In the Shadow of Heaven

by

javert

Chapter One Hundred One - Confess the Murder

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Confess the Murder

"What a tangled web we weave! There's time to mourn, time to grieve. What a knotted rope we tie! There's time to live and time to die."

-from "Fate's Thread", traditional spacer song

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"Kino," Yan said, knocking on Kino's chamber door. "I need to talk to you."

Kino opened the door a moment later, though she was only wearing a towel. "Emergency?" she asked. There was a toothbrush hanging out of the corner of her mouth. Clearly she had either been getting ready for bed or had just woken up. Yan couldn't tell, and both of their sleep schedules had become so confused. Considering that there were only five people on the ship, and various things needed to be attended to at all hours of the day, it made for a somewhat chaotic time.

They had meals together, but the meals were made up of random things pulled from the pantry and the slowly ripening greenhouse stores-- in other words, not dinner foods, not breakfast foods, just foods. So, although they gathered to eat, what time it was for most of them was a bit of a mystery.

"No, it's not an emergency," Yan said. She leaned against the doorframe. "I just want to talk to you about our plans."

Kino continued to brush her teeth, but she held the door open and stepped aside so that Yan could enter. The place was large, by Fleet quarters standards, but small compared to the other rooms aboard the First Star that Yan had been in. It was just a bedroom with a desk and a bed, with a tiny bathroom off to the side. Predictably, Kino's few belongings were scattered across the floor: gardening gloves, dirty jumpsuits, tools from the workshop, a roll of bandages. Yan took a seat on the desk chair, not feeling that bad about pushing a dirty pair of socks to the floor with the power. She heard Kino finish brushing her teeth and felt the ghostly touch of Kino's power as she summoned a jumpsuit from the pile and dressed in it.

As Kino finished her routine, Yan examined Kino's desk. There was a large chunk of aluminum, just a massive block, sitting there. "What are you planning on doing with this?" Yan asked, pointing to it.

Kino came over and stood behind Yan. She leaned over and placed her mutilated left hand on the block. "Thinking of making some new fingers," she said.

"Too bad Sid's not here," Yan said absently. "He's good at that kind of thing."

"I'll figure it out."

The mention of Sid had slipped out of her without prompting, but the truth was that Yan had been thinking about him a lot. She couldn't help it. After failing to encounter him aboard the Gatekeeper, Yan felt that some sort of unknowable tension was building in the space between them, and eventually they would have to face each other. She wasn't looking forward to it.

Kino sat down on the bed, and Yan turned the chair around to face her.

"So," Yan said. "The plan."

"What about it?" Kino asked.

"We need one."

"Why are you asking me about it?" Kino's voice was the same flat as ever, but she seemed genuinely confused about Yan's motivations for coming to her. Kino didn't tend to ask questions unless she wanted an answer.

"I will talk to Iri later, and Sylva, but you and I were Sandreas's apprentices. We probably know the most."

"I don't think so," Kino said. "Iri worked for Halen for a long time, didn't she?"

"That doesn't really count."

"We were with Sandreas for less than a year."

"Still. We were chosen for a reason. We're probably the best qualified.'

"You probably are," Kino said. "I'm not."

"It doesn't matter," Yan said. "You get a say, and I came here to ask you away from Iri and Sylva because I value your opinion and don't want it stomped on. Is that enough?"

"I don't know why you value my opinion."

Yan sighed in frustration. "The reasons are more complicated than I care to explain right now," Yan said. "Can you take it as fact that I want your opinion, so that you can give it to me?"

Kino shrugged. Her jumpsuit was half unzipped, so it slid haphazardly off her shoulder at the motion. She tugged it back upward and used the power to zip it the rest of the way. "What do you want to know?"

"We want to destabilize the Empire," Yan said. "Right?"

"I want the Empire to stop destroying planets," Kino said. "If that's what it takes, that's what it takes."

"I guess that's my first question, then," Yan said. "Is that going to be what it takes?"

Kino paused for a long moment, running her hand through her bleached dirty blond hair (she looked so different with it cut and styled like this, but Yan was getting used to it.) "Yes."

"Removing just the Emperor wouldn't do it?" Yan asked.

"Think about the Fleet," Kino said. "They have a vested interest. If the Emperor was gone, they'd have the ability to fill that power vacuum."

"Not if we installed somebody else first," Yan said. Kino just looked at her blankly. "Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself."

"If you pull the Emperor, it all starts to fall apart."

"Pull the Emperor, then Sandreas goes, and then there's just the council and the Fleet," Yan agreed. "Which one would win, if those two sides were against each other?"

"The Fleet," Kino said without any hesitation. "I know the council."

"You spent a lot of time with them, right?"

"They're all more loyal to their own planets than they are to the Empire. Without Sandreas, or any other First, they'd fall apart on their own. The Fleet is tied together, and they have power."

"Ships and guns," Yan muttered.

"That's what you need."

"It's not just the Fleet and the Council, though, right?" Yan said. "There's the Guild, and every sensitive who comes out of the Academy."

"You'd have to make the bet that sensitives are loyal to each other before they're loyal to whatever other group they're in," Kino said. "Do you want to make that bet?"

"I don't know." Yan ran her hand through her short hair. "The Guild. If the Guild armed themselves, could they take the Fleet?"

"You want to put those two against each other?"

"I'm just trying to compare strengths right now," Yan said. "I don't know what's even possible."

"The Guild doesn't have the right number of people," Kino said after a second. "And you know better than me if they'd be able to work together."

"Did you attend the election, when they picked the new Guildmaster?" Yan asked.

"I wasn't allowed in the room," Kino said. "And I was occupied with thinking about other things."

"Oh." Kino must have been working hard to keep the secret that she was the one who had betrayed Yan and caused her to be kidnapped, at that time. It didn't surprise Yan to learn that Kino had been paying more attention to that than she had to muddling out the mess that was Guild politics. Yan had read up on the election on her trip back from Olkye to Emerri aboard the Impulse, and had tried to get as caught up with it as possible, but even growing up within the Guild, and paying as much attention as she could, the whole thing was still hard to follow. Yan turned her thoughts back to the question. "Yeah, there's no way that they would be able to work together, now that I think about it. They've always been very factional."

Kino shrugged. "Each family has to work by themselves. I understand."

The very structure of the Guild, wherein each ship competed for contracts and status, did lead to significant tensions between the various clans, and prevented much meaningful collaboration.

"So they wouldn't be able to stand against the Fleet..." Yan said. "We keep coming back to that. The Fleet is just-- on paper it's so strong."

"They have the same number of ships as the Guild does, approximately," Kino said. "If the Guild had loyalty to each other, they could stand a chance."

Yan shook her head. "We're talking about crazy hypotheticals here. That's never going to happen. I don't think there's any way to bring down the Fleet through brute force. If there was, it would have been done already."

"So what do you think would work on them?" Kino asked. She seemed mostly curious. "There's no such thing as an unbeatable army."

"I feel like it was probably a Fleet captain who said that phrase first," Yan muttered, drumming her fingers on the desk.

"They wouldn't be wrong, even if they also weren't being introspective," Kino said.

"What are the Fleet's weaknesses?" Yan asked.

"Secrecy," Kino said. "They're spread out across the galaxy, and a lot of them are often out of contact range. Lots of their ships are single purpose, like the Gatekeeper. They rely on the Empire for supplies."

"That's hardly a weakness," Yan said. "So does everybody else."

"It's worth mentioning."

"What else? Anything?"

"All their people have that chip in their heads," Kino said. Yan shivered involuntarily. "And they have ideological training."

"That makes them cohesive, though," Yan said. "I don't see how that's a weakness. We wouldn't do it if it wasn't useful."

"We?" Kino asked.

"Ah. Fuck," Yan said.

"Yeah."

"So. What would be the best way to get at the Fleet?"

"Remove their leadership," Kino said. "If there's chaos in the Empire, they won't have a clear way to operate. Keep them split up and busy. Find a way to break through the ideological training of the individuals."

"All that is easier said than done."

"So the Fleet can't be our first target," Kino said with a shrug. "We knew that."

Yan leaned her head on her hand, elbow on the desk. "Then who is?"

"The Guild is probably the easiest," Kino said.

"What do you mean by that? What good would attacking the Guild do?"

"If we want to destabilize the Empire, we need to start kicking at the beams that are holding it up."

"Beams?"

"You know. Economics. Law. Cohesive social structure."

"I don't want to attack the Guild, though."

"I don't mean that we need to be pirates," Kino said. "I think there's probably a way to get them to fall apart, and start causing problems with the stability of the Empire's supply chain."

Yan looked at Kino. "Explain what you're thinking to me," she said.

"Think about it." Kino ripped a thread off the hem of her jumpsuit's sleeve. "They're already factional. All it would take is a push to get them to stop trusting Wil Vaneik and Thule as Guildmaster."

"True. But they'd just call for a vote of no confidence and elect a new one," Yan said.

"You're forgetting about the supership."

"I'm not, but I'm not sure how that plays into it."

"Thule is power hungry, isn't he?"

"Yeah."

"He'll do anything to stay in charge."

"Yeah."

"Then if he has the most powerful ship, he can go after his enemies," Kino said. "They won't be able to call for a vote against him without fear of retaliation."

"I'm not seeing how this would make the Guild splinter."

"People will band together when they're pressed," Kino said. "If they're faced with the threat of violence from their own guild leader, I bet some Guild ships would work together."

"Okay..."

"And if there's infighting in the Guild, planets will feel it. Deliveries won't come, territories will be staked out, people will start openly associating with pirates," Kino said. "You know what it was like on Olar. Think about that Guild division, but a hundred times worse."

Yan did think back to Olar, where the Guild had been blatantly been acting against its own interests in a pathetic power struggle. Yan hadn't hated dealing with that, but the circumstances that surrounded her and Sid's trip there had caused her to think less deeply about it than she should have.

"I get that," Yan said. "But, argh... How will that impact the Fleet at all?"

"I don't know," Kino said. "It would impact a lot. If it gets bad, Sandreas could send in the Fleet to deal with it."

"I don't really want to drag the Guild through the mud. They're my family, and they're not involved."

"Everyone's involved, like it or not," Kino said, staring at Yan. "You know, if we break the Empire apart, a lot of people are going to suffer."

"We can't know that for sure," Yan said.

"Even economic instability causes people to die," Kino said flatly. "And we're aiming for more than that."

Yan looked down at the floor. "I guess."

"The Empire can't continue like this," Kino said. "Things need to change."

Yan mutely shook her head. She didn't know if she was agreeing or disagreeing. She felt burdened by all of this. The idea of affecting the lives of billions upon billions of people, on all the planets of the Empire, that felt much worse in her head than an outright battle did, even if a battle was bound to lose. There was something that felt less immoral about being honest-- attacking soldiers who had signed up to be attacked (at least a little, even if Fleet recruits had no real idea what they were getting into), being forthright with what one wanted and the methods that were going to be used to achieve it. And there was also a feeling, one that she knew was perverse, that it was better to fight a battle that they were sure to lose. That way they could claim some kind of moral high ground. It was a twisted feeling, one that was hard to put into words, but she felt it anyway. "You're right, and I know you're right, and that's why I'm here at all, I just hate it."

Kino, in an intensely awkward gesture, patted Yan's arm with her right hand. It was so funny to Yan that she actually laughed, and Kino looked up at her, startled. "What?"

"Nothing," Yan said, unable to explain what she found so endearing and comedic about the moment. It had succeeded in dropping her out of her funk, though, at least a little bit. Kino smiled, in the stiff way where it was clear that it did not come very naturally to her.

"I don't think we should just focus on the Guild," she said.

"I know," Yan said. "But they're our easiest 'in' I think."

"True."

"What else do you think we should focus on?" Yan asked. Kino was clearly thinking about something, or she would have just let Yan continue on with talking about the Guild.

She hesitated for a second, as though she needed to consider very carefully what she was trying to say. "The Empire isn't just made up of these big systems," Kino said. "It's all just individuals who are trusting in those systems to continue to function."

"Yeah," Yan said. She wasn't sure what Kino was getting at.

"It's that trust that we need to disrupt."

"Are you talking about like what happened during the fall of the Edden Empire? Like what you did with Sandreas on Jenjin?"

Kino shook her head. "No. I don't want to do that."

That was a relief. On one hand, the concept of hooking in to the mass subconscious of the entire population of a planet was intensely appealing to Yan, but on the other, the devastation that that had caused during the fall of the Edden Empire was probably not worth it. Besides, any ship that came into orbit around a planet and tried to pull a stunt like that would be destroyed immediately. That trick had only worked once in history to destroy the dominant power, and that was because it had never been done before. The Edden Empire had not been using their sensitives to their full potential, and they were caught unprepared.

"Then what do you want to do?" Yan asked.

Kino was pensive, and her fingers momentarily stopped their destruction of her sleeve. "The Empire is unified through belief," Kino said.

"Yeah."

"What if we could get people to believe something different?"

"Like, sectarianism? I'd have to ask Sylva about that." Sylva's whole job, before she had abandoned her apprenticeship to follow Yan across the galaxy, had been reviewing religious texts to ensure compliance to the overall doctrine.

"More than that," Kino said.

Yan thought about this. "Heresy?"

Kino shrugged. "It would put a split in the Empire," she said. "If we could spread it."

"And what good would that do?"

"A heresy could help people express their feelings of discontent towards the Empire," Kino said. "If they don't like the way things are, it would give them a vision of an alternative."

"This is crazy," Yan said, shaking her head. "It feels wrong." Although she was unhappy with religion at the moment, for her own personal reasons, years of belief at the Academy had been a formative influence on her personality, and she couldn't shake the idea that going against the theology was wrong on a fundamental level. She couldn't even imagine what it would be like to intentionally go against. There were occasionally people who, of course, through sincere and accidental belief, had come up with wrong doctrine. Those people were always found, silenced, and corrected before their ideas could spread too far. That was what Sylva had been working on.

Kino shrugged again.

"Don't you believe in God?" Yan asked. "Wouldn't this be pretty messed up?"

"Of course I do," Kino said. "It doesn't have to be something that completely contradicts the theology."

Yan shook her head. "I don't know."

"It would be a way to gain critical support throughout the Empire," Kino said. "Even if they don't know who we are, or what our goals are, it would be something that we could use to mobilize people."

"And what would this hypothetical heresy say?" Yan asked. "And how would we disseminate it? It's not like we have access to ansibles."

"We'd have to think about it," Kino said. "I'm not saying we have to do this right away. Or at all. It's just an option for another way to make things..." She trailed off.

"Yeah."

"And if people are already thinking about their dissatisfaction with the Empire, maybe it won't be such a blow when it collapses."

"You say that with so much certainty."

"I have to," Kino said. "We all have to believe in something."

"Okay."

They were silent for a long moment. "So. Should we talk to the Guild?" Yan asked. "Is that our first step?"

"You're the captain."

"God, I hate that people keep saying that."

"It's true."

"Then yes. We'll talk to the Guild." Yan wasn't sure how they would go about doing that, but it was slightly more actionable than Kino's suggestion that she start a heresy of some sort. Yan didn't know what she would want to say about that. She would need to talk to Sylva, which was a whole different bag of worms.

"If we're going to talk to the Guild, we should do that as quickly as possible," Kino said.

"Why?"

"Remember when we were with your family, they only mentioned that Sandreas had faked your death."

"Oh, so you're still politically alive," Yan said. "As far as we know, anyway."

"If I were Sandreas, I wouldn't want to have two of his apprentices die immediately after each other."

"That would look a little suspicious."

"I've probably gone off on an extended trip somewhere," Kino said. "A religious retreat, perhaps."

Yan laughed. "That's one way of putting it."

"So if we approach the Guild, someone might actually talk to us," Kino said. "Without having to go through a whole... Mess."

"Let's hope. It'll still be a danger, though. Who knows how much the situation's changed, since we've been travelling for so long."

"I don't know," Kino shrugged.

"Who's our best bet to talk to?"

"If we're trying to drive a wedge in the Guild itself..." Kino thought for a moment. "You might know better than I do, but my first thought is Yuuni Olms."

"She doesn't have an official position," Yan said. "Why are you singling her out?"

"She seems like the right person. She likes you. She's got dirt on basically everyone. She's got connections within the Empire. She's eager to move up in the world."

Yan considered this. "Is she still on her father's ship?"

"Part of the reason she was talking to Sandreas was that she couldn't get a stardrive of her own."

That gave Yan pause. "Can we-- Nevermind, the answer to that question is definitely no."

"What?"

"I was thinking about trying to bribe her with a stardrive," Yan said. "But I don't want to make one, and I don't want any of us to try."

"Get Chanam to do it," Kino said.

"I'm not going to tell a kid to risk his life!"

"I'm joking."

Yan relaxed slightly. "It's hard to tell with you, sometimes."

"Sorry."

"It's okay."

"We'll have to give her something," Kino said. "I don't think she'll work with us for no reason."

"I don't know if she has to work with us," Yan said contemplatively. "If we can just get her to consider herself, and work against the rest of the Guild, that might be enough."

"If she was going to call for a vote of no confidence in Wil Vaneik, she would have already done that."

"I don't know if she has that power," Yan said. "She's neither a captain, nor her ship's delegate. Her father might not want to get their family's hands messy."

"That makes sense," Kino said. "Then what would she be able to do?"

"Does she know about the murder?" Yan asked, referring to Thule's killing of his and Olms's former master, the late Guildmaster Ungarti Vaneik.

"She might suspect," Kino said. "But I think the only people who know are Vaneik, his mother, Thule, any collaborators they had, and Imperial people. And us," she tacked on.

"Hm. Is it worth it to tell her?"

"We don't have any proof."

"She might believe us. She doesn't like Thule, and she does like me, as you said. Though I don't really understand why."

"Spacer solidarity," Kino said with a shrug. "Or maybe for the same reason Sandreas likes her, probably."

"Sandreas likes Olms?" Yan felt a weird pang of jealousy at that. It was her own problem, considering that she had abandoned Sandreas, but still, she didn't like the thought. It was stupid, but she had liked having a place in Sandreas's heart.

"I think he does. Or he wouldn't listen to her so much."

"Okay. That's irrelevant," Yan said, attempting to change the conversation around. "So we should track her down. Her family's ship shouldn't be that hard to find."

"If you say it, let it be," Kino said.


Yan vaguely knew the routes of Banmei Olms's ship, the Neutron Star, so she navigated them towards one of the mining colonies that the ship regularly offloaded from. A mining colony was by far the best option to meet up at. The amount of time it took to load ore onto the ship and offload supplies was usually more than the standard eight hours that a ship would stay in port, and mining colonies did not usually have ansible access. Some did, but it was fairly rare. Additionally, there would be far less ship traffic, which meant far less chance of the First Star encountering trouble.

It was a long trip to this mining colony, having to come all the way from where they had been at Olkye, and cross practically the entire length of the Empire. Yan found herself wishing that they could stop at one of the many stations that they could have easily routed to. But there was no way that they could stop at a station, so they didn't.

The whole trip, Sylva was cold to her. Yan had at first thought that it was because they had simply gotten onto different schedules, so they rarely saw each other, but when Yan tried to shift her waking and sleeping hours to more closely align with Sylva's, Sylva shifted hers in the opposite direction. Yan couldn't figure out what she needed to say to get them back onto comfortable terms with each other, so she didn't say anything.

Everyone spent a lot of time alone. They each carved out their little haunts aboard the ship. It wasn't sad or lonely, precisely, but walking through the empty corridors of the First Star sometimes gave Yan the feeling that she was trespassing on hallowed ground-- just from the way that there seemed to never be anyone else around, and the way her footsteps echoed off the walls. This period of isolation couldn't last. Yan knew it wasn't healthy for any of them, so she resolved that after the meeting with the Neutron Star, however that went, she would make more of an effort too bring them back together. For now, though, thinking of how she wanted this meeting to go, if it was going to go at all, made her very, very nervous. Enough that it took up almost all of her conscious thought, all the time.

The First Star waited on the edge of the system where the mining colony was. They weren't invisible, as that would have been far too much work, but they were far enough away from the mining colony and running cold enough that Yan was fairly certain that they wouldn't be seen.

After about ten days of waiting, which could have honestly been much more, the Neutron Star jumped in. Yan was awake at the time, which was lucky, or she wouldn't have felt it, and she put down her current project (reorganizing the workshop) and headed for the bridge. She stopped by Kino's room, found her, and brought her along.

"You know you're going to have to do all the talking, right?" Yan said.

"I know."

As they walked through the halls, Yan also paged Iri and Chanam, since they would probably want to be involved. Sylva... Well, Sylva was a whole different can of worms. Yan didn't want to bother her, since she was probably asleep.

They all met up on the bridge.

"This took long enough," Chanam complained, sitting down at a random seat. Yan glared at him when his hands inched a little too close to the controls.

"It could have been much longer," Yan said. "I'm grateful we had this chance to calm down."

"Yes, it's certainly been nothing but calm around here," Iri said with a yawn. She sounded insincere, but that might have just been tiredness. Apparently, Yan had woken her up with her summons.

"You all ready for this?" Yan asked.

There was a general murmuring of assent, and Yan gestured to Kino, to begin the radio broadcast that they had prepared, one that would light them up in the sky. This mining colony would have no reason to know that the First Star was a rogue ship, and neither would the Neutron Star, Banmei Olms's ship, so Yan felt confident that they wouldn't be attacked as soon as they revealed themselves. That was, of course, unless Sandreas had announced things in the time that they had been gone. That wouldn't have been unthinkable, but it didn't seem likely.

"Neutron Star, this is Apprentice Kino Mejia calling from the First Star," Kino said. The ship names were similar, which was amusing, but ships all tended to follow similar naming conventions. It just made the phrasing of things slightly awkward on occasion.

There was a long delay.

"This is Captain Banmei Olms aboard the Neutron Star," came the reply. "To what do we owe this honor?" the voice over the line was incredulous sounding, as though it were inconceivable that First Sandreas's private ship could be hanging out at a relatively tiny mining colony, waiting for their relatively unimportant ship to show up.

"This is a social visit," Kino said. "We were in the area and were gratified to see that your schedule aligned with ours."

"Of course," Banmei said. "Would you and your ship's captain like to come aboard? We have plenty of time for niceties as we load."

"Unfortunately, we can't stay for very long," Kino said, dodging the question of the First Star's captain. "Is your daughter on board?"

"Yuuni? Yes."

"I have something that I would like to discuss with her in person," Kino said. "If it is amenable to you, I would like to receive her here."

There was a long silence. Yan half expected him to say no, and Kino would have had to go to his ship, but then a different voice, one she recognized, came over the line. "I'm happy to come," Yuuni Olms said. "When do you want me?"

"At your convenience," Kino said. "We will send docking instructions for your shuttle."

"Excellent. I'll come immediately," she said.

"Look forward to seeing you. Thank you, Captain Olms."

"Anything for the service of the Empire," Banmei said, sounding slightly bemused.

They waited for a while and watched the Neutron Star prepare to receive its massive cargo of ore, and as one of its shuttles began a slow and arduous trek towards the First Star. Yan sent docking information through their computer-- there was no need to do it over voice and risk being recognized. They had decided that there was no reason for Olms to know that Yan was actually alive. She would probably be in hot enough water just by being contacted by Kino, should she choose to mention it to Sandreas, or should the word get out among the Guild.

Kino went to the bay to greet her, and Yan watched the scene unfold over the security cameras.

Yuuni stepped out of the shuttle and, even from the weird high angle that they were observing from, she looked approximately the same as Yan remembered. As Yan had, she had abandoned her sensitive's cassock for the convenient jumpsuits that all spacers wore. She smiled when she saw Kino, and pushed off the side of her shuttle to greet her.

"Apprentice Mejia, it's good to see you again. I was under the impression that you were with the Fleet."

"Plans changed," Kino said, rather stiffly. "It's good to see you as well." They shook hands. Kino's left hand was by her side; Yuuni hadn't seemed to have noticed it yet. "Shall we go somewhere more comfortable?" Kino asked.

"I always forget that you non-spacers don't like no-grav," Yuuni said. "Lead the way."

Kino snuck a glance up at the camera, in the corner of the room, then led Yuuni out and down the hallway. Yan struggled to keep up her watch on the feeds as they continued to change locations.

"How have you been?" Kino asked, rather awkwardly filling the silence.

"Same as I have been since Ungarti died," Yuuni said. "I'm glad to be back with my family, I suppose."

"No word on getting your own ship yet, I suppose?"

"It's been a process. I've been working on it, but it's hard when I'm out of contact most of the time."

"I understand," Kino said.

"How have you been? Are you doing alright since Yan--"

"I'm fine." Kino was short, and even with her flat affect, and over the microphone, she didn't sound fine.

"I'm sorry you weren't able to attend the funeral," Yuuni continued, ignoring Kino's weird cutting off. "It was a touching service."

"I said my goodbyes privately," Kino said. They came to the meeting room and Kino let Olms in. Yan was relieved to no longer have to flip between video feeds. As Kino's hand lingered on the door, Yuuni gasped.

"What happened?" Yuuni asked, pausing in the doorway and hesitantly reaching out to Kino's left hand. Kino was frozen stiffly in place, and let Yuuni touch the back of her hand, holding the door open.

"An accident," Kino said. "Don't worry about it."

Yuuni's face was dark. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm fine," Kino said again. "Please don't worry about it. Come in."

Yuuni dropped her hand and walked into the meeting room, taking a seat at one of the empty chairs. Kino sat across from her. "What is it you wanted to talk about?" Yuuni asked.

"I'm here to give you a warning about some actors in the Guild," Kino said.

Yuuni raised an eyebrow. "You're giving me hints about Guild politics now? I thought this relationship went the other direction."

Kino shrugged. "You don't have to listen to me. I don't have any easy proof."

"I'm all ears," Yuuni said.

Kino drummed her fingers on the table and hesitated, drawing out the moment. "Did you know that Nomar killed Ungarti?" Kino asked.

Even on the camera, it was plan how drawn and pale Yuuni's face became. "What?" she asked.

"Nomar killed Ungarti," Kino said again. "You didn't know."

"Are you serious?"

"Would I lie?" Kino asked. "I've never had any reason to lie to you."

"But he was--"

"You think that a sensitive can't kill their master?" Kino's words, though they were delivered in her usual tone, held a bitter, ironic twist for Yan. After all, here they were. The idea of a betrayal like Kino's had once been so impossible as to be laughable, and yet. Here they were, indeed.

Yuuni shook her head. "I can't believe that."

"He was out for power, and he was about to lose his chance at it," Kino said. "I know it's hard to believe, but it's true."

"How do you know?"

"There was no autopsy done, but First Sandreas's bodyguard is adept at checking for poisons. He investigated Ungarti's corpse at the funeral and found that he had been poisoned. From there, we conducted a quiet investigation into the prime suspects," Kino said. "Thule is guilty."

"And Wil?" Yuuni asked quietly.

"Is still an idiot," Kino said, "but probably in on it."

Yuuni's voice was choked. "Why haven't you told anyone else?"

"First Sandreas believes it is not in our best interests to destabilize the Guild with this information," Kino said.

"Then why is he telling me?"

"He is not telling you," Kino said. "I am telling you." A distinction, which, Yan hoped, would keep Yuuni from bringing up this meeting to Sandreas directly.

"Why?" Yuuni asked again.

"There are too many lies in the Empire," Kino said. "And I am worried for your safety. You provided us valuable information, but if you go prying too far, you might have uncovered this on your own, and you would have been in danger. Now, if you choose to look, you can be prepared."

"You're not giving me any protection?" Yuuni asked.

"May the knowledge of God be your shield, and wisdom your sword," Kino intoned. Yuuni sighed loudly. "But I believe whatever First Sandreas offered to you still stands."

"No offense, but I'm probably safer on my family's ship when we're out of contact most of the time, than I am with some sort of office on Emerri," Yuuni said.

"I understand."

"Is there anything that I should be doing with this information?" Yuuni asked. "Is this a tit for tat type deal?"

"I don't want anything from you," Kino said. "Aside from seeing this wrong righted. Perhaps it would be best if the Guild was not run by an idiot and a murderer working in concert."

Yuuni rubbed her temple. "How much fire will First Sandreas bring down on my head if I manage to convince people to bring a vote of no confidence?"

"I don't know," Kino said. "That probably depends on how well it turns out."

"By that you mean...?"

"If the vote fails, and Wil Vaneik remains Guildmaster, Nomar will be able to connect the dots and trace it back to the Empire. We rely on the Guild, as much as we would rather not. He has the power to completely cripple the imperial economy."

"You think I don't know that?" Yuuni snapped. "Sorry, didn't mean to be so rough there. So subtlety is the name of the game."

"And not tossing the whole Guild into chaos," Kino said. That was, of course, their actual goal. They were simply hoping that Yuuni Olms would end up treading on one too many toes with this.

"Can I ask you a question?" Yuuni asked.

"Of course."

"The ship, the one that Nomar was constructing, it's still out there, correct?"

"Yes," Kino said.

"How did it get away?" Olms asked.

"It already had its engines in it. How did you know I went to see it?"

"Word gets around," she said vaguely. "Certain people have been unhappier than usual."

"The station is under Imperial control, at least."

"You can always build another station," Yuuni said, waving her hand dismissively. "Stardrives are far harder to come by."

"I should hope so," Kino said. "Nomar, at least, seems less tempted to make his own than I would have expected."

Yuuni laughed. "I believe that we were thoroughly cautioned against it enough. Stardrives can put the fear of God into a person like nothing else can, I think."

"That's fair. What was it that you want to know about the supership?"

"Just how much of a danger it is."

"It's probably still very bare inside. Construction was interrupted. It will take a while before it can support a real crew, I think."

"You think."

Kino shrugged. "I'm not an expert, and I wasn't given a guided tour of the interior."

"Ah."

"Is there anything else you wanted to know?"

"Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?" Yuuni asked.

"There is one thing, actually," Kino said. "It's not important," she added, at Yuuni's slightly alarmed and intent look. "You probably won't be seeing me again for a long time. And I just wanted to say..." She paused, collected her thoughts. Yan tensed, watching, as Kino prepared to deliver her message. "Yan would have wanted to thank you, for all your help."

"Oh," Yuuni said, sounding sad. "Yeah. It, you know... Yeah." She didn't really have words for it.

"I wasn't there, on Olar, but she told me about how you stood up for her. She always really appreciated that. She would have wanted you to know."

Yuuni smiled. "Thank you for telling me, Kino."

Kino nodded.

"I wish we had gotten to work together more," Yuuni said. "I always liked the thought of a spacer being First. It's... It's a real shame what happened."

Kino nodded again, and they both were silent and pensive for a minute. "Thank you for coming," Kino said. "I appreciate you taking the time."

"Thank you for telling me this," Yuuni said. "I'll do my best to tread carefully. I can't make any promises to you, though."

"I'm not looking for anything from you," Kino said, which was a lie. "I just thought that you deserved to know."

"Thank you for that."

Kino nodded again. "I'll escort you back."

"Where's the rest of your crew, by the way?" Yuuni asked, as they both stood up. "This is a beautiful, empty ship."

"You noticed?" Kino asked. "It's just a small place. Runs with just a few people."

"I wish I had a ship like this," Yuuni opined.

"Maybe someday," Kino said. "Stardrives are being made all the time."

"As are fortunes and prison sentences."

"Perhaps."

Kino escorted her back to the bay where she had left her shuttle.

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A note from javert

I'm extremely sorry for missing Friday's upload. I've been spiraling into depression or whatever recently. If I don't post a chapter, feel free to yell at me. I'm fairly motivated by that sort of thing.

Anyway, instead of writing, I spent a bunch of my weekend saying to myself "You can paint once you finish writing" and then I didn't do anything, and then i was like "Why am I holding productive creative pursuits hostage from myself" and then I painted this picture of Sid

picture of sid

 I've just been struggling to write and wanting to paint, but I don't have the hours in the day to do both. anyway. that is to say again, sorry for missing my chapter upload date. I'm still aiming for 2 chapters a week but you know. life is hard,  unfortunately. Hope you had a good weekend regardless.


About the author

javert

Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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