When dealing with Steiner, one had to overcome three challenges. First was the exaggerated, crushing handshake that should prove the manliness of participants. Surely, the colonel would never try to harm obviously weaker counterparts, but since Gromov was taller and more robust, the inevitable match began as soon as theirs palms met.

"So many years, Sava," smiled Steiner, exercising the pressure of enraged hippo.

"So many years, Colonel," agreed Gromov. He would never accept being on first-name terms with Steiner, but it doesn't matter as Steiner would probably disapprove it anyway.

"I thought you'd rather avoid the social events, Sava. I'm not gonna lie, you pleasantly surprised me today. What happened?"

"I've got the direct order to participate."

With still aching memory of how he was forced to departure for this summit, Gromov pumped more power to the grip, which resulted in Steiner tightened lips. He kept on struggling, though.

The second challenge involved the exchange of pleasantries, but both men failed to do so.
Finally, they compromised on the draw, releasing the handshake with mutual relief. The third challenge requested them to pretend that nothing special happened, so Gromov suppressed the urge to shake his fingers to renew the circulation of blood in the harassed limb.

"Now," Steiner continued. "Allow me to introduce my deputy, Major Sholto. I'd be lost without him. He can handle administrative tasks gracefully."

The slight emphasis on administrative part should cue that major belonged to the staff officers, coming probably from logistic department. The clear sleeve of shirt with no red number proved as much.
After they greeted each other, Gromov introduced his companion, who stood at attention.

"This is my wing, Second Lieutenant Akane Anbi. She is a prodigy when it comes to manual maneuvering under the Q-Field. Her battle record is praiseworthy."

"Thirty-three confirmed kills, if I’m not mistaken,” said Steiner heartily. “I would like you to have a presentation on my Academy. We need more examples like yours.”

Akane seemed delighted, but Gromov noticed the moment of small hesitation in Steiner’s speech, indicating Steiner consulted his memory aid. The ability to recognize people helped the colonel to achieve great results in politics, going upwards on the military ladder. Dying frequently in action, his mental capacities must have been damaged substantially, thus, he needed to rely on artificial devices and his deputy chief.

“Come, Sava. Before we start, you should meet a few friends of mine.”

Even though they did not like each other, Steiner had to consider Gromov, with his excellent score, a remarkable trophy, because he insisted to bring captain to main table, where the most prominent men and women were gathered. Poor uninvited Akane stayed behind, near the group of five pilots, who discussed something related to sport.



About the author

Pavel Morava

Bio: Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.

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