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Solae's lips were pressed together ever so slightly at the allusion to their earlier conversation. The marquise was not a shy wilting flower but she also did not make it a habit to impulsively kiss men to which she felt an attraction. While Rene had reciprocated the expression of desire, his passive non-reaction to her departure and then subsequent statement that he didn't want her to 'regret' when the subject was broached had left a sour taste in her mouth. It was undeniable she had put herself out on a precarious limb. Perhaps he would have apologized had she not cowardly severed the internal broadcast... but nothing had been resolved as of present. Revisiting the memories did not conjure positive emotions.

"While I appreciate the insight," she began in a quiet, calm, diplomatic voice as polished as the marble of Lord Armon's home, "I am not ready to make that decision over dinner. I don't consider this to be about 'appeasing' the men of the rebellion nor making choices so I can be the best symbol on New Concordia for the Stellar Empire."

"Point taken," Oanh said. Although she did not agree with delaying the decision indefinitely, it was clear from the way that Solae spoke and sat that she was immovable on the topic for the immediate future.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Oanh continued after a brief moment of silence. "We heard about your parents. Are there other branches of the Falia family on other worlds you are close to?" She was trying to more delicately touch on a point Rene had just made- that whether she meant to or not she would be a representative for her lineage and the empire on a whole. There were not many nobles left on New Concordia and she wagered very, very few that would not be executed as traitors once this was all over. Solae's survival was thrusting her into more of a spotlight than she realized.

"There are other branches, but we are not close. I have two cousins, Countess Marina Nowak and Count Constantine Falia. They are both quite a bit older than I am and we have never lived near one another or run in the same social circles," she admitted. Her tone was casual and measured to sound neither excited nor depressed, but there were nuances that indicated a frosty distance.

"If you can communicate with the empire, is that who you plan to contact?" Oanh inquired.

Solae laughed at the suggestion. For the typical person it would make sense to reach out to family, but hers had raised the cousins to 'compete' in a way to be the most 'true' Falia heir. Technically Solae was born to a slightly higher station as her father had been the eldest son of the previous Falia generation. As their mother was second born the cousins knew they were considered 'lesser' no matter how minimal the degree. This had pitted them against one another from an early age. Solae did not attempt to measure herself against the relatives since it seemed rather ridiculous and her ambitions did not lie in besting them, which only irritated them more.

"No, no, though I'm sure they would do everything expected of them if I did. I'm certain Rene would have someone more worthwhile to reach out to or I'd try to contact one of my peers in the sector," she said with a soft smile. There was a certain soft-spoken older man in an office connected directly on the relay that she was wished to meet in her lifetime. He sounded unusually calm and thoughtful, a true rarity in the bureaucracy.

"Well, if I am to be taking the night watch I will need a nap," Oanh declared as she finished her food, stood, and cleaned up after herself. "The guest bedroom is the secondary safe room, so it does not have an exterior window, is fire resistant, sound proof, and the floors and walls are reinforced. If you need anything there is a small blue button underneath both nightstand drawers that can alert us to an emergency situation," Oanh explained. "I can't imagine there is anything you will need but it's there. If for any reason we are breached, the first safe room is the armory downstairs. We only utilize the guest bedroom as a safe room if for any reason the cellar is inaccessible."

"Thank you, Oanh. I'm sure Rene and I will be fine," she reassured. The inflection in her words made Oanh raise a brow and she exchanged the briefest of looks with Min Ho. They both sensed the strange air between their guests but were, for the moment, too polite to intervene or comment on it openly.

"Is there anything you need, Rene, before I head to bed?" Oanh asked.
Solae emerged from the master bedroom just before Min Ho was about to knock and make certain she was decent- the bathroom he and Oanh shared was only accessible from their room. The fair marquise had pulled back her thick, golden hair and into a ponytail to elevate it off her neck and stay as cool as possible. Even arranged in this fashion it fell nearly to her waist. She was adorned in a tailored plum-colored tank top woven of a popular fabric for exercise garments as it retained heat and wicked off perspiration quickly. Coupled with this selection were tight-fitted chocolate brown slacks that contained a stretchy material for ease of movement. Neither piece had loose fabric that would be caught or snag on terrain once they left the Park's residence.

"You look lovely, Solae," Oanh said with a smile. And in Oanh's estimation Solae looked better than she ever could in the same outfit. The sizing was slightly off- Oanh was more muscular while Solae was delicate, busty, and incredibly thin at the waist by design- but the highborn noblewoman had picked more elastic attire that was more forgiving.

"Thank you, and thank you for your generosity," Solae said with a slight bow of the head. Such a gesture was proper etiquette for the courts but generally reserved for peers. That she did this sign of respect for someone below her station by several 'rungs' and had no concern towards propriety was telling of Solae's disposition. Unlike many of her peers, Solae was considered liberal and did not too highly revere the titled system. A count or countess that refused to converse with commoners was typical; someone that engaged them on their level was rare. Solae was one of the latter.

"How are you feeling?" Oanh said conversationally as Solae sat down at the table. There was a glint in her eye that spoke to a sharp, clever purpose to this innocuous query.

"I am a touch hungry, but otherwise well," Solae responded apparently oblivious to an ulterior motive.

Holding her hand up in a staying motion to Rene discreetly, Oanh closed the small distance between herself and Solae with astounding speed and injected her guest with a small dispenser no larger than her thumb. Solae almost startled out of her chair in alarm but relaxed when she realized she was not suffering from any ill-effects. If anything she felt better.

"It's easier if you don't know it's coming," Oanh explained. She unclasped her hand and revealed a small device with multiple sharp protrusions (akin to needles) exposed at one end. The liquid contained within the device had been inserted within Solae and was not visible, but a small droplet of milky white remained. "It stings but the infusion will help you heal a little bit better, enough walking won't be as painful tomorrow, but not enough to be taking out those sutures sooner. You'll have a rush of energy today and crash hard tonight, but it is worth the trade-off."

"What about Rene?" Solae asked as she absently rubbed the spot on her arm that was irritated from the injection.

"There are male and female versions because of the manner in which the drug affects hormones," Oanh shrugged, "but Min Ho should have some if Rene wants to help those bruises disappear a little faster. Min Ho will do watch today, I'll do watch tonight, but I didn't know if you'd want to rest or take a watch," she said as she turned towards Rene. "Resting increases your chances of survival after you leave here, so that is my recommendation, but I will not force you to sleep unlike my husband."

"Have you dealt with the Amber Horizon Encampment at all?" Solae asked as she took a slice of bread from Rene and began to eat. Oanh was not waiting on Min Ho to return to eat; she heard the sounds of the bath. He would be taking his time and not join them at the table for a while yet.

"The Syshin? Some. We do not bother them and so they do not bother us. It's an arrangement that has served us well. Why do you ask?"

"I speak Syshi. I was hoping I might be able to barter with them for refuge and safe passage off New Concordia."

Oanh raised a brow. She was obviously impressed. Learning any language took time, dedication, and a great deal of study. Few thought learning the tongue of the lesser Syshin was worth even the smallest amount of effort when most Syshin were forced to learn casual common. "You speak Syshi? That will definitely make them more inclined to help you. May I make a suggestion though, Solae?"

Solae dropped her piece of bread on her plate to give Oanh her full attention as was proper.

"You should consider how to mitigate that bounty against you if you do get caught. Hyun Tae and I can only risk so much and do so much. If you are captured they will almost certainly execute Rene immediately. You can't do much about the monetary reward, but there other actions you can take. Let your wounds scar. Relinquish your title. Give away some portion of your wealth. Marry someone even in a farce to make it harder for them to engage you. Take a Syshin lover. If you can the reward you offer inherently reduced it could do you a great deal of good."
"All right, take off your shirt and shorts so we can try some things on," Oanh instructed.

Solae had been led into a bedroom that was a stark departure from the luxury of Lord Armon's estate. It was large and comfortable, with a bed that slept two comfortably, but it did not have the expensive drapes, plush rugs embroidered in metallic threads, brocade-upholstered antiques, or fine pieces of artwork. There was a small table in a corner by a window that was clearly for Oanh's exclusive use judging by the design and perfumes arranged by its large mirror. There were two nightstands, a wardrobe with a door half-ajar revealing men's clothes inside, and brackets mounted on a wall for safe weapon storage.

As the marquise undressed Oanh manually opened a walk-in closet that was filled with apparel. Most was blouses, skirts, slacks, dresses, and wear exclusively for woman, but Solae spotted a few unisex or masculine garments interspersed. The sniper wandered around as she plucked out options, measuring them visually against Solae, and then either draping them on her arm or shoving them back into the order. This took several minutes and left the noble beauty standing uncomfortably exposed as she waited patiently.

"I have some undergarments I haven't worn as well," Oanh said as she produced well over a dozen ensembles for Solae including vacuum-sealed unmentionables in their original packaging. "Only one of the tops might fit and I doubt the bottoms are your style, but maybe Rene will appreciate my taste."

"Oh, he's not... I mean to say we're not... involved," Solae stammered as she awkwardly shuffled off the rest of her clothing and began to try on the pile that had been given to her. Oanh waited quietly without judgment or further commentary which only made Solae feel compelled to explain. She did not want to appear to be lacking in social graces or lacking in gratitude for the generosity being displayed at this moment. "We just met and I'm the most wanted woman on the planet."

Oanh folded her arms. "I'll say," she remarked with a half-bemused smile. "I'll let you finish trying these on in peace. Pick one outfit to wear and one to take with you so you can alternate what is dry and clean with what needs to be washed. When you are on the move you need to pack light."

Before Solae could protest Oanh had slipped out the door and out of the room. Being alone sent a shiver down her spine but she focused on the task at hand so as to not let emotions overwhelm her. It was only after her hostess had abandoned the bedchambers that Solae realized that everything selected for her had been in blue or purple jewel tones to match the hues of her iris. Military women invoked a certain stereotype but Oanh had not let them define her judging by the overflowing closet.

----

"Still working on the clothes," Oanh said as she entered the kitchen where Rene and her husband were setting the table. "Now, before she comes out here we need to address the elephant in the room and I don't mean Hyun Tae's wretched attempt at facial hair." Min Ho rolled his eyes but didn't object. Discreetly he touched at the stubble of his jaw that had failed to fill in properly.

"The higher up you go with noble titles, the more genetically engineered they are. I can tell just looking at Solae her parents left absolutely nothing to a roll of the dice. Of course enhancements come at a cost regardless of what propaganda tells you. For women in particular they have a higher pain tolerance- because child birth is a messy affair even with our current tech- but they can't handle trauma as you, Hyun Tae, or myself. I doubt Solae herself has been made aware. There's no imminent danger judging by the two injuries she's sporting right now, but I am warning you that you might take a couple bullets and still have a chance to react, but she will have a lower threshold to into shock." Oanh's brows furrowed slightly in concern.

"Oanh can give you a crash course in how to react to medical emergencies," Min Ho remarked with a gesture. "Patched herself up enough."

"The hell I did. My job was to watch your back at a distance. I would have been the worst sharpshooter of this vector if I had waltzed out from under cover and engaged the enemy." Oanh sported a charming smile as she turned towards Rene. There was no doubt that between the two that Min Ho was built to destroy anything foolish enough to be within an arm's length of his person. "But my husband's right. I could give you a crash course if you feel so inclined."

"I'm going to sweep the perimeter before we eat," Min Ho stated as he started towards the front door.

"We also only have one guest bedroom. Is that going to be a problem for you?" Oanh asked Rene politely.
"I'm Hyun Tae Young," Min Ho replied dryly without any effort to conceal his deception. When the situation warranted it he could be convincing and enthusiastic about an alias. In this particular case, however, he was stating only what was absolutely required by direct imperial orders. Toeing the line was not a new concept to the assassin. His profession required a great deal of improvisation and latitude that was not afforded to others; the trust that was instilled in him was rewarded by results and unwavering fealty. So long as Solae and Rene were not privy to his history of classified assignments and his true identity there would be no formal reprimand. Min Ho and Oanh had been put to pasture but they were far from forgotten or dismissed as irrelevant- people with their skills were assets and liability that the Stellar Empire could not afford to purge from their memory.

"You can call me Oanh," she replied pleasantly. Technically on New Concordia she was 'Oahn Young' instead of 'Oanh Park,' but she had not bothered to change her given name. A request had been made during their debriefing to civilian life but she had tacitly refused. There was more than one Oanh in the universe (no pun intended) and her records were so highly confidential she did not believe that anyone could connect the dots even if they wished to. On the operations she was most involved with she had used an alias then; hell, her real name had been used less than any of her pseudonyms.

"I think what you mean to ask is what we are. Unofficially that's classified," he grunted as he leaned against a wall and kept an eye on a window across the room that faced the street. It was still outside; the local populace had learned their lesson. No one ventured out from his abode but they did not tolerate looters either. Min Ho and Oanh's neighbors considered them 'inhospitable shut ins.'

"But in a past life we pledged ourselves to a certain interstellar form of government," Oanh said with a wink. Placing her hands on her hips she continued. "It's too dangerous to keep you here more than a couple days, but we can make sure you have some supplies before you venture out there again." Min Ho rolled his eyes at how much his wife was divulging. Had the pair made any real imposition he might have objected at two days instead of a singular suggestion- but even Duke Tan couldn't pry open their files. He wouldn't know how to. As far as he and his wife were concerned no one could or would know they had hid the couple.

"And who are you?" Min Ho gestured to Rene.

"Are you wearing men's clothes?" Oanh interrupted.

Solae had gone mute since entering the home. Being among not one, not two, but three heavily armed individuals with raw efficacy in combat was humbling. Before the initial strikes of the rebellion she had very limited contact with the military. Most of her socialization was with fragile noble ladies or gentlemen who exercised for the sake of vanity (if they did not use technology to stimulate musculature). None had the raw efficacy of her current company who could, in their own right, take down small companies of local militia with little struggle. Rene had taken on three when he had rescued her. Solae wagered that Oanh and Min Ho were just as, if not more, deadly.

"Oh, yes," she replied hesitantly as she glanced down at her attire. "My clothes were ruined with..," Solae started to explain. A lump formed in her throat and she fought to finish with a smooth tone. "They were ruined at the Imperial Embassy. The manor we found was owned by a bachelor."

"We're not the same size but I am sure I can find you something a better fit than that," Oanh said as she visually determined rough estimates for the marquise's figure. "Hyun Tae, can you show Rene the room downstairs so he can put down his pack?" She didn't wait for a response before taking Solae's arm in a vaguely romantic manner and escorting her to the master bedroom where her wardrobe was kept.
"Mia, before we depart, do you have my undergarment cleaned?" Solae asked delicately once Rene had concluded speaking with the artificial intelligence. It had been surprising that Rene was so concerned about the survival of something he had been uncomfortable with at start. She would be lying if she didn't admit that Mia's programming to encourage sensual encounters and speak seductively wasn't a little strange to her as well, but Rene she wagered had been more bothered than she. That he was, in spite of this, worried about the synthetic existence spoke to a well of empathy that was unexpected in any nobility. If it hadn't been intrusive and wholly inappropriate timing she might have inquired further was title Rene possessed before he had left for the Imperial Marines.

"Yes, of course Lady Solae," was the purred response as she ejected the clothing out of an opening in the wall dedicated to pulling items out of (and putting them into) storage. Mia had cleansed most of the blood out but some of the pale lilac color was mottled and streaked with a pale pink. Motioning for Rene to turn Solae shimmied out of her shorts, pulled on the underwear, and then pulled the shorts back on.

"Thank you for everything, Mia."

"You are most welcome, Lady Solae."

"When we get to another house we'll check in with you," she told Mia. Rationally this didn't mean much to the computerized intellect as she would not feel pain at the destruction of Lord Armon's manor, nor would she feel distress at not having anything to do, and she did not have as firm of a feeling of the passage of time. Solae knew if she escaped this she may not ever feel completely at home in her parent's estate if it could be recovered. Maybe, just maybe, she would survive and build a new residence that Mia could inhabit. There was a sentimentality to it- that Mia helped save them and she could help save Mia (unliving though she was).

"Let's go," Solae told Rene quietly as she packaged away her sadness. The marquise did not look back at the underground room as they made their way down the hall in hushed reverence. She knew a single glance back would fill her with dread, fear, and crippling sadness. To leave the refuge was to venture back into open danger.

The tunnel sloped gently upwards before they arrived at a regal marbled staircase into an unremarkable ceiling. Solae pressed a button hidden on the right side of the bottom step and a circular portion of the aforementioned ceiling slid away into itself, allowing them ample room to ascend safely. Stepping outside they were greeted by a small grove of fruit trees, sunlight so bright Solae squinted her eyes into little slits, and the sound of distant mayhem. Once they were both clear of the passageway's opening it slid shut behind them, leaves rustling in place to cover the seamless edges of where it had been.

"We should start towards the Syshin," Solae whispered. No one was around to hear but she was understandably paranoid about Gids or looters happening upon them. There were loud whoops of excitement from the northwest where Lord Armon's luxurious abode was still standing- for now. "I'll lead the way. The closer we get the less people we'll see... not many like being close to the Syshin, and I imagine the rebellion feels the same way."

They went the opposite direction than the route they had taken from when they first met to Lord Armon's. True to her word, Rene could bear witness to how the noble homes, merchant homes, and even peasant homes and farms became increasingly sparse as they traveled towards the Syshin. There was zoning that dictated whom could live where but it became more barren nonetheless as they drew closer. Lots of land laid bare rather than be occupied too close to the Syshin. After an hour and a half's travel there were smaller groupings of buildings (usually houses, but sometimes an errant shop) that represented the last outcroppings of Armistice before entering the borders of the Amber Horizon Encampment.

As Solae and Rene passed towards a row of shrubs in a modest, but well-maintained, two-story residence a voice called out to them from behind a hedge. "Solae? Solae Falia?" The man was muscular but agile, his black hair silvery gray at the temples, his visage weathered and placing his age somewhere in the fifties, and he was wearing tactical armor that cost a small fortune. At first glance he was neither a Gid, nor an Imperial Marine, nor a noble.

"At ease soldier," he said with a nod towards Rene, "if I was going to shoot I could have ambushed you already. What the hell are you doing out in the middle of the day?" Min Ho furrowed his brow- he hadn't expected New Concordia's most wanted woman to waltz on by so he didn't have a pitch to convince them he was safe.

"For fuck's sake Min Ho, ask them inside!" The sniper on the roof slid down to the balcony, then hung by her fingertips from the railing of the balcony before dropping to the ground. "Forgive his manners, he quite frankly doesn't have any." Min Ho frowned at the assertion. "And before you ask, we're not with the rebellion, but we don't have enough time for more questions out here."
Solae had, true to her word, been brushing up on her Syshi with Mia. The latter had been suspiciously compliant and some of the sultry affect had vanished from her dulcet tones. The marquise highly suspected that Mia did have the capability to adjust to her voice to her guests, that there was some sort of underlying program for this purpose. What had triggered the change remained unknown. Considering they were not to stay in the manor for much longer it was ultimately irrelevant to their plight. Syshi was a difficult enough language that it was not impossible that Mia could not replicate it perfectly. The subtleties of intonation and emphasis was a challenge to impart to an artificial intelligence with a synthetic voice. When the creators of the software were themselves novices at Syshi, and they expected no patron with this very expensive system would dare to utilize the feature, it was allowed to be neglected and erroneous.

When Rene pounded on the door Solae nearly jumped out of her skin. At first she smiled thinking he was taking up the alluded to but not explicitly stated offer. Her excitement and anticipation the next second when Rene shouted he thought they had company. Tossing off the covers she swung her feet over the side of the bed and half-walked, half-hobbled to her shirt. Solae was still pulling it over her head when she door and indicated he should join her inside. Attempting to hide her limp she did a few subtle exercises with her left leg to improve circulation. Even in this life or death situation she was not confident in her ability to run.

"Mia," she called out, "Setting change. Authority of Marquise Solae Falia, Senior Translator at Stellar Imperial Embassy 524, Armistice, New Concordia. Code 4283-EMHAJ-calmtable3032. Acknowledge authorization." It wasn't the perfect solution; Solae was pulling rank on a home system. This was a universal 'back door' that blatantly exploited the strict seniority and privileges of status. Fortunately only someone elevated higher than a marquise would be able to undo what Solae planned to do and she seriously doubted there was a duke, duchess, or the like outside patiently sneaking up on the residence.

"Authorization acknowledged," Mia responded flatly. Lord Armon's seductive voice selection did not carry over to this administrative section of Mia's functions.

"Enable privacy protections. No commands available to guest users. Only authorized users are Rene Quentain and Solae Falia. Non-response to guest users. All system functions language change to Syshi. No translation or alternative languages available for guest users. Understood?" A blue circle appeared on the nearest wall and cycled a few times before flashing green.

"Changes are in effect," Mia responded in Syshi.

"We need to go to the master bedroom," Solae told Rene before taking his hand, slipping out the door, and creeping down the hall. The intruders had not yet infiltrated the house and they needed to make the most out of the time available to them. A dark blood stain led out of the master bedroom but Solae did her best to ignore the deep crimson saturation of the wood. Her stride and gait were uneven but the adrenaline pumping through her system was making the throbbing in her thigh much less noticeable.

Lord Armon's quarters were lavish enough to include a hot tub, a bed that would have comfortably slept half a dozen, two large sofas carved out of antique wood and upholstered in silken fabric, a tinted window wall, a mirror on the ceiling, and an a statue of two lovers embraced in a surprisingly chaste embrace. Solae moved towards a picture frame on the east wall which she pushed upwards, to the right, up again, and to the left. The frame receded into the wall and was replaced by a small hand indention. "This is the only place I can think of we can go right now. I apologize in advance," she warned as her palm was scanned and index finger pricked. A pleasant chime indicated Solae had passed the test.

"Maybe I was with him for the hot tub," she joked dryly. "This way," she gestured towards the master bathroom. This room had not been tarnished by the massacre that preceded their retreat to the estate. A shower inlaid with glossy polished stone murals depicting the heavens was ahead and to the left, one of its sides resting against the exterior wall, yet 2/3 of the floor was absent. A staircase had appeared in its place leading downwards and in the direction of the wall itself.

With Solae's urging Rene reluctantly followed. The staircase was cramped and tight, meant only for one, but with Solae leading the way it was not overly difficult to navigate. Once the system sensed Solae was descending the gap in the floor they had entered through it had sealed the opening shut again. Even with the closest of inspections Lord Armon's shower would only appear to be a wasteful flexing of his narcissism and wealth. The stairs curled down past the first floor and almost twenty feet below ground before emptying into a private entertainment room approximately the size of a guest bedroom. "Entry and exit for indiscretions," Solae explained. "I only used it a couple times so I don't recall where the tunnel ends."
"That is the single most ridiculous thing you have said yet," replied Solae hotly with a trace of the pride elites were so infamous for. Rather than sounding condescending, however, she sounded sincerely insulted. It was Rene's unintended blow to her ego that invoked frustration that bubbled to the surface. "I will be the first to admit that current events and our situation has taken a toll on me- and it will probably continue to do so. There is a saying across nearly every culture, though, that war brings out the truth in a person, even if they disagree on the merit of what is brought to light. If you think I would regret you are either oblivious to how truly amazing you have proved yourself to be, think that all that matters to me is status- admittedly my dalliance with Lord Armon does lead one to believe that because even now I'm not sure why I found him charming, or you think me deaf, dumb, and blind. No matter how overwhelming all of this chaos is to me, my judgment is not horribly impaired."

It was rare that Solae let any semblance of a temper shine through. The stress of hiding from rebellion forces, of being wounded (which was a new experience if she was honest), of losing her parents, and being in proximity to an incredibly handsome and alluring man who was no interested had made her spill out more anger than she intended. Her mother had always said expressing ire in any way except a pointed social attack on the enemy was both unladylike and a weakness. Temper tantrums had been cruelly disciplined until she dared not speak out of turn. Nobility was about control. The closer one was to the top of proverbial ladder the more restraint and stoicism was required in adverse circumstances.

At first Solae wasn't sure why she had let her harsh words fly loose. Perhaps it was her turmoil at the impression that Rene did not actually find her 'appealing,' that he was paying lip service, because while he had returned her kiss he had simply let her leave. Perhaps she was callously using her position as a 'superior' to not give him the respect she ought to give a duke, duchess, or the like. Perhaps, and most likely, she felt comfortable enough around him not to throttle herself. Tension between them aside she trusted Rene not to abandon her even if she was not the pleasant doll that she was expected to be. Bleeding, helpless, and vomiting he had not flinched or retreated. Solae was confident that a flash of anger would not irreparably sever their bond.

She took a deep breath. "I am going to brush up on my Syshi with Mia. If you decide to make lunch please let me know and I will join you."

"Lady Solae," Mia said, interrupting their communication to broadcast to both simultaneously, "I revisit my suggestion you do not stand or walk on your leg for at least another hour."

Solae groaned audibly at the mothering Mia insisted on doing. She was in her twenties and yet she was being treated like a child. While she had only vague notions on how to care for injuries, Rene had done an excellent job with the spray and sutures. It was almost ridiculous that Mia treated Solae as if she were made of fragile glass. If an hour would silence the objections it was a small price to pay.

"Let me amend, then. I will join you if an hour has passed and I'm no longer under bed arrest by her Royal Highness Mia," Solae said before motioning for Mia to stop the broadcast. Solae leaned back onto her pillows lifelessly as she stared at the ceiling and wondered if she had been cruel. The proper thing to do would be give him a chance to reply- but at the same time she was a coward afraid of what he would say.
Because the sedative metabolized quickly to take effect nearly instantly, it also passed through the system at a quick pace. It was slightly less than an hour when Solae woke up in the bedroom. A dull, throbbing pain in her thigh told her that the operation had been successful and she no longer bore an implant that effectively tagged her like a lost pet. After staring at the ceiling mindlessly for a few minutes she rolled onto her right (the unaffected leg) and then pulled herself to a sitting position. Covers slid off her torso and she belatedly realized that Rene must have tucked her in. Solae wasn't certain if he was naturally nurturing, preserving what shred of modesty she had, or worried about her becoming cold in repose. Perhaps he had been motivated by all three reasons.

"You will be pleased to know Sir Rene extracted the CLTI with no complications or excessive bleeding," Mia announced.

"Thank you, Mia," Solae responded genuinely. Even if it was part of Mia's programming she was grateful for the guidance that was undoubtedly provided to Rene. As he had stated earlier he was no medic; without Mia the procedure would have been impossible. Neither one of them would have agreed to digging around a limb looking for a minuscule implant. Even a trained medical practitioner would have been unwilling to take the risk flying blind.

Solae had swung her feet over the side of the bed when she noticed her underwear was stained. She had paused to ponder if it was worth trying to clean or if she should try to create boxers (as uncomfortable as it might be) for a lower undergarment when Mia spoke up again with a sultry urgency. "Lady Solae, is there something I can do for you? It is in your best interest not to rush to be ambulatory."

"I need to thank Rene," Solae insisted as she slipped off her underwear and fished up Lord Armon's exercise shorts that she had been wearing before. It was a less than flattering swap but she was not ready to prance down the stairs naked. "Do you think you can wash these? The blood hasn't soaked in for long I assume... or have I been out for a while?"

"I can try to assist, but it will take some time as I will need to soak them in various cleaning agents. Please place them on the bedside table," Mia instructed. Solae nodded (which was silly considering Mia didn't need visual responses) before depositing the soiled clothing on the nightstand. The polished surface retreated back into a hole in the wall that had appeared not a moment before and she heard the whirling of machinery beyond the visible plaster. "Would you like me to summon Sir Rene for you? I am certain he will be relieved you are awake."

Biting the inside of her cheek for a moment Solae considered her options. Were she to walk to Rene, which she hardly considered a dangerous excursion, Mia would not only tell her in excruciating detail why she should lay down with increasing insistence, she would also inevitably alarm Rene. The poor soldier did not need any further scares considering all he had done and endured in the last couple days. Solae pulled her feet back up on the mattress and reclined if only to prevent panic and distress for her solitary human companion.

"Can you broadcast me to Rene, Mia? No visual please."

"Affirmative. I will begin the broadcast now," Mia purred. If Solae didn't know better she would think the artificial sentience was pleased with herself for keeping her charge in bed.

"Mia had told me I ought to stay in bed," Solae began, eyeing a circular blue hologram that had appeared in front of her face. It was the only indication that her voice was traveling elsewhere in the manor as requested. "But I wanted to thank you for everything you've done. You saved my life when you took down those soldiers, you helped me tend my wounds, set up a way to watch our perimeter for rebels, refused to turn me in when it would benefit you, and even removed the CLTI that was my responsibility." She took a deep breath that she thought was not carried on the internal transmission- but it was. "And I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I know you were a noble once, I recognize that much of your name, and joining the Imperial Marines must not have been something you did lightly. I should have considered the feelings you may have towards nobility to have taken such action and not forced you into a situation where I only considered my own wants. That's... that's not to say I regret precisely, but I do apologize that it was so inappropriate, and I promise to restrain myself in the future."
"Sir Rene," Mia started as she monitored one of her charges gathering supplies in the kitchen. "It is in my programming to notify you of the inherent risks of encouraging Lady Solae to take on this task herself. I estimate her natural physiological reaction is likely to affect her precision, which could result in complications in the procedure." After a moment's pause the artificial intelligence displayed generalized anatomical scans with notations; one appeared to be a basic reading of Solae approximately one year ago while the other was current. The logic behind showing the two in juxtaposition was to establish a baseline as well as an immediately applicable reading.

Fortunately, Solae was several rooms away and could not be embarrassed by the slight invasion of privacy albeit required. Most of the differences were fairly innocuous: a faster pulse, quickened breathing rhythm, and rough estimates of blood pressure that was risen above normal but was lowering quickly in real time. "Your presence appears to incite symptoms of anxiety and sexual attraction; however, my cost and benefit analysis indicates having you perform the incision and extraction exposes less risk. My records indicate your military training makes you less likely to hesitate with sharp implements and their application. You will also be able to react more quickly and are less likely to have an adverse reaction to the sight of exposed tissue."

It was a compelling argument especially since Mia's only motivation was a design that required every attempt to made to appeal to the best preservation of humans within her domain (unless hostile to those that she recognized as owners and/or guests).

---

Solae tried not to think about the full body imager's true intentions as she stepped inside the tube-shaped apparatus. At her instruction Mia turned it on, lighting the entire interior in an almost pleasant glow. She could not see whatever mechanisms did the actual measurements as they were hidden beneath a matte chrome finish. Each curvature was being visually recorded, formatted, and reconstructed in an perfect replica holographic rendition. The process took what felt like an eternity but was only a few minutes. Solae quickly discovered the reason for this was the processing required to be able to replicate each strand of hair and crease in her skin was significant.

"So where is it?" Solae asked Mia as she stepped outside. Her own lifeless holograph was rotating in front of her as Mia examined the model thoroughly.

"The location of the CLTI is in your left thigh," Mia purred as a small blinking blue light inserted itself in the hologram. A measurement sprang to life showing the depth of the implant was 1.64" inches from the surface of her skin. Solae was grateful it was not buried deeper. The position would require more flexibility than she anticipated, however, as it was halfway between her pelvis and knee but not perfectly on her side. The passage of time had allowed the CLTI to migrate slightly to the rear of the leg, which was a place she felt comfortable glancing at but not controlling with the applied pressure of a blade.

"I would like to revisit my suggestion of requesting Sir Rene extract the CLTI," Mia added.

"Don't you think that would be a bit much to ask of him?" she said but then realized she was asking a subjective opinion of an unfeeling synthetic organism. It could theoretically anticipate and approximate emotional reactions but feelings were outside of Mia's personal reach. Cold logic could not and would not understand the point she was trying to make. "Nevermind. I'm clearly going insane," she said more to herself than Mia. Talking to Mia itself was a sign her mental faculties must be slipping.

"I do not detect any indications of mental illness," Mia quipped as Solae retreated back to the guest bathroom where she would have the most sterile environment for her 'operation.' There didn't seem to be a point in dressing since she'd have to disrobe if she was extracting the CLTI immediately- and it seemed prudent to not eat until she had.

"Thank you, Mia. It was an expression, not a self-diagnosis."
New Concordia- Outskirts of Armistice near Syshin encampment "Amber Horizon"

"These fuckers must be delusional if they think every goddamn resident is going to roll over and give up their goods," chuffed Min Ho 'Demeter' Park. He nudged a corpse with his boot, checking to make certain the Gid wasn't only feigning death, before kicking it off the stone path leading up to his residence. Min Ho frowned. Blood had pooled under the body and left a deep red stain that he knew had soaked into his aesthetically pleasing yet simple design for the passageway to his front door. "Son of a..."

"For what it's worth I think they got the message," Oanh Park replied. They were communicating through old-fashioned earpieces on a frequency experience taught them was never used. Having outdated equipment was a faux pas by the standards of nobility but neither of the Parks were born into prestige. Practical and paranoid the couple had made their humble abode, which looked firmly middle-class and quaint but unremarkable, into a veritable fortress. A rebellion had not been something they had anticipated but they were nonetheless prepared. Looters had targeted the Parks simply because it looked like an easy target but had been gunned down before they made it to the front steps.

"That's what you said yesterday," Min Ho quietly fumed. He wasn't angry with his wife; she hadn't done anything to raise his ire. If he squinted the tip of her rifle from where he stood. She was laying flat on their angled roofing armed with a beast of a weapon almost as large as she was. Her precision with it belied extensive sharpshooting training.

"We should bury the corpses before lunch," Oanh instructed. Clearly she was not volunteering for the heavy lifting. "Solae Falia survived the attack on the Imperial Embassy apparently," she added casually as she stood up from her position. "There's a bounty on her head."

"Of course there is. What are you suggesting, Oanh?" Even before he asked he knew what she'd say. Min Ho walked towards a female corpse at the edge of his property and hauled her up on his shoulder with a grunt. Burying the bodies was not so much a sign of respect as it was an attempt to not encourage acts of vengeance. If no one knew where their precious Gid friend was they wouldn't bother the Parks.

"I'm suggesting that your retirement is fucked," Oanh said as she dropped onto their balcony and opened the door to go inside. "But it's still your retirement, fucked or not. I'll let you know when lunch is ready."

Min Ho Park was living on New Concordia under the alias Hyun Tae Young. No one still living on the planet was aware of his past. As a young man and for most of his adult life he had a very successful career as a covert agent for the Stellar Empire; in short he was a government-endorsed assassin. Officially there were denials that there was any branch of the military that would kill without provocation or a declaration of war but that was not the truth. As was standard procedure he was allowed to retire to any non-central planet, preferably one without former comrades, given an alias and fabricated history, and left to pasture. Min Ho had enjoyed gardening and studying ancient history in relative peace. Only current military with the highest clearance could find his actual personnel records and even then because he was officially retired he had to do fuck all to help the Stellar Empire. He had paid his dues. As long as he wasn't aiding and abetting the enemy they could not lob wild accusations at him once this whole thing blew over.

"How old is she?" Min Ho asked as he chucked the dead woman into a ditch before ambling towards the man that had stained his stone walkway.

"Young enough to be your daughter," Oanh replied.

"Oh for fuck's sake," Min Ho swore. When night fell he was going to have to dig through his armory (which was almost as large as the first floor of their home but kept in the basement for security reasons) and find his old camouflage suit. He might be past his prime by a few decades but he still had a conscience, especially for people that were put into shitty circumstances completely beyond his control. Maybe if he found and helped this Solae Falia they'd let him move somewhere without a power-hungry duke.
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