A Wheel Inside a Wheel

by

javert

SotP - Chapter Four - Wives & Daughters

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Wives & Daughters

December 479 I.C., Odin

Although Yang had been working himself up into a state of high anxiety over the prospect of seeing the Mariendorfs, as soon as he arrived at their estate, he felt a lot better. He had spent so much time in this place, with its quiet pines and graceful, snow-covered architecture, that it almost felt like coming home. He had phoned the count the night before, to ask if he could come visit, to which the answer was an enthusiastic affirmative, so they knew he was coming. This meant that when the door opened to let him in, Yang was almost bowled over by Hilde leaping onto him. She didn’t seem to mind that Yang’s coat got her damp with the wind-blown snow that was crusted onto it.

“Hank!” she yelled, wrapping her arms around him. Yang felt that she had gotten taller in his absence, which made sense, though he didn’t think the difference would be so noticeable. She had cut her hair short around her ears, and she was dressed in the trousers and button-down shirt that she preferred. Her one concession to women’s fashion was the pair of tiny green earrings she wore.

“You don’t have to squeeze all the life out of me, Fraulein Hilde,” Yang said.

She released him and stepped back to let him in the house. “Sorry,” she said, though she was smiling so brightly that he didn’t think she was sorry at all.

He smiled back. “I’m glad to see you, too,” he said.

“Dad said that you’d been back on Odin for almost a month and didn’t tell me,” Hilda said, grouchiness and gladness competing for space in her tone as Yang headed into the hallway and divested himself of coat and winter gear in the coat closet.

“It’s a bit of an embarrassing story,” Yang said. “I was worried that you might be ashamed of me.” He felt perfectly comfortable speaking of it to Hilde; it was the count he was slightly more worried about. “Or, at least, your father might be ashamed of me. I don’t like the thought of disappointing him.”

Hilde grabbed Yang’s arm. “What happened?”

Yang glanced around himself for a second. “Where is your father?”

“He was called to Neue Sanssouci unexpectedly,” Hilde said, as though she were reciting something. “He apologizes for his inhospitality, and should be back within two hours. And I can entertain you until then.”

“More trouble at the Prime Minister’s office?” Yang asked. The count had a minor posting in the diplomatic offices, mainly involving resolving issues between outer colonies and the crown. He took the work very seriously, something that could not be said for the vast majority of nobles.

“He doesn’t tell me anything,” Hilde huffed. “Well, anyway, he’ll be back later. Do you want some tea?”

“I have never been happier to hear those words in my life,” Yang said, which caused Hilde to laugh. He followed her through the house to the little parlor that she preferred, where there were tea and little cakes already waiting. They sat down, Hilde playing the part of the gracious hostess. “I love most things about the boarding house that I’m staying in,” Yang said, “but my landladies only ever make coffee. It’s truly a nightmare.”

“You should come live here,” Hilde said matter-of-factly. “My dad likes it when you do stay.”

“I’m sure you would all get tired of me rather quickly,” Yang said. He took a sip of his tea.

Hilde shook her head. “Not true.” She nibbled on one of the cakes and stared at him. “Why are you back on Odin?”

“It’s just such a beautiful planet that I couldn’t stay away for long,” Yang said.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Shut the door,” he said. “Then I’ll tell you.”

Hilde heard the tone in his voice, and she took the duty seriously, closing both doors to the parlor so that they couldn’t be overheard by the family servants, if they happened to be passing by. Yang wondered if he really should be telling this eleven year old girl everything, but Hilde was… special. She was far more keenly intelligent and aware than most other people, and Yang felt confident that she would understand him. He didn’t know if he should feel guilty that he saw an opportunity here to shape her worldview. Yang was in a unique position, one where she trusted him absolutely, would be receptive to hearing whatever he told her, and she was young enough to take what he said to heart. Her father probably wouldn’t approve, though, and Yang couldn’t help but feel slightly bad about that.

“What happened?” Hilde asked, leaning forward in her chair with her elbows on her knees and a rapt expression in her eyes.

Yang took another sip of his tea before he began. “Do you know the Merkatz family?”

Hilde considered this for a second, tapping her fingers on her chin. “I think so. I think I met Baron Merkatz once, at a party.”

“I was serving as Rear Admiral Merkatz’s adjutant,” Yang said. “The rear admiral is Baron Johan Merkatz’s third brother.”

“Doesn’t inherit,” Hilde said.

“No, but he’s made a name for himself.”

She nodded. “I don’t think I’ve met him.”

“You wouldn’t have. He works hard,” Yang said. “I think he spends most of his time in space. But you might have met his daughter, Cora, at some point.” Yang scratched his head. “I don’t remember what her last name is. She’s married now.”

“Okay.”

“I guess it doesn’t really matter, I’m just trying to give you some context.” He fiddled with his teacup for a second. “I like Rear Admiral Merkatz, don’t get me wrong.”

“But he sent you away,” she said. Her tone was questioning.

“Yes, he did,” Yang said.

“What did you do?”

“Do you listen to the news?” Hilde nodded, so Yang asked, “So, you heard about El Facil?”

“It was occupied,” she said. “Were you there?”

“Yes, I was. It was Merkatz’s fleet that fought the Alliance ships that were stationed there.”

“Wow,” Hilde said. “What was it like?”

Yang sighed and fiddled with his napkin. “I don’t want to tell you that it was exciting,” Yang said. “I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.”

“What impression?”

“War is an evil thing, Fraulein Hilde,” Yang said. “Thousands of people died there. I gave the orders that killed some of them. It’s not something that I can describe to you, and it’s not something that I want to describe to you.”

She leaned forward. “I can handle it. I’m grown.”

Yang had to smile at her earnest expression. “It’s not a matter of being grown or not,” he said. “And I can tell you all about the tactics and the ship movements and whatever you like, if you want to hear about them--”

“I do.”

He held up his hand a little. “Let me finish, Fraulein. I’m just saying that there’s a difference between that and telling you how it feels to give an order that you know will lead to someone dying. I couldn’t put it into words, but it’s an evil thing.” He took another sip of his tea.

It was weird to talk about this with anyone. Yang realized abruptly that, aside from the Mariendorfs and his landladies, every single person he knew was in the imperial fleet. It hadn’t really bothered him until this second, when he was faced with Hilde’s open and disarming face, and he realized that he probably didn’t have to warn her about how to cope with killing people, because it seemed like a situation that she would never need to be in. It was as though he lived in a universe where it was the norm to order people to kill and be killed. When had he entered that world? It had crept up on him gradually, so much so that he hadn’t realized-- or had forgotten-- that there was a world outside. He had to steady himself before he continued.

“I suppose you won’t ever have to learn that,” Yang said. “And I’m glad.”

Hilde nodded seriously. “Was that what made Rear Admiral Merkatz send you away?”

“No,” Yang said. “No, he understands all of that. I wouldn’t like him so much if he didn’t.”

“What happened, then?”

“During the fight, the flagship that I was on was hit, and Merkatz got a concussion. He turned over command of part of the fleet to me when we abandoned ship.” He paused for a second and looked around. “Do you have a piece of paper?”

“Sure.” Hilde got up and opened a drawer of a nearby bureau, pulling out a pad of paper and a pen. Yang took them and leaned over the coffee table to start scribbling a diagram, sketching out the positions of the two halves of Merkatz’s fleet during the fight, in vague relation to El Facil itself. “So this was the situation at the start of the battle.” He described the whole scenario with the A, B, C, and D groups, and Hilde listened, fascinated, as he scribbled out various diagrams showing the ships’ positions over time.

“So, eventually, C and D were here, going to land on the planet, and I was here with A and B. The escaping military ships were all over here, going as fast as they could. And then all of the merchant ships went out like this…” He continued to draw. Then he passed the pen and paper to Hilde. “Now, Fraulein, tell me what I should have done, in this situation.”

Hilde stared at it very seriously. “You should have the C and D groups chase the ships down over here.” She circled approximately half the space. “And you could capture these.”

“Let’s assume Commander Warrensburg wanted to continue landing on the planet,” Yang said. “He wanted to get there to make sure no one was setting traps on the planet’s surface or anything. So he didn’t have time to chase.”

“Okay…” Hilde drummed the pen on her lips. “You said that your group was good at positioning, right?”

“That’s right.”

“You should split up,” Hilde said. “Then you probably could capture most of the ships.”

“And which ships would you capture first?”

“Can you tell in space which ships are rebel fleet ships and which ones are merchant ships?”

“Yes, they look very different.”

She seemed concerned by something. “What if the merchant ships had been commandeered by the rebel fleet, to use as weapons?”

Yang looked at her curiously. “Why would you say that?”

“If I was on that planet,” Hilde said, “and I was desperate to get your fleet away, I would try to trick you. Oh-- maybe I would take empty merchant ships and pretend to use them as shields. You wouldn’t want to shoot at that, right? Then the fleet ships could escape.”

Yang winced. “They weren’t doing that, fraulein.”

“Okay. Or I suppose they could use empty merchant ships as rams, smash them into your ships. I read that sometimes if a ship is almost destroyed but can still steer, the captain will drive it into an enemy ship, to get the most use out of it.” Hilde was surprisingly astute and vicious.

“I think if they were going to do that, they wouldn’t have flown off in all different directions.”

“You didn’t think it was a trick?”

“I think…” Yang tried to compose his thoughts. “Hilde, do you know what happens to civilians when the Empire captures their planet.”

“No,” she said. “What?”

“Most of the time, if they don’t resist, they’re taken to do hard labor on the frontier, for the rest of their lives. They’re taken away from their families, their home, everything.”

“Oh.” She bit her lip a little.

“So I think that the people on El Facil, they were all desperate. Desperate people don’t usually have time to think of tricks. They were all just trying to get out. You’re right, if they had done that kind of trick, they might have been able to beat us, and then gotten time for the main Alliance fleet to come and save them. But they didn’t do it.”

She nodded.

“So, if you were me, and you didn’t think it was a trick, what would you do?”

She looked at the paper again. “You should split up. Groups of three ships should be able to capture one pretty easily. You could probably get most of them, if you are fast.”

Yang nodded. “That’s right. I could have.”

She cocked her head at him. “So, what happened?”

“Do you think I’m a stupid man, Fraulein Hilde?”

“No!” she said emphatically. “Who said you were stupid?”

“No one,” Yang said. “I just want you to understand what happened.”

“What happened?”

“I ordered all of my ships to stay close together, and go capture all of the military ships first.”

“But--”

“Do you think I’m stupid, Fraulein Hilde?” Yang asked again.

“No…”

“Then why did I do that?” His voice was very gentle. “Tell me what I was thinking.”

She stared at him with wide eyes. “You didn’t catch all of them?”

“We caught the military ships,” Yang said.

“But the merchant ships?”

“All escaped.”

“You let them go on purpose?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Why?” she asked. Her voice was very quiet. “Wouldn’t you get in trouble?”

“Fraulein Hilde…” Yang said. “There were over a million people on those ships. Each one of those people has a life, like you and me. They have people they love, dreams, things that make them happy. Even if they weren’t going to be killed, I realized-- well, I knew-- I had a chance to do something good for them. I could let them go, and they would be able to live the life that everybody deserves to live.”

“But--” Hilde’s hands were on her legs, her fingernails digging into her pants.

“I knew that I might end up in trouble, real trouble, for it. But I’m just one person. Sometimes… Sometimes one person has to be ready to do the right thing, even if it costs them a high price.”

Hilde was completely silent. Yang looked down into his teacup for a second, then at the mass of scribbled on papers. “Do you understand, Fraulein?” he asked.

When Hilde didn’t respond, he looked back up at her. She was turned away from him and rubbing at her face with her sleeve. Yang reached out tentatively and put his hand on her shoulder.

“But you could have died,” she said with a kind of weak sniffle. “My dad said--”

“I know,” Yang said. He squeezed her shoulder gently. “I know.”

“You can’t die. You’re my friend. You can’t.”

Yang shook his head a little. “Fraulein… I… Sometimes there are things that are more important than just my life.”

“But what about me?” she asked in a sad little voice. “Aren’t I important to you?”

Yang sighed. “Come here, Hilde,” he said, and scooted over a little on the couch so that there was room for her to sit next to him. She did, and he wrapped his arm around her, with her putting her head uncomfortably sideways on his chest, still sniffling a little. “If I had died, or if I had vanished, what would you have done?”

“I don’t know,” Hilde said.

“I think I do. Maybe it would have taken a couple years, but I think you would have found out a way to look up what happened at El Facil, and you would have seen what I did. I tried to make it look like a mistake, but I think you-- and a lot of other people-- are smart enough to see that it wasn’t a mistake. I think… you would understand what I did, and why I did it. I know it wouldn’t have been easy, and I’m sorry that I would have made you unhappy, because I care about you very, very deeply, Fraulein, but you would know why I had to do it.”

“Why are you telling me, then?”

“Because I might have to make another choice like this one, someday. And it might not work out as well as it did this time. I might die. And if I do, I would want you to know why.”

She clung to his shirt, and Yang patted her head for a second. “Don’t die,” she said.

“I will try not to,” he replied. “But it would be very presumptuous of me to make any promises.” He was trying to lighten the mood, but Hilde was still unhappy. Maybe he shouldn’t have had this conversation with her. Maybe she was too young to understand.

“What should I do, then?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” It was an odd question. “If I die?”

She shook her head, still nestled against him. “No-- I mean-- this is important. What should I do to help? Do you want me to do the same thing?”

“Hilde, no,” Yang said. “I hope that you’re never in a position where you have to make a choice like that. I don’t think you ever will be, just like I don’t think you’ll ever have to understand ordering soldiers into battle. I just… Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything to you. I just wanted you to understand me a little better. That’s all.”

“Oh.” Her voice was quiet now. “Okay.”

“There is one thing you can do for me,” Yang said.

“What?”

“Please don’t ever tell anyone about what I’ve said to you today,” he said. “Not even your father. It might be dangerous for all of us.”

“Okay,” she said. “I promise I won’t tell.”

“Thank you,” Yang said. He squeezed her shoulder again. “I trust you, Fraulein.”

“You can count on me, sir,” she said.

Yang laughed. “Don’t call me sir. I like it better when you call me Hank.”

Hilde laughed, too, some of the somber mood broken. “Okay, Hank.”

“Okay, Hilde.” He ruffled her hair and she squirmed away from him. “You should tell me about how school is going, so when your father gets back, we can pretend like that’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time.”

“Oh, yes!” She moved back to her own side of the table, and with slightly shaky hands poured both of them some more tea. “School is going perfectly this year,” she said.

 


 

The count came back not too much later, finding Yang and Hilde deep in a discussion that had started out about Hilde’s time at her girls’ school and eventually meandered back to Yang talking about the SW class at the IOA. He was demonstrating how the game worked with again a pen and a piece of paper, illustrating with the help of one of the count’s books how a specific battle might have been played out by two opponents in the game. Hilde was enraptured by the idea, and she wanted to play, but unfortunately there was no one for her to play against, so she had to be content with drawing out diagrams with Yang.

“You look like you’ve been busy plotting a war,” the count said as he came in, leaning on the door. “Am I interrupting something?”

“Oh, no, sir,” Yang said, standing up and smiling. “All of your work matters settled appropriately?”

“As far as they ever are,” Franz said. “If it’s not one thing, it’s the other. I should be lazy like all the other nobles and take an early retirement. Then I could be home to pester Hilde all day.”

“Dad!” she said, annoyed, as she scooped up all the loose papers she had been drawing on with Yang, folding them neatly and slipping them into her pocket. Yang had no doubt that she would study them intently for a while.

“Some would say that idle hands make the devil’s work,” Yang said, “but I see quite a lot of value in laziness.”

“Indeed. Has Hilde been the gracious hostess while I was away?”

“Of course,” Yang said. “We had an excellent time.”

“Then I’m sure she won’t mind if I steal you away from her for a while,” Franz said.

Hilde glanced between her father and Yang, a weird expression on her face. Yang shot her a reassuring smile, one that he didn’t think the count saw. “Of course not,” Yang said. “Lead the way, sir.”

The count brought him into his study. As Yang sat down in one of the armchairs, Franz unlocked a plain wooden cabinet and pulled out two glasses and a bottle. “Something to drink?”

“Sure, thank you,” Yang said. Franz poured two glasses of whiskey and handed one to Yang before sitting down himself.

“How have you been, Leigh?” Franz asked.

“I’ve been alright, sir,” he said. “In some ways glad to be back on Odin.”

“Yes.” Franz tilted his glass around in his hand. “I suppose I shan’t beat around the bush: I ran into Rear Admiral Merkatz at Neue Sanssouci the other week.”

“You did, sir?”

“Yes.”

“Is he well?”

“The scar on his forehead is quite something, but yes, he’s fine.”

“That’s good. I… Well, I suppose it’s stupid of me to say that I like him.”

“He didn’t tell me the exact nature of the disagreement that you apparently had.”

“It was a professional disagreement,” Yang said. “I briefly had command of part of his fleet, and I made a decision that was strategically unsound.”

“Unsound enough to have him remove you from your post when you had been there less than a year? After giving you command of his fleet as a sub-lieutenant?”

Yang looked away. “It was the kind of stupid decision that only a sub-lieutenant given far too much power under a stressful situation could make. It was an embarrassment to the fleet.”

“I see.” Franz took a sip of his drink. “Can you really be blamed for being an inexperienced commander tasked with something far above your station?”

“Merkatz knew I could do better, and he expected me to do better,” Yang said. “I was perfectly capable of making better decisions, but I made-- in his eyes-- the wrong ones.”

“You don’t sound very upset about this. You never struck me as a person who would be callous when their mistakes lead to the deaths of men under their command.”

“What?” Yang asked, looking up, confused. “Oh, nobody died. It wasn’t that kind of mistake. I didn’t lose any ships while I was in command.”

Franz squinted at him. “Then what exactly was the mistake that was so embarrassing that you had to be reassigned immediately?”

“Honestly, sir, I would prefer not to discuss it.”

“Really?”

“I tend to only end up embarrassing myself further.”

Franz looked at him strangely, then sighed. “I’ll respect your privacy, then, Leigh. I assume this was why you didn’t tell me you were back on Odin for so long?”

Yang blushed a little and looked away, mumbling, “I didn’t want to disappoint you, sir. You have been nothing but kind to me.”

“You’re not a disappointment,” the count said. “Please, don’t think that I would show you to the door over some kind of early career fumble. Everyone makes mistakes.”

“Yes,” Yang said, thinking about what he had said to Mittermeyer, “everyone does make honest mistakes.”

“Indeed.” There was a moment of silence. “Rear Admiral Merkatz also said some other interesting things to me.”

“Oh?”

“He expressed that he did think you are a very talented and promising young officer.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Yang said. “I do feel worst about disappointing him.”

“Yes. Well, he also told me that I should keep an eye on you, and make sure you were headed in the right direction.”

Yang winced a little. “Er, sorry that he foisted that burden upon you.”

“It’s not a burden. And I already feel myself somewhat responsible for you.”

“You don’t have to be, sir. I’ve already abused your generosity quite thoroughly.”

“Leigh, you were there for me-- for Hilde-- when Amelie died like no one else was. There’s no way that I can repay that in this lifetime, no matter how much I try. And even besides that, you are a brilliant young man, and I am proud to know you.”

Yang felt like his face must be beet red.

“It’s not abusing my generosity. I’m happy to give you anything that I can.”

“Er, thank you, sir.”

“But I am not quite sure what the rear admiral meant by his comment.”

Yang shook his head. “I don’t think that it’s actually anything you can fix, even if you tried,” Yang said. “I feel sometimes like I’m being swept along on tides greater than myself, and there’s not really a direction you can shepherd me in.”

“I see.”

“Please don’t worry about it, though, sir,” Yang said. “And if you see Rear Admiral Merkatz again, and he asks about me, you can tell him that he can trust that I am trying very hard to stay out of trouble.”

“You don’t strike me as a troublemaker, either.”

Yang shrugged. “It sometimes finds me, like it or not.”

“Do you think that you’ll be returning to the front lines?” Franz asked.

“Probably not for several years. I think I should try to make the most of my current posting. Merkatz wasn’t being cruel when he recommended it to me; I think it is a natural fit for my talents.”

“What exactly are you doing, now?”

“I’m in the Tactical Analysis/Personnel Intelligence unit,” Yang said. “Basically, what we do is we analyze past battles and any other information we can get our hands on, about the commanders in both our fleet and in the rebel fleet, and we try to determine what their specific strengths and weaknesses are, and what sort of tactics and strategies they favor. We don’t make battle plans exactly ,” he said, “but we provide recommendations on what we think the enemy will do, and who and what will be best suited to counter them.”

“Sounds like fascinating work.”

“It is,” Yang said. “I am learning a lot.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I suppose when you do return to the front lines, you’ll have more of an eye for what the enemy will do than almost anyone else.”

Yang laughed a little. “Well, most of it is stuff that anyone could see if they looked carefully.”

“Most people are very bad at looking at things carefully.”

“That’s true.” Yang took a sip of his drink. “How have you been?” he asked, awkwardly trying to shift the conversation away from himself.

“I’ve been fine,” Franz said. “Life in the court is always interesting.”

“I can imagine.”

“Well, it’s filled with personalities. Hilde’s getting old enough that she’ll probably start having to be involved in that world soon enough. I can’t really say I’m looking forward to it.”

“Really? She’s only eleven.”

“One is a member of the nobility from birth, for better or for worse. And she’s my heir. That means quite a lot.” He fished around in his pocket. “She’s already being invited to things.” He passed Yang a thick cardstock invitation.

“What is this?”

“A winter solstice party that I have no desire to attend, but that Hilde will want to go to,” Franz said. “I suppose I should either decide to take her or decide to not tell her that the invitation was received.”

“Who is the Baroness Westpfale?” Yang asked, turning the card over in his hand.

“A funny young woman. A couple years younger than you are,” Franz said. “She was the sole heir of her father, who died several years ago, and now she and her mother amuse themselves with all sorts of projects. She attended the school where Amelie used to teach music, and now she endows it heavily, sponsors poor children to come to it, things of that nature.”

“And she invites you to parties?”

“Her mother invites me to parties,” Franz said. “I’m not sure what the reason for that is.”

“There’s an obvious one,” Yang said.

“A widow and a widower? I’m sure. But I’m not interested, and there would be no benefit in it for her, so I don’t think, well, who knows. Regardless, I appreciate her generosity in intervening in an old man’s impoverished social life.”

“Yet you don’t want to go to her party?”

“It will be filled to the brim with people thirty years younger than myself,” Franz said. “Hilde would probably have a good time. I know all the young women dote on her.”

“Will she be disappointed if she doesn’t go?”

“Yes. She likes to feel grown up, you know.”

Yang laughed. “I do know.”

Franz took another sip of his drink and studied Yang, then raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps I can kill two birds with one stone,” he said. “If I might take advantage of your friendship.”

“Of course, sir,” Yang said. “Whatever you need.”

“Do you have any interest in parties?”

“Er,” Yang said. “Well, Reuenthal used to bring me to yours.”

“Remind me in a minute to ask you how Reuenthal is doing. But is that a yes?”

“I don’t have much practice with them,” Yang said. “I’m a terrible dancer.”

Franz laughed. “Would you mind terribly being Hilde’s escort? I think that a fine young lieutenant would be looked upon kindly as he makes sure that my daughter has a good time.”

“Oh, uh, sure,” Yang said. “I mean, as long as, you know, people don’t mind.”

“If you’re going to have as promising of a career as Rear Admiral Merkatz suggested, perhaps it will be a good thing for you to ingratiate yourself with the nobility who are around your age. You’ll probably be seeing them for quite some time.”

“Yes, of course, sir,” Yang said.

“And this should help reassure the rear admiral that I am doing my utmost to guide you in the correct direction.”

Yang winced a little. “Perhaps.”

“You don’t look enthusiastic.”

Yang looked around the room for a second. “Like I said, I’m bad at being social.”

“I’m sure you’ll survive. Besides, maybe you’ll meet someone there who interests you.”

Yang fiddled with his by now empty glass. “I was just thinking,” he said, “I really don’t know anyone aside from you and Hilde who aren’t in the fleet. Maybe it would be good to remind myself that there is a whole other world out there.”

“That’s the spirit,” Franz said. “And, you know, Hilde will be thrilled. She’ll feel very grown up that you’re escorting her.”

“I’ll wear my dress uniform,” Yang said. Franz laughed.

“So, how is Reuenthal doing? Have you heard from him recently?”

“Oh,” Yang rubbed the back of his head. “I don’t know. You know he’s the security officer on a far-patrol ship, right?”

“Yes, I do recall he said that in one of his rare letters.”

“He ends up deep in Alliance territory,” Yang said. “So he’s not really reachable most of the time.”

“It must be a stressful job, to be out on a single ship like that.”

“Yes,” Yang said. “I can imagine that it is.”

“Does he like the posting?”

“It’s difficult to get a confession out of him one way or another. He should be back on Odin, at least briefly, in a couple months. It’s easier to talk to him face to face.”

“You have a better way with him than I ever have.”

“He was the one who decided to be my friend,” Yang said. “I have no idea what he saw in me, honestly, but I’m very grateful to him.”

Franz laughed. “Leigh, you should be more aware of your own talents.”

“If you say so, sir.”

 


 

December 479 I.C., Odin

One of the Mariendorf family servants brought Hilde to Yang’s boarding house on the night of the party. His landladies were very amused by her, and they fetched Yang downstairs. He was still trying to wrangle his dress uniform into position as he came down the steps, and Hilde laughed at him. She looked very smart in her black suit and red bow tie.

“Good evening, Fraulein Hilde,” Yang said, giving her a theatrical bow, which she laughed at. “You look wonderful, as always.”

“Good evening, Lieutenant von Leigh.”

“Are you ready for me to be your escort this evening?”

“Of course!” He offered her his arm and she took it. They drove to the party, which was being held on the estate of the Baroness Westpfale. Yang couldn’t say he was thrilled to be going, but he decided that he was going to make the best of it, at least for Hilde’s sake. She seemed enthusiastic, mentioning how excited she was to talk to various people who would be there. Her planned topics of conversation sounded less like the typical social chatter that went on at these parties, and more like a series of pointed questions about everyone’s careers and educations.

“Why are you so curious about where everyone went to school?” Yang asked. “I’m not opposed to it, but it seems like odd dinner party talk.”

Hilde stared out the car window. “All the adults know what they’re doing,” she said. “My dad says I should pay attention to the way their lives are, so I can figure out how to make mine the way I want it to be.”

He looked at her curiously. “You can be anything you want to be, Hilde.”

She frowned a little, and he saw the expression in the window reflection. “Maybe.”

He wanted to ask more, but perhaps shouldn’t, with the driver in the car.

They arrived at the huge estate. Hilde hung onto Yang’s arm as they walked up the huge steps to the entrance and were let into the hall.

The place was dazzlingly decorated for the winter solstice, with candles and evergreen boughs decked with tinsel over every available surface. The hall was swarming with dancers, each couple dressed to the nines. They were greeted at the door by an older woman wearing a long green dress.

“Oh, Hildegarde, I’m so glad you could come,” she said. “It’s a shame you couldn’t convince Count Mariendorf to come as well, though.”

“I’m sorry, Frau Westpfale,” Hilde said. “He really wasn’t feeling up to it.”

“I shall have to invite you both over for a more subdued event in the future, then he won’t have any excuses.” She smiled, and Hilde giggled a little. “Who is your escort?”

“Frau Westpfale, this is a friend of my father’s, Lieutenant Hank von Leigh,” Hilde said.

“Charmed, ma’m,” Yang said, trying to be gracious. He decided that he should imitate what he had seen Reuenthal do, at this kind of party, and he gave a slight bow. His hair flopped back into his face, and he brushed it out of his eyes as he stood back up.

“And what is a dashing young lieutenant doing escorting the young miss Mariendorf?” Frau Westpfale asked.

“The count suggested that I ensure she have a good time,” Yang said. “And that I should take this opportunity to meet people my own age. Being in the fleet does not provide many chances for social mingling.”

This answer seemed to satisfy Frau Westpfale, because she relaxed and smiled. “Well, I am very glad you could come, then, Lieutenant. There are plenty of young ladies here who are always glad to have the chance to talk to successful young men.”

Yang smiled and rubbed the back of his head, not wanting to embarrass himself by arguing about her use of the word ‘successful’. “Thank you for having me,” he said.

“Ah, well, I shouldn’t trouble young people such as yourselves any more than necessary. Please, enjoy the party.”

“I will, thank you,” Yang said, and then Hilde dragged him into the room.

“I want you to meet the baroness. She’s great.” Hilde said as she pulled him past the dancers. “Where is she?”

“Oh, er, sure.” Hilde pulled him all around the party, looking for the elusive hostess, but didn’t end up finding her. This frustrated Hilde, and Yang suggested that the baroness would probably reappear soon, and that Hilde should go and see who else was at the party. Hilde sighed, but did so, leaving Yang alone near the refreshments. He was putting some grapes on a plate when someone called out to him.

“Lieutenant von Leigh?” He turned, startled, almost dropping his plate. He didn’t recognize the voice of the woman who was speaking to him, but when he looked at her, he remembered after just a moment why she looked so familiar. She was a few years older than himself, with curly brown hair done up gracefully around a pretty face. She was wearing a blue gown that did not do very much to disguise the fact that she was pregnant.

Yang rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. “Hello, er, I’m sorry-- I know you’re Rear Admiral Merkatz’s daughter, but I’m not sure I remember your married name.”

She laughed at his confusion. “Feldmann, Cora von Feldmann.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you then, Frau Feldmann.” He wasn’t sure what to say to her. “I’m surprised to meet you here.”

“I am, as well,” Cora said. “But Odin is a smaller planet than everyone likes to believe, and the capital is a small place indeed.”

“That’s true. Do you know the Baroness?”

“She’s one of my husband’s cousins,” Cora said. “But I knew her socially before we were married.”

“I see,” Yang said. “I feel rather like I’m crashing this party, since I have not had the pleasure of making her acquaintance.”

“She’s a charming young thing.” Cora looked him over. “Be careful around her.”

Yang had to raise an eyebrow at that. “Usually that warning is given in the other direction.”

“You’ll see what I mean, if you do speak to her. She-- well, you’ll see.”

“Thank you for the heads up, then,” Yang said. He decided to switch topics. “Is your father well?”

“Yes, he is,” Cora said. “I didn’t expect to meet you here, but I don’t think there’s anyone else in the capital who matches your description, so I had to say hello when I had the chance.”

Yang laughed a little, feeling very awkward. “Yes, I think you might be right about that. It surprises me that your father gave you such a detailed description that you were able to recognize me at a party, though.”

“He spoke very highly of you in his letters,” Cora said. The use of the past tense, and the fact that Cora had definitely seen her father in person since then both tipped Yang off to the fact that she knew he was in disgrace.

“I’m aware that the reason for my reassignment was something of a disappointment to him,” Yang said. “Did he tell you about that?”

“He avoids speaking about his work too much, but I was able to put the pieces together.”

“I see,” Yang said. “Are you speaking to me out of a desire to witness a car crash, then?” He smiled as he said it, indicating that it was a joke.

Cora tilted her head slightly to the side. “No. I am curious about you, but I don’t think that we need to go so far as to say that you’re an unmitigated disaster.”

“A mitigated one, then.”

She smiled. “Yes, it seems as though everyone around you is doing their best to mitigate you.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Introducing you to society is rather like putting a fancy little gold chain on you, is it not?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“People behave far better when they have wives, Lieutenant. And I suppose you’re here to find one.”

“Oh, er…” Yang was suddenly very awkward. “I suppose.”

“You sound unsure of that?”

“I don’t think that most people here would be interested,” he said. “I do look the part of the outsider. It’s a little hard to imagine that any respectable woman would want to tie herself to me.”

“You’d be surprised, Lieutenant. There are plenty of younger daughters from minor families for whom a marriage to a promising young officer would be mutually convenient. There is a shortage of young men who have the right qualities.”

“And what qualities are those?”

“Having a beating heart and a working pair of lungs, for one thing,” Cora said dryly. “But aside from that, a good career is a bonus, a sharp mind.” She studied him for a second. “My father described you as being too kind hearted for your own safety. There are many women who understand that to be an attractive quality.”

Yang scratched his head. “I’m not sure that’s what your father meant by that.”

“There are some soldiers who treat their wives about as nicely as they treat the enemy.” She smiled a thin smile. “Even if that were the case for you, I think your future wife would not have much to worry about.”

“Hard to tell if that is an insult disguised as a compliment, or the other way around,” Yang said with a frown.

“It’s a statement of fact, Lieutenant. Regardless, there are plenty of women here who would be a suitable match for you. I would be happy to make the introductions. My father and, although I can’t presume to speak for him, I’m sure Count Mariendorf would both vouch for your character and potential.”

“I’m here as an escort for the young lady Mariendorf tonight,” Yang said. “Perhaps I shouldn’t socialize so much for my own sake. I’m not very good at it.”

“You seem to be doing fine to me.”

“Frau Feldmann, you are a married woman, and the daughter of a man I respect highly. The expectations for conversation with you are quite different than they would be with someone else.”

She laughed at that. “You are capable of being a gentleman. That’s all it takes.”

“I’m sure,” Yang said, though he wasn’t sure at all.

“It’s not as though you can go without a wife for forever,” Cora said. “You should start looking as soon as you’re able.”

“There have been plenty of bachelors who contributed great things to society.”

“And all of them had nasty rumors follow them,” Cora said. “I don’t think a man in your position needs or wants any more talk attached to his name.”

“That may be true, but it also feels rather cold to look for a wife just for the purposes of stopping talk.” He glanced at her, then decided the question he had wanted to ask was definitely too impolite.

She seemed to understand, regardless. “Love is a tricky and delicate thing, Lieutenant. I would say not to discount the idea that a wife would provide a measure of security for you.” She touched her own lip, a weird, thoughtful gesture. “Women have understood that for a long time.”

“And is that fair?” Yang asked.

“Do we live in a fair world, Lieutenant?”

“I would like to.”

“Perhaps I should tell my father that you’re more dangerous than he thinks.”

“Please, don’t,” Yang said, blanching.

She laughed. “I’m joking, Lieutenant.”

“Oh, okay.”

“You are a strange man, indeed.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize. It just means that you have to be careful.”

“It seems that I’m not the most adept at that.”

“Practice makes perfect, Lieutenant. I’m sure you will learn quickly, now that you’re going to be on Odin for a while. I’m led to believe that the capital is different in every way from life on board a ship.”

“Well, different, sure. But people are the same.”

She laughed. “As you say.”

“I apologize in advance if I’m overstepping,” Yang said. Cora looked at him oddly. “But my new commanding officer, Commodore Bronner, told me to tell you hello if I should see you. I am sure that if I failed to tell you that, he would find out that I had neglected my duties to him, and he would take offense.”

She sighed, then smiled slightly. “No, you’re not overstepping. Deitrich is a… good friend of mine.”

It was unclear if she knew that Yang knew that the two had been engaged. He decided not to bring it up. “I’m glad I’m not being impolite, then.”

“Of course not,” she smiled at him. “You may tell him that I also say hello, and that I’m doing well.”

“I will do that,” Yang said.

“Do you like the commodore?”

“He doesn’t like me.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,” Cora said. “But that doesn’t answer the question.”

“I haven’t known him long enough to form a fair opinion of him.”

“I’m sorry for being curious, but what is your unfair opinion of him?”

Yang was trapped, so he scrambled around for a polite answer. “He takes his perceived duty towards me very seriously, which it makes it very difficult for us to be friends or equals,” Yang said. “Although I was far junior in rank to your father, I think we had a rapport and a trust, for a time. The same could not be said for Commodore Bronner and me.”

Cora smiled. “He’s not as unpleasant as everyone thinks he is, you know.”

“I’m sure he is a wonderful person when not playing his official role.”

“No, he can be charming when he’s playing some other part.” She shook her head a little. “If he causes you too much of a headache, I can tell him to stop.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” She touched Yang’s arm, a friendly gesture. “I shouldn’t bother you so much about serious topics when you’re here to have fun.”

“Oh, I’m not bothered.”

“Indeed. I’m sure I’ll see you again, Lieutenant.”

“I look forward to it, Frau Feldmann.”

She smiled and nodded at him, flitting away to rejoin the rest of the guests, leaving Yang rather alone at the refreshments table once again. He could see Hilde across the room, talking with her hands on her hips to a gaggle of young men, who appeared to be laughing. She seemed animated rather than in any trouble, though, so he left her alone. His gaze traveled the room, looking around at all the gaudy couples talking and dancing. It was lonely, to stand on the edge of the party, but even though he had just been exhorted to make the most of the night and find other people to talk to, Yang didn’t quite have the wherewithal to do so. Cora had told him that he should look for younger daughters of minor families, but he had no idea who anyone was. Maybe he should have taken her up on her offer to make introductions. Maybe he should have Hilde introduce him to someone. The thought made him smile a little.

While he was standing there amusing himself, someone else came up right beside him. “I see that Cora is done bothering you,” she said. “I was told in no uncertain terms to make your acquaintance.”

This new woman was dressed in a rather low cut red gown. She was about seventeen or eighteen, with black hair and long eyelashes. Her face was pretty, but sharp and mischievous. She held a fan in her right hand, which she opened in front of her face as she spoke.

“Er, hello,” Yang said. “I’m afraid I don’t know your name, Fraulein…”

“Magdalena,” she said. “And you are Hank.”

“From that introduction, I assume it was Fraulein Mariendorf who demanded that you speak to me?”

“Of course.” Magdalena smiled at him coyly. “She told me that I was expected to dance with you, and who am I to refuse such a command?”

“Oh, er… Fraulein Mariendorf should know better than to inflict my dancing on anybody else.”

Magdalena grabbed his arm, a gesture he did not expect, and pulled him forward, away from the refreshments table. “Don’t worry,” Magdalena said. “I’ll make sure you don’t step on my toes, and, if you do, I’ll make sure you make it up to me.”

Yang didn’t have a chance to respond before they had made it to the center of the dance floor, where Magdalena practically threw herself upon him. Yang was too busy keeping track of where all of their limbs were to speak. The first song that they danced to was a rather fast thing, which meant that there were too many steps, and Yang was bad at all of them. Magdalena was true to her word about not letting him step on her toes. In fact, she took the lead in the dance, almost pushing him around. He didn’t exactly mind, as long as she didn’t push him directly into one of the other spinning couples.

As the song ended, Yang expected that he would be let go of, but she winked at him and held his arms so that he couldn’t gracefully escape. He looked around the room to see where Hilde was. She was watching him from the sidelines, with a somewhat pleased expression on her face. Hilde wasn’t the only person watching them, though. Yang caught Cora’s eye from across the room, and she mostly looked resigned. When their eyes met, she shook her head a tiny bit and shrugged.

This next song was slower, so Yang was able to catch his breath and talk. “Is there a reason why Frau Feldmann seems disappointed that you’re dancing with me?” Yang asked.

“Perhaps she just wanted you all to herself,” Magdalena said with a smile that made it clear that this was not the real reason. “You are quite handsome.”

“Er, thank you, but Frau Feldmann is a married woman.”

“That has never once stopped anyone,” Magdalena said.

“I don’t know if that’s true.”

She laughed. “How innocent you are.” She leaned forward onto him. “I like that.”

Yang really had no response to that whatsoever, so he stayed silent and let her walk him through the next several dance steps.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m really not very good at being social. I’m warning you now because I don’t want to disappoint you with awkward silences when I have no idea what to say.”

“Oh, I’m not disappointed at all,” she said. “Sometimes it’s good to talk to someone who’s not up to their neck in court talk anyway. And you aren’t so bad at dancing.”

“You’re doing all the work.”

“It takes two to tango, Hank von Leigh.”

Again, he was left without a response. His confusion amused her, he could tell, so he didn’t feel too bad.

“Where are you from?” she asked after a second, twirling herself underneath his arm before he could answer.

“Phezzan-land,” he said.

“My father took me there, once. Very interesting place.”

“That is certainly something that you could say about it.”

She laughed. “Do you not like your own homeland, Hank?”

“It didn’t treat me particularly kindly, which is why I ended up back in the fatherland.”

“And is the fatherland treating you kindly?”

“Some people have,” Yang said.

“Am I included in that list?”

“Would you like to be?”

“Oh, yes, I would indeed.” She smiled up at him. He was very uncomfortable with… whatever this was, but not enough to try to find a way to leave the situation. When they turned around again, he saw that Hilde was still looking on with an approving glance, so this situation probably wasn’t very dangerous. Maybe he was making a mistake entrusting all of his social awareness to an eleven year old, but he didn’t have much of a choice.

“Then yes, you are treating me kindly,” Yang said.

“I’m so glad to hear that you think so, since it means that we can continue dancing.”

Yang didn’t understand how she kept him trapped. “Is there any particular reason you’re interested in dancing with me?”

“Am I not allowed to like a man in uniform?” She smiled at him some more, and then deliberately moved so that Yang’s foot ended up crashing down on her toe. “Ouch,” she said, very flatly.

“I’m sorry,” Yang said, immediately trying to pull back.

“My fault,” she said with a grin, “but you did say that you would make it up to me.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Yang said. He knew that she was about to do something, but he had no idea what it was until Magdalena leaned very close to him, and her hand slid down his back until it was firmly placed on his butt. Yang’s entire face was beet red, but he didn’t want to cause a scene at this party. “What are you doing?” he hissed.

“Let me have my fun,” she said, but her hand traveled back up to a safer position. “Don’t you want to have a good time?”

“I don’t need any more attention on me,” Yang said. “And everyone could have seen that. Hilde could have seen it!”

“You’re trying to protect the little Mariendorf’s modesty? I commend you,” Magdalena said with a laugh. “But maybe it wouldn’t hurt her to learn more about the way that men and women behave.”

“Leave her alone.”

“I’m not trying to disparage her,” Magdalena said. “I love her. We’re quite bosom friends, you know.”

“If you say so.”

“It amazes me that her father is so indulgent,” she continued, spinning around with a particular upswell of the music.

“What are you talking about?”

“Her mother would have never let her come to a party like this dressed like a boy.”

“I think she looks sweet,” Yang said.

“It’s not a matter of how she looks, of course. It’s a matter of what people see.”

“And what are people seeing?”

“A girl who does not know that she is one,” Magdalena said. “It’s a difficult thing to be.”

“I won’t keep dancing with you if you keep speaking about her with that tone,” Yang said. “I’m her escort, and I won’t let--”

“Oh, the righteous anger! I love it.” Magdalena smiled. “But I won’t be mean to Hilde, if you like. I’m just trying to warn you that she will have a difficult time.”

“That’s her business, and not yours.”

“It might be my business, you never know,” she said. “I know more things than you might realize, Hank.”

“I’m sure.” He fell silent, frowning a little as they danced. The music changed again, to something a little more upbeat but not quite energetic.

“Have I offended you?” she asked, when he continued to frown and look around.

“I have no idea what you want from me,” Yang said. “I don’t even know who you are.”

“I’m a simple woman,” Magdalena said. “I want two things: to have a good time with a handsome and strange lieutenant, and I want people to see that I’m having a good time with him while I do it.”

“What if I don’t want to be seen?”

“It’s far too late for that, my friend.”

“I don’t think we’re friends.”

“Of course,” she said with that same smile and mischievous giggle. “But we could be something to each other, could we not?”

“And why do you want to be seen?”

“One hardly needs a reason to want to be seen. It’s one of the great joys in life, don’t you think?”

“I would have to disagree.”

“You should have stayed on Phezzan if you didn’t want to be seen, Hank.”

“Perhaps I should have.”

“But it’s too late, now.”

“Clearly.”

“Are you having a good time?” she asked.

“I would hate to lie to you,” he said flatly. She laughed at him.

“If you really don’t want to be seen, I can arrange that.”

“You mean you’d stop forcing me to dance with you?”

“Forcing?” She lifted her hands completely off of him. “Force has nothing to do with it.”

“Compelling, then.”

“So, you do find me compelling.” She smiled widely and put her hands back where they had been on his shoulder and hip, playing with her fan distractingly to the side of his face.

“I--” And then in that moment of distraction, Yang accidentally stepped on her toe again.

“Ouch.” She winked at him. “You’ll have to make that up to me, Hank.”

Before he could say anything, she was pulling him off the dance floor, towards the back of the hall. He didn’t see Hilde anymore, but he caught a glimpse of Frau Westpfale, who seemed angry at him. The speed at which Magdalena was dragging him across the room left him absolutely no chance to process that angry expression, though. She opened a door and pulled him through, into a dark and empty hallway that was a sharp contrast to the loud and brightly lit hall.

“Come on,” she said.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked. “I should really stay in there with Hilde.”

“She’ll be fine,” Magdalena said. “Come on.”

“Where-- how do you even know where you’re going?” he asked as she led him through several twists of the hallway and through a couple doors.

“This is my house, stupid,” she said.

Yang almost fell over as she pushed him through another set of doors, this time into what was probably their destination, a library of some sort. She lit one lamp on the wall, casting the place into a warm, dim light.

“You’re the baroness?”

“Of course,” she said. “Very silly of you to go to a party and not even know the hostess’s name.”

“Frau Feldmann told me that I should be careful of you.”

“Frau Feldmann doesn’t know how to mind her own business.”

“I thought you wanted to be seen.”

“By my mother, not by the nosy wife of my cousin,” she said dismissively. “Now, stop talking.”

“Why?”

“Because we have about five minutes before my mother comes in here and yells at me, and I want to make the most of those five minutes, alright?”

She came right up to him. “Er.”

Her hands were on his chest, and she pushed him back until he fell into an armchair, trying to scramble for balance. She leaned in very close to his face.

“Are you going to kiss me?” she asked. “Come on, at least make this a little fun.”

“It seems like that’s where this is going,” Yang said. “You’re right on top of me.”

“Oh, well, if you’re not going to do it,” she said, and then tilted her head and pressed her mouth to his.

Yang had never kissed anyone before, and it wasn’t… as unpleasant as it could have been. The whole experience had begun so oddly that he didn’t really have time to think about if he wanted it or not. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. He might have enjoyed it if he had known Magdalena at all, but he was mostly stuck thinking about the fact that he had accidentally abandoned Hilde at the party. The thought wasn’t enough to try to get her off of him, but it was enough to make him feel quite antsy.

Eventually, she broke it off. “You kiss okay, but your hands are like dead little fish,” she said, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, and then her hand on her dress. “You’re supposed to touch me, you know.”

“I didn’t know,” Yang said. “Sorry?”

“Well, whatever,” she said. She stood up and paced a little. “I guess you made it up to me.”

“Er-- weren’t you trying to get caught by your mother?”

“I guess. But now I feel guilty.”

“Sorry?” Yang said again. He was flustered and confused.

“It probably won’t do you any good to get in trouble with my mother. Then she won’t let me invite you to things in the future.”

“Er.”

“Come on,” she said. “I guess we should go back.” She offered him her hand to stand him up out of the chair, and he hesitated before taking it. She was surprisingly strong as she hoisted him to his feet.


Hilde seemed distracted on the car ride back to her house. She had her head pressed to the window, and she was watching the snow covered streets appear and vanish in the cones of light cast by the streetlamps, her fingers twisting and pulling at her bow tie. Yang noticed this agitation, and asked, “Did you enjoy the party, Fraulein Hilde?”

“Mmm-hmm,” she said, but it was a non-committal half agreement.

“Is something the matter?” Yang asked.

“Where did you go, when you left with the baroness?” Hilde asked.

“She wanted to show me her library,” Yang lied. “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Did something happen while I was gone? We were only out for a couple minutes.”

“No,” Hilde said. “She just--”

“What?”

“I don’t know,” Hilde repeated. She seemed frustrated now, though Yang didn’t know why.

“Did she say something to you?”

“No.”

“Do you not want me to talk to her?” Yang asked.

“I wanted you to be friends with her, because she’s… my friend,” Hilde said. “I don’t know.”

Yang reached over to her and patted her shoulder. “That’s alright, that’s fine.”

She shook her head a little. “Do you think she’s pretty?”

“The baroness is a very beautiful young woman, yes,” Yang said.

“Yeah.” Hilde squinted out the window and fell silent.

“Are you just mad that she monopolized my dancing time, so I didn’t dance with you?”

“I hate dancing,” Hilde muttered. “And so do you.”

Yang laughed. “Yes, you’re completely right about that.”

He had no idea what was causing Hilde’s weird mood, but he decided there wasn’t any point in pressing her on it, because she didn’t seem to be able to articulate the problem herself, so Yang fell silent as well, and they spent the rest of the trip in their own contemplative silences.

The whole evening had been strange, and he had no idea what to think about it. He should stop accepting invitations to these society parties, he thought, because they always made him feel very strange. He had no idea if it would have been better or worse for Reuenthal to be there. He sighed and shook his head slightly, causing Hilde to look over at him. What would Reuenthal think of all of this? Yang had no idea.

Snow was falling heavily by time Yang made it back to his boarding house room. He lit a fire in the hearth and stared into it for a while, thinking. He wanted to write to Reuenthal, but realized that he had nothing to say. It was just another one of those things that was being stacked into the “talk about it in person” pile. That pile was getting so large that Yang was almost dreading Reuenthal’s eventual return to Odin.

The fire crackled in the hearth, and Yang fell asleep in his chair, feeling both that nothing had been resolved, and that his strange problems were impossible to articulate in the first place.

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A note from javert

telling your only other friend, who is eleven, to do thought crimes (or real crimes). good idea.

Taking a break from space battles to go write a regency romance, or whatever tf this is

we know that Merkatz has a daughter in canon b/c it was threats against her that caused him to back the nobles during the civil war. afaik though she never actually appears on screen or has a name. anyway, mine now. trying desperately to get more women into the empire. it's weird and silly that there are relatively few women characters b/c you'd think that a society in which all of the men go get shot at in space battles that regularly kill millions of people at a time, there'd be like, a terrible society gender ratio? maybe they also selectively favor having boy children in the first place to balance it out? anyway

what is there to be said about magdalena von westpfalen? a lot lmao. she knows more things than you might realize [insert eyes emoji here]

"This Whole Thing Smacks Of Gender," i holler as i overturn [the baroness von westpfalen's] barbecue grill and turn the [winter solstice] into the [solstice] of Shit

this chapter was probably not drama enough lol. don't worry I'll be back soon with other drama

anyway. thank you to lydia for the beta read. 


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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