Status

Recent Statuses

6 mos ago
Current Rough day today, will get back to posting schedule tomorrow.
6 mos ago
Things will be a LOT calmer after Hallowen tomorrow!
6 mos ago
Just picked up my fusisble glass pieces from my last class at the Arts Center and I'm absurdly proud!
3 likes
6 mos ago
Power has allegedly been restored to my house. Returning home tomorrow!
6 mos ago
I have no power at my house and will be out of town for a memorial this weekend. Thanks in advance for your patience!

Bio

About Me:
I'm in my mid-30s, happily married with two young children. I've been role-playing since I was 14 years old, starting with AOL chatrooms and instant messenger (the dark days), before graduating to IRC, Gaia, RPNation, and then this website. When not roleplaying I am a GM of a raiding guild on Stormrage server, play on a couple breedable websites, listen to Kpop, consume small amounts of more adult-oriented anime, manga, TV shows (sci fi, fantasy, drama, Korean), and binge on romance.

I'd love to get to know other RP folks, especially if you're my age!

What I like/want in RPs:
Romance (necessity, I respect not everyone likes it)
At least 2 paragraphs per post
Sci Fi, (High, Low, Urban) Fantasy, Futuristic, Supernatural, some modern or psuedo-historical
Someone who plays male characters
Plots that allow me not to have to write realistic melee action (but I love to read it!)
Characters 18+
Players 18+
Intrigue/mystery in a story
Cooperative world building

What I don't like:
Players under 18
Children or teenage characters
Western or prehistoric settings
Plots with only action
Almost all furry/anthro pairings
G-rated romance

Message me if you think we'd be good RP partners for each other! Please note I do require romance, though I certainly do NOT want that to be the summation of the story. I also adore romances that have conflict and disagreement just like actual real relationships have. Some mundanes/players believe that all love stories develop "organically" in the story- but my real life experience has taught me you can have no chemistry with someone that would be great for you, all the chemistry in the world for someone you never thought you'd like, and romance is not 'organic' and predictable in practice. As a mundane/player we make the decision for romance because, quite frankly, we aren't the characters no matter how alive they might feel. They don't truly exist physically to have chemistry. If you feel differently we will not be a good fit for each other.

Additionally, I require players separate themselves from this characters. This should go without saying, but just because we write a romance together does not mean there are real feelings beneath. I am truly happily married. Please, please, please don't expect any fiction to translate into real life.

Most Recent Posts

"Tychon, you did just as much for us- or more- in my mind. Nobility is called wealthy because of our material possessions, but you shared your wealth of a wonderfully loving family, your time, and your loyalty. As I am sure Rene can tell you that is in short supply in the aristocracy. I have every intention of visiting you again in the future so believe me when I say that I'll have to be dead before I won't keep that promise," she said with a wink. "Mia?"

"Yes, Lady Solae?" the artificial intelligence purred through a speaker positioned directly behind and to the right of where Tychon was standing. He jumped, clearly startled, though it was unclear if it was the sudden sound or the inappropriate sultry tone of a 'woman' in so close proximity that he found more alarming. The older man edged away from the speaker in a couple discreet, yet stiffly awkward, shuffles.

"I think it's only fitting we give Tychon a short ride, don't you? It would be shame if he drove us to this island, fueled the Bonaventure, and then didn't get to experience her flying before he left. We endeavor to be good, gracious hosts do we not, Mia?" It was hard to tell if Solae was doing this truly as a reward for Tychon or purely because it gave her such a strong sense of satisfaction personally. Truthfully it was a little of both. Very few scions in all the empire took as much delight in gifting others as she did. The marquise sincerely found joy in sparking such emotions in others regardless of the 'cost' involved.

"O-Oh, that's not necessary..." Tychon tried to protest. Experience should have taught him that trying to dissuade Solae was a fruitless endeavor in most things but he felt compelled to try. Like many of his peers who spent their entire lives on a singular planet, he had not spent any time inside a vessel that traveled between the stars, and it was more than a touch frightening of a concept in execution.

"Where will we be flying to, Lady Solae?" Mia inquired as if Tychon had not voiced any half-hearted objection at all.

"We'll just hop over the side of the caldera," Solae explained calmly as she turned back towards her navigation console. "Mia, I'd like you to use our thrusters to heat the ground underneath the ship as much as possible. Rene and Tychon have placed something called 'poppers' underneath that we need to detonate if we're going to get free of the mud trapping us here."

"Understood Lady Solae. May I suggest that Sir Rene and Sir Tychon take seats as is standard safety procedure for any lift offs or landings?" she cooed sweetly.

The pair barely had the time to scramble for a place to sit before they heard the hold's ramp slide back inside, the door hiss as it sealed itself shut, and felt Mia engage the thrusters as directed. The Bonaventure shuddered briefly as the force from the thrusters struggled against the ensnaring muck. They were jerked upwards no more than a few seconds later as the poppers exploded under the baked earth and forced the mire to release the Bonaventure. Solae was prepared, however, and using the controls at her console kept them from going too far into the atmosphere. The ship eased the last few meters up over the edge of the caldera's wall, glided forward so the rear had clearance, and then began a smooth descent.

In the distance all three could see the the shadowy outline of San Roayo. It was not yet daybreak but the arrival of the Jumpers had awoken the city prematurely. Lights glittered in the windows of those fortunate enough to still have functioning lanterns or secured power sources. Because they had no need for subterfuge the Jumpers were easy to spot with their external lights, meant to keep similar aircraft from colliding with them due to the low visibility conditions, and bright beams surveying the ground beneath them for a visual assessment of the conditions. The cabin the trio sat in was dark with their only illumination the displays that Solae was utilizing to pilot.

"I'm sorry it's not a better view," Solae apologized. No one might want to admit it aloud but it was undeniable that San Roayo in all its glory would have been breathtaking. It was obvious she was crippled without being close; there were large swaths of nothingness on the southernmost edge of the coastline.

"It's beautiful," Tychon breathed, slack-jawed with awe. He had never seen his home like this and would not, in all likelihood, see it from a higher vantage point such as this unless Solae and Rene successfully returned. It was something to pensively look forward to though not the most enticing boon of their possible reunion.

"This should be a lot easier without a typhoon," Solae said with a sideways glance to Rene. The Bonaventure, still facing the sea, finished its gradual dip until it was a few kilometers above the sand. The noblewoman had anticipated the heat from their thrusters creating complications if they landed on the beach, so rather than rely on them completely for control she had dialed them back once they had cleared the top rim of the caldera, and let gravity tug them down in a carefully monitored fall. It was not the softest landing the freight shipper was capable of but it was exponentially better than when they had gone through the hurricane.

"Mia, would you please extend the ramp for Tychon?" Solae asked politely.

"Of course, Lady Solae. Is there anything else you require, Sir Tychon, before you leave us?" she asked breathlessly. Had it been a flesh-and-blood being it would have sounded like an open invitation to her bedroom instead of a considerate farewell.
The bottom of the caldera was no longer filled a large pool of water; much of the liquid had evaporated leaving only remnants of algae and a thick, dense mud that felt stable under her feet one moment and like quicksand the next. There was no real danger of being trapped and sucked down into the muck, but Solae still tread carefully if only so as to not risk the loss of a boot. Moving more lightly and quickly was key to keep the wet earth from fracturing. Rene and Tychon were close enough nearby to offer assistance if she became mired, yet the noblewoman had her pride, and didn't want to paint herself as a lady who was overly reliant on her male companions for mundane physical endeavors.

"Lady Solae," Mia purred. She lowered the ramp to the hold obligingly without needing to be instructed.

Solae sprinted up onto the metallic gangway and let out a sigh of relief. They had joked about it recently, but the Bonaventure truly had become their home. The marquise was uncertain if any of her other holdings would ever have the unique appeal of this vessel. The Bonaventure was responsible for their escape from death, was hers and Rene's first place of their own even if stolen, and was a refuge during a tumultuous time when all else was in a constant state of change.

"It is good to hear you again Mia," she greeted sincerely. The synthetic sentience's inappropriate tone was comically refreshing and seemed to lighten a bit of the load off her shoulders. Never would she have imagined that computerized flirting from a female voice would be any comfort. As layers of stress were peeled off her psyche she strode inward and to the cockpit to assertively take the pilot's seat. Reluctant as she was to be at the controls again there was a necessity for the most skilled navigator to take the helm if they were to successfully evade nearby jumpers. Just because the jumpers were currently providing humanitarian aid, or assessment in anticipation of future aid, did not mean they could not or would not give chase to a fleeing foreign spacecraft.

"Will Sir Rene be joining us?" Mia inquired breathlessly.

"Yes, yes he will," she laughed lightly as she powered on the screens adjacent to her. "He and our newfound friend, Tychon, are going to be refueling and helping to free the ship in preparation for take off. While they are doing that I thought it was best if you and I began to look at the available destinations. Can you please pull up stellar charts of the nearest accessible planets?"

"My apologies, Lady Solae, but I need more parameters. What fuel limitations and planet requirements should I utilize to best find a match to yours and Sir Rene's needs?" One might have thought that data analysis might be a dry enough topic to make Mia slip back into a more formal tone. Instead of sounding dry and severe, however, she sounded what could only be described as both sultry and excited. Computers weren't capable of true emotion but the aristocrat idly wondered if they didn't have some sort of response to being in disuse as opposed to actively performing tasks.

"Let's narrow the field to worlds with a PEA and the shortest jump. I don't want to use all our fuel on the first trip in case we arrive and discover the PEA is broken or destroyed," Solae declared as she leaned back in her seat thoughtfully. Returning to Cappela itself wasn't an option because of the distance. They could theoretically try to push themselves to the brink by jumping as far as possible, but the strain on the freight ship and themselves could result in permanent damage if not destruction. There was a reason that there were PEAs for sending imperial missives across the universe: there was no perfect way to go from one point to another instantaneously no matter how many resources were at hand.

"The closest planet with a PEA is Zatis," Mia began. "I have a duty to warn you, Lady Solae, that is largely governed by a criminal element which does not show deference to authority figures of the Stellar Empire."

"Why does it have a PEA if that's the case?" Solae asked, knitting her brows together as she pulled up an image of Zatis on her screen. Topographical images indicated the surface was rocky with three large oceans and relatively little greenery given the size of the five continents. If she had spent more time studying astrogeology she might have been able to discern why vegetation was so sparse. Unfortunately most of her education had focused on politics, modern etiquette, history, and the finer arts than sciences. Her late parents did not know what a disservice they had done.

"Records indicate that the Stellar Empire has a standing agreement with Zatis not to interfere with their activities in exchange for allowing them spies as well as providing certain information including, but not limited to, illicit dealings by the nobility, black market trading, private weapon deals, and mercenaries specializing in eradicating targets. Official imperial stance is that is better to have a treatise with Zatis to monitor the worst criminal activity rather than driving it underground completely."

"I see. And the PEA is to facilitate this arrangement?" Solae deduced shrewdly. "If they won't be ruled by the Empress I have my doubts that Duke Tan will convince them to declare their allegiance."

"Lady Solae..." Mia started with a hint of worry in her dulcet tones.

"I know. They will not be loyal to our cause and the bounty will be an attractive bait. Even taking that into account, it sounds like the sort of place where we will not need to hide our weapons, give our real names, and many people disguise ourselves. Besides, I trust in Rene's ability to protect us- don't you?" It was a rhetorical question. Before Mia could try to answer a query that the marquise truly did not want to discuss, she followed with a command. "Chart a course for Zatis. Once Rene boards we can discuss this with him further if he decides we need an alternative."

"Yes, Lady Solae," Mia chirped.

"How are you doing out there in the gardens?" Solae asked as she picked up her communicator keyed to the frequency of Rene's matching device. Erring on the side of caution she decided not to use the external broadcast; besides, this was the easiest way to hear a clear reply from Rene should his hands not be full with his own task.
"If you want to be a gardener I won't stop you, though I think it would be a gross waste of your talent and abilities," she said with a roll of her eyes as she reached back to ruffle his hair. Both Solae and Rene knew this really wasn't about a secret desire to pursue his passions in landscaping and herbalism.

"You need to have more faith," she scolded him. That was not to say she was not without doubts- she certainly had a mental breakdown after landing their ship through the hurricane- but it defeated the entire point of preparing for every outcome if one dismissed the more positive possibilities without serious consideration. They couldn't approach their goals with half a heart or be so shell-shocked at their success they didn't take proper advantage of a narrow window of opportunity. If and when they relayed their information to the empress Solae firmly believed they ought to know exactly what they wanted for rewards and how to navigate the political world. Right now they were simply surviving. Were they to enter safe sectors they'd be eaten alive if they tried to 'wing' the courts in the same manner. The Stellar Empire favored the bold, the shrewd, the composed, and the prepared.

Tychon glanced back towards Rene and Solae at the rear of the boat sheepishly. He could very easily hear their conversation over the waves and the engines due to the close quarters. The diplomat was not attempting to conceal what she was saying; she trusted Tychon this far and it would be callous (if not suspicious) to be trying to whisper in Rene's ear while he steered them across the ocean. If the patriarch was risking his life to give them aid the least they could do was show him respect as a peer and friend.

"Think of how the empress might view the situation," she pointed out. "This is not the only coup she has faced nor I imagine it will be the last. Her father left her a legacy of instability and there are always power-hungry individuals in any universe. She needs to set an example. The average citizen will not side with Duke Tan, but they will also not go out of their way to profess loyalty one way or another- they will seek the path of least resistance, of the least risk to themselves and their livelihood, unless they have compelling motivation otherwise. If we send our warning then the empress will have two people who have gone above and beyond. Instead of hiding we have pro-actively sought her out. Not just the aristocracy will want to know what rewards are granted to her most devout supporters."

"To the nobility the empress will want to send the message that she is generous, certainly, but what of the peasants? Of the soldiers? Of the labourers, fishers, farmers, and untitled? Would the empress want them to think they are to be ignored? That their heroism means nothing if they are not a lord or lady? You became a marine to clear your name, to be forgiven for something you did not even do, and so you must serve and sacrifice. If her imperial highness does not consider this sufficient payment and looks only to me- well, then she is dissuading people of many worlds to dare to reject usurpers, and teaching all of her realm that others might prize them more than she."

Tychon could not hide that he had gone almost slack-jawed at this speech. Not just anyone felt free to critically evaluate the ruler of their civilization with such objective candor. Some small part of him was in awe, another embarrassed to be intruding on a discussion of the high-born however inadvertently, and another was horrified at the lack of reverence.

"You too, Tychon. If I manage to return to Capella, I want you to think of what you'd like to do with your life. I have no use for my riches and, in light of this nightmare that is the rebellion, I intend to help my newest friends fulfill their dreams. You can tell me it is too much but know that I'll just use my best judgment to estimate what you want, then, so you may as well make sure I'm not making expenditures that run counter to your actual wants," she proclaimed.

Tychon opened his mouth to protest, thought better of it after a glance to Rene, and closed it quickly. A few more minutes stretched on before he called out over the tide breaking on a beach, "We're here!"

"One side of the caldera is partially collapsed. Do you think we can sail around to find which one it is?" Solae asked as she stood to get a better view. All their eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the night sky but it was still difficult to make out much more than shadows of rock formations. The trio squinted as they tried to discern the shape indicative of the opening that the marquise had mentioned. It would be easier to navigate their way to the Bonaventure itself if there was less distance to travel on foot.

"I can have Mia- that's our artificial intelligence assistant- turn on some of the lower lights to help visibility when we're fueling. The external sensors may be functioning well enough she can hear us now. Should I try to ask her to turn them on now so we're not quite so... functionally blind?" she inquired with Tychon more than Rene on account of his expertise.
"What do you think you'll want to do after all this?" Solae asked Rene as he leaned against Vitger's container looking haggard.

"What?" he asked bewildered. The question and its timing was so unexpected that for a moment he forgot about the difficult situation they were in and the taxing conversation he just had. This was a tactic he had seen Solae use before. In her own way it was one of her ways of trying to cheer up someone who was immune to a more direct approach of fluffy compliments. A shrewd individual would typically spot flattery as a blatant attempt at manipulation, no matter how benevolent, and this could make them even more worn. Diversion to a new topic was a better way to move the mind on a pleasant track of thought.

"If we get to a PEA, we alert the Empress, we survive until her forces arrive, and we're shipped back to Cappela as heroes, you don't necessarily have to remain a marine- especially if I clear your name. It would be suspicious to reward only the marquise and not her dutiful bodyguard that contributed so heavily to the success of their mission. I'm not suggesting it will be a quick process but you should have a goal... besides marrying me of course," she said with a coy smile.

"Ship's ready!" Tychon called out as he poked his head into the warehouse.

"Saved by the interruption," Solae remarked with a wink though she didn't seriously expect an answer right then. Rene seemed to be only concerned with survival and nothing more. What she wanted to think of was something bigger, something to hope for, a dream he could seize that maybe he had forgotten. The coup and the brewing war was horrible, the attempts on their lives were traumatic, but that didn't mean they couldn't keep seeking ways to spin their negatives into victories.

Tychon had docked Vitger's ship; it already had three full containers of fuel from the efforts of the day prior. With only moonlight and what his vision allowed as it accustomed itself to darkness he had managed to lower the boat into the sea, tethered it to a small albeit practical structure that had survived the typhoon, and prepared it for the journey. He gestured both Rene and Solae over once they emerged from the building. Gentle rolling waves were lapping on the shore at his feet peacefully. None of them could hear the more subtle sounds of the ocean above the dull roar of the jumpers as they surveyed San Roayo.

"After you," Tychon offered.

"Rene can drive the ship, Tychon. It's better if you stay here," Solae diplomatically explained. The words hadn't even left her mouth before Tychon was shaking his head in protest.

"Lady Solae..." he began.

"Sir Tychon," she interjected.

Tychon blanched. Just like on any other planet sometimes the common folk would use polite honorifics with one another, but hearing a marquise as esteemed as Solae, whose position in the societal structure was so comparably lofty, call him 'sir' was rather horrifying. The noblewoman was already being more respectful than was necessary given her status. Tacking a lord's address before his name was yet another breach of protocol. "I'm no sir," he insisted.

"I'm rather tired of being Lady Solae, though, so if you persist in calling me Lady Solae I think it's only fair I be permitted to call you Sir Tychon," the blonde-haired beauty reasoned.

"I know these waters," Tychon stated with an obvious dodge of saying any name. "I'll be faster getting you to the caldera and you need to take off before the jumpers see you. I'll help you fuel and bring back the ship when I'm done. Shouldn't be spotted so long as I keep my lights off and I'm quick. No one will be looking for a fuel ship, they're all either looking at the damage to the city or their sensors will pick up you leaving, which will be a big distraction."

"I really don't want to put you in further danger, Tychon," Solae remarked with hesitation. Tychon's arguments were strong and, loathe as she was to admit it, she was quite persuaded.

"Everyone will be in a lot more danger if you get lost on your way back or go too slow, won't they?"

Solae looked to Rene but he shrugged. There was no perfect answer that would provide the fisherman's expertise and yet keep him safe at home with his family. She strongly suspected that her soldier fiancee had the same apprehensions she did but didn't have an alternative solution that was available- and they couldn't to afford to tarry longer. He was letting her take the proverbial reins on this decision and deferring to her judgment.

"We need to hurry," Solae sighed. She stepped up onto the short metallic dock and then down onto the ship. With their cargo it wouldn't be the most luxurious travel accommodations but there was sufficient room for all three of them. If the two men were too cramped she could sit on Rene's lap. It would look silly to a bystander but they would be veritably invisible in the night- not that Solae much cared about appearances after everything they had endured. Her image was the least of her worries with the exception of her highly identifying hair color.
"Are you upset with me?" Solae asked Damaris with a gentle smile. She motioned towards the table and pulled out a seat for the adolescent, waiting for her to take it before pulling out the adjacent chair and setting it directly in front of her. They sat there, knees to knees, and the marquise took her young friend's hands in her own. This was as close as she could get to being eye level with someone so many years her junior that did not benefit of genetic modification making her taller. Tychon was taller than Solae, but not quite so tall as Rene, and it was incredibly unlikely his daughter would reach ever reach their heights given Julia's contribution. Nobility argued that the stature made them more godly, more impressive, and emphasized supposed natural leadership skills. For diplomats this was a deterrent to peaceful and intimate negotiations.

"While I am gone I want you to do something that is very important," she told the girl. "When I come back we'll talk about what you've decided you most want to be when you're an adult.. and I will do everything in my power to help you. Your mom, your dad, Rene, even I didn't get to chose anything we wanted, but that's something I want to do for you."

"You couldn't chose anything you wanted?" Damaris asked skeptically. She still looked sullen but Solae's proposal was starting to inject her with hope and excitement. Nothing would completely eradicate her disappointment that the aristocrat was leaving but this future gift certainly softened the blow.

"Even a princess has things they are told they can or can't be," she admitted softly. "I enjoy doing what I do now, but there were other things I wanted to do or be that my mother and father forbid. Have you ever seen a princess getting dirty fixing a space ship? That's why I want you to pick anything. You can be a lady of the courts, but you'll have to study really hard everything that a lady must know like other languages, who the famous artists of the galaxy are, how to eat at an imperial banquet, modern politics, the history of the Stellar Empire's establishment, and business management. If you don't want that you could be a doctor, a farmer, a lawyer, a scientist, an engineer, or anything else in the universe. It is a tough decision so ask your mom and dad to take you to the library to research each profession that interests you, okay?"

Julia and Tychon did not have intimate knowledge of what it meant to grow up wealthy and privileged, but they knew what she was saying to be true. Every individual, regardless of status, had certain expectations and restrictions put on them from birth. As elite members of the upper class Rene, Solae, Lord Armon, and their peers dedicated most of their childhood to an intense education on all facets of life. When they approached maturity professional pursuits were explored but only within proper societal norms. Rene already knew that Solae had been denied several hobbies that had piqued her curiosity. She could not reverse time and change the minds of her parents, but she could give Damaris an opportunity she never had, including the ability to choose title or reject it for something simpler but still out of her reach.

"It sounds hard but... I could really be a princess if I wanted?" Damaris repeated, still rather unconvinced.

"Yes. I don't have any children, so if your mom and dad allowed me I would name you as my heir. That would mean that if I died, and I was married to Rene and he died too, you'd become the next Marquise Falia, which is pretty close to a princess. If the empress makes me a duchess, then you'd be Duchess Falia."

"What if you do have children though?" Damaris persisted.

"I'm not certain yet if that will be possible," Solae responded carefully. Her perfect composure faltered for the briefest of moments and all the adults in the room could see the pain etched into her features. There was no reason to dive into the details of the surgery that prevented unwanted pregnancy for those who could not and would not subject themselves to the scandals of peasants. It was not a topic that Solae felt quite ready to approach so early in her relationship with her soldier lover. Damaris had not been wrong to pursue her line of thinking, especially since it was relevant to the discussion at hand, but someone more mature would have known it was a sensitive subject regardless of the audience. The truth was that the golden-haired scion dreamed of a family some day, one filled with laughter and joy, with compassion and warmth, and her interactions with Damaris were proof of the maternal instincts she held.

"Before we go I also have something for you," Solae told Julia. She rose from her seat and produced a folded piece of paper out of her pocket. "If you decide to leave Panopontus for any reason, I've listed all of the Falia holdings closest to here. They are still rather far away, but if you produce this they will be able to confirm that I wrote it with forensics, and they will host you until we're able to get back into contact. Think of it as an emergency back-up plan."

"Yes, well, perhaps we'll take a vacation after this is over," Julia said, trying not to become flustered or emotional.

"Would you mind if I kept your scarf for now? I can ship it back once..."

"Nonsense," Julia stated indignantly. "You gave us enough credit I could buy a new scarf for myself every day for the rest of my life if I wanted, so you'll take this one scarf of mine and keep it. I won't take it back, Lady Solae, not now or ten years from now. Use that to remember us and everything that happened here."

"Maybe not the Vitger part," Tychon interjected sourly with a dry sense of humor.

"We should get going before it gets closer to dawn," Solae said to Rene quietly. "It will be easier to take off from the caldera and avoid being followed if they can't spot us in the darkness. Between Mia and myself we should be able to minimize most of the external lights. By no means am I saying it will be an easy or smooth ride, but we'll avoid detection until we break through the second layer of the atmosphere at least."
"I've been thinking," Solae began conversationally to no one in particular, though Rene would clearly gain the most benefit from the discussion she was about to instigate, "I don't believe that Duke Tan necessarily has quite as large as an advantage as we initially speculated. While he will likely still descend on Panopontus, and other planets in relative close proximity to New Concordia, the impact it will have on the three of you will be minor comparatively so long as he doesn't realize we were housed by your family."

"What do you mean?" Julia inquired curiously. Tychon was a simple man who didn't much care about the political landscape but now that they had been thrown into it his wife was much more intrigued. This was a rare glimpse into the world of the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, something she may never again have such insight into. There was something to be said about understanding the people that made so many decisions that had a direct impact on their lives.

"We can all agree he must have been planning and preparing for this coup for some time," the marquise stated assertively. "Before he launched his initial assault he would have consolidated his resources and moved as many of his assets to his home on New Concordia to make them accessible. The people loyal to him almost certainly did the same with his forewarning- but I doubt that any of the nobility he assassinated did."

"Does that matter?" Julia asked though she knew it did or else Solae would not be bringing it up now.

"Families like mine, the Falias, do not have just one residence on one planet nor in one city. We have holdings on several worlds and in more than one sector. As a security measure, and for the sake of convenience, our funds are spread across more than one account so that traveling or managing day to day operations for a businesss venture on opposite sides of the universe- figuratively speaking- won't be impeded. It creates incredibly complex accounting for some noblemen and noblewomen, but it means if I take a ship to Cappela I do not have to physically carry credit with me nor do I have to worry about how long it will take for Cappela's banks to acknowledge what New Concordia shows to be in my account. Does that make some sense?"

"So he isn't as rich as everyone he killed put together," Tychon remarked with a rueful barking laugh.

"Not at all. With the time he's had he's probably forced his way into the New Concordia treasury and stolen everything there, but he won't be able to get any further regardless of how talented his saboteurs are, and his position as a Duke won't let him levy on any bank accounts outside his control. If any person of title could use their identity to get into another person of title's finances there would be a war even the empress would be unable to stop," Solae joked lamely.

"What this all means is the resources he has are limited. Trade in and out of New Concordia can't continue as it was because then news of the rebellion would spread. Duke Tan can't forge new agreements either as that would require revealing what has transpired and what position of authority he has assumed. Other planets will refuse to trade once they understand, if not because of loyalty to the empress, but because it's economically safer to stay in good relations with an expansive empire than a fledgling one, and because any noble associated with trading with Duke Tan will forfeit his comfortable status within the empire, including all the attached luxuries."

"And people are gonna get suspicious after a while of not hearing from your embassy?" Julia asked quietly.

Solae nodded. "They will. Duke Tan has to act quickly and claim as much as he can before the imperial fleet arrives. He'll prioritize planets with the most useful resources that don't have to be shipped off-world for processing, and planets with the least amount of military presence to minimize his losses, and depending on how arrogant he is he'll try to also select worlds with less nobility that he has to convince to bow the knee or not undermine his power."

"After the devastating typhoon here on Panopontus, and so much of your coral being exported before it is turned into goods of value, he'll set his sights on others first," Rene added more quietly as he slowly ate his dinner.

"Progress is going to be slow for Duke Tan," Solae confirmed with a nod, "and in another week or two even if we can't reach a PEA there will be small groups sent to investigate why diplomatic cables and decrees are receiving no response."

"How long after that until they know?" Julia inquired softly with a lowered voice.

"I don't know. Rene is a marine so he might have a better idea but... that might take some time," she admitted. "Do you think Damaris would fancy being a marquise herself?"

Tychon choked on his drink and very nearly spit it all out on the table. Rene, who was seated next to him, patted him on the back several times to help him clear both his throat and lungs. For her part Julia was just staring at Solae in stunned silence. After everything they had already been through Solae was glad she could elicit such a shocked reaction from her new 'family.' Before they could vocalize a protest she cleared her throat.

"Should I make it safely to Cappela I think I will be given quite a bit of social latitude," she declared. It was the understatement of the century. Given her proven fealty to the empress she would almost certainly be rewarded handsomely. Marquise was not the ceiling on titles granted by the throne and it was all but guaranteed that with the current trajectory that Solae would be crowned with a higher status than what she currently held. Even if she did not, it was the favorites of the reigning ruler that set standards for the rest, and public critique of someone so recognized would be shunned at a minimum. Without children Solae could declare anyone heir to the Falia line she wished. Her cousins could argue and litigate the matter but they would find counsel reluctant to represent anyone against an intergalactic hero.

"Miss Solae!" Tychon finally stammered.

"One of the few boons of my parents being deceased is that I am technically the matriarch of the Falia family as the most direct living descendant," Solae continued on undeterred. Rene could see that she was highly amused and enjoying herself. She evidently found it very satisfying to praise and impart gifts onto those that were deserving but so unprepared for her generosity. "That means only the empress and Rene can try to tell me what to do," she said with a wink at her soldier fiancee.

"That really isn't necessary," Julia tried to argue furtively.

"Julia," Solae said with dramatically feigned scorn, "are you also going to refuse the credit we brought to pay for the fuel that Vitger so kindly donated? I should be getting to bed." She stood, kissed Rene on the cheek, and made her way to bed as Julia tried desperately to move her lips in coherent words. Though she was unable to form an argument it didn't truly matter- Solae was so obstinate that they all knew the minute she had decreed that she and Rene would be turning over the credit in their pockets for the recovery of San Roayo that absolutely nothing would convince her otherwise. There was a far better chance of success arguing with the reinforced walls of the communication center downtown.
"It's not your fault there is a bounty on my head last time I checked," Solae impishly reassured. There was little more she could say that she thought might bring him any comfort. It was minimally his fault they had landed through the hurricane in the spot they had, and perhaps that he had exposed himself in a way that led to his capture, but he could hardly be blamed for the limited planetary systems accessible in one jump from New Concordia, the state of the vessel they had stolen, or the myriad of other issues they faced. Truly it was the marquise herself that posed the most danger to the couple. Rene was much more easily disguised and more of a challenge to recognize, whereas the smallest toddler could identify the noblewoman from her hair alone, and it was her genetic sequence that the rebellion was desperately seeking. Had she not been discovered in his company Rene could be living a much quieter and safer life already.

"Come on, let's go before Tychon gets suspicious that we're doing something other than talking," she joked with a bemused smile as she patted his arm. Turning towards Vitger's console she finished her meddling, wiped the screen clean of any identifying fingerprints to be cautious, and set it to a sleep mode as it wouldn't be seeing any more immediate use. Somehow she doubted any forensic experts would be deeply investigating the premises- and even if they did it would be impossible to discern anything other than Solae, Rene, and Vitger had all been there, which fed into the fabrication of them all working together.

"Ready to get some dinner?" she asked Tychon as they emerged from the dingy seaport office. "I'm guessing there is no where to park all this fuel in your back yard so we'll leave it here and come back in the morning?"

Tychon grunted in acknowledgment and wiped his brow. "Should be fine for a night. Can't imagine anyone is gonna come looking for Vitger and even if they do they won't hear him in that container. I can let him out tomorrow after you two are free and clear," he suggested. On the surface this was a practical suggestion, but it was clear that the man also wanted his neighbor to be punished for his greed and betrayal. Rene and Solae both had their lives threatened multiple times over the last week; this was the only time for Tychon and it was personal. Vitger was no stranger or soldier acting in his best interest. That he knew Tychon well, that they had been friendly, and that he was willing to murder him in cold blood for wealth and a pretty face would not be anything forgiven much less forgotten any time soon.

"I can't apologize enough for putting you in this situation, Tychon," she said with an incline of her head.

"Rene already explained it to me. I understand... Solae," he replied uncomfortably. Solae wasn't really a princess but she was close enough that he didn't feel quite right not using any sort of honorable address or letting her bow her head in deference. He was a peasant and yet she was treating him with more respect than most of his own social station.

It took another ten minutes or so for Rene and Tychon to put away everything that needed to be secured with their departure. Solae watched the sun lowering itself towards the horizon and was grateful that it was growing closer to dusk. During the night time they were in far less danger; their symmetrical features were less visible, the golden hue of her hair was nearly indiscernible, and their statures drew far less attention without the ability to distinguish detail. Thankful as she was for the scarf she was already dreaming of being free of its confines. Her scalp ached from having a tightly wound arrangement at the base of her skull.

"Let's go," Rene said softly and gestured for her to follow Tychon, who was already eagerly taking long strides towards a gravel and crushed seashell road that led back towards the city and his residence.

"I sent out some messages to friendly contacts I have in the area," she whispered to Rene as they walked alongside each other. Perhaps it was childish and juvenile, but she had reached for his hand, intertwined their fingers, and held it as they kept a more leisurely pace behind their host. All three were glad to be rid of the visual reminders of Vitger and his depravity but sprinting down the street would be too bizarre for nearby residents not to notice. "Only the ones I was certain were loyal to the empress, of course. It will take some time before they are received but we might find someone that can help us. Sending out an alert on the PEA won't guarantee our safety. Duke Tan will probably still want me so he can try to garner support via the PEA, perhaps someone that can intercept the empress's forces, and once he doesn't have a use for us he'll certainly want us dead. We'll need to find a place to hide from the coup's soldiers and from anyone that might still hold a grudge against you for the past. I'm most optimistic about a woman I know named Eira and a fellow linguist by the name of Kovit."

"Solae..." Rene started.

"I've had title since I was born but never did anything with it," she pointed out in anticipation of him expressing some sort of doubts about their plans, "If we can warn the empress there will be recognition and reward, including a chance to have a blessing on our marriage, and a chance to do something for the people that have helped us like Tychon and Julia and the Syshin. If we give up now then we'll forfeit being able to tell the courts of the wonderful people that Duke Tan's treachery didn't reach. Can you imagine what a voice for this planet, its working citizens, and the Syshin could do? I can't abandon that hope just yet."
Solae was relieved to find the store front vacant and unlocked. Despite being in close proximity to the sea, and a building rather than a vessel, it was rather reminiscent of the state of the Bonaventure before they stole it from the slavers. There was a palpable layer of grime over every surface that spoke to how Vitger knew appearances would not affect his sales. Similarly, the smugglers had been confidant their filth would not harm their bottom line so they had been quite content to let a thick muck build on equipment in disuse. Salt, chemical residue, dirt, sand, and grease were caked in crevices of the door and the natural indentations of furniture. When she had left the warehouse Solae had been certain she had given Rene and Tychon the worse of the two jobs. Suddenly her faith in that assertion was waning.

The marquise firmly closed the door behind her and turned the lock. Should either of her companions need to gain entry they could knock or communicate through Rene's device. With purpose she then turned to the windows and shuttered them closed as well with little difficulty. This might have been a more unusual sight had the typhoon not just passed. With storms of such magnitude it was not strange for merchants to take just as much time to recover as their customers. Even if there was no outward damage to the structures Vitger used for his trade, people might not know the status of his personal residence, or they might wrongly conclude that he was aiding his neighbors rather than hoping to earn a profit.

Because it was so integral to his business transactions Vitger had evidently kept his console in better condition than possibly every other one of his possessions. The screen had smudges, and it could have used a scrub around the edges, but was more than she had dared to hope for. She perched on the edge of the chair in front of it and pulled off her scarf. Keeping her hair bound and wrapped so tightly had begun to ache. With the freedom the locked door and shutters provided she could rest assured no one would stumble into the spectacle of the noblewoman with lustrous aureate hair. The loops she had wound her mane into created pleasantly soft curls from her chin past her shoulders. Silently Solae mused that all the best styles required pain before or during their execution; when she was a child she made accusations to her mother that beauticians were sadists when they tried to coax her into fancy dresses and fashionable up-dos.

"Right then," she sighed.

Vitger's hardware was less sophisticated than the communications center. Despite its simplicity, Solae navigated to wrong subsections of the programs he used for sales more than once. In truth she was stumbling blindly; as adept as she was with this avenue of technology nearly everything on this console was foreign to her. There was no Mia to guide her as she jumped around digitally looking for what she needed. The uncomfortably sultry artificial intelligence was sorely missed, not just because of the guidance she offered, but the companionship. Her love for Rene had not faltered- but she was a social individual that was most satisfied when networking.

The planetary network.

Deviating from her initial goal momentarily, Solae moved over to Vitger's messages. Afraid to so much as glimpse at whatever unsavory missives he had received, she instead began to compose. Broadcasts alerting him to her true identity meant the planetary network was functional and accessible from this console. The bounty on her head originated from New Concordia and it stood to reason that if correspondence was being delivered from other worlds and dispersed on the planetary network, it was also being transported elsewhere from Panopontus. Duke Tan would be controlling information but not blocking absolutely everything; to do so would raise red flags across the empire more quickly than he could mobilize his soldiers. Mundane letters from relatives, friends, and lovers to one another would be permitted if they lacked any hints about the coup underway.

It was an opportunity she couldn't let slip by. Seizing her chance she wrote three innocuous notes to people she knew in the sector that were trustworthy. Panopontus was wholly ignorant of the brewing war so she knew messages would not be scrutinized and monitored with the same fervor they would have on New Concordia. Solae was cautious, however, and utilized linguistic cryptography in each of the three. Not every linguist could decode puzzles from text, though most could, and these three in particular were highly educated, sharp, and astute peers. Perhaps it was a folly plan, or they'd be lost before arrival, or she'd be ignored, but taking the gamble was better than nothing. Each was signed with a pseudonym, contained no information on her location nor destination, but alluded with the cypher to the strife and peril she faced. If any of her acquaintances could offer help they could send 'Mia' a similarly encrypted post on one of several diplomatic interstellar forums.

Invigorated by her dalliance into espionage- minor though it was- the task of manipulating Vitger's records seemed easier. After a few minutes of exploring she started to revise his numbers and annotations. Solae was almost gleeful leaving the trail of crumbs. If Vitger had been an upstanding man of this city she would have never dreamed of concocting damning evidence he was a willing accomplice to two 'dangerous rebels.' Tychon and Julia had her loyalty for their virtuous compassion so she would do everything in her power to hide their interactions for the small family's safety. That Vitger had been greedy, unapologetic, crass, violent, and forced her to brandish a weapon made him the enemy. Striking Rene made him a nemesis she'd not easily forgive.

"Rene?" she called over on her transmitter. If he wasn't receiving this time she'd make a short journey to the warehouse to assault him in frustration herself. "How much are we offloading? How many tanks?"

"We're going to fill all three," he called back over.

"Is that as much as we can take?" she asked. Rene knew the struggles ahead of them; she was certain it was. "All right, I'll be done here shortly. When are we leaving?"

"Tychon says the tide would make it too difficult to make it back to the ship tonight. We'll have to leave tomorrow," he informed her, then added, "Julia and Damaris will want to say good bye."

"Once you're finished with the warehouse come over here to the office. I need someone to help me put my hair back in the scarf again," Solae sighed audibly with deep regret. Vitger was unsurprisingly not a fine gentleman with a quality mirror with which to gaze upon his reflection. She needed the men to absolutely confirm no errant strands were visible outside their cloth trappings.
"I appreciate the praise, but I hope I never have to do anything like this again," she said sincerely. Though she had ancestors that had military training and experience- certain members of her lineage were diplomats during times of war on more distant systems- it was truthfully not a skill set she wished to add to her repertoire. Solae greatly preferred to be able to converse and negotiate without strategically planning an imperial strike if her adversary did not make necessary concessions. More than one of the empress's predecessors, including her father, had been a vocal advocate for ambassadors carrying a treatise in one hand and a weapon in the other. Some of the marquise's contemporaries theorized this harsh methodology had done significant damage to political relationships. It was this strain, this agitation and fear, that may have been the catalyst for the likes of Duke Alexis Tan.

"I can alter his records," she suggested slowly as she mentally chewed over her plan as she spoke. "It would be relatively easy to show a sale of fuel to us, in our real names, that will paint him as complicit to the authorities. I don't know if he's reported your capture yet but if he has it will result him in getting his comeuppance, and if he hasn't reported it yet it will give him plenty of incentive to keep his mouth shut."

Tychon groaned as he started to regain consciousness. This had been a rough day for him even taking into account the typhoon that had landed only a few days earlier. He had spent the morning digging through the ruins of his neighbor's homes with Rene, albeit with great success considering, and then had been stunned by Vitger not once but twice. If she had been a doctor Solae would have prescribed him a week of bed's rest and pampering as his reward for enduring through the turmoil. Somehow the aristocrat doubted Tychon was the sort that would stay off his feet unless both legs and arms were broken. There was a streak of determination that ran through him a mile wide; it was no surprise that he got along with Rene so well.

"I'm sorry I didn't arrive earlier," Solae apologized.

"What the hell happened?" Tychon asked. He was confused not just because Vitger was no longer looming over him threateningly but also because Solae had appeared in what seemed like a blink of an eye. He was still staring at her after he had gotten to his feet. Undoubtedly he was trying to reconcile the fact that the 'princess' with the golden hair has somehow single-handedly become their savior from an individual twice her size.

"Rene can give you a play by play. We need to move quickly before anyone else that saw the original bounty and who thinks like Vitger finds us here. Rene, I need you and Tychon to figure out how much fuel we'll need to get to the nearest planet with a PEA. The more hops we make before we find somewhere with a PEA, the more worlds we put in danger, and the more traction Duke Tan's coup will build. I'll log a transaction in his system showing it... as a gift, I think, for saving his nephew was it? We'll take the credit we were going to give to Tychon, or reclaim it is in that container with him, and donate it to the citizens of San Roayo for their rebuilding efforts."

"Lady Solae," Tychon interrupted, feeling compelled to use the honorific because of the generosity she was showing. He had only glimpsed the currency but he knew what they had been willing to pay Vitger would go a long way in helping restore a community as poor as theirs. Like any other hero he did not see that he nor anyone else had done anything exceptional to deserve such a monetary reward. What he failed to take into account was that the marquise was bull-headed enough to force it upon him no matter how many objections he might raise.

"With all due respect Tychon, I won't let you refuse the offer. To make this work we'll need everyone to conveniently forget seeing us here. If one of the gentleman you and Rene worked with today lets it slip we were all around town and were not apprehended it will invite Duke Tan's wrath. I can promise you from what I have seen his crusade is ruthless. Do you think you could convince them?" she asked a little anxiously. It was not a small favor to request but she hoped it was possible. The noblewoman had faith in the Syshin and they had in turn been loyal, kind, and understanding with her.

"Yeah, sure," Tychon nodded. Clearly it was easier to agree with Solae's leadership than attempt to debate. Her proposal was sound and her voice intonation was rich with the authority of someone who was less open to suggestions than her words might imply.

"I'm going to his storefront, then, to log into his system. Contact me over the transmitter when you can tell me how much fuel we'll be moving, Rene," she declared, turned on her heal, and departed with a hurried pace.
Solae had nearly reached the building that Julia had told her functioned as a storefront for Vitger's sales. There was no one lingering around this section of town, efforts diverted elsewhere to rescue efforts and combing through rubble for what belongings and supplies could be salvaged, which made her even more uneasy than if it had been densely populated. When she was at the community center she had been fearful that her face would be recognized and a greedy mob would assault her. Now that she was in relative isolation she was paranoid of something far worse: that she would be attacked by a deviant and dragged off with no one the wiser. For reassurance she pulled out the pistol that had been tucked under her side and into the waistband of her pants. It felt impossibly heavy no matter how she gripped it, though she was absolutely certain it was the responsibility of carrying such a weapon that psychologically gave it the weight she imagined.

A short burst of clanging noises rang out from the warehouse she was passing. The noblewoman paused and held her breath so as to hear better. Not even a second latter she heard a demand from a foreign voice for someone- she could only assume it was Rene unless there were multiple bounties secretly in circulation- to come out with their hands in the air. She quickly and quietly skipped up to the door, eased it open silently, slipped inside, and then closed it just as carefully. Her shoulders ached from carrying the bag containing her soldier lover's personal armory but she dared not to leave it behind. Were her rescue to fail, or she killed, planting a parcel full of deadly weapons where Vitger could easily discover them was a recipe for disaster.

"ONE!" Vitger shouted from further inside.

Little did he know how he was guiding the armed marquise to his and Rene's location. Solae jogged around a white freight container that had obscured her from view on entry. Taking a deep breath she put both hands on the pistol and looped one digit in through the trigger. Her heart was pounding in her chest as her fingertip rested against a curved piece of metal that would have sent a lethal shot one firm squeeze. No matter how much Rene had coached her that she would have no difficulty in using such a simple pistol she felt he underestimated how hard it was in practice- because it granted the ability to take a life.

"TWO!" Vitger threatend.

The blonde came around the corner and aimed her pistol directly at Vitger's back. An open container was at the far side of the warehouse and Rene was not far from it, crouched still between two of identical design, obviously struggling with the decision he was about to make. Even at this distance she could see his eyes going wide as she stepped into his range of vision. It must have been a shock to spot her with her face disguised by dirt, a scarf wound around her head and neck, his bulky bag slung behind her, and holding a slaver's weapon with an air of determination. Had he not known her personally he may have had a great deal of difficultly recognizing her as the same woman that had been so traumatized by the destruction at the embassy on New Concordia.

"Three," Solae announced.

Vitger whirled around. If he was surprised at the interruption, he was even more surprised that it was Solae herself that had appeared, and what smug satisfaction he held that his prize was so close was mitigated by the fact she was pointing a pistol at his torso. Her features were hard and cold as steel. Neither he nor Rene could spot an ounce of hesitation, fear, or anxiety in her visage. The aristocrat was a deeply empathetic woman but, as had already been witnessed by her paramour, when backed into a proverbial corner or threatened she was as fierce as any other lady of her pedigree and station. The Falia lineage had not been granted title for being cowards.

"You!" Vitger barked, "Turn yourself over to me and I'll let both of them go," he commanded, almost drooling at the prospect. His eyes dragged down her figure hungrily. With Tychon and Julia she had temporarily forgotten what it had been like to be ogled by degenerates. Her blood curdled at the thought of being touched by someone so unapologetically base and vile.

"No," she replied simply. "In the last week I've lost my home, both of my parents, my best friend, all my co-workers, and even my ex-boyfriends. The only thing I have left is Rene. You must have lost people you know during the typhoon," she said as she strode closer, pistol still aimed at his chest. "Imagine if you lost them all and you had only one person left to protect. What would you do to anyone foolish enough to try to take them from you? To threaten them? No one has to die here but let me be clear: if anyone does, you'll be a rotting corpse for your neighbors to find." A month ago she would have been bluffing but today she was not. This was the most dangerous Rene had seen Solae. Because she had so little left to lose she was becoming more desperate to protect what was left and that was pushing her to a terrifying precipice. If Vitger did not surrender he could very well watch a murder in slow-motion.

"I bet you've never even shot that thing! Stay where you are or I'll fill Tychon with needles!" Vitger blustered. He was getting unhinged at how outwardly calm and composed Solae was. Regardless of what she felt internally she possessed the confidence and grace of an assassin seeking an excuse to pounce.

"I landed our ship through the storm. Are you asking to race me? How about we ask Tychon to best on whose reflexes he thinks are faster," she dared. "I'll ask you to drop it once, nicely, before we test all the enhancements I was given that Duke Tan didn't put on his notice."

Vitger hesitated. He had sincerely not anticipated the blonde beauty in questioning being so lethal. Capturing Solae had been predicated on the assumption he'd always have the upper hand physically. Now that he was literally staring down the barrel of someone who was willing and able to murder him he was faltering. He didn't want to forfeit his life, especially when he was sure that Solae would kill him before letting him take her, and she'd have the opportunity to do so given their circumstances.

"Rene, would you please come get your bag?" Solae asked sweetly as she closed the gap between herself and Vitger and whipped her pistol hard into his wrist, forcing him to drop his own stun gun reflexively. Vitger yelped in pain and screamed obscenities at her. He had started to lunge, intending to grapple over her much more efficient pistol with the unconscious Tychon still underfoot, but Solae drove her knee hard up into his crutch. Vitger let out a strangled cry and crumpled to the ground. Regaining her grip on her weapon the marquise stood over her captive with an aura of haughty victory. There was no compassion for the sad excuse of a man writing on the ground in agony. She strongly suspected he had a certain reaction to the sight of her that made her strike all that more potent.

"How long do we have until Tychon wakes up?" she demanded. Vitger was whimpering over the damage to his extremities and could not offer an answer. Sighing and rolling her eyes she tried to nudge the giant next to them with her foot. "Looks like you'll have to move everyone's favorite fuel retailer to one of those containers yourself, Rene."
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