the crowd. He knew most people by name, first and last, on the compound, though the Chip men were still a work in progress. He was certain the Chip man was Ehvan and knew the tiny Ewenian woman was Daphne Echyst. Whoever the woman in the green dress was, he knew she had to be a Chip, given her height and appearance...along with the size of the sword she carried. “What in the Two Goddesses is going on?”

Swyft sat down his tea and launched out of his chair, knocking over the cup over his desk. He ignored the mess mostly, only taking the time to snatch his pad off the table, then took off toward the lounge to see what in the Wilds an unauthorized personnel was doing on his compound with a weapon.

By the time he made it to the lounge there were only a few people left behind and all of them looked at him with concern. “Where?” he barked in Kaerelean. One of the confused men pointed toward the door leading to the practice field and courtyard which was overtaken by heavy fog. “Damnit.” The word came out in a Kaerelean growl as he marched across the room.

He expected that there would be some sort of riot going on with such a display, but instead he emerged from the fog to find the back of the crowd. They were ringed around the tall Chip woman who was in the middle of a display involving the long sword in her hand. Gritting his teeth, he began pushing his way through the cadets and other Chips alike to get to the young woman that had been challenged. He wasn’t about to let the girl die for whatever reason this fight had started.

Rather than shouting which would cause more chaos and possibly set off events further, Swyft pushed his way through. He had to man handle more than one stunned cadet off to the side and squeezing between the Chip men where he could until he popped out along the edges of the circle.

The Chip woman whirled around with her blade, trailed by the elegant green skirts and sporting an equally fierce look. She carried a strong grace that her height would suggest to be impossible, and her sword moved as an extension of herself. Whoever this female was, she looked and reacted like a confident queen. A man who had any appreciation for women at all would be piqued by the scene.

Swyft stood entranced by the exotic display as he realized that woman wasn’t there to kill anyone. He had watched what little historical accounts on Chippeqouti there were in the archives and studied what he knew of Illya. When a Chip wanted you dead they weren’t theatrical about it. They killed without hesitation once they had made their decision. So, if this woman had come here to kill, she would have already done it. Of course that didn’t mean she couldn’t change her mind or that the situation wouldn’t escalate.

He watched on as Daphne approached the sword with a pale faced expression of mortification. Whatever was happening had been entirely unexpected by the girl who had hardly turned 20. Swyft remembered that Daphne’s partner was Ehvan, the tall man who had stood by the Chip woman’s side in the lounge. She must have been a wife or girlfriend of some sort and Daphne was caught in some strange, Urian-esque courtship ritual.

After a moment of hesitation, Swyft saw the girl steel herself. She lifted the weapon with no small amount of effort, swinging it in wild, chopping arches. In comparison to the first show, Daphne Echryst was a sad display that ended in a half bake attempt to bury the sword in the mud. Swyft uncrossed his arms and waited to see if the Chip woman would pick it up, or strike out at the young cadet. If that were the case, he would have to step in and possibly use the pistol on his hip.
Instead, the woman stopped and asked to speak with Daphne. The show was over. Swyft could feel relief sinking into his muscles as the crowd began to disperse he stayed where he was to watch the two women talk.

The women had their little chat and then Daphne approached her towering Chip partner looking sheepish. He gave her a good laugh, then silenced himself when the sword-woman barked at him. She was definitely Ehvan’s wife.

When the two were done, he caught Daphne as she walked by. “Airman Echyst.” He could see her shoulders sag and her eyes clamp shut for a pitiful moment of ‘why me’ before she walked over to him. “A-Aye, Commander Swyft,” she said, meeting his gaze, “I’m guessing…”

“My office. Now.”

At the order, she straightened stiff as a ramrod then gave him a cursory nod. “Aye sir.” Then she walked around him to go inside. He knew she’d probably be bawling when he arrived in his office. He hated seeing women cry and especially when he knew he would be some of the cause, but there wasn’t any helping a sting over a crush. Unfortunately, all of his tissues were soaked with tea from the spill over his desk. Daphne would just have to sulk on her own shirt sleeve.

With Daphne on her way inside, he walked over to the Chip woman rather than Ehvan. He gave a short bow at the waist and didn’t wait for her to bow back since he knew few Chips were aware of that custom. “I’m Commander Swyft,” he told her evenly in Trader’s Tongue, “I’m the one in charge of the compound and responsible for the well-being of the people here. We haven’t had the chance to meet yet, but I am under the impression you are Ehvan’s wife...or...I think the term was agreed. I’m not going to stand in the way of a wife staking her claim, but you are on a secured compound that you need authorization to enter like any other visitor. You can go through the proper channels and ask for authorization to stay, or you have to leave through the gate directly from this field.”

********************
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
*******

Calysta laid over Illya’s chest as he talked to her in the darkness of their room. He was wheezing and took in a deep breath to speak. “I dun tink dat I say I et was wrong for meh tah treat ya like dat earlier. I dun know dat some of dah tings I saw sound insulting to yah, but et was wrong for meh tah say we should separate….”

She stayed quiet for a moment as he continued. “Kalizda, one oter ting. Dun let meh say tings like dat again. Separating es bad idea. I love yah Kalizda and I dun tink I would do well witout yah.”

Her thin, wire-muscled arms wrapped around his trim side and she gave him a gentle squeeze. She’d had a while to think about things in the engine room before crashing to sleep at the control panel. There had been so much anger compiled upon something worse than anger. Hurt.

It was hard to recognize it for what it was because for a long time she had made herself impervious to that sort of hurt. The kind of pain that was caused by rejection from purists and people like Jaiyme. In the past she just stuffed it all behind a nice little wall she had built and she could rationalize her way out of the emotional weakness. Somehow that wall was gone and it left her with roiling questions. How could he want to separate and seem so sure about it? How could he just demand it of her? Did he really think she was just using him as a puppet?

She had looked at her hands. He’d called them bird claws that got into everything. Things he would rather do alone. Hadn’t he said as much when he told her he didn’t have the time to talk to her?

The thought of even Illya finding it easier to push her to the side made her cry again in the engine room. They were supposed to stick together. What would she do? She could survive without having him close but the thought of it made that sore spot ache more and that little wall to cram any of those pitiful emotions behind was gone. It would be a lonely, awkward time. What if he found things were better without her being in his way...what then? They just divorced? What would happen to their children in their broken home?

Calysta had fought the urge to go back into the kitchen and demand he listen to her. That they couldn’t just separate because it was easier. Their children deserved a whole home at the very least. She wanted her husband too, but if she went in there and he rejected her again, it would make this sore spot worse. There was nowhere for her to hide it from anyone. Maybe that made her a coward?

When he had come to the door, a million things to say arched through her head but what she really wanted popped out first. She wanted him and he wanted her. That alone had made her doubts shrink with a wash of relief.

Now, Calysta listened to his rattling breaths as he told her he had been wrong to do what he did. He loved her and didn’t want to separate at all. Anger had driven them both to say things they shouldn’t have.

She gave him another gentle squeeze around his sides and brushed her cheek against his belly. “Aye,” she said, her voice barely audible, “We are better together and I’m...I’m sorry I didn’t listen like I should have. We won’t separate. Not now or ever. We’ll work it out even if it’s hard, yeah? I love you too much not to fight for you.”

Her throat tightened up and she held him as much as she could while a few stray tears of relief trickled out. Then she let out a deep breath and let her little fingers trace at his sides. Illya was a good man, a good father, and he belonged to her. Calysta wanted to keep talking but exhaustion was beginning to settle over her.

**************

Helena was much the same as Calysta remembered. The woman was practical and with that same no non-sense confidence as before as she made her inspection of them. Illya had insisted she go first and she would have argued...if she had a voice. She had woken up with out being able to speak one audible word thanks to her sore throat and chest cold. All she could do was squeak. The irony that she couldn’t speak while Illya had promised to talk more with her wasn’t lost either.

Calysta tried to tell Helena it was good to see her, but it didn’t do much good and the woman was already moving to look into her throat. Whatever she saw must have been troubling because she took another glance at them. “What is it?” Calysta asked. It came out sounding like ‘eeek eeeeeeek ek’ and she frowned. Helena seemed to pick up on what she said at least, and answered.

She had Chip cough? Calysta blinked at the older Pithian woman in surprise at the diagnosis and then reasoned it out well enough. Her bones had been augmented with Illya’s marrow where her immune system had been strengthened well above the standard Kaereleans. The only thing that really got under a Chip’s immune system was the Chip Cough. It stood to reason that she would be susceptible too if the strain of the infection was powerful, or her Kaerelean immune system under stress. She wasn’t going to tell Helena that though, and counted herself lucky that her voice was gone, providing an excellent excuse to remain quiet.

The rest of the visit was more or less standard. Illya was given a strong medicinal rub for his back with the hopes that in three weeks he would see an improvement in his pain. Calysta said nothing when Helena offered the ‘adjustment’ method, but was glad when Illya decided against it. If it was anything like a Terran ‘adjustment’ it would sound too much like his back breaking all over again with the potential to make things worse.

They thanked the woman and made their way home in the sluggish fog of fevers. When the arrived, she was unsurprised to the children all had their own bouts of Chip Cough. Their snotty noses and wheezy shouts didn’t curb any of the enthusiasm when they stepped through the door though.

Cypher slammed into her legs and squeezed her knees, talking about his week as he coughed. All she could do was nod with as much energy as she could muster. Lohgan has her turn, thrusting her newly painted rainbow nails at them. “Look. I made et rainbow!”

“I see,” Calysta said. The words sounded like a dying duck and all the children stared at her for a moment before bursting into a fit of giggles.

“Say it again Mam!” Loghan squealed.

Calysta squeaked again and the children laughed. Of course, they were giving Mam a hard time and she wouldn’t have had it any other way. As she ruffled Edgar’s hair, her father came around the corner looking under the weather too. He had deep circles under his eyes and a red, puffy nose to match. Apparently, his Chip immune system had been no match for the Chip Cough either.

“Hi sweebtie,” he said thickly, “I’mb glab you’re homeb.”

He kissed her cheek and scooped up Edgar so they could all move further into the house instead of just planted in the doorway.

When things began to settle down again, Illya took up residence on their soft, heated couch. It only required a longing look from her to get her husband to lay on his side where she could snuggle up to him. Calysta slipped into his arms with her back facing his chest so they could stay close and still watch the children around the room. Cypher looked as if he had grown an inch and lost some of his baby fat, making him look more grown up. He looked like his father with those wild rumpled curls on top of his head too. Lohgan’s hair was longer too and her green eyes sparkled with mischief despite how sick she was. Edgar and Tomas were much the same except for the fact that Edgar’s little paunch belly was more rotund.

It had only been a week or two since she had seen her children but that week seemed like a year. When they all began to calm down and realized Mam and Dah were there to stay for awhile, each of them wandered over to the couch. Cypher piled next to her and she tucked him in close with the gold blanket, kissing the top of his head in the process. Logan followed with her little blanket and found a niche behind her knees. The twins were content to flop out over the rest of them. With the gold blanket pulled tight over them, Calysta was content to let a feverish nap take over. She had her husband close and her babies with her. They were safe, if not entirely healthy at the moment, and it was the most at peace she had felt in weeks.

*********

Thomas sat back in his arm chair with a hanky in one hand and his Bible propped on one knee. He had been reading more frequently when he wasn’t teaching Terran study classes at the school on Pyrta. As he read over a verse in Corinthians, he felt the familiar tickle start in his throat and then hacked into his hanky.

Nearby, he could see the large, gold lump on the couch where his daughter and the rest were napping. Calysta’s pink cheeks were barely visible on the edges of the heated blanket. She was tucked tightly against her husband, but he could tell she still felt miserable. She slept with her mouth open and her brow furrowed with the occasional small whimper, when she was sick. At that moment, her mouth was wide open while a glob of drool formed at the corner of her lip before dribbling down to Illya’s arm. He was going to be slimy when he woke up. There was a small bit of satisfaction in knowing Calysta was drooling on him.

It reminded Thomas of Calysta when she was a child. There were plenty of days in and out of the hospital that she fell asleep like that. Not all of them were days were it was safe for her to be held when she felt awful. He didn’t mind the drool so much as long as she had been able to rest. Of course, there was one major difference he noticed. Every now and then he could see her fingers twitch, patting at Illya’s shoulder as if to make sure he was still there. When she felt his shoulder there, she would close her mouth and let out a long sigh before dropping her jaw open again. There wasn’t any miserable, unconscious whimpering either.

He stared at his daughter and his grandchildren, all of them piled around the big Chip man. If he were honest, he had thought Calysta’s marriage to the man was a mistake at first. An absolute disaster waiting to happen. Looking at them now, he concluded that even if it was a disaster, it was a good one. He had four beautiful grandchildren and his daughter had a man who had faults, but lack of love wasn’t one of them. It was a comforting thought.

Thomas stretched his legs out and pulled his own wool blanket over his legs, determined to take a nap for himself before the dinner Illya ordered arrived.

**********

**********

Calysta protested with a small squeak that turned into a groan when Illya coughed and rolled out of bed. Without him under the covers to cuddle, the mattress felt cold and empty. He mentioned something about a bath, then the distinct sound of the tub being filled with water echoed from the bathroom. Her joints ached when she moved and mostly she just wanted to lay there, but the hot water would probably help her lungs and her sore body. Rather than saying anything, she peeled out of the bed and shuffled to the bathroom where Illya was already sinking into the tub.

Her voice had yet to repair itself, so she merely leaned down and give him a kiss on the forehead, then climbed in along side him. How this was going to work with his week long celebacy she didn’t know. What she did know, was that if he asked for sex now, she’d have to tell him no. She could hardly breathe properly much less find enough aerobic energy to have bedroom fun.

Calysta sank into the waters with him and stewed for awhile, her small hand resting on his in the water. Ever since their argument, things had felt different between them, but not in a bad way. A barrier between them had burst like a callous and now things were raw and fresh. It was a fresh reminder of how they loved each other and the importance of communication. He hadn’t been the only one holding back in some ways. Part of her worried he might see her without all of those fail safes and decide it wasn’t worth the time. That thought had faded as the weekend wore on though. If he had come with her this far, he wasn’t going to leave because of something like that.

Calysta’s hand squeezed his gently as they stayed there in the warm for a long while. When Illya was ready to get out, she scooted up her legs to allow him space to move, then hauled herself out. His suggestion worked, to her surprise, and she did feel slightly better. She eased out of tub, then began the process of getting dressed. The task of getting dressed felt like a work out on its own, but she managed to pull on an old, comfortable tunic between bouts of coughing.

Illya was having the same issues and as he started to get dressed, he suddenly dashed off to the bathroom, covering his mouth from a coughing fit. “Illya?” His name was barely a whisper out of her throat. There wasn’t a reply other than more coughing and she frowned. Was he alright?

Following him into the bathroom, she found Illya stooped over the toilet which was sprayed with red. He was coughing blood now? She knew his lungs were damaged from the bomb that struck him so many years ago. This was the first time she had seen him hack up blood from the Chip Cough though. Her eyes widened at him. “Ehaui. Now.” She croaked out the words and went to get ready without delay.

***********

“You've got a piece of shrapnel moving toward a critical blood supply in the chest cavity. We'll have to remove it. You will need to stay here overnight after the procedure for observation and if everything looks good in the morning you can go home. Earliest you can return to activity is Tuesday."

The Ehaui doctor gave his prognosis in the same, matter of fact manner all Ehaui doctors did. While Calysta could appreciate the brevity, sometimes she wished they didn’t make phrases like ‘you’ve got a piece of shrapnel moving toward a critical blood supply’ sounds so mild.

Illya was already stripping down to prepare for surgery and trying to be comforting to her about it. Calysta didn’t speak but simply leaned down to kiss him so he would know she wasn’t going anywhere. Things were going to be okay.

**********

It wasn’t until Illya had returned from his surgery that Calysta perched on the side of his bed and took up her pad. There was a message from Commander Swyft marked urgent in her inbox. What could possibly have gone wrong while they were flying home? Biting her lip, she opened up the message with a swipe of her thumb and began to read the report.

Ahvah and broken into Skycorp dressed like a queen, singled out a female airman, then challenged her to some sort of claiming ritual in the middle of the day with ceremonial sword? Apparently, it was because the girl, Daphne, had a little crush on Ehvan. Wilds, if this happened every time there was a crush on one of the Chip men, the entire compound would be turned into a Urian court.

Calysta rubbed her temples as the hologram recording from the event played. Ahvah was graceful in her moves with the sword and exuded power, along with femininity. She found herself wishing she could dress more in the Chippeqouti style for Illya. He might like it if she could put on a show like that. It certainly got Ehvan’s attention and Illya had learned parts of her culture for her. She should try to do more Chippeqouti traditions too. Maybe this dresses were something to look into? There would be a need for them soon anyways, if she was going to show up as an advisor for him.

When Illya woke, she was there for him. “Hey,” she gurgled out, “When you’re awake enough, I have something to show you, yeah?” That was all she said to him. There wasn’t any point in stirring him up when he needed rest.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Now that they had their little anger fest and it was all out in the open Ehud felt some better. It wasn't quite as great as he had hoped, but he knew that he would feel better if they could just make it a few more days without that awkward feeling. That one where no matter what he did it wasn't pleasing to her. When Pris came out of the shower he was ready to doze off again, but she seemed refreshed and ready to talk about some stuff. Her chosen topic was about her family and he listened to her. It was not an uncommon story for those that had businesses. "Well, I'm sorry your family got in all that. Federation sure looked good to a lot of business owners." Half mumbling the words he rubbed one hand over her shoulders and he turned his head to the side so he could kiss her. Pris's face wasn't close, so he kissed her hair. It was good enough for the time.

Despite the fact that he was starting to fall asleep Ehud's stomach began to growl and he decided to ignore it for now. It was more of a gas bubble moving through. Instead of Priscilla settling in for the nap she decided to order groceries. Right now seemed like an odd time to do something like that, but he let her. They had a few more minutes in bed before she decided to get up and make sandwiches.

Ehud stayed in the bed all afternoon even after sandwiches and while she started to get things ready in the kitchen for dinner. He felt a little sore and far from ambitious. Why in the world she didn't order something he wouldn't know why. It wasn't like they couldn't afford a little take out meal. There were even children playing outside that would have gladly gone to the shop to get the food for them and come back with it for a few credits. Chippequoti children were good for that if nothing else. He had discovered it was a trait that had held even past the war. He even did it as a child. At least there was comfort that some things really didn't change.

When the knock came at the door he figured he might as well get up and go help make the food. Ehud slowly sat up and shifted himself to the edge of the bed. Throwing his legs over the edge of the bed he leaned forward with a grunt and put all his weight on his feet. That familiar pressure ran up his legs and ached deeply in his leg with the incision. He would need at the very least his pants and a shirt before he would be ready to cook.

Just about time Ehud stepped into the kitchen with his pants and shirt on Priscilla handed him some herbs. He was too tired to ask her what they were making. Despite the fact she'd made lunch for them and he rested all day he was far more tired than he had thought he would be. Sliding the herbs together he held them up and then let all the ends meet the cutting board before laying them down on it. Now they were at an event length for him to begin cutting. He was almost through cutting the vegetables and herbs when a sudden shriek made him jolt. His knife slipped from his hand and he started to turn only to find himself being clawed by his wife.

In the instant that she had slammed into him Ehud had found himself backed into the cupboards and she still kept climbing. He didn't even get to attempt to calm her and her legs were already wrapped around his waist with her mouth next to his ear as one hand wagged wildly pointing at the sink with her yelling "It's alive!" A giant, black snake writhed violently and hissed as it's massive, smooth head poked out of the sink. With a sickening thud it flopped out of the sink and began to slither toward them both at an alarming speed. Hunting a snake when one intended was one thing, but in this condition he wouldn't have considered it. "Shit." With a quick side step he tried his best to get away from the snake.

A hiss sounded as the snake made its hot pursuit of the couple. Ehud held Pris by her rump and did his best to use the other arm to catch himself as he leaned heavily toward a wall and then thrust away from it as he made an awkward tilting run out of the kitchen. "Eeeep!" Ehud glanced behind himself to see the snake was quite near. With a leap he ended with a crash landing on the couch and it tipped over. Ehud dropped Priscilla and he winced as he made his way around the edge of the couch to see that the snake was right there. Balling his hand into a fist he smashed the head of the creature with a sickening crunch and then he glanced over his shoulder at Pris. "I uh...I-I don't actually like snakes."

*****************************************

If there was one thing that caught Ehvan's attention from Swyft's introduction it was the rude dismissal. Ahvah had come all this way and she had proper identification and clearance. Maybe she didn't have a visitor pass, but she wasn't a visitor. She had a reason to be here. "Now yah jes wait." Taking a skip in his step to make the next one larger he came to stand in font of Swyft. "She es memeber of dah Alliance same as rest of us. Meh Ahvah's security clearance for Pytra es good. Ef yah all one Alliance why yah dismiss her now like her pass es no good. Yah do dis because she's Chip?"


Swyft turned his attention to Ehvan, who didnt give him much choice, as he started to get defensive over his wife. It wasnt entirely unexpected and he kept himself composed. Meeting the man's gaze, he shook his head. "No, Ehvan. It's not because she's Chippeqouti. She's a member of the Alliance like anyone else. Anyone from anywhere would have to have been cleared by security to come through the gates. They need a visitor's pass to visit this property no matter who they are. Even the council woman required one to visit your General while he was a cadet here. It's to keep account of who is on the property at any given time in case of emergencies and for general security practice."

"Den I use meh pass and I leave till dah General comes back. I confirm wit him dis story." Ehvan's right fist was clenched tightly at his side and the arm was held rigid with the elbow barely bent. "We jes go." Speaking between barred teeth he unclenched his fist long enough to offer his hand to Ahvah and a few of the other Chippequoti lined up behind them to leave for the weekend.(edited)

Swyft noticed the man's anger displayed in his fists and his clenched teeth. When he spat out about wanting to use his pass, the commander nodded. "Aye, you are well within your right to do so. Speak with the General on the matter and I will as well." Ehvan was so ready to be angry and distrust, but Swyft had told him nothing that wasnt absolutely true. If talking to Blackwolf was what it took for the man, then that was fine. He gave those lining up a respectful nod along with Ehvan. "Have a good weekend and Ms. Ahvah, I hope we have the chance to meet again under different circumstances."

**********************

The classroom was already filling when Edgar walked in. He didn't have very much with for the day in terms of structure. This was not lazy, it was intentional. At first he found the arrangement odd, but it was not difficult to figure out where he would stand. Slowly he walked up the steps to the podium and then looked around at all the faces. There were a few Chips among them, but not as many as he had thought would be present. It was the first day of this week and he would have a few words with Illya when he saw him tomorrow. "Now, we start wit most important part of Chippequoti culture. Dah questions dat yah all have. Dis es good time tah ask any of dose questions before we get started. Dis es one time dat yah ask witout any trouble. After we get furter into knowledge of Chippequoti dere will be some questions, but yah must use Chip way tah ask. What es first question yah have?"

Tiberius sat with his rare on the back of his seat already wondering how dull this class might be. He should have wanted to learn this for Sherri, and he did want to learn more about her, but it would be a challenge for him to sit still through another history and culture bit. The fact that their teacher came in looking wizened like a giant Methuselah did not raise his spirits that this would be an interest class. Tiberius glanced over at the commander who was gazing into his empty cup of what he suspected was coffee with a mournful glint in his eye. When everyone settled down and the first question was asked, it was strange, and the Kaereleans looked around, confused. Weren't questions better reserved for when the topic came up? Tiberius thought about the man's words and then slowly raised up his hands. "Yeah...uh...what's the Chip way to ask questions, uh...Elder. Sir?"

A slightly amused expression came to Edgar's face as the first question arose. It was a question about asking questions. "I see dat one of yah es intelligent. Chippequoti ask questions like dis. Tell meh yah name."

Tiberius immediately felt all of the eyes in the room turn to him. Everyone but the other Chippeqouti were practically searing in to him with their gazes as he tilted his head some to the elderly Chip. Did the man want the official rank? Or something else? Eventually, he said. "Tiberius, sir."

"Tiberius...." Edgar took a deep breath and nodded. "I remember dis. Dah rest of the class does nut demonstrate dah courage tah ask dose tings dey tink might offend even ef I say dis es time tah ask. Like all people many of yah will have ideas of what yah tink about Chippequoti. Yah see some of dem now for week and yah probably tink of questions. Like..." Pausing for a moment he let a wry smile come to his face. "Perhaps yah wonder why we like tah use buckets tah bate. Well, now yah can ask and I provide only answers for what yah want. Ef dere are no more questions I start wit first lesson."

Tiberius wasn't sure if the older man was referring to the way her asked the question or the question itself, but he veered toward the idea that anyone could ask anything and if they were bold about, it would be fine. Then he followed up the comment with what sounded like an open floor for questions about Chippeqouti in general. Several of the Kaereleans looked a bit confused, even Commander Swyft sat in his seat quietly pondering this strange, suddenly panel style meeting. There were a few beats of silence until a woman with a petite frame and dark black hair raised her hand. Daphne's pale cheeks tinged slightly pink, but she didn't back down. "Why don't Chippeqouti wear any signs or tokens that they are married?"

The next hand to go up was a woman and she appeared to be quite small even among her own people. "She es small and she es fierce." With a grin he nodded. "Yes, dah Chippequoti dun wear signs, or tokens because dey have ancient tradition dat dey understand. When boy becomes man at 17 he stands dah season he es 17 tah be chosen by a woman. Woman selects man dat she wants and he must accept, or refuse her offer. Den he shows her dah house dat he builds in anticipation of woman seeing him and she goes to her own home dat night tah tink on his capability. In dah morning dey meet and Elders witness dat dey agree tah be togeter now for life. Dey now are bound by dah four winds and all people know dis because dey do nut stand alone on dah first day of dah season."

The man's accent was a little heavy, but what everyone gathered was that Chip men were chosen by their women in a some what Urian fashion and then they were just married. Everyone knew it because it simply was. A hell of alot of help that was for outsiders. Tiberius had the wry thought as the girl nodded and went back to blushing in the quiet. After a few moments, he thought about a few things, mainly about what the man had said about weddings, then raised his hand again. "So, if a Chip man was serious about a Chip woman, he would build her a house? There's not really any courtship?"

There seemed to be an unusual number of questions regarding how they chose one another and the proceedings of agreeing. It was a mildly strange turn of events that Edgar had not anticipated. "No, dere es nut much for what yah call courtship. Ef a man and woman feel dat dere could be danger, or dey feel dey have tings dey must speak of before dey agree dey may request one night. Dis night dey stay awake in dah home of trusted friends, or family who guards bot of dem and dey will speak dat night of all tings dat must be considered before dey will agree. Dah house must be built before woman will consider man. Witout home does he expect her tah live in dah wild like animal?"

Tiberius scratched his head, the old man making him feel sheepish. How little he knew about what Sherri expected. This was getting more complicated by the second and he nodded a thanks to the old man. "Fair point, heh. Good to know..." After a moment someone finally took mercy on him and changed the subject. This time it was Swyft. The commander held up his hand to gain Edgar's attention with a patient gaze until recognized. "I have several questions, would you prefer I ask them all at once?"

For a moment Edgar thought he would be moving onto the first, small lesson since it fell to a dead silence in the room. Finally another hand raised and Edgar nodded to the young man. He only had a tiny bit of silver in his hair. "Yes, yah ask all of dem quickly as yah like. I answer et all at one time, or little bit at a time. Yah ask how yah like. Dah question should have sounded like dis. I have several questions. Yah answer dem yes?"

Swyft had to curb his initial reaction to give the elder a curious look when the man corrected the format of his sentence. It wasn't so much offensive as it was a strange what to format a request into a near demand. Illya had done that once or twice in conversation, but never outright corrected him on how to make a statement of fact over a question. The commander tilted his head in agreement, feeling much like he did in his youth at Skycorp. "Aye," he agreed. Rather than preempting his questions with anything, he began to list them off. "So, I'd like to know what the General is and does, what the council does, and how the Elite differ from the main Chippeqouti force. I'd also like know what are some of the Chippeqouti traditional past times. And why....they prefer bathing in buckets."

There were quite a few questions and Edgar decided to answer them in the order they were asked. "Dah General es a man, or woman of Chip blood. By tradition dey descend from first General of our tribe. Dey are chosen at birt tah be General and den dey are trained wit vigor and taken into battle young tah learn dah ways of war. General will command all dah Chippequoti military and en times of war dey rule all dah Chippequoti people. Dah council es made of dose who study dah world, medicine, peoples and all studies tah benefit dah Chippequoti. Council will rule en times of peace and as General tah be present in times wit troubles ef dey must seek advice. In times of war dah General may ask Council for advice as our General does. Chippequoti have careful balance of power. Dah Council does nut give away ets power unless et sees dat et es necessary for dah General tah lead for better lives for dere people. Dah General will nut give up his power until he sees dat et es peaceful and dah Council will heal dah people and land from many years of war. Now, dah Elite are dose dat train similar to dah General. Dey also train young, but dey dun see battle quite so early in dere lives. Dey are honored among all Chippequoti because each Elite knows dat dey must be willing tah die for any weaker den demselves ef dis one es under dere protection. Dah Elite are sometimes wild and sometimes dey break tradition, but dah Council understands dat dey do what dey must and dey carry burdens of our people dat we cannot understand. Traditional pass times will many times enhance dah skill of Chippequoti. Elite will wrestle, perform sword dances, run races and hunt among oter tings. Council members will begin debates and oter such tings tah keep dere minds and memory sharp. Finally, we dun bat en buckets, we bat wit dem. Buckets we use because we are exiled to dah planet Quoti for over 100 years and we learn dat all water es precious. We use only minimal water tah be clean."(edited)

Whatever dodgy answer Swyft might have thought he would get about such topics didn't come. A straight forward answer flooded out of the older man and he listened intently, nodding in understanding until it come to the correction about buckets. He understood that too, and suspected it given where they had migrated from, but couldn't help but asking since they now had steady supplies of water to allow for showers on Pyrta and in most places in Kaereal. A general murmur of surprise waded over some of the instructors and other pilots. Wasnt Blackwolf the general? That meant he was in charge of them all... Swyft wasn't entirely shocked about the revelation, but quite a few of them were. Tiberius shifted in his chair uncomfortably, thinking some odd thoughts he would have to square with the General himself later on. Swyft let them whisper as he raised his hand a final time. "I have one last question," he said, "you'll answer, yeah? Why do you call the council woman Kalizda?" He had been wondering that question for ages, and finally there was someone here who might answer.

Edgar was pleased that after a few had put in their first thoughts it seemed to come easier and now the odd curiosities that they had could be put to rest so that when they moved forward with the culture class it would be easier. They also learned the fine details of how to ask questions properly. "I answer dis question. Dah General call her Kalizda and introduce her to us as Kalizda. Kalizda es dah bird dat flies wit dah four winds. She es messenger of dah gods and she brings good and bad omens and she shows Chippequoti many tings tah make way of life in dah beginning. So dis Kalizda es like little bird to us."

This time, Swyft's surprise flickered across his face. They thought Calysta was some sort of prophet or oracle for their gods? Now that was certainly something they joked about in Skycorp. A scout making first contact and being mistaken for a god or some other creature was always a bit of a joke, but this had actually happened to some extent. Swyft nodded, making a mental note to ask the council woman about that later. It wasn't right for her to let them believe she was some sort of religious figure, if that was the case. "I see," he said. With that the room lapsed into silence for a few moments more after the whispers died down.

"Since dere seems tah be no more questions yah get tah have some lesson now." Edgar looked around the room at the faces. Many of them seemed to be in a silent shock, but they would have to get over it. "First lesson yah learn. Always watch dose around yah. Yah learn how tah ask questions, yah know some tings dat few of yah are brave enough tah ask. Now yah learn how tah make proper introduction. Best way tah learn es Chip way. Yah remember much better. First volunteer come up here, et cannot be Chip. Yah volunteer, or I peck one of yah."

Another silence filed in right behind Edgar's words until finally Swyft stood up and waved slightly. "I'll volunteer." Then he carefully made his way down the aisle to the center of the class room to await further instruction.

This class seemed to be quite nervous and dense. They were perhaps a bit less open than he'd been led to believe. "I tought Kaereleans were more eager tah learn about oter cultures. Yah jes stand dere. Dis es how yah introduce yahself?"(edited)

Swyft stood by for a moment as Edgar spoke and then smiled just a little at the corner of his mouth. "I think they are all just a little surprised," he said, "Nobody realized they were working with and living with the man who led the Chippeqouti, and also there are several people born and raised on Terra in the room who might be on the quiet side." It dawned on him that Edgar was, in fact, waiting on him to actually go through an introduction rather than showing how it would be done and then allowing him to try. He inwardly chuckled at the idea and then nodded. "Aye, but curiousity is not a bad thing, yeah?" Bending at the waist, Commander Swyft bowed to Edgar. "I am Rylin Swyft, Commander of Skycorp."

The man was very Kaerelean as he tried to explain it all and Edgar patiently listened. He didn't really need the explanation, it was meant as a slight chastisement for the class. Then Swyft introduced himself entirely wrong. While he was bowed over Edgar reached out with his hand and gently made a chopping motion with it over the man's neck. "Good attempt, but Chippequoti never bow and yah never bow to dah Chippequoti unless yah want tah appear inferior. Ef yah enemy dis es same as submission tah die. Den we cut yah head off. Try again."

Swyft felt the light puff of air from the hand chopping close to his neck and stood, smoothing his tunic as he did. Edgar's words were met with some trepidation among the Kaereleans. They didn't approach new races that way, but they did greet each other that way and for good reason. Apparently, the Chippeqouti would just see it as a good way to end them if they chose to do so. Swyft nodded and then looked up into Edgar's bright eyes. He kept his hands by his sides as he spoke. "I am Commander Swyft of Skycorp."

The second introduction was much better and Edgar nodded. "Very good. I am Edgar Red-Tiger Akesh 28 of Valous." With another nod he indicated that Swyft could return to his seat. "Now, all dah class will learn from dah example and introduce demselves tah each oter en dah Chippequoti fashion."

Swyft smiled and was careful not to bow as he replied. "Excellent to meet you, Edgar Red-Tiger Akesh 28 of Valous." He had no idea what the numbers meant, and wondered if they were a combined with the other words as some sort of designation of tribes or families in the Chippeqouti. Still, he retreated back to his chair where Markus was sitting close by. Since Edgar seemed intent on participation, he approached the man and gave the same introduction as he had to the Elder. Around the room others were doing the same, trying the introductions for themselves. Tiberius turned to Asher and made his own introduction. "Lucky for me, Terran's don't typically bow," he said with a slight smirk, "Tiberius Kirk, Skycorp Airman." Meanwhile, Daphne looked at the empty space where her partner should have been and then decided that she would try her luck with the elder. The small woman approached the Chip man and clasped her hands behind her back at ease. "\I am Daphne Echryst, Tier I Airman with Skycorp. What's your name?"

While all the others were busy speaking with their partners and trying out the introduction Edgar had begun setting a few little things out. He was approached by a young woman who was missing her partner and he smiled at her. "I am Edgar Red-Tiger Akesh 28 of Valous." Carefully he extended his hand to shake hers. "Dis es someting yah can do ef yah wish tah be friends. Yah must give firm grip wit yah hand and shake one time den let go. Because yah nut afraid tah approach meh yah learn more den some oters."

Daphne knew she would never remember the man's entire name without having it written down. Chip names seemed impossibly long and regal sounding. Then again, everything about them seemed grandiose. Even their jealous fits. She smiled at the Elder, then took the man's hand, shaking it once before letting it go. "Aye, I figured I'm better off asking things when it comes to the Chippeqouti, " she admitted, "You shake hands like Terrans do. Did you know why Kaereleans are cautious about shaking hands and bow instead?"

"Yes, yah much better tah ask Chippequoti about dere way of life and I do know why dah bow es acceptable. Yah people have great war and yah must keep hands away from weapons and show goodwill dis way. Et es symbol of peace and trust ef I remember. Et has been many years since I hear dis story. Once en time past I teach a great Chip diplomat customs and manners related to yah people and how tah learn dem witout causing offense ef she encountered new peoples." Edgar reached into his bag and drew out a long white scarf with gold. "Dis es for yah. I bring small gifts for dah bold. Chippequoti reward boldness. Et es good trait."

Daphne look at the scar in surprise. It was bright and quiet beautiful. The gold was lovely, but the white was the color of one Twin Goddess Moon who represented death. Did it matter if it was a gift from another culture? No, she surmised. It wasn't being given as a token of death in his instance. "This is beautiful. Thank you," she said, taking the scarf in her hands. "You said you trained a diplomat before to talk with Kaereleans? I was under the impression that our peoples hadn't met officially until 12 years ago."

As the young woman thanked him for the gift and then started to move away she asked a question that Edgar knew would come up at some point. "We met as friends for dah first time 12 years ago. Before dat Chippequoti had contact wit many more peoples and even some yah dun know about. Centuries ago we had empire."

Daphne tilted her head some. "I could believe it. I've seen them run the obstacle course...but I've never seen any historical writings about anyone like your people. We leave pretty accurate accounts too, even if we dont live as long. Then again, anything is possible. What happened to your empire, Edgar?"

The woman was so sure of her culture and Edgar chuckled some. "Oh, yah have historical writings of us for sure. Yah probably dun recognize dem. We know about roots of Federation because yah people and Terra are where dey started tah build dere empire. Dis yah will learn more about later. Now back to yah seat and I will begin wit more lesson in ways dat yah probably familiar wit."

The woman narrowed her eyes some at Edgar. That was quite a statement for supposed allies and she didn't like being dismissed like a child. Then again, if Ehvan was older than two hundred and looked hardly 25 then how old must this wrinkled man be? She tried to guess at it and failed to come up with a satisfying answer. He could have been 400 for his people or 4,000 and she'd never know the difference. Sighing some, she took care to fold the delicate scarf gently and then started to turn away back to her seat before going too far, she stopped and glanced at Edgar. "Edgar, I'm 20 years old. How old are you?"

There was a slight furrowing of the woman's brow and her eyes narrowed as if she didn't quite approve of what he said. Edgar didn't let it bother him though. If she chose to have history she would learn much more and Edgar would teach them things of their history that even the Chippequoti did not care to remember. There were plenty of parts in their history they loathed to recall. This was, however, to create a common ground in which they could understand one another. To always remain a mystery held many problems. Before she left she asked one more question. "I know dat yah are young. Yah people die young for Chippequoti. I am 497 and I will live almost a lifetime more of yah people before I die."

Daphne's eyes bugged some and she blinked at the man. No wonder he had wrinkles. She would have long turned to dust before he died and that fact was a bit shocking...as well as saddening. She thought to the council woman and the General. She would be long gone before he would be. Maybe that's why he was so kind to the half breed woman he loved. "Oh." Was all she managed to say before she scuttled back to her seat to finish class.

Now that the young woman was on her way back to her seat Edgar looked around the room and then gave a loud clap with his hands. "Sit!" The entire group turned their attention to him and sat down. "Chippequoti expect dat when an Elder es present tah teach, dat all will watch him for cue. I will nut need tah clap en future. I will continue meh lecture and I dun repeat anyting. Now, I give tah Daphne reward because she es bold and I have reward for Tiberius and Swyft." Edgar beckoned to the two men. "For yah, and yah." Edgar pulled out a carefully crafted Chippequoti cup decorated with the image of a falcon to Swyft and a long red sash with gold to Tiberius. "Dat sash would be good tah leave as surprise for woman of yah interest." He didn't know who Tiberius was wondering about, but the man likely thought he'd like to take his chances with a Chip woman. There were enough questions about them to make Edgar think it was possible Tiberius had his eye on one.

Sending both students back to their seats Edgar resumed the rest of his lecture. It was short, but he was going to make sure it was clear what future expectations would be. "We dun have much time, so I tell yah few helpful rules tah get started. For all classes now yah dun take notes. Chippequoti memorize what dey learn. Yah must have quick mind. Dis will apply for any oter class dat I teach. Yah will get some history here, but mostly traditions and ways dat we do tings. All written material es quiz and yah may consult wit anyone in dah room tah see ef yah have right answer. Ef yah fail dah quiz even wit consult den I will have someting tah say to yah about et. Finally," Edgar figured he would enjoy this last part the most. "All final tests are tah be given by individual exam where yah speak yah answers to meh. I expect all final tests and exams tah be given en Quoti and yah quizzes tah be written en Quoti by end of dis season. Ef yah nut taking Quoti language den yah better find someone dat es tah teach yah. I dun have time tah grade yah based on dis Trader's Tongue, or whatever oter language yah choose." There were more than enough gazes of absolute shock from around the room. Gradually a grin broke out on Edgar's face and he nodded. "I will change dis for all classes except Quoti language. Yah mah answer en Trader's Tongue. I jes like tah see how all of yah look when yah panic. Den I know when I ask questions yah dun know answer for." With a chuckle he waived his old knobby hands at them. "Out wit yah all. Get out tah yah next class. No need tah gape at meh. I need tah get to meh next session."

********************************************************

The Ehuai nurse rolled Illya out of the surgery room into the recovery ward and then went to the hospital room where Kalizda was waiting. "We'll be bringing him in soon. For now, things look good. He'll be good to head home in the morning if things still look fine. You'll need to keep a gentle food diet. His throat did suffer some damage from the shrapnel. There are several recorded lacerations. More than likely his throat will hurt and he may need to talk less if his throat starts getting to sore. You'll be getting a medicated drink for him to use daily. It will act as an antibiotic and it will put a protective coating throughout the throat and esophagus. This should be taken after every meal and then once before bed." With the information conveyed she set a report from the surgery on the side table near Kalizda.

Illya woke up shortly after he got out of surgery. At least that was what he thought and he decided to check and see where Kalizda was. The nurse said she was taking him to see her and he nodded and went back to sleep. When he woke again Kalizda was sitting next to him on his bed. He felt like his entire throat was burning. They said they had put a tube down his throat to keep him properly ventilated during surgery, but he still thought it felt worse than any of the times before.

There was something she said she wanted to show him and Illya nodded. He needed to see it right away if she mentioned it. Kalizda never really mentioned anything before when he came out of surgery. It made him wonder if there was something terribly wrong. Instead he was greeted by a mostly normal scene. However, on second thought he realized it was not normal at Skycorp. "Hmmm. I send hologram tah Swyft." He wasn't going to make it to Monday classes and he had to let the director know.

Turning the receiver on he cleared his throat. It sounded like a boulder rumbling down a mountain and his voice remained rough. "I eh...I nut going tah be dere Monday. I will be dere on Tuesday and I talk wit meh men about dis ting dat happen. Eh, I dun be dere on Monday because I cough little metal from meh lungs. Doctors here found more pieces tah take out. I show yah dah holes dey sew up. I have drain dey say will come out en eh....few days more. Maybe Tursday." Illya began to lift the blankets and he pulled at the hospital gown to pull it up and Kalizda stopped him and took the hologram over. Grumbling in the background Illya made mostly incomprehensible sounds of displeasure till he quickly fell asleep again.

The morning came early enough, though it was nearly 11:00 a.m. before Illya was up and moving. The IVs were removed and he was dressed in his usual clothes. There was only one thing he had to watch out for. His nurse had the drain clipped to the inside of his shirt and he had to let the fluid out of the drain every couple of hours till it was clear and then he would need to get into a clinic somewhere to have it removed.

If there was one good thing about the surgery it was the pain killers. Illya felt good, other than the fact that he was groggy. His chest was sore, throat hurt, but it was all easy to manage when his back was feeling close to normal. "Now we get home eh?" Giving Kalizda a weak grin he wandered out the door of the hospital with her and helped himself into the flyer. The kids were all still sick and it was too bad. However, they could make the most of it watching holograms. "How about when we get home I sit in dah chair and watch holograms wit dah kids. Yah rest on dah couch." He wasn't supposed to lay down too much and he knew the chair was the only way to be comfortable and still be mostly upright. "We worry about dah rest later. Yah look too tired tah work and tink about what happen on dah weekend. I take care of et tomorrow."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
The snake was coming right for them! Priscilla clung to Ehud, not daring to drop so much as a toe to the floor where it could be reached by the fiend. They stumbled back into the cabinets then she felt him grab her firmly by the rear to keep her from falling as the stumbled into the wall into the living room.

Over his shoulder she could see the snake in hot pursuit behind. “Ehud!” The man let out strained squeak as they dove headlong into the couch. She squealed as they pitched into the cushions with such force the sofa flipped backward with them, plopping her down into the floor. Her instinct was to get up and run, but her legs wouldn’t quite work as she tried to toss a couch cushion at the disgusting little animal. It was still coming at them! Suddenly, with a quick and decisive strike, Ehud slammed his fist down on the creature's head. There was a horrible crunching splat from around the couch corner, then Ehud turned to her, sputtering about how he didn’t like snakes.

Priscilla stared at him from her fortified position behind a wayward couch cushion. The remnants of the snake’s head were smashed against the flat of his fist, making a gruesome sight. Her lips trembled, as if trying to decide what they should do until her shoulders shook. A laugh bubbled out of her, starting as a mild giggle, and then up into a full on laugh as the ridiculousness set in. The laughing continued until her belly clenched and her sides ached. "Oh.. oh..my gosh....ahaaha...thank God. You don't even like snakes."

The snake's body was still writhing and Ehud cringed. He hated snakes in general and now he had snake guts in his house. At first it was so quiet that Ehud wondered if he'd seriously hurt Pris. Her head was bowed slightly and she was shaking. However, it became evident that she was laughing shortly afterward. "You do know there's a difference between the Dark and Light Chippequoti, right? Obviously we look different, but snake is not on the top of the list for the Light Chippequoti. You would be correct in your statement that I don't like snakes." He was feeling far too serious after being chased by a snake in his own house to even try laughing at this point.

Priscilla hardly heard the words through her laughing. It was all so...ridiculous. "I hate snakes too," she crowed, wiping at her eyes, "And I don't...ahaha...I dont know the difference. No one as ever told me. I was just...oohoohoo...trying to do something nice for you. Something I thought you might like." She used the sleeve of her robe, which was half hanging off her shoulders, to dab at her eyes. "Oh...I'm sorry. I didnt know. I certainly didnt know it came alive! Good lord. What a disaster I made." She wiped at her other eye and then reached out for his hand to wipe the guts with her sleeve. "Are...you okay?" There was a small urge to be mad he was being so serious, but she was too stressed not to laugh. It was that or cry at her apparent failure.

"Well, shit happens." Ehud grumbled a bit and started to get up off his knees. His leg hurt to high heaven at this point and he blinked a few times when Pris started to try wiping his hand off with her robe sleeve. "No, my hand is dirty. I'll wash it off and pick up the sofa. Not like I would have got away from the snake anyway. It would have got on the sofa with us." Despite the fact that he tried not to smirk he was starting to smile a little too. Relief was the primary reason for the smile. "After I wash my hands off we'll pick the sofa up and then I'll call a few of the Dark Chips and see if they want snake tonight."


At first she thought he was going to be angry, given the gruff reply he gave as he pulled away his hand. Then he continued, a small smile coming to his face. It was one of the few times she had seen him actually smile in the last few weeks. He used to do that more often when they dated. That though made her bite her lip and move her eyes away. "I-I think that might be a good idea. It shouldnt go to waste." She started to wobble to her feet, but a sharp pain in her leg made her stumble. "Youch," she hissed. A red trickle was inching slowly down her leg but she just leaned against the couch. "Tch...I'll help clean up. Then I'll go change. You call some friends, hm?"

"No, I don't think you should do it alone. We're both lame." Ehud grumbled some and slowly limped to the back of the couch to lift it up. "On three."


Pris nodded and joined her husband, gripping the back of the couch. "On three," she nodded, "One...two ...three..." With a grunt, she started to push the couch upright, sending a cushion tumbling off. It was heavy and made her leg ache deep in the bone, but she used what strength she had. Her toe squished into something she suspected was snake guts as the couch thwumped to the floor.


Once the couch was upright Ehud glanced at Priscilla and his eyes widened. "You lay down and I'll call the Ehaui. I must have busted your leg open when we fell over with the couch." Rubbing his snake gut hand through his hair he mumbled and started to look for his pad. "Where is it? I need it."


Suddenly, Ehud was looking terrified and telling her to lay down. When he mentioned her leg, she looked down to see the red trail on the outside of her knee. "Oh. That's probably why it hurt a little more." He was starting to look frazzled and she caught the words of warning in her mouth as he ran a snake guts into his blond hair. "Hey...its okay..." She reached up and put a hand on his shoulder. "Your pad is on you night stand. We'll just look to see if the stitch is busted before we call. It might just be the scab opened."

Ehud nodded and he ushered Priscilla to the couch. "You lay down right there and I'l take a look." He didn't want to leave this too long. "Careful now, don't want to hurt yourself." Guiding her with one hand he started to reach for her with the other when he realized it was still filthy. "I'll go wash up before I help you any further."

Priscilla nodded, satisfied she had gotten him to slow down enough to breath, and went to the couch. As Ehud went to wash his hands, she eased into the couch and watched his back at the dirt spattered sink. He was so strange. His words and his expressions were so...neutral. Calculated. It was almost to the point where she had wondered if his time courting her has been an act. But for as cold as his words were most of the time, there wasn’t any of that in his touch. He was tender and that wasn’t an act.

When he was done washing his hands, Priscilla leaned over on the disheveled couch and carefully plucked up her robe hem up to her thigh. She fumbled with the bandage, unable to untie it until Ehud helped. From the angle she saw it looked like only the scab had come loose but she wasn’t sure. "How does it look?"

The bandaging was firm and Ehud hated to open it, but they couldn't leave it either. Once he had it opened he carefully peeled the bandage back. "Ok, it looks like you only peeled the scab some. We'll wrap it fresh and you just rest tonight. Maybe we order some food out."

Priscilla nodded and let him do what he needed to do. At least it was only the scab and not a stitch. "Well, I suppose that's some good news in all of this. I should have just ordered food to begin with." She looked at Ehud and sighed some. He was a good man and she knew it. Her expression softened some and her hand inched over to his a little. "If you grab the bandage, I can order the food," she offered, "Is your leg alright?"

"Yeah, you order." Ehud went back to the room and grabbed his pad along with fresh bandages. When he returned to the couch he gave Priscilla the pad and then began working on getting the bandaged changed.

And there it was again. No recognition of what she asked and no reciprocation. He handed her the pad and began working on her leg. Maybe he really was angry with her, or maybe he just went back to the act. "Why do you do that?" She suddenly asked, her thumb hovering over the pad.

"Do what?" Ehud paused long enough to look at Priscilla. He was not sure what it was she thought he was doing that he shouldn't be. "I'm just changing the bandage on your leg."

"No, I mean why do...why do you pull away when someone shows concern for you," she said, studying him, "You're my husband and regardless of the last few weeks, Ehud, I do care if you are alright. When I ask, you draw away, and I hope there's a better explanation for it than a matter of pride. You did...just save me from a live snake after all."

"I do?" What she said sounded quite cold and a bit frustrating. Surely he didn't do that. "Well, when was the last time I did it? I don't think I really do it every time."

Priscilla raised a brow at her husband. "You did it just now. You did it this morning when your leg was bleeding too. "You do it when anyone asks anything particularly personal or something strikes too close. You put on a mask that wasnt there before...or maybe the way you were before we got married was your distance...I don't know." She shook her head and her brow pinched together as she looked him over with blue eyes. "There are alot of things I don't know, but I know you shouldn't have to retreat from your wife."


"Oh well, I don't know why I do that." Ehud was going to try and leave it there, but Priscilla kept on pushing. She wanted to know more and she did have a right to that knowledge. "Its just...It's force of habit after all this time. I lived under cover most of my life. It's not easy just sharing that stuff."

She grew quiet for a moment. It was a conclusionary statement in her mind. He did know why he did that. It was habit and it confirmed to her that the way he acted before they married must have been a bit of a show. It was too dangerous to give someone anything else in his mind. Her eyes drifted away from his, suddenly feeling like a stranger was sitting next to her, and she prodded the pad. If everything he did was some act, maybe that really was all he knew to so. "You don't really remember what it's like to be normal...well to live like anyone else. It's not easy sharing things even when you haven't lived undercover but I don't know what to do when you push things away."

She sounded defeated and he didn't know what to do with all this. "Pris, I'm sorry. I try, but it takes time to stop doing it. Just remind me when I've done it and I'll start catching on and fixing it without reminders."

Priscilla prodded at the pad, scrolling through numbers but not really paying attention to what she was looking for. Ehud apologized, making her look up to meet his gaze again. "Just dont hide...and don't give me a mask if I call you on it. Whenever you do that...it makes me feel like I married....like I married a stranger." Her eyes dropped to his hands. "And I dont typically let strangers get so close to my thigh. I want you Ehud. I want you to relax even if I have to Pavlov- dog it out of you." She gave him a bit of a smile at the joke, though she was sure he wouldnt get it.

"Ok." Ehud frowned some and he decided that whatever Pavlov had to do with dogs it was going to be fine. Perhaps it a was a breed of dog that she wanted. "I'll get you a Pavlov dog."

After all of that, it was all he had to say. Then he mentioned a 'pavlov dog' and she chuckled some. "Mmm...its a Terran study...a term used for essentially what you described. Telling you when you're retreating so that eventually, you remember not to do it. Though it works off of rewards." Leaning forward she pecked him on the side of his lips. "Now, what would you like for dinner. Anything...ooh.." he tightened the bandage and she felt a sting in her leg, "anything you want. This is your night."

A slightly pink hint came to Ehud's cheeks and he nodded at her explanation. Of course he thought it was something else. Now he was here looking like an idiot for his bride. "Ok." She offered anything he wanted and he had the strangest craving. "I think I want to have spaghetti."

His cheeks turned pink but she wasn’t sure if that was the result of her explanations or the kiss. He didnt capitalize on her little peck, which was fine. She was at too odd of an angle to accommodate a more extensive kiss. His request of spaghetti surprised her and she smiled. It was a relief that he liked Terran food. She nodded then ordered two spaghetti and meatballs from the Terran place in town close to the base. It would have nyte beast meat instead of pork or beef, but it was still good. A big order of garlic bread and tiramisu came with it too. "Done," she smiled at him, "it will be here in 30 minutes or so. Before they get here though..." she reached up and plucked a snake giblet from his hair, "You have a little snake in your hair."

As soon as she mentioned the bit of snake in his hair he pulled away. "I think I'll use that 30 minutes to get cleaned up before dinner." Before he scuttled away he leaned in and gave her a quick kiss.

As soon as he opened the bedroom door, Yugi came bounding out to protect the house from whatever was causing all the fuss. He barrelled into the living room, set eyes upon the snake, then snatched it up by the tail with a ferocious growl. The move caused the snakes body to fling around and send bits of gore over the living room floor. “Yugi! Drop it!”

The big shepherd didn’t listen. He shook the snake violently again, as if he could teach it a lesson, then he began choking down the snake corpse in large gulps. “Yugi! Ew! No! Bad dog!”. She started to get up but the dog was too fast. He managed to slurp the snake down in a few big bites, then gave her a self satisfied grin with his tongue lolling out of his mouth. “You take the tongue away from me,” she grumbled at him, “That was disgusting.” Yugi didn’t seem to mind her words or scolding. Instead, he gave her a soft chuff through his nose, then began to clean up the floor with his tongue.

********
They sat on the couch for dinner like heathens after it arrived in reusable containers. Priscilla had her leg propped up on the ottoman, leaving enough room to share with Ehud if he wanted it. Other than the sounds of scraping forks and the occassonal slap of Yugi's tongue against his chops, hoping to get to anything that might drop. She ignored her large shepherd and poked at her plate, nudging the meatball with the tine of her fork. After so much raucous, the room seemed eerily quiet and it was unsettling. But did that mean she had to fill the silence. She'd already done enough by creating a disaster and Ehud, while concerned for her, hadn't seemed overly pleased with any effort. The way he had looked at her when he snapped his head around to ask if she knew there were differences between Light and Dark Chippeeqouti. She had been too shocked over the snake to really answer him other than a basic 'no'. The more she thought about the question, the more obvious it should have been. Of course, she didn't know. Nobody had ever said other wise and Ehud was one of two Light Chips she had ever spoken to. So how would she have known the difference? Then again, she could have simply asked instead of assuming he might like the same things. It was all wasted effort now. She poked at her meatball and wondered where her appetite had gone all of a sudden. She had done something wrong while trying to do something good and now she would have to try to fix it again. Somehow. Her eyes flicked to Ehud who was midbite. "What's the difference between Light and Dark Chippeqouti, Ehud?" she blurted out.

The meal was going great. It was delicious and all must have been well because there wasn't any talking for the time. However, there was a question that arose and Ehud tilted his head. She clearly didn't know the difference and now she wanted to know. It wasn't a bad thing and he was more than happy to share the knowledge with her. "Well, the Light Chippequoti have lighter skin to start, the bone density is slightly less, we're usually shorter, originally we came from a more mountainous area and we were more peaceful. At some point there was a war and the Dark Chippequoti took command of all the Light Chippequoti tribes by slaughtering all their chiefs and then some overly ambitious Dark Chippequoti, the seventh General decided to slaughter all the remaining Dark Chippequoti leaders and he remained as the single leader. Some Light Chippequoti had followed him, some supported him because it was death not to and so when he was eventually run out of Old Quoti with all his supporters it was how you ended up meeting all the people you have. My ancestors supported them because they didn't want to die and ended up being exiled with him. So, needless to say, sometimes we still resent the position we've found ourselves in and we don't really like the title of General, or Emperor, but we will respect it."

Priscilla had expected some cultural differences and a few other things, however, she hadn't expected such a reported description. He almost sounded like a text book. Not only had she just assumed he was similar to his cousins but she had thought they were at least similarly aligned in their sentiments because there was no friction she could see. Then again, her exposure to either race had been limited to what she could learn over the last 2 years and they largely spoke their own language around Terrans. "Oh," she whispered, "I didn't know that..." Letting out a long breath, she hoped the pink on her cheeks wasn't obvious. "I suppose I thought you and Illya were friends, considering when you're together you bicker like an old married couple."


Somehow the response from Priscilla almost sounded confused. Ehud thought that it was clear there were differences, but it didn't mean they couldn't be friends. "Yeah, we're on friendly terms. At this point is has been a few generations, or maybe a little over a thousand years ago. We bicker because we have differences. In the long run being a Light Chip had its benefits. We disappeared during the war and blended in with the societies around us. We hid, tried to never see a doctor for fear of being identified by our bones. Took care of ourselves and tried to never speak our language, use our Chip names, or anything else that would identify us as Chips. Dark Chippequoti couldn't hide, so they clung to their culture and way of life because they had nothing left." Ehud shrugged some, "So, we bicker because he's still a stick in the mud sometimes with the Chip way."

What he explained made sense. His predicament seemed so isolating. His people had been assimilated into not just one culture, but thousands. Illya wasn't the only one who didn't have anything left. It sounded as if Ehud had nothing at all. He didn't even have his people to gather around. Sure, she was a stranger to Kaereal in some ways, but she could always point to Terra as her homeland and heritage. While it wouldn't be advisable in some places, she could still say her bloodline was from Earth. What could Ehud do? Point to a star and say 'that's where I hid among those people'? Priscilla was quiet for a long moment, thinking about what he said as her food began to lose it's steam. "Illya can be a grouse about tradition in some ways. I've seen that often enough," she said, "But how do you feel about it?"

"Tradition?" Ehud shrugged, "Has its place and time, but not much room for it anymore." He'd had to develop his own way of living and he didn't have time to do everything the Chip way.

"It's not something that's important to you then?" She asked, spearing the battered meatball with the end of her fork. "Isn't it part of your people's heritage to have some traditions?" Even Terrans were steeped in tradition, though they were much more blended now than they ever had been before.

"I never said it wasn't important. Just said there isn't much room for it anymore." Ehud hated that she was jumping to wild conclusions all by herself. This was not the way it was to be done.

Priscilla chewed her meatball and swallowed, her mouth setting into a frown. His answer didn't make any sense and he sounded like he might be annoyed with her all over again. "But if it was important, wouldn't you make room for it?"

Taking a deep breath Ehud tried to calm himself. "Is there really room for me to go hunting here? Would it be appropriate for me dress up in furs, live in a spread out community, tailor clothing, make sacrifices to the gods and tame the Orens to pull my goods to take to a market over the mountain?"

His whole tone was sounding terrible now and she put down her plate. "You may not be able to do all of your traditions, but you could do some. Did you know there is a hunting club on Kaereal. You want to know what they hunt? Those man-eater cats where they sell the pelts. Things you could tailor with. As far as your religion goes, I don't exactly know what it entails, but just because you don't actively practice doesn't mean you shove it all away in some corner of your mind to rot." Her jaw was working and she took a great effort to keep her temper down. "I don't know what an Oren is, Ehud. I was trying..." She swallowed hard and leaned her head back on the couch in defeat. "I was trying to understand what was important to you. I'm sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry." Ehud set his plate of food down and stared at her. "I have a job, I don't really bother to make sacrifices to the gods because it never changed anything and you saw how damn good of a hunter I am. Not to mention I have no desire to hunt those cat things. That's what just about killed Illya and he's actually good at hunting."

He was looking at her. She could feel his eyes on her like they were hot coals tossed against her cheek. When he had finished saying his peace, she slid her eyes over to him briefly before dropping them to the floor. "Then what is important to you, Ehud. What do you like? What don't you like? What matters to you?" Her whole body felt tired, heavy with effort and fatigue as she sat on the couch, but this question was important to her.

"I don't know. My family is important, I like art, food, warm clothes, comfortable house, pretty much all the same stuff other people do. Pris, I haven't lived a traditional life, maybe I would have liked to, but I'm not really equipped for that. I don't fit anywhere because I made it to be a point that I would be anyone, but me for the last 100 plus years. Just let me figure out what the rest of this means for me." He was tired of her constantly pushing at him to be something besides the spy and tailor. Those were the only two identities he had and the tailor felt vague and far fetched. "I'm not mad at you, ok. Just tired of trying to figure out what the heck it is I actually like if I'm not a spy."

She kept her eyes trained on the ground so he wouldn't see her upset. It had been a long night and she felt very tired along with a little heart sore. He didn't know what it was like to be himself and she got that. A loss of any identity was an unfortunate side effect of the way he had lived. It mean that he didn't know who he was. It also meant the man she had been dating before was probably just another mask in large part. He said he wasn't mad. Just tired of having to figure out how not to be a spy. At least he hadn't bothered to try being really intimate with her so far, because that probably would have made the knowledge of all this identity crises worse. "Okay," she whispered. If he was tired, she wasn't to argue with him about it anymore for now. Priscilla stood up with some effort and picked up her plate, causing Yugi's tail to wag in hopes of getting her left overs. "Not a chance," she said to the dog.

When Priscilla stood Ehud sighed. "I'll figure it out." He didn't want her to think he was lazy, he was just a bit overwhelmed with a new wife and being forced to discover a life outside of hiding. As soon as she turned her back Ehud rolled one of the meatballs of his plate 'accidentally' and let the dog eat it before he continued eating his meal. The dog's eyes trained on him and Ehud didn't figure it would be a big deal. Dog's always looked at the last person with food like that. He just liked feeding the dog. It was somewhat gratifying to know he could make the dog happy with a few snacks here and there.


**********

Priscilla stared at the bedroom ceiling and chewed on her conversation with Ehud. The man was sleeping right next to her, separated by six inches of mattress but he didn’t even feel like her boy friend anymore, much less her husband. It felt like a stranger was in bed with her and she hated feeling that way. What made it harder was that she cared about what happened to this lost man, even if he did feel like a stranger. She rubbed angrily at her eyes and let out a long breath. How were things going to get better at this rate? How did she know the man Ehud thought he was today would want her tomorrow and not be tired of her? And he wanted her to get that surgery so she lived longer at that. It seemed pointless to do that when he couldn’t make up his mind about himself. Tears were pricking at her eyes again and she thought back to what he said again. Maybe he just needed some help? He had said he would figure it out and she knew that meant he would try on his own. But that's not how life worked. Someone was shaped by their experiences both alone and with other people. She sure as hell wasn’t qualified to help him though. There wasn’t anything she could say to make it better.

Priscilla sniffled a little and then carefully rolled out of bed. She was far enough away from Ehud that she was sure he wouldn’t feel her shifting that much. Carefully avoiding the creaky floorboard, she plucked up her robe from the back of the bathroom door, slid it over her slight frame. Next, she fumbled in the dark to the dresser where her journal sat. The regular pen was wedged between the pages where she left it. Priscilla used the light of the twins moons cutting through the window to scrawl a short message, signed it, then left it stuck to Ehud’s pad where he would find it in the morning when he went to turn off his alarm. She would already be up by the time his alarm went off.

Good Morning Ehud,

I hope you slept well, You mumble in your sleep a little, but I heard less of it last night. I think we were both tired. Hopefully, you woke up feeling rested. We were going to try to go into Kinte today, and I’ll need to go for the bakery anyways. Come with me if you’d like to and we can make a day of it with Sien. I’ll be waiting for you in the living room when you’re ready if you decide to come.

I’m also giving you an assignment. Fill out the question below and give it to me sometime today. I wont ask anything else from you. Just write down an answer.

Love,

Pris

What’s your favorite Terran food?


***********

The class room grew quiet at the end of Edgar’s pronouncement about what they were expected to do for his class. Quizzes in Qouti? That was outrageous. How would they even learn enough to manage an answer in such a short time? Wouldn’t their time be better spent simply learning the basics of culture first, given the point of their program? All of the professors were abuzz and already sending messages to Swyft’s pad. The commander’s pad was buzzing with the arrival of a series of inquiries and protests about such a grading scale. Swyft dutifully ignored the incoming messages though, keeping his info pad closed while Edgar continued.

"I will change dis for all classes except Quoti language. Yah mah answer en Trader's Tongue. I jes like tah see how all of yah look when yah panic. Den I know when I ask questions yah dun know answer for."

At that information, the entire room seemed to relax and the tension melted out. Some of the teachers turned red faced for having sent Swyft a complaint so soon while others chuckled in nervous relief. Chippeqouti had a sense of humor it seemed.

A few of the teachers were looking at each other in worry, tittering about how a test in anything but Trader’s Tongue, unless it was a language class, was grossly unfair, and Tiberius wanted to throw a paper ball at them like a school boy. He was glad when they were left reeling over the joke like they deserved. While they were all busy fussing over classes,Tiberius was breaking into a cold sweat about something entirely different. Sherri would be expecting a house. Land alone on this planet was expensive and he was positive Sherri would want to stay close to her people. How was he going to pull this off? Hell, he had barely enough money to buy the ring for his last woman and that had taken him months to save.


It wasn’t a question of whether it was worth it. He had been dating Sherri for several months now. She was beautiful, smart, and had a distinct level of sass he enjoyed. Why she would be interested in dating a formerly military grunt like himself was still a mystery. A miracle. He needed more information about this ‘standing’ ceremony too. Sherri might have been dating a non-traditional man, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t put out the effort for her. She was already traveling here every other week to see him. He would have to make this house even if it was a much bigger commitment than some ring.

Tiberius’ knee bounced at twice the speed of the clock counting down the seconds on the wall until the announcement class was over. He waited for the room to clear and held the sash neatly folded in his hands. Before Edgar got a chance to leave, he stepped down the first few steps and strode over, shoving down all his plans to the back of his mind. "Edgar....sir? Can I...well. I have more questions. Do you have time to answer?"

After he announced that class was over and he had to get to his next teaching session there was one student that had to ask more. The one that seemed to have a great interest in how Chippequoti partnered for life. Edgar turned toward him and nodded slowly. "Dat es nut how yah ask. Yah say, I have questions, answer dem? Meh response es, yes, hurry."

Tiberius swallowed and gave an acknowledgment to the correction. "When do men stand for the women? What season? And is there anything else they're supposed to do?" He looked at the older man waiting to see if he would tell a Terran what to do.

"Dah change of dah season according tah Chippequoti calendar. Dat will be en 4 weeks yah time and den anoter 16 after dat. Yah count 16 weeks for Chippequoti season because Quoti had longer years den Terra." Edgar smiled some and he continued. "Yah jes build house, yah go and stand. Ef she tinks yah good at being man for her den she will choose yah and yah den accept and yah probably take night tah get tah know her because yah dun know her well as ef yah grow up en same village."

He wasnt sure what 'taking the night' entailed and the question lead to many more. "What is 'taking the night'? And 20 weeks? I need to come to Pyrta in 20 weeks? Is there anything else I need to do?"

Edgar blinked and let out a long breath. "I describe before in dah class dat ef yah need yah have one night tah talk about all concerns before yah agree wit Elders dah next morning. Yah could come tah Pytra en twenty weeks or tirty sex weeks. Dat es all yah do. Dis es all I already tell yah in dah class. Dere es no courting dah way Terrans tink." Sometimes explaining the process to outsiders was difficult and Edgar had to remember that many of them found it strange and intimidating.

Tiberius' brow furrowed. Twenty weeks or thirty six weeks? Which was it? He though the man has said 16 plus 4 to equal 20. And that was all he had to do? But that couldnt be all. He hadnt even known about the house. "Okay." Tiberius felt more than confused now and this Elder was making it worse rather than better. Even Illya was better at explaining things and that was saying something.

"Dah season for dah men tah stand makes sense now?" It didn't sound like it based on the man's reply. However, Edgar was going to give the Terran another chance.

Tiberius shook his head. "Not at all. And I want to Make this right for her."

"Ok," Edgar took a deep breath and started again. "Dah season tah stand es every 16 weeks. Dah first one es en 4 weeks. Yah jes go tah Pytra and go tah Chip village. En dah Chip village yah ask where tah stand. Yah stand and all women looking for man are dere tah choose. Dats et besides dah single night before yah bot agree before elders and den yah show her house yah build her."

He paled at Edgar's words. 4 weeks? He had only 4 weeks? "Do all single women have to attend?"

"Nut all single women have tah attend jes same as nut all single men have tah attend. Only dose looking for agreed attend."

Tiberius nodded, slowly then gave Edgar a grateful nod. "Thanks for answering my questions. It's helpful. " The Terran man offered his hand out to shake, hoping it would be a decent departure.

For the time it seemed things were settled and Edgar shook the man's hand. "Best of luck to yah."

When the older man wished him luck, Tiberius nodded and then left the room. He was going to need all the luck he could get with this. Maybe he could ask Sherri to wait for the next season? It sounded as if she could just go pick whatever male she wanted from the pack of fellows that would line up, so long as they accepted. What if she didn’t want to wait? There was always that possibility. He had learned all too well that women didn’t like to be kept waiting.

Tiberius strode down the hall as the tone for classes to start began. He was running behind in everything now, but he had an idea of how to get Sherri her home.

*********

The nature documentary had only been playing for 45 minutes before everyone fell asleep. Calysta laid on the couch with Lohgan tucked under one arm and Edgar dozing under the other. They were both warm little bundles snuggled against her and every so often she gave them each a gentle squeeze just to make sure they were still there. Cypher had fallen asleep somewhere under their blanketed coffee table with Monster, Elijah, and her own dog. She could see his tan feet poking out from the corner. Tomas was the lightest of them and he sat curled up in Illya’s lap snoozing away, his head on one side of the armchair and his feet braced against the opposite side. Her husband’s mouth was slack and his head slumped to the side while he slept in the arm chair. Their babies had been so excited to see them after a few weeks away. All of the children had wanted to crawl all over their father, but he still had a drainage tube in his side and stitches in his chest, so they had to settle for Mam instead.

While her family slept, Calysta laid on the couch and watched for awhile feeling tired. Her body still ached some and her cough still ripped at her throat. These were all good reasons to crash out on the couch with nothing but nothing had been able to get her mind to rest along with her body.

The shrapnel coming out of Illya’s chest had caused more than one set back. For one thing, it was making it hard for him to cough up gunk in his lungs. Then there was the fact that they had been trying to talk to each other more and now his throat was so sore that speaking hurt. Calysta sighed some and stole a glance at her husband stretched out in his chair. His chest rose and fell with the rhythm of deep sleep while he snored.
Seeing him cough blood had been horrifying and there was still the greater concern of painkillers.l The surgery had gone well enough and it was entirely necessary, but it had also reintroduced heavy painkillers to him. What if this caused him to spiral back into using painkillers again? The prescription was only supposed to last two days,but what if he wanted more? He had been sober for months. It had been a hard fought battle with his addiction.

The worry also brought another thing to her mind. Illya had alot of health problems. Surgery might be necessary again in the future for him because of all of his injuries in the past. Was it fair to make him continue being sober entirely when he was in pain? Would he just be trapped in some horrible cycle of getting almost sober only to be thrown back again? He had been high the last day since the surgery and now she knew the difference between her sharp eyed husband and his drugged up counterpart. Could he let go of the drugs again?

Calysta hugged her children a little closer and closed her eyes again, trying not to make her head throb anymore than it already was. They would be back at Skycorp tomorrow and the children would be coming with them for their rainy season week break. Maybe she could talk to Illya about it later when he was able to speak better.

***********

Swyft sat in his usual seat waiting for the second day of the Chippeqouti Culture lesson to begin. The first session had been enlightening and he had enjoyed learning about their neighbors from the older councilman. Edgar had a sense of humor and Swyft appreciated that, even if the last joke had exploded his message inbox with angry notes. He also liked the cup he had earned yesterday. Physical prizes weren’t used often at Skycorp, and he appreciated the token. It had kept his tea warm all morning.

He wasn’t entirely sure if Calysta and Blackwolf would be coming. They had said they would be back Tuesday, but he hadn’t seen them that morning nor had he seen the other Chipeqouti men who had only promised to return when they spoke with their commander. Of course, Blackworld and his wife had a particularly bad weekend.

He had been informed of Blackwolf’s hospital visit when Illya called him up on the hologram pad from his bed. The man’s eyes had been slack and his hair had been a bird’s nest when he appeared in the hologram. "I eh...I nut going tah be dere Monday. I will be dere on Tuesday and I talk wit meh men about dis ting dat happen….” The man’s voice sounded like someone had taken gravel and tried to pulverize it using a blender while strung out on drugs.

“Eh, I dun be dere on Monday because I cough little metal from meh lungs. Doctors here found more pieces tah take out. I show yah dah holes dey sew up. I have drain dey say will come out en eh....few days more. Maybe Tursday."

Before he could say anything, the the screen went sideways as Illya fumbled with his blankets, trying to lift them up. Was he trying to show him the stiches? Suddenly, the camera angle was facing the cavernous depths of the Chip’s blankets along with a hospital gown. How high was the man? Had he called right after surgery? Swyft braced himself for whatever he was about to witness over the hologram. He did not want to see any anatomy of the man in a 3D rendition.

Fussing from Calysta somewhere beyond the blankets confirmed his theory and saved him from whatever the Chip was wiling to show off. “Illya...no...he doesn’t need to see...put it down...he’ll believe you...down..” A tiny hand had tugged the blanket back down, flashing him back into a holographic view of the room, spinning to see Calysta’s reddened face. She looked just as exhausted as her husband. There were deep rings under her eyes and the close up wasn’t doing her looks any favors. “We’ll see you on Tuesday, Commander Swyft,” she said quickly, “Monroe out.” Then the hologram feed ended.

That had been their last message and he wondered if some other issue had occurred to keep them from making it to class today has they had intended. He leaned back in his chair and took note of a few more teachers shuffling in and also saw Tiberius enter. The man was limping to the right side and had dark circles under his eyes too.

“Airman Tiberius,” Swyft said, catching the man’s attention.

Tiberius changed his course and hobbled over to Swyft. “Sir?”

“Is there a reason you’re walking like a three legged nyte beast?” he asked.

Tiberius tapped his right side. “Old injuries don’t like the rain, sir. Just stiffness.”

“Fair enough. Go sit down, airman.”

Swyft dismissed Tiberius without further inquiry and the Terran shuffled onward to find his seat. The commander had been certain that it was Tiberius’ left side that had been injured in an IED blast. Before he could give the discrepancy much more thought, the class room door opened again to reveal Calysta. She carried a large bag over her shoulder and on the opposite side she carried a child with tan skin and dark hair. Following closely behind, Blackwolf strode through hefting another boy, this one much chunkier and squealing with delight. “Omnomnomn!”

“We’re here,” the council woman puffed as she found her seat, “I hope we didn’t miss much.”
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Ehud woke the next morning feeling a little sore. He wasn't exactly supposed to be stumping around on his leg where the sample was taken with extra weight and certainly not running. The little event with the snake had been bad in more ways than one, but there was a silver lining in this cloud. He was getting somewhere with Priscilla. They finally had a conversation that actually went somewhere and he felt like they made progress. She was honest with him about her concerns and he was able to talk with her about a few things too.

Opening his pad he glanced at the time. It was still early enough in the morning to be considered reasonable. There was a little note stuck to his pad too and Ehud grinned. They definitely needed to make that trip to Kinte. Quickly, Ehud scribbled his response on the note.

My favorite Terran food is Spaghetti.

It was the same answer he'd given her just the day before, but maybe she didn't remember. They had quite a day and the snake really didn't help that much. Sliding into his pants he took himself out to the living room and slide the note into Priscilla's hands. "I'm ready to go with you. Got a few ideas for some cloth we should pick out. There will be a...well the tour soon and you'll need an appropriate dress to wear. I've got a few patterns ready and all we need is to find the right cloth and I'll put the gold thread in it." He planned on creating the pattern and then using a machine to replicate it. He didn't have time to put all the stitching in by hand, but he could create it on a piece of cloth. "I'll need a few supplies and machines to make the dress too."

This was actually something to be excited about. Ehud had been working with bare minimum supplies for his tailoring work and he had enough money to get himself going again. If he was going to truly adopt his original life again he would need to get the proper equipment and maybe get a little spot set aside in their house for his work. At the very least he may be able to rent some space in the shop in Chip village to work on his projects. Everyone would be looking to get their ceremonial outfits designed and made before the tour. This was the prime time to put himself out there again as a tailor.

"Sien!" Ehud called his son from the kitchen and looked at the boy for a long moment. "You want to go to Kinte with Pris and I?" The boy glanced at them both and then nodded. "Make a list of the things you see we need in the house and then a few things you want. Remember to put them in a proper category of priorities."

Having his son learn to triage needs and wants was a necessary and wonderful skill. It would be one that would carry him through life and prevent some issues. Sien let his hands flop at his side and went into the kitchen to take a fast inventory of the basics. He knew what his father would ask about. While he was busily making his list he thought of one thing he desperately wanted and he knew if he only put one thing on his list that he would get it. As long as it was within reason. What he wanted was the explorer scooter. It came with a little box on the front of it for storing things and a custom bottle holder with the explorer emblem on it. The bottle was included too. As soon as the boy was done he came over to his father with the list and he held it out to him. "I put what I wanted on it too."

Ehud looked over the list and he sighed. He couldn't help noticing that the scooter was on the list and it was the only thing. "We'll see about the scooter." He fully intended on getting it for his son, but he didn't know if his was the right time. It was the rainy season, but that also meant that more of them would be in stock. Once the weather was nice all the boys would want one. His son should be rewarded for thinking ahead after all.
On the way out to the ship Ehud found himself limping enough that he almost wondered if he would want a cane for the day. He didn't have one, but he might end up getting one for himself and one for Priscilla. The ship they had wasn't horribly fancy, but it was adequate for the few small trips they may like to make. "Sien, get strapped in and uh..." Ehud smiled at Pris gently. "You can sit in the co-pilot seat. If you like." He liked having her sit in the cockpit if she was willing. He barely got them into the air and he started to talk to her about a few little plans he had for himself.

"What would you think of me making the custom aprons and such for the bakery? I'm thinking about working part time as a tailor too. Maybe cutting back some hours training and work more in what I want. There will be a need for tailors too. This is a great time to launch things. Thought about what you said last night and I want to work part time as a tailor. Still need to keep up with my other work, but this could be a nice way to do what I used to." Ehud wasn't so sure why she was giving him the look she was, but he didn't know how to read it either. Was she happy with him? Maybe she was upset? "I have no idea what that look is about. Care to tell me?"

********************************

After watching the holograms with the family Illya still felt tired. His chest was aching and he felt like his throat was going to tear apart every time he coughed. As badly as he wanted to ask for his throat gargle he didn't know if it had anything in it that was addictive, so he decided to wait till it was the prescribed time to take it. The first bit of motion in the chair made him groan. His back lit on fire too and he immediately thought of the pain killer he would get tonight before bed. It was the last one he had for who knew how long. In some ways he looked forward to getting the medication. It wasn't because he wanted the drugs, but because yesterday was the best he'd slept in a long time and he wanted to sleep well again. The back was at least manageable when he could sleep at night.

Dinner felt less than substantial due to the diet requiring only soft foods. Illya still enjoyed the soup. It was delicious though there wasn't much meat in it. The few bites in dinner that happened to be more meaty proved to be difficult to swallow if he didn't chew it well and Illya winced when a particularly large unchewed bite of meat slid down his throat.

Tomorrow he was supposed to be at classes again and the kids desperately wanted to go with them. It was the week off of school and so they all had to pack stuff up into the ship for an entire week with the family. Naturally Rose wanted to come because he would get to see Sam and Illya knew that was the only reason she lobbied heavily for her siblings to get passes to get into Skycorp for a day too. "Ok, we jes see ef yah can all come eh?" Rasping the words Illya's brow furrowed. Afterword he gingerly attempted to clear his throat.

The packing turned into a mini ordeal and he packed his bags, Cypher's and helped with the twins. Kalizda primarily ended up packing for the twins and Lohgan while Cypher packed most of his things with a little guidance from Illya. This time Illya had Cypher get his little set of fatigues. That was one thing that Illya had his son consistently get each time he grew. A boy needed a good set of fatigues if his father is the General. "Yah pack dah soldier clotes. I dress en mine tomorrow and yah want tah work wit meh eh?" Eagerly Cypher nodded and he shoved all the clothing into the bag. "Yeah, I dress like soldier and I wrestle!" He loved wrestling and he knew that his dah was a very good teacher. "Do dey wrestle at Skycorp?" In response to his son's question Illya nodded and then opened his son's underwear drawer. "Get boxers. Yah mum would be upset ef yah run around witout dem. Et hurts too. Pants rub wrong."

By the time the packing was done it was late, but that left the option of packing tonight and leaving with autopilot and then an alert to land, or to pack tonight and then get up early. It was easier to fly on autopilot late at night and get up to land than it would be to get up early in the morning and then try to make it to classes on time.

Thomas helped quite a bit with the packing since Illya was still supposed to be careful about how much he lifted. The tube in his side was causing some trouble anyway. It sometimes got bumped by his arm and that always hurt. Illya carried his and Kalizda's bag out with his left arm and carried Lohgan's bag in his right. Thomas and Kalizda carried the rest out. By bedtime they were all loaded into the ship and the kids were in their pajamas and strapped into their seats for take off.

Heading back to the pit Illya ducked inside and sat gingerly in the navigator's seat. "I set coordinate eh? Jes like old times." Grinning at her he nodded some. "All except dat now yah meh Kalizda and we have a few babies." With a grunt he leaned forward and then finished setting in the coordinates. There was the usual rumble of the engines and the ship took them gliding out of the various layers of atmosphere into space and toward their next destination. There wasn't usually any turbulence, but Illya always had the kids strapped in for take off and landing if possible. He'd had a few rough landings in his life and he didn't like them. There was no reason to take undue risks. Within a few minutes the ship leveled out and Illya got up to go take the kids to bed.

*******************

By the next morning it was almost unbearably early to wake and get all the kids going and ready for the day at Skycorp. Each and every one of them wanted to come to the school with them. Illya hadn't slept well and he looked at himself in the mirror and grumbled some. He looked like he hadn't slept at all. Without his shirt he could still see the tube sticking out of his side and it was disgusting.

Looking away from the mirror he undid the cap for the drainage bulb and emptied it into the toilet and then flushed the toilet. The drainage bulb still had a lot of redish looking blood and he hated that almost as much as anything else. Knowing it was blood from his lungs made him want to puke.

With the morning routine done and a quick shower with Kalizda he took himself to Cypher's room to be sure the boy had his clothing on and he was proper. Stepping into his son's room he saw Cypher had his shirt untucked and Illya grabbed his boy's arm, "Eh, yah tuck yah shirt en like mine." Standing up straight he nodded. "Yah jes see how I put meh fatigues on and yah do dah same."

Gladly the boy prepared himself and he grinned at the end when he grabbed his little beret. "Yah forgot yah beret."

"No." Illya pulled his folded beret out from his shoulder strap on his shirt and then leaned over so he could look in Cypher's mirror and combed his hair back with his big brown hands before putting his beret on. Cypher carefully imitated his father and at the end he smiled even bigger. "Now I put on meh soldier shoes and tuck meh pants en dah top!" With a nod Illya sat on the edge of his son's bed and waited for Cypher to finish before the two of them marched out to the kitchen to get a fast breakfast.

There was a little bit of time to sit for eating, but Illya was still finishing his breakfast when it was time to go. "I carry Edgar." Illya held his hands out to Kalizda when she tried to heft the boy. Strapping one of the baby carriers on he had Kalizda help him strap the largest of the twins securely to his chest. By time they were actually ready they were going to be late and it was a very fast walk to Skycorp with Logan half jogging the whole way and Cypher trotting at his father's side with a big grin.

At the gate Illya gave a winded huff. His lungs were still not quite what they should be. "I need passes for all dah kids." The gate attendant nodded and quickly stamped several wristbands. Instead of counting the little brown heads as they appeared he would wait for Illya to hold his hand out for another one and another till he nodded a thanks and then rushed through.

Illya stepped into the class behind Kalizda with the chubbier twin bouncing merrily in his arms, Lohgan tugging at his belt and Cypher marching behind him in mini fatigues. Cypher's curls rumpled and stuck out from underneath his beret in an identical manner to his father. Edgar turned and saw the crew walk in. A bright smile came to his face and he beckoned to Illya. "Yah late. Dah price es dat I get tah give each little one a hug eh?" They weren't terribly late, but Illya figured it was just an excuse. Taking the kids over to their grandfather he let Edgar place a kiss on each one's cheek and then took a seat in the front row with Kalizda. As soon as he sat down the baby Edgar squawked for more treats and Illya reached into his bag and dumped an entire snack sack of crackers on his desk. "Dat'll keep yah quiet. Now jes shove yah little mout full and let me learn eh?"

Calysta was happy to see Edgar beckon the children over to him and carried Tomas to join his siblings. "Say hi to grandpa Edgar," she cooed in Qouti as Tomas recieved his kiss. Cypher took his as well, but marched over to his seat with his chin held high in his tiny fatigues. It was a sight that got a few of the women in the room sighing. "How cute," one of them twittered. Calysta settled into her seat with Tomas and the Lohgan came closer. The girl's green eyes kept traveling to the next aisle over where Markus sat. She gave him cautious looks and kept her fashionably gloved hand snug around Calysta's ankle. When Illya dumped out the entire bag of snacks, the same cooing women grinned and waved at chubby Edgar. "Oh hello...how old are hm? Blackwolf, he's adorable."

Once he was seated Illya felt a twinge in his side. The drainage tube made an odd rumple in his shirt and it pulled some. He was getting settled in when one of the women asked how old Edgar was. "Eh...I dun know." Illya shrugged and readjusted his son on his lap. "Kalizda, how old are dah twins?"

Calysta held the wiggling Thomas in her lap and patted Lohgan's shoulder gently. She only acted shy when something bothered intensely and she hadn't had the trait at all until about a year ago. When Illya asked how old the twins were, she raised a brow at him. He didn't remember? "Well, they were born in the rainy season nearly 2 years ago. So a little under two now. It would be November in Terran calendars." Cypher sat down next to his father with a straight back and his chin high. A few of them women chuckled and asked him his name. "Cypher Monroe," he told them, his mouth breaking into a lopsided grin. The women both airmen and teachers alike just giggled all the more at him and glanced to Illya. "Oh he is the a little copy of you for sure. All of them look a bit like you," one mentioned. About that time, Edgar decided he wanted a cracker from the table and burst into a fit of happiness over it. "Omnomnom!" His pudgy hand reached out for the snack and stuffed the cracker into his mouth nearly whole. "Whoa, Edgar," Calysta said, reaching over to pull some out, "Not so much at once. Little bites for little boys." Even Swyft was leaning over to get a better look and had a pleased smile. "The whole family today, huh?" He nodded to Illya.

That little eyebrow raise got a shrug from Illya. He didn't know the exact age of any of the kids. Sometimes he was right and sometimes he was wrong, so it was just easier to ask Kalizda. "Now yah got dah answer. Dey're eh, two years." Leaning over Illya reached into his bag to get his pad now. Edgar let out a loud "Omnom!" as the boy reached for more snacks and Illya wasn't too concerned about it till Kalizda interfered. "Et's fine, I can take care of him." With one finger Illya poked two crackers and broke them then handed them to Edgar. At first the boy seemed a bit stricken that his father would break his crackers and then he giggled and took them and ate them anyway. Cypher was drawing more than enough attention too and women started to twitter about the boy looking like him. "Of course dey look like meh. I'm dah fater." About that time Edgar began gleefully mashing his crackers and Illya heard Swyft. "Mmhmm. Yeah dey all want tah come wit meh and Kalizda tahday." Edgar grabbed one of the mostly mashed crackers and put it in his mouth for a moment before he decided dad looked hungry. With a chubby little finger he fished it out of his mouth and squeaked "Mmmmmm" while he shoved it into his dad's mouth. Illya hadn't been expecting the soggy cracker bit and he inhaled out of surprise only to start coughing and then gag it down. "Ugh...dun share wit meh."

Illya grumbled at her, stating that he could take care of Edgar and she tilted her head at him. He seemed to be in a foul mood and her action hadn't been about him not being able to deal with it. She was simply trying to keep him from consuming too big a portion. Ignoring his mood, she simply sat back with Tomas and said nothing else about it for now. Edgar was chomping down on crackers. When he ended up with a mouthful of soggy cracker stuffed in his own mouth, she resisted the urge to snort a bit. How many times had Edgar terrorized her with soggy food? Rather than saying anything, she pulled a wet wipe from her bag and offered it to him so he could get the mash off of his lips where it had stuck some from his inhale. One of the older women, the Signals and Controls instructor leaned forward to Illya. "What a cheerful fellow. If ye get tired I wont mind holding him for a bit. He's the same age as my grandson, yeah?" Swyft nodded to Cypher as he sat there proud in his uniform. They had met before when he wandered into the ladies locker room. The child had grown at least an inch...but hadnt lost his charm with the females it seemed. "Is the whole family here for the next few days?" Swyft asked.

The women were still smiling like a bunch of drunk monkeys. Then an older woman offered to hold Edgar and Illya studied her for a long moment before he shook his head. "No, he dun get meh too tired tah hold him." Even if they were in Skycorp it didn't mean it was safe for others to hold his children, or even try to feed them anything. Kalizda handed him a napkin and Illya took it and wiped his mouth off before reaching down and getting a little cracker for himself. He was in the middle of eating the snack with his son when Swyft asked another question about the kids. "Eh, we jes see how exciting dey find all dis." Cypher turned around and gave a severe frown. "Shhhh....dah teacher es gonna start."

Cypher's urging that teacher was about to start caused a few people to chuckle before leaning back in ther chairs to listen. Calysta shifted Tomas on her lap and turned her attention to Edgar the Elder at the front of the class room. While class began, every now and then Lohgan glanced over her shoulder to peek at Markus before looking away. No one was going to sneak up on her and she didnt like that one because he was scary every time he was around.

**********************

By the time lunch rolled around Edgar was smacking his lips at the very scent of food. There were women oogling the chubby little boy and grinning. One of them waved and Cypher glanced over at her and then his father before he decided to smile and wave back. "Hi, yah pretty." Cypher gave a reassuring nod to the woman and then he extended a hand. "I'm Cypher Monroe. Nice tah meet yah. Dat's meh little broter and yah should leave him alone. Dah would get mad ef yah tried tah touch him. He dun like et when strangers want to hold dah babies, but I'm a big boy now."

Daphne chuckled at the older boys compliment and her friends tittered with soft cooings. How a cute the children were! Just because all the men were taking didn't mean that they couldn't oogle over the pretty little babies they made. Everyone loved children, didn't they. Plus, what appeared to be the eldest of the Monroe children had an altogether charming smile. He flashed his little white teeth and held out his hand like the 'big boy' he was and Daphne reached out to shake his hand with a firm, but child sized nudge. It was a very Terran greeting, but she had seen it before. "Why thank you, Mr. Monroe," she said back, "It's nice to meet you too." When he mentioned his plump brother and his father didn't like the fact that other people werent exactly welcome to hold them, Daphne nodded. "You are definitely a big boy." And that was the truth, he was built solidly like his father and matched him nearly line for line as a miniature version except for the eyes. He must have gotten those from his mother, whoever she was. "Well, I wont try to touch him, yeah?" She let go of his hand and smiled. "That was a good hand shake. Do you know the Kaerelean greeting too? I am Kaerelean after all."

There wasn't a lot to say about what Cypher did. Most of it was true, so Illya chose to observe for the time. There were enough other Elite around that nobody was going to do something stupid. Of course Cypher had to blurt another little fact that was not quite so flattering sounding about now. "I know et, but dah says dat we're Chip and we dun bow tah anyone. Nut even him and he's dah General!"

Daphne smirked, and stole a glance at Illya, before looking back down to Cypher. "Aye, maybe that's so, but I think it's still good to know. That way you can say hello to people who do bow, yeah? Even a General." She bent at the waist and looked Cypher in the eye. "There. Now you've been greeted my way too." A few of her friends behind her chuckled as she straightened and then nodded to Edgar. "He is your baby brother, yeah? You both have the some mother?"

Cypher tilted his head and then glanced at Illya. "Do I have tah bow like dey make meh en school?" Reluctantly Illya nodded. "Yes dis es still school." Cypher rolled his eyes and bowed slightly before righting himself again. By then the woman was asking about the twins. "Yeah, we all have some moter. She's right dere." Pointing to Kalizda he smiled. "Dah calls her his little bird woman."

She glanced to where Cypher pointed to and saw the council woman. She was standing nearby in conversation with Commander Swyft, her grey eyes focused on the grey haired man. The woman was tiny, even for someone who clearly had Ewenian in their blood somewhere along the way. There was no way a half breed woman had so many children. She wasn't going to say anything, but one of her friends felt the need to act on their confusion. The child looked nothing like the council woman, after all. "But she isn't your birth mother, yeah?" Daphne shot her friend a look. "Don't say things like that, Yeri" she scolded, "I'm sure she is a good mother....though why does he call her little bird woman?" It almost sounded like an insult.

Before Illya could even attempt to give an answer and end the conversation his son had to yell it for the world to hear. "She es meh moter. Dah says even when he worries because Edgar was too fat dat et was still fun making babies. He's gonna tell meh how tah make meh own babies soon." Illya reached out with one hand and tapped Cypher on the shoulder. "Eh, hurry. Catch up wit yah moter. She's almost to dah food line. Yah want food eh?" Nodding some Cypher started to obey and then decided to answer the last question. "Dah calls her little bird woman because she flies like bird. Dat's how he met her."

Daphne's eyes widened some at Cypher's reply. Kids could say the damnedest things and the words out of Cypher's mouth were enough to send the girls into quiet rounds of giggles. "I'm...I'm sure it was..." Daphne managed to reply. With has frank as their child had been, and it was definitely the Council woman's child it seemed, she couldn't image how the conversation about 'making babies' was going to go. When Illya approached and started to send Cypher on his way, the boy added in why his mother had her nick name. Daphne wasn't going to say that's probably how many of the Kaerelean people met. It seemed to have some significance and the name did suit the woman. Her face burned as the big Chip man shuffled his son away toward the food line. "Well...he's honest," Daphne mumbled to Illya.

Naturally it all had to come back to a conversation with him and Illya shifted some to look at Daphne. His throat was still sore, but he managed a good croak. "Sure dat Kalizda would say et comes from meh." He gave her half a grin and then shuffled forward in the line. About that time he heard a sort of grumble from one of the men in front of him. Illya stood on his tip toes to see what it was all about only to feel a sharp pain in his side. "Owe, Cypher yah dun poke meh ribs right now, yah remember?" The boy got wide eyes and then nodded. "Es dah food gross?" Illya shrugged. "I dun know." "Are dey serving dah little shets again?" A broad grin came to Illya's face and he started to chuckle. "I guess we find out."

The short Ewenian woman snorted at the passing comments between father and son. They were talking about an incident that happened nearly a year ago involving nasty little Terran fruits in bread. "I think they look like little shits too," Daphne comments, winking a little at Cypher. Of course, about that time, Councilwoman Monroe floated over holding her own tray piled with food that would most likely end up in Edgar's stomach rather than hers, and gave her son as well as her husband a look. Daphne could tell it was a 'mom' look and clammed up immediately. "Cypher, what have I told you about using that word?" Calysta said, wielding her gaze like a whip, "You know better."

Cypher gleefully nodded and he was about to continue the conversation when his mother gave him the look. Immediately he lowered his eyes and Illya cleared his throat. "Yah jest step in front of meh." Illya watched as his son pushed his little tray along. Within a matter of seconds Illya saw exactly what the grumbling was about. The cook was flopping long cylinder slabs of meat on the trays and they didn't look entirely appetizing. Somehow the woman had finally caught on that the Chips needed more food and they all got 3 of each of these things. "Eh...." Cypher stared at the long round meat. "What es dis?" The cook answered, "It's called a hot dog. It's Terran food day. You'll get some raisins, carrots and potato chips down at the other end." Asher snickered some and then Bahn commented in Quoti, "Hmm....yeah. Looks like limp Terran dick. Immediately Cypher piped up and used Trader's Tongue. "What's a dick?!"

Most the activity around Cypher screeched to a halt at the child's sudden, loud question. Daphne's mouth dropped open while Commander Swyft stood back blinking in surprise. Calysta's mouth became a thin line, and her eyes widened while her cheeks turned rosey. "Its not a nice word for hot dogs right now," she said, "Don't say it and if you dont say it all day, your father will explain it when he gets home, yeah?" She gave Illya a pointed look on top of her expectant gaze.

All the Elite had growing grins until Kalizda made her pronouncement. Illya nodded some and then grimaced at his plate. "Dat's right. I jes explain dat later." There was still some quiet smiling an chuckles exchanged among the men though none of them repeated what Bahn said. When they were seated the men cautiously began prodding the meat. Illya shoved his once or twice, but he figured he would have to eat it. Taking the meat he dipped the end of it into one of the sauces and then bit the tip of it off. A deep frown was set on his face. He didn't really like the image that Bahn had created, but he could always eat it faster and get it over with. Shoving nearly half the chunk of meat into his mouth he chewed it only a few times and then swallowed. Asher grunted across the table from him. "I can do better den dat." Now that the challenge was on a few of the men began to try and shove the meat in their mouths a bit more at a time. Illya glanced at them and then grinned. "Ooh I can take dah whole ting." All of them widened their eyes and waited expectantly. Tilting his head back Illya shoved the whole, second hot dog into his mouth by tilting his head back and guiding the meat all the way into the back of his throat.

They all sat down together with the children wedged in the seats between Calysta and Illya. Asher joined them, along with Bahn and a few others to fill up the table completely. That was just as well, because none of them seemed overly thrilled with their lunch, though the children were excited for it. Calysta ate her hotdogs with only a little bit of red kraut and relish, giving Edgar every other bite, which he chewed on with gusto. Of course, Edgar's gusto was nothing compared to the Chip men who had taken up trying to out match each other, bite for bite. She watched on in slight horror as Illya swallowed down his second hot dog whole and bun included. He had done it before.she could caution him about his throat and she could see his Adam's apple bobbing as he gulped down the whole thing. "Illya..." she whispered, "That was gross."

Illya winced some as the bun caught almost halfway down his throat and he reached for his glass of water. Chugging down a few big swigs he felt the bread move down some and swallowed hard a few more times before drinking more water. He was definitely going to be needing his throat rinse after this. Glancing at Kalizda in surprise he quirked an eyebrow. "Was et too gross tah give meh little kiss?"

Calysta's eyebrow mirrored his and she stayed put, her eyes trained on his. "I don't know. That depends on how likely it is you'll swallow me whole if I attempt to kiss you and you're still hungry."

A bigger grin came to his face. "Well, I dun tink dat would work out. Yah might be little tough for dat. Dese," Holding up one of the hot dogs he flopped it a little. "Dey are nut hard, jes soft and floppy." At that even he started to laugh and the guys around him laughed more.

Illya grinned and picked up a limp little hot dog, wiggling it at her suggestively . "I'm not that grizzled of a bird "she said, "but go ahead and eat that limp dick. Just don't choke on it yeah?" She shot him a knowing smile and took a bite of Her own hot dog feeling wry while she did.

The boys eyes widened. "Mam! Yah jes called et a limp dick too!" With his proclamation for the world to hear the entire room went quiet. Illya looked at her and chuckled. "Whose explaining et to him tahnight?"

"I did," Calysta said to Cypher, ignoring the room, "It wasnt very nice of me, was it? See? All the room is looking at me now because I've been naughty. Your Dah will explain it to you tonight so long as you don't repeat it. If you repeat it. You'll never know what it is and that wouldnt be good for a big boy." She pointed toward his hotdogs and motioned for him to eat before catching Illya's eye with a look of mirth. "Your Dah will be explaining it later."

It seemed that no matter how this conversation went Illya was going to be the one explaining it tonight. "Hmmm. Alright I'll explain what dah limp dick es." Without thinking of it he shook the hot dog again and laughed some. The Elite began chuckling and Cypher's eyes got wide as if he was starting to understand.

Calysta shot him a look and then glanced down at their son whose eyes had gone wide with dawning understanding. "Illya," she said as the men chuckled, "I think you'll be explaining a little more than that too." Their son was going to need to know sooner or later and if this was going to be his first exposure it should be somewhere he wasnt going to be chuckled at for asking questions. "Go ahead and eat your hotdogs, Cypher," Calysta said. Her son's eyes drifted down to his plate as he inspected his food, then he shook his head dislodging his beret.

Of course now that his son knew what the men had said he didn't want to eat the food and Illya smirked. "Et's alright. Dah food es nut dat, et jes looks like et. Ef yah dun cut snake meat ets kinda long like dat too. Only dis dun taste so good. Why dun yah try tah see how much yah can eat at one time. I jes eat whole one in single bite."

"Are yeh sure. Dah?" Cypher grimaced as he picked up his hot dog and studied it before taking a hesitant bite."Et doesnt taste like snake. I dun like et...es there anything else?" When Calysta shook her head and gave Illya a look. "No this is lunch. And it's not that. It's just a little meat, yeah? You dont have to eat it though. Maybe take it slow." Cypher sighed and then stuffed the whole thing in his mouth in the effort of getting it over with. His cheeks bulged and he barely chewed before swallowing it whole. Calysta yelped some and tried to get him some water as he coughed a few times. "Cypher. Chew your food!"

The boy started to shove the meat into his mouth and Illya cheered along with a few of the other guys. They were all grinning and then Cypher began to gag on the meat. At least it sounded like a gag. "Oh, he'll be fine." Illya patted his son on the back a few times to aid with the cough. "Now yah know why dah rest of us swallow et en big bites. I tink 2 more and yah finish dah meat and yah be strong for dah exercise dis afternoon."

Calysta pinched the bridge of her nose between her fingers and sighed some. "Just chew your food, Cypher. Maybe try a little ketchup...its like barbecue sauce..." she said quietly. It was only then she realized what Illya had said and her head shot up with her eyes on full alert. "Exercises...on the field..." She didnt want to crush her sons hopeful look, but she also didnt want him running around in practical battle grounds. She knew what the Chip Elite did on the practice field.

Upon hearing that he would get to exercise with the men Cypher busily started to chomp on his food. Anything would be worth it to go with his father. Illya glanced at Kalizda when she gave that questioning sort of tone. "Mmhmm. Et will be fine. Cypher will learn tah run and he will learn tah be fast tinker."

She wanted to tell Illya exactly what kind of fast thinker she was going to be when he brought back her baby hurt by accident from some sort of shenanigans on the practice field. Instead, she swallowed down the retort and simply allowed her face to redden. "I think he could learn those anywhere. I don't think it's a good idea really unless he stays with you."

Illya frowned. "What did yah tink? I was gonna let all meh jackals attack him? Of course he stays wit meh." Cypher nudged his dad, "Dey're nut jackals." A few of the men smiled and nodded along with Cypher. "Oh, alright."

Now he sounded a bit like he was mocking her and she frowned back at him. "I didnt think he would be going to the practice field at all, jackals or not." It's not that she didnt trust the Elite, she trusted them all except for one, but she was worried that he would get hurt by accident. Try as Cypher might, he wasnt full Chip. His bones would break a little easier, though he was a strong lad. It was a fact that sometimes she was sure Illya forgot. A sudden stab of realization hit her and she stared at her husband. "Good Goddesses..." she sighed. She sounded just like her father.

"OOoh, I jes give en and now yah decide dat I'm right. I always knew I would win an argument one day." With a laugh he shoved the last bit of his final hot dog in his mouth. "Eugh onna un wit us?" Illya wasn't sure if she understood him, but he could repeat himself later. Right now his throat was way too sore to keep on talking.

Calysta shot him a look and listened through his mouthful of food to the questions. He was playing this off and it was irritating. Even he shouldnt be out there with his illness right now but there was no chance of stopping him in front of his son and his men. "Oh I'm definitely coming with you. I'm going to be watching," she said firmly.

She sounded like his mother when he was a boy and Illya winced. "When did yah get dat moter voice?"

Calysta raised a brow at her husband who seemed to give her what looked like a look of pain followed by a question that surprised her. Wasnt she supposed to sound like a mother? She set her jaw as her face reddened further. "Probably somewhere between number two-" she pointed to Cypher and number 4 and 5, Illya." She pointed at the twins. Was he that disgusted by the fact that she maybe wasn't as 'fun' as a mother? She started gathering up her children's trays which were empty besides a few wads of soggy bun and then piled then on top of her own half eaten food.

Coughing a little bit he stared at the trays as she gathered them in haste. "Yeah, I jes never notice et before. Yah do et really good. Sounded like meh moter for moment." Illya set a hand on hers. "Et's nut a bad ting. Jes means dat yah have experience."

She didn't pause until his large brown hand settled over hers next to the trays. Surely most men would have thought their wives sounding like their mothers was a bad thing. He seemed to think that it was a good thing though. A compliment even. She brought her eyes up to his and studied him for a long moment before her tiny fingers laced into his. He didnt lie to her about those types of things and maybe she just misread the wince as a pang of missing his mother rather than irritation. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze and then leaned over, kissing his cheek. "You're a good father too, yeah?"

"Would yah stop wit dah mush?" Grumbling across the table at them Asher gave a scrunched expression. Naturally with a challenge Illya felt the need to step up. "Nah, I tink I feel like making yah feel strange. Maybe I say dis to meh little bird." Leaning in closer to spoke to her in Kaerelean. "Yah eyes bright like dah stars and yah skin soft like light from dah moons wit hair black like night. Dis es dah little bird dat flies en midnight skies."

Calysta ignored Asher's grumblings but naturally, Illya had a come back. This one she liked as she spoke in soft, accented Kaerelean to her. Now, he was showing off and she knew it, but the flattery meant only for her ears made her smile grow again and she gazed at him all starry eyed for a moment. He really was handsome when he spoke like that. Leaning in again, she brought her lips to his ears. "And for my Chip who has eyes green and uncanny as the Wilds. I tell him, his little bird will love on him a more when they return to the nest." She spoke it in Kaerelean and kissed his cheek again before sliding away to take the trays.

Illya's eyes followed her and he had a dazed sort of look until he heard giggling from the kids. Logan was finding great humor in trying to toss the raisins from her plate onto Bahn's and the big man simply tried to catch them with his mouth open. When her aim was bad one of the others would lean in and snatch the raisin. If the raisin hit the table they played a game of speed which resulted in a loud slap on the table that sent shockwaves through it. With great delight Cypher decided to try the game too and soon there was a mini food toss going and the men humored the kids for the time.

With lunch over it was time to hit the gym for a little exercise and Cypher grinned merrily as he tromped along next to his father. Whenever one of the women looked at him he would smile and wave. "Hi!" Excitedly he smiled and waved when he saw Amil. Amil was one of the older boys that used to go to the school and this must have been where he was going now. However, Amil had another class he wasn't going to the same one.

Inside the gym Illya stood on the sidelines and waited for the first round of exercises to be called. He was more than ready to have this over with for today. It was determined they would run inside for a few minutes and then compete with some small agility exercises. Taking up the back Illya winked at Cypher. "We jes stay back here and make sure day all do dere jobs and keep moving eh?"

Within minutes of starting into the jogging Cypher began calling out orders like he'd heard his father do before. "Hurry up yah sluggards. Yah move like snake en cold desert night." That earned a few shocked gazes and Cypher began running faster. Illya grunted and picked his pace up a bit to keep up with his son. "I'm dah General, yah nut. I give orders." Immediately his son hushed, but giggled when he saw one of the ladies slap a guy in the face with her long swaying braid.

After the warm up and all the little agility stunts it was time for battle techniques with hand to hand combat. Illya stayed back and again chose to give orders. He wasn't keen on the idea of having the tube jostled around too much. Then there was the fact that they were going to be short and Illya walked Cypher over to Ehvan and Daphne. "Ehvan yah wrestle wit meh Kalizda. Cypher yah wrestle wit Daphne. She will be good size partner for dese exercises."

Ehvan nervously walked over to where Kalizda stood. "Yah jes know dat anyting I do es for training only. I dun mean anyting by dis and I dun want tah hurt yah." He wasn't keen on the idea of possibly hurting the tiny woman. While the wrestling was taking place Illya walked through the room to be sure that proper techniques were being followed. Every now and then he would stop a pair and make an explanation on what was wrong. By the end of the day he was exhausted, his throat was feeling swollen and he was sure that he wouldn't make it through dinner.

Dinner at home on the ship was thankfully something that was easy to swallow. Kalizda was serving a warm cream of sorts with soft bits of meat and vegetables in it. Even as gentle as the food was his throat still hurt. Illya smiled some at Kalizda and hoarsely whispered, "Tanks, dinner es good. I tink Terrans say, hits dah spot?" He was trying to make sure he acknowledged that part of her culture in a positive light for the children. With confirmation that he had indeed used the correct term his children began to mimick him and smacked their lips while thanking their mother for the good food.

***********************

Bed time was a little less about the talking that Illya had been intending. Instead he gargled the medicine from the doctors for his throat and crawled into the bed with Kalizda. She was looking fine, very beautiful and he got into the bed with her. He forgot about his tube in his side long enough to try and roll around and he stopped short before sitting up one elbow and then leaning over her to kiss her. With the drainage tube he was wearing a shirt to bed these days and he wore his boxers too because wearing a shirt and nothing else looked odd. "What yah tink about eh..." Cutting it short he grinned. "Maybe yah tink about telling meh some stories. I tink dat would be good." He was so tempted to say his idea of no sex was bad, but he was going to stick with what he said.

Part way into the night he began drifting off. He'd told a few stories about when he was boy to her. She seemed to like to hear about his past and it was good that she felt comfortable enough to ask about at least one thing. "I get tired now." Mumbling under his breath he rolled to his back and held onto one of her hands. Laying on his side made it too hard to breath lately and he preferred to be able to breath.

Suddenly the world was shaking and a searing pain cut into his back and down his legs. Illya could feel his right leg was on fire all the way down to the foot. At least it felt like it. Turning he rolled to his stomach and tried to curl up. There was another whistle like a blast was about to hit again. He didn't have time to get to cover. Noise was everywhere, his ears were ringing, but he heard one of his men calling for help. Looking up he saw the man was mostly blown to bits. Frantically Illya grabbed for the man near him. "Hey, call for help, we need back up!" Yelling at the man as loudly as he could he shook him and then realized he was dead too. It was all too familiar. Momentarily Illya let the man go and he shakily lifted his hands to his face and began to shudder. "No, no...I uh..." He was trying to pull himself out of it. It was a dream and he knew it. Taking a few more deep breaths he heard Kalizda talking to him and he almost cried from relief. "Yeah, I hear yah."

Breathing shakily he rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling. His vision was blurred with tears and for the time he didn't want to alarm Kalizda anymore than she was and he sat up. "I jes need drink of water. I be back en 5 minutes." Limping out of their room in the ship he let out a deep sigh once he was in the kitchen. Running some water into the sink he got his hands damp and then patted around his eyes some dried his face where it was wet on the shoulder of his shirt. "Ok...." Talking to himself walked himself around the table a few times, got a glass of water, took a sip and then carried the glass of water back to the bedroom. Setting the glass on his nightstand he took another sip of it and then offered a sip to Kalizda. "Yah need anyting tah drink before we go back tah sleep?" He couldn't do much more than whisper again and this time his throat was even more sore than it had been before bed. Based on the bit of whimpering he heard from the twins' bedroom he could guess he'd been yelling in his sleep. As he tried to get back to sleep he listened to the kids quiet down again and then drifted off into a fitful rest.
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
When it came time for PT in the indoor gymnasium things went about as they usually did, though with one less than small exception. Cypher, Blackwolf and Calysta’s first son was quite the personality. Daphne couldn’t help but giggle at the little miniaturized General as he ran alongside his father, barking orders just like his dad. Leave it up to one of Blackwolf’s spawn to make things interesting. The kid had already made jokes about 'limp Terran dicks' and after she asked what the Terran term was, she'd nearly keeled over in peels of laughter. The boy was going to fit in right with his fellow Elite men and his mother was going to have as wild a child as her husband was.

The young boy was running almost a pace ahead of his father without a hint of being winded, and grinned at all the ladies as he ran by. Daphne wondered if he Illya had been single when he first came to Skycorp if this flirtatious personality was something his son had learned by example. She had seen Illya flirt with the Council woman on numerous occasions and that would have been plenty of exposure to such behavior.

“What a little heartbreaker he’ll be,” Daphne chuckled to Ehvan as they jogged, “I’ve never seen a kid so determined to be like his father.”

They finished their laps and then paired off into partners, except this time, she had been paired with Cypher while Ehvan went with the council woman. Daphne raised a brow at her tall Chip partner as he gave a disclaimer to the child-sized Calysta Monroe. The woman didn’t look the least bit nervous as he approached. “Oh, I think I can handle it. We’ve trained together in tougher places, yeah?”

Daphne wanted to ask what those ‘tougher places’ were out of pure curiosity but her thought was interrupted by Cypher coming to stand in front of her. She smiled down at the boy and nodded. “Are you ready?” He returned her grin ten-fold and they went over to their mat together. “Now,” she said, “I’ve been at training for awhile, so maybe we can do some easier moves first?” She didn’t want to kill his confidence or actually run the risk of hurting him with a move done incorrectly. He seemed ready for her and so she went for an easy to maneuver grapple, her arms looking to hug him from over head.

Before she knew what was happening, her head flipped under and her bum rocketed in the air followed by her feet. She yelped before all of the air whooshed from her lungs as her back slammed against the mat. Somewhere out of her vision she could hear Cypher crowing in victory. Had this little kid just flipped her?

Daphne sucked in a painful breath and blinked at the ceiling. “Oh Goddesses Above.” That had knocked the breath from her and she gave the boy a few seconds more. “Where did you learn that,” she wheezed at him. Cypher leaned over her and grinned. “Meh Dah showed meh Mam tah do that tah big enemies and then he showed meh.”

She furrowed her brow and she sat up, then rolled to her feet quickly to get into a defensive stance in front of Cypher. Her next defense move wasn't effective either and Cypher had her in a choke hold she had trouble getting out of it. Only when her hand tapped on the mat did he let go enough for her to breath.

"How old were you again, kid?" Daphne asked.

Cypher grinned a charming smile at her. "Almost Nine."

She was getting beaten by a nine year old child and the worst part was he actually was better. Daphne shook her head and readied her stance again, willing to throw her weight around with him now. This little kid was a miniature Illya and she had already seen what a full sized one could do.

************

Calysta was tired and had a small chill by the time she made it back to the ship with all of the kids and her husband. After sparring with Ehvan and getting sweaty, she had managed to cool off and then never quite gotten warm again. It left her feeling sluggish, though not nearly as ill as her Chip. He had been talking too much and his throat was more than likely raw.

Dinner consisted of boiling potatoes and mashing them with cheese and a little bit of bacon. It was easy to make, easy to swallow, and easy to clean the kids up for bed. Calysta could tell that even after their long day, Illya was looking at her with those sparkling sort of gazes he got when he wanted her. She knew that look, even if he didn’t or couldn’t say anything. However, it appeared that he was sticking to his one week celibacy promise. Rather than attempting to get frisky with her, he asked for stories from her instead.

She wasn’t sure if he wanted stories from her own past or if he wanted stories about other things, so she decided to do one of each. First she told him the very first story of Pyrta, the goddess for who the continent they lived on was named. “She was born from a ray of sun passing through the grass and into a drop of dew,” Calysta whispered to him, “And she grew up into a beautiful maiden. The men chased her all over the land and where she stepped, red grasses the color of her hair grew.” She adjusted her head on his shoulder and smiled up to him. “When all the land was covered in rich grass she leapt from the edge next to an omne tree and turned into a red falcon. All the men cried for her return, lamenting the loss of her beauty in the world. She told them not to cry and that her love had been left behind in the grass beneath their feet and her scent in the breeze. Then she left.”

Pyrtan legends were always about grasses, their main source of food, but there was something beautiful in that story. The men thought they were the ones chasing the woman, but in the end, it was the Goddess, giving the gift to the men. Calysta shivered and pulled their blankets over them a little higher. “And a story about me...hmm…” She didn’t have very many that she wanted to share from her childhood. Who wanted to hear about some sick little girl getting beaten up? Yet, it was inherently part of her past. And it might be part of their future soon on the tour. Her mouth opened and shut a few times as she struggled on how much to tell him.

Finally, she swallowed and gave him a gentle smile, opting for something silly instead. “When I was a little girl I used to read about Conyn the Courageous. They were short little novels about this explorer who went to different planets and got into trouble or helped get someone out of it. He kept me thinking about all the places I would go when I was better and he was brave, smart...handsome.” Now her grin was growing too wide but she couldn’t help thinking of all the covers where the tall, suave and dark haired Conyn was gallivanting through space. “He made life look like a grand adventure that anyone could have. And he never hated half breeds.” With a wistful sigh, she leaned back into Illya’s shoulder again. “I think I still have some of the old books roaming around the attic. Maybe Cypher and Sien would like them when they are older, yeah?” She curled up to her Chip a bit more and tried to let the warm sink in to her cold skin. “Did you have any heroes growing up? Someone you admired?”

She didn’t mind if he didn’t feel like answering. His throat was raw and she knew he must be in pain. To her surprise, he answered as best he could and then told her a few more stories about when he was a boy. She liked hearing him talk about those times. He seemed happy then and she felt like she got to hear about good times when he mentioned them.

When he finally announced he was tired and rolled over, he took her hand with him. She was glad he did. His chest was warm and she had half a mind to hide her nose in his arms along with her hand. “Good night, love,” she said, delivering a kiss to his jaw.

It wasn’t but an hour or two later Calysta wrenched open her eyes to the sound of screaming. Illya was screaming in pain and the sound sent a jolt of adrenaline through her. “Illya?” Sitting up, she flipped on the light with a smack to her lamp and rolled to the side as Illya tried to do the same. He was going to rip the tube out of his side like that.

Calysta took his shoulders as he gripped at her. "Hey, call for help, we need back up!"

“Shhhh...shhh….it’s alright. Illya...love...it’s just me. It’s your Kalizda. I’m right here. Come back to me. Shhh…”

She could hear the kids waking up like a wave down the hall with the twins whimpering first and then Cypher thumping down the hall with his heavy, little foot falls. Rose’s voice cut through Illya’s from behind their door. It sounded as if she had turned her brother around to bed. Calysta focused on Illya as he buried his head in hands and shuddered.

“It’s alright,” Calysta continued, her voice gentle, “It’s alright love. Come back to me in the room, yeah? Can you hear my voice? Come back to me in the bed.”

After a few minutes of shaking, he slowly pulled out of his night terror until he finally answered with a near sob. "Yeah, I hear yah."
It took him a little while longer, but he collected himself and went for a drink of water from the kitchen. While he was gone, Calysta fixed the bed and the covers, her hand shaking from the sudden onset of the episode. He hadn’t had one in a long time and she wondered if there had been a trigger or it had been random.

When he returned with a glass of water, she climbed into their tall Chip bed again and took the offered sip of water. “No,” she replied, “I think I'm okay.” She inched to the top of the mattress and patted the pillows beside her. “Come lay with me yeah?”

He came to lay with her and Calysta was slow about her movements as she wrapped a gentle arm around his shoulders. There were a few things she had read about grounding exercises for moments like this. She had started making the kids do them when they got upset over their father’s near assassination and the subsequent blood bath their grandfather had shown them. It hadn’t gone over well, least of all for Lohgan but the exercises helped her and she wondered if they might help here too.

“I see gold sheets, and your dark hair,” she whispered to him, “I can see your hand.” She slid her hand down and grasped what she could of his hand. “Can you feel your hand in mine? I can feel you’re warm…”

She continued like that through the five senses as she held him. She skipped over what she could hear because at the current moment it was the children stirring and whimpering in worry. After awhile, she petted at his hair and any time he stirred, she started whispering again, even if her eyes were barely open. Maybe it would help keep him there with her rather than far away in some terrible memory,

By the time morning rolled around, Calysta had her Chip’s head wrapped against her bare chest and her fingers woven through his hair. At some point she had fallen asleep, but didn’t want to move away from the warm. When Illya started to wake up, her own eyes fluttered open. “Mmmm morning…” It to her a minute to realize that he was probably not very comfortable with her chest all over the place. “O-oh.” The sound came out a bit sheepish and she smiled at him almost shyly. “Good morning, love.” Kissing his temple, she stretched some and yawned. The day was going to be incredibly long with so little sleep.

By the time they were up and dressed, Calysta had a troupe of very quiet children at the breakfast table. Cypher’s eyes kept shifting to her like he wanted to ask her something. Breakfast was a silent affair of spiced oatmeal for everyone before another day of Skycorp. While Illya was strapping on Edgar’s carry harness, Calysta bent down and began buckling Cypher’s rain jacket together.

“Mam?” he asked openly to her as she worked, “Why was Dah yellin’ like dat last night?”

Cypher said it with that shine of concern in his eyes that made her heart melt a little. Their son loved his father with a ferocity and he was worried. Calysta reached up and adjusted his beret with a smile. “You’ve had a bad dream before, yeah? And you woke up slow? Dah just had a bad dream and it takes him a little while to wake up. When he does, he comes out with a yell. He’s got big lungs and it makes the sound travel through the whole ship. He’s alright, just a bad dream like you have some times.” She wasn’t about to tell him the horrible things his dreams entail, but at least he would know now that he was old enough to understand.

The day passed more or less in the same order as yesterday, but this time, she was exhausted. Illya not sleeping well meant that she hadn’t slept well either and by lunch her body was beginning to drag. PT with Ehvan again woke her up some but not enough. When Skycorp was over, she dragged the kids back to the ship along with Illya and decided they were going to have a nice, quiet evening at home.


While the kids played, Calysta sat at her small vanity as she slid a comb through her hair. It caught on a few of the glossy curls at the end but managed to glide through, taking the tangles with it. Ehvan had managed to knot up her pony tail during training and it was going to serve her best to comb it out before trying to get the kids ready for bed or herself for that matter. She was tired and if the night was going to be anything like the one before, she was in for a long one. Yawning some, she waited for Illya to come out of the bathroom and smiled at him in the mirror when he did. "I got a message from Priscilla a few minutes ago. She said that she would be on Kinte tomorrow and proposed we meet up for lunch," Calysta told him, "Maybe we could do that and take lunch away from the compound for a bit. Pris mentioned Sien would be coming and you know Cypher will want to see him if he knows they're on the continent." Calysta tugged another curl into order at the end of her hair and then grabbed a hair tie. Braiding it would be the better way to go for tomorrow. "She didn't mention anything about Ehud though which sounds kind of troublesome. I was thinking maybe we might invite her back to Edgar's class too. It might help if she understood a few more things. She seems to think Ehud has no real passion for her beyond being a mother for Sien. I don't know if that's true, but...maybe Edgar's class could help? What do you think?" She had been trying to ask him that more often. What did he think? What did he feel? He was trying hard to be more talkative and the least she could do was give him the opportunities to do so.


While Kalizda was tugging at her hair Illya stepped out of the bathroom and he watched her for a moment before he decided to lay down on the bed. He turned his head and kept his gaze on her while she talked about possibly meeting up with Priscilla and Sien and then mentioned the class. "Eh, et might help, but I dun know why she would be worried about passion. Of course he dun have passion for her. I dun have passion for yah until about eh....I tink 2 years ago." Rasping out the words he took a deep breath after and then sighed. "What?" She had a horrible hurt look on her face as she stared in the mirror.


Her smile shattered the moment he replied and then further melted when he had the nerve to ask 'what?' on top of such a statement. What did he think? What did he feel? Well, now she knew and it felt like a slap in the face. No passion until two years ago? He'd said it so bluntly too. Her fingers let go of her braid and she pivoted on her seat to look at him. "What do you mean he doesn't have passion for her?" she said, her voice cracking some, "You've been married to me for almost 11 years and you're saying you didn't have any passion for me when we first married?"


"Esn't et clear?" Illya shrugged. "He dun have passion for her. Why would Priscilla expect dat so soon? Et takes time tah feel about woman like dat, or for woman tah feel like dat for man. All Chippequoti know dis. I most certainly dun have passion for yah when we agreed." Illya sat up in the bed. Her question had him bewildered at best. What other answer did she think she would get.
[

Calysta felt a bit like curling in on herself while also feeling a bit of anger fueled hurt. Why was he just saying this so blithely? Her brow furrowed and she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to get rid of the exposed feeling. "No," she said, "It isn't clear. Of course, she would expect Ehud to have passion for her. Most women expect for their men to have passion for them when they got married." She swallowed hard and made herself look at him while he sat casually on the end of the bed. I most certainly dun have passion for yah when we agreed. That felt like a knife in her chest with a hard twist. "I know I wasn't the most traditional bride, but I thought you would have had passion for me when we agreed. At least I thought you did. I didn't think we would have made four children together without passion either." She looked at him, her throat tightening dangerously, but she refused to let herself cry at such a statement.


"Wuh..." Illya saw the look on her face and it was one that said he wasn't getting sex for a good long while. At least this was the week, but still, that wasn't a good look on her face. "Well, I dun understand why ets such a big deal. Chippequoti dun agree because dey have passion. Chippequoti women dun expect passion when dey agree. I can tell yah for matter of fact dat Isla es nut even sure she liked meh when we agreed and et took us bot about sexty years tah feel passion for each oter. We were nut good match. Et takes meh much less time tah feel passion for yah."

He couldn't even admit he'd had passion for her when they had made children? Birth children? Not that kids were the end all and be all for passion in a marriage, but they seemed like a damned good indicator. How could he not understand why it wasn't such a big deal? Had all of that talk just been him talking and lying because she was easy to charm? Did he not really want her? Was it because of his brain injury and he couldn't remember and since then he'd just been pretending? No. Certainly that couldn't be the case. "You don't understand why it's such a big deal?" she managed to sputter, "I can guarantee you that a Chippeqouti woman certainly does expect passion. Why do you think the expect houses when they pick you? Why do you think they choose men to begin with? No woman would knowingly chose a man who didn't show some sort of passion for her. Women like their presence to be wanted and desired." She sniffled some and then drew herself to her feet, hoping to get a tissue from the bathroom before she let the hurt get too deep to make her cry. "If Ehud didn't want Priscilla to begin with why did he marry her? Convenience?" she wiped at her eyes angrily and she stepped toward the bathroom door. "If you didn't want me then why did you bother asking me to begin with?"


"Kalizda," Illya rose from the bed to follow her. "Chippequoti women expect house because dis es tradition and she chooses man dat she tinks will be good tah provide for her, protect her, or whatever she tinks she wants from him. I tink Ehud chooses Priscilla because she es pretty, kind, she makes good moter for Sien and Ehud tinks dey will make good family." What she was thinking should be expected he did not know. It made no sense and he felt confused and a bit anxious at this point. "I did want yah Kalizda. Dat's why I asked. I wanted yah bad enough dat I tink about having sex wit yah before we become agreed, but I wanted tah show respect for yah and nut do dat. Yah adventurous woman and I like dat, yah pretty, have nice legs and yah treat meh like I am person and nut animal even ef yah nut born Chippequoti. Why would I nut like yah?"


She reached the bathroom and plucked up a tissue from the dispenser at the sink, dabbing her eyes some and wiping at her nose a little. To her surprise, he followed her into the bathroom and was standing there looking utterly bewildered. It wasn't a look she could be angry with, because she was sure he was being honest. He really didn't know why he should've had passion for her to begin with. He said he wanted her, but that he had no passion for her? It made no sense at all. "You wanted me but you had no passion for me?" she asked, her voice thick and wavering slightly. The Chip cough was still hanging around her throat and lungs, making everything sound manly and awful too. She didn't feel want-able at this point either, past or present. "You wanted to have sex with me...before we got married...to have me?" She was utterly confused. Lust or passion? They were different things after all. The way he spoke sounded passionate though! She wiped at her eyes again she stared up at him, chin trembling slightly. "How can you say you don't have passion for me and then talk about me like that? That sounds like passion, Illya. Like you wanted me and like you loved me. If you didn't have passion it would mean that you didn't have feelings for me at all."

To each of her questions in which she restated what he'd said Illya nodded. What did she not understand about this? It was very clear. He thought everyone understood this, but apparently that wasn't so. "Yah very confused Kalizda. Dis es nut passion dat yah talk about. I loved yah and I wanted yah, but yah had dat in dah right order. I wanted yah and I decide I love yah too. Passion does nut mean dat yah have feelings. Et means eh..." Switching to Quoti he decided to explain it in his own language because it was clearly not translating well to other languages. "Passion is called a heart fierce love. Even when you feel angry you know that your heart wants good for them and you have fierce need to protect and you love them." Illya tried to cough as gently as he could to clear his tender throat. He was still barely able to get his voice above a whisper. "Now yah understand what passion es?"

He tried explaining in Trader's Tongue, and even she had to admit, the language wasn't meant for talks like these. It was a universal language of function and that meant it didn't quite translate like it should sometimes. When he swapped to Qouti and gave his explanation, she understood better what he meant, but that didn't make the answer any easier to swallow. Sure, she hadn't felt that to begin with. She had loved him but it wasn't that kind of love, not yet. It had come alot sooner than 2 years ago for her though. Was it because of his brain injury that he hadn't had it until their twins were born? She nodded and wiped at her eyes again, but she didn't say anything else for a long moment until she took a deep breath. "I think...we have different definitions of passion," she concluded, still trying to hide her hurt, "Passion...doesn't mean that in Kaerelean or traders tongue...passion is fierce want. A desire for someone...not what you just described. I think that's something else. I don't know how to describe it. Something deeper than intimacy." Her mouth quirk upward in a failed attempt at a masking smile. "I think...I had my Chippeqouti passion for you many years ago," she said, "Maybe it's because of what happened with the brain injury, maybe because you couldn't remember me, that you didn't have it until later, yeah?" Her eyes welled with tears despite her best attempts and she tried to fight it with another deep breath. "It will certainly take awhile for Priscilla to get Chippeqouti version of passion, but I don't think it would hurt for Ehud to tell her she was wanted. She thinks she's not wanted, after all."


"Ah..." It felt like he was gonna get his lungs ripped out and handed to him on a platter if he didn't do something about this. She was clearly still not happy with his answer. "Ok..." Illya was trying to stall and he wasn't sure where Ehud had to come into this conversation all over again. It felt like she was trying to distract him. "Kalizda, I feel Kearelean passion for you for long time. I tink each time when yah new to meh before dah brain injury and den a little bit after dah injury." Her talking about him not feeling Chip passion for her until after the twins was strange. "No, I feel et before den, before dah twins. I jes, I dun know." He was starting to feel stressed with trying to express himself on this level with her because it wasn't working, but she wanted him to do this. "I always wanted tah protect yah...Kalizda, I jes I uh...I go tah Edgar about 2 years ago tah ask how I be better and show better love for yah. I wanted tah show yah passion dat I feel. Edgar adviced meh dat women like man tah nut always have sex wit her and tah talk wit her. So I try dis. I try tah show passion en ways oter den protecting yah and having sex." It didn't sound so glorious when he put it that way, but he was limited when he was trying to talk to her in other languages. "Ets good idea for Priscilla tah come to dah Chippequoti culture class. I tink she would find help ef she talked wit some elders. Maybe Ehud es nut all traditional, but dere are some tings he will still tink because he raised Chippequoti way." Holding an arm out he cautiously pulled Kalizda closer to himself. "I want dis deeper den intimacy. Dis es very important for bot of us."


He was making monosyllable sounds for a moment and she knew he made those sounds when he was stumped, or didn't want to say something at all. Maybe she had put an end to the conversation? It hurt to talk about when he lost his memory to begin with and hearing this news made it doubly painful. Then he mentioned feeling Chip-passion before the twins and...going to see Edgar? He had actually gone to Edgar to get marital advice? For her? He had been trying for two years to show her that he loved her deeply. It struck her as hard as his former, and mistaken, admittance of no passion had but for entirely different reasons. He had done that for her? His paw of a hand reached out and gently pulled her closer to him. She stepped forward and without a single hesitation wrapped her arms around his waist holding him in a close hug, her cheek pressing against his stomach tightly. Her arms gave him a squeeze as she held onto him and this time she started to cry a little. He had been trying to love her more deeply for a long time it seemed. He wanted that sort of relationship with her. It was one of the kindest and most invested things anyone had ever done for her. "I didn't know you had done that," she mumbled thickly into his shirt, "I...I..." She didn't know what to say at first and she held his waist even tighter, feeling both relieved and entirely different than before all at once. "It is every important for both of us...and I didn't know you had gone to Edgar." She didn't need to ask why either. He'd already said as much. Being closer to her was important to him. to both of them, and he had been trying. "Thank you, Illya." Calysta lifted her head and rested her chin lightly on his belly to look up at his face. "It's one of the most amazing things you've ever done for me and I...think it is working."

The response from Kalizda was a bit relieving, but it still made him wonder if he'd really made things better. Perhaps the immediate disaster had been delayed. There was still that chance that it would get worse later on. "I'm sorry dat et take meh so long tah feel dat way and for meh tah take so long tah ask Edgar. Et's jes. I like tah tink I do better den dat for yah." Illya let her cry as she needed. His shirt soaked up the majority of her tears and he held her while he waited for everything to calm down. "I try very hard for yah because I know dat yah could have men better den meh. I am very lucky dat yah still available and even have interest when I ask yah tah be meh agreed. Yah could have left when meh brain was hurt too and yah made sure yah stay long and I remember yah and know dat yah very great treasure. Et es nut comman for man tah find woman like yah."

His voice was raspy and she knew it was hurting for him to speak. For that, she felt a little guilty. Subjects like this were harder for her to keep her emotions down with. As they had gotten closer, it had been harder for her to understand how to express what she felt on a deeper level. It was something she had tried to learn properly to make things easier but right now she felt like a broken valve, albeit a lucky one. He did seem to have this strange idea that he wasn't good enough for her and as much as she wanted to tell him that wasn't true, it wasn't likely something he would believe. Instead, she hugged him all the closer, her little fingers clutching into the back of his shirt some, and let him hug her. "I said yes because I loved you then," she said gently, "And I stayed when you were were because I loved you then too. What happened wasn't your fault, and I would have stayed with you no matter what. I wasn't sure what would happen to us when you came back so hurt, but I wouldn't know if I didn't try. You are worth it too, you know. It's not common for a woman to find a man like you either. Someone who will invest their time. Thank you..." She let out a long, shaking breath as she held him close. He thought she had been worth it and she was a treasure to have. So was he, and she wanted him to know it, but she knew words weren't enough. There werent words for the feeling she had about him simply taking the time to try being a better husband for her. "Are you alright?"

The reassurance from Kalizda was nice, but Illya wasn't entirely sure that he was as much a find as she thought. However, he was going to keep on going. That was all they could do. "Eh, yeah, I tink I will ok." Gently moving back toward the bed with her he sat down and kissed her gently. "Yah know I love yah."


He lurched backward some shuffling backward until they reached the bed and then sat down with her. She could tell by his tone that her words hadn't hit the mark, as she had been fairly sure would happen if she tried that way. Despite her failure in assuring him that she thought he was a good husband, it did in still a little bit of determination in her. It would be her actions that would prove it someday. He held her close and then gave her a gentle kiss. She kissed him back, and let the touch linger for a moment because it felt nice. "Aye, you must love me to kiss me when I'm all sick like this," she joked in Qouti quietly before leaning in for another kiss. "I know you do. And I love you....with all the kinds of passion there are." Her fingers smoothed down his hair some and she leaned against him lightly. "I'm glad you went to see Edgar. Will...will you keep trying?"

"Yes, I will keep trying for meh little bird." With a smirk he kissed her again. They were getting dangerously close to having a more intimate time and he leaned away from her. "Jes remember dat we have couple of days left tah talk dis week witout sex."

It was relieving to hear he wouldn't stop trying and she chuckled some when he kissed her with that familiar smirk curled onto his lips. She chased his kiss with a last little peck when he pulled away long enough to remind her that they still had a few days left on his no sex streak. "Oh aye," she whispered back, her eyes cutting up to his. She was positive that the reminder was more for himself than it was for her, but then again. "It's going to be a few more days, but that will just give me plenty of time to think of some ideas for us later." Men liked to be wanted to, as far as she had learned with Illya, and she did in fact want him. "In the mean, time why don't you just hug me close and we'll get some dinner yeah?"

At the mention of having time to think about what they wanted to do he gave a hoarse laugh. "Yah really tink after a week dat I'm going tah be tinking creative toughts? I tink yah know meh better den dat." Kissing her again he slowly stood up and offered his hand to her so they could go get some dinner. "Now we're ready tah eat food. I tink creative probably all night, but et won't do meh much good for now."

He kissed her again then stood up, offering his hand, still laughing over his known lack of creativity when it had been awhile. She knew he would be a bit voracious and impatient when his week was up, but it wasn't going to stop her from teasing him a little. She took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Hmm...I'll tell you what... in two days you come get me with a wild idea and we'll break with week in style." Leaning up, to her tip toes, she kissed his cheek and then start walking with him toward the door, tilting her hips a little more than what she might have normally. She'd seen Tabit do it in front of Kirit once and the results had been quite fun to watch.

*******

The next day Calysta woke to two reminders blaring on her calendar. One was Illya’s tube removal, which she scolded herself for entirely forgetting over the past day, and the other was lunch with Priscilla and Ehud. How could she have scheduled two things like that in one day? Sure, it was hard being a mother, wife, and council woman all in one go, but that wasn’t an excuse for a scheduling travesty like this.

Calysta ran a hand through her hair and mussed up her braid slightly as she shuttled the kids through the halls of Skycorp. By now, the novelty of the place had worn off and the children were fussy about being bored. Cypher still walked proudly down the hall, but Lohgan was grumping about having to sit still in class again and snacks were only going so far now with Edgar. They wanted to run and play.

“Maaam,” Lohgan whined, “I want tah play dress up.”

“We can play when we get home,” Calysta said, “Besides, you’re all dressed up now.”

Dressed up was one term for it. The girl had been forced to wear rain boots for practicality, but everything else she chose to wear within reason. A pink cape and squat little fur hat along with a dress with lots of poof at the bottom. It was a mess. It was Lohgan insisting she dress herself for sure. Calysta couldn’t tell where she got her style from, but had concluded it was decidedly Chippeqouti in origin.

Cypher seemed to enjoy his Kaerelean stew for lunch and chomped down the bites of meat and vegetables with gusto while the twins had to be fed spoonfuls at a time. Calysta was glad to see the lunch went over better until Tomas decided he was overly excited and threw his hands in the air, knocking his spoon end over end. It landed with a clatter in Commanders Swyft’s bowl in the next table over and caused an explosion of stew over everyone in the area. “Kids?” she smiled, “I can get those uniforms dry cleaned.”

Swyft took the stew explosion with grace and wiped down his crisp uniform with a lopsided smile that very few people had ever seen come to the man’s face. “When he’s ready, send him to me. He’s got a good enough aim, I’ll give him all the training he wants in security.”

"You hear that?" Tiberius chuckled, "Little man's already got himself a job offer. Already doing better than most of us at that age, eh?"

That earned him a few looks and sly comments about Terran dicks, an affair he wasn't about to live down as a male Terran for a good long awhile. "Yeah, yeah. Mines more like a...bratwurst anyways. You keep your hot dogs to yourself." A few of the Kaerelean men snorted and the jibes began all over again.

By the end of lunch Calysta was a bit of a relief to hand the children over to Bahn and the rest of the Elite to watch while Illya went to the clinic. They could run and use all of the Elite for jungle gyms like the little jackals they wanted to act like that day. "Be good and do not run off," she said to Cypher, "I'm counting on you to make sure your brothers and sister stay together." Normally, she would be asking Rose to do the same thing, but the girl had been a wild spirit since they arrived and gone into the city every day during classes. She only returned long enough to eat lunch with Sam at a completely different table.

Cypher gave her a very crisp salute and she chuckled before sending him off to play and train with the Elite. Lohgan didn't particularly want to be left alone, but between Ehvan and Bahn, whom she knew well, they got her settled down enough to go to the clinic. Calysta looked up to her husband with a tired smile and nodded. "Lets go."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
******************
Priscilla heard Ehud coming down the hall before she saw him. He was moving faster than his usual purposeful pace, almost propelling himself along with enthusiasm. She looked up from her cup of coffee in time to see him come in and push a neatly folded note into her hand before talking at length about what they needed from Kinte. Then he bellowed a question out to Sien about coming along. The boy had been up before his father and was already dressed. She’d told him he was going with her regardless of whether Ehud was or not. While the boy flitted around the room with his pad, doing as his father asked, Priscilla put down her nearly empty coffee cup and looked at the note.

“Terran Spaghetti,” she whispered to herself.

She should have seen that coming. He’d asked for it when her offensive snake stew had failed spectacularly last night. They’d eaten Terran Spaghetti from the little take out place and argued. Again. At least now she knew what he liked though. It definitely wasn’t snake stew. She felt a stab of guilt and a sliver of inadequacy wiggle into her chest as she tucked the note into her pocket.

Ehud was the most enthusiastic she had ever seen him and she listened to him talk about ‘a tour’ which she could only conclude was the tour Calysta was supposed to be going on as the councilwoman. All of the continents would be welcoming her in different, traditional ways and it seemed she would be attending as both a Chippeqouti woman and a Pyrtan woman if Ehud was talking about dresses.

She tugged Sien’s raincoat over his shoulders after he turned in his list, and held him steady while he stepped into his rainboots. There was something about little boy’s feet that turned horribly stinky when they were sweaty despite being clean. In fact, after living with the Monroes, she knew little boys to stink no matter what they did and Sien was no different. His little feet would be trapped in his rain boots all day, creating a stink storm she would help him air out later. However, his feet would be dry and that was the important part.

Once Sien was ready to go she grabbed her own blue and pulled it over her dress, then snagged up the umbrella for them. Ehud was eager to go and smiled at her when he offered for her to sit co-pilot in the flyer. She didn’t particularly like flying those things herself but sitting along side him was perfectly enjoyable. Nodding, Priscilla smiled slightly and climbed into the flyer ready to go with him.

She was glad he decided to go and his enthusiasm didn’t wane when they were in the air. In fact, he had gone on to tell her all about how he had decided to become a tailor part time. He wanted to help with the bakery and work as a tailor. It sounded like he’d made some decisions last night and he was happy with them. Tailoring was something he did seem to enjoy above all else. Maybe this would be a good thing for him to have something to be excited about. Something to look forward to rather than coming home to nothing else to do. Of course, she had thought that some of that time might be occupied with family activities but he’d actually thought awhile about what she said last night. Perhaps this is what he needed for himself?

Whatever face she must have been making, Ehud commented on it. “Hm?” Blinking a few times, she sat her expression into a soft smile. It would be her first words to him all day. “I think if this is what you enjoy and it makes you happy, then you should pursue it. I will support you anyway I can. Custom aprons would be quite beautiful and I would wear mine with pride. Your work and mine together would go nicely.” And that was the truth. If he was happy taking a chance on this, then she would support him as best she could. He was a good man if anything and he deserved a wife who supported him in his hopes.

When she finished speaking, she lapsed back into the quiet self which seemed to go over better more often than not with him. She had promised herself not to speak too much at all, but then again, this excited side of her husband was not something she had expected either.

They landed in a quiet shipyard on the furthest island as a steady drizzle began to fall and exited into the covered hangar. The security guard gave them their dock key and they were off into the wet catacombed streets of Kinte’s smallest island.

Priscilla walked along the nicely groomed foot path with Ehud at her side. If it was one thing she liked about Kaereal better was that all the traffic was clean and in the sky. Their grounds were kept pristine and the side walks well tended. It made traveling in the rainy season here bearable at least and it was much cleaner than even Japan had been. Sien and gone ahead some to look at the scooter he had picked out, his raincoat tucked over his combed, blond hair. The scooter would make a very handsome Christmas present and she had considered mentioning the tradition to Ehud, but she hesitated in doing so. He seemed to different today. Was it because of the note? Last night he had fully admitted to not knowing what he wanted for himself in general and she knew that had to translate into every facet of life, including her. His behavior for the past month had been entirely opposite of the jolly man at her side. She wanted to join him in that joy, but didnt want to jump aboard this happy train when she wasn't sure it existed at all. It could be just another phase with him. "You...seem happier today," she noted tentatively from under the brim of her umbrella "Is there a reason or do you just feel better with your decision to work part time as a tailor?"

Ehud was more than happy to walk the streets with Priscilla and Sien. There were a few things that he was going to be needing. A lot of cloth to start with and then some tools of the trade. In middle of his mental list Priscilla decided to ask him about what he'd been saying. "I feel better and I like going places. It feels safer to be on the move."


"Oh," she said quietly, " I see." It sounded like an honest answer, but she couldn't be sure. "It just feels alot different from the past month, I suppose. Being cooped up in the house with me. I didn't know you felt better...um...'on the move' as you said." There was a part of her that was disappointed in herself for not realizing exactly how unhappy he had been just playing house with her. Or maybe that was really how he felt and this part was the act. At this point, her mind was thinking of far too many possibilities and she sighed some before avoiding a mud puddle. At least his enthusiasm for tailoring seemed genuine enough.

"Don't you like being on the move and doing things?" Ehud decided to try and return the question. She should enjoy having a conversation about that. At least she should because she was the one to suggest the outing.


She was surprised he returned the question to her and she didnt reply right away. "I do. Harry and I used to go all of the time," she admitted, "But he was also happy at home. For what time we had it after he became president." She shifted the umbrella to cover Ehud better as he passed under a leaky shop eave. The rain spattered against the umbrella webbing and rolled down away from them. "I suppose you just seem very different out and about versus at home and I wasnt sure what to think."

Ehud shrugged. "I don't know what to do when I'm at home. There isn't really anything different about it. We eat dinner. complete chores and get ready for the next day at work."

The answer was about as utilitarian as she should have expected. "Those are things you do in a house," she said quietly, "but a home is...supposed to be a safe space... a place you can relax. Home is about the people. Your son. Me." She wasn't explaining it very well and she wasnt sure where or how to make it better.

"Yes, my family is at home." Ehud blinked at her a few times before it struck. What she was saying made sense. "Ooh yes, Haza used to say that. I guess I'll have to work on that more. I'm not looking over my shoulder the same as I was in the Federation."

Priscilla smirked a little at his comment and chuckled. "She sounds like a smart woman." It was actually comforting to know his wife had come across the same issues a she was. Maybe it wasn't all her. "You arent looking over your shoulder and you shouldn't need to like you used to. It's okay to relax little. I dont want you to be miserable at home or out."

"I don't want to be miserable either. Never met anyone that signs up for it." With a little smirk he leaned in closer and kissed the side of her head. "Don't worry, I'll get the rest of this figured out. I might even see if you have some ideas for hobbies for the family to do at night besides work."

She smiled genuinely when he leaned in and kissed her right beside her ear. He had a wry sense of humor and she liked his wit when he relaxed enough to let it out. His little comment about her having hobbies for them at night and for a moment she thought she had made it through. Maybe this was real? It was scary to hope that it was. "Hmm. Well you don't have to do it alone," she said, "but I think that's a good idea." She swapped the umbrella to her other hand and inched in close before sliding her free hand around his back. Maybe he would like being close for once. "Would you like to visit Terran Town today, too?"

When she mentioned Terran Town Ehud nodded. "Yeah, I think we should. There are a few things from Terra that I miss. I imagine there are more things that you miss." Looking ahead he caught site of Sien skipping along through puddles of water. "Sien, we're going to Terran Town. You'll get to learn a few things about what Terra was like." The boy smiled some and slowed. Inching close to Pris he smiled. "I'd like that. Dad always said that Terra was pretty and the people were usually good. It was just too bad that the Federation ruined the home."

He didnt seem to mind her hand around his waist and she left it there when he called ahead to Sien. The boy came skipping back and stepped in close under the shelter of the umbrella. They werent wrong. She did miss home sometimes. "He did, huh?" The comment about her people and what happened on Terra struck a little but she took a small breath and offered her hand to Sien. "There are good people and sometimes not so good people. The Federation did some...did some terrible things...but I think one day Terra will be safe again. Then I'll take you and show you all of the sights. What would you think about that?"

Sien nodded in agreement and then raced ahead again. For the moment Ehud remained silent. He was enjoying all this and he didn't want to miss anything. "You know, I think when we go into Terran Town that we might look for some material and supplies for the bakery. You're going to bake primarily Terran goods if I might venture a guess."

He didnt take her hand but raced ahead in excitement and she let him go. Sien was a child and she prayed he never understood what it was like to lose his home. Ehud mentioned looking for materials the bakery and nodded. "Mhm," she agreed, "Almost all of the things I'll be baking will be Terran. I'd like to sample a few things too. Maybe we can try some popovers...and yeast rolls...and maybe some sweets. Have you had a macron before?"

At mention of samples Ehud grinned. "Oh yes, I've had them all. You forget that I spent a fair amount of time on Terra."

That seemed to really make him grin and she chuckled, giving his waist a playful squeeze. "That's right...I guess that just means I have the perfect partner for judging where to get my ingredient from. We'll stop by and have some baklava and eclairs for good measure too."

Priscilla knew she should have stayed quiet like she planned on being, but his excitement was infectious. If only for a moment, she was reminded of how nice it felt to have someone to talk to and share things with. She’d missed that desperately, even if the focus was escaping into various forms of work rather than the family she hoped she would have.

She stepped up onto the curb with him and they ventured into the Terran town area, where there as many shops as there were languages. The first bakery they came across was a fancy Korean sweet shop and she had no trouble buying a few jelly type desserts. They were coated in a powder and looked interesting as she offered Ehud a bite. "I think I've had these before. Almost a bit like sweet jellies in powdered sugar. They aren’t strictly baking but I do miss more Asian style candies."

About the time Ehud took a bite, her eyes widened. Didn’t these things have corn starch in them? Her eyes widened and suddenly she snatched it back. “Oh! Corn starch!” She remembered Ehud would be horribly sick if he ate corn. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think about it until now. Most of this stuff is made with corn starch.” She wrapped the candy back together into his container and went to the woman at the counter, asking in somewhat broken Korean if she had anything that was edible for her Chip husband and his son.

“Well, she said most of their stuff has corn starch,” Priscilla told Ehud apologetically, “Lets try the next one.”

They went to several others and all of them had at least one item that was cornstarch free. She nibbled on cannolis and eclairs with Ehud and sampled various breads. They had everything from pocketed pita bread, to garlic roasted naan, to sweet, eggy challa bread. By the time they were done with visiting the bakeries, Priscilla felt stuffed and a bit giggly from sugar. “It looks like I’ll have to check all of my recipes to make sure they are edible for everyone when I get home.”

Ehud had been disarming and sweet that afternoon and the fun wasn’t over. They came to the far end of Terran town where some of the Kaerelean shops had been mixed into their neighbors. Among those shops sat a fabric store with beautiful samples shining in the windows. “Hey,” she smiled at Ehud, “You wanted to shop for your tailoring things too. Lets go in.”
They went inside together and immediately the climate control felt nice. Someone had set it to a balmy 72 degrees or so and she sighed in relief before snagging a buggy for Ehud whose enthusiasm was unmatched at this point. Whatever he wanted, she nodded too. This was his time to enjoy himself. He showed her some fabric and proposed making her dress from it. “I think it would be beautiful in this color,” she said, “You mentioned gold for the embroidery right? It would look lovely on this.”

She let him finish up shopping and pushed the cart for him around the store. Her leg was starting to get sore though. At one point she could feel the bandage shift and she hoped that the hole hadn’t ripped open again. “Hey,” she smiled to him, “I’m going to the restroom, I’ll meet you at the register.” Ehud had panicked last time he saw her bleeding and she didn’t want to scare him again. She thought about kissing his cheek, then decided it might be too much before scuttling off to the bathroom.

Each step felt like a stabbing pain in her thigh and she was certain the cloth would be bloody again. She saw the bathroom door in the fabric shop adjacent to the stock room near the back. Maybe she could make it without dripping on the floor? Priscilla hobbled along and started to push open the bathroom door when an iron grip snapped around her neck and mouth.

Instinct made her start drawing in breath for a scream, but the tight grasp over her face made it hard to inhale. More hands joined the painful things grabbing her and drew her up backwards against something solid. Priscilla stomped her feet, and bucked against whoever it was holding her, but it just caused her leg to ache even more. “Fight and we’ll tail the kid and the hubby too. It’s up to you whether they live or die right now.”

They would kill Ehud and Sien? Surely they, whoever they were, wouldn’t do that?! But could she take the chance that they would? Ehud would be like Harry...gone...and Sien was just a little boy! She went stock still and nodded in understanding to her capture. The grip on her throat and mouth lessened ever so slightly.

“Good. One word and they die. Cooperate, and you’ll see them again.”

Before she could even think of anything to say, a rag was shoved into her mouth from behind and something slid over her head blocking everything from view. Multiple sets of hands man-handled her away from the direction of the stock room door and out into the rain.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
At the end of the day Ehvan took a moment with the rest of the Elite. They were trying to put in a little more time with their partners and get to know them. "So uh....I saw dat a little one was trowing yah around tahday. Et's dah small ones dat yah have tah watch out for."

Daphne reached back and tightened her pony tail as Ehvan approached her after PT. His accent gave him trailing sound when he spoke to start with, which made what he said last even longer. She winced some, realizing he noticed but then decided he was going for a friendly sort of jab. The harder look faded from her face and she smiled slightly. "Heh. I'll have to remember that. I tend to be the small one in situations."

"Ehmm..." It was hard to figure out what to say after that. Making small conversation with outsiders was challenging and Ehvan wasn't sure what he could possibly say next. Perhaps something to make her feel not quite so bad. "Well, when I was a boy uh...a friend of mine, he was uh....he tought et was funny tah tell meh tah tackle Illya. I'm eh...about 5 years older. So he was little guy. Illya squeaked, but meh friend laughed because I got beat up. Dah General es still dah little guy and yah still gotta watch out for him. I tink his sons will be same."

Daphne titled her head some as Ehvan spoke. This was probably the most he'd ever stated in a single moment with her and she was curious. He was talking about the General? When he mentioned Illya squeaking and then letting himself getting beat by the other man, she relaxed some and then chuckled. "When I first met the General I wouldnt have believed he was the little guy of the group. Now, I know he's the shortest of the bunch and I still don't want to mess with him." She started walking toward the bunk houses with her partner at.a casual pace. "I think you're right. His sons will be the same. Cypher....Cypher certainly was and underestimating isnt something I'll do again." Daphne grabbed the gym door handle and swung it open for Ehvan. "Though I can say I'm glad I learned the lesson the easier way rather than the way you did."

Shrugging his shoulders some Ehvan walked through the door of the gym. "Et happens. I tink we all have embarrassing moments. Ets jes better ef yah could laugh. Ef yah do work wit any Elite for long yah find dat many uh..undignified? Yes, dats dah word. Undignified tings happen. What work do yah do outside of dis? Yah very small and I dun tink dat yah would be soldier type."

This was this first time he'd asked about what she actually did and Daphne blinked in surprised as she followed him. "It is better to laugh I think. My parents didnt approve of me joining Skycorp. They thought Skycorp itself was...as you say...undignified. But I was proud to join. Next year I hope to be a navigation officer. Right now, I'm just a navigation airman, rank II and a decent pilot." She chuckled some and gave him a nudge with her elbow. "You'll never be lost in the stars with me around at least."

"I hope nut. I prefer tah be on dah ground. Most Elite prefer dat. We are nut so good at flying. Only few of us can fly well." Ehvan sighed and then walked over to one of the benches in the gym. It appeared many of the other Elite were here with their partners. "Good night tah play some games wit Chippequoti and learn about how we make bets eh?"

Daphne stayed with Ehvan and laughed a little. "Well, it's my job to fly. Dont worry about that." When he mentioned games, she glanced around the gym and began stretching. "Oh? Hmm...I could give it shot. I'm always good for a game or two. Think you could teach me?"

Ehvan smirked as she agreed to play the betting game. "Oh dere's nut much to et. What yah gonna place bet for?"

That smirk was foreboding sort of look, even on a handsome face like Ehvan's. It immediately put her on guard and she raised a brow. "That depends on what the game is and how you win. If it's a physical contest, well...as you said...I'm small. I'm not likely to bet credits on myself for that, hm? But if its numbers? That might be a different story. I have a few credits to spare."

"No, Chippequoti dun bet for money. We bet for hours of labor. I win dah game of strategy and yah lend meh hours tah fly mehself and Ahvah places. We tink about doing some exploring."

"So, a bit like a favor trade," she contemplated, "It brushes close to a few laws but it's still legal..a strategy game.... Sure. You win and I fly you wherever you and Ahvah want to explore." She tapped her teeth with her nail and thought over what she would like time wise. "If I win you get to help me on the planet surface with a few chores."

"What kind of chores? I dun agree tah play unless I know what yah want. Yah see Chippequoti play for hours, but usually we say what hours we will ask labor for." Ehvan walked over to one of the tables that were already set up while some of the other Chippequoti men were trying to talk their partners into bets. "We play dis game wit pawns. I make bet what meh roll will be. Ef meh roll es correct I make points and I move forward. Yah make bet and ef yah bet es correct yah move forward instead and den I lose 1 hour of work. Dere es 50 spots on board tah complete. Dah first person tah reach dah end clears all debts dey owe and den tally all loser debts and dese are hours dat loser owes tah dah winner. Ef yah tink yah do better next time, yah choose tah place next bet. I tink maybe dis es more chance den strategy, but ets good game. Favorite Chip party game."

"Then I'll be more specific," Daphne smiled, "There's a club I'm in. It's a botany club of sorts. We go to safer areas on the surface. If I win, you come with me and help carry the equipment." He led her over to a table set up with spaces and rollers, then explained the rules. "It sounds like the rules are in favor of the one who rolls first. What happens if you lose the first roll? I gain an hour of work?"

Ehvan shrugged."Yah only win hour ef yah guess es closer den mine and yah move forward one space. So, yah care tah roll first?" He was more than ready to run the first betting game with her. There were others that as they got further into the night he could introduce her to and they would be a little more fun with a few drinks. "Yah like Chip drink? We always have some wit us for parties."

Daphne considered the odds and decided to try it out. Just a few chores wouldnt hurt on either end and flying Ehvan's heavy carcass around wouldnt be terrible. "Alright, I'll give it a shot," she smiled, "But I probably wont drink. Not too much a fan of the stuff, if you can believe it. I usually end up being designated flyer on parties." Daphne greeted the other Chips close by with a friendly head nod and then started thinking. There was a much higher chance of a roll being double digit of course. And that left the hot zones being the 20's and up to 60, but rolling double 30's would be a much lower chance. "I'll call my first number at 34," she said before picking up the dice and setting them loose.

When Daphne made her first call Ehvan took a deep breath. "I say 42." The first roll he lost, but that was fine. She moved forward one space. For his roll he called 42 again and this time he won. For the entire game he called 42 and all the Chippequoti watched and laughed as he pulled in 6 spaces ahead of Daphne and won several hours of flying. "Hmmm. Dat's how I always play. I jes choose one number and sometime I will be right."

She watched the game progress and clearly he had some sort of strategy choosing 42 every time. He wasn't wrong so long as he was lucky and the dice did land on 42 often enough. This time it seemed they were in his favor. Of course, it could just as easily gone the other way statistically. He could have only won one time and been far behind her. She would stick to her strategy of numbers. Daphne took their chuckling with a good natured smile and a waved her hand. "Sometimes you're right and other times you could be very wrong and lose it all," she said, "And that's why they call it betting. Now, I think that's 6 hours of flying I owe. Care to go again? 6 hours will only get you half way across the planet, you know."

After the first game it seemed that Daphne was hooked and Ehvan was already planning his little get away with Ahvah. Stepping over to another table they made the rotation so that no one could claim there was anything wrong with the dice. Ehvan again took his strategy of guessing 42 each roll and he drank for the second game. He would win, or lose and no matter which way it went he would probably be fine, perhaps break even. Despite the fact that he was starting to get mildly drunk towards the end he still enjoyed it. "Dis es why yah only have one number. Yah play dah same drunk, or nut." The second game he won by 6 spaces again and he widened his eyes slightly to count the spots while he swayed in his seat. "I get all dah way across dah planet for dat. Now I jes find where Ahvah wants tah go."

It clear that by the end of the game her partner was well into his drinks and swaying in his seat as he counted his victory. Daphne was a little frustrated that the statistics didn't work on this one either, though the probability was in her favor with certain numbers. Apparently, she didnt have any thing to compete with Chip luck. She knew nothing was wrong with the dice because they had swapped tables and she was making her own rolls. They weren't weighted strangely as far as she could tell. It just wasn't her night. "Aye, I suppose so," she sighed, "You'll make it all the way around the planet at least, yeah? That's 12 hours of flying, so wherever you go, you might as well plan for a hotel or resort." Watching Ehvan made her glad she had stayed sober, as she couldn't imagine trying to play this drunk.

Ehvan nodded a little and made a drunken sort of statement. "Maybe I jes exchange hours wit yah. I want longer flight and I go carry plants for yah tah pay for oter time. Dis good deal eh?"

Daphne raised a brow at her comrade and thought over what he was saying. He sounded very drunk and his words were slurred. He offered what sounded like a decent deal, at least she would get some help on the planet surface but she also didn't like the idea of making trades while he wasn't in his right mind either. "Are you sure you want to trade hours on the planet surface for a few more flight hours. It would mean about 6 more hours of flight."

"I dun say I would fly entire planet. I jes say I could." Ehvan didn't think that Ahvah would choose that, but if she did he would have a few hours to make up. "We jes make deal and dey mark et en meh book. Where es yah black book?" Beckoning with his hand a bit impatiently he pulled out his black book and began scratching in how many hours of labor she owed him. "Where es yours? C'mon yah own meh labor for time dat we agree after I call Ahvah and tell her tah choose place tah visit."

He was starting to sound a little bit rude and she stayed quiet for the moment as he pulled out a booklet from his pocket, then demanded to know where hers was. "I don't have one of those, Ehvan," Daphne said bluntly, "All I have is my pad with me. I owed you 12 hours of time from the betting game and if you would like to trade time, I would require 6 hours of your time on the planet surface carrying plants for another six hours of flight time. Is that the deal you're proposing?"

"No, I call Ahvah on meh pad and she tells meh where we go and den ef et takes more hours we make trade. I work for yah hours yah charge for extra time tah fly us." Scribbling the numbers down in Quoti he shoved his book away. "I dun believe dat yah dun have book of debts." Before he could say more Asher skidded over to the table. "Ehvan, dey dun have book of debts. Remember, dat's why we fight enstead of living on Nuen and working off all dah debt tah pay for dah planet. Dey call et slavery. Trading es fine, but yah jes, dey dun understand dah book of debts. Jes make trade when yah sober. Ahvah will be mad ef yah call her drunk." Ehvan's face suddenly changed to a deep frown as Asher explained it all and he sighed. "Ok, ok."

He was sounding worse by the second and Daphne was starting to get uncomfortable. It was one thing to bet and trade with a man who was sober, but a man who wasn't made poor decisions. If he came to her later claiming she had taken advantage of him in some way, or worse, gone to his wife and said such it wouldnt do well for their partnership. Another Chip came rushing over and started explaining what she had tried to tell Ehvan to begin with. He was right of course, trade was fine, but an actual ledger and taking someone against their will was illegal and a book of debts sounded an awful lot like that. The mention of Nuen, which had been lost to the Federation some years ago, was a shame, but still appropriate. There was a similar deal for the Terran colonies according to the council, which was only fair. Daphne looked to Asher and thanked him in Traders Tongue. "I'll stay true to my word. Just talk to Ahvah in the morning and I'll show you the route to wherever she picks so you can see how I calculate it." She nodded for him to write it down in his book and then started to get up. "I think maybe I should go now."

**************************

Thursday they made it through half the day and then Illya had to go to the clinic in Skycorp. He was sorry that he was actually missing out on the more interesting parts of class. Ehvan was going to get to instruct for the further combat training sessions and it was a pity to miss it. However, getting the tube out was a bit of a priority. It was making his side sore, it was harder to sleep at night and he’d already bumped it enough times today alone to make himself want to rip it out. The tube was practically under his arm and he couldn’t rest his arm at his side without bumping it.

Before heading to the clinic Illya reviewed the events of the day. His pad had the scheduled training exercises and he saw his procedure to remove the tube and then an invite from Kalizda for dinner. “Kalizda, yah invited Priscilla and Sien and Ehud tah dinner. Dis es nut good day for dat plan.”

It seemed that it was a little late to change the plans and Illya sighed, “Alright, I know dere are a lot of tings and ets easy tah forget. Et will be jes fine. Please jes send dem home ef dey talk too long. I tink I will be tired.”

With very little time left to get ready for the procedure Illya took the kids back to the ship with Kalizda to have Thomas watch them, changed and then went back to the Skycorp clinic where he met with one of the Ehaui.

Illya’s doctor was already dressed up for the procedure when he arrived. The Ehuai doctor smiled, “Well, it’s time to get that drainage tube out. It’ll be a fairly fast procedure. I’ve already had the staff here put together the medication. This will be a sedated procedure, no need to put you under.”

“Uh, I dun tink I want tah be awake.” Illya was already backing up slightly. He wanted the tube out, but he didn’t want to remember any of it.

“Sedation will make sure you don’t remember it. More than likely you’ll just sleep through the procedure.” With a sigh the doctor pointed to the anesthesiologist. “It’ll just be a little bit of medication through an IV.” The team was setting out the last of the tools and the nurse pointed toward a curtained off area, “Get changed over there. Just some procedure shorts for you. No need for the whole gown.”

When Illya stripped down and changed into the procedure shorts he came out from behind the curtain holding the drainage bulb. There wasn’t anything to hook it to without a shirt. “I can hardly wait tah get dis ting off meh.” Despite the somewhat brave sounding comment he walked slowly to the procedure table and sat on the edge before twisting around so he could lay back. “Alright, well hurry up and make meh go tah sleep for dis.”

Knowing that the General was starting to lose his nerve the doctor grinned and nodded to the anesthesiologist. The IV only took a few moments to get started and then Illya saw the giant syringe filled with the medication and he groaned, “Ugh…” Turning his head he looked at Kalizda and gave her a wink to try and disguise the nervousness.

It was all quiet except for the gentle voice from Kalizda. As he gradually became more aware of what was going on, Illya felt fingers combing through the curls on top of his head. “Mmm.” With an incomprehensible string of words he turned over in the bed and closed his eyes again. He felt dizzy and too tired to do anything else. Even if he wanted to keep on sleeping Kalizda urged him to stay awake and the nurse told him a few times that he needed to sit up.

Finally, Illya sat up and he winced some. His side hurt and the nurse wanted him to drink a little water with a tylenol. It was an extra strength tylenol and that was all he was going to get until bedtime. Illya sat in the recovery room for another half an hour while he waited to feel less dizzy and get some snacks before heading off to the ship to help Kalizda get ready for the company she invited. It was terrible timing, but everyone forgot something like this at some point in their life.

“Oooh, we have dat picnic wit Ehud and dah family.” With a somewhat drugged stumble he roused himself and fumbled with his shirt. Kalizda took the shirt away from him long enough to straighten it out and give it back to him. “Tanks,” Illya mumbled and then finished putting the rest of his clothing on without too much difficulty.

By the time they got home it was near disaster. The kids were squealing and ready for a game, the food had to be cooked and everything felt overwhelming. Illya stared at the kids and his eyes widened slightly. “Jes move slower and dun talk so loud. Doctors help meh today, but I dun move fast.”

Shuffling into the kitchen he flopped into his chair and waited for Kalizda to hand him something. “I cut tings for dinner ef yah need.” A cutting board, knife and some rinsed produce was passed over to him and Illya began chopping it. Chopping food was easy and fairly mindless. While he was finishing with the last of the produce from Kalizda the buzz came at the ship door and Illya checked his pad. Ehud was there with a sobbing boy and no Priscilla. “I get et.” Suddenly standing he sent the chair he’d been sitting in tumbling to the floor and he half jogged to the doorway.

Illya jammed the button to open the man door for entrance to the ship. As the man door opened Ehud shoved Sien in first and then he came limping in after his son. Blood had leaked through the bandage on his leg and Ehud tore at his hair like he had some sort of bug in his scalp. “Pris is missing. We need to get her back.” Sien heaved and a bucket of tears flowed out over his face and he ran for the living room. Ehud slumped against the wall and buried his face in his arms. “I knew better. I knew we couldn’t leave. Now they’re going to do horrible things to her.”

Somewhere Illya had missed the chain of events that led to this, but it wasn’t uncommon with traumatic situations. “Ok, who has her? How did this happen?”

“I don’t know Illya. Maybe the Federation. Tracked her pad and the pad was all I got. I can hack it and see if we recognize anyone, but if the Federation got her I’m dead, Sien is good as dead and you’ll be at risk too. Hell, all of Pytra will be at risk and that’s just the start.” His entire operation was toast if the Federation got information out of her. They would find his spies and there would be a mass slaughtering. He had men on the inside that worked there for decades. This was nearly a worst case scenario.

Looking Ehud over it was easy to tell the man was a bit shaken. “Ok, we’ll get Sien taken into one of dah rooms wit Kalizda and den you and I will talk. I will get dis sorted out and we’ll make a plan tah get her back eh?”

“Hey, Kalizda yah go set wit Sien.” Calling back to the kitchen he figured she heard him and then he helped Ehud limp back to his and Kalizda’s room. Sitting the Chip on the edge of the bed he sighed. “Let meh look at dah leg and yah hack her pad for information and den we start plans.”

Ehud was a little surprised to feel Illya’s big arm wrap underneath him and he was nearly drug back down the hall toward a room. He could hear Kalizda was talking with Sien and he could only guess what she was saying to the boy. Inside the room he sat on the edge of the bed and then realized he would have to drop his drawers if he was going to let Illya take a look at his leg. Slowly he stood and set Pris’ pad aside and then unbuckled his pants. Even if Illya was in the bathroom banging around and getting stuff it felt odd to do this here. A tinge of pink came to his cheeks and spread to his ears. The heat was radiating off his face and he swore it felt like he had just been burned on his cheekbones. Once the pants were around his ankles he sat on the bed again and picked the pad up to begin working on it.

When Illya came back into the room he had a new set of bandages and a few other medical supplies. Unwrapping Ehvan’s leg he cringed and then began to clean around the incision. “What yah finding so far?” Ehvan hissed with pain as he felt the first swipe with the antiseptic wipe. “It's been tracked with messages for a long time. Probably since before we were agreed.”

With the fresh bandage hovering in mid air Illya stared at Ehud for a moment. “Really?” When the other man nodded Illya wadded the bandage up and threw it to the other side of the room. “Damn!” Grabbing another bandage he opened the packaging and then placed it on Ehud’s leg. “I’ll have to order a purge on dah pads.” It meant at a minimum that he’d be getting all new pads for his men before he and Kalizda went home. “We’ll plan a rescue after we get few tings taken care of at home. Also need time tah begin planning. Et will be next week before yah have her back.”

Even if it felt like forever, Ehud knew it would take that long. Wincing as Illya finished tightening the bandage he nodded grimly. “Do you think they’d?”

“Maybe.” Illya cut Ehud short “Yah know dat ef dey did yah can’t hold et against her. We’ll need Kalizda wit en case she cannot tolerate having men near. Dis will probably change some tings for yah at home.” Pulling Ehud off the bed and to his feet Illya stared at him for a moment before beckoning to the pants around the other man’s ankles. “Pull dose on and we’ll do a little more looking at yah situation during dinner. Jes keep et quiet. Dun need dah kids worried about dis.”

“I know how to keep quiet.” Snapping in return Ehud reached down and pulled his pants up. “I can manage telling Sien what he needs to know. You take care of your family and I’ll take care of mine.”

Instead of responding Illya simply let Ehud storm out of the room and go sit out in the living room to obsess over his situation. There wasn’t much he could say at this point that would make things better. They both knew the facts and that was all the better it was going to be getting for the time.

*****************************************************

After dinner that night Illya sat up with Ehud going over the last known location of the pad, the names of the persons contacting Priscilla and obtaining security information about the ports nearest the pad. From what he had gathered they were taking her to the Terran Colonies. That could play in their favor, but it would be sensitive. Tomorrow, Illya would get to assemble a team of men, he’d have to take them all back home with him tomorrow evening in the ship. It would be a little crowded.

Before bed Illya sent out the message requesting a purge on all the pads. The men knew what it meant. There was a compromise. By whom, Illya did not say, but he did give the date range of the possible compromise. While Kalizda got ready for bed Illya put an order in for 100 new pads. He had to have 51 for himself, his men, his father and his family and then a few others. The pickup was set for the morning before Skycorp classes. Even if he didn’t want to get up that early it wasn’t fair to ask his men to purge their pads and then leave them with nothing to contact their family with. Those at home could send one person to Kinte to pick up another order of pads if needed.

With the tube out it was easier to rest and Illya enjoyed having the ability to move around without the drainage bulb hanging awkwardly from his side. There was still a bit of caution required when it came to moving in bed and his side was sore. It was much more sore than he thought it would be and then he remembered helping Ehud move around. The man was probably more than the 30 pound weight limit that was required for the next 3-4 days.

Instead of bothering Kalizda with that detail he ignored the twinge of pain and laid his heavy arm over her waist. “Nice tah sleep witout meh clotes again and have yah close.” They were still on the one week of no sex and he’d almost forgot. “Yah know I peck lousy time tah do dis dun I? What should we talk about enstead?” Illya played with Kalizda’s hair with his fingers and he grinned at her. “I can tink of at least one subject ef yah cant.”

***************************************************************
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Early the next morning Illya woke up with a sore side and some additional bruising. While he was still huddled underneath the blankets he cuddled with Kalizda a bit. Part of him wanted to cuddle just for the sake of cuddling and the other part knew she would get up before him and if she got focused on moving she would be less likely to notice the bruising that had spread.

After Kalizda got up, Illya got out of bed and took a quick shower. Whether or not she noticed, he didn’t know and he wasn’t going to ask her just in case she hadn’t. There would be enough fussing about it later if the bruising didn’t clear up by his next check up. The visit he planned for tomorrow when they were home wouldn’t have him taking his shirt off. It would just be a medication evaluation.

Illya rested in the bed for a little longer while Kalizda got up to get the kids ready. As soon as she stepped out the door he rolled to the edge of the bed and then threw his feet over and got in the shower. After the shower he got dressed with boxers and then a shirt. He didn’t want to risk having Kalizda spot the bruising too quickly. By the time Illya was dressed and ready to pick up the new pads Kalizda was putting breakfast on. “Yah jes put little breakfast en go box for meh? I need tah go peck up dah new pads. Yah stay here wit dah kids and eat breakfast.” It wasn’t far from the ship to the store and then Skycorp.

The store owner had the two large boxes of pads ready as promised and Illya handed him the credits. “Jes need some new equipment sometimes eh?” Of course it drew a smile from the man. He was more than happy to sell that many pads at a time and with extra heavy protective sleeves. Thankfully there were grab handles on the boxes and Illya shoved three fingers into one of the box handles and three fingers into the next.

About half way through the walk to Skycorp Illya realized he had asked Kalizda to pack his breakfast, but he didn’t actually remember to pack it. There was a chance he’d just miss breakfast if he didn’t get to Skycorp in the next 5 minutes. To spare himself the lack of breakfast he ran the rest of the way and coughed like a dying engine when he arrived at the gate.

The man at the gate knew him well enough by now to just open it. Illya went straight from the entrance and into the breakfast hall with the two boxes. A few of the men were just now getting in line for seconds and the rest were finishing up. Making a quick shortcut he took the two boxes and plopped them on a table near Bahn. “Yah got new equipment now.”

Almost the instant that the announcement was made a roar of cheers spread through the room. The men had likely missed chatting with their agreed last night and now they had a remedy to the situation. Illya figured he would grab his pad and a pad for the family after they had grabbed their’s. Everyone would have the same pad, it wasn’t such a big deal. There were options for personalizing the protective skin. After you turned the pad on you could program it to be just about any color you wanted.

Illya quickly got in line and asked for extra large portions. At this rate he had about 5 minutes to eat. All the kids were staying with Thomas this morning and it would be fine. The novelty of going to school with mom and dad wore off after day 2. Taking his tray of food he sat down next to Dane and quickly shoveled bite after bite into his mouth. By the time the bell rang he stood up and shoved three more large bites in his mouth and walked an empty tray to the return section.

Kalizda met Illya in the hallway on the way to the next class and Illya had the 2 boxes of pads that he would take to his bunk after this class was dismissed and they had a small break before the next one.

The first class was with Edgar and the topic of the morning was Chippequoti history. It was of course going to be an overview and likely a telling that would be similar to an introduction that the children would hear in classes too.

Edgar started the class out wearing his official Elder’s jacket and leggings. “Today I will tell yah dah story of dah Dark Chippequoti and dah Sevent General.” Despite the fact that the Elite had all heard the story many times over they focused intently on Edgar. It was only proper to show interest when one was taught by an elder no matter the content of the subject.

“First we start wit how dah Chippequoti people are born. Chippequoti are born from dah winds. Dah winds and god of war make pact tah create people. Like all people dah god of deat must have his share at dah end. Hardest of all was for dah winds and god of war tah get god of life tah agree tah put life in dese bodies dey make. God of life say dat she want only short life for dem because dey would be violent and kill many. Dah oter gods say dat dey should be given long life. Tah live short violent life will nut give dem time tah learn of peace and better ways. So, god of life agrees wit one exception. She tells oter gods dat Chippequoti would have weakness ef dey live long. Dey would nut be able tah have many children and dey would learn tah value life because dey know et es rare.

Chippequoti many times only have tree, or four children because of dis. So dah first people are made and first dey nearly destroy each oter and den dah winds send messenger. A little bird. Dis little bird tells dem tah see dey have few numbers and dey would be easily defeated and dey must make peace wit each oter. So, dah Light skinned Chippequoti divide and go to dah mountains while dah Dark Chippequoti stay en dah jungle. Now, dah little bird es also trouble maker. Et gives message, but et adds to dis message and tells dah Dark Chippequoti tah find a desert wit treasure en et. Because dere was greedy man among dem he goes and finds dis dessert and he brings man oters wit him. So, dah Dark Chippequoti expand dah borders and soon dey conquer desert and jungle.

Dis brings dah first of many troubles. Now dey start tah become powerful because dey learned nut tah kill one anoter and dey have many children. Oter peoples begin tah tink dat because dah Chippequoti work hard, build great empire for demselves dat dey would like dem tah build empire for dem. Dah Ehaui, an ancient race tink to demselves dat dey would conquer Chippequoti. Dey tink knowledge will give dem tools tah command dese people.

Ehuai attack and dey use sheps and guns. Dey find dat dey cannot kill Chippequoti easily and so dey make great walls and protect demselves, but make Chippequoti afraid of dem. Chippequoti had never seen dis kind of work before. Et es as ef dah gods punish dem for nut doing as dey are made. Dey had become lazy and dey no longer look tah make war and expand territory. Dey tink maybe et was nut greed dat make dem look for more land. Et was message from dah winds and little bird bring dem right message. Dey stop too early and dey should have conquered more.

Den, five men and two women get togeter and dey make alliance of Light and Dark Chippequoti. Dey gater warriors under dem. Dey become dah seven Generals, great leaders among dah Chippequoti. Deni, she es great warrior and priestess of dah gods and she es powerful Dark Chippequoti General. She tell Chippequoti dat dah gods send Ehaui to dem, nut so dey would be conquered, but so dey could conquer people dat would give dem wings tah fly and conquer dah stars beyond Old Quoti.

Deni lead dah battle where oters cower. She had great warrior for agreed and he protect her in battle because she es pregnant during war wit Ehaui. Even when she give birt she wrap dah baby under her armor and take et ento battle. Dis baby dey say nurse from his moter and taste dah blood of her enemies when she es covered en dere blood after battle. Dis baby becomes great warrior. He has tirst for war, blood and tah conquer.

Many Chippequoti begin tah get lazy after dey win dis war and dey settle en. He es nut content tah settle, but he knows dat he must unite dah people ef dey will conquer dah stars. Dis son of Deni waits until she dies of old age for respect of her and den he claims title of sevent general. He has 2 brothers dat want dis title too because dey want wealt, he kills dem and den calls meeting of oter Generals.

When dah son of Deni tells dah oter Generals dat he will make peace wit dah Ehui and dey will nut be slaves to dah Chippequoti, but dey will take dem to dah stars tah conquer dah oters refuse. Dey will nut do as dah warrior priestess said long ago. Knowing dey would refuse he pulls out his sword and kills dem. Dey are weak wit greed and laziness.

Ehr es what he calls himself and now all dah people tremble before him. He es last General and he carries dah blood of Deni and blood of his enemies en his heart. Ehr takes only dose who are nut cowards from Old Quoti and dey begin tah conquer stars and many peoples.

Because dere was trouble for agreed of Ehr to bare children he committed great crime. He secretly trade her for anoter woman dat could look like her ef she wanted. Dis woman was Tannas. Dese mix blood babies are strange and voilent. He has seven sons and dey kill him for deep hatred es in dere hearts and now dey lead again. Dere are seven generals all of dem mixed. Soon, dey have sons too and one son rises above dem all and he kills all his broters. He es only quarter Tannas and he forbids the mix of races ever again. He leads as single General and leader of all dah Chippequoti. He tells dat one day his descendents would return tah Old Quoti. Old Quoti rejected dem and dey would suffer for dere greed and laziness.

Dis es how dah Chippequoti spread over dah stars and planets. Dey conquer and conduct war as dey always have. Den, dah Federation forms and decides tah destroy dah conquerors and pushes dem onto dah red sands of Quoti. Here dey tink tah destroy all Chippequoti. Dey do nut know dat Chippequoti live among dem dat are light and dey cannot defeat dah blood of Deni or dah tirst for dah blood of her enemies. Dah descendents of Deni still live as dah General of dah Chippequoti now. Dis es dah history of the Dark Chippequoti and dah Light.”

As he ended the story Edgar thought he saw many wide eyes in the room. It was not an uncommon reaction. Everyone liked the story of Deni and her son Ehr. They were a great people to tell the history of. Ehr had become wicked, but he started out with the right intentions.

To allow for a few questions would only be fair. This was a story that almost no one outside the Chippequoti knew. The Ehaui knew it, but they did not speak of it. Deni had been the reason they were conquered and now worked side by side with the Chippequoti. “Does anyone have questions about dis history?”

After the class was over Illya got up and rushed the pads over to his bunk while plucking out one for himself and Kalizda. Thrusting one into her hands and then shoving the other in his pocket he started off for the next class.

It was good that Edgar had not spoken about the green eyes, but he could still feel a few eyes following him wherever he went. He was from the lineage of Deni and now everyone in Skycorp that took this class knew it.

After lunch the staring seemed to be a little less and that was just as well. The group would have to be able to focus on each other because there was an assignment coming up that would take their complete focus and attention.

This was something that nobody would want to do, but if they were going to be partners in a life threatening task if they were ever needed they would all have to know a little more about each other. These were things the Elite knew about each other, but they didn't know about their partners and their partners needed to know them too. As the group gathered in the gymnasium Illya sighed. "Alright..." His throat was still sore and his voice remained rough. "Dis es exercise dat es essential. Yah must be honest wit each oter because yah lives could depend on et and dah lives of dose in dah Alliance could depend on yah ability tah be honest wit yah partner. Yah all know dat we are a final defense. Dis es merging of two greatest armies. Pilots dat are unrivaled and soldiers dat are unrivaled." There was always a small need to remind people what was at stake that was greater than their fear and give them a sense of pride before asking something like this. "Dis exercise requires dat yah tell yah partner any problems yah may experience ef et es en yah mind, or body. I will do same exercise wit meh partner."

******************************************************

It was obvious by the end of the day that Markus was suffering from the disease that sometimes flared. The man was limping along, dragging one leg and barely keeping balance even with the aid of a wall. To some extent it might have been tempting to leave the man at Skycorp. Markus was the one that signed up for Skycorp.

However, Illya couldn’t see the value in leaving Markus to lay in a bunk and struggle to even get himself to the bathroom. To get all the way down the hall without any help, or even the help from one of his men would be humiliating.

Taking a deep breath Illya glanced at Kalizda. “Do yah tink dat yah could handle being at dah shep wit dah kids alone? I will stay wit Markus ef he will let meh.” There wasn’t any telling what Markus would do, but Illya would try for his father’s dignity to give him more privacy while he suffered. Before approaching his father he needed to assemble a small team of men for the rescue mission.

Illya walked between the lines of bunks in the first room and nudged Asher, “Look for the message from me later. You’ve got work.” Next he nudged Dane and gave him the same message before he moved to the next room and recruited one more man. That was all the more he needed for the mission. It would not require a lot of men. Just a few of them.

Finally, Illya was near his father’s bunk and he stared at the big man as shakes started to roll through his body. “You will come with me to hotel and spare your dignity.”

Slowly the big man forced himself to sit up on the bunk and he stared at his son. For all that he’d done and tried to be closer to his son it was pity that gave him the opportunity. A pity that he barely understood and yet did in a way. “Get me up.” Holding a hand out he allowed Illya to help him to his feet and he leaned heavily into his son.

At first Illya stared at his father and the big brown hand held out. With only a few seconds pause he wrapped his large palm around his father’s and pulled the man up. The two of them limped out the door and toward the gate where they presented passes and Illya stumbled along till they were near the pick up area and then summoned a ship to fly them to the hotel.

Once they were at the hotel Illya got Markus settled into one bed and he laid on the other bed. It was going to be a long night. Kalizda said she would bring an overnight bag for him and Markus’ rucksack along with dinner. The meal was probably going to be better than anything he would get for himself for room service. For now he contented himself with staring at the ceiling until his father decided to grunt some sort of command to get him up and take him to the bathroom.

There was a small moment of reprieve from the silence one hour after they arrived. There was a knock at the door and Illya expected it would be Kalizda. Illya glanced at his father and then slowly walked to the door. Slowly he opened it up to see it was Kalizda and he grabbed each bag of clothes as she handed it to him and he tossed them back into the room before he stepped into the hallway with her briefly. “Mmm, yah bring snake stew eh?” With a glint in his eyes he gently took the sack with the food and breathed in deeply. “Yah know how tah feed a man.” Leaning toward her he bent at the waist to get low enough to give her a proper kiss. “We need tah leave early in dah morning. I have counsel. Maybe Markus will be better by morning. Ef nut I let him stay at Skycorp, or I take him home on dah shep.”

Closing the bag of food he switched to holding with one hand and then slipped the other behind Kalizda’s back to give her one more kiss. “I will see yah tomorrow.” Turning he gave her a wink and then stepped back inside.

Markus looked considerably more miserable than he had a few hours ago. He was still shaking and he had a line of sweat above his upper lip. “The rucksack is here now. Got your medicine in it?”

“Yeah.” Markus grit his teeth and he scooted himself up in the bed so he could brace his back against the headboard. Despite his attempt he still started to shake and slowly lean further and further to the side.

Grabbing the rucksack and still carrying the food Illya went over to Markus’ bed and plopped himself next to his father before the man fell over. Setting the food on the night stand he then set the bag on his lap and felt Markus fall heavily against his shoulder. “Just tell me how much you need.” He couldn’t give his father a pill with this and he knew he was looking for a bottle. When he found it he started to pour it into the measuring cup until Markus made a gurgling sort of gag at him.

Illya pushed Markus to sit upright and then he poured the medicine down Markus throat and waited for it to go down before he got up to rinse the cup out. It was nearly an hour after the medicine was administered before Markus started to have relief and he had to get up the first time to use the bathroom.

After the bathroom visit Illya helped his father wash his hands and then sat down on his bed with him and started to set out the meal. There was enough for both of them.

Markus smelled the food as soon as the travel sack was opened and he felt a slight bit of tightening in his throat. It smelled like Yvonne’s snake stew and even if he hadn’t seen Kalizda when she came, he knew that she was a good woman. She had the same sort of patience that Yvonne had. Accepting his bowl in silence he shakily brought the first few bites to his mouth and savored them before speaking to his son.

“She’s good woman for you.” Markus half stammered between the bites of food and scraping of the spoon in the bottom of his son’s dish. Illya had been almost completely silent except for the necessary grunts and statements. “She reminds me of your mother. I waited 7 years for her. We were betrothed and while she still had to choose me I did spend time getting to know her. She loved playing games, exploring and she used to ride on my shoulders when she was a little girl. I was just becoming a man and my father made me watch after her as my future agreed. I found even when she was only 10 or 11 that she had plenty of fire in her.”

It was surprising to hear his father say anything at all about Yvonne. He’d heard very little of her when she was younger. These were things that just weren’t commonly spoke about. Illya paused and waited to see if that was it. Sometimes Markus just made statements like that and then wanted something. If he thought a small story about his mother was a bargaining chip then he was wrong.

“You know she told me when your sister was born that I could not make her an Elite. She promised me our first son as an Elite. When you were born with green eyes she cried because you were her first son and her last child. The green eyes mean you’re ¼ Tannas. By the law it meant that if I doubted your mother I could have her killed and the child. It was also tradition that green eyed babies were considered evil and they were dropped over the cliff and given back to the winds.”

The older man flexed his fist some and it shook more with tremors before he relaxed it and continued. “I never doubted her. There were records of babies being born with green eyes and for what reason we did not know. As the General I made a decree that if a woman was not under suspicion that the baby could be kept. Many doubted you. I forbade anyone from telling you about your blood. I raised you perhaps harsher than I should have, but there were many elders that doubted you.”

Somehow it was much more difficult than he thought it would be to tell his son the reason for many of the things that had happened and it felt like a pathetic excuse. “I raised you harshly because I knew many wanted the empire Deni spoke about. You were the last of the Generals because of my promise to your mother. She never had another child. There were many expectations of you. I wanted to see the empire too, but I know that the Chippequoti can’t fight on two fronts. You made a choice and you’ve protected our people. You made the choice that saved the most lives the same as I’ve always done. You’re the General now and I would die to see our people preserved. I would die to see my son the man I know him to be and to be the emperor of the Chippequoti.”

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Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The rest of the night had been long and Illya didn’t say much to his father, but there was plenty to think about. Markus hadn’t asked for anything and that was a change that Illya wasn’t prepared for. By that morning Markus seemed well enough and he insisted on going back to Skycorp.

Illya met with Kalizda outside the gates at Skycorp with his overnight bag and the dishes from the meal that she brought for them to eat. Once he boarded the ship he put his things away and got buckled into the co-pilot seat. He set the course and then stared out the flight window at the open blackness of space. It was still dark outside and he was grateful that the only real light in the flight deck was from the backlit controls.

When they landed it was brighter outside and he helped Kalizda get the kids unloaded and settled into the house again. “I will clean up and den get ready for dah counsel. Et starts in en hour.” Illya didn’t say anything more until after he was showered and he was straightening out the last of the many medals on his jacket.

“I hear some tings from meh fater first time last night. Et makes meh tink and I will have time privately wit counsel tah consider what was said. Maybe I will tell yah more later.” Illya grabbed his hair oil and smoothed his curls out and combed them into submission before putting his beret on. He would be hearing both military and civil matters today. So instead of dressing up only for civil matters he dressed for the military. He was showing up as the General. “Oh, and when yah come yah jes stand off to dah side and wait for dah head of Elders tah call on yah as next part of agenda. Yah tah be sworn in as advisor to dah court and meh.”

*************************************************************

The guest house hall had filled with plenty of civilians and others alike. Many had wanted to put their issue before the emperor himself. Illya announced Kalizda as an advisor of the court early in the day and by mid afternoon he had his first break with the elders. The break was not a time he could pose any of his own questions. There was instead a back log of issues that needed to be assigned, discussed and decisions made on before he could resume the day.

By the next round he was getting tired of the many decisions to make. There was one that made him grin and it was a little girl that came and stood in front of him. “I learned about my rights to complain before the court when I was wronged by another.” With a pout she pointed to her mother who turned red. “She isn’t giving me enough sweets.”

Though the mother was embarrassed by her daughter’s trivial complaint to the court and waste of the emperor's time there wasn’t anything to do about it now. The girl had simply said she wanted to come and talk and learn about the court. She hadn’t said anythng about a dispute.

It was difficult not to laugh. Illya simply nodded and gave the girl a solemn and knowing look. “C’mere.” Beckoning to the girl he watched as she strode up to him proudly. “You say she doesn’t give you enough sweets?” The girl nodded and he sighed. “Complaining is not Chippequoti way. Do you have enough food to eat?” The girl nodded and he continued with a seriies of questions to be sure she was well taken care of despite the fact that he could see she was. At the end he held his hand out to her. “I will make important decision today. You are very brave to come today and make your complaint. You’re complaint is wrong, but you learn your lesson well. I will give you small ticket that you take to an elder over there and he will give you little present for being brave. Just remember, not every time you come to the court you’ll be right and not every time you’re wrong. Think next time and be sure you have good cause to come.” Illya reached into his pocket and gave the girl a slip of crumpled note paper and walked her over to the elders. The elders grinned and took the crumpled note paper and gave the girl a small gold pin that was given to citizens for their important contributions. Even if she hadn’t been right, she’d been a good example for many of what sort of thing was not proper to complain about.

By the end of the day Illya was worn out. He’d addressed the military, civil and political matters. The political matters involved the preparation for the tour and he stayed till after dark for training for his role as emperor. It was the first time in over a thousand years and he had to try on the proper garments to be sure they were tailored correctly.

When he got home the kids were already in bed and he was too tired to even eat dinner. Still, he ate it because he had to coordinate a little more planning with the team. Tomorrow after his doctor’s appointment they would be flying to the Terran colonies.

For the first several hours in bed Illya sat up on his pad and drafted several more movement plans based on the intelligence found by Ehud and the maps of the Terran colonies. Illya was almost done with the plans when he drifted off and his pad fell off the bed and hit the floor. In a few minutes with no activity the pad locked itself and Illya tossed and turned for most of the hours that he did sleep.

Illya slept a little better with the tube out, but he still felt exhausted by morning. His back hurt constantly and knew Kalizda didn't want to hear it, but he had to say something. "Kalizda, before we see dah doctor I tink I should tell yah dat I ask for longer appointment. I tink I need some medicine for pain. Meh back hurts all dah time and I have hard time sleeping wit et."

Calysta had hardly woken up from another fitful night sleep. Illya had tossed and turned for a large part of the night which kept them both awake. It wasn't his fault, she knew, but she felt tired and there was a full day of doctors appointments, children, and black ops to run. She would be hitting a little coffee in her mug this morning for sure. Illya shifted next to her and she slid a hand up to his shoulder as she buried her face into a pillow.

"Mmmm..Morning..." A muffled groan escaped her as her thumb played at the scar her bullet had left behind on his skin some 12 years before. Normally, he woke with a grin and maybe a few small comments if he was in a good mood, or entirely quiet if he was not feeling well. Today, it seemed he had more to say than usual and what he said made her heart sink like a lead balloon. He thought he needed medicine for pain. She didn't have to ask what kind of medicine. He meant the hard stuff. Was it because they'd given him some during the tube process? He'd said his back hurt all of the time and she knew all too well he wasn't sleeping properly. He would never have asked for a longer appointment with a doctor unless he was desperate. Guilt washed over her and she let out a long breath in to the pillow before sitting up face him. What was she supposed to say to this? Carefully, she looked him over before decided not to answer right away. Instead, she asked a question. "You havent been sleeping well, no," she said, "I'm guessing Helena's salve hasn't been working?" She knew it hadn't been but it was hard to hear it said aloud. "Is there anything else I can do?"

For a moment Illya felt badly. He hadn't even said good morning. The only thing he'd been able to think about the past few mornings was how bad it was gonna hurt when he had to move. Shifting to lay on his side he winced some. It was still tender feeling, but he could lay on his side better. "No, I dun sleep well and I dun tink dah rub es working." Kalizda seemed to think that there was more she could do. That was what made it harder in some ways. It wasn't her fault and there wasn't anything else she could do that hadn't already been done. "Yah already try everyting and so do I. We jes talk wit Ehaui tah see ef dere es anyting else dat dey tink we can do. Dey will talk wit us about all meh medical history because I dun remember et all."

When he shifted to his side, she inched a little closer to stay where it was warm and to see him all the better. She knew she had tried everything she could think of and even done research beyond typical medicinal fixes. Some of them she could rule out because they weren't medically sound or they were too high risk. He could wake up and not be able to walk at all or it could kill him. Calysta let out a long breath again and nodded. It sounded as if he had asked the Ehaui to go over all of his medical history today. That was going to be a monumental visit to the doctor with a ton of information, however, at least she would have a good stock of his health by then. Maybe they would have some suggestions for therapies that didn't involve heavy drugs. But wouldn't they have already been doing those if they did? She rubbed at her eyes, clearing them from the crust of sleep and to give herself to time to create a coherent answer, then she reached out and smoothed down her Chip's wild curls. "If there's something that can be done and it's safe...we'll try it...and if not..." she sighed some, "If not....Illya I don't want you to be in pain and I know you wanted to be clean too." Of course, what she wanted didn't make a difference to reality. Her fingers smoothed away at his hair and she nodded, mostly to herself this time. "We'll do what we have to do, yeah?"

"Ok, we jes see what dey say." Illya pushed up on elbow and then kissed Kalizda gently. "We need tah get up ef we get to dah doctor on time." Thomas had said that he would watch the kids and Illya planned on having a shower before going in. By the time Illya finished the shower and had his hair made he felt sore. Being sore wasn't unusual and he limped slightly as they started out for the doctors office. It was a nice enough day to walk and it helped clear out the lungs when it wasn't too damp outside. As they reached the clinic Illya let out a deep cough and he pushed the door open. "Look at dat." Looking toward the clock on the wall he sighed, "We break dah trend and we're early."

He kissed her with a gentleness that still managed to surprise her coming from such a big pawed man. She managed a smile for his sweetness and then they peeled themselves out of bed to go to the doctors. There was a break in the rain today and that allowed them to walk to the clinic with Illya limping slightly in the hazy sunlight filtering through the clouds. It was a nice moment just to be with him and hold his hand like any other couple taking advantage of the weather. When they got into the clinic, he made a sly comment about them being early and she laughed a little. "It seems so. I hope the doctors don't get used to that. Statistically, we were bound to be early at some point, but I dont think it will happen again for a very long time." She shot him a genuine grin and then checked them in at the front desk. Since they were early, the doctor was still talking with the patient ahead of them, so she occupied herself by showing Illya the thumb war game Cypher had taught her while they waited.

Since they were early and it seemed the doctor had planned for them to be late Illya sat down with Kalizda and she had some sort of idea about playing a game with thumbs. "Ok.." By the third round Illya couldn't help chuckling some. Her poor little thumb was short compared to his and much weaker. Even if she managed to trap his thumb he didn't have to work very hard to lift it and trap her thumb. "Yah know, dis es nut going tah work in yah favor. Maybe dah winner gets a kiss?" With a giant grin he leaned forward and kissed her gently. About the time he started to think the victor should get kisses the nurse came over and tapped him on the shoulder. "Damn et. Yah still got a way of ruining all dah fun." Raising her brow the woman shrugged, "Well, maybe I think its fun to get you all riled up."

She knew she would lose the game rather quickly, but the challenge was something she enjoyed. Illya offered plenty of that with his bear sized thumbs trapping hers. When he suggested winner get a kiss, she didn't have time to reply before he stole one anyways, a giant grin on his face. "Ooh I think that could be arranged." About the time they went for another, the nurse came over to tel l them it was time to go see the doctor. Calysta chuckled at the terse exchange between the nurse and Illya. That was about as friendly as it would get between the two and she knew both of them would be annoyed but some how enjoyed it anyways. That was just the relationship between Chips and Ehaui. Calysta smirked at Illya a little as she rose to her feet. "Getting him riled up is my job," she said, "Is the doctor ready, yeah?" They followed the nurse down the hall and into a room that held both an exam table and a small office area with hologram equipment. Calysta settled into a chair that had been designed with Chippeqouti sized rears in mind and immediately felt swallowed up. Her feet didn't brush the floor when she sat these. Illya sat beside her and she waited for the Ehaui doctor to come in. There was no use rushing an Ehaui doctor in any capacity. They did what they wanted in their own time and had enough patience to deal with Chips. When the doctor came in Calysta nodded in greeting while he went to work checking over what he needed to do.

The nurse threw a glance at Kalizda with a bit of mirth written in her eyes. "Oh you just keep him riled up in bed. I get on his nerves cause I can." Secretly she enjoyed the Chippequoti and she believed they enjoyed razzing her too. It was just how things were. Once they reached the room she had Illya strip his shirt off and then she took a quick scan of his back before she left the room. Illya pulled his shirt back on and sat down in the chair to wait for the doctor with Kalizda. When the doctor came in he sighed some and flopped a hologram disk on the table. "Well, I got all the stuff here. Looks like the scan today showed very little improvement in the back. There is slightly less swelling and irritation surrounding the spine and nerves, but it's still bad enough I could see giving you something for the pain. However, let's go over a few things first. I can go through the recorded injuries chronologically, or head to toe. You've had enough injuries I don't know if it matters if we go through it either way. Also, you'll have a copy of this at the end." Illya glanced at Kalizda and shrugged. "Whatever yah find easier. I dun remember all dah stuff dat happens and I dun worry about et eiter. Et es jes dah way et es." Despite the temptation to agree with the Chip about his not worrying about things the doctor bit his tongue. Sometimes he wanted to yell at the Chip for the things he did, but he didn't and instead he kept right on repairing what he could for the man. Perhaps the Council Woman would be helpful in dissuading the General from some of his more reckless activities.

Calysta listened as the doctor delivered some news that was difficult to hear but also not surprising. His back was a mess and the nerves had shown little improvement. Then there was the fact that the doctor could see why he wanted pain meds. That sent another surge of guilt but she kept her mouth shut and continued to listen until the doctor asked if she wanted everything in chronological order or head to toe. Both sounded horrific, but she just tilted he her head. "Maybe just go from the beginning of his medical history. That way I know what's oldest and what's newer." The truth was, she hadn't been there for a large part of his life and there was alot she didn't know in that time frame.

"Alright, let's start with the beginning then." The Ehaui opened the hologram disk and sorted the information by date. "Oldest recorded injury was at 6 months of age. He fell down some steps and got some stitches. Nothing serious and not entirely unexpected. First brain surgery for persistent seizures at 2 years old. Then he broke his arm in a case of domestic violence at 5 and broke 3 fingers six months later slamming them in a gate. Go forward a few years and he's had 5 concussions by the age of 14. By 17 there's about 3 more cases of broken bones. None of them serious." The doctor flipped through the images of the scans and he paused at one that was a full body scan. "This one at 19 was pretty bad. Several broken bones, displaced knee and shoulder had some soft tissue damage. Training incident with severe concussion and several listed contusions and welts to accompany the rest." As he went through the years the doctor seemed to get more uncomfortable because he was getting to about 42 and there was a highly sensitive nature to the upcoming injuries listed. "Here is a recorded visit in which there were several uh...sexually transmitted diseases detected, malnutrition, again several contusions and welts along with some intestinal worms, lice and uh...Oh! What is that?" Zooming in on the scan he stared at it for a long moment before he wrinkled his brow and cleared his throat, "Uh...a blade hid under the edge of the skin. That's one I haven't seen before." Illya shifted some and he sighed. "Et was only place tah hide et and I use dah blade few times and put et under different places of meh skin when needed."

Calysta adjusted in her seat and folded her hands together in her lap to keep herself looking calm and composed. The doctor opened the hologram file and began listing a few things out. She knew about the brain surgery at 2. They had put the chip in his head to lessen the seizures and it was the same chip she had removed during emergency surgery on the nameless Pithian planet. His broken arm she had known about too, thanks to Illya and the hologram his sister had provided. At least the Ehaui had recognized it as domestic violence. The full body scan and 19 must have been his Elite training. They had tortured him for weeks and then broken bones including part of his hip and face, from what she remembered. Already, her knuckles were starting to tighten around each other, turning white from the strain of her own grip, but she continued to listen to the doctor. He described the period of captivity on Terra. STD's...lice...worms...malnutrition... These were difficult to hear and it made her grind her teeth. He'd been treated like a poorly kept breed animal and it was abominable to think of treating someone this way, much less when it was someone she loved. Calysta half jumped out of the chair when the doctor exclaimed in confusion about something on a scan, then realized what it was. She slowly turned to look at Illya with a raised brow. "It's not still there, right?"

Meeting Kalizda's gaze Illya gave her a grimace of sorts. "Uh, no. Et's nut dere. Keeping small blade under skin like dat hurts, but et works en hard times." Looking down at the floor he nodded to the doctor. "Jes keep going." He didn't really want to hear anymore, but he needed to do this with Kalizda. The doctor took a deep breath and continued. "46 there is a bullet to the back and it chipped off a chunk of lumbar spine. Spine took 12 weeks to fully heal. No complications from it. 47 there is a broken leg and several cracked ribs. Then we have 52 there are several injuries. Right lower leg is shattered, right femur is broken in 5 places, shrapnel throughout, right foot is severely damaged with every bone broken in it, right ankle requires reconstruction, left lower leg is sprinkled with shrapnel, shrapnel in the back and primarily spread through right side, deep cut under the chin and shrapnel in the neck, right side of face lacerations to the skull and face, right arm is broken in 7 places with high volume of shrapnel, right ear drum is ruptured and inner ear damage, swelling in brain and now the treatment. Designed to be a several stage treatment. Stabilize, reduce swelling in brain and replace anti seizure electromagnetic chip, remove shrapnel where possible, several pieces remain in chest cavity, place metal plates and rods provide structure for bones to fuse and set frequent checks and removal dates for metal plates and rods." The doctor sighed and stared at the record. "As you know those appointments were not kept. There was an early evacuation. Next record shows patient in severe state of infection. Remove plates and rods, flush sites of infection with antibiotics and schedule follow up appointments." While the doctor gave the treatment for each area he would show an image of the scans. Some of the scans showed his back which was broken in several different places at the time of the blast and then he'd move on to the next section. "Any questions so far?"

Illya looked at her with a grimace and informed her that the blade wasn't there anymore. At least he hadn't taken to keeping one like that forever, though she knew the reasons he had done it to begin with. He looked back at the floor and she turned to look at the doctor again who had no problem continuing with another bombardment of medical history that seemed to grow more horrible by the syllable. She hadn't known about the gun shot to the back, but what came next she did know about. The blast that haunted his memories had left its mark on his body. So much shrapnel and damage to one body made her nails dig into her palms as she listened. It was a miracle he'd lived to begin with and another miracle that he had lived for as long as he had without infection after that. She had no idea about his ear either and she wondered how he could hear properly. An eardrum would heal itself in time, but the bones of the inner ear would be permanent hearing loss. Her fingers were curled tightly into her fists on her lap now, and she realized there was something missing too. "Well...," she said. Her voice came out a little hoarse at first and she cleared it before continuing. "Yes...what was done about the ear? And ...um....you can add gun shot wound to right shoulder in between those times." Her cheeks began to burn as she added the injury to the list and she gave the doctor a sheepish shrug. "9mm mag round. Treated locally."

"The ear, yes." A bit flustered the doctor flipped back to the hologram showing the right side of the head. "We uh...we did a small reconstruction and did an insert of an artificial ear drum with wires to carry the electric frequency to the brain. Essentially it imitates the natural frequencies from ears and his brain translates the frequency into sound and that is what makes hearing with that ear possible. If there is damage, or clogging in the outer ear it will disrupt the frequency and make hearing difficult." As he was about to move on he smiled at Kalizda. "Oh yes, we've already got that on record. It's a well known story." The next set of injuries were ones that she'd brought him in for until it came to the brain injury after the attempt to kill Kent. "This brain injury we had damage to the ear and had to replace some parts to the artificial hearing, replaced the anti-seizure chip and reduced swelling. Significant damage to the brain and treated with induced coma and stasis chamber for 2 days. Minimal reduction in functionality and you know the rest I think." Even if she'd asked for the whole record the doctor didn't really care to get too in depth on portions of it. Illya raised his head and looked at the doctor. "Yes, but yah give whole history. I listen too."

Calysta listened to the doctor, but did actually turn to look at Illya's ear. It sounded like even the ear drum had been beyond repair and they had reconstructed that too. She couldnt tell, from the outside and she was positive his outer ear was still his. She'd been guilty of nibbling on it a time or two. When the doctor mentioned they knew about the gun shot wound she had given him, she blushed slightly again, but the grip on her own hands relaxed some. "Good, I wouldn't want that forgotten at all," she replied. The doctor moved on to the brain injured from another, armor piercing bullet and she held her expression as neutral as possible. It was hard to talk about, even in this setting. She had sent her Chip on a mission and he hadn't returned the same in alot of ways. Hearing that struggle reduced to 'minimal reduction in functionality' was cold, but it was definitely the way an Ehaui would deliver that scenario. In fact, the man seemed to be wrapping up but Illya wanted him to continue for the entire thing. "If you would continue, doctor," she nodded, "I know there are things that we should already know, but I want to hear it as you see it. And then I want to hear what you think are the most prominent issues and the things we can help."

"Yes, I'll continue then." Opening the hologram again the doctor sighed and then started into the more recent injuries and highlighted the damage to the left arm. "We have a crushing injury to the arm here. Bone was again shattered and required some reconstruction. Shoulder injury accompanied this. There is still some plate and rod left until the healing is complete." At that Illya lifted his head. He didn't remember there still being chunks in his left arm. However, he remained quiet and lowered his head again. "Then we have the bite which produced severe infection and rapid spread of disease in the bone. You are more than aware of the recovery and result. Now there is a prosthetic leg. Rods and screws to anchor the permanent prosthetic to the leg. Knee shows some overuse and damage, but it is healing. Ooh and I forgot we replaced the chip in his brain for anti-seizure management again somewhere in there." The doctor was relieved to be finished and Illya sighed as he lifted his head. "Dat's a lot tah remember. Uhm...what yah recommended for treatments?" Since the General asked about recommended treatments the doctor pulled out a sheet of paper with a few things written on it. He knew the General would remember it better if it was written out. "First, try painting, or something that will relax the mind and it will help work on fine motor skills for right and left hand. There has been nerve damage with both and it has some effect. It will be helpful to work your hands more with finer objects. Get to the pleasure house when you can to stimulate blood flow and healing for the muscles and nerves, try to keep active, but not rough to promote strength and control for the back. I forgot, you broke that at least 3-4 times in your medical history with a recent case that has caused quite a bit of inflammation. Then I'll prescribe some medications to use only at night. We need to discuss a plan to prevent abuse."

Calysta remembered the crushed arm and how awful it looked when he'd come home after the black ops mission to save his people from Old Qouti. The leg was an unforgettable instance too, the thought of which made her fingers clench against themselves again. His knee wasn't faring so well it seemed. Hearing about the nerve damage in his fingers was a new one, and even though it made sense, she wondered if she had some how missed the signs that he'd had pain in his hands. She couldn't think of any specific instances but that didn't mean they weren't there. Fine motor skills and the need to go to the pleasure house on a regular basis. And pain meds. The thought of those made her tighten her hands further. She didn't want him to be in pain though and by the Wilds he had more than enough right to be in pain. Maybe using them at night only wouldn't be so bad. "The kids...the kids would like painting," she commented to Illya, "But there are alot of things we can try too. Going to the pleasure house regularly shouldn't be too bad either, yeah?" When it came to the abuse prevention she nodded to the doctor. "Aye, in the past, I've regulated them and kept them locked away only for specific use at certain times. Are there any other suggestions you could make?"

"Yes, it was good when you had control, but that is something that you and Illya have to decide." The doctor looked at the two of them and waited for Illya to make any suggestions. "Eh..." Illya frowned and he thought for a moment. "Maybe we jes have restricted order and pick up eh? Kalizda takes care of et and she manage giving dem to meh. We try someting very light for night and den maybe second kind dat es stronger ef pain es bad. Jes getting good sleep es fine. Ef I can sleep..." The doctor nodded. "I agree. Sounds fair and yes, if you can get some good sleep that will also reduce the pain. There is something we're working on and I think you'd be a good candidate for it, but it won't be ready for a few years yet. We've got a electromagnetic stimulator that would be surgically attached to the spine with several prongs that could disrupt the pain signals and even stimulate the muscle to promote better health in the back. With better muscle and reduced pain signals we could use more effective scar tissue reduction shots. For now we'll work on managing pain and inflammation. I would recommend a round of the scar tissue reduction shots and some more creams to reduce swelling in conjunction with the massage, painting, medication and strengthening."

They had tried very hard to make it without medication, but the truth of the matter was, Illya would be dependent on them. He needed rest and she was positive the pain was stressing him out to the point where he was having night terrors again. The doctor mentioned something she hadn't heard of in her research and she leaned in closer to see what he had to say about a device that might help. Back surgery again sounded like pure torture but the results were promising, even if they were a few years off yet. Maybe they could improve what they could and then see about this surgery? He could need to be in the best shape possible for something like that. "I think seeing how that develops might be a good idea," she told both the doctor and Illya, "If you'd want to take a look. It would be better than medicine if it would eventually work like you say. I'd like to follow the research on it, if that's possible?" Calysta looked at her husband and smiled at him. "It would mean another back surgery a few years down the road and I won't make you do something with your body that you wouldn't want, Illya. If later on, its developed and you wanted to try it, I'd be there with you without hesitation." Turning her gaze back to the doctor, she nodded. "I'll deal with the medication and we'll work on the massage and painting. Maybe we could get the appointment for the scar tissue shots made today?"

Kalizda almost seemed ready to sign him up for the surgery today. Illya opened his mouth briefly and then shut it again. Another back surgery...that was almost unthinkable with how he felt today. However, if there was a chance it would work and he had the pain under control it might not sound so bad in a few years. While Kalizda got herself signed up to get updates on the progress Illya just stayed quiet and waited until she mentioned the scar tissue shots being today. "Uh...." The doctor was already pulling the giant syringes out and he sighed. Taking his shirt off got onto the exam table and laid on his stomach. He hadn't really planned on the shots today, but apparently the doctor was ready and figured something he hadn't. Bringing his arms up he laid his head on his hands and kept his eyes focused on the bed. These shots always hurt. There was so much of the nasty gel type stuff that pumped in under his skin and into his muscles. The doctor smiled. "I like that you're always ready to just get things done." With a quick call to the nurse he had her wipe down and disinfect Illya's back before he prepped the first site with a little topical anesthetic. Pushing the large needle into the skin he began to slowly pump the goo into the General's back. When a lump started to form around the site of the needle the doctor would pause and let the nurse work the goo away from the needle and into the muscles of the General's back.

He didn’t seem as enthusiastic about the idea of surgery and for that she didn't blame him. It was hard on him and nerve wracking when it involved his spine or bones. Calysta's smile faded some as he hesitated and then turned into a look of surprise when the doctor started pulling out needles. Beyond the obvious question of how quickly they seemed to have prepared for this, she hadn't meant for them to do it today before some sort of mission. She had only wanted to set up the date and time to have it done. "Ooh. Well..." The doctor cut her off with a smile and informed her exactly how pleased he was to see that she got things done. "Well, I'd meant to just set up an appointment but you're all prepared it seems," she added, "Might as well get it over with?" She gave a somewhat apologetic look to her Chip as he laid down on the table to get disinfected. When that was done the actual procedure took place with uncomfortably large needs and awkward massages over his back to make sure the gel spread. She tried to not to make any faces as they worked since Illya was fully awake, though his back was numbed slightly. "At least you might feel a little better later?" she offered.

Illya almost cringed when the first needle plunged into the muscle tissue. The doctor didn’t say anything though and he kept on working the gel in while gradually pumping more of the fluid into his back. At the end of the appointment he laid on the bed for a while longer to let it settle while the doctor finished wiping any extra gunk off his back.

“Looks like you’ve got some extra bruising around that side of your body. Lifting too much weight?”

“Maybe.” Illya grunted and he wined some when the doctor felt around the edge of the wound.

“We’ll just take a quick scan to see where we are then.” The doctor ran a scan and sighed. “Well, it looks like you’ve got some extra fluid build up in the lungs. Might explain why you’re taking so long to get over the cough. Just take it easy if you can and don’t collapse the lung again.” With a sigh the doctor handed a prescription to Kalizda and then walked out.

Illya waited till he was done feeling like he would puke and then he pushed up on his elbows and tipped himself onto his side before getting off the procedure table. “Ready?” Glancing at Kalizda he held his hand out for his shirt that she was holding. He sort of hoped she wouldn’t be asking him about his side the rest of the day, but he knew she was bound to ask especially with the rescue mission coming up. “Dun worry, I’ll be fine.”

Slipping his shirt on, Illya walked with Kalizda over to the pharmacy and got his newly prescribed medication picked up. He was at least going to get a few good nights of sleep coming up and that would help more than anything.
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Calysta could have kicked herself. How could she have forgotten the day Illya was supposed to get the tube taken from his lungs? She normally put things into her schedule and color coded it. Illya’s appointments were always in red. Hers were in yellow and anything involving the kids was green. That was just her private calendar. Her work calendar over lapped her private calendar, making everything in according to task and then down into urgency. The pad practically looked like a rainbow when she pulled up each individual day. How she had failed to put the date down was beyond her, but it had happened. Now, she would have Illya home and wanting to rest after the tube removal while Ehud and Priscilla visited.

“Kalizda, yah invited Priscilla and Sien and Ehud tah dinner. Dis es nut good day for dat plan.”

Illya sounded slightly irritated as he stated the obvious and she nodded. “Aye, I missed it somehow. I’d much rather you rest instead, but Priscilla sounded like she was so excited to come over. Cypher is expecting Sien too. They’re already here on the islands.”

He let out a sigh at her. “Alright, I know dere are a lot of tings and ets easy tah forget. Et will be jes fine. Please jes send dem home ef dey talk too long. I tink I will be tired.”

Calysta raised a brow at Illya. “I will. Though, talking too much has never been a problem with Ehud. It’ll be the boys that will be hard to separate.”

Sien and Cypher were as different as night and day and yet they were thick as thieves between them. It would be Cypher’s poked out lip and pleading combined with Sien’s polite requests to stay longer that would be the danger, and maybe a little of her and Priscilla gabbing too late, if she was honest.

They made their way into the Skycorp clinic where the Ehaui doctor was waiting with all smiles. Calysta knew that their smiles were probably supposed to show confidence and patience to people. Sometimes the smiles looked a little too eager though and after the doctor was so needle-happy last time, the grin did seem a bit creepy.

Illya stepped through the door as the doctor welcomed them, then informed Illya he would be sedated rather than anesthetized which sent him stepping back a few paces.

“Uh, I dun tink I want tah be awake.” Illya back pedaled some, bumping into her.

She put a hand between his shoulder blades to keep him from running her over in the doorway. “It’s alright. You won’t be, really.”

The doctor began to explain the same thing, and finally Illya walked forward into the clinic where an exam table and privacy screen waited.

Illya undressed behind the screen and then came out holding the tube and bulb awkwardly. It still had some fluid bubbled at the bottom and though it wasn’t red or pink anymore, the sight of the bulb still made her want to cringe. He climbed up onto the table while the doctor began preparing large syringes, drawing up the sedative doses, and holding them up to the light to ensure the markers were correct. Calysta caught a glimpse of the size of the needle. What were they using? Nyte beast tranquilizer? She had been married to him for over 10 years now and sometimes the Chippeqouti scale versus the average humanoid sizes still surprised her.

When he saw the syringe, Illya groaned audibly and turned his head to wink at her. To anyone else, he would have looked just fine, but his little wink at her as he laid on the table was very telling. He did that when he was trying to look brave in front of her. There was only one thing she could do with that.

Calysta smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss his temple.

It didn’t take long for his eyes to start drooping after the doctor delivered the sedative. “Mmm...how’re you feeling, love?” she asked him gently. He mumbled something incomprehensible back, his lips puffing slightly. “Oh. Mmmm. I’ll play with your hair.” Was that what he said? She had no idea, but it was what she was going to do.

Calysta laced her fingers into his thick curls and petted at them all while the doctors worked on removing the awful tube from his side. “I think when we get home we’ll rest for awhile, yeah?” He hummed what sounded like an approval and she smiled. “And then maybe we can eat some dinner?” Another hum came from his throat. Calysta glanced up at the nurses who were working and then looked down at Illya again. “And then when you feel much better you can wear that nice tunic and we can go to the best restaurant on Kinte?”

By the time the doctors were done, Illya was wanting to start snoring into a deep sleep. The procedure was out patient though, and they needed him to wake up. Calysta pulled her fingers from his hair gently and rubbed his shoulder some. “Illya...wake up. C’mon, love.”

Between herself and the nurses, they managed to get him up for water and an extra strength over the counter pain medication. He was awake long enough to take what he needed, then went back to dozing between snacks brought by the nurses.

“Ready to go home?” she asked him, “Aye, Ehud and Pris will be there soon.”

When he was lucid enough, he tried getting into his shirt again. Calysta watched him walk the shirt around and around in his hands, trying to find where to start pulling it on. After a minute of watching him, she took the shirt from him with gentle hands and pulled it right side in, then showed him where his head went.

“Tanks.”

“Mhm,” she nodded while he dressed.

She lead him outside to her double flyer with a little help from the nurses and got him tucked into a flyer seat. As the doctor promised, he wasn’t likely to remember the procedure or the ride home. He spent most of their short flight with his head back against the seat and silent.

When they got home the silence ended and was filled with a herd of excited children meeting them at the door. Calysta managed to catch Edgar before he barrelled into his father, and stalled Thomas, but Lohgan and Cypher managed to rumble right up to Illya.

“Jes move slower and dun talk so loud. Doctors help meh today, but I dun move fast,” Illya told them.

Her eldest son and youngest daughter looked to her questioningly. “Aye, your Dah is right. Go play for a bit and Sien will be here soon, yeah?”

That earned her a squeal of delight from Lohgan and Cypher grinned as he took off to go play in great anticipation of Sien’s arrival.

She expected Illya to want to go lay down for a nap, but he joined her in the kitchen to work on dinner and even offered to help chop up the vegetables. Calysta washed a few carrots and other root vegetables then handed the chopping board over to Illya with a paring knife. If he wanted to help then she would let him.

It wasn’t long before the buzzer rang through the ship. Someone was at the airlock asking for permission to enter. “I get it,” Illya said as he jumped up to his feet. His chair rocketed backward and tipped over onto the tile floor. Was he still feeling floppy from the anesthetic or was something wrong? It was probably only Sien, Pris and Ehud at the door and she’d never seen him move like that over excitement for company.

Calysta put down the spoon she was stirring with and righted the chair before following behind Illya. When she made it to the living room, she found Sien rushing in. The boy was sobbing uncontrollably and landed on the couch with a mighty flop to continue bawling. Ehud came in after and sank against the wall, putting his head in his walls and saying something she couldn’t hear over Sien’s crying.

The door closed behind them both and she realized the problem. Where was Pris?

“Hey, Kalizda yah go set wit Sien.”

He called back to the kitchen, not realizing she was standing in the threshold of the living room. Something must have happened to Priscilla and the thought of it made her blood chill a little. What if it was because she had lived with them? Was the Federation? She didn’t know, but there was a little boy bawling his eyes out, face buried in their couch.

“I’ve got him.”

It was only when she crossed the room to get Sien that she noticed Ehud had a red stain on his pants near the thigh. Illya was already taking care of the man though, hauling him up to his feet and taking him towards the back.

Calysta turned her attention to the little boy wailing on the couch and sat down beside him. She wasn’t going to tell him to be quiet. Intead, she sat down and wrapped an arm around his shoulder and brought him to her chest. He was attached to Priscilla as his mother and he could cry as long and as loud as he wanted.

The boy clutched at her sleeve and sobbed into her shoulder. She knew by the sound of the snotty inhale that she probably just been used like a tissue, but that was okay. His little body wracked with cries and she rocked him, smoothing his hair. “It’s alright,” she whispered to him, “It’s alright.”

After a few minutes he started to calm down, still wrapped up tight in her arms. “It’s alright, yeah?” She leaned back some, and looked the boy over. His face was red and slimy with tears and snot. Calysta used her shirt sleeve and dabbed at his eyes. “Let me tell you, your Dad and Illya are the best at finding people. They’re the best at what they do. If anyone can bring Pris home, it will be them, yeah?” He sniffled and she wiped at his cheeks more. “Why

About that time, Cypher emerged from his room excited to have someone to play with until he saw he state Sien was in and his blue eyes furrowed with concern. “Yah didn’t tell me Sien was here!” he called excitedly as he ran down the hall. Cypher came to slow when he reached the living room and spied his friend sitting on his mother’s lap. “What’s wrong, Mam?”

“Sien needs a little tea. I think that would help,” Calysta said, “Will you help me make some?”
She ushered Sien and Cypher into the kitchen to finish making dinner while the boys made tea. The boys didn’t say much and that was just fine until Cypher asked his friend what had happened. Sien started crying again and Calysta knelt by his side with a fresh cup of tea.

“It’s alright. Let Illya and your dad talk it over.”

Calysta was still kneeling next to Sien when Ehud came marching into the kitchen. The boy practically launched out of his seat when his father came in and spilled his tea cup everywhere across the kitchen table. His face was still wet from tears but he was no longer actively sobbing. Calysta plucked up the cup and sat it in the sink as Sien looked up at his father. "Are we gonna find her? Kalizda said you and Illya are the best at what you do. Are you gonna find her?"

There was barely time to catch his balance as his son launched into him. Ehud squeezed his son tight and took a deep breath. "We'll do our best. When I find her we'll be making plans to get your mother back."

Sien seemed to soak in his father's hug like it was the most comforting thing in the world and he squeezed his dad back. Cypher, who had been helping make the tea for his friend at his mother's request, was now helping to clean up the tea the boy spilled by accident. "Can we help.I like Aunt Priscilla. I want to help."

These situations were uncommonly difficult for children and Illya knew that from experience. For the time he let Sien and Ehud have their moment. Stepping into the kitchen Illya set a hand on his son's shoulder. "Yes, we all help. I have job for yah to do too tah help. I need yah tah watch for yah friend. Yah be wit him and talk wit him. Make sure ef he es worried about his moter dat yah tell him his fater and I will find her. We will bring her back to him. Yah can do dis for meh?" Cypher nodded in response to his father and then Illya stepped over to where Sien and Ehud were. "Sien, I know dis es scary. Et's ok tah be scared. I will help yah dad find her. I tink she es scared too and she might be little scared for a while when she comes home. She will be ok and she will be very glad tah see yah again. How about we let her call yah when we get her?"

Cypher stood taller as his father put a hand on his shoulder and he looked up at his dad with a firm nod. "I can do dat, Dah," he said. When Illya stepped over to Ehud and Sien, the boy squeezed his dad a little tighter and listened. At the thought of getting to see her almost right when she was found, he nodded vigorously. "I want her to call right away! I want to know she's okay. You promise?"

Even if the boy wanted to see her right away it may not work out that way and Illya knew there were a few things to do with it. Ehud looked lost and Illya kept on since it appeared to be his part for now. "I will let yah know as soon as we get her. She might nut be able tah talk tah yah right away. Yah know dat yah moter likes tah look pretty and she might be tired. So, I will tell yah when we find her and I will let her talk to yah ef she es nut too tired. Ef she es tired, or wants tah put on clean cloting and get pretty I will tell yah eh?"


Sien's eyes grew wider and brimmed with fresh tears at the thought of not being able to see her right away or that she was too tired. With a great sniffle, he nodded to Illya though." Calysta finally got the rest of the tea cleaned up and offered a fresh cup to everyone. "C'mon. Let's eat and things will feel a bit better. Sien, do you want to sit next to Cypher. You both can have the Explorer bowls, yeah?" She waved for Cypher to come over and he obeyed making room for his friend on the camp style bench. Calysta held up a mug of tea for Ehud.

A part of Illya felt badly when he saw the fresh tears from Sien, but it would be better to give Priscilla some time to get cleaned up. Sien was too young to know about the things that could have already happened to her, or what might happen. No sooner had he finished explaining to Sien the process than Kalizda offered tea for them all. Ehud accepted a mug with a meek nod and then he slipped back toward the living room. Illya got himself a mug of tea and set a hand on Kalizda's back when he passed behind her. "We jes get a few facts and start working on finding her. Maybe dah boys share Cypher's room tahnight."

Calysta felt Illya's hand on the small of her back. It was warm and gentle. She tried not to think about how scared she would be if roles were reversed and Illya were the one missing. She had already felt that terror in part. Calysta leaned into Illya's hand some and took some measure of comfort in it. When he whispered to her about finding Pris, she nodded in agreement. "Aye, I think that would be good. Ehud, you and me might be up late it sounds."

Dinner was the usual noisy and excited affair between the twins, Lohgan, Cypher and Rose all taking their turns to chat or make a mess. Sien sat quiet and Ehud even more so. Calysta hadn’t thought it was possible for the Chip to look even more serious than usual, but was possible.

After dinner, she took on the task of getting all the children to bed which included Sien who would be staying with Cypher. The boy didn’t have any night clothes with them, so after he finished his bath, she brought out a pair of Micky Martian pajamas that Cypher had grown a bit too wide to wear. They were a perfect fit on the more slender boy and he got tucked into a nice pull out bed along Cypher’s.

When all the kids were more or less asleep, she returned to Illya’s and her own office where Ehud sat hunched over the carved Wild-Wood desk looking at Priscilla’s pad.

Calysta saw some of the messages this mystery stalker had sent and they gave her chills. Why had Priscilla never said anything? She knew things between her and Ehud had been rough, but surely the woman could have said something? Or maybe she was afraid of rocking the boat with Ehud?

Even when the two men moved to the couch, there wasn’t much she could do to help them. She didn’t know anything about hacking or any of the other things they were discussing beyond star maps. It was irritating knowing she couldn’t contribute more, but sleep wasn’t an option either. Not with Priscilla missing, possibly taken by the Federation, and not without Illya in the bed.

Calysta made tea again sometime in the night and doled it out in large measures to Ehud and Illya as they worked. She passed behind Illya on the couch and leaned down giving him a gentle kiss on the cheek, which earned her a sweet kiss on the lips in return. She whispered into his ear in Kaerelean, “I love you.” Then joined him on the couch to listen to them work on finding her friend.

Occasionally, she would reach up and rub her Chip’s shoulder in small, gentle circles. His back had to be hurting him since they had been up all night. Every now and then she would rise up, kiss his cheek again and boil another pot of water for tea that would help relax his muscles.

The sun came up slowly over Kinte and none of them had any rest. Ehud looked dead on his feet with his brow crinkled into a constant look of worry and circles under his eyes. Illya didn’t look much better. Judging by the messages on Pris’ pad, she had to be doing a lot worse. There were messages asking her to come to the Terran Colonies, telling her to be loyal to her people, suggesting she was letting other people die from her in action against her brother who was an apparent sharp shooter for the Federation. There was even the picture of a corpse and a message informing her that she could have stopped her brother long ago by cooperating.

More messages over the months came in and Calysta felt a slight bit of guilt and a bit of irritation at the same time. Priscilla was a good person and she loved her family. The woman would never want to be put in a position like this. Forced to choose to betray her brother. She had been ignoring all of the messages, but why hadn’t she said anything. They could have put an end to them before it got this out of hand. Maybe they would have a clue of who was torturing the woman like this before she was taken.

Now, they were sifting through her pad trying to trace back the messages to their mysterious source and hoping to find her. Illya would go after her and so would Ehud. Both of them would be in danger, though how much danger remained to be seen.

Calysta guessed the reason Pris never said anything was because the woman thought if she ignored what was happening, it would stop eventually. Things like that never stopped. Calysta knew that from experience. They would find Priscilla and bring her home safely even if she had made a mistake by staying silent.

“Well, we have a better idea of what’s going on,” Calysta said, a yawn escaping her, “Ehud, if you leave for Pyrta, you should sleep first. Let Sien sleep in too, yeah? You can use the spare room and use some of Dad’s clothes. He’s a bit taller, but for sleep wear it will be fine. Dad can watch the kids when they wake up.” She knew sleeping would be inevitable no matter how terrified he was for Pris. It would be better if he crashed in a bed and not out of the sky trying to fly home. “You’re welcome to any food in the fridge too. We’ll work together and find her, but get some rest first.”

They went to bed so late it might as well have been morning. She stripped out of her clothes and flopped into the cool sheets before shimmying under them to find the best spots. Soon she was joined by her tired Chip whose side looked dark with bruises. The painful bruises around the wound left by the lung drain didn’t keep him from grinning at her though. He sidled up to her in the bed and she felt his heavy arm settle over waist like a comforting, warm weight. “Nice tah sleep witout meh clotes again and have yah close. Yah know I peck lousy time tah do dis dun I? What should we talk about enstead? I can tink of at least one subject ef yah cant.” His fingers played with her hair gentle like a summer breeze and she smiled, nestling into him.

It was nice to be close again. “Mmm...I did miss being close. But we should stick to our week just to talk anyways. She kissed him gently but didn’t let the lip-lock last long enough to get him riled up. “On Saturday maybe I’ll have a surprise for you, yeah?” The truth was she was tired and she knew he was too. Too tired to enjoy sex fully. She wrapped an arm around him as she held him close, her leg sliding up his until she was wrapped around him as much as she could be. “Mmm….Saturday.”

Calysta’s eyes began to droop some but she stayed up talking to Illya, mumbling to him in the dark. “I’m worried for Priscilla,” she admitted, “I would tell you if something like that happened to me.” She shook her head and nestled further into Illya who smelled a bit like musky man and his oils. It wasn’t something she wanted to occupy her mind or their time alone together.

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