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aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Illya took a minute to go get his snack and Calysta laid back thinking and winced a little. She had been having some cramps the last 2 days and it was usually a precursor to her period, though it would be starting a bit early by her calendar. Pushing down on her lower abdomen, she tried to stretch out the cramps but it only caused her belly to rumble. Apparently, she was just slightly bloated too. Not much but she was feeling fluffier than usual. Rubbing her fingers over her lower belly, she tried to east the cramps and suddenly the rumbling grew loud. A panic struck her as a long, thunderous fart escaped her. It was strong smelling and as soon as it hit her nose she gasped. Illya could not know that she just did that. Even if her belly felt much better. It must have been all the meat she ate! Leaping up, she started fanning the area with the covers, trying to disperse the smell. When that didn't work, she dove for the matches nestled between a stack of sweet smelling candles. Fumbling with a few broken pieces, she managed to get several matches to ignite to cover the smell and then lit the candle wicks, hoping their scent might cover up her misdeed.

The stairs began to creak outside the door and that was her signal that Illya was on his way back. Dashing to the bed, she dove under the covers just in time for him to come through with a sandwich the size of a three layer cake. He walked right in with his snack and crawled into the bed along side her before offering her a bite of the hefty meat sandwich. Her stomach gave another warning gurgle and she shook her head quickly as he pulled back the food. As he did, an oily slice of meat slid out and plopped right onto her cheek. "Ooops." Was all he had to say before peeling the piece off her face with gross, slick feeling. "Ew," she mumbled, "I'm going to wash off the grease."

She got up and scurried into the bathroom while Illya lost more of his sandwich in his lap and turned the water on. While she was wiping the meat juice off of her face, her belly twitched and she let out another long, but this time silent gas release. This one was smellier than the last and she grimaced, then tried to waft it away with her hand. At least Illya might not come back into the bathroom.

When she crawled back into bed, Illya announced that he was going to brush his teeth again, and a warning of her smelly remnants died in her throat. He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth, but didn't seem to notice anything. How was he standing there in the literal haze of her quite potent methane fumes? They had made her eyes water! Was he nose blind from that onion and meat sandwich? Or was he just a boy and immune to the gaseous smells altogether? The Chippeqouti Elite could certainly burn the hair out of someone's nose. Especially if they ate corn.

If he didn't notice, she wasn't going to tell him. He came back to bed. Another fart was building up and she could feel it grumbling through her belly towards the exit. He pulled her close to him as the little spoon and she tried to hold it in. His breath on her ear was warm and still smelled distinctly of onion. She opened her mouth to say something, about his onion breath but stopped when the tiniest of farts escaped her. It let out a little put against her husband's stomach and she turned crimson before giving him an apologetic look. "I love you too," she mumbled sheepishly.

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

They packed up their their things to leave and were escorted to the Silver Mountain by Jerzyn and Nova who were friendly as always. Nova had made it a point to bring something for each of the kids. For the twins she brought two traditional toys, for Lohgan a traditional dress made with silky tassels down the back, and for Cypher, she grinned and offered him something special.

Nova took a knee in front of him and slid a sheath from her belt which contained a sizeable hunting knife. She expertly slid it from its leather casing and displayed in her open palms for Cypher to see. The boy looked at her with wide eyes. "You like it? I had it made just for you. The handle is made from the bones of your first clean kill on the hunt. My brothers did the carvings," she explained, pointing to the handle, "And I did the paintwork. The blade was forged by the blacksmith here and it made of goddess ore. It will not rust or dull. It's big for you now, but we made it big enough for you to grow into." Nova sheathed the knife in one fluid motion, then handed it to him carefully. "It is a tradition for a man to have a knife made of his first clean kill and now, you are a hunter with us Cypher Monroe. Come back to us when you are ready to hunt again."

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

With their new security on board with everyone else, sleeping quarters had to be arranged differently. Bahn, Dane, Mihael were consolidated to one room. Rezna, and Wynry shared now. The twins were with Cypher in another room. Thomas shared with the two new Kaerelean shipmates, and Rose shared with Lohgan, something the teen was entirely put out about. They weren't going to be able to take on too many more people onto the ship and while it was luxurious for many people, it didn't exactly account for multiple Chippeqouti men or a large Udine lady passing each other in the halls.

The office was now being occupied by the Chip men and so Illya was conducting his debrief interviews in their bedroom. Calysta took the time to show Wynry a few things in flight and then sat down with her children to spend some time with them before sending both of their new security members down the hall to meet with the General.

There came a formal wrap of knuckles on the bedroom door and when prompted, a medium sized man in Kaerelean grey and black fatigues entered. His black beret with silver insignia was perfectly arranged over his dark hair and his chin neatly shaved. He entered and stood at attention, arms by his sides and eyes ahead. "Lieutenant Koda Fyrst, Kaerelean Special Forces reporting, Sir."

Illya could appreciate the formality at which the man conducted himself. Illya stood and met the man. "At ease. Yah speak freely when yah on a security team wit meh." He didn't want the man to be uncomfortable and he didn't want to treat him differently than he would MIhael, Bahn or Dane. "I have questions and yah can ask dah same of meh or someting else. Ef yah ask someting else yah may or may nut get answer. So, meh..." Frowning he pointed to the chair. "Yah can sit dere." Illya was not used to explaining to a man to take seat after he told them to be at ease for this sort of meeting. Sitting back down on the bed Illya glanced at the files again. "Yah come very well recommended Lieutenant. What about working here wit dah Councilwoman and I do yah forsee disliking dah most?" If the man was honest it was his chance to get out. Illya would offer to send him back in exchange for someone else if he didn't like the assignment. He only wanted people here that wanted to be here. "Remember, be horribly honest wit meh. Ets hard tah hurt meh feelings."

Koda relaxed his attention and sank into an at ease stance with his arms held behind his back and his feet planted wider until Illya offered him the chair. Having been asked to sit, he crossed the room and took the seat, his shoulders squared. At the question, Koda did not reply right away. It was a strange question to ask but if this is the way he wanted to conduct the meeting, then he would answer. "I'll try to remember that, sir. I forsee that I will dislike being away from my family the most, sir. And the idea that you are two very high profile targets makes the security on this assignment at challenge."

Hearing the answer was good Illya nodded. “I am nut surprised. Yah honesty makes yah good man to meh. Ef yah had opportunity would yah rater have assignment closer tah home? Ef yah really dun want tah be here dis es yah chance tah speak. Maybe yah have someone dat es suitable en mind tah take yah place.”(edited)

Koda looked at Illya with his light colored eyes and shook his head. "No, sir. When I was offered the assignment I knew the risks and sacrifices involved. My wife understands and my daughter will too, someday. She is receiving treatment in the hospital when the councilwoman visited. I would not turn down this assignment."

Illya's jaw tightened some when the man mentioned his daughter was there. "Den yah welcome here. I like tah be sure dat no man es assigned against his will tah assignment like dis. Dah Ehaui keep meh informed of progress wit dah children dere. Ef yah daughter dun receive treatment yet for cure, I will give order tah expedite et. Dis gives yah less tah worry about."

Koda looked at the General and gave a measured, but somewhat more relaxed nod of appreciation. "I would be appreciative of any updates, sir. Did you have any more questions for me, sir?"

"I like tah save dah easy one for last. Why would yah want tah work dis job?" Illya felt that he liked the man well enough. He was someone that Kirit did a good job picking out. It seemed the man was trustworthy.

Koda nodded at the fair question. "That is much easier. Sir, the truth of the matter is I wanted to work this assignment when it was offered to serve the councilwoman and the Alliance. My daughter and many other people are alot better off because of the things she has done, sir. I find that worthy taking a bullet for to see it continue."

An even bigger grin came to Illya's face. "Dat's exactly dah kind of man I'm looking for. Kalizda es dah force dat holds our peoples togeter. I too am here tah be sure she es safe. Yah should be aware dat for now dah immediate treat es nut tah her life from Federation. Dere es high number of assassins wit meh listed as primary target. Mihael and Dane will mostly do dah work of protecting meh. No offense, but yah little small tah cover meh. Dah good news es dat when I travel wit Kalizda dah Federation tinks I'm bigger target. When dey make meh primary target dey dun even give order tah shoot her unless dey are certain dat I'm dead. Dey know ef I'm nut dead and dey hurt or kill her dat all hell breaks loose. Now, yah here tah be protection tah her and dah children. Ef anyting happens to meh, I dun care what orders she gives yah. Yah get her out of dere. Yah keep her safe and yah make sure she es secure wit dah children."

The man was the General and he was the commanding officer of security aboard the ship. He also seemed to have his priorities in order. Koda looked to Illya. "Understood, sir. I am assuming the hit on you is substantial. What does intel say as far as numbers?"

Illya liked the man the more he talked with him. Opening his pad to the report from Ehud he gave him a look at the report. "I give all dah security team look at dis report. Jes so yah know." It was a substantial number of assassins. Most were found that they had a count on, but there were those they didn't know about and those were the troubling ones. "I tink dis es biggest chance and largest number dey ever send at meh at one time. I survive I tink about 7 assassination attempts now. Let's jes hope I survive dah coming attempts too. I kinda want tah be around."

Koda looked over the information, skimming it briefly then let out a long whistle before his eyes flicked back up to Illya. "Aye, you don't do anything small, yeah? We'll keep you around, sir. Is there anything else you'd like to ask, sir, or have I met muster?"

"I like yah. Yah more den meet muster. Yah will work most wit dah Udine, she es Rezna and also en charge of keeping dah Councilwoman safe. I like tah keep dose dat will follow meh orders tah protect her and ignore any request she makes dat es nut en interest of her protection. She would endanger herself for meh sake and dat's nut what our peoples need." Illya stood and held out a hand only to realize it was the improper gesture for man and instead gave him a slight bow in the fashion of the Kaereleans. "Lieutenant I will work yah en dah schedule. Also, I should tell yah dat when I translate sometimes et es nut so good. Dane or Mihael can assist."

Koda nodded. Only a good woman would be so fierce about her partner. Learning that he would be partnered with the only Udine in any service so far would be quite interesting. "Aye sir. I will do so." He rose and bowed at the waist. "Sir, should I send in the next man?"

"Send him in." Illya answered. "Ef I like yah work I may have more propositions for yah for work. I try hard tah help meh men see value of dah Kaerlean military. Yah fine example by reputation and I expect dat yah live up to dah expectation I am led tah believe yah will meet."

"Yessir," he said. He had no objections to what the man said. He would have to prove himself beyond his record. Actions always spoken louder than words and there was no argument there. He understood his mission perimeters now and understood more about who he was working for. Koda left the room and the next man to come wore Reylian elite uniform. This uniform was more formal. A black tunic with a silver belt and a cloak. The man wore a cap with a red Cryn feather arching to his neck. He was young, fresh faces with olive toned skin and hazel eyes. His brown hair was longer on top and sheared short on the side. He came in and stood at attention. "General, sir."


When the first man left Illya stood and waited for the next one to come in. The Rey was dressed in his best and Illya appreciated that as well. He was young and he probably came with Tikan's highest recommendation. "I'm pleased yah here. Yah take seat over dere." Illya directed the fellow this time and he sat on his bed before he remembered to give the other order. "At ease. Now I jes want yah tah answer dah questions honestly. No concern of how yah answer sounds. Why wouldn't yah want tah be here?"

The young man, had broad shoulders and thick muscles but he was tall, stretching out the bulk to proportional size. He entered when invited and went to ease when the chair was offered. His borrow furrowed some at what the General said, and then he titled his head, causing his feather to brush over his broad shoulder a little. "Eh. Why wouldn't I want t' be here? It's my duty to come, sir. No reason for m' not do it. If ye ask why I don't want t'be here....eh...permission to speak freely sir?"


"Yes, yah have permission tah speak freely. Dis es all open for yah tah speak as yah wish. I dun restrict meh men from speaking dere minds regarding missions." Illya waited patiently for the young man. So far the Rey was young and a little less experienced. It was showing. He hadn't introduced himself. It might have been a Reylian thing, but Illya would ask him about that later.

Clearing his throat, the young man nodded. "Yessir. I wouldn't want t' be here because m' Dah takes on m' work while I am away. He works hard, eh? He expects m'to do good work here an' I will work hard t' make sure ye safe."

"Yah fater es ill?" Illya asked a bit further to be sure he wasn't going to be taking a young man away from an elderly father that needed him.

The young man quickly shook his head. His father would be grumpy if that kind of talk got around. "No, sir. Just alot of work t' do. He understands m' appointment here and was honored tha' th' councilwoman asked for someone 't come, sir."

Illya nodded, “Hmm...would yah father welcome assistance from worker en yah absence?”

The young man shook his head. "No, sir. He will b' fine, sir."

“Mmhmmm. So dis es yah duty and yah see no reason tah object and yah fater will be fine. I am soldier for many years. Yah answers are dutiful and correct.” Illya looked the young man over. “Why would yah be pleased tah be given dis assignment?”

The young man blinked. It was a strange question to ask and he'd never been asked it before. Thinking for a moment, he looked at Illya. "Eh, it is my duty an' m' privilege t' serve th' Alliance, sir. An' I like t' gain more experience off planet from th' Chippeqouti Elite, sir. Ye are warriors looked at well on Reylia."

There was almost nothing that stood out about the young man in his manners except that he was young. “Yah here wit many experienced warriors. Dere will be rotations. Yah primary duty es protection of dah ship, non-military crew and dah children. Yah will draw up plans for defense. Also, I like yah tah introduce yahself eh?”

Some how, the General seemed less than pleased, though he didn't know why. "Yessir." When asked to introduce himself, he took in a deep breath and said his name. "I am Akten, First Son of Chief Tikan, 40th son of Lyr, First Officer of the Cryn Elite and Reylia Ground Defense...eh...sir."

“Yah come wit great recommendation. Anyone selected by Tikan es his best. Kirit was first sent to meh by Tikan. I expect no less en yah work.” Illya nodded as he looked over the file again. “Yah understand dat yah will be doing work critical to dah entire crew, Councilwoman and mehself. I want yah tah report directly to meh after yah make assessment of dah shep, crew and best defense. Also, yah introduce yahself to dah oters on dah shep too.”


Akten gladly let his formality drop some. The general had not recognized him at all and that was just as well. "Yessir." He had introduced himself yet because the formalities hadn't been clear. In this setting, he wasnt bragging. Outside of this setting people treated him differently sometimes when they discovered who he was and he didn't like it. "If ye looking for complete assessment, I will make m' work inside first, use th' schematics for th' Outside an' then we land. I will assess th' exterior in person, unless ye prefer m' t' just use th' schematics, sir."

“I am treating yah same as officer wit experience and I want best job. Yah use schematics and observation.” Illya grinned. “I am sure yah will do well. Yah dismissed unless yah have questions.”

"Yessir." The General was grinning at him and Akten felt a sense of relief as he rose from his chair and gave a bow with his feathered cap fluttering some. He would change into fatigues now and make his assessment. He was used to both receiving orders and giving them. Before he left, he paused and looked back at Illya for a brief moment, then continued out of the door, his cloak trailing behind him.

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

The afternoon went along fairly quietly. Calysta spent some time with each of her kids, though Rose refused to come out of her now shared room. It was coming close to 4 days of pouting now. The girl was stubborn like her father if anything, but she wasn't going to get her way abou things. Lunch came along and they had a mess of sandwiches, soups with chunks of meat and salads. Dinner would be served at 7 and tonight was Rezna's night to cook which would prove to be interesting. Nobody knew what sort of menu the Udine woman had cooked up. Koda and Akten were catching up the security briefs given by Illya.

Akten had asked to be given a tour of the ship and Calysta obliged, making notes as he went, though he didn't get the opportunity to look into Rose and Lohgan's cabin. "I will do th' portion later," he said.

Dinner time rolled around and Rezna stooped slightly over the oven and stirred at something boiling away on the stove. It was suspiciously bright, sulfuric yellow. Whatever it was smelled plenty spicy too. The Udine woman ladled chunky yellow stew into big mixing bowls and handed it over to the Chip men before tossing ladles into smaller bowls for everyone else. Bread was served with it the strange concoction. "Eat up. It's an Udine recipe I think you might like."

Akten looked at his bowl and then to Rezna, shrugged his shoulders and then began downing the bowl into his throat. The kids slurped along at it the spicy meal and Calysta poked at the rubbery chunks of what she presumed were meat. "What kind of meat is in this?" she asked curiously. Rezna swallowed down a big bite of her own with a satisfied gulp. "It's supposed to be chim-chuk but they didn't have it, so I subsituted it for nyte beast brains and the stomach." Calysta nodded politely while Thomas turned pale. "It's pretty good," Calysta added, "What do you think Illya?"

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

After dinner was over, Akten requested the last bowl and Rezna ladled it out to him. Rather than eating the strong smelling stew in the kitchen, he slipped out of the mess hall and walked down the to the end of the ship where Roses' door was. He gave it a solid knock and was told promptly to buzz off by the young woman inside.

"I was told ye not eat much for several days," he continued, unpreterbed. "It' m' job t' keep keep safe now."

"Go away! I don't need you to keep me safe."

Akten rolled his eyes as he stood there with the soup. "And I don't need ye too weak t' run if I tell ye too. Ye slow m' down. Now, ye gonna be weak."

That managed to get something to happen. The door opened with a flying jerk and Rose stood there, scowling in absolute fury. "I am not weak and it's not your job to worry about it."

Akten shoved the bowl toward her, "Then eat an' prove ye not in m' way," he grunted.

Rose grabbed the bowl roughly, spilling the contents on the floor. "Whatever gets you to go away," she snapped, before slamming the door on him.

Akten looked down at his boots and shook his head before walking back toward the bathroom to clean them up. On the way, he saw Rezna and a few others staring at him curiously. He shrugged. "She opened th' door, yeah?" Then he went back to his tasks before it was crash time.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
"Did yah jes fart on meh?" Illya's eyes widened and his jaw hung open in surprise. "Ugh...Kalizda." The warmth from her tiny little toot spread over his stomach and Illya instinctively moved away, but as he moved a rank smell wafted up from underneath the covers. Catching his breath he held it a moment before he tried breathing in and then he grunted. "Oh man, dat was yah I was smelling dis whole time? I tought maybe Dane plugged up dah sewage pipes on dah shep, or someting froze and broke and den needed repair. Dat's bad Kalizda." With a chuckle he kissed her again. "Yah gonna keep farting and I jes gonna have bad breat all night."

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

Now that they were on their way to the next destination Illya felt a bit better. Apparently he felt spooked for nothing the other day. It was just life. Some days were like that. Akten was performing well. Illya was glad he hadn't said anything about the inexperience or obvious youthful responses. By now Akten was a man and he was probably very much like Kirit had been. There was nothing wrong with that, it just meant that he would need to look over a few things more carefully and provide some additional thoughts for Akten to consider.

Having not much experience outside of Reylia this would be a new sort of job. The meal time proved that Akten was at least willing to be part of the team and he wasn't shy about the food. That was a good thing. While Illya ate the spicy food without much thought he observed the people on the ship. They would have a little more space after Thomas and Bahn went off on their own adventure. That would be happening soon.

Somewhere in the middle of all that Kalizda decided to ask what was in the dish. Illya, Dane and Bahn all looked at her and then to Rezna. Not one of them had asked what was in it. They didn't recognize it and as long as it tasted good there wasn't any reason to ask unless you wanted to make the food for yourself one day. While it tasted fine, it wasn't anything that they wanted to make and eat at home for themselves. When Rezna answered it seemed that no one at the table minded too much except Thomas. Thomas was always a bit strange about food and Illya didn't understand the man. "Et tastes fine. Better den dah...oh what was dat one ting." Illya was trying to think of it and Dane answered him in Quoti and the two of them chuckled as they finished the meal.

Illya watched Akten get a big bowl of soup and then take it down one of the halls to Rose. His daughter sounded like a brat and he had to admit that it wasn't good. After Akten returned Illya didn't say anything. He wasn't about to try and correct the young man. Akten was correct in his assessment. This was something that Rose was going to need to understand at a deeper level.

After the dishes were done Illya wandered back to Rose's room and knocked on the door gently. Hearing no answer Illya tried to open the door and found it locked. Of course she was going to do that, but he had a master key. In a few short seconds he had typed in the master key code and he pushed her door open.

Rose was sitting on her bed with a sullen expression and the food was mostly untouched. "Yah know, Akten was nut wrong. Yah become weakness on dah shep ef yah dun eat. Dere es a lot more den dis too." The girl didn't seem to be that concerned and Illya knew it might take a bit for her to understand. He could attack her pride and he could tell her she was spoiled, but that wasn't going to get him very far. "I put Akten en charge of keeping dah shep secure and meh family. Et es his duty tah see to et dat yah safe. En dah military when a duty es given for protection yah must die en place of dah one dat yah protect ef et comes tah dat. By making choices dat make yah vulnerable yah are putting Akten at risk, yah putting Mihael, Bahn, Rezna, Dane, Koda, yah gradfater Thomas, yah moter and I at risk. Any of us would die trying tah save yah. Dere es risk. We have security because dere are some people dat would want tah hurt yah because of yah moter or meh and some dat would like tah kill yah moter and some dat would like tah kill meh. Dis es what I mean when I say dat I want yah tah consider how yah actions affect oters and tah be more mindful of dis. Yah have duty too when yah here."

There wasn't much of a response if any. Illya stared at her still very sullen face. He was not sure if he read any kind of remorse. Teenage girls were very difficult. She was at least thinking about what he said. He could tell that much. When he stood he nodded to her. "Yah jes eat yah dinner and when yah finished tinking about dis go ahead and come out tah do yah part eh?"

Illya left the room and shut the door behind himself. Glancing at his watch he realized that he was about 3 minutes late to his game that he promised Cypher he would play with him. It was a sort of space adventure game and a few of the others on board the ship said they would play too. It was always better with more players. Before heading into the living room to start the game Illya looked for Kalizda. He needed to tell her a little bit about what he spoke to Rose about.

Kalizda was already in the living room and Illya just went in and took a seat next to her. "I will tell yah later what I talk wit Rose about eh?" Giving Kalizda a wink he kissed her cheek gently and then called his color. "I be jes brown. Same color as meh skin." Dane smirked and handed Illya the little brown playing piece. Illya looked the board over and he grinned. "Oooh, Kalizda has good mines location out on dah fringe. Maybe I will join her and be terrible neighbor. I like making raids. How many raid cards are dere en dah deck again?"
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
"Did yah jes fart on meh?"

That was quite possibly one of the most unromantic things Illya had ever said in bed with her, and he had said some pretty wild things before. Of course, he followed that up with the second least romantic thing he had ever said in bed with her about sewage created by Dane. Calysta's face felt scorching hot as she started to try to bury her face to hide the shame of such a deadly smell. Instead, Illya started chuckling and pulled her tighter against himself, when he most certainly should have been pulling her away. "Yah gonna keep farting and I jes gonna have bad breat all night." He didn't care that she had let loose on him by accident? Her shame faded some and she looked up at his big green eyes and the grin he had. She could smell his breath even through his teeth. Then she started to giggle. "We'll...um...just have to be smelly together," she chuckled shyly. The laughing made another small toot escape her and her eyes widened some before she rolled over to hug him and kept right on laughing.

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

Game night was more like raid night for Calysta. Cypher, Rezna, Wynry, Dane, Bahn, Illya, Mihael, and Koda all sat around the game board with their pieces and territories. The first thing Cypher did was broker a deal with Wynry and combine themselves while all Calysta did was get raided. Illya started out with his eye on the prize, taking all of her nyte beasts. Now, she had nothing to broker a deal with. By the time she got more resources, everyone else had already partnered up or made some sort of deal of security except Mihael who looked just dandy playing on his own in silence. Calysta built up some grasses to harvest and Illya raided that too. Still, it was all in good fun and Cypher got to the play the game he wanted while the crew adjusted to one another.


When game night was over and Calysta helped put away the pieces before stretching out her arms some and slinking one behind Illya's back. They had played well past midnight and Cypher was shuffling off to bed half asleep while the others scattered to posts or whatever duties their rotation had them on. Rezna yawned and meandered toward her bunk with Wynry who would be up early to check on the ship. The Chip men scattered and the two newer fellows departed as well. Akten had earned a following of dogs after he had given Monster a treat and now was hounded constantly by the rest. Koda leaned back into the couch now that the living room was empty and appeared to be calling his wife. Calysta took that as her cue to nudge Illya. "Some tea in the mess hall before bed?"

With the game finally over and Koda the winner everyone began to disperse. Illya leaned back into the couch. He was feeling like dozing and Kalizda nudged him. “Yea sounds good.” A slight arch to his left eyebrow formed, “Eh, yah dat sore about meh last raid on yah settlement? I was actually close tah winning.”


Calysta slipped up from the couch and scurried behind Illya before wrapping him up around the shoulders over the couch. Her long dark hair made a fantastic curtain to hide them as she kissed him with a grin. "You didn't have to take all my little Nyte beasties. I'll get you later for it." She gave him a gentle squeeze and chuckled some before trailing away for him to follow her to the mess hall.

“Every little Nyte Beast counts.” Kissing her in return he snickered some. “I guess yah gonna have tah try getting meh back Ef yah can.” Following her to the kitchen, Illya grabbed the hot water pot and filled it before setting it to boil. “Yah nut gonna gas meh out tah night for revenge are yah?”(edited)


Illya started making the tea and laughed before turning pink in the cheeks when he mentioned her brand of possible revenge. "Oh I might. I'll just wait until you least expect it and trap you in the covers with me." She grinned a naughty grin, even if she had turned pink ruining the effect a little. He was standing there looking very handsome. She had the urge to walk over and trap him up for a little fun. She'd start by wrapping her arms around his waist and...Calysta snapped her mind away from that. She couldn't tease him like that right now. What had gotten into her? Why was she so ready to jump his bones? Rubbing her hands along the top of her pants legs, she smiled at him. "Speaking of being trapped. I was hoping Rose was going to come to the game. You said you talked to her?"

Kalizda seemed to be halting for some reason. It wasn’t making sense. Illya took a deep breath and then turned to cough. His ribs were smarting with the pressure from coughing and he winced. Turning back toward Kalizda again his eyes widened slightly, “I dun remember what I say tah her.”

Kalizda raised a brow. "You don't remember what you said? At all? Did you talk to her about her behavior to Akten?"

“Uuuhhhh....” Illya frowned deeply as he thought. “I tink so. Ehmmm...I tink I talk wit her about security and doing her part.”

His response was less than helpful. In fact, it was a little terrifying. He was having memory recall that badly? She knew he was forgetful but this was an entire conversation with his daughter. Whatever mood she was in before evaporated as concern took over. "Okay. Do you remember if she said anything back?"

“Nope. She dun say anything.” Illya glanced at the boiling pot and then retrieved two cups from the cupboards. “Why yah looking so concerned?”

Calysta straightened a little and shook her head. "Was I? I suppose I was just...concerned about Rose and about you too."

“Yes, yah look worried.” Illya nodded and poured hot water into their cups. “Rose will understand soon. She has tah tink of oters. Her pouting could be dangerous for Akten and dah rest of us.”

Calysta slid the cup toward her and allowed it to warm up her finger tips as he spoke. He seemed to remember the conversation perfectly fine now. Was she just being alarmist? Too sensitive about this? "Aye, I agree. It sounds like you talked to her well." Calysta sighed some. "I was a pain to my Dah for a time, but never quite like Rose. She's not a bad child, she's just stubborn and wants to be grown up so fast. Makes me wonder if I was not the best role model I could have been for her or if I missed something."

Illya shrugged as she expressed more concern. “Yah worry too much. She es jes en hurry tah be recognized as full adult. She has job for a few years now and more commission. She lives almost like adult now. I dun tink yah do anyting so bad.”

Calysta took a sip of her tea and nodded. She could agree with what she said, except for the first sentence. She was sure she worried the right amount, even if it all wasn't about Rose, but she wasn't going to tell him that right now. Putting down her tea cup, she smiled a little and slipped a hand over Illya's. "You're a good father, yeah? I'm glad you spoke with her and told me too."

The little hand resting on his felt warm after it had been wrapped around her cup. “So, what else yah bring meh in here tah talk about?” Wiggling his eyebrows he hoped to give her a little hint.

Calysta chuckled at his brows wiggling and leaned over to kiss him gently on the lips. "I thought we might have a very serious conversation...about..." She let him trail on with that for a second while she kissed him again. "Onion breafh."

It was starting to get good. Kalizda kissed him and gave a strategic moment for him to consider what she might say. Then she kissed him again and, “What?” Illya couldn’t believe what she just said. “Yah can’t be serious.”

His absolute shock at what she just said made her bust out into a fit of giggles and she dropped her forehead into his neck while she laughed. "Aye..."she tried to continue, "Very serious....when you're cleared....by the...doctor when we land...I plan on kissing you for a long while...."

She was messing with him and Illya tried to look annoyed. The faint perma-grin gave him away. “Well, yah better. All yah do es tease meh ever since I get orders for no activity.”

"Oh?" she giggled, leaning against him, "How have I been doing that?" She knew the one moment she had enticed him, but beyond that she hadn't done anything deliberate.

Illya smirked. “Stuff like dis. Yah rub yah shoulders all over meh chest, look at meh and giggle. Yah kiss meh little bit and den tahnight yah gonna put yah toes on my leg.” He had to think of another way to make their everyday routine sound like a tease. “Yah hips sway when yah pulling yah pants off before bed. Yah grind yah hips on meh when yah nestle in and get comfortable tah sleep.” Illya gazed into her face and grinned, “Tings like dat.”

She laughed a little more and hugged him before giving him a quick peck on the cheek. "When you put it that way, I've been terribly teasing to you," she chuckled, "You'll have to get your payback as soon as you're cleared, hm?"

“Huh, nut sure yah could call et payback. Yah want meh and den yah jes get what yah want. I dun tink I will mind dat so much.” Illya winked at her and almost pulled her off her seat to sit on his lap when he spotted someone in the doorway. “Eh, c’mon en. We dun get too frisky yet.”(edited)

Akten stood in the doorway, his brown eyes set on the canoodling couple mumbling to one another. He had come in for a glass of water and hadn't expected the councilwoman and the general to be getting each other up. He'd work with men for a long time and there was always talk of such things. He knew how it went, though he had never done it himself. There had always been more work to do as his position of Chief. He never had time for such things. Watching them for a moment he froze, curious, and then looked away. "Eh...I come back, yeah?" Then he turned his heels and departed for his shared living quarters but not before turning the corner and bumping into a slight woman with bright platinum curls. She had rosy cheeks and a small nose, which she began rub. "Ow," she mumbled, "Where are you go in such a hurry?"

Akten's spine straightened. "What are ye doing in th' halls?"

Her bright blue eyes narrowed at him. "I'm the pilot, I'm doing routine checks."

He stared into those bright blue eyes for a moment and she sighed. "Can I pass by, or are you giving me some sort of security check?"

"I..." he cleared his throat. "Well, if I was, ye'd pass."

She gave him a confused look, and shook her head. "Right. " The she shuffled past his broad shoulders and continue down the hall, her curls bouncing. Akten felt flustered for a moment and his mouth open and shut as he watched her stride away. "If I was, ye'd pass?" he mumbled to himself. "I really am bad with women." Scolding himself, he rubbed his hands down his face and returned to his room.

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

The next day was a bit of a lounging day. Everyone took the opportunity to rest unless they were meant to be doing patrols on the ship as they flew toward their next destination of Juiya. Of course, by mid afternoon, everyone felt a little stir crazy and there was little else to do as they flew. Rezna grinned at Koda. "Oooh you're Kaerelean special forces. I've yet to wrestle one of those fellows. Why don't we push the furniture aside and see if you can take me down."

"I don't think that's the best idea," Koda replied evenly.

"Afraid I might win? Oooh come on. There's nothing else to do. If we matched in the living room, there would be plenty of space."

Koda shook his head. "No, it's a bad idea."

Rezna sighed and rolled her eyes. "It's okay if you're afraid to do it."

Koda raised a brow. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Then why don't we push aside the furniture and have a friendly match. I won't break your bones or anything. Just a little grappling to see who is strongest."

"I'm not going to be the one answering to the councilwoman if we break her ship," Koda replied.

Rezna huffed. "Oh go on and be boring then."

At this point a long sigh puffed out from Thomas who had been sitting in his usual space with a book in his hand. "Why don't you two just arm wrestle it out and stop arguing."

Rezna looked at the older man curiously. "Arm wrestle?"

"Aye," Thomas said, putting down his book in defeat. "You both go to either side of a table, put your elbows on the top, and clasp hands." He showed them the position he was referring to with his own hands. Then on the count of three, you each push against each other using only that hand and try to force the other persons hand to touch the table. The person who can force down the other's hand to the table wins."

The idea was intriguing and Rezna grinned. "You make a good point, oldie. Want to give it a go, special forces?"

Koda agreed and they gathered in the kitchen to use the bar top as a table. Rezna put her elbow on the table and Koda did the same. They clasped hands and Dane counted them down in trader's tongue. As soon as the count down was done, Rezna locked in her muscles and began applying force, pushing Koda back. Koda's bicep bulged with the surprising force of the Udine woman, but didn't let up any ground. He pushed back and even made some head way, forcing the confident woman's hand in the opposite direction. Rezna grinned though and sucked in a deep breath before doubling down on her power. She was strong and had an advantage Koda did not. She felt no discomfort from his iron grip, and did not feel the burning in her muscles like he did as the match went on for over a minute. Slowly, Rezna gained ground until Koda's hand smacked into the bar time.

The Udine woman grinned in victory and slapped Koda with a friendly pat on the back. "That was a fun contest," she said, before turning to the rest of the onlookers. "Anyone care to take me on again?"

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

Calysta emerged from the mess haul with two cups and walked down the hallway. Illya was in the shower and since fun wasn't an option right now, it was best not to tempt him into it. Instead, she had taken it upon herself to try to get to know the crew more. These people were facing assassins and Wilds only knew what else because they were on the tour. She had watched Mihael for some time during game night and through the day. He was a tough nut to crack. He showed no enthusiasm for anything or extreme dislike for anything else. Her first meeting as empress with him had gone awkwardly too. Rather than inviting him to do something out of his comfort zone, and decided to do something that me might like. Every Chip she knew liked tea and it was a good place to start. Calysta approached and offered out a cup. "Tea after dinner?"

The stars were always interesting to watch. Sitting in the bedroom was only comfortable for as long as he intended to take to get undressed and ready for bed. For now, with the free time he was going to take his time and enjoy the view from the living room. It was quite comfortable and he'd been told to make himself at home. The General and Councilwoman were quite generous. He could have been assigned a space he was allowed to be and nowhere else during his off time. While he watched the scenes outside unfold and flash past he nearly dozed off except that he heard an offer for tea. Turning slightly he saw Kalizda and he moved over so he wasn't sitting directly in the center of the couch. "Dat es very nice. Yah have some en dah kitchen extra?" He wasn't about to assume she'd brought tea for him. It was better to assume that Illya would be joining her and the other mug was for him.

She held out the mug and shrugged casually. "I usually make two pots at night, Illya had a kind he likes and it gives me the jitters so I make two and thought you might like to try the one I use." She let him have the cup and eased onto the cushion at the opposite end of the couch before looking up into the solarium window above them. The stars there were high above and seemed fixed even if they weren't. "I always liked the upward view better than the port or stern ones. You can see the stars instead of just clouds and random birds while we're in the atmosphere." She took a sip of her tea. "They look different here than on Nuen and Quoti or even Pyrta, yeah?"

Mihael took the cup from Kalizda. He was surprised. "Oh, tanks." Sipping the tea he nodded. "Et's good." He leaned back and he stared up through the top to see what Kalizda was looking at. "Mmm. Yes, I tink dey look different." Mihael wasn't entirely sure that he understood what she was here for. "Yah are waiting for yah agreed tah come join yah here?"

Calysta sipped her cup again and listened to Mihael's polite but brief responses before he asked if she was waiting for Illya. "No. I thought I might just try to speak to you not dressed as the Empress. I like to get to know people, yeah? Lohgan doesn't share that sentiment too much yet, but she'll get used to you and stop running every time she sees you eventually too," she said with a little chuckle.

"Oh," Mihael nodded. "I see." He sat quietly for another moment and then tried to start the conversation with her. She was an odd person and her way of doing things was odd. "Den what do yah want tah know?"

Calysta titled her head and took another sip of her tea to make up the silence between them. Somehow she had made it awkward again, even if she was being honest. "It's not an interrogation," she mused. Though she was sure he had been through a few if he had gone through elite training. Glancing up, she pointed to the stars again and nodded. "Do you study astronomy or plot star charts?"


Mihael smirked a bit at her comment about it not being an interrogation. "I would be en trouble ef I couldn't tell dah difference." His round cheeks pushed up a bit and his eyes turned to half moons. When she mentioned the stars and astronomy he shook his head. "No. Not interested in it. Just like looking. Not much else to look at while we're here."


"That's fair. I like looking too. I used to do it alot before the kids," she replied amicably, "And still do. Always makes me wonder what's out there. Who is doing the same thing I am right now? Sounds strange, I'm guessing but...it was always a thought." She sipped her tea and looked up into the stars, dropping her head back to the cushion. "May I ask you something? There's no obligation to answer, but I am curious."

If there was one thing that Mihael could say about the Councilwoman based on their conversation thus far it was the fact that she odd way of going about things. Now she was chattering away about her thoughts when she looked at the stars. Momentarily he was amazed. None of those thoughts had ever occurred to him. Generally he stared at the stars when he wanted to think about nothing, it was the equivalent of what Terran's called counting sheep. At least that was what he thought. Then in the middle of her thoughts she decided to ask him something else, but paused to ask if she could ask. Mihael nodded slowly and waited. She was very confusing in her attempts to make conversation.

When she got the quiet nod, she had the momentary thought of changing her question. He was very quiet. Her curiousity got the better of her though. "Why did you decide to join the Elite?" She asked.

Mihael glanced at Kalizda and he thought for a moment. That was the question? "A while back." Mihael nodded along as if it was supposed to be a satisfactory response. It was vague and helpful all at the same time.

Calysta raised a brow. Maybe she had made an error in traders tongue. Swapping to Quoti, she chuckled. "Not when you decided to join. I was curious as to why you decided to join the Elite."

"Oh..." Mihael felt a slight red come to his cheeks. She understood Quoti and that was not surprising, but he had clearly misunderstood her. "I decided to join because I'd been asked many times and it seemed like the right time to do it." Since she had swapped to Quoti he kept form and spoke to her in Quoti.

"What made it seem like the right time?" She replied with a little surprise.

There was hardly a good way to answer that question and Mihael sipped at his tea while staring out of the ship windows again. He wanted to think before answering that one. After nearly a minute of thinking he responded carefully, "There was a need and the Elite gave a more humble request."

She had known that the elite had a few spaces open. One of which had been Mak's. Apparently, Mihael had been approached more than once about filling an open spot. Humble did not exactly fit with Elite personality either. They were proud, not afraid of hard work either. If they were doing something 'humbling'it meant there was a real need and they were putting some of that pride to the side. Or perhaps Mihael personally thought they were too proud. Smiling a little, Calysta nodded and titled her head back to the couch. "I see," she replied. At least it didn't sound like he expected riches and glory or something. "And now you're here for duty "

"Yes, I'm here for duty." Mihael nodded again and carefully kept his eyes on the window in front of them. Occasionally he would glance at Kalizda out of the corner of his eyes. He didn't want there to be any bad appearances. She was quite friendly and very talkative. The last thing he needed was for someone to get the wrong impression.

Then lapsed into silence and Calysta inwardly sighed. Perhaps her curiosity had gotten the better of her and made things awkward again. He didn't seem interested in having a talk and she wasn't going to force him. She finished up her tea and eased off the couch. "Have a good night, if you need anything don't hesitate to ask Illya or myself. We can get you whatever you might need for the trip, yeah?"

When she rose from her place Mihael stood and offered a slight bow in the fashion of the Kaereleans. "I report to my superiors and rely on their response for all my needs as a member of this team."

Calysta was taken aback by the formality he used and the sudden bow, though she recognized it as an attempt to show her respect. She bowed back, so he didnt think she was ignoring him. "A-alright. That would be very efficient. Thank you. There's more tea in the pot if you like." The she straightened and started to exit before nearly turning into Bahn nose first. "Whoa. Have a good night, Bahn," she said, "There's tea for you in the pot too."

Bahn was on his way to go sit in the living room when he almost ran into Kalizda. "Ooh, tanks!" Turning right back around on his heels he trotted right away to the kitchen to get himself some tea. He was far from shy about those things. Mihael simply remained standing until Kalizda was out of sight and then he seated himself again.

Calysta made it to the bedroom and found Illya emerging from the shower. She had thought over the conversation with Mihael a little and couldn't find out what she had that would have caused him to behave so rigidly. She had thought they were getting to know each other or at least becoming amicable until he suddenly bowed to her like she was the empress again. Calysta crawled into bed and snuggled with Illya, though her mind was preoccupied. "I just had the strangest conversation with Mihael," she admitted to Illya, "I wanted to get to know him better, so I brought him some tea and sat down, but just when I thought he might look a little less serious, he snapped to attention and bowed. It was very....strange."

Illya nodded. "Oh, he es still very new tah dah Elite and he probably es trying tah be careful. Yah still dah Empress as far as he's concerned."

Calysta sighed a little and dropped her head to Illya's shoulder. "I know. I just told him it was nice to chat without being all dressed up as the empress. I thought maybe it would help with that."

At those words, Illya's eye brows raised. "Ooh no."

She sat up some with a hand on his chest. "What? What's that look for? I just wanted to talk to him as a normal person." For all she knew she had broken some ancient and ridiculous Elite custom she knew nothing about. She was familiar with all the other men and had been in battle with them before. Why would Mihael be ay different?"

"Dat would have been better phrasing," he explained, "Referencing yah status as Empress and den saying yah want tah be friendly could be good, or et could sound like....eh.....well et could sound like yah want tah be familiar wit him en way dat yah familiar wit meh."

Her eyes sharpened and she sat up even more. Familiar? Was he suggesting what she thought he was suggestion. Already her face was turning red but she was going to make sure that's what he meant. "As in?"

" Et could sound like yah want tah have sex wit him," Illya clarified.

That was exactly what she thought it was and it sent a whirlwind of embarrassment combined with panic through her. She sat straight up and looked at Illya in absolute mortification. "What?! NO! All I was saying as I was relieved things were less formal! And he thought I was propositioning him?!"

For all her fluster, Illya sounded calm. " Maybe he tinks dat. I dun know. Et would be meh guess since he was suddenly very formal as yah say. He was probably trying tah let yah know he understood dat yah were his superior, but dat he would nut cross dat boundary. Normally a first casual conversation wit someone en his position would be wit meh at yah side. Et was little bit improper what yah do. Yah dun know dat. Dis es easy tah fex."

She wilted slightly and stuck her face into a pillow. "I just offered him tea and tried to talk with him. I wasn't trying to be his superior....or...anything else... I'm just used to going up to people and talking to them. Aye, I can fix the misunderstanding, I don't want anyone like that but you."

Illya's reply was as calm as hers was embarrassed. "I will fex et. Dis es nut for yah tah fex."

Calysta didn't look up from her pillow cave as she let out a long breath. "I didn't mean to freak him out and I'm responsible for it. What should I even do?"
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
With a challenge to try an arm wrestle Bahn shrugged and walked over to where Rezna was. "I will try dis." Setting his elbow carefully on the table he studied the position and then grasped Rezna's hand. He could feel it was firm and he held the position for a few moments. He wanted to see how she was playing this before he tried to do anything too wild. "Oh, es dat yah best? C'mon, I tink yah kind es stronger eh?" Bahn taunted her some to see what would happen.

Rezna used the opposite arm than she used with Koda to keep her muscles fresh and settled into a clasp with Bahn. He was bigger but that didn't mean it was always stronger. She took in a deep breath, released it and pressed into his palm. "Ooh not yet. How are you feeling? I'm young...fresh...how old are you again?" She grinned?

"Young and fresh eh?" Bahn smirked and held his hand steady. "I'm about eh....243. Nut so old for Chippequoti." Putting a little more pressure on her hand and pressing in with his arm he felt some give. "Push harder little Rezna."

Rezna raised a brow at him but didn't over exert herself yet. Not yet. He would get tired eventually and then she would ramp up her effort and force him back. "Ooh not yet. You sound concerned about the position here. Are you worried about endurance?"

"Nut concerned about meh position. Just worried about yah losing face." Pushing her arm a bit further he felt her hand tip a bit toward the table. "Yah better put up some effort eh?"

She let him push her out a bit further and then felt her hand tip a little. She push back and righted them again. He was trying to wear her down too. She might want to try over powering him while she could. He relaxed slightly and let her muscles do the work before she suddenly ramped it up and forced his hand toward the opposite side. "Ooooh no. Not face....I don't lose easily."

Bahn felt her finally put a little effort into it and their hands righted and then she put a sudden surge and he lost some ground. "Oooh, dah fiesty sort. Dat's good." Pushing back against her hand he reversed the position and now had hers tilted toward the table again. Exerting a little more force he hoped to end it quickly.

Rezna gained ground and then slowly lost it until she was tilted back in her direction. She flattened her smile and her lips became a thin line as she put in real effort to reverse the lost ground. She almost reversed it and waivered before she slowly started loosing ground again. He forced her back centimeter by slow centimeter until her knuckles wrapped the table. "Uhg..." grumbled, "Damn."

Bahn laughed heartily and then got up. "Well, now yah know. Young and fresh dun always win dah day." After Bahn was done Illya wandered over and sat down. "Yah tink yah wore out yet?"

Rezna smirked and shook out her arms. "Nah. I won't feel it even if I am," she told him, "You wanna go?"

"I guess." Illya set his elbow on the table and placed his other hand behind it. Raising his hand he realized it was a bit short and he scooted in tighter so that his stomach was pressed to the table and then his palm met hers. "Yah have long arms." Without waiting for her to respond he immediately started to apply all the pressure he had. Illya hated wasted time and he didn't like to toy with people in this situation.

Rezna sat down and matched palms with him. His hand was fatter than hers but she solidified her grip before the match began. Illya went full force right away, something she didn't expect. She matched him but couldn't push him past the middle. Instead she began losing ground slowly. She let out a deep breath and pressed as much as she could. Her muscles rippled some with the effort but it was no use. "Grrr..." she growled.

There was certainly pressure and Illya felt a twinge in his shoulder. Every now and then it would give him problems, but he wasn't about to lose to a girl over it. Pushing all the harder he felt her begin to lose ground and he scooted his butt to the edge of the seat and grunted a bit as he aimed to slam her fist into the table.

Rezna held her breath and gave her muscles all she had but she lost ground, held just above the counter and then her knuckles popped against the top. She didn't feel the pain of it but she released another breath and shook her head. "Looks like I have worked to do," she smirked withe a breathless laugh.

As soon as the wrestling was over Illya stood up. "Hmmm...et es odd little practice. I guess yah could do little work." Eager to give the game a try Dane sat down next.

Seeing that the other two beat Rezna, Dane was pretty sure he could do a decent job of it. He got an almost smug look on his face as he measured her up and then sat on the seat. He wasn't about to sit on the edge of the seat like Illya and he certainly didn't have to get that close. His arm was longer and therefore he was going to look a little better doing this.

If anyone was going to show the other two up, it was him. Dane always had a bit of a flare when he sat down to do something like this. Glancing over his shoulder he smirked at the others. "I'm gonna show yah how et's dun wit style." The veins in his thick, well muscled arm bulged and his grip tightened. Dane wanted to take it slow and show a little more power.

As he worked at holding ground with Rezna first, he seemed relaxed, but then when he applied some pressure to try and move her arm she pressed back. She had a bit more strength than he had thought. Still, he was certain he could do it. Letting his breath out from between pursed lips he strained a bit. The strain reached all through his back and his muscles bulged slightly as he pressed more. Just as he started to make progress he tensed his whole body and started putting more effort into the push with the arm wrestling. Dane's face began to turn red with the effort and then a loud squeaking fart trumpeted through the room.

Suddenly the serious tone of the event was lost and the other Elite began to laugh. Even Dane couldn't keep a straight face after that and his muscles loosened and his fist hit the table with the pressure from Rezna. Dropping his forehead onto his forearm Dane should with laughter and with each shake a little toot sounded. It was too embarrassing and funny at the same time for him to stop. When he was at last done Dane raised his face and put his hands over it and just laughed more. "And that is how it's done with style." Bahn commented through his own laughter. "Yeah," Illya agreed. "I tink dats about et for arm wrestling ets starting tah smell en here."

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

Fixing the problem with Mihael was not going to be a difficult one. Illya waited till the next morning and he invited Mihael into the kitchen while he and Kalizda made breakfast. Mihael had finished his rounds for the early morning and there weren't many others in the area. Speaking in Quoti Illya motioned for him to sit in the kitchen. "Kalizda is my agreed and I appreciate your careful manners. She was not aware that there was a customary way to be introduced." This seemed to get Mihael's attention and Illya continued. "Kaereleans often do not find introductions even for those of her status to be carried out in the same way we do. She likes to know who all the men are and she likes to know them as friends of mine. There was no inappropriate intentions."

At the explanation Mihael was quick to walk over to where Kalizda stood, "Forgive my rudeness. I was not aware that your customs allowed for such free first conversations with a superior's agreed."

Now that things were fixed Illya switched to Trader's Tongue and decided to move on. "We will land on eh...Juiya tahnight. Yah come wit Kalizda and I and have some food at park and jes talk wit us eh? All dah Elite get at least one night dat dey talk wit jes us. Besides, yah probably want someting little more fresh den what we have on board eh?"

Fresh food was something that Mihael couldn't quite refuse. He did like fresh food and he nodded some. At least the correction wasn't awkward and it explained what had happened the night before. If Illya approached him like that it meant that she told him what happened and it was a good thing. She was as rumor had it, devoted and quite faithful to her agreed.

There were a lot of things said about her, in fact. Mihael had watched carefully for some time. Often when the Chippequoti talked about her it was quiet and with respect, though none of them dared to speak about her in front of her or Illya. It was simply not done. Kalizda was a strange, courageous little woman and she did very much so live up to her name at times. She was the little bird, unafraid of sleeping in a wolf's den. Her wings though small, were strong. The music she sang and stories she told were strange and she showed them a new way of life. She was very much like the little bird of the legend. There was also the danger that was posed in following her. These new ways had risks and her wiles had at times led them to trouble, but she also seemed to find ways to pull them through.

Mihael found himself curious about her. He'd never had a chance to speak to her personally and he would have it soon enough when they landed on Juiya. Thankfully, she was modest as rumor had said and she wasn't trying to throw herself at him the other night. Perhaps she was trying to test him. It was not uncommon for a leader to test those under them. It was a safe place for her to test him at and now she knew.

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

When they finally got close to Juiya Illya smiled at Kalizda. They had strapped in for landing as well as everyone else. It was just best practice and Wynry was bringing them in quite nicely. "Et will feel good tah get off dah shep again." He was looking forward to getting outside and they were landing a bit early. There was going to be several hours of daylight left.

The ship rumbled and floated just above the ground before it rocked gently and landed. It was a good landing and Illya unstrapped. He was eager to get out. Forgetting the kids strapped in their seats Illya walked into the main cargo area and peered through the viewing window near the gang plank. There was already a crowd and he had wished it might have been as quiet as the last place. With a sigh Illya walked back to help Kalizda get the kids out of their seats. "Well, dah crowds are already here. Dah dinner en park might nut be so quiet."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Calysta stood in the kitchen fixing breakfast. It would be something simple and easy because they would be landing in a little while. The less dished to clean up, the better. She had made oatmeal with sweet nectar and cut up some fresh fruit to go around and now she was frying up some eggs to go with it because Illya needed protien. The oatmeal would have plenty of nutrients for her, but Illya had gotten the infection in his arm due to a lack of protien. Now, she would remedy that by cooking a protien with the meal every time, whether it was by plant based proteins or animal products. She was turning over an egg when Illya appeared through the sliding galley door with Mihael in tow and proceeded to have a quiet but open air conversation about the night before. She had thought he would approach Mihael privately. Apparently not.

Her face turned pink as Illya had to make very clear that she was simply unaware of Chippeqouti custom and not attempting to take him to bed in anyway. She felt sheepish for not knowing and doubly so for the mistaken intentions. She kept her back turned to the conversation and cracked another egg into the skillet to watch it sizzle and pop. When Illya's conversation was over, she breathed a little in relief. That would be the end of it and hopefully Mihael wouldn't be so strange about it. She flipped the eggs and suddenly found herself enveloped in a dark shadow blocking the over head light. Turning around, she glance up at the man, her cheeks tinged pink. What she expected, she didn't know, but it wasn't an apology for rudeness. That was a first. Illya didn't really apologize for stuff like that in the past. It was only recently he had started doing so and the Chippeqouti themselves weren't particularly apologetic to begin with.

Her mouth opened and closed a few times as she struggled with a response until she managed a nod with somewhat shy smile. "Aye. I didn't mean to give the wrong impression either. Your apology is accepted and I hope you still feel welcome."

When Illya mentioned that they may have a picnic on Juiya when they arrived so Mihael could get to know them more formally, Calysta nodded. "Oh, aye. That's a good idea. I can arrange something you might like.

**********

Wynry brought the ship in smoothly. The weather here on Juiya was slightly breezy and very warm. Perfect weather for being outdoors before the rainy season. Before the kids were even unbuckled, Illya was pressing up against the window like he might burst with excitement at the idea of open spaces again. She heard the slight grumble when he announced they had a greeting party waiting for them on the dock below. "Well, it ought to go more smoothly than Aerikta at least," Calysta noted to Illya as she began unbuckling Edgar from his seat. Once the first twin was free, she unclasped the second one and then moved on to Lohgan who fighting against the restraint because it was wrinkling her skirt.

Their greeting was warm and comparatively quiet. Not so loud as Kinte but not so solitary as Seiya, and not so wild as Aerikta. People wearing greens and yellows smiled up at them with tan faces alight with excitement. Some of them had seen the councilwoman and even the General before on their visits. They were excited to share what they had with their representative. A woman walked up to the end of the ramp flanked by three others of various genders on each side. All of them carried basket on their heads, stablized by their hands, except the lead woman who wore stacks of brown beads on her neck. She clinked pleasantly when she approached and stretched out her wrinkled hands to the group exiting the ship, then she bowed deeply before rising up. "My councilwoman, General...and company..." she said her voice strong despite her age, "Welcome to Juiya, I am Delegate Uzmya. Come, we have gifts for you all."

The group carrying the baskets stepped forward and revealed different items inside each. First, a woman came around and placed a string of bright pink flowers over the necks of each of their party, including the guards and children. Lohgan grinned in delight and Akten sneezed causing an echo through the courtyard, which made the crowd laugh and Wynry, who stood next to him, wince in pain at the overload in her hearing aids. He gave shy, sort of half smile to the chuckling crowd and tried not to sneeze again as the rest was handed out.

Each person then received a bolt of cloth meant to be worn as a sarong or sash over the shoulder. Then large, hollow beads painted in red were offered as necklaces and bracelets. Last, came traditional hats made of reeds for the men and traditional headbands with painted flowers for the woman which included hand painted strings of beads to trail down loose hair. Calysta accepted her gifts graciously and knew she would be expected to wear them tomorrow at the meeting.

"These we give to you in friendship and welcome," Uzyma continued, "Tomorrow evening there will be a ceremonial display where the entire continent may attend in the caldera, but before then, please go where you wish and do what you like. Explore. Our land is yours to enjoy."

The crowd clapped and cheered while a few of the media members, who had skipped out on the cold weather of Seiya, began taking holograms in earnest. Calysta thanked Uzyma and looked to Rezna before whispering. "Will you collect the rest and place it in the ship for tomorrow evening? All but the flowers, it will be rude to remove them now." Rezna did as she was told and enlisted Akten to help her wrangle up the the items from the kids.

In the mean time, Calysta walked the rest of the way down the ramp and greeted Uzyma with a sincere smile. "It's been too long," she admitted, "You haven't met my husband yet."

"No, but I am familiar," she said, grinning up at Illya from her slightly stooped position, "The General of the Chippeqouti, Hero of Kinte, and...there was some other such title....oh...that's right. Emperor." She chuckled and gave him a bow as well. "It is a pleasure to meet you in person at last."

She nodded at his reply and waved them onward. Before turning on her heels to amble up the gravel path. "We have a few things to talk about, eh? Feel like escorting an old woman to her office?" She looked at Illya merrily and Calysta tilted her chin, knowing Illya was quite safe in the hands of Uzyma who was merely doing this for show, and for her own delight at feeling young enough to walk along side someone in their prime again.

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

Calysta stepped onto the lush, green lawn and into the neatly kept stone path that lead up to their gazebo. The sun was shining gold as it hung lower in the west and the wooden gazebo hung heavy with purple flower laden vines flickered to life with pleasant torch light. Bugs hummed in the evening air and she picked up her long, lavender sarong skirt a little. "Dinner should be waiting for us up at the gazebo. I rented it out thinking it might be the best...and most private place in the park." Around them tall, frond like trees and broad leaf shrubbery rustled in the breeze and the smell of the fire pit in the middle of the gazebo wafted through. There were no real chairs, just soft woven mats and long pillows. A few mats had been placed there with bowls of fresh Juiya fruits like omne, pit-berries, a variety of grapes. There were also cheeses and meats along with a fresh berry drink made from the pit berries. A long cooked hock of nyte beast was also on a plate next to sweet breads and covered in a sweet, tangy sauce made from the mushy, acidic sweet Juiya fruits. It all smelled delicious. Calysta found herself eyeing the food with strange eagerness. "I picked out some local fares tonight," she smiled, "Some of my favorites and some I thought you both might like." Gesturing, she offered for Illya and Mihael to sit down around the fire.


Illya and Mihael followed Kalizda toward the gazebo. It looked like she had arranged for it to somehow be a little more quiet. As they approached it was clear that there was mostly fruits and vegetables, but thankfully some meat. Illya was eyeing the meat mainly because he felt hungry. He knew that Mihael would likely be looking the meat over too. One glance at the other man told him it was true. When Kalizda gestured for them to sit both of them arranged their mats and pillows before sitting. It was not so different from what it was like when they lived on Quoti. It was also warm and that felt good. Mihael waited for Illya to serve himself and Kalizda. He was thinking about serving himself, but found that the General served him too. Accepting the plate he nodded politely, "Tanks."

Calysta had expected to serve them, but it seemed Illya took up the task instead and served her as well. She tucked her skirt tight around her ankles so no leg was showing at all. She didn't want to be flashing legs all over the place especially now that things seemed more at ease. "Thank you," she told Illya as he offered her plate. He had given her many vegetables and fruit like he knew she liked. "I'm glad the delegate was able to help me secure the gazebo. Other wise I think we would have much more company from the locals. Juiyan's are very friendly. Much of their income is based in visitors coming to see the crystal caves and the waterfalls, so they're used to being welcoming." She took up the bottle of fresh juice and poured some for Mihael, then Illya and herself last. "So, Mihael have you been to Juiya before? I know some people have been traveling to here and Kinte for shopping and breaks."

With the meal served, Mihael was ready to dig in, but he knew to at least wait until Illya or Kalizda had taken the first bite. Thankfully, Illya got to work on his food almost immediately and Kalizda began pouring drinks. Mihael took his first bite of meat and savored it. The meat was fresh and he couldn't think of much else at the moment besides the fact that the meat was good. However, the councilwoman asked him about travel and Mihael shook his head. "No, never been here."

Calysta brightened and smiled. "Oh! Well, I think we are taking the kids on a tour of the crystal caves tomorrow. Would you like to join us?" She wasn't sure if he was on the rotation for body guarding at that time or not but surely it could be arranged if he wanted to go. Her stomach rumbled and she plucked up a piece of fruit and nibbled on it before eating another.

At the offer to see a little more of the area Mihael nodded. "Dat would be nice. I tink maybe I will see what dey look like."

Calysta felt pleased that he seemed interested and looked to Illya. "Is it possible or do we need to rearrange the security schedule some to allow Mihael to join us on the cave venture at noon?" She would have to ask Illya because it was his schedule. While he answered, she started in on the large piece of meat he had put on her plate and suddenly found herself enjoying more than the fruit. It was sweet and tangy too with caramelized skin on top.

"Nah, I tink he's already on rotation." Illya spoke between bites of food and he continued eating happily. As long as she was carrying the conversation he was going to enjoy the food. Mihael seemed content to eat in peace and he looked around himself a bit. "Seems nice here."

Calysta nodded and ate her food with surprising gusto before taking a sip of her drink. "Aye. It's one of my favorite continents," she admitted, "There's plenty to explore. It was one of the places that made me feel most...ah..welcomed when I left Pyrta as a young skycorp cadet, yeah?"

Mihael was surprised at how much she had to say and he nodded. He didn't really expect her to say so much when he'd only made a singular statement. "They must be friendly people. They don't mind Chippequoti?"

He asked her a question while she was mid bite and she quickly scarfed down the niblet of meat. "Not at all. They're very open to new people. Half-breeds, Chippeqouti, Urian, Reylian. Anyone as welcome so long as they respect their land and keep it clean. It's a nice place to relax and vacation if you're inclined to. A nice place to take your agreed to."


Nodding at her answer Mihael figured it was good enough. Perhaps he would have to bring her here sometime. Taking another bite of meat he chewed it carefully before swallowing and going for another bite.

They lapsed into silence as they ate and Calysta felt a little more relaxed. Mihael seemed a quiet and respectful but also curious fellow in some ways. She liked him so far. A good addition to the Elite, even if he was a reluctant one. As she sipped on her drink, a glowing flytr bug floated by and landed on Illya's shoulder. She plucked it up and puffed it back into the air with a bit of breath away from the food. Before long it was completely dark and the torches provided the only light along with the warm fire.

It seemed that all became quiet and Mihael finished his meal in silence. He found it quite satisfactory. This was a nice location and if the people were as nice as the councilwoman said it may be worth going to with his agreed when the tour was over. The councilwoman and General seemed content to sit for a while longer and so he remained seated, but vigilant.


Calysta finished up her plate and sat back a little before looked up to the two men in her company. Both seemed content with the silence and she didn't say much more other than to ask if they would like to try a traditional dessert. When they answered, she got up and wandered over to a cool box where she popped the lid where cream and fruit Popsicles were waiting inside. As she reached inside, the bush nearby rustled and she paused to look up into the darkness. "Hello?" She asked in Kaerelean.

A little dessert always sounded good and Illya watched as Kalizda moved over toward the cooler. With the slight rustle in the bush Illya grabbed his gun and stepped forward to grab Kalizda and move her out of the way. Mihael drew his gun too and turned on the light on top of it to shine into the bush. Stepping forward Mihael almost shouted at the bush. "Ef anyone es en dere yah get yah hands up and get where I can see yah."

There was another little rustle and two sets of small, tan hands popped out of the bushes before frightened faces followed. A set of tween girls emerged with their hair dotted with leaves. "D-don't shoot us! We just wanted to see the Councilwoman and the...General up close!"

When the kids popped out of the bush Illya sighed and holstered his gun. Mihael also lowered his gun, but not before scanning the area. For a moment both men stared at the girls and then Illya shook his head. "Get over here. Might as well have some dinner and juice wit us."(edited)

The girls looked at each other hesitantly as the guns were lowered and the offer was made. "Really?" One of them asked in hopeful surprise. Calysta poked her head around Illya and smiled. "Aye. The General means what he says, yeah? Come over and I'll fix you a plate." The girls squeaked in delight and stumbled over to the gazebo all a twitter. Calysta fixed them a plate of food and juice. "We were too far out in the crowd to see you and they said you would be in the park," one of the said, "We were told to stay clear but...we just wanted to see you." "Do your parents know you're here?" Calyata asked casually. The girls turned sheepish and shook their heads. Calysta nodded and poured up more juice before offering Mihael and Illya a popsicle. "They might be worried. How about we walk you home when you're done. Yeah?" That send them into another sheepish but no less pleased giggling fit of excitement as they ate. Calysta smiled to Illya and put a hand gently on his shoulder before taking her seat again. The girls peppered them with questions none of which were suspiciously intrusive. "You look different," one of the girls said to Illya with a smile, "Then the holograms make you look."

Clearly the girls were going to be twittering little fans, but he couldn't leave them out in the bushes in the dark. They were probably a few years younger than Rose. It was a strange age for girls. As the girls sat down Kalizda offered to walk them home. It was probably a good idea to do that after they were done eating and enjoying the gazebo. Still, it wasn't something Illya had thought about offering to do. As the girls sat down to eat with them they started to ask questions and some of them revolved around his looks. Illya frowned some, "What dah hell do dah holograms make meh look like? I dun look at dem."

Calysta gave Illya a cautionary look over the girls shoulders about his gruff reply but the tweens seemed unphased. "Well, you look alot taller on holograms. Your friend is way taller and the councilwoman is much smaller. You're shorter than what we thought."

The response from the girls got a small smirk from Mihael and Illya sighed. "Oh...dat's all eh? I'd be a very rich man ef I had money for every joke made about meh lack of stature. I'm short for Chippequoti."

Calysta bit at her lips to keep from smiling at the girls comment . The two girls ate as only growing kids could and grinned at Illya. "You're short? You're the first Chippeqouti we've seen for real. Not only a hologram. One of the girls glanced a Mihael and titled her head. "Is it true about what they say? Are you strong as steel?"

It wasn't really flattering to learn that the girls not only thought he was short but also to find out that they had never really seen a Chippequoti before. That bit of information was slightly stunning if not a bit disappointing. The more flattering question was turned to Mihael and the man tilted his head in confusion. Mihael had not left and he certainly hadn't heard any of the outside rumors. Having lived only with the Chippequoti what he heard was limited. "I dun know. Never had tah find out."

The girls took it as an invitation as an invitation to ask more questions and giggled a little at Mihael's reply. "Dah says Chippeqouti are some of the strongest people. Like steel. That's what they say anyways. That and all of the Chippeqouti are very pretty."

Somehow the girls seemed to be completely fascinated with a topic to do with the Chippequoti and Mihael nodded politely as they spoke. "Well, et sounds like yah fater has high opinion of Chippequoti."

"Oooh, aye. He and Mam were glad the councilwoman and general came to see Juiya so soon. They take care of the park, yeah?" One of the girls looked up with sweet eyes to Illya. "Did you like the park?"

It sounded like the girls were maybe living very near the area and Mihael just nodded. Then the questions turned back toward Illya and he looked around the area and then gave an approving sort of nod. "Aye, et's a nice park. Looks like et's well kept."

The answer made them giddy and the questions continued with a few aimed at Calysta before she checked the time. "Well, girls its time for us to be heading back. Let's walk you home since its dark ." There were a resounding sigh of disappointment but no argument as Calysta packed up the food into a basket and hefted it up. The girls helped put out the fires and they followed them to a small cabin style house less than a mile away. The porch light was still on and they waved happily before scurrying inside. Calysta looked to the two men and chuckled. "Good kids," she mused.

Of course there were going to be a lot of questions and Illya answered them as they came along. By the end of the night he was somewhat glad they dropped by. It was amusing to talk to them even if they did call him short. As they turned to head back to the ship Illya smirked at Kalizda's comment. "Yah liked having little fans ask yah questions eh?"

Calysta chuckled and slipped a hand around Illya's waist. "Perhaps not the fandom part but they had a healthy sense of adventure and that always means asking questions. I hope as they grow they keep that curiosity and sweetness." She glanced to Mihael and smiled. "Thank you for talking with them too."

The answer was funny and Illya smiled at Kalizda as she wrapped an arm behind his back. Mihael returned Kalizda's smile with a nod. "Mmm...Dey were jes curious. Noting hurts tah be kind."

Calysta nodded. "Aye. Nothing hurts to be kind. You did well with them. You have children too, yeah?" She hoisted the basket into her opposite shoulder a little higher and began walking toward the ship. "Maybe when we get back I'll make us some tea."

It sounded as if the Councilwoman was again pleased and Mihael figured it was good. She was after all the one with the General's ear and he was known to do things for her that he wouldn't do for anyone else. "I have children. Dey are all grown now." Illya saw Kalizda readjust the basket she was carrying and he reached over her shoulder and grabbed it gently. "Let meh take et for yah." Both men nodded when she mentioned tea.

Illya was already lifting the basket before she could protest and she was going with it if she didn't let go. He lifted it from. Her gently and settled it over his shoulder. She thanked and squeezed his hand gently before considering Mihael's answer. "I'm finding children do that rather quickly these days," she smiled, "Are they on Pyrta?"

“Yeah, dey are living on Pytra.” Mihael answered quietly. “One of dem is wit dah winds now.”


Upon hearing that news her expression changed to a softer look and she nodded to him. "I see," she whispered back. She knew Chippeqouti didn't talk of the dead very much if at all based on custom and further more she knew he likely approve of sympathies when she didn't know him enough to fully appreciate them. He was likely old enough to have grandchildren at least. "It's hard to be without family."

Mihael walked along for a while longer before saying anything more. “I tink et will be fine. Meh agreed stays wit dah oldest.”

Calysta nodded. "I may have met your agreed before," she said, "What was her name?"

Mihael shook his head. “No, yah would nut have met her. She dun leave dah home often and she es very shy.”

Calysta titled her head. "Oh, perhaps not then. The only place I can think of would be having met her in the bath house, but its not likely. Maybe when we come back to Pyrta I can have the pleasure of meeting...." she trailed off, hoping he might provide his agreed name which he hadn't said yet.

It sounded as if the Councilwoman was eager to meet his agreed and Mihael shook his head gently. "She dun care tah meet visitors or new people and she prefers tah bat at home." There wasn't a lot he felt he should say because she did value her privacy so much. "Meh agreed es good woman and she admires yah, but I dun tink she would feel courage enough tah face yah en person."

That surprised her and she was sure her surprise flickered across her face some. Every Chip traditionally went to the bath house. If she bathed at home anywhere it meant she truly was incredibly shy. Almost hersurprise. And she liked to think she was approachable, but perhaps not. She recovered her surprise and titled her head. It hadn't gone beyond her that he hadn't told her the name again. "Aye, it sounds like she values her privacy...even you don't say her name," Calysta noted, then she looked to Mihael curiously. "Am I that intimidating?"

Mihael noticed that the Councilwoman was not giving up her search for his agreed's name and he blinked a few times as if he were stubborn or stupid and did not understand her meaning. Finally he answered after a moment of thought. "Yah are nut intimidating."

"Ah. Well, that's good. I never considered myself to be particularly intimidating and I didn't want to start now," she chuckled.

Nodding a bit Mihael took a deep breath. "I know dat by rumor yah will nut stop till yah have answer. She stays alone because many years ago when she was child she suffered burns on her face an over much of her body. She was mistreated and abused by Federation and orphaned. I did nut agree wit her out of pity, I agreed wit her because I love her. Even wit many surgeries she feels dat oters stare. Dis es why she would nut want tah meet wit yah."

By rumor? She didn't know she was so known for her doggedness. Calysta listened to his explanation and met his eyes the quiet, gentle approval. "I would expect a man to agree for love and not pity," she admitted, "I wouldn't want to make her uncomfortable. Past pain can make meeting people very difficult in many ways. I would treat her with respect, of course, and sometimes that means respecting privacy. Maybe we could find a few things she might like on the tour. I want to give everyone free time to explore a little too and that includes you."

"I will do meh duty as a member of dah Elite and I will do meh duty tah meh agreed." Mihael figured his answer would be enough to let her know he didn't care for much interference. "Yah very kind."

Calysta had learned some about Mihael but his answer about duty was a phoned in one she had heard before and likely would again. It was a way of telling her he had if covered and this was as likely as she was to talk much more. The kindness comment was polite but fell flat as well now that she knew his thoughts on her curiosity. "Kindness is sometimes in short supply in the world. As you say, it doesn't suffer to be kind." That was the only thing she really could say given his duty-defense comment. A breeze hit them and she rubbed at her arms a little to keep away the chill from the quickly cooling night air and continued walking along the path. They had a roughly 10 minutes before they reached the ship.

Though it seemed painful at times to listen to Kalizda pry, Illya let her do as she wished. He knew enough about Mihael to know the man would eventually warm up, but he took time. As for Mihael's agreed, Illya could only say that he'd seen her once or twice in the recent years. She was more outgoing when they lived on Quoti and she was a very kind and gentle woman. There wasn't much walking left and Illya decided to change the topic. "I tink dat when I check dis place out on meh pad I find dat dere es a zoo. Dere es also good place for little rides. Dey have someting like artificial flying machines and tings like dat."

Calysta listened to Illya try to change the subject and let him. She had tortured Mihael enough with her questions for now. Glancing up at her own agreed, she titled her head. "Aye, there is a place with local animals and a few rides. Maybe we could take the kids?"

"Mmmm...I tink so. Dey have bird sanctuary too. Esn't dat dah one where I give meh giant bird dat I tried flying?" He knew very well it was, but he also knew that Mihael's agreed loved birds and she would want to see a bird sanctuary. Mihael's head lifted a bit and he seemed to be listening more intently now though he was trying to be careful not to let it show too much.

"Aye, it is," she said, "Its on the back side of the continent on the mountain side. The view is quite nice too. Do you remember where we stayed in the nice little hotel last time?" He didnt always remember things but sometimes a gentle nudging could help if he didn't actually recall.

Kalizda's response was getting Mihael's attention a little more and Illya shrugged. "I dun remember et so much. Yah probably need tah remind meh of et."

Calysta bit her lip a little and nodded, thinking about how to best describe it. "The one in the jungle mountain side with the nice, big waterfall view. We watched the water falls on the balcony because it was quiet and no one could bother us." She wasn't going to mention the fact they had done a little more than that.
.
The description was reminding Illya of an event, but he wasn't sure if it was the right one. "Eh, es dat dah place where I fell off dah bed trying someting different?"

Calysta nearly choked and her face immediately flared pink from her ears, to her cheek, to her neck. "No...love...that was our anniversary. This was right before that Terran holiday my dad likes to celebrate and we were picking up a few things for him. We decided to stay the night. The bed was nice and soft and we took that little cruiser flyer for a spin too. We stayed in the nice hotel attached to my favorite restaurant on top of the falls, yeah?"

Illya frowned a bit at Kalizda's explanation and he sighed. "Oh...I guess I jes dun remember et. I remember dah place wit dah glass floor, but I tought dat was en Kinte." The place was sounding pretty nice aside from the fact that Mihael was a bit surprised to hear that the General's memory was actually quite poor when it came to many things outside of military tactics. It must have been true that his short term memory really had been affected. However, the more he heard about the place the more he thought it might be a place he could arrange for himself and his agreed to visit.

Calysta pushed aside any thoughts she had on his lapse in memory and gave him a tiny, playful squeeze. "No, but that just means one day I can take you back if you like and give you a little reminder."

"Mmm...yeah we should go back. Ef we have extra night here maybe we could go." Illya was feeling a bit hopeful they could go see this place again. A first time for the second time was always good in his opinion. Mihael finally decided to say something because he was curious. "Does dis place have coordinates?"

Calysta smiled up at Illya a bit slyly. "Aye perhaps we will find an extra day. Maybe some extra maintenance on the ship will be required, yeah?" When Mihael broke his silence Calysta nodded and rattled off the numbers easily. "That's the coordinates for the direct dock. If you take the transport ship it drops you off at the base of the mountain and a trolly will take you through all the sites on the way up too. I could show you on a hologram map later if you want."

"I tink et would be good tah take extra day and be cautious. We will want tah be sure dat dah shep es en good repair. We fly long ways tah get here." Returning Kalizda's grin he also gave her a wink and then Illya glance at Mihael who seemed to be paused for the moment with his pad and furiously taking note of the coordinates. Mihael shoo his head when Kalizda offered to show him the location on a hologram map. "No, et will nut be necessary. I have coordinates."

Calysta raised a brow at Mihael as he answered. "Alright then." Then she leaned up and kissed her husband's cheek, close to his chin and smiled at him knowingly where Mihael couldn't see.

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

They went to the little zoo area in the morning while it was still cool. The heat of the afternoon might drive the less heat inclined members of the party to seek shade until evening, but for now, the morning time was pleasant. Just right for a day at the little play area. It was a bit touristy, she admitted, but they had a wide variety of Kaerelean animals to feed and some from Terra too. They had baby wyreio from Aerikta, cryn from Reyla, bunnies, goats, a baby nyte beast, a few hogs, a horse, a zebra and other animals to pat. The most wild animal that Cypher was determined to play with was a creature that looked a bit like a large lizard.

"This is the American Alligator," one of the zoo workers said with pride as she gestured to a swampy looking pond below the paddock, "American Alligators come from the Northern American continent on the planet of Terra. We got our friend Al here before the embargo and he thrives in the wet weather here on Juiya. They can get up to 15ft in length and Al here weighs about 500lbs. He eats a variety of raw meats here, but in the wild he would eat whatever animals he could snap up with his long jaws which can exert close to 3,000 psi. Now, we can show you how to feed Al and a brave volunteer can help me."

Cypher's hand immediately shot in the air and he practically danced for the chance. The woman grinned and looked to the young man with a nod. "You like animals, yeah? Would you like to help me feed Al? You'll have to take a parent along."

Cypher turned to Illya and grinned his most famous grin, pearly white teeth gleaming and blue eyes wide with hope. "Dah! Will yah go feed the Alligator with me?" A tilted of his mother's head told him he forgot the most important part. "Please?!" he added quickly.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Upon exiting the ship the group was surrounded by a glad and colorfully dressed people. Seeing the jungle in the distance, the houses on stilts to keep them from flooding during the rainy season and the large flowers made him think briefly of Guoron. The people here were not large enough and they didn't farm with elephants pulling the plows, but they were dressed somewhat similarly. Staring ahead with almost no expression he nearly missed stopping slightly so that the first person could present him with a gift.

The scent of the flowers wasn't quite right, but they were large blooms. Each petal seemed to end almost in a raindrop shape. This was what made him think of Guoron. Flowers on his home planet were like this. Even if he preferred a jungle to a desert he couldn't say anything about it. At least not until the war was over.

Illya nodded politely and made sure he remained present physically for the rest of the greeting process. His mind still wandered though. The war felt so distant here, but he knew it was still present. Even now there could be assassins. That thought made it feel as if he may never see the end of the war. Of course there was the sobering fact that he might not see the end of the war. In some ways this was the most dangerous sort of mission he'd ever embarked on. He was going out publicly, everyone knew who he was and he wasn't even hidden inside a regiment.

Hearing his name he smiled at the older woman in front of him and nodded again. He wasn't entirely sure what she'd said. There wasn't really a chance for Illya to answer the woman and already he saw Kalizda was beckoning for him to go with her. If Kalizda sent him off it must be safe to do so. Not sure if the people on Juiya escorted by formal means or not, he decided it was safest to try formally first. Offering his left arm he glanced down at the old woman. "Et would be meh honor tah escort yah."

Uzyma grinned happily and slipped an arm through the crook of Illya's elbow before stepping closer to pay his hand with a paper thin one of her own. "Thank you, young man." She chuckled and began walking up the path with a leisurely pace. "Of course, I'm very much aware you could be my senior by many years. It still makes me feel quite nice to have an escort, eh?" She ambled up the path and a breeze came through the frond trees and she sucked in a deep breath of relaxation.

The woman seemed to appreciate the formal gesture and Illya smirked when she called him a young man. "Et would nut be polite for meh tah presume yah age. Yah are right dat I am young. Meh people dun consider meh old yet." With a little wink he smiled at her. "We can give dem all little excitement. Yah hold meh arm and I smiled at yah. Never know what dey will tink of all dat."

Uzyma grinned knowingly at his wink and made a point to look slightly flattered as the holograms reeled. "Oh aye. We talk in low tones they can't hear right now but we'll give them a good show." She looked at him and smiled. "How is your Karelean, General?" She asked curiously.

"Verah bad." Illya replied in Kaerelean. It was not his best spoken language by a long shot, but he was willing to give it a go. "How dah yah propose dat weh make conversation en Kaerelean?"

Uzyma chuckled and gave his arm a good natured squeeze. "Oh, I was merely curious. I picked up a few Chippeqouti phrases, thinking I might greet the great general in his native tongue, but to be fair, I was told my accent was so bad it changed a few meanings of the words. I couldn't reciprocate, but your accent isnt so bad as mine in Kaerelean. So, we'll give it a go," she explained in traders tongue before swapping to Kaerelean, "Tell me what you think of the tour so far. The councilwoman has made quite the good impression even before arriving to Juiya, but I'm curious about your impressions."

The woman explained her reasoning for using Kaerelean and Illya chuckled some. It was actually funny that she had tried using the Quoti language and even forgot what it was called. At least she had tried. Then she moved along and asked him of his impression. "Forgive meh, I dun follow all yah statements well. I tink dat dah....Kalizda does well wit tour. Ef yah ask for meh tinking on Juiya den." Illya took a deep breath. He was having a hard time keeping up with all the words he wanted to use. "Dis es good place. Et reminds meh of good place. So many colors and dah flowers are large. I like et."

The older woman smiled. His words were broken but there was enough there to work with. He liked the flowers, which was good. "Good, good," she told him, "You'll be seeing alot more of those flowers. It's tradition, eh? The pink is the color of life. Good health. Juiya is a place people come for sanctuary..." she paused for a moment, trying to think of less complicated word, "Ah, relaxation and safety. We are not a race of warriors like Reys and Aeriktans...not like Seyians either. War has its opposites, eh? The Chippeqouti are warriors, yeah?"

At least Uzyma seemed to understand what he was trying to say. "Mmm..." Illya nodded some. "Dis es important. I like tah have places of eh...peace. Like dis." He couldn't remember the word she used, but he was sure she would understand it. "I can't tink of words en Kaerelean tah describe. So I tell yah en Quoti eh?" Illya still spoke in a hushed tone as he spoke to the woman in Quoti. "The warriors rest in her shade, they look for her white and red blossoms. She cannot be found except in the silence. This tree grows deep in a hidden place. It is a place of peace. If war comes they will hide her and when they have finally won they will return to her."

Uzyma leaned in close, ever the more happy to have a co-conspirator in her whispering now and listened intently as he tried to explain and then swapped to Quoti. She listened, her eyes focused to the side as she tried to under stand. She knew he was talking about peace. It took her a moment to appreciate the personification he was referring to. Smiling warmly, she nodded in mostly understanding. "I tend to agree, peace is hard to find in noise. And oh do some people like to make noise," she replied, "You sounded a bit like a poet, eh? Is all Qouti in prose like that? Or is that you?"

For the first moment Illya was surprised that she understood and he almost stopped walking. There was a slightly odd jerk as he drug his right foot along with him. "Wuh..." Switching back to Kaerelean he smiled. "Well...uh...no. Ets nut meh. Dis es jes Quoti ehm way?" He was stumbling on his words and he tried to regain his composure. "Chippequoti use nature for many tings."

Uzyma smiled. "None of the learning materials your wife sent were quite so beautifully spoken, I don't think, but if you speak to her like that, I see why she likes to keep it to herself, eh?"

A slight tinge of pink came to Illya's cheeks though it quickly faded into the deeper brown of his skin. "Eh, I had tah learn few tings ef I would be dah leader of meh people one day." Illya was suddenly starting to feel shy and he wanted to look behind himself to see where Kalizda was, but instead he glanced at the old woman and smiled.

The older woman noted the rosiness on his cheeks and chuckled gently as he looked down at her. "Oh aye. Now you have quite a few more people looking to you than what you imagined. As does the councilwoman. Your hard work shows."

Despite his best attempt not to laugh it sort of popped out anyway. Illya knew the woman couldn't possibly know that hard work meant sex when he talked with Kalizda, but the fact that he had so many children trailing along behind him with Kalizda was just too ironic. "Eh..." Clearing his throat he tried to get more serious. "Aye, I do work hard."

Uzyma heard the laugh bubble up into a raspy chortle at his comment and she looked up at him with a brow raised. "Oooh hard work is funny, eh?" She used a tone that showed she wasn't offended but amused even if she missed the joke.

"No, dah work es nut so funny. Et es obvious dah work pays off." Illya was doing his best to share the humor and disguise exactly what made him laugh. It would seem juvenile if he laughed at something like that and yet he did. "We have many children."

Uzyma's singular raised brow was joined by its twin as her eyes widened in understanding and she let out and quiet "oooh" which turned into a slight giggle. She patted his arm and grinned. "Oh aye. Quite the beautiful brood too. Hard work indeed." When she was done chuckling, she leaned in close and gave him a conspiratorial whisper. "I happen to know the crystal caves here are the councilwoman's favorite place to visit."

Despite his attempt to keep it a bit more proper Illya found that the woman caught on well enough. At least it didn't bother her. Then she went on to tell him about the crystal caves and Illya nodded. "Oh, I tink we will have tah go see dem. She will need dah peace here before we move on en dah tour."

Uzyma's expression stayed light but her eyes darkened some when Illya mentioned the rest of the tour. "Aye. She will. There are difficult places ahead and only so many ways to prepare for them. The Councilwoman is facing challenges no other in her position had faced and she has done it with grace so far, but a heart can only take so much."

The woman understood what Kalizda would face and perhaps she didn't know all that weighed on Kalizda. Illya simply nodded and let the woman say as she would. "Yes, dere are many difficulties ahead. Et es why I come wit her."

Her more serious expression softened slightly and she nodded. "You were wise to do that. She's going to need it soon. Not here but soon. In the mean time, you both should rest easy here. We have tradition but not heavy formality. After I meet with the council woman you should use the free time in a way that pleaseses you and enjoy yourself before the hardest parts begin." They stopped outside and building with stucco walls and a thatched roof. "Ah here we are."

They had finally reached the doors and the woman gave her final advice. Illya felt her hand release it's soft grip on his arm as she pulled away. "We will rest here." As the woman stepped inside his mind returned to his thoughts from earlier in the day. All the travel seemed to be bringing up the past like a bad omen.

Uzyma smiled and walked into the building as Calysta followed, pausing only long enough to offer Illya the chance to walk in with her. The children followed along with their entire contingent of guards.

Watching the delegate disappear into the building Illya shook the thoughts away in his mind and then glanced at Kalizda who was now standing next to him. Holding his arm out he then escorted her into the building.

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

After the formal meeting there was time to do a few other things and Kalizda had of course arranged for a little family visit to the zoo. The zoo was Illya and the children's favorite place to visit. There were so many pretty things and exciting animals to look at. Cypher had inherited a good bit of curiosity from both Illya and Kalizda. Lohgan was more than happy to wander around like a little princess and twirl in her dress in front of the lion type creatures in their habitats. When they would bat, or try to lunge at her she would turn and stare the down while telling them how naughty they were. Of all the animals that fascinated the twins it was the large tortoises. Illya figured it was because the animals moved so slowly that they could actually get a good look at them. Lastly, there was Rose, she was hard to impress since she was still sulking due to her pad having yet to be returned. However, it didn't appear that she'd learned her lesson yet.

Illya ignored what happened with Rose and figured she would eventually end up coming around. As they moved over to the next habitat Illya sort a horse like creature and he immediately blurted, "I remember being here." The place they were going to stay still didn't come to mind, but he remembered that Kalizda wanted to go to the Crystal caves. While he was remembering things he got onto his pad and stood in the shade so he could see where the buttons were and he checked his calendar. There were a few little free spaces and he booked one of their spots as busy and then made a reservation for a Crystal cave day.

For the time Illya was sure that she wouldn't see the reservation because Kalizda was busy showing the horse to Lohgan. Lohgan seemed quite pleased with this animal and insisted on buying pellets to feed it. The horse accepted the pellets at first and then spit the shells of the pellets out. A spray of the slimy shells stuck in Lohgan's hair and the girl's eyes went wide before she gave a huff and stomped off. Smirking a bit Illya pointed to the poster that had been behind him. "Et says dah creature likes fruits better den dah pellets."

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

After a picnic at the Zoo they went to see the Terran water monster show. It was supposed to have various wild animals. The first one that Cypher insisted on seeing was the Alligator. Cypher pointed to the sign standing near the entrance to the show, "What's dat say dah?" Illya squinted and he observed the word before trying his best to sound it out. "Et says eh...Ah-lee-gah-tor." Now that he'd sounded it out Illya said it with a bit more confidence and then led his family inside to see the demonstration of a worker wrestle one of them.

The animal was large and green with short legs and a huge mouth. Illya held Cypher back once when his son began to lean heavily on the fence around the habitat area. When the time came for feeding the over-sized large toothed lizard the woman gave an offer for someone from the crowd to volunteer. Immediately Illya's hand sprung up and then he noticed it was primarily children. Now that he recognized that he quickly lowered his hand and instead pointed at his son whose hand was raised.

Cypher was almost bouncing to get the woman's attention and when she selected Cypher. Thankfully had to bring a parent and a glint showed in Illya's eyes. "Oh yes, we will go feed dah beast."

It was a bit exciting to get a bucket of meat. Illya held it so that the alligator would be more likely to follow him. Cypher grabbed the first chunk of meat and threw it toward the alligator. Al opened his massive mouth and snapped the meat up before swallowing it. "Ooh he eats like monster does." With a gleeful little hop Cypher reached into the bucket and tossed another piece of meat at the alligator. He was about to grab another piece when the gator opened its mouth wide and started to move toward him. Scrambling behind Illya he saw his dad chuck a large slab of meat into the animal's mouth and it seemed contented for the moment.

After the feeding was done Illya picked Cypher up and set him over the gate before walking over to the opening to let himself out. Kalizda was waiting patiently for him and he winked at her. "Did yah see dat dey even let us catch a baby Ahleegahtor and pet et? Dey are pretty cute. Nut quite a good addition for dah pets at home. I tink dey would eat dah dogs."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
The zoo was a fun affair for the most part. Lohgan had to be watched as much as the twins because the liked to tempt the animals as much as learn about them. Her middle name should have been Ginger Cat rather than Brown Shepherd given her taste for taunting, but she did learn not to bother the animals too much when a horse spit into her hair causing a crying fit. Calysta helped clean Lohgan up while the twins played with the tortoises and reptiles quite happily. Rose acted sullen for the most part.

While Calysta cleaned out Lohgan's hair and rebraided it, Rose loitered around with her arms crossed and her eyes at her feet. When Calysta released Lohgan to play again, she took the moment to walk alongside her eldest daughter.

"Did you ever think you had too many children?" Rose suddenly asked.

Calysta paused and blinked at the question. "Not at all. Why?"

Rose shrugged. "You're too busy to keep up with them all."

"I was never too busy for you," Calysta pointed out.

"Oh yeah? You haven't spoken to me in days."

Calysta stopped walking, and her jaw worked a little. She had just about enough.

"Rose, talking is a two way street. You know by now I love you and that what you're doing isn't mature. You want to be a woman? Be married as an adult woman. That's the very definition of compromise, Rose. You have just as many chances to come out and talk to me. You know I will listen. I don't always agree, but I will listen. But you've got to stop this. You're so focused on the future and the things you want, you're missing alot of things happening right now. I know your Dah talked to you about some things. It won't get your pad back to you any faster but if doesn't mean you have to be miserable in the process."

Rose's chin wavered a little and she wiped at her eyes. Calysta remembered how frustrating that age was. How much she just wanted to be heard at times. Slowly she reached out and offered a hand to her daughter. "Why don't you talk to me now. Just you and me, yeah?"

Rose hesitated, resisted, then finally gave in and slipped her hand into her mother's.

They chatted for a long while as they walked. It was sad to learn how lonely her daughter felt. She was the only teen in the house and she felt odd and alone at times. Sam eased that loneliness. Rose was proud, stubborn, and usually loathe to admit everything, but the days alone and her talk with her father softened her. By the end Calysta hugged her daughter and smoothed down her hair. They would make more of an effort to spend time with Rose and allow her time to spend with people her own age. The girl felt heard and Calysta felt relieved. "C'mon and let's go meet up the others now, yeah?" Calysta said with a gentle smile.

They met at the swampy enclosure where a big Terra reptile was on display. The field guide gave some information about the alligator and then offered a chance for someone to help feed it. Illya's hand naturally shot into the air and Calysta chuckled as he slowly lowered it to point at the carbon copy standing beside him. She didn't mind them feeding it so long as Illya was there to protect Cypher. While she watched Illya handle the bucket of meat in the pen, she was glad he didn't take any bites of the raw meat for himself as he was want to do when he though she wasn't looking.

The beast was ugly and had a terrifying jaw laid with rows of teeth. She was glad when Illya emerged from the pen looking excited but having determined that the thing would not make a good pet. Even the idea of it made her shake her head at him. "Aye...or maybe one of the children for dessert. We'd better stick to bears and mean roosters.



**********


Akten stood at ease as he took careful watch over the scenes in the little zoo. The family had spread out a little and it was making him keep his head on a constant swivel. Until his gaze landed on Wynry. She was off duty, technically and had decided to come with them. She more the traditional out fit of bright colored skirts and a sash for a top. Alot of her very smooth midriff was showing above her hips which swayed in a more than pleasing manner she walked along side Rezna. Wynry's platinum curls were down and free from the Skycorp regulation hat too.
He stood there watching, entirely transfixed as she walked by. His head followed her wake as she passed.


It was obvious to Dane that Akten was trying to do his job, but he nudged Bahn and the other Chip decided to keep on eye on those that Akten was losing track of. Dane leaned over closer to Akten after Wynry was passed. There was a definite benefit to her being mostly deaf. "So, yah like her eh? She's pretty enough. Why dun yah say someting?"

Dane's voice so close snapped him out of his thoughts and he blinked before a tinge of pink colored his sun tanned cheeks. He palmed the back his neck and scrubbed at it a little sheepishly. "She...eh..a good pilot," he said, "I'm n' very good with...girls. er. ..women. They're n' like battle strategy or war or anything else."

The description from Akten made Dane laugh. Of course that got Illya's attention and he stopped momentarily while Kalizda ushered the kids forward. "What's so funny?" Illya inquired and Dane answered, "He tinks women are like war." At that Illya smirked and shook his head. "Nah, dey're jes a lot easier. Tell her dat yah tink she's pretty. Girls like dat and den ask her ef she wants tah spend time wit yah."

Akten's eyes widened at Dane's laughter and he glanced to see if Wynry or worse, Rezna, noticed. Neither of them did but Illya did. He wanted to protest that he'd said women were not like war. War would have been easier in his mind. Illya suggested something different though. Turning to his commanding officer, he raised a brow. "That worked for you?"
"Sure.." Illya thought for a moment as he tried to think of what he did to impress Kalizda. "Well, I knew dat Kalizda liked looking at meh arms. So, I uh...I walked around witout a shirt once and den told her I knew she liked tah look at meh arms. I knew et was true because she turned red and den I wore a shirt all dah time after dat. She liked et more when I told her she was pretty."

Akten glanced at Wynry's retreating figure. "Dah says t' be bold. It sounds bold, but she gave me a look last time we spoke an'...eh...I didn't think bold was a good idea. Why do women give such looks? It makes it harder t' figure out what th' want."


Illya nodded, "Yah dah es right. Yah should be bold." At this point Dane felt the need to chime in again. "Aye, she probably gave yah look because yah nut bold enough."


Akten's brow furrowed some as he thought over his next move. "So, more bold then...eh...now I just need t' learn in what way she likes th' boldness, eh?"

“Yeah.” Illya nodded and grinned some. At this point Bahn couldn’t resist giving his own advice and he added, “Yah could ask her ef she might consider having babies wit yah.”


Akten tilted his head and scratched at his chin where his stubble was already trying to reclaim his face from that morning's shave. "Babies?" He hadnt thought that far...well.. he had but not about the baby part. But it made sense. Women liked babies didnt they? Even the warrior women on Reylia cooed over kids for the most part and Kinte women were softer. More delicate. They probably really liked babies and it was indeed bold to suggest they consider making some. "It would 'b bold, eh...and Kinte girls...women...are different. I'll try it, eh?"

Illya and Dane nodded while Bahn vigorously shook Akten's shoulder. "Yeah, et will work. Tell us how et turns out."

***********


It was only after lunch that they retreated to the ship to get ready for the evening’s festivities which would include a traditional show. Everyone but the security team would be expected to wear the outfits provided by the people the day before. For the men, that consisted of a pair of breezy linen pants with a tied waist band, sandals and a sash of bright green and pink worn from the shoulder and tied at the opposite hip. The heavy beads were to be worn around the neck. For the women, it mean sarong skirts in the same colors with an exposed midriff and a beaded headband to push back hair that was to be worn down, free and full.

Calysta had taken full advantage of this and combed out her long, black curls down her back, using the head band to keep the gently wavy tendrils away from her face. Wynry had decided to do the same. It was in the hours between getting ready and the festivities that Akten saw the woman looking very pretty in her outfit making a snack in the kitchen. He was off duty now and wearing the strange, bright colors of Juiya. His tan, and well toned muscles were exposed under only the sash instead of hidden under his uniforms or fatigues. In fact, they felt a bit too light.

As he entered the kitchen, his eyes focused in on Wynry. Her shorter, blond hair was tangling deliciously with the bright beads in the head band as she moved around the kitchen. His hazel eyes followed her for a moment and then he decided to be bold.

"Eh, Wynry?" He started out.

"Aye?" She replied not looking up from her task.

"Ye' need some help?"

She poured a cup of water and shook her head, making the beads jingle. "No, but if you want tea or coffee, grab a mug and I'll pour it."

He did it without a second thought, grabbing a mug and offering it out to her. When she looked up at him to take the mug he smiled. "Ye very pretty, yeah?"

Instead of meeting him with the terse look from last time, she paused and a light blush crept across her cheeks as she gazed at him. "Oh?"

"Aye," he nodded, feeling encouraged. It was working. "Very pretty. Would you like to make babies with me?"

The look of shy interest dried up like a rain drop in the desert and her eyes flashed with shock, embarrassment and finally anger in roughly 2 seconds after he asked. He wasnt just getting a terse look. He was getting the look his mother gave his father when she was absolutely enraged. But he was locked in now.

"Excuse me?" She demanded through clenched teeth. "Do I look like I want to have babies with you?"

"I.uh...aye? You're pretty and I like you."

Wynry took a step toward him and he had the distinct urge to back up, but he held his ground. Apparently that was the wrong answer.

"And that was your qualification to ask me if I wanted to have sex with you? You don't even know me!"

Now, the entire room was watching. Rezna was grinning in the corner, eyes alight with amusement. Thomas had looked up from his coffee, his mouth hung open in shock. Koda's eyes were wide as he had been stopped in mid conversation with Dane and Mihael over security matters. Even Cypher had stopped rifling through the fridge to watch in surprise at the scene.

Redness blazed a trail over Wynry's cheeks. It was hard to tell if it was from anger or embarrassment. Akten looked down at Wynry as she shook and sputtered for a moment before she picked up her small sandwich of vegetables and mashed it directly over his head. If she had to be embarrassed by his question, he could be embarrassed by the answer.

*********

Dear Diary,

Something terrible has happened. The Chippeqouti abandoned the land over night. I'm not entirely sure why, but we are left with only a woman named Elpsbet who gives odd looks and tries to console Calysta who is...well...utterly heart broken. I think she is just as confused as the rest of us. She won't eat or sleep. Illya returned from a battle and the two of them don't seem to have reconciled. Now, we are leaving too. I don't know where we are going and I don't understand why the Chippeqouti left the safety of their allies to expose themselves to the Federation. I feel swept away and more alone than ever. Even in the Monroe house hold. I could leave, but I have nothing and no one. So, I will go and try to repay some of the kindness they have given me.

Dear Diary,

We're on the fringe somewhere on a tropical planet. Its quite beautiful and I know we are seeking action against the
Federation here. They are coming though. I will be expected to pick up a gun and fight to protect women and children. That seems like a good enough way to die if I do. It's better than in vain like my dear Harry. I miss him. At night, the bed still feels empty. Sometimes I roll over and look to put my head on his shoulder and all I find is my cold pillow. Illya was kind and brought me this little puppy. The dog is quite sweet and easily trained. It helps some with that empty hole since I left my other dog on Terra with Harry. Yuji reminds me of home. I'm not sure I will feel complete again but things are better than they wer
e for now.
 
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Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The odd little exchange only took a moment for Mihael to process. A storm lit up his deep blue eyes and he set both hands on the table and scooted back in a singular motion. A loud clattering sounded as his chair tipped over behind him and he stalked over to Akten. Just as he was drawing his fist back Dane scrambled out of his seat and yelled, "What dah hell are yah doing?"

Akten shook his head a little, causing soggy bread and vegetables to fall. The chair scraping across the floor caught his attention and he glanced away from Wynry's infuriated red face to see Mihael's fist drawing back. Instinct took over and he knew he couldn't block successfully, so he dodged, catching a graze of the fist and scrambled back to stay out of reach of the man's other first that could easily come hooking around.

Before Dane could do anything about the first punch Mihael's fist was already flying. Reaching for Mihael's other arm he tried to stop the next blow and only caused Mihael's fist to lower from Akten's head to be aimed at Akten's stomach. With a violet twist of his first arm Mihael elbow jabbed Dane in the mouth and split Dane's lip. In an angry spur Dane kicked Mihael in the leg.

Thanks to Dane's interference, Akten had enough time to scramble out of arms reach even though he slipped on some of the vegetables on the floor. He slid, recaptured his footing and tried to get as much distance between himself and Mihael as he backed up into the hall. There were too many people in the there to be brawling and one of the kids might get hurt. It had all gone so wrong! Akten was focused only on dodge Mihael though as the two Chip men struggled with one another. Rezna was going to let the two duke it out within reason while Koda jumped up from his seat and vaulted over the counter and joined the effort in restraining Mihael.

Mihael kept on pulling forward and Dane was trying to hold him back and dodged a few more elbow blows before he got kicked on the inside of his leg. Adjusting to be a bit more careful he threw himself into the side of the hallway wall with Mihael. Mihael lunged forward with a snarl and grabbed for Akten. Dane felt someone bump him from behind and whirled around to hit the offender. One hand for the face the other for the stomach.

Koda hadn't grabbed Dane but apparently the man was in brawl mind set enough that he let go of Mihael long enough to wheel around for a few hits. Koda reacted quick enough to take a glancing blow to the face but not the stomach. Luckily, he hadn't eaten yet and his training allowed for him to take a certain amount of force to the stomach. Of course, that didn't mean he was prepared for a blow meant for a large Chip man. The punch caught him high up in the gut and caused him to immediately produce a wad of stomach bile. It projectiled onto Dane with a splatter. With Mihael on the loose again, Akten scrambled backward into the hallway. These were too close quarters to fight a Chip successfully. There was no room to create distance and keep their heavy limbs from delivering damage. He backed up quickly, hands raised defensively until he crashed into something that let out a squeak of surprise and shoved him with surprising force to the side of the hall. A sharp feminine voice barked over the melee. "What in the Wilds is going on?! Stop. Now. That's an order!" The councilwoman had heard some sort of ruckus and came to see if the children were tussling. Instead she had found her own crew going at it. She shoved Akten to the side and put up a hand, and got ready to dodge in case Mihael didn't stop.

Illya annd Bahn had been visiting in the living room when they heard grunting and snarls and then Cypher yelling from the kitchen. Cypher had stretched his neck out as long as it would go and yelled with his head in the air, "Dah dere's a fight!" At first the two men listened and then there was a loud boom sound. It had to be someone hitting the wall. The two of them stood and Illya jumped over the couch and then he saw Kalizda shove Akten out of the way. It wasn't a matter of obedience. There was no way for Mihael to stop in time. Lowering his head, Illya ran toward Mihael and crashed into him from the side, sweeping him off his feet only inches away from Kalizda. Bahn grabbed Kalizda by her belt and snagged her back. Dane didn't hear the order in his momentary rage and he shook his fist off from the vomit and pulled Koda up straight and stared into his face. "What's wrong wit yah?"

Koda met him back as well as he could for being hauled around. His boots were hovering a few inches off the floor. "What's wrong with you?" He half growled and half groaned back. "Why'd you let go of Mihael? I was coming to get the kid out and then you start hauling hits on the wrong guy?"

Calysta felt herself rocket backwards by the loop of her skirt as Illya steamed past. Apparently, she was about as good as a rag doll. So much for her authority on her own ship. She stumbled backward into Bahn in a poof of skirts while Akten peeled himself off the wall.

"Why did yah get involved? I had et handled. Den yah jes come en dah middle of dis. I dun know what yah tinking and yah bumped meh. All I know yah could have decided tah start wailing on meh." Dane set Koda down and then proceeded to wipe the vomit off his hand and arm on the front of Koda's shirt. "Dat's yah stuff, yah get tah keep et."

Illya rolled to the side and let Mihael up before he growled, "What was all dis about?" The Chip man stared at Akten with daggers and spat the words out, "He's filty little ting. Suggested dat dah pilot make babies wit him."

At that Bahn burst out laughing and let Kalizda go. "Oh, we told him tah do dat. She was ignoring him and we tought she would like et better ef he was bold. Illya, Dane and I told him all our best ideas." Grinning at Akten he nodded some, "How did et go?"

"Yeah, your busted lip says you had it real handled," Koda said. He knew all too well when a man was in a rage, it might take more than one man to slow him down. "Even if I had, you let Mihael go and he would have creamed the kid." His boots touched down on the floor finally and Dane found it necessary to wipe the vomit on his shirt, adding what was probably intended as humor and turning it to more of an insult instead. Koda forced himself up right and said nothing in return. It was bad enough the councilwoman had to get knocked over and she certainly didn't need another brawl.

Calysta hauled herself off the ground and stood up, brushing off her skirts and then crossed her arms as the whole reason for the brawl came out. Illya seemed rightly pleased with himself and Akten, who had peeled himself off the wall stood up and cleared his throat. "Eh...she mashed a sandwich on m' head....sir."

After Bahn had so helpfully divulged the entire reason for Akten's action Illya glanced at Kalizda and then Mihael. Somehow they both looked entirely angry and because he was the commanding officer it was all gonna come at him. Bahn stood back with a grin on his face and Illya got up and straightened out the sash he was wearing. "Akten, dah damn sandwich es dah least of yah concerns right now."

Akten pulled a tomato-looking vegetable from his hair and went to stand at attention. "Aye, sir. I wasn't trying to cause offense. Sir."

Calysta didn't look so much angry as she did in awe of how a simple crush could end in a brawl. And how the Chip's could have given such horrible advice. "Illya, will you have your security team clean up?" The boys might think this was funny later but she was sure Wynry wouldn't for a long time. The woman was probably embarrassed to say the least, though given her reaction with the sandwich it sounded like she handled like a Kaerelean woman would have.

With a sigh Illya nodded in response to both Kalizda and Akten. "Alright, c'mon Bahn and Mihael. We gonna go help Dane." As they worked their way down the hall Illya saw Dane and a slightly nauseous looking Koda. "What did yah do?" Illya stared at Koda and Dane for a moment. Dane shrugged, "Koda tried tah help. He bumped meh and I assume he was gonna join fight so I hit him."

Koda grunted in response and wiped his mouth free of any remaining bile. He wasnt going to tell the man if he had meant to join up and hit Dane it would have been more than a 'bump' to start with. One doesn't waste the element of surprise. "That was the way of it," he finally grunted out, "With permission, I'd like to get cleaned up, sir."

Rezna and Wynry had poked their heads out of the kitchen. Rezna looking amused and Wynry looking less so. Calysta glanced to Bahn and nodded. "Thank you." Then she motioned for Wynry to come toward her. "Let's take a walk outside to cool down, yeah?"

Rezna checked her utility belt and then started to follow, but Calysta held up a hand. "Just Wynry and myself, Rezna. Thank you." Rezna raised a brow. "But Councilwoman you shouldn't go alone." Calysta shook her head. "It will be fine." "All do respect, councilwoman. I'm the guard on duty for you. If you die on my watch...well...it doesn't look so good on the resume." Calysta rolled her eyes and motioned for Rezna to come. "Just give us a few yards of space, yeah?"

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

Once the ladies were out Illya sighed and glanced at all the guys. They were waiting for him to give orders and he rubbed at his left shoulder. It was a bit hot to the touch and the muscles felt tight. It was probably a result of slamming into the wall with Mihael. His head hurt too. Somehow it took a few moments for all that to kick in. "Well....eh." Hearing Koda's request he nodded, "Yeah, go get cleaned up. Dane yah clean up dah hallway, yah made him puke so yah clean up what's en here."

Working his jaw he tried to think of the most reasonable and fair thing to do from here. "Mihael, yah make mistake, clean up dah stuff dat gets knocked around en dah entry tah dah hallway. Bahn, yah go help Akten clean up sandwich mess and I'll take guard duty." As soon as he mentioned taking guard duty all his men stared at him and Bahn raised a single eyebrow. "Alright, Bahn yah go stand guard duty and I help Akten clean up."

It was too dangerous for him to go stand outside on guard duty and they all knew that for a fact. Taking turns with guard duty was natural to Illya and it felt strange to give all the orders and have very little participation in the actual duty. Helping in the kitchen wouldn't amount to much anyway. "Oh, and before yah all head out we need tah clear up some tings before tahnight. Dah story should be consistent eh? We gonna have tah explain dah bruises on dah majority of meh security team's faces." With that he dismissed them all to go ahead and get started on cleaning up.

The cleaning up didn't take very long and that was good. They would all have to get into the ceremonial wear in about an hour. Once they were all clean and assembled again, Illya had Kalizda get Wynry and they shut the ship and put up the shield for the time they were meeting in the living room. "Dere was little misunderstanding tahday and et will look strange tah dah public. Dane has split lip, Koda and Akten have bruised faces. We have nut engaged en any disturbances and so dis will be noted. Et es also common knowledge among dah delegates we go tah visit dat dere es deat tret and I dun need tah cause alarm." There were several more reasons that the bruises wouldn't look good, but he wasn't going to dive into all of them at this point. "So dat news es consistent, ef yah are asked what happened yah state dere was small mistake and small accident on ship. Security responded and dere was no damage besides scrapes and bruises. We could call et mechanical error." Looking at the team he waited for any kind of question and then finished it off. "Dis will nut happen again. I understand dat dah Elite make dis mistake en vigor tah carry out dere duties tah protect and serve, ef et es nut situation of emergency dah Elite will inquire furter before taking action from here on."

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

There was only about half an hour till they were to leave the ship. Illya sat on the bed in the bedroom and set out the things that he received from the people. The brightly colored flowers were very strong smelling indoors. Outside they were a softer scent. Stripping his shirt off he craned his neck to look at the sore shoulder. There was a little bruising there and with the redness and bruising it was also showing off an old scar that usually didn't show. It had been one of the first injuries of war. Shifting his gaze away from the scar he sighed and then stared at the folded wrap pants. A deep frown had come to rest on Illya's face and he stared at the pants intently without really seeing them.

It was hot and muggy. The transport was a bad one from the start. He'd lost one elephant early on when there was an attack from the deep jungle monsters. He was put in charge of blazing a new supply line. Walking in front of his elephant he rustled the brush and kept a weapon at ready. The butt of the gun was always pressed tightly to his shoulder. A sudden crack sounded and his elephant trumpeted and tried to turn, but there wasn't enough space with the load on it's back. They were under fire and the enemy was targeting their elephants.

Startling a bit Illya felt a jolt run through his whole body. He hadn't expected to feel Kalizda's cool fingers on his shoulder. "Jes tinking I need tah get dressed." Quickly standing he striped his pants off and began unfolding the wrap pants from the Jiuyan people. Tying them up he reached for the sash and saw that Kalizda had set out a plain tunic top that he could wear with the sash. "Tank yah." Setting the sash aside for the moment he slipped the plain white tunic top on and then put the sash in place. "We're ready eh?"

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

Ehud had gotten home a little early because he wanted to read a few more entries in the diary. It had been an invaluable resource for decoding his agreed's strange habits and emotional patterns. The patterns still didn't seem to make sense, but he was sure that there was a pattern somewhere. It was just a matter of identifying the repetition. As he was reading he found himself looking over at the dog and realizing that the creature would have to be shown some kind of affection if he wanted to please Pris.

Dog's weren't really his thing, but she liked them a lot. Apparently, this particular dog had become a sort of emotional support to her and there was a reason it always wanted to sleep in their room. Perhaps he could bend some, but there would still be rules. Instead of reading extra entries he carefully replaced the diary and called the dog over.

The ridiculous creature came over grinning dumbly at him like it did for everyone it met. "Gonna take you to the pet store and get a dog bed for you. Something so you can sleep in the room, but you're still not getting in the bed at night." Wagging its tail the dog seemed to agree with the idea and Ehud walked with it to the front door where he retrieved the leash and then proceeded to hook the dog up to go on a walk with him. Surely Pris would be impressed if he went out and got a nice, new dog bed for Yuji. Now the dog could sleep in their room, but it was absolutely going to get kicked out if they planned to have sex. He was not ever going to have Yuji try to join the fun again. As long as she could understand that and he showed good will with a comfy dog bed it would probably go well.
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Priscilla came home a little later than normal by roughly 20 minutes. She knew too much longer and she would made Ehud worry that she had another embarrassing meltdown. It had been a few days since she had found herself trapped in her own bakery. She had never had an outright panic attack in public before. This one happened while she was alone and it had gotten dark. There was no trigger or reason for it, but it had struck nonetheless, turning her into a gasping and crying mess in the floor of her office. Ehud had eventually found her and taken her home. It was embarrassing to say the least, though Ehud hadn't mentioned it again. Today was a good day though. Priscilla came home knowing Ehud was already home and and Sien would be too. The boy would probably doing his home work as he usually did while she cooked dinner.

Sure enough, Sien was at the small kitchen table working on his handwriting. She ruffled his hair and kissed the top of his head. "Finish up and you can help me cook for dinner, okay?" He liked to help her in the kitchen for the most part. She couldn't tell if it was because she spent time with him or really just enjoyed cooking. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Priscilla walked into their tiny bedroom intending to change clothes for dinner and found Ehud already home. She had come to realize he sometimes stayed late at work, but in the past few weeks, since her kidnapping and return, he had been coming home on time mostly. Today he was home on time and she smiled when she saw him standing near the window. She walked over and slid her arms around his waist then kissed his lips. "Hey there handsome," she chuckled, "I'm finally home. I'm sorry I ran a little late. We finished up the new countertops, the light fixtures...the paint is done. I proofed the menu board today and got our ad out with the opening date...the window displays are almost done and the furniture arrives tomorrow." She couldn't help the giddy little smile that came to her lips. It felt good to be working on something. Moving forward. "Opening is officially one week away."

She leaned forward to peck him on the lips when Yuji gave a grumbling sort of groan. Glancing down, she saw he was looking at her expectantly, tail wagging. She reached down with one hand and scratched him a little behind the ears. "Ooh good boy," she hummed. When the dog was satisfied, he gave a stretch and wandered off to the corner where he proceeded to flop down on a large, cushy looking dog bed. That hadn't been there before and she certainly hadn't purchased it. Blinking a few times, she looked at Ehud. The dog bed was inside the room. "Did you get that today?" She nodded at his reply and beamed a smile at him. She just knew Ehud might come around once he got used to the dog. Dogs were good companions after all. "I think he really likes it. He won't cry at night anymore either." Apparently, the dogs acceptance into the bedroom came with the caveat that he was booted out for more intimate times, which was more than fair. Priscilla pulled Ehud against herself, she kissed him a bit more thoroughly than she had intended to the first time. Between kisses she chuckled and glanced at Yuiji. "Out of the room...go on..."

The dog's tail wagged at the word 'go' and he trotted out of the room, leaving her alone to continue kissing on Ehud.


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

Calysta took Wynry outside and had a nice chat with her about all the charms that Chip men were capable of, including their interest in babies. "Akten took some well meant but misguided advice," Calysta said in Kaerelean as they walked down the path, "I'm not making excuses, but only offering an explanation for Akten's behavior. Had you been a Chippeqouti woman, you wouldn't have found the comment offensive, really. It's a cultural difference. Chippeqouti don't have alot of babies and so...making babies is very desirable. Not simply an invitation for sex. In fact, before Illya and I were married, he did something very similar to me."

Wynry looked at her with surprise. "He did?"

"Aye," Calysta chuckled, "Granted I had known Illya longer than you have known Akten, but Illya did make it very clear in a room full of doctor's and nurses that he wanted to have many babies. As many as possible. You see, he was high as a flyer on pain meds after an injury and learned that Kaerelean women have a cycle every month. He was grinning like a cat who found the cream and announced to all of them that was good because he planned on making plenty of babies with me."

"No! He didn't!" Wynry exclaimed.

"Oh aye, he did," Calysta mused, "I got to listen to the nurses twitter about me for days. It turned red as a tomato too."

Wynry covered her mouth and began to laugh a good minute before she cleared her throat, wiped her eyes, and straightened again. "That's too funny."

"It...wasn't exactly funny at the time, but I look at it with more humor now," Calysta admitted, "The men just gave Akten advice on how they would approach a woman who caught their eye."

Wynry blushed some and tucked her hands into her skirt pockets. "Well, it's still a little awkward now that I know what Akten was trying to do. I don't know that I'm interested."

Calysta had a feeling the woman really was, but she wasn't going to force the subject. "That's up to you, but I wouldn't keep this incident in mind in judging whether you are interested or not. If you decide you are, give him a clean slate, yeah?"

Wynry paused for a long moment, and then slowly nodded in agreement. They made the circuit around the path and Calysta took them back aboard the ship with Rezna in their wake.

*********

When they were back aboard the ship, she found the mess cleaned up and the crew scattered to get ready for the party. She went back to the captain's suite and found Illya standing at the bed and staring at his clothes. "Illya?"

He didn't reply or even blink. Her concern started to grow and she carefully reached out a hand, sliding her hand on his shoulder without grabbing him. Illya almost seemed to jolt. "Illya? Are you alright?" He brushed off her question by merely stating he was thinking about getting ready. It only took him a moment to put on the linen shirt, sash, and pants before asking if she was ready.

"Aye," she replied, watching him curiously, "I'm ready." She offered out her hand for him to take. They would have a little bit of a walk before they reached their destination."

**********

Rezna was on duty and so was Mihael along with Koda for security that evening. Koda would be there keeping the kids on track as they all made a little conga line out of the ship to meet Uzyma. The elderly delegate was dressed in a bright pink skirt and top revealing more than one loose fold of skin, though nobody commented. Here on Juiya it wasn't considered unsightly or improper to be a bit flabby or plump and where what everyone else wore.

She greeted them warmly, and then guided them to a little trolly that was on guide wires. It would take them up the mountain and give them a view of the village along with way. They had an entire trolly to themselves and Calysta loaded up the kids into the comfy seats, then sat beside Illya as the car moved forward with a small lurch. The kids were excited to see the brightly painted shops and homes on stilts as they ferried their way up the mountain. Calysta's mind was wandering to Illya though. Something didn't feel right and she would ask him about it later when they were alone.

"You seem distracted," Uzyma commented to her.

Calysta blinked and snapped her attention back. "Not at all, I'm just focusing on all the steps to the Ma'ahli Mylai."

Uzyma raised her white, fuzzy brow. "You've been practicing for months."

"Aye," she nodded, "And today is performance day. I will get it right."

If she didn't, it would be a great insult to the people here.

They made their way up to the top of the mountain which was actually not so much a mountain as it was an empty volcano vent. A caldera left behind by Kaereal's formation. At the peak, the mountain was hollowed out and overtaken by water falls, jungle and buildings on stilts too. At the very bottom was a meeting hall carved into the very base, making a perfect convening spot. The entirety of the Juiyan people could fit in there and would be there tonight.

As they disembarked, Calysta stood to the side until all the children, guards, and her husband were on the top. Another man in bright clothes was waiting for them. He bowed silently and then straightened. "I am Kylk. I will show you to your seats, yeah?"

"This is where I have to go get ready," Calysta said to Illya, "Kylk here is is supposed to take you to your seats and I'll go down with Uzyma to perform. Rezna will go with me." She smiled at Illya, looking him over. "I'll join you once the performance is over, yeah?"
 
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Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Taking Kalizda's outstretched hand Illya smiled at her briefly. He felt a bit nervous about going out at all. At the same time he was fairly sure he could make it through the night. If things got worse he was going to have to say something. So far he'd kept everything under wraps pretty well. The break to go see the Crystal Caves the next day was going to be needed. She needed the break and he did too. They were both stressed. So long as he could keep his stress away from her it would be alright.

Mihael, Koda, Bahn and all the others were in attendance. So far Koda was a good bit of help keeping the kids rounded up. Mihael was paired with him and Dane sometimes taunted them to encourage the kids to walk faster. Natually, Cypher was the one to try the hardest and he puffed and moved as fast as he could despite his rotund shape. "Awe, c'mon little man. Yah legs move faster eh?"

By the time they they reached the transport Illya was feeling a little less stressed and he let go of Kalizda's hand long enough to let her on board the transport. He had to duck to go inside as did most of the security team. The seats were small and Illya tried to sit in a single seat, but he took up almost two seats with his shoulders and Kalizda was perched on the very last of the three seats next to him At least the kids fit in their seats and they could actually squeeze two kids next to each guard if needed.

At first their passenger cart seemed to rock and creek before it got enough power to move. Illya peered out the window to stare at the houses below. They were brightly colored and on stilts. Somehow he'd never felt so homesick. He wanted to see Guoron again. Had the Guoron's even survived the war? Just seeing the houses on stilts had Illya in a trance. His face was nearly pressed to the window as he stared at the houses. The sounds of the children got his attention and he smiled at them. "Dese are very nice houses eh? How would yah like a house on long sticks eh?" He wasn't sure of the name for stilts in Trader's Tongue, so he gave his best description of it.

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

When they were finally at the crater things looked a little different and Illya was met by a strange man that was supposed to show them to their seats. Kalizda was parting from him and he wanted to protest. This would make for a prime opportunity for someone to hurt her, but she was at least taking Rezna with her. "Well den..." Illya leaned in a little closer and kissed her gently on the lips, "Yah be careful. I will watch for yah."

Illya waited till Kalizda was well on her way before he turned to look at Kylk and then he nodded. "I'm ready." Following the man was easy enough, but the sites and bright colors only made the homesick feeling worse. He wanted to go home so badly and he couldn't. Not yet, not until the war was over. Once he was seated the twins began fussing and Dane promptly passed them down to Illya. With a boy on each leg and their little shoulders under each arm he was positioned and ready to watch Kalizda, though he would have to be careful about moving too much with the boys sitting on his lap. Then of course Lohgan had to seat herself right in the middle and that made his lap very full and any movement almost impossible. "Shhh...yah mum will come out soon." Illya whispered to the kids and they all waited.
 
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aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Calysta kissed her Chip gently and left him with the children and as many of the guards as possible. She was as nervous about separating from him as she was actually performing. He was in the best hands they had though, and so were the children. She gave him a little wink before turning with Uzyma and Rezna to take an alternate route down the caldera. They shuttled down in a small lift which took them into the mountainside and exited into a room carved from black rock. That was where the silence ended. Dozens of dancers were getting ready in hair and makeup for the traditional dance to be performed.

A grunt sounded behind her and she saw Rezna giving the low ceiling an annoyed look. The Udine was well over the height of the ceiling and stooping just to fit in.

She was greeted warmly by several of the dancers, most of whom she had met via hologram but never in person. They had been practicing this dance through holographics for months with her, teaching her and correcting her and also instructing her on the all important safety portions she had to know before the real thing happened. She had practiced the most dangerous part many times in the fields at Pyrta and more than once she had botched it. The last month of practice she had done well though.

Calysta was ushered off to get warmed up with the dancers, and went over her lines endlessly in her head. It was all in ancient Juiyan, the language spoken on the continent long before the Kaerelean planet wide language was established. She got dressed in the special outfit of flowing white material. Her make up consisted of a white paste painted all over and dark patterns painted on top of that. Someone pinned up her hair with a simple comb and several pins with beads attached. By the time she was done, she looked like a ghost.

"Well," Renza mused, "Don't you look...interesting."

"It's part of the show. It's tradition," Calysta said, raising her painted brow.

Rezna smirked a little. "Uhuh. Good luck, councilwoman. Try not to run into anybody, you'll leave some evidence behind if you do."

**********

A stage made of stone sat just below where Illya and the children along with their escorts waited. Akten waited and tried not to bounce his knees or give any other indication of his need to move. He never could sit still long unless he was on the look out or required to for his work. Apparently, Wynry could though. His stolen glances at the woman told him she was patient and watchful. He kept his eyes moving, sweeping the area of any possible threats. They had been sequestered as special guests, but there were other special guests besides themselves, if only a few. He eyed them carefully as the caldera was filled up from bottom to top with people in bright clothes and tan faces.

The show began when the sun set. Uzyma took the stage looking happy in a radiant green and yellow patterned dress. A small microphone clipped to her chest caught her words in Trader's Tongue. "Ma'ahli Mylai is the ancient art of story. Stories with characters not written in pen and paper, but shown with the stage. Retold through song. Tonight we are presenting a special show of Juiyan tradition and legend for our honored guests and the people. Ma'ahli Mylai, this is the tale of the Thunderer and the Moonchild and we begin in the darkness before all Life."

The lights in the caldera faded, leaving the crowd in darkness until a call of a singular singer echoed out from the darkness. Drums pounded and a torch was lit to the side of the stone stage. Another was lit and then another, illuminating the dancers who were all suddenly on the stage. All of them were in flowing skirts that tickled their mid calves and all of them were Juiyan. They danced with the drum beat in lively formations, stomping their feet and turning in their brilliant skirts. They were smiling and chanting in strong voices. The words of the song were displayed behind describing the beauty, bounty, and peace of the continent. The music changed when another dancer joined the field. He wore loose black pants and no top. His face was painted to look like his eyes were bigger and brighter blue than humanly possible. He jumped from the side, a jagged spear in hand and fires from more torches erupted.

The happy dancers were suddenly scattering in mock fear, dancing away in terror from the new figure. Fire licked high above them from every angle. The music changed and the singer became a soloist with the occasional harmony. He belted out orders and with fire he made the other dancers prostrate themselves in front of him. The lyrics displayed revealed him to be the Thunderer. A man who could command the very essence of fire and held the people of Juiya captive with his abilities, threatening, and eventually setting fire to the mountain of Juiya. He scourged the lands and dared anyone to oppose him. Fire flashed and the performer let out a powerful growl, widening his eyes to mimic a wild beast.

Suddenly, one of the dancers did stand up. She tossed off her skirt and rose up, white painted face that wasn't there before looked up at the Thunderer. He hissed at the rebellious dancer but the woman didn't back down. He sang his ultimatum. Bow on her knees or cross the flames to challenge him, a god of fire, life and destruction. In a flare of heat, a bed of hot coals several yard long rose up to extend the stage. The dancer had to cross the coals to get to the Thunderer. The dancer's voice was warbly, but mostly on pitch in her answer, which was short. She stepped up to the hot coals and stepped onto the bed with bare feet. With slow, steady steps she walked across the coals to the Thunderer.

This did not please him and he roared before producing a cord, seemingly from thin air. It had a large bauble on the end that lit in flames. With another roar, he struck out at the dancer, flame-ball curving toward her. It was all a choreographed dance. They ducked in and out of one another, the Thunderer's weapon striking out with mere centimeters to spare as the woman danced around it, getting closer and closer to the villain until he produced a rod lit with flames. She grabbed his hand and the drums crescendos as they hissed at one another, though the woman was much smaller than the Thunderer. The woman hissed, opened her mouth, and then swallowed the flames on the the end of the rod. Flames flickered close and the makeup and dress began to change color when exposed to the heat.

White cloth shifted to a vibrant pink and green while her makeup flashed to bright pink. The drums and chorus grew into a loud cacophony until the flames were extinguished. The Thunderer fell away off the stage and out of sight now that he was vanquished. The small dancer plucked up the last of the burning rods and a brought the flames to her lips before blowing a huge jet of fire from the end using her own breath. Then, she snuffed it, sending the caldera into darkness again. When the torches were relit, the stage was set with beautiful flowers and the dancers, the people of Juiya found themselves in bountiful land again.

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

At the end of the performance, Calysta was sweating as she was brought back on stage for a bow. The entire caldera was quite pleased with her performance, though she knew full well that her singing was less the stellar. She had been practicing that entire 2 lines for months now trying to get it right. She was sure the dancing went well enough and the fire portions weren't so bad after all the hard work she put in. It had been an honor to be asked to participate, especially in such a role, but she knew Uzyma did it also because she wanted the people of Juiya to see her as strong. Nothing was stronger in their legends than Moonchild who defeated the Thunderer.

Calysta waved and smiled, the blush on her cheeks hidden by all the color changing makeup. When the encores were done, she retreated under the stage and found a highly annoyed looking Rezna. "You could have told me about all the bloody pyrotechnics. I thought someone was trying to turn you into a rotisserie for a second."

She scrubbed down her face and changed into her original outfit which took longer the necessary. The performers kept coming by and congratulating her and asking to talk with her. It was well over 30 minutes before she managed to escape with Uzyma to the surface. Illya was waiting for her with the kids. She grinned when she saw him and her children scampered over. "Oooh," she chuckled, "What did you think, yeah?" she asked them. "Now we can get some food, who's hungry?"
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
It appeared that they had been given the best view of the performance. Illya waited with the younger kids piled onto his lap and Cypher pressed in tight against his shoulder. With the kids it wasn't actually as comfortable as it could have been, however, Illya didn't care. When the show started he leaned back into his seat and decided to take whatever comfort he could. Since this was a ceremony he wasn't sure how long it could last. They could be here a very long time.

As the dance started the kids all leaned forward a bit, except Edgar. He was hungry and he smacked his little lips and asked for food. "Nut right now, we get snack in little bit eh?" Illya was hoping he wouldn't have to get up to go get snacks for Edgar in the middle of the dance, but if the kid started to squeal he might not get a choice. With his lower lip puffed out Edgar nodded and then squeaked loudly, "Mam!!!" Even with all her stage makeup and dress he knew it was her. Clapping loudly he squealed again, "Mam!!" He wanted her to look and she wasn't looking. Instead he poked Illya in the cheek. "Et's Mammy!"

With all the squawking and noise from Edgar it started Lohgan and Tomas. Now they were all three trying to be sure that their father knew who the lead dancer was. "Yes, et's yah mum." Illya responded several times and moved his head to keep from getting poked in the cheek anymore. When she walked over the coals the twins laughed because she looked funny and they didn't understand the true difficulty.

However, the most tumult from the kids came when Kalizda blew fire out of her mouth. Cypher jumped up and started cheering loudly for his mother, the twins stared before they started laughing and Lohgan squealed and jumped off Illya's lap to turn circles in front of him while clapping wildly. By the end of the performance the children were all making various noises of approval and Illya was clapping from his place on the seat and yelling a few phrases of approval and at least one flirty line in Quoti. He would have risen, but the twins would go tumbling and Edgar would have likely rolled like a little barrel right onto the stage if he'd tried standing.

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

Illya carried Kalizda into the room and kissed her a few times. They of course had two of the guards watching their mini house, but the kids and everyone else were on the ship. "Et's jes us." With a big grin he set her down on the bed and kissed her again. "What yah tink about getting wild tahnight?"

Calysta hadnt expected to be carried or cuddled as they entered their little hide away for the night but she certainly wasn't going to complain about it. He was kissing her and it took her breath away more than any fire play could. She chuckled breathless and broke away long enough to look at him. "Oooh it would be fun. But we have a week left before you can, yeah?"

"Nah, we dun have tah wait anoter week. Dah Ehaui said et sounded like I was doing good wit meh last pad visit. Besides, dey will be checking meh one last time tomorrow tah clear meh." Illya was certain they were going to clear him. It didn't hurt to get excited and he knew that because he was feeling a bit excited right now.

Calysta bit at her bottom lip. She hadn't known he had spoken with the Ehaui. She tried to be there for those sorts of things. It sounded like his Chip body had healed well enough and if the Ehaui said it was clear, then it couldn't hurt. Her thoughtful look turned into a hungry looking grin and she wrapped her arms around his neck to kiss him. "We could take things nice and slow, yeah?" She wanted to pounce on him and kiss him quickly but she knew he might need a slower pace.

It had been a long time they waited and slow sounded really difficult to accomplish. "Are yah sure yah want tah go slow? I was tinking ef et's slow dats only cause we do dah whole works. Yah relax and I will do dat ting yah like." Illya was grinning a bit while he stripped his shirt off. He'd entirely forgotten about the bruises that were still healing and he stopped part way through unbuttoning his pants to kiss her again. "What yah tink of dat style of going slow?"

Calysta could feel his eagerness. Maybe slow wasn't what he could do right now. He stripped off his shirt, revealing those nasty bruises left by the vicious little Aeriktan creatures. They didn't look so bad as before but they still didn't look great. His idea of slow sounded very appealing and maybe it would be easier on him to go at his own pace. Calysta's cheeks flushes and she smiled. "I think I like that idea of going slow. You don't...mind?"

"I dun mind. Et sits like burning idea en meh mind for too long." Pulling his pants and boxers off he got himself on the bed next to her and grinned hopefully. "Want some help getting undressed?"

Illya was already out of his clothes and she had barely started. He really was moving fast ! When he offered to help she nodded mostly because she wanted to see if hers would come off as fast as his did when he was determined. She let him start where he liked and whenever he got close enough she nibbled at his neck and ears and lips while she giggled.

Taking clothes off Kalizda was a bit more difficult. All her things were smaller and she was so busy kissing him that he forgot he was taking her shirt off. When he reached for her side he noticed her shirt was still on and then pulled it up. "Yah very distracting when yah act like dat."

She kissed him on the lips as her shirt slid off her shoulders and laughed a little at Illya's comment. "I am? Is that a bad thing?" She took a moment to toss her shirt to the side and slide her hands around him gently so she could bring him down into the bed a bit further.

"Et's nut bad at all." Illya smirked and he shifted to give them a little more room while he worked on her skirt. "Where dah hell es dis ting tied at?"

Calysta enjoyed that playful smirk of his and chuckled when he tried to figure out the skirt. She had a little mercy on him and picked up her hips to tug at one of the skirt ends. It came loose enough for her to shimmy her lean form out of with some help. She kissed him again for good measure. "There we go."

"Oooh, little bit wild yahself eh?" Illya enjoyed her bit of help and he got to work moving all her clothing out of the way so they could move on.

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

The next morning Illya felt pretty good. It had been a wild and passionate night. At least wild as far as their intimate life went. Illya knew he wasn't the most adventurous person, but she seemed quite pleased with things and he'd ventured out a bit beyond his usual in the last few weeks and it was good. He was still the big spoon when he woke up and he kissed the side of her neck and her right shoulder some. "Mmmm...yah beautiful dis morning. Yah look like fresh flower bloom."

Kissing her gently all the way to her earlobe and then her cheek he whispered a few more sweet nothings till she was more awake and then settled into the bed again. "I tink we still have time tah snuggle little bit dis morning eh?" He didn't have anywhere to be until almost afternoon. That was going to be his follow up appointment with the Ehaui. They were probably going to release him for more fun, but he had a small problem he was going to have to get resolved. There was one spot that wasn't right. The implant that was supposed to make it look like he was intact below was flat. He needed a new one to even out how things looked. Both sides should look the same. It also meant he was going to have be careful about things this morning. Kalizda was more apt to be observant this morning.

In the morning light he noticed that the bruising remaining on his chest looked a bit worse than it did last night. That meant that more than likely the bruising everywhere else was probably looking worse this morning than it did last night. It had turned from blackish to a sickly yellow. It would all be gone in a few days, but for now it made things look a bit gross. At least they didn't really hurt anymore.

When she shifted to lay on her right shoulder so she could face him he grinned at her. "I tink maybe I like dis place. Et reminds meh of where I was born. I spend some time dere when I was young and I was training as young officer." Rolling to his back, Illya grabbed his pad off his night stand and he opened it and began sifting through various files before he found the one he wanted and then he selected the files and images that he wanted to show her. She could scroll through them safely because they were the only ones he unlocked for the time. The first image was of him riding an elephant with his sword in a scabbard on his back and a rifle held in one hand with the other hand planted on the elephant's back. "I tried tah look important dere, but I tink now et es jes silly picture."

The next picture Illya smirked. He had a broken arm, he was laying on the back of the elephant sunbathing as it enjoyed a drink of water from a small river they were forging. "Et was slow day. I liked dose days for transportation. Dah elephant was meh favorite. Good animal." Even if he appeared to be relaxed it was impossible not to notice the fact that his sword scabbard was strapped to the side of the elephant and he still had a gun held in his good hand.
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
The night was more than pleasurable. She had missed having some intimate time with her husband. It was strange to think that when she got married she would ever be bold enough to admit she liked it, craved it. Needed it even. That would have been odd to need somebody when she wasn't supposed to need someone at all. Now, she knew she did need her Chip very much and not simply for the physical aspects, which were just as enjoyable as the company. They had enjoyed their night together in a new way, a very exciting way too. Illya had offered to do a few things she liked and she let him before falling asleep tucked up against him. This new way of hard work was fantastic.

There was something delicious about waking up to Illya kissing her cheek and neck. She arched into him a little and smiled, though her eyes were still closed while he whispered sweet things to her. She did feel quite fresh like a flower this morning. He continued kissing on her and she slid a hand to his around her waist and held him close from behind her. "Good morning," she hummed. If she was a cat, she would have been purring. Rolling over to face him, she slid an arm to his waist and kissed him as he admitted to liking Juiya. It reminded him of the jungle. She could see that being the case. Juiya's climate was tropical as it was anchored over the Wilds right at the equator. Everywhere else had a pleasant climate, but Juiya was warm and sunny and humid year round.

Illya was in a talkative mood too, and to her surprise, he rolled back to reach for his pad, intending to show her something. Calysta sat up a little, gently using his shoulder as rest for her head, when Illya handed over his pad. He rarely talked about his past like that, though he had mentioned he liked elephants. She had only seen one other image of him with the elephants in a jungle sort of area. An area he hadn't mentioned until now as reminding him of Juiya. He looked young in these images. Not just physically younger either. He looked lighter. She stared at the picture of her now husband in his early days that were such a mystery as he sunned himself on the back of a large elephant. Weapons aside, it could have been a vacation photo. "You look happy here," she noted curiously.

"Aye, et was mostly good times. Well, dey were better den dah years dat came soon after dat." Illya frowned some and then spoke again. "I was eh....I tink I was about sexteen dere." Flipping to the next image it showed him still with a broken arm, but now he had a bloodied leg too. "I accidentally got caught by a tusk."


Calysta looked at the next photo, showing the broken arm and an added bloody leg. She was glad it wasn't the result of a fight other than with the elephant he was riding. The one he had misnamed the first time around. "Apparently, it caught you very well," she mused, "Still very handsome at sixteen, I think." Inching a little closer, she gazed at the picture. "This was your first station, yeah? You did tell me you were born in the jungle. I could see why Juiya would remind you of this place from what I can see of it. Where is this, anyways?"


It seemed that Kalizda was interested in the location of the jungle and Illya tilted his head some. It was easier to start with the statement about the elephant catching him. "Oh, et was jes accident. Dah elephant ef et was mean could do much more damage." As for the part of the location he paused a bit longer before answering. "Et es location dat meh people swear tah keep secret till end of war. Only dah ones dat live dere once know where et es. Nut even Asher knows where et es."


She listened to his reply as she looked at the photos he had given her and couldn't help but feel that he had almost come to an end of his talkative mood. He did that and it often meant she wasn't going to get more about his past for awhile. It was clearly something he was still protecting. Still, she couldn't help herself from being curious. "It must be something very important or precious to protect if you guard the location like that."

Illya swallowed and he let out a long sigh. He couldn’t fault her for wanting to understand. “Et es home tah many of our people.” Even if he couldn’t say much more she could surely understand that.

Calysta's brow furrowed in confusion. His sigh told her he wasn't going to say much more if she pushed him but she was deeply confused now. It was currently a home? Had the Chippeqouti split a long time ago and were keeping the location of this place secret to keep them out of the war? She had found no historical evidence of something like that, but would she if they wanted it secret? No. Or did he simply mean it was seen as their real home for the people who remembered it before they moved to Quoti? She stole a glance at him and calculated out how much she could ask before it ruined his mood. The sigh had been as good of a sign as any that he was getting tired of her questions. Normally, she would have pushed anyways, but she didn't want to ruin the morning when they were supposed to be relaxing.Instead, she looked down at the pad again and tried to quell her burning curiosity. "Maybe one day, you can go back home, yeah? When we travel together. Unless...I'm not allowed to go."

Nodding a bit Illya acknowledged Kalizda's statement. Even if he had tried to be careful, she had understood from his statement that it was his home. "Someday when dah ware es over I will take yah wit meh and any of dah kids dat want tah come." A little grin came to his face. "I could let yah taste dah Star Berry." Leaning closer he reached in front of Kalizda and flicked to the next screen where she could Illya and Bahn each holding a Star Berry in their hands. There was a lot of fruit pulp on Illya's face and plenty dripping down his arm. "Dose are meh favorite fruit."


Calysta smiled at the picture. Illya stood there with his hands cupping a massive piece of fruit that dripped down his face. Bahn was in this one. He looked younger in this but it was definitely the boisterous Bahn. He looked happier there too. She had never heard of this fruit but it looked delicious. She looked up at Illya and grinned. "They grow that big? What do they taste like? When we go, will you show them to me?(edited)

"Mmmm...dah fruit grows dis large all dah time." Illya couldn't help the smile growing on his face. "I will feed yah a lot of Star Fruit when we get dere. Et dun taste like anyting here. Et es uh...Et has sweet taste, but et es gentle tartness too."


He was smiling as if he could already taste the fruit. She liked seeing him look genuinely excited. This must really have been home for him and she knew so little about it. Leaning forward, she kissed him on his smiling lips. "I'd gladly let you feed me those all day," she chuckled, "What else do you like about your home?"

There it was again. Kalizda was getting him dangerously close to saying more than he should. "Et es warm." Illya smiled a bit. He knew she was looking for more than that. "Dere were creatures yah dun see anywhere else. Dey are good for hunting and some of dem are beautiful and I dun want tah hurt dem, jes get closer tah see."


Calysta knew he was being vague on purpose, trying to keep to whatever secrecy he was bound to. She wanted to know more. To see the things he saw and to understand why this strange jungle she wasn't allowed to see was home for him. She had thought Kaereal had become a kind of home for him, but living here had never made him smile quite so fondly like that. She loved her home planet. It was beautiful and diverse and full of things no one could ever entirely see in a lifetime. That must have been the way Illya felt about the place he was talking of. It was home for him in a way that Kaereal would never be. Sometimes it was easy to forget he lived an entire life before she knew him. He had a wife and child, friends, a home. "I'd like to see them someday. I like watching animals, yeah?" She smiles gently. "You can show it to me and give me the grand tour."

"Mmm.." Illya smiled again. She was at least enjoying what he could tell her about his past life. "Go to dah next hologram. Yah will see meh favorite elephant again." While that wasn't always the highlight for others, he certainly thought it was. The next hologram played a small clip of Illya's elephant deciding to bathe while it waded through the river and trumpeting water along it's back and Illya. "Et was unfortunately dah rainy season and I was wet dah rest of dah day. Started out wet and stayed wet all day."

Calysta flipped to the next hologram and watched as an elephant played in a river, spraying all along its back which included Illya. A young Illya was dripping wet on the back of the elephant and she laughed at his expression. "Oooh...I bet you did stay wet all day." She curled up with laughter and nuzzled into his shoulder to stifle the giggles. When she could breathe again, she wiped her eyes and tried to thumb over to the next hologram. "Are there more?"


Thankfully Kalizda seemed pleased to just look at the hologram images now and Illya let her finish asking if there were more before he nodded. "I loaded about eh....100 images for yah dat are safe tah share." Just as he finished saying that Bahn yelled from the other side of the door. "I bet most of dem are of his elephant!"

Calysta almost jumped when Bahn's voice echoed from behind the door. If he could hear them chatting as they were now, what in the Wilds had they heard last night when Illya and gotten to work in the bed? She turned pink and let out a shy laugh before settling back down beside him. "We can look at them together, yeah?" She flipped through a few more and burrowed next to Illya comfortably. "Was Isla here with you? It must have been hard to leave."

The next question was something Illya wasn't quite sure how to answer and he stared at Kalizda for a long moment. "No, she was nut dere at dat time."

Calysta's brow furrowed some. He had grown up with Isla hadn't he? So why wasn't she in the jungle with him? Unless she had already left? She didn't ask about Isla again. He had stared at her for a long time before answering and it was probably because she just sprang his first wife's a name on him and he couldn't tell her any more about the placed. "Oh. Okay," she mumbled. She flipped through more of the photos and she came to the end, she smiled at him. "Thank you for showing me these."

"I hope yah liked looking at meh elephant." Illya chuckled a little. He hadn't quite realized until Bahn had yelled through the walls at them that most of the images really were of his elephants.

"I did," she replied earnestly, "I liked seeing the elephant and the jungle. I liked seeing you smile like that too. That was in almost every picture too."

"Dah elephants were dah only part of dah military dat I choose for mehself." Illya laughed a little. "I would still want tah go back and run a caravan of elephants or woolly elephants."

She rolled to face him better and slinked a leg over his in a little embrace. "Then when you take me there. We'll journey the planet by elephant. I'll ride beside you through the jungle."

Grabbing Kalizda's leg Illya pulled it a bit higher and winked at her. "Dat's dah plan."

He was grinning at her with a playful look now as he slid her leg a little higher on himself. She chuckled and took it as an invitation to slink her hips over too so she was laying lightly across him. She brushed his jaw with her finger tips and smiled. "I like that plan very much, love." More than anything she wanted him to be happy and enjoy his life.

"Dah day dah war es over we will go." Illya kissed her gently. "No delay eh?"

Illya wanted to go so badly. She wondered if he must just be horribly home sick. Even if she didn't understand, it would make him happy. She kissed him back and nodded. "Aye. So long as everything is over and it's done. We'll go. I promise you." She rarely made promises, if ever, but when she made them she never broke them either.

Alrighty. Its up to you. I figured you would want to know kalizda is in the mood to chat and illya could use it if he wanted.

SilenceYesterday at 12:32 AM
Now that the bit of images were through and Kalizda was getting relaxed Illya got a sly grin. He maintained that smile long enough that he was sure it was going to make her wonder. "Now et's yah turn."
aryamajorYesterday at 12:36 AM
Calysta had busied herself by getting comfortable over her Chip for as much cuddling as she could. He was warm and she liked relaxing this way too. She caught him grinning at her for a long moment and raised a brow. Was he going to flip her over or let her stay on his chest. Rather than wrestling her, he said something curious. "My turn for what, hmm?" She asked as she pecked his grinning lips.
SilenceYesterday at 12:38 AM
"Yah dun tink I tell yah stories jes so yah can stare at meh do yah? Et's yah turn tah tell meh someting I dun already know." Illya grinned far more broadly now and he kissed her before wrapping an arm over her back to hold her firmly to himself.
aryamajorYesterday at 12:55 AM
Calysta found herself wrapped up with Illya's arms around her and it felt quite nice. Comforting even. Apparently it was her turn to tell 0him something he didn't already know about her. " Oh I'd do that anyways," she said, kissing him back. He surely didn't want to know about her teen years. Those were fairly miserable and it would kill the mood. Instead, she settled on something pleasant. "I remember the first time I went off planet. My first Skycorp mission. I was a young pilot and on my way out to the Alpha fringe to rendezvous with the base and to get my scout ship. It was going to take me weeks to get there and several stops aboard the Skycorp transfer ship. Most of the people on the ship were going to be scouts too but I didn't know them very well. I had gotten sick and it delayed my departure to the fringe for a few weeks. My graduating class had gone ahead of me. The crew was nice enough but I could tell they avoided me, yeah? They hadn't met a half breed who had lived so long." She slicked her hands around to play with the hair at the nape of Illya's neck as she spoke. "Anyways. We were three weeks into the mission. Only 65% to the base when we got caught in a cross fire between some pirates and a frigate. We had no power, life systems were shut down to minimum and our captain was badly hurt at the helm when we took our hits."

The story from Kalizda was quite interesting. She had clearly seen a bit more action than he had known, but Illya didn't want to have her seeing things she didn't have to. "So yah go ahead and den yah fly dah shep?"

Calysta sat up a little on his lap while he laid down beneath her and raised her flat palm up, making it her ship. "The first officer reported too much damage to the starboard engines for a jump and we had listed away from the fire fight going on above. If we listed too far, a search party wouldn't know to look." She drifted her hand down and landed on his chest. "The only way to fix it was to reroute the power so the engine could restart and that meant going outside. The first officer in charge told me it was too dangerous and that debris from the fight might clip me. I told him I knew that, but if it clipped us, we would be too far off course for a good chance of recovery or for any chance at repair. We were better off trying." She cleared her throat some and looked at Illya almost a bit shyly. "I told him I wasn't afraid of dying. It was probably the biggest lie I ever told, especially to a commanding officer. I was afraid. As much as I know I could die from sickness...I guess...part of me didn't want to die before I'd had the chance to really live, yeah?" Calysta slid her eyes away from Illya's and looked back down at her hand. "I geared up and went on a space walk for the first time outside of training. I could see the firefight going on above me and the ship was pitching and rolling. When the rolling slowed some, I could see the stars and the nebula. It was incredible. I fixed the engine with the help of the team inside and we jumped." She slid her hand gently up Illya's chest and smiled a little. "The rest of the crew looked me in the eyes when they spoke to me after that. They didn't avoid me. I have a hologram somewhere of the crew I went with. Some of them are still alive as scouts."

As Kalizda finished the story Illya grinned. "Of course yah do someting more exciting den fly a broken shep. I tink I recall yah making strange and exciting decisions like dis before." Holding her a little closer Illya whispered to her. "Oooh yah meh brave little bird." Her story was remarkable and he liked hearing it. "Dese are the dah kinds of stories yah should tell people when dey ask about dah most daring tings yah do en yah life. Den yah compare et tah what yah tink es most daring ting yah do when yah council woman."


To her surprise, he was grinning at her and mentioned he remembered her making decisions like that before. His arms slinked around her, pulling her close again and she let him. Snuggling up to his warm chest she smiled. "Oooh I don't know that I've been all that daring as a councilwoman. Mostly, I've tried to do my job in the quiet. Do people really like hearing about all that?"

Rolling his eyes some Illya grinned and then nodded. "Do yah like hearing about meh daring adventures when I was young? Of course people like tah hear dose stories. Dat es what makes legends."

"Of course I like hearing about them," she chuckled, "I never thought to be legendary though. I'd like to think I was still a little daring." She inched up and nibbled on his neck. "Perhaps I will tell them more about those things. It just...I don't want them to ask about when I was much younger than that. It wasn't so daring or impressive."

Illya knew that she had insecurities about her past, but it could also be a strength. "Yah worry too much. Ef dey dig into dat yah tell dem dah fears yah had dat yah overcome. Dis gives dem courage because dey could nut see past yah situation, but yah could and now yah can see way past dah war and differences dat yah people have."

Calysta stopped nibbling and relaxed against him as she thought for a moment and a hint of pink came to her cheeks. "You're good at knowing what to say to them sometimes. I know you were trained for this for a lot longer. Honestly, I'm glad you're here with me, yeah?" she let out a sigh of relief and looked at him. "I could tell you more if you wanted."

"I'm glad I'm here wit yah." Illya gave her a wink and then nodded when she offered to tell him more. "Yah should tell meh more. Try tah frame et en way dat yah tink would be pleasing tah yah people."

She wasn't so interested in performing the stories as she was talking to Illya in the moment. Perhaps he saw this as more an exercise than curiosity about the time before he had known her. He'd never asked much about those times and she knew they were less exciting than his own life. Maybe he did want to know a little more though. She settled against him and thought for a moment before starting into another story.

"I landed on a planet on the edges of the fringe in the Alpha quadrant once," she said as he fingers brushed over Illya's chest. The bruises there were just beginning to fade to a sickly yellow color, so she kept her touches gentle. "The star chart labled it M-65-11. Terrible name for a planet. Especially that one. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Rolling hills piled high with this strange spongey, purple plant-life and strange invertebrates that glowed bright orange. You could take a step on the surface and they would float out of the pores into the sky with each footstep. There was liquid water there too but it was tinted orange with some sort of mineral. I took samples of that. There were no other creatures besides these strange bugs...or so I thought. Its strange to think that with all the technology we had, if we weren't looking for the right signs of intelligent life, that meant we wouldn't find it unless we went to look for ourselves. On my third day, I was shocked when a strange ship landed beside mine and some one exited. They were a bit taller than me and had orange fur over their bodies. A bushy tail a bit like a fox but strange spindly fingers rather than paws. Their language was a strange mix of whines and yips, but after awhile I was able to figure out a pantomime or two. They wanted me to leave the planet, though they weren't inhabiting it either. Asking why was harder. Eventually, we found that we could communicate through math."

She chuckled and shook her head. "Binary code is still a universal, yeah? We used binary and I learned a few things. The Kiptune were a race who had once lived on the planet which was slowly taken over by an invasive fungus that couldn't be killed without killing the planet itself. They developed space travel with the hopes of finding a new home. When I met them, they lived in a moon nearby and traveled sparingly, preferring to stay anonymous and left alone. They saw me land and were concerned I might spread the fungus if I left and were sure I didn't know the danger of staying on the planet too long. Which, of course, I didn't. I was invited to stay in their city on the moon...after a thorough detoxification process. They lived so far out on the fringe that it had been 40 of our years since someone had bothered their planet at all. They weren't interested in trade, but were rather kind and allowed me to make a report to Skycorp so other scouts could avoid the same issue. I don't speak about them often, even though I wasn't sworn to any kind of secrecy. It just seemed like the right thing to do. They enjoy their privacy and I let them have it. I'd like to go back some day and meet again with the pilot someday. His name I couldn't fully pronounce...I just called him Gruff because his name was some sort of low growl. I had a hologram, but I lost it when I crashed on Quoti and my pad was taken."

Calysta looked at Illya and smiled. "And that's how I met the Kiptune. Maybe one day we will get to go back there and I can show you. When the war is over..." She leaned up and kissed on him some before simply lounging with him. They talked a bit more and well into the mid morning until it was well and truly time of them to get up. Calysta slid the light blankets off of them and stretched before climbing out of bed. She was still naked from the night before and so was Illya. They had spent the entire morning relaxing entirely in the nude.

Stretching, she yawned and turned around to find Illya doing he same. His muscles rolled under his tan skin and she stole a look over, unable to resist how he looked in the morning. He had left over bruising, but it wasn't the worst she had ever seen him and it certainly wasn't a deterrent. When her eyes got to his hips she gasped and her eyes went wide. "Illya? Did...Are you...what happened?" All she could do was sputter as she stared down in surprise and deep concern at his nethers. She was familiar enough with his body that one ball looking like a saggy, flat tire wasn't normal.
 
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Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The stories that Kalizda told were nice to hear. It reminded Illya that they were supposed to travel together. They had made a promise once that they would do that. He was fairly certain that they made that promise while they were planning Lohgan. She was a baby that he knew they planned to have and he was sure that they had talked about the fact that she didn't want to be only a mother, but that she wanted to keep exploring. Tucking that thought away in his head he figured he would keep it as a discussion point for another day. They probably hadn't done as much traveling as she wanted, but after the war there was plenty of time for them to explore.

Now that they were going to have to get up Illya let Kalizda get out of the bed first. He had forgot about his little issue and he got up after her and didn't turn his back to her as quickly as he should. The yellowish bruises didn't look that great and in the morning light she was sure to see them. However, the worst of it was when she noticed the fact that one side didn't quite look right beneath the belt.

At first a frown came to Illya's face and then he followed her gaze downward and carefully slipped a hand in front of it. "Excuse meh..." As he paused staring at her and wondering what to say he suddenly came up with an idea. Illya couldn't be quite sure if she'd fall for it, but it was worth a shot. "Sometimes Chippequoti work hard and dey jes need tah massage dah area a little and et will kinda inflate again. Probably jes got excited and meh body only fired from one side last night." Even if he was trying to avoid telling her the truth it was a great sounding fib and even he couldn't help laughing after he told it to her.

"Eh actually, ets someting else. Dere was problem long time ago and I jes need tah have dah fake piece replaced again. Sometimes dis happens." Perhaps now that she knew the truth she would be able to stop staring. With his hand still in front of himself he leaned over and grabbed his boxers off the floor. "Yah could stop staring eh?"
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Her shock faded to flat out skepticism at his reply, her brow raising to reflect the thought. Massage? Inflate? She'd known him for over 12 years now and been sleeping with him for 10 of those in some variety. Did he really think that was going to go over? "Uhuh," she said pointedly.

He caught the sound of his own fib, laughed, and to her surprise, told her there had been a problem with his original testicle. It didn't surprise her that the answer was overly vague but at least he hadn't insisted that the ball simply needed a "massage" again.

When he grumped at her for staring, Calysta's eyes slid up from Illya's hips to his face and she gave him a look of cautious relief. "For a minute, I thought I had worn you out too much in the bed too early after the Ehaui cleared you."

"After dey cleared meh?" Illya raised one eyebrow. "Dey will clear meh tahday. I tink I tell yah dat already. Dere es no wearing meh out."

"The Ehaui said it sounded like you were doing well enough it was probably okay," Calysta replied, "I thought I broke you, for a second is all." Shaking her head, she fumbled around for her shirt and bent down to pick it up from the floor. Questions about his suddenly false testicle came whirling to her mind as she wiggled into her shirt. "I won't tell anyone, of course. But...uh do I get to know what happened? She asked curiously.

Of all the things she could decide to keep talking about it was the problem. He would have gladly defended his overly ambitious pursuits above describing how it happened. Switching to Quoti he gave her the fastest answer he could. "I was on Terra and when I refused to do the things they wanted me...I didn't want to be with others. So they removed part of me and threatened the rest if I didn't comply. It was hard choice to make. There was no right answer, so I pick option and I knew I would hate the consequences from any choice."

Calysta had not expected him to answer or give her the truth about it the first time. And she had not anticipated such a grisly answer either. At least had had been honest. She plucked up her skirt from the floor and wrapped it around her waist before turning to Illya with a look of earnest acceptance. "I'm sorry, Illya. I didn't know."

Even if he had managed to rattle the answer out quickly, Illya could feel his cheeks turn a little red and he clenched his jaw. Pulling his boxers on he nodded silently in response to her statement. He just needed a fast moment to recover. It as not something he liked thinking about, but she was his agreed and she deserved to know the truth. When he had finally composed himself again he spoke quietly. "Yah dun know because I am ashamed tah tell yah."

Her brow furrowed in confusion and she stepped a little closer to him, offering his breezy juiyan pants to him. "You told me what happened on Terra. What they made you do. Were you still ashamed to tell me?"

Illya took the pants from her and started to put them on. He was familiar with wrap pants and he gathered the ends to prepare to tie them on. "I am ashamed."

Calysta looked at Illya he stooped down and then stood back up to put on his wrap pants. Illya had never shamed her about her former issues and she wasn't about to make him feel ashamed now. She raised her skirts up a little and stepped up to the end of the bed so she could come closer to looking him in the eye. Tilting her chin up slightly, she reached out and put a hand on his shoulder with a gentle touch. "I am not ashamed of you. There is no shame. Isla was your choice and so am I. "

Even if he could make a thousand choices there was one thing that was right about what Kalizda said. Illya felt her little fingers under his chin and they brushed along the scar hidden there. Staring deep into her eyes he blinked a few times and then answered. "Yes, I make meh choices."

Calysta stared back at him with a gentle look as she held his chin. "And there is no shame," she said, "You did all you could and there is no shame, my love." She rarely used pet names but she said it without much thought and meant it.

Nodding some Illya finished tying his pants even if his knuckles grazed her ribs some. "We jes work trough et like oter tings eh?"

He nodded and pulled away from her to finish tying his pants on, leaving her standing on the bed. She lowered her hand and listened as he stated he wanted to work through it like other things. "Aye, we can work through it together. We can get the implant replaced like you said, if that's what you want. If not, then it will be just fine. I'll be with you and whatever you decide. "

"I get dah implant again eh?" Illya glanced up at Kalizda and he wrapped an arm behind her and pulled her into himself.

Calysta slipped her hands around him when he turned around and pulled her close. Her arms were much smaller and far less muscular but she held to him tight anyways and gave him a gentle squeeze. "Aye, if that's what you like to do, then we'll get the implant replaced." She kept him close but glanced up to him. "If they replace it today, after you're feeling up to it, I have something I would like to show you this evening after dinner. I think you'll like it."

Illya always loved it how Kalizda responded to him grabbing her. She didn't just act like a limp little doll. Instead she actually returned his embrace. "I like exploring wit yah." Grinning some he kissed her gently. "Maybe we tink about planning some trip for after dah war. I tink one time I promise dat I would nut jes make yah little moter, but dat we would explore togeter eh?"

Calysta kissed him, relieved to see she hadn't hurt him in her shock over his body. She hadn't meant to do it and had no idea his torture on Terra had left him with another reminder. Even if she hadn't meant to do it, she understood how the shock and reaction could be hurtful. She certainly didn't want that. Calysta held him all the closer and kissed him, then beamed a smile when he mentioned traveling after the war and the promise he made. He remembered that and it made her smile. "Aye, we did make that promise to explore together. We could plan it together if you like, yeah? Starting with your home. I did promise we would go after all. You don't have to tell me where. We can plan to go there first though and then make a list of all the places we'd like to see."


"Mmm..dat es good idea. We should plan some while we travel eh? Et will keep yah mind away from wanting tah fly so much. Den yah let Wynry do her job. We have a lot of time on dah next flight tah tink." Illya knew she was having a hard time not being the pilot, but they could at least plan for the future and that would help her feel better. It would also get his mind off a few things too.

She laughed a little and kissed him. "I'm that obvious, huh? I like that idea. We can look at some places while we are on our way to the next stop. Maybe once we have a few we can let the kids pick a few too since they will be with us, yeah?"

A slight frown slid across Illya's face as he thought of the time frame she was suggesting. "Kalizda, I dun know how much longer dah war will be. Dah Alliance makes rules dat have more difficulty winning dah war quickly. Et could be a very long time, or et could be short. Ef et es maybe 20 years more den we will nut have children at home. We jes plan and ef dey want tah help us find tings tah see dat's fine. Maybe dey will be wit us and maybe dey will nut."

That seemed to bring down his mood some and he frowned before reminding her the war may last until their children were far into adulthood. She didnt like to think that way at times but she knew it was true. "Aye, I know...we'll just have to plan for them not to be with us too, yeah? It's hard for me to think of them growing up so fast sometimes. Even Cypher is getting to be as tall as me." She chuckled and kissed him again in the hopes of erasing the frown she'd put there. "We'll just think about the places we'd like to see first, it could take a long time to plan and it will be good for while we travel."

The next suggestion was workable and Illya nodded. "Dis es good. Maybe we see ef Rose would care tah help us plan or ef she still sulks eh?"


She nodded and held him close while she stood on the bed. "Oh aye, maybe she's gotten out of her mood enough. I think she will want to help, yeah?" About that time Rezna's voice came from behind the front door to their cabin. Apparently, the shift change had occurred on time and that meant they were running a bit late. She stole one more kiss from her husband, making it a thorough one and hugged him one more time before they had to finish getting ready.

She slipped off of the bed and found her sandals, brushed teeth, then combed down her hair before slipping on the beaded head piece. In reality, she should have taken a shower, but she wasn't particularly smelly and her hair looked just fine. Nobody needed to know she had spent the entire night and morning quite happily naked with her husband. She even smelled a bit like his oils at this point since they had spooned all night.

Before she opened the door, she leaned up and kissed Illya's cheek with a faint blush on her cheeks. "I really liked last night and this morning." She usually wasn't so blunt, but she wanted him to know she had enjoyed it. Then with a deep breath, she opened the door and they started their day.

*********


From their late morning, Calysta split from Illya who had to dash off to his appointment with the Ehaui. Calysta met with Uzyma with Rezna and Koda watching her back. They sat in an open air porch, drank fruity drinks, and greeted the people as they walked by. The Juiyan's called it, keuia, which meant 'social time'. Essentially, the leaders made themselves available for any and all citizens to walk by, chat or bring something to the leaders attention. They were invited to sit, have a drink, and talk about things that citizens could and should be concerned about. It was far less formal than the Chippeqouti style of seeking the emperor's aide and more relaxed than looking to approach an entire council. Uzyma knew all of the people by name and greeted them, asked about their children, their grandchildren, their homes too. Calysta talked with people all day, got to know their concerns over drinks and in a public area. There were concerns over the high cost of trade in some areas of the Alliance thanks to embargos with Terra. Calysta could see that being a problem for a people who took care of their land and invited others to vacation on it. She offered to have many of the tradesmen and sellers give them their information so she could get them in touch with people who might have what they need on the new colonies. Networking was something easy she could do among other things.

They day passed from mid-day to afternoon before Uzyma sipped her cocktail and sighed before heaving herself out of the chair. Her arms wobbled slightly, but she waved away her assistant's offer of help. "It's not the drink," she winked, "Just what happens when you become a bag of bones, eh?" She straightened herself, and Calysta could hear the woman's back crack. Uzyma grunted and then grinned at Calysta as if she knew a secret. Calysta could never tell if the old woman was serious about those types of things or if she did it just go get a rile out of her at other times. She did know she could trust Uzyma and had for a few years now. "Oh, I don't think you're a pile of bones. Not yet," Calysta replied with a smirk.

"That's good, when you make it to 120 you might feel a bit different," Uzyma replied, "I don't plan on dying any time soon, but I want you to meet with a few people before you leave tomorrow night. You'll need to be familiar with them someday, I'm sure."

Then the old woman picked up the last of her cocktail and down it in four solid gulps, before gasping in delight. "Ah, still not too old to do that," she giggled almost girlishly before puttering away, "Enjoy your evening, Councilwoman."

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

Akten was surprised when Rose did not stay holed up in her room but studied in the living room. It made watching all of the many children much easier as the older man, Mr. Monroe as he remembered, helped them with their lessons after the holographic class room had come and gone. Every now and then, he would do a patrol of the ship inside and on the perimeter outside, then return to his station by the hatch door, standing at ease. He had a sister at home. One he didn't have the last time he was on the home planet. He wondered if she was keeping up her flight study like she wanted. Eventually, Mihael and Illya returned, then the shift changed, allowing him his day off. He had no idea what to do with it.

He could walk around Juiya, go see the crystal caves or find a souviner for his sister....

"You don't have to look so surly."

A voice cut through his thoughts and he blinked to find the petite, blonde Wynry looking up at him with sharp blue eyes.

"I don't know what y' mean," he said carefully.

"It means grumpy. Ill-tempered," she replied.

"I was thinking about m' sister," he admitted, "She is 10 an' did n' like m' t' leave. She would like t' see this place, yeah?" He definitely didn't want to make the mistake of saying something offensive again, so he just stuck to the bland truth of it.

The woman's face softened some and she glanced at the door. "Why don't you use the time off to find something for her."

He smiled a little. "I thought about it, dunno what t' get though. She don't like th' same as I do. I dunno what t' get tha' she would like. What d'ye think?"

Wynry's lips curled into a slight smile. "Are you asking for my help?"

"Eh," he paused, for a moment, "Aye. I dunno about women. an' I want t' ge' it right, eh? I make m' mistake up t'ye an buy ye lunch too?"

Wynry paused and then nodded toward the door. "It's a deal."
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
With his appointment being so close Illya ended up splitting off from Kalizda. Of all the places that he would need to visit the Ehaui at this was at least one of the better spots. It was safer here on Juiya and Kalizda now had extra security. He had extra security too. Once Kalizda was well on her way Illya looked at Mihael and asked, "Yah know dah time?"

Mihael nodded, "Mmhmm ets eh...about five after dah hour."

Hearing that Illya skipped a step and sprang forward into a dash. He had to get there. He was already late. Mihael was dashing and his feet clomped loudly behind Illya. By the time they reached the Ehaui they were only a few minutes earlier than they would have been if they walked, but Illya was proud of himself. For having left the cabin only about 2 minutes before his appointment. It was pretty darn good timing. He was only 10 minutes late for his appointment after check in and having his vitals taken.

The appointment was short and the Ehaui stated they would send for the appropriate material to be sent right away. They would probably get the stuff needed for the procedure today, but it was better to wait until tomorrow. Otherwise it would be close to bed and he'd have to skip lunch. If it was just tomorrow morning he wouldn't have to skip any meals. He could eat after the procedure.

Illya stepped out of the small ship where he met with the Ehaui and then he looked around. There wasn't anyone watching. So he walked with Mihael into the streets and wandered around a few minutes before deciding they should head back toward the gardens where Kalizda was supposed to be meeting them.

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

None of the men had to wait long before they decided it was about time to start playing a few games. Illya walked around outside for a few moments trying to think of something that wouldn't get everyone stirred up. Then he thought of a fairly neutral and easy going game. "Hey, yah care tah have little knife trowing?" Glancing at the Elite and the men that were present he made the offer. Rezna was with Kalizda and if she were here Illya was sure that she would take him up on the offer.

Based on all the nods Illya was guessing that it sounded like a good idea. All they had to do was find a few targets. "Dere's some large seeds, or nuts hanging on dah trees." Bahn pointed out and Dane nodded in agreement. Those were going to make fine targets. Mihael held a hand out toward the tree and nodded. "Yah nut on duty right now, yah might as well climb dah tree and knock some down."

With that, Dane gave an indignant snort and loosened his most cumbersome gear before setting it near Bahn and starting his climb up the tree. It was a bit of a spectacle that seemed to draw in the locals. It was a foreigner that obviously knew how to climb the tall trees with no branches for nearly the entire length of the trunk. Once Dane got close to the large brown nuts he shook the top of the tree and a few large nuts fell out. Now that they had a little target practice he shimmied down the tree and dusted the front of his wrap pants off.

The men set their targets up on a traveling table from the ship and then started taking turns throwing their knives. It was only a short while before a small crowd had gathered to see them all busy at their game and when a local wanted to join in they were welcomed, though all of them were still cautious. It could be a good opportunity for someone to make an assassination attempt. However, it was also a pass time and it was likely that was all it was going to be for these people here.

As the knife throwing contest was drawing near to a close Illya and the other men were sweating. Stripping off the shoulder cloths they laid them aside and continued in their game until Bahn emerged the victor. He had won the game and he was more than proud of himself. The locals having done well, but not as well as they would have liked decided to challenge them to a different sort of game.

"Race up trees with us. We'll time ourselves and you." One of the men offered and he held up a stopwatch and then handed an extra one to one to Bahn.

"I tink we can do good at dis eh?" Illya took up the challenge and Bahn heartily agreed as did Dane. They had all lived in the jungle once and while the people had seen Dane, they hadn't seen a Chip race up a tree either. Dane had been slow and deliberate earlier. Once the people lined their first man they each ran their stop watches to be sure that the count was accurate. Illya and Bahn nodded and took in a deep breath before looking at Dane. "Et was fast." Showing Dane the stopwatch they smiled. "I can do dat." Dane grouched and then he went and stood at the base of the tree.

With a nod Dane signaled he was ready and he scrambled up the tree. His timing was good and it resulted in several more races. After Dane, Bahn gave the tree racing a few tries. His efforts were a bit less spectacular. Part way shimmying down the tree his wrap pants got caught and started to come untied. Grabbing the front of his pants with one hand he scooted a bit less graciously down to about the last 10 feet and then dropped onto his feet so he could re-tie his pants. The small spectacle got a bit of laughter and he grinned broadly. "Well, I would have had better time ef et wasn't for meh pants getting en dah way."

Surprisingly the locals were willing to give him another shot, but his time was still slower and so it turned to Illya's turn for a few races. Illya wasn't about to race with his shoes on for climbing a tree. He stripped down to only his pants and rubbed his hands off on the front of his pants. He wanted to be sure that he was ready for a good race up the tree after his opponent logged his time.

The man that had challenged Illya to a tree climbing race was fast. Illya hadn't done this in a long time, but he was sure he could do it. With a quick nod he gave his signal and then backed up a few feet from the base of the tree and took a running leap at it. Clinging to the tree like a monkey he began running up it with his hands wrapped around the trunk and his feet on either side. His prosthetic slipped several times because it could not grip like his real left foot.

Illya's brown left foot gripped all the harder and he half lunged up the tree. Bahn was down below laughing and telling him in Quoti he looked like a frog with a broken leg hopping up a hillside. Regardless of the joking Illya continued till he reached the top. He knew he could make better timing if he used his prosthetic to his advantage. Resting the fake leg against the trunk of the tree he slid down the trunk only guiding himself with his hands and dropped when he got to the last 10-12 feet. With that spectacular race he'd actually beat the man that challenged him.

Despite his odd style with his prosthetic, the people were impressed and now he was looped into several more challenges. By the sixth climb Illya could tell he was going to have to quit. His left foot had already got a few slivers and it was getting a little sore. Usually climbing fast was not needed and he could take more time and get less slivers. Toward the top of the tree he leaned out to knock a nut off. It was the final challenge. As he leaned out the top of the tree started to lean with him. Illya gripped the trunk a bit tighter and stretched his arm only and barely brushed the nut with his finger tips. It was good enough to pass. The top of the tree swayed some as he readjusted to begin his slide down the tree. When he was about 70 feet from the ground his left hand lost some of its feeling. Sometimes the nerves would cause problems and this was one of those times. Illya slipped to the side and swung his left leg out to try and catch the tree, but it wasn't in time. Instead he dropped the rest of the way feet first. When he hit the ground there was a pop sound and he curled and rolled a few feet.

At first it seemed he had avoided all injury and then he went to get up. It was all well till he went to take his first step and his right leg crumpled underneath him. Flopping sideways onto the ground he grunted and grabbed his knee. "Ugh...Owe..." Looking down at the knee he couldn't see anything under the wrap pants, but he figured it wasn't great.

Dane jogged over and helped him to his feet. Regardless of what he thought about the injury Illya knew he was going to have to get it checked with the Ehaui. "Yah help meh back eh?" Illya asked Dane as he limped with the assistance of his friend. Dane nodded and the two of them made their slow trek to the Ehaui.

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

It was finally the day that she was going to get to interview the famous CouncilWoman and her husband, the Hero of Kinte. The reporter was pleased, she'd snapped a few photos of them thus far. Her original date had been postponed because the Hero of Kinte fell out of a tree and damaged his knee. But now, here she was and they would be arriving any moment now.

As soon as she was given the word that the two of them were in the other room she combed her hair back with her fingers and put on a bright smile before walking into the room. "Hello, I'm Dolly." Settling into her chair she looked at the two of them and decided to launch right into it. "By now you've both had a little chance to get into the routine of the tour. So, I'm going to ask a quick easy question. What do you think is the hardest thing about being married, or agreed as the Chippequoti say?"
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Calysta walked down the sandy pathways with Uzyma after their time talking to the people of Juiya. The older woman was more spry than she let on, but even Calysta could tell walking down hill was a struggle. They came down the side of the valley a bit and walked closer to the Edge. About half way home, they heard the commotion coming from a copse of tall frond trees. Both women could see them shaking from roots to leaves.

"Looks like the scape district is having a little fun," Uzyma said, shuffling off the path, "Let's go have a little fun too."

As they grew closer, Calysta saw it was a tree climbing competition with a fairly large crowd and several men who stood heads above the rest of the tan bodies. Illya was lining up for his turn. His bare back glistened with oil and sweat in the humid air. Watching him take a running start at the tall trunk was entrancing and even more so when his back muscles kicked in, knotting tightly to haul his Chip frame skyward.

Going up was easy, even if he was behind and Calysta cheered from her spot in the back of the crowd. There were so many people there nobody was likely to notice she was in the back with Uzyma. Illya started on the way back down and slid half way before suddenly letting go. Her cheering turned into a gasp as he dropped more than halfway down to the ground. Hers wasn't the only gasp either. The entire crowed sucked in a hushed breath of horror as Illya hit the ground with a thud. He disappeared from her view for a moment and then popped back up for a second, only to fall again. She has seen him jump from impossible heights before. He'd even done it with her on his back, but something had gone wrong this time. "I have to go," she muttered to Uzyma. Then she pushed her way to the front of the crowd. By the time she got there, Dane was picking him up and they were limping away together. The crowd began to murmur and then began to follow the two offering help or to call for help. Juiyans were polite and willing to be of service, but they would be hindering at the moment.

Calysta made it to the front and held out her hands. "Thank you...ah...we'll have it from here. Thank you for the offers." She was treated to bows and worried glances as the Juiyan crowd backed off. "Thank you so much. If there is anything we need, we won't hesitate to ask," she said, glancing over her shoulder. Illya would be close to the ship now. Someone would have called the Ehaui by now too.

Giving the crowd a grateful bow, she waved and followed, hoping whatever had happened wasn't too serious. He always got himself into messes some how. It was beyond the normal. Her husband was flat out accident prone. Sometimes she wondered if he was one unfortunate accident away from doing the assassins jobs for them. Rubbing her temples, she followed Dane and Illya.

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

The surgery didn't take much time and Juiya was kind enough to lend their small, but clean and well-equipped surgery to the Ehaui to repair the torn ligaments in her husband's knee. Calysta sat by his bed thumbing through a few reports and comparing them to her itinerary. She was making good headway in Juiya it seemed. Many of the locals had stopped by to ask if the General was alright. Most of them came with fruit or something to eat they had cooked so she wouldn't have to. It was a bit of Kaerelean thing, but the Juiyans were particularly pointed about bringing food. As a result, they had casseroles stacked 10 high and fruit bags equally high. Rezna had dutifully volunteered to taste test each one with an eager smile.

When Illya started to wake up, Calysta put down her pad and glanced over at her groggy Chip. "Hello, handsome," she mused. There had been much more concerning visits to the hospital before this one, so she wasn't overly concerned so much as she was gentle about it all. Leaning over, she kissed his cheek and then sat back down, smiling at him. "The nurse will come in just a little while and we'll get you released when you're awake enough."

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

Calysta did not like the woman sitting across from her very much. She had no warm up questions, no interest in policy, and clearly thought jumping right into such a question was a good idea. Those facts didn't include the fact that this Dolly was the one writing all those wild, gossip mill pieces in ladies magazines about her husband. This woman would be looking for facts she could turn into juice that readers...and fan girls...could drink up. Calysta did not care for Dolly at all. Calysta bit back the reply of having to answer questions like this on a political tour but she managed a softer smile and tilted her head some. "I think my answer would be the same as anyone who was married, so you're right about it being an easy question. We support each other and work together no matter what difficulties there are."(edited)

A broad smile came To Dolly's face and she nodded. "That's very sweet." She couldn't really expect anything else to be said from Illya, but it was worth a try. Looking to Illya she noticed that he was paying attention, but he wasn't entirely comfortable. It was obvious the way he kept shifting that his leg was bothering him. He had a large brace of sorts on it and there were some dressings. "How about you?" Illya shrugged. "Eh, I agree wit her." Of course that was his answer. Dolly didn't let it really stop her though. "How do you think that having that mutual support has made things better through the years? Perhaps it made a difference during the odd absences you had, General." That question was a sort of warning as far as Illya could tell. This lady wasn't stupid, she did her homework, but wrote the fluff to please the fans. "Oh, et works well. Maybe Kalizda dun say much outside her work, but she es very strong. She eh..." Pausing for a moment he stared at nothing and then tilted his head to the side. "She's eh...she has hard job especially wit dose dat assume because she es mixed blood she will be inferior."

That broad smile on the woman's lips reminded Calysta of a hyena grinning. Cunning, and looking for the next bite. Thankfully, Illya answered the next question but he was clearly in pain and Calysta didn't want to be in the room with the reporter longer than necessary. Calysta smiled at his answer, a genuine one and gently put a hand over his large paw of a hand, giving it a soft squeeze. "I do have a difficult time with that. As far as how Illya's support had made it better? I think that's a natural thing. Having someone who believes the best in you is helpful for anyone with troubles."

Dolly could tell they were a tight knit team and she liked it, but it was also going to be hard to do her job. "I can see you're both tight and you do a lot of team work. That's been pretty clear. I'll let you in on a little secret. What I'm saying now is off the record. We all have a job to do. Maybe I don't seem to play an important part, but if you work with me on this I'll make sure there is an article that isn't just about how the General looks, or something about his arms, eyes, or whatever the women are gushing over. I actually went into reporting because I like writing. So, you tell me whatever you would like on a relationship side and I might have to make it appealing to the ladies, but it won't have to be about the General's body." Illya couldn't help laughing when the woman made her statement. "Oh, well dat's a nice ting yah doing." He found it a bit funny, but workable. "Den yah better ask yah dirty little question about wheter or nut, I play around. Yah told yah readers et would be a question yah asked."

The reporter smiled and nodded. "Well...I think you know that many of the ladies are quite fond of you and they would like to know if you have an open relationship, one where you and Kalizda might consider trading partners for a night?" "No." Illya held his hand up and pointed to the ring on his left hand. "One ring, one woman."

The reporter's proposal was suspect on a variety of different levels and Calysta didn't trust that anything they said would be off the record. They didn't get that luxury as nice as it sounded. However, Illya seemed up to the ship challenge and redirected to a question already brought up in the last article. She nearly choked at his answer and a genuine smile grew on her lips at his reply. Chuckling, she glanced from her husband to Dolly. "I don't think I could have said it better myself. As for me, my husband is more than enough in every way and there's only one man I want."

Nodding along Dolly listened to the two of them and grinned. "Oh, I suspected that was the answer." Since it seemed the two of them were loosening up a bit she decided to venture in with another question. "There's a rumor that you've had children together. Is that true?"

Illya seemed fine with the woman's offer to make the article more than about Illya's body and his looks. She was sure he didn't trust it, but she did want to stamp down any other rumors that might hurt the children too. Their children, were now public knowledge, at least their names and faces were, and had been broadcasted all over at this point. There was a particularly viral clip of Lohgan throwing her shoe at a protestor and she was praised for her spicy, if inappropriate effort. "Aye, we have children together," Calysta nodded, "Rose is our oldest daughter." She didn't know how much to really tell this woman, but she felt if she kept it general and gave no locations away, it was safe enough. "Rose is a wonderful writer. Then we had Cypher and he's into every sport he lays his eyes on, he's hoping to try out for a mag-ball team soon. Then Lohgan, our little artist. And then the twins Edgar and Tomas. Tomas is adventuresome and Edgar likes helping me cook. He'll probably turn into a better cook than I ever was."


"That's a remarkable accomplishment." The woman took a small note and then looked over at Illya. "And it sounds like you've got a few. How is that and be honest, how is the cooking?"

Illya smiled and answered, "Oh, I like tah have dis many kids and her cooking esn't so bad as she makes et sound. She never makes anyting I can't eat." Chuckling a little he leaned back in the sofa and felt his knee stretch some on the ottoman in front of them and he sat forward again and pulled his leg a bit closer before leaning back. Noticing the bit of discomfort the reporter reached behind herself and offered a pillow for Illya to put behind his knee before she asked the next question. "I really do have to ask about the injury. Everyone knows you fell out of a very tall tree and you're walking around today with very little assistance. It is....well many of us were concerned for you. There's also been quite a few readers that took note of the many scars. Care to tell us a little more about the scars and the recent fall out of the tree?" Answering questions about his scars was something he hadn't thought of when he stripped his shirt off to climb the tree. Illya sighed a bit, "Well..." He didn't want to say a lot, but there were ways to get around this. "Meh back was situation I dun talk about. Dah rest of dah scars are mostly from blast when I was younger. Shrapnel es difficult tah recover from and dah scars take a long time tah fade. As for dah tree." A broad grin started to spread across his face. "I guess yah say dat I was racing dah locals en tree climbing and I made all dah time up when I would get down. I was slow getting up dah tree dat last time, but I still win. I fell out earlier den planned, but et made up all dah lost time I had fumbling near dah top."

Calysta turned a little pink at Illya's comment and smiled softly. "Aye, not yet. I've gotten better over the years. Living on a scout ship eating instant ration meals doesn't make for a very good cook, but I've learned some after a few years." She let Illya answer as he would about the scars. That was not her story to tell and she would not say more than he was willing to tell about them. As for the tree climbing incident that was a different matter. "Well, you certainly made up the time," Calysta replied chuckled, "The ground just felt the need to slow you down."

The reporter could hear a nervous sort of ring to the Councilwoman's voice. "Did you witness the accident? Do you ever get worried about him? His occupation is dangerous."

Calysta didnt reply at first.. admitting she worried would show weakness and admitting she didn't both sounded cold and was an outright lie. Slowly, she nodded a little. "Aye, I did see it. And I do worry. I imagine there are many men and women who have spouses in the service that are concerned too. I do get worried, at times. But when I do, I think about the fact that we are here and together. And are stronger together. It doesn't make me worry less, but it does make me glad and I smile."

Slowly the reporter nodded. "I have a young reader and she asked if you ever worried about what happened at the battle for Kinte." Looking at Illya she didn't expect he would like the question, but it was one of the more interesting ones. "I'm surprised dat dis question didn't come earlier." Illya frowned some as he remembered the battle. "I was worried. Kalizda told meh nut tah go down en dah wilds. Et es always meh hope tah come home, but as Elite et es meh duty tah die en place of meh people ef I must. Dat day I was worried dat maybe I would nut get tah go home."

You almost didn't come home. Calysta thought as her throat tightened up some, making it hard to keep her calm face. She looked at Illya to save face in front of the reporter and then back again before letting out a breath. "Aye, sometimes I worry more than others times. That was one of those. I'm very lucky and I know it. Not everyone came home."


"You seem very aware of the concerns of all your people." The reporter spoke quietly to Kalizda. "Perhaps there are some hard things you've encountered that have made you more understanding?" That was something that Illya couldn't let go by without comment. "Yes, she es very understanding. Kalizda has had hard life as mixed blood, but et made her strong enough tah recognize dose en difficult circumstances and nut turn away. I tink ef she had nut been wit meh dat I would nut do so well. She spoils meh tah start and she es very gentle even when I am nut injured."

Calysta wanted to cringe away from the comment. She could feel the inward need keep any of those struggles tucked away. There are some things that were still incredibly hard to speak about and some things Illya didn't know and she didn't know how to talk about even if she could stand to. Luckily, Illya started off with a comment so she wouldn't have to and she looked at him with a soft smile, then back to the reporter with a nod. "Aye, being a half breed has made many things difficult, but I also see things a little differently too because of it. Maybe I can see the concerns of our people because I am one of the people too, yeah?"

Dolly smiled a bit and took a few more notes before she glanced at the two of them. "It was very nice of both of you to reschedule the appointment since it was cancelled yesterday. However, in the same good faith I'm going to end this interview early and perhaps we'll catch up for the rest of it another day." She could see that the General was getting uncomfortable and she hated to push her luck. It was hard enough to get the appointment, but she figured if she gave them some space they would return the favor some time.(edited)

"Of course," Calysta said with a nod, "Our schedule may shift, but we always try to make good on our appointments. Did you ask enough for your article?"

"I think I have enough to work with. Don't worry, I'll keep the parts about the scars minimal." Dolly knew it was a private sort of thing and she wanted to be recognized as more than just a junk writer. She wanted to actually get some real information and maybe conduct documentaries in the future. "You'll have to tell me if you like this next article better."

Suddenly Dolly remembered one last thing. "Well, I would like a hologram that I think would be iconic. How about a kiss for the hologram?" She thought it might be a long shot, but she was hopeful. Illya winced some as he moved to stand and he held a hand out to Kalizda. "Now, dat's what I like doing best." He was more than willing to give her a little kiss for the camera.


Calysta raised brow. She had never been asked to kiss on camera and on purpose before and Illya was practically jumping, as much as he could jump anyways, at the chance to try. She looked at his outstretched hand and then put her small fingers around it. "I can confirm that as true," she chuckled, "but if we're going to do that, we'll do it properly." She closed the gap between them and slid her other arm gently around him, to kiss him. She planned on making it a nice, long one too.

She rubbed at his back very lightly and let Illya lean down to kiss her, but the embrace only lasted a second or two. Part of her wanted to make sure they knew exactly how much she loved him though. Feeling a little wiley, she grinned when he backed away and chuckled before pulling him close again for a much more thorough kiss. When she was done, she leaned back and smiled warmly at him. "I told you we'd do it proper."

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

Calysta managed to get Illya set up in the living room chair with his knee propped up in its brand new brace and helped him with whatever he needed. The kids were all out with Thomas, Akten, Wynry and Koda to see the waterfalls and would be returning soon so it was nice and quiet for a moment. She took the time to analyze the interview. She still wasn't sure about Dolly, but she didnt think she said anything the woman could twist too bad. It had been an uncomfortable interview at best and she knew she wasn't the best interviewee either. Sighing some, she made a pot of tea and gave some to Illya before settling on the couch herself. "At least we got through the interview," she said quietly, "I know she was really there to talk to you, but at least its over now. Talking about myself is much harder than I thought." She sipped her tea and chatted with Illya for a few minutes.

A few minutes was all they well and truly had. Her herd of children could be heard before they reached the docks. All of them shouting, giggling, yelling, and over all being loud, excited kids with heavy feet as they opened the hatch and ran into the ship. "Aye Dad," Cypher said, waving as he walked in, "Are we still going to the Crystal Caves later, Mam?" Lohgan twirled in and plopped a handful of flower petals into Calysta's lap, declaring herself to be a Fairy of the Waterfalls and Rose came in looking slightly sunburnt. All the children except the twins could really comprehend that their father was not feeling well and not to jump on him, but it was Tomas who learned first hand. The boy's blue eyes lit up and he grinned. "Dah! Dah! Dah!"

Tomas came barreling in at top speed with a frond leaf trailing in his hands. "Wait, Tomas," Calysta said getting up to catch him. Tomas had too much momentum to stop and was yelling too loudly to hear as he plowed into her and knocked her right over onto Illya who gave a squeal of pain. Calysta yelled, struggling to get her weight and Tomas' weight off of Illya, by bracing on the chair. Tomas heard his parents yell and went form excited to shocked, then crying as Calysta heaved him upward against herself and hauled them off of Illya.

Tomas' little chin wobbled and he started to bawl. "Daahdaaaaaah....Maaamaaamaaaa....." He was upset and he just didn't understand. "It's okay," Calysta tried to soothe him, "You're not in trouble....its okay....nobody's mad. Shhhh...." She half collapsed on the couch, comforting her very sad little boy and tried to glance over at Illya who has his arm covering his face. "Illya....love...are you okay...? I tried to catch him, I'm sorry..."

Her boys were getting to big for her to handle on her own and she had no idea what would happen when they ended up their father's size.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Illya took a few deep breaths. The breathing was helping him calm down a bit and slow his heart rate, but he couldn’t help the surges of pain. He could hear Kalizda asking if he was ok and he shook his head. He didn’t dare speak at this point.

Illya didn't reply to her except to shake his head in clear pain and she felt a pang of guilt and more than a bit of worry. Calysta had Tomas clinging to her, sticky hands clutching her hair and bawling. She couldn't get to Illya and assess best how to help with Tomas sniffling. "Okay...hang on..." she said. It took roughly five minutes to get Tomas to calm down long enough for her untangle herself from him. He sniffled sad little sounds as she ruffled his hair and told him it was okay. She lifted off the couch and shifted over to Illya to check on him. "I can get you some more of those patches, yeah?"

While Kalizda worked to calm down Tomas, Illya held very still. His knee felt horrible. It was almost as painful as it was when he injured it. Perhaps it was worse. After he managed to stop his eyes from watering he lowered his arm and wiped his eyes. About that time Kalizda decided to check on him and he clenched his jaw and nodded carefully. While she went to get more patches he sat up with a grunt and started to gingerly roll the leg sleeve down. He didn’t get far and blood started running out around the edges. Quickly pulling the sleeve back up he laid his hand on the top of the sleeve. It was damp and when he looked at his hand it was stained a deep red.

Calysta zipped down to the medical cabinet and retrieved the package of pain patches sent by the Ehaui. Dodging kids and Dane followed by Koda down the hall, she returned to Illya to see him holding his hand up. It was stained bright red and a shock of horror went through her. She had hurt him worse than she thought. "Damnit," she said coming over. She had no idea how bad it was. Had he busted his stitches? She knelt down, and tried to look at where he had drawn up the sleeve but it was just pooling with blood. Swallowing, she glanced up at her husband and then snatch up her pad. "I'm calling the doctor." She pulled up the info on her pad and set it to ring before grabbing some of gauze she had brought along. Maybe she could staunch the flow of the blood.

Illya blinked a few times as he stared at his hand. He knee was throbbing and he momentarily forgot that he was going to be staining the recliner if he didn’t move. Kalizda came bustling in and she saw him looking at his hand. Even if he didn’t want to Illya grit his teeth and put pressure over the knee. A wad of gauze was thrust toward him and Illya took it. “Get towel for under meh leg. I’m gunna ruin dah chair.”

He said something about ruining the chair and she gave him a wild look. "I'm not worried about the chair." Finally, the doctor picked up and Calysta started to describe the issue when Cypher walked in. At the sight of blood the boy's blue eyes went wide with fear and he stared. "Dah?" Calysta looked up to Cypher mid sentence and her lips turned to a line. "Cypher, it's alright. Can you help me though? Get me a towel. A dark one?" Cypher blinked a few times then nodded. It was better to keep him occupied than seeing his father bleeding. They'd seen their father suffering more than any child should have to already. "Go on," she nodded. He shuffled off, and Calysta looked back down at the pad. "Blood just keeps pooling. We can't tell how bad it is. Am I coming to you, doctor?"

“I like dah chair.” Illya complained and he felt the sleeve slide on his leg and his hand slipped. “Ooohooohooo owe.” While he was busy controlling the bleeding the Ehaui began making arrangements to perform another emergency surgery if needed. “Come this way. We don’t know if anything was ruptured or torn.”

"I'll get him there," Calysta nodded. Cypher came back with the towel about that time and she started putting around as best she could. When we Cypher looked as if he might ask a question, Calysta just nodded and told him how she needed help. "Go get Bahn and Dane. Mihael too. Tell them all to come here. I need help getting him back to Juiyan's hospital, yeah?" Cypher bolted off again and Calysta looked at Illya apologetically before pressing a bit firmer to stop the blood flow.

As soon as Kalizda put her hands over his Illya yelped. “Ooowe. Yah trying tah rip meh leg off?” Of course the Elite were only a few seconds away and Dane came running in. He started off by padding the area near Illya’s knee and then binding it up tightly with additional wrapping. Mihael and Bahn met with the ambulance and started unloading the gurney.

Calysta let him squawk at her. She knew it hurt, but there wasn't much choice. Dane was the first to barge through with handfuls of gauze. She had no choice but to slide out of the way before half stumbling into Mihael and Bahn dashing into the living room too. They breezed past her and headed for the hatch to meet the emergency skimmer and the gurney. Before she could do anything else, they had Illya on the stretcher and into the skimmer. There wasn't enough room for her to ride along so she would be walking. Cypher stood at the door looking misty eyed now and Calysta wiped her hands on the cleanest spot of towel she could find. "I'm going with them," she said, "Keep an eye on your brothers and sisters for me and mind Akten and Koda, yeah?" Rezna was supposed to be changing shifts soon but she wanted to make sure there were plenty of coverage at the hospital. "Dane and Mihael, stay with Illya. Rezna will be staying here with the kids. Bahn with me. As soon as we get Illya patched up, we'll cycle you out for your rest time Mihael." Calysta didn't know how they would take to those orders but if they had any protests, they would tell her.

There wasn’t any time to protest the swift loading into the ambulance and then he was off. Illya saw Dane squeeze his way into the ambulance, Mihael was running outside to keep external security and Bahn followed with Kalizda. None of the men argued her approach nor did they find a problem with her orders.

Calysta made sure Illya was off and then looked at Bahn. "I'm not quite as fast as that in a good day. I'll keep a good pace though. Let's go." She jogged down the path and with each step the sun grew hotter and the air more humid. It took 20 minutes to get to the hospital and by the time she got there the Ehaui were doing whatever treatment they needed. She wanted to see him, but the jog over in the heat seemed to have stirred something up. She felt hot, too hot, and horribly queasy. "I'll be right back," she mumbled to Bahn. The nearest bathroom was in the lobby and she slipped the swinging door only to heave into the trashcan.

When they arrived at the hospital Illya was unloaded primarily by Dane and Mihael. The Ehaui started scans immediately and then started to peel the brace and leg sleeve off. By the time Bahn had arrived with Kalizda he suspected that the Ehaui were already working. He would have liked to get in there, but Kalizda looked sick. When she rushed for the bathroom it was confirmed. She had probably run too much in the heat. Filling a little cup with cool water from the lobby he walked over and pushed the bathroom door open. “Yah drink little water eh.”

She was still leaning over the trash can with her hands braced on the sink, trying to clear her mouth of the remaining vomit taste. Her stomach still churned she was shaking from the feeling of clammyness all over. When Bahn came in and offered the water, she slowly stood up and wiped her mouth, then took the water cup gratefully. "What I get for having fruit liquor in the heat, I guess," she sighed some and leaned back for a moment against the cool tile, "We don't tell the Ehaui or Illya about this one, yeah?"

Bahn laughed at her response. “Dere es noting tah tell. Yah jes get little heat sick. Dun puke anymore and et will be fine. Drink dah water slow.” Bahn watched her carefully and offered to take the cup when she finished. “Yah want more? Maybe we go see Illya now?” He was a bit anxious to go see his nephew.

Calysta smiled a little at his response and drank a little more. After a few minutes she didn't feel great but her stomach was quieter for the time being. She really didn't feel like she wanted to be rushing anywhere, but Bahn was naturally eager to get to Illya. "Go on ahead," she said, "I'm going to wash my face up and then I'll be behind you."

“Oh no.” Bahn set one hand on the edge of the sink. “I dun tink I go anywhere till yah ready. I will nut have anything happen to yah. Meh cousin can wait.”

For a moment Calysta had forgotten she needed an escort everywhere and her shoulders dropped some when she did. It was awkward washing down her face in the sink but eventually she didn't care because the water was cool and did make her feel better. She washed the back of her neck too and swished some water in the back of her mouth to clear the taste, then dried off. "Alright, I look a bit better now. Thanks, Bahn." She pushed open the door and held it open for Bahn to duck through. " The boys are getting bigger now and they don't understand how big they are sometimes," she sighed, "I can't lift Cypher really anymore and he's nearly looking me in the eye. Lohgan and the twins will be just as heavy too." She didn't know why she was saying anything other than the fact she was frustrated with herself. She couldn't even lift half of Illya if he was hurt again. Calysta followed the nurse to the room they would find Illya in eventually and Calysta lengthened her stride to try matching Bahn's pace until they arrived.

Bahn waited patiently while Kalizda finished her face washing. Then as they walked toward the clinic room Bahn listened to the musings from Kalizda. “I tink Dey all grow up fast.” Once they reached the room it appeared that the Ehaui were only giving Illya more stitches and the local area of the knee was numbed. “Oh not so bad.” Bahn said in Quoti and he leaned over to give Illya a one armed hug. Illya shook his head with a slight grin and jabbed Bahn in the side.

Calysta felt relieved when she saw no surgery was needed again and they had only numbed his knee up to repair the stitches. Her relief turned to surprise when Bahn leaned down and gave Illya an awkward hug. She had seen the Elite rough house, ruffle, fart at each other, pass spit buckets to each other, eat each other's food, clean up each other's vomit and literally have a pissing match off the edge of a continent, but she had never seen the hug like that. Except for Maks and Illya maybe. "A hug?" Calysta asked with a raised brow.

The hug seemed shocking and neither Illya nor Bahn seemed to understand why. Dane was the first to speak, “Yah dun hug yah family?”

Calysta blinked, then looked at Illya and back at Bahn. Family? "You two are related?"

Bahn blinked, “I told yah we are cousins. Marcus es meh broter. So dis makes us cousins eh?”

Calysta's eyes grew wide. "You're Markus' brother?!" She looked to Illya. "I didn't even know you had an uncle!"

With mock offense Bahn gasped at Illya, “Yah dun tell her about us?” Illya sputtered a bit and turned red. “I jes never tink of telling her dat yah meh uncle. I jes tink everyone knows.”

" Everyone except your wife," she prodded, "Do you have any more uncles? An Aunt hiding around?" She didn't want to be cross but always being the last to know sometimes really irked her.

Illya's eyes shifted from Kalizda to Bahn and then back to Kalizda. She looked exasperated with the situation. It was possibly strange to her that so far she hadn't known who most of his relatives were and there were a few yet. This was as good a time as any to make sure she didn't run into any other surprises. "I have one dead uncle and den yah might know eh...Jerom." The man was odd to say the least, but he was an uncle. "Dere es only one aunt and yah met her a few times. She's Korin." That name didn't seem to mean anything based on the look Kalizda was giving him and Illya sighed. "Ugh...Korin es dah big lady dat started dah Chip village restaurant."

Now he felt the need to divulge the rest of his aunts and uncles. She was half tempted to shake him down for more information now that all this was coming out of the woodwork. "Aye I've met Korin, but I didn't know she was family." She couldn't recall meeting Jerom at any point though she knew he wasn't in the elite. Looking at the pair of them, she sighed. "None of you look alike. I would never have known," she said, "You never tell me these things." She still felt irked and slightly nauseated as she crossed her arms. "And Bahn, you've never thought to mention Illya's your nephew? I've known you for years too." Whumped into the chair near by and looked at the pair of them. Chip men. That's all there was to it.

At first Illya and Bahn looked at each other with astonished glances. Since when did she shift from being annoyed with Illya to being upset with Bahn? It was rather funny. Then the two of them began laughing and Dane and Mihael stared with smirks on their faces. Illya got slapped on the left leg and told to stop so the nurse wouldn't mess up the last of the stitches. Bahn stared at Kalizda for a moment and then exclaimed loudly. "Did yah hear dat? She dun tink we all look dah same! Dat means she's seen enough brown arses tah tell dah difference."

Calysta's eyes narrowed some as they thought it was oh so funny that she could tell them a part from one another. "Oh yes, I've seen enough of your brown asses to tell the difference," she replied flatly, "I'm just the last to know which one of those brown asses are related to one another." She was grumpy now and still felt a bit queasy. "But now that I see you both laughing like hyenas, I see the family resemblance."

Despite the attempt at humor Kalizda seemed less than amused and Illya narrowed his eyes at her in return. "I am nut hyena. I am a Black Wolf and he's a Gold Hawk. So yah might hear him screech, but I howl." At that all the Elite laughed some.

"Screeching and howling indeed," Calysta said, "I still see that family resemblance." She really didn't but she wasn't going to let him win on that one. The nurse finally finished and Calysta listened to whatever instructions the woman might give.

Now that they were done with the stitches the nurse put a new set of treatments on Illya's knee and pulled a a new leg sleeve over his prosthetic and up over his knee. "Put your brace back on and try to split your knee open again." Illya nodded at her instruction and then grinned at Kalizda. "Ready tah go see dah caves?"

Calysta was starting to get up now that the nurse was done with her instruction but her eyes shot wide when he immediately asked if they were going to see the crystal caves. "You want to go to the crystal caves?"

Nodding vigorously Illya met her gaze. "Yeah, we go now eh? Et's time for us tah go. We'll be late ef we dun hurry. We go get dah kids now."

She looked at Illya skeptically. "You just had surgery and the caves are a few miles of walking." Glancing at the nurse, she tilted her head. "Is he cleared to do anything like that?"

"I know, I can do et," Illya assured her. The nurse looked at the file and sighed. "Yep he's good to go. Just don't let him trip and fall. If your knee gets sore," the nurse looked pointedly at Illya, "Sit down and rest for a few minutes. That's the only order."

The nurse had cleared it apparently and Illya had certainly heard it. Now, he would be determined to go. There would certainly be no stopping him and the kids would be relieved to do something too. "Alright then," she said, "I'll go ahead with someone and get the kids ready, then we can meet there. It would save some time."

Illya nodded in agreement when Kalizda offered to go get the kids ready. This time Mihael accompanied her and left Dane and Bahn with the General. Once Kalizda was out the door Illya started to work on getting up. His knee was more swollen now that it had been landed on only a short time after surgery. The first bit of weight on his leg almost sent him tumbling. Bahn stepped closer and grabbed Illya. "You just take it slow." Bahn chided Illya in Quoti and walked slowly with him while Dane kept guard.

Walking to the crystal caves took a bit. When they finally reached them Illya was trying to keep his breathing even. The numbing medication had worn off and his knee was throbbing now. Bahn held onto Illya's left arm as a bit of a stabilizer while Illya sat down on the bench and then twisted so that he could put his leg up on the bench. Sitting down behind Illya, Bahn sat with his back to Illya's and they both had a back rest this way. "I've never seen you fall out of a tree like that. What happened?"

While the question was uncomfortable it wasn't unfair and Illya sighed. He had to explain it sometime and now was as good a time as any. "Remember Old Quoti?" Illya waited till he felt the back of Bahn's head bonk his. It was only natural that Bahn wouldn't say anything. There was a solid thud sound as their skulls knocked together and Illya pushed back against Bahn a bit more to sit up taller. "Well, that arm injury still gives me trouble. The bones hurt sometimes and then sometimes I don't feel things. It's like my arm suddenly stops feeling things, or everything that touches the affected area feels like needles or fire. My arm lost some feeling and it pretty much felt like fire all night. Couldn't sleep."

"I thought your leg hurt and that's why Kalizda kept getting up to get you stuff." Bahn frowned some and he sighed, "Oh well. The Ehaui know about this with your arm?"

Illya clenched his jaw some and nodded, knocking skulls with Bahn again. "Yeah, they know. It's gonna take a little while. They said there was nerve damage. Just takes time to regenerate and heal like it's supposed to." With a groan he shifted on the bench and put a hand on the side of his knee brace to push his leg to the edge of the bench and then he saw a short, slender body. Illya glanced at Kalizda and grinned, "Hey. Yah ready tah go en wit dah kids?"

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

Going Deeper
Ladies, I had an exclusive interview with the General and his wife, the Councilwoman. Doubtless, you've already seen the horrifying clip from a few days ago. There was a good, old fashioned tree climbing contest and the Hero of Kinte, in his usual good humored fashion was participating in the contest with the local people on Jiuya. In case you missed the clip, here is a copy of it. After you've watched the hologram you'll know why we were all so shocked.

How exactly are the Chippequoti strong enough to withstand those kinds of accidents? That was a fall that would have easily killed even a sturdy and well built Kaerelean. I imagine it may in part be why they're so feared by the Federation. It seems that the Elite were concerned for the General, but they didn't seem to think it so severe. In fact, the Hero of Kinte was out walking the next the day with no more than a knee brace and a cane to assist as needed. Rather than use the cane he seemed to swing it about as a sort of wand and occasionally brandish it like a weapon of sorts. Mostly it appeared to be in jest though, I could not tell because he was speaking in Quoti with his men.

While we know he's got a sense of humor, it seems to come out a bit more often then one might expect. After my interview I have my opinion about his sense of humor. First of all, he was eager to answer the question about his availability and his answer was "ONe ring, one woman." I have a hologram showing that one ring he wears. It was on his hand during his appearance as the Emperor too. Take a look at this hologram. There might have been a few pictures of him from his appearance as Emperor because there was so much to analyze and determine what would be of interest. It's coming in handy now. You can see he wore several rings and most of them quite decorative, but that plain ring stands out in a way. It is a simple gold band, like one that a Terran would wear. That ring is still on his hand and I have not seen him take it off this entire tour.

So the first answer to a commonly asked question, he is not available. The question that was sent to me in mass after the accident a few days ago was about his back. I don't think any of us expected to see that. I didn't get much of an answer out of him for that scar, but he did explain a few of the others. The General informed me that he'd been injured in a blast as a younger man and that it took quite some time to heal from it. This has brought up a new sort of question. He doesn't appear to have injuries consistent with a blast, but we all know the Ehaui are quite accomplished in the art of medicine.

Perhaps there are some better methods to learn from the Ehaui, or there is again something different or more resilient about the Chippequoti when it comes to injuries. Mostly, we're back around to something familiar. You would all recall the article where I stated that I thought he was a brooding sort. After the interview it's hard to say, but I think it is still possible.

The Councilwoman was sweet, kept her eyes on her man almost the entire interview and she seemed hesitant to answer questions. He appeared to be quite proud of her. Part of me thinks they have a mutual contract of sort. He is constantly at her side and very supportive and she is effective at blocking uncomfortable subjects. The only uncomfortable questions that got answered were the ones that he answered voluntarily. Does, he have a darker side hiding underneath his charm and smiles? After all, should we have been surprised to find out he does indeed have scars? While he has a superficial approach to many of the social events, the things he has said publicly show that he's got a lot more going on behind those haunting green eyes.

Finally, some of you asked about whether or not he be pleased being married to a half-breed. First of all, I'm going to let you in on a secret, if you want to gain favor with the Hero of Kinte, I wouldn't call his wife a half-breed. He's made statements since the visit to Kinte in support of half-breeds. In fact, he calls it mixed blood and does not seem to mind in the least. Also, shockingly, he's had several children with the Councilwoman. Those lovely babies you see and darling tots are his and the Councilwoman's. Is this another Chippequoti thing? How can she possibly get pregnant? This would make her the first 'mixed blood' of her heritage to carry a child full term, much less live this long.


There are quite a few mysteries here. However, I've got one special hologram saved for last. If anyone doubted their affection, here's something for you. I asked if I could have a kiss for the article and the Hero of Kinte immediately approved of the idea. You be the judge, does that look like love? Are they a perfect match? The perfect storm or does this look like a grab for power? I've heard plenty of rumors and so have you. In my next interview I'm going to dispel a few of these myths and find the truth.
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Later in the evening after a wild dinner with all of her children and the crew, Calysta lead Illya into the elevator and pressed the "down" button while Rezna and Dane stood beside them. "When the door opens, I'd like you to stay by the elevator," Calysta said, "Close by, but let but hang back, yeah?" They would have the place all to themselves as a special viewing she arranged so there would be no strangers milling around. Only them. As they came toward the bottom floor, she reached out her hand to Illya and gave him an excited look. "Before the door opens, will you close your eyes? I want it to be a little bit of a surprise. I can lead you out, yeah?"

Having an elevator in a greenhouse was a bit of a novelty and Illya found it a bit funny. However, he was more than happy to try it out. That meant he wouldn't have to walk up and down steps. Anything that got him away from walking on steps right now was a good thing. When they reached the bottom Kalizda asked their guards to stay near the elevator and that meant he was going to get a little private time with Kalizda. With a wink Illya met her gaze and then responded, "Yah could take meh anywhere." Setting his right hand in the palm of her very small hand he closed his eyes and cautiously took a wobbling step forward. His knee was still very sore, but he wanted to see whatever this was that she wanted to show him.

She beamed at his response and felt excited. He was going to love this. Her fingers held his hand gently as the elevator car came to a stop and the doors slid open. "No peeking," she chuckled as she laid him forward. His steps were slow and wobbly but she was patient and guide him along carefully off the elevator and up a small paved path. It crested a little upward but soon they were far enough away from the elevator to have some privacy. Here the air was humid and pricked at her skin with a light mist. The sound of running water, the roar of a waterfall, could be heard somewhere far ahead of them. Bird chirped and bugs buzzed as they ambled along until she found the perfect spot in the fading sunlight. When Illya opened his eyes, he would find himself in an open top, natural cavern. The waterfalls had carved it out thousands of years ago. It had a domed side all the way around and a deep pool where the waterfall continued below the surface level. Beyond that, the cave had been carved right through to the side of the continent allowing more sunlight, air and moisture inside. Everywhere there were tall frond trees and thick vines draping with fragrant pink flowers. Mangroves wound their way over each other in what seemed like a giant banyon type grove. Ferns tickled the ground cover along with maiden hair vines and glossy leafed bushes. The Juiyan forest was much less tame here. "You can open your eyes now."

Illya mostly stumbled along with Kalizda. Even if she was walking slowly he felt like his steps were halting at best. Once or twice he thought about asking if he could open his eyes, but decided against it. Finally, they stopped and Kalizda said he could open his eyes. When Illya did his jaw dropped and he looked at the forest. After a moment he closed his mouth and then he studied it quietly. This looked almost like his home on Guoron for a moment, but he knew it was not. "Hmm..." Nodding in approval he finally glanced down at Kalizda. "Dis es very pretty. I'm glad yah bring meh down here."

Calysta wasn't watching the scenery, she was watching her husband's face. When he opened his eyes she saw true surprise before it faded to a measured nod in her direction. His reply made her smile a little. "I know...its not quite the same as where you were before...but I thought you might like it, yeah?"

"I like et a lot. Es dere a place tah sit so we can be here little longer?" Even if there wasn't a bench Illya was willing to sit on the ground. Anything to get some pressure off his knee for now. Nodding to her response he moved over to where they could sit and got settled in.

She straightened some when he asked for a place to sit and glanced around till she found a little stone bench. They wandered over together and sat down. She let him stretch out his knee or do whatever he needed to do to alleviate the pain. "I always liked if here too. Not many people are allowed down here. It's an important place to the Juiyan's. But I was hoping it might remind you more of somewhere else. I'm glad you like it." She slid her hand across the bench and put it over his with a gentle squeeze before closing her eyes to.listen to the birds and bugs and to feel the sunlight on her cheeks.

Kalizda somehow seemed intent on knowing a bit more on his thoughts about this place they were in. With a slight grin Illya answered, "Et might remind meh of meh first home a little bit." Pointing to the pink flower he said, "Ef I were at meh first home dat would be bigger den yah head. I could jes cut flower at stem and lay et upside down on yah head and give yah a sun hat eh?"

Calysta glanced at the vine and large pink blossoms. Illya's image of wearing one like a sun hat made her laugh lightly and she smiled up at him. "Everything must be larger than life there," she mused. She was feeling a little bold for some reason. Wild even. "Aye. Maybe I would have you pluck me one more and walk around with just the petals on when only you were looking."

A broad grin came to Illya's face and he nodded. "Mmm...dat would be a sight. I tink I would get large red flower for yah ef dat's what yah wanted tah do."

Calysta found herself grinning and inched closer to him on the bench. They were as alone together as they were going to get besides their bedroom on the ship and with kids, privacy was still a precious commodity. She slid over so that she could wrap an arm slightly around his lower back and leaned her head on his shoulder gently as she chuckled. "Oh I think a red flower would be perfect. I might let you pluck the petals off one by one," she teased a little. She was feeling particularly bold, and it seemed to cheer him up even if he didn't feel like doing anything wild.

Lowering his head and shaking it Illya laughed a bit more loudly than he'd intended. The idea of plucking the flower petals off one by one was a great image, but also a very funny statement from Kalizda. A slight pink tinge crept to the tips of his ears and he leaned in a bit closer to Kalizda and kissed her. "I would gladly take dah flower petals off yah."

She smiled at his laughter. It was a raspy sound that she knew he didn't have before, but she still liked the sound of it. The ability to make him laugh and smile was something she treasured. People had frowned at her presence so often before that humor wasn't a luxury she'd had and now she could make someone smile with a light tease and they would enjoy it. She saw the light tinge of pink k in his ears and there was a bit of satisfaction in that as well. He leaned down and kissed her gently and she smiled, kissing him back. "Oooh its a good thing. I wouldn't want any one else." She kissed him again and brushed his cheek with her fingers in a tender sort of touch. "We'll make it to your home, yeah?" Her fingers slid down to his arm to his hand where she gave his fingers a soft squeeze.

Even in the midst of all that Kalizda seemed focused on his home. She sounded quite determined that he would get to see it again. "I will make meh home wherever yah are. I also won't turn down offer for yah tah fly wit meh tah meh first home." Holding her fingers that she'd slipped into his hand he gently squeezed her hand and lifted it to his lips where he kissed the back of her hand. "Yah most precious to meh. Dere es noting I love so much as meh Kalizda."

When he said things like that it made her feel quite like she never felt before. It was important to her that he had a good life and his home was part of that but it also made her feel wonderful when he told her he loved her. She felt warm all over, right down to her usually cold toes and a blush came to her cheeks. She loved him very much and she worried about him too. "And I love you more than anything." The only thing she loved on par were her children. She loved her father but it was a different sort of love of child to good parent. They sat for awhile until the path started getting dark. She kissed him again and took him by the hand. "We can come back to Juiya one day and sit here again, yeah? When your knee and your hand feels better too."

A lingering grin rested on Illya's face. He hadn't even noticed the fact that he was grinning like an idiot. The little kiss from Kalizda was tender like usual and he moved his other hand over to rest on side. At the end of her sweet little motion she mentioned something about his hand and he blinked a few times out of confusion. "Meh hand?"

Calysta nodded. "Aye...I didn't know it was still giving you trouble. I over heard you and Bahn...I wasn't trying to, but I had stopped to tie my skirt a little tighter and you two were talking about your hands and the tree." This time it was her turn to blush deeper. She didn't make accidental eavesdropping a habit but she hadn't exactly moved away while they were talking and bonking their heads together either.

Shrugging a bit Illya held his hand up and wiggled his fingers."Et's working fine tahday." She'd clearly overheard it, but she didn't make it a giant deal that he hadn't said anything either. In fact she managed to take it quite well. The last two injuries she took so well that he felt a little more comfortable. "Sorry dat I dun say anyting about et before. I jes...well I tink dat maybe I have concern dat yah would be upset ef yah knew."

Calysta looked up at him and gave him a sideways smile. "I'm not upset. I'm just concerned. Thr injury from Old Quoti was a terrible one and I remember it pretty well. It didn't surprise me you had nerve damage, I just didn't know you were still having problems with it. I only have concern because I care and sometimes when I know things I can help make them better or more comfortable at least. The nerves are something I wish I could help with but there's not much to be done, unless you wanted to try some physical therapy of some kind."

"I already done all dah physical terapy." Illya sighed, "Et's jes long recovery now. Nerve problems are nut fun. I am recovery from many of dem. I jes work tah keep en shape and make dah muscles work even ef dey dun want tah do et some days."

Calysta looked at his hand and gave it a little nudge with hers. "I'll remember that. If I think it looks like it needs a little exercise, I might put it to good use and ask you to hold me close." She let her little sideways smile turn into a sly one and chuckled. She had been making more of an effort to flirt with him, even if it made her feel a bit awkward at times.

Snorting a bit Illya squeezed her hand gently with his left one a few times. "Mmm..yeah, I bet yah would. Maybe meh hand needs little Kalizda terapy later."

Calysta grinned almost a bit sheepishly and leaned up to kiss his cheek. "I think it might be good for it, yeah?" They rounded the corner and found Dane and Rezna waiting at ease but still alert by the door. Rezna raised a brow at the two of them and Calysta could tell the woman had a sly comment on the tip of her tongue but was keeping it back.

As they rounded the corner Illya saw that Dane was looking innocent as ever. There was a chance that he had heard at least a portion of what they said. However, he wasn't one to say anything. Rezna on the other hand looked like she was waiting for an opportunity to say something and Illya held a hand up. "Whatever yah tinking should stay en yah brain."

Rezna looked at Illya with a bit of a smile. "Nothing wild going on up here," she replied, tapping her finger to her forehead. Calysta let out a quiet chuckle. The Udine woman was intelligent and witty. There was always something going on in her head, but she was as loyal as she was witty which was important.

Raising his eyebrows slightly Illya stared at Rezna for a moment and then shook his head. "Dun matter ef et's wild or nut. I jes tink yah toughts should stay put for now. Yah still tinking someting."

Rezna smirked and but didn't say anything. The man was injured and not likely to be in for some teasing. Calysta slid a hand around Illya's back and indicated to Rezna that they should board the elevator. "Let's go get some rest, yeah? We have a long travel few days of travel tomorrow."

***********

They departed the next morning but not without saying their farewells to Uzyma. The older Juiyan woman walked down the path and met them with a glowing smile in the pale morning light. She had several aids bring boxes of a few things for the road. Mostly they consisted of dried or candied fruits and a box of hand mixed Juiyan flower tea. Uzyma shuffled over to Illya and smiled. "You will have to come visit again soon. We'll make sure to keep that tree healthy and strong so you can climb it again when you do, eh? Take care and do the same for your self. " She patted his arm with a ginger, but grandmotherly sort of pat then shuffled next to Calysta and took up her hands. "The same goes for you too, dear. I've seen a few councilors come by here and I've met dozens of them, but you, my dear, are someone I was glad to share my time with. Fair winds."

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

Calysta boarded the ship feeling a little sad to go. Uzyma was kind and intelligent and she would actually miss her company too. They would still need to be in hologram meetings together, but Calysta knew that the woman was getting older. It may even be a year or two before she returned to Juiya depending on what happened with the war and there was a possibility Uzyma wouldn't be alive to greet them again. Still, Calysta considered the visit a success and knew she could count on Juiyan support whenever needed.

She sat down in the living room feeling even more strange about the fact that the engines were starting up and it wasn't her behind the controls. Wynry was doing a nice job though. The young pilot gave her announcements over the intercom and with a warning of slight turbulence due to cross winds brought on by the incoming rainy season, they jostled slightly and then slid into the upper atmosphere. Within 30 minutes, Wynry had the jump engines warmed up and they jumped full throttle with the coordinates set on the colonies.

To ignore her itch to be behind the controls, Calysta picked up her pad and crossed her legs to get more comfortable. The reporter, Dolly, had made her article which launched this morning and she had yet to read it. After being nudged into paying a half credit fee to read the article, Calysta took her time with every word of it.

"I'm sweet?" Calysta exhaled as she rubbed her temples, "Sweet?" She wasn't entirely sure how good 'sweet' would sound to people who called her weak and a half breed. But for the millions of other people reading the article, they seemed to find it....adorable. The word adorable came up more than once in the comments below the article. Along with what seemed to be the newest catch phrase. "One Ring, One Woman."

There were thousands of comments. Some were surprisingly wholesome and not thirsty with lust. Plenty of them now included pictures of couples. It was being circulated as the One Ring challenge. Couples were taking pictures of themselves kissing and smiling on the camera with the caption. "One ring, one woman. Very proud." Sure, there were plenty of other comments expressing disappointment over Illya's unavailability and several comments talking about having so many children -something she knew would be asked later now that it was widely known- but by and large, Illya's little comment about his faithfulness had taken on the article like a fire storm.

"Whether Dolly intended it or not," Calysta sighed, "She did manage to turn the attention away from his body. Mostly. I guess I owe her another interview."

***********

They had a long three days of flight ahead to the Terran colonies. The Silver Mountain was luxurious and well kept, but with as many people as there were one board, it was slightly cramped quarters. Wynry stayed in the cockpit unless she was asleep or eating in the dining area, but the rest had their usual daily activities to attend to with tiny children scampering all around them. Akten began to notice he had a shadow. Everywhere he turned Cypher was there, watching curiously. That included after dinner when Akten sat down in the living space to make his reports as usual.

"Y'have school dont ye?" he said when he looked up from his pad. Cypher was standing there and staring as if studying him.

"It's the weekend," the boy said promptly, "No school on the weekend. Yah know that."

"I didn't g' t' school like ye do," Akten replied, "I was schooled by m' mam at home."

Before the boy could reply, Wynry came into the room and gave them both a small wave before heading to the dining hall. Akten's shoulders straightened and he gave a small wave back as he watched her go. When he turned back around Cypher was still there and he was grinning. "Yah look at her like meh Dah looks at m' Mam when she walks down the hall. Are yah going to agree with her?"

Akten knew enough to know what 'agreed' meant and he blinked at the question. "Ah...maybe." Still he could feel his olive toned cheeks turning crimson from the question.

"Et's easy, all yah do is go stand up there and wait till she picks yah," Cypher shrugged, "I could tell her if yah want."

Akten's eyes went round and his head whipped back to Cypher again. "No, y' won't tell-"

"Tell what?" Wynry had walked back through and was holding her dinner in a bowl with Calysta at her side with what looked like a bowl of ice cream.

A moment of slight panic ripped across Akten's mind before he sputtered out. "Tell him a...scary story, yeah? I don't have any."

"Ah," Wynry said, tilting her head, "Well, I have a few. I could tell you one or two."

Somehow Akten found himself nestled between the arm of the couch and Wynry as she settled in to tell him a story. Cypher didn't call him out on the little lie and he wasn't sure if that was because the kid was interested in the story or was biding his time. It was those moments the boy looked very much like the General, where you weren't quite sure what he was going to say or do next. A few more people walked in before Wynry began her story, including Koda whose hair was still damp from the shower he'd taken, Bahn, Dane and Illya.

"Cypher here wanted some scary stories," Wynry offered, "I was about to tell one if you wanted to hear it." Calysta looked at Illya and patted the cushion of the love seat next to her, inviting her husband to come sit if he wanted. She wasn't sure if he liked scary stories, but little boys did, and she was more than happy to let Wynry take over entertaining Cypher for just a few minutes while she nibbled some ice cream.

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

Dear Diary,

We came back to Pyrta a few days ago. It's strange to think that everything is the same since I left. I don't think this little farming community ever changes. I feel like I've changes a bit though. I've been out and seen a few things on the Fringe. It's a fascinating place and reminds me a bit of the ancient Wild West at home on Terra. I keep thinking being back on Pyrta should feel like coming home, but it doesn't. It just feels like another place I've drifted to again. I wonder if any place will feel like home ever again. Going back to Terra isn't possible both for safety and for other reasons. I have nothing left there that the Federation hasn't taken and that includes any family ties I might have had. There had only been Harry. Of course, now that Harry is gone, there was the sample that was taken from him before his cancer treatments. A baby would have still been possible, but it doesn't feel right without him. That sample will just have to be lost with him. Ultimately, my counselor says it would be best for me to begin making ties here if this is where I intend to stay. He said a good, grounded support system would be important. I don't exactly know how to do that purposely, but I've started coming out of my room more and working with Calysta in that muddy pit of a front yard. I should have it in shape in no time. The kids, Illya and Calysta have helped quite a bit.....

Dear Diary,

It's been quite a few months since I've even thought about dating or men in general but I had that feeling today. He was there to pick up his son who plays with Cypher often enough and to talk with Illya. I had never seen him before, just his son Sien. With the Chippeqouti it's just best to assume they are all married unless they're children, but he introduced himself after he just stared at me openly. I knew he was giving me the look over and I let him do it. It was probably a bit naughty of me, but I couldn't help it. He looked so interested if not surprised to see me and he was handsome, especially with those blue eyes. Is it too soon to be thinking about someone else?

 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
Illya was on his way to the living area of the ship. It was on auto pilot now and they were just going to be cruising along for a few days. Now all they had to do was get comfortable. Getting comfortable never took long. The men finished a full ship check over and patrol. After they were in the air there was very little to do with patrolling. Gradually they filtered into the main living space. Wynry, Akten and Cypher were gathered in the living room. The girl was about to tell a scary story. Since this was at least some entertainment that wasn't likely to cause problems Illya sat down next to Kalizda and the other Elite joined them.

In a way hearing about the Kaerelean fears was interesting. It certainly gave some insight to a few of the things that they considered taboo. Stories like this also revealed what a people were susceptible to and how they were more easily demoralized. There were two ways to use these sorts of stories. They could be used for breaking their spirit, or for dispelling fears. Illya listened carefully and did his best to understand the concepts of the stories and apply the elements to the tour. He could possibly use some of these things to help Kalizda develop more effective ways of speaking to her people. They would be memorable speeches and ones that her people would find inspiring. An inspired people were better because when their emotions were attached to their willpower they were far more able to accomplish what was previously thought to be too difficult. The war was hard, but if they were motivated and united they would succeed.

A round of applause went up as Wynry finished her tale and then she offered for them to tell a story. All the Elite looked at one another and then back to Wynry. Illya was the first to speak. "Dere are nut any stories we could tink tah share for now eh?" There were plenty of frightening tales and they could tell them, but they would be a bit disturbing to certain members of their gathering. That disturbance could even be themselves. Illya felt a chill go up his spine as he thought of the winds on the mountains in Guoron. It was a frightening place and even if it would make a fine story, there was plenty he couldn't say about it and more that would bring back the final campaign fought there.

Shaking the thoughts away from his mind Illya gave an uneasy grin. "Why dun someone else tell a story. Et dun have tah be scary. Who started all dat anyway? I want Lohgan tah sleep good tahnight." Of course that earned a deep scowl from his daughter and a prompt response from Cyper. "Akten wanted Wynry tah tell scary stories because he wanted to make sure dat she was good at telling stories like maam. He's gonna stand soon and let her pick him."

With such a hasty announcement of interest Illya and the other Elite looked at Akten in surprise and then laughed. "Oh, yah like her eh?" Bahn nodded with approval and Dane clapped loudly while Mihael shook his head in disbelief. Illya remained silent until the rest of the noise had died down. "Well, yah better make sure yah bot like more den story telling before yah consider standing or showing up tah any ceremonies."

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

When it was time for bed Mihael wandered into the room he shared with Koda. He was still shaking his head and muttering to himself. The day had been fine with the exception of more comments from the other members of the Elite regarding women. Mihael stripped down to his boxers and carefully set his uniform and gear in their proper place before turning down the covers on his bed.

Just as he crawled onto the bed and twisted a bit so he would be straight on it he felt his foot catch Koda and he looked over at the other man. "It's a little tight in here. Certainly had less space before, it's just been a while." Going from being a general in the regular Chippequoti Army to being an Elite member of no rank was difficult. While he might have readily pointed out the pride of the Elite he had to admit to himself that he was suffering a bit from bruised pride. Losing all rank and privilege of a general was harder than he'd anticipated. There was a certain level of added respect to being among the Elite and while he had a higher social standing and military standing compared to others it was difficult to be considered low in his current branch of military.

"How did you end up here?" Mihael glanced at Koda and he scooted down into his bed and drew the covers up. He had never taken much time to talk with foreigners before, but this was at least a good chance for it. "Do you think working with Chips is easy?"
 
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