Status

Recent Statuses

22 days ago
Current I am an idiot.
1 like
1 mo ago
I really want someting to write, but I know I shouldn't start a new RP until RL things cool down a little bit!
2 likes
8 mos ago
Rough day today, will get back to posting schedule tomorrow.
8 mos ago
Things will be a LOT calmer after Hallowen tomorrow!
8 mos ago
Just picked up my fusisble glass pieces from my last class at the Arts Center and I'm absurdly proud!
3 likes

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

"Years ago my parents arranged for me to take a couple classes in subterfuge and deception, just in case it was absolutely necessary. I think they envisioned it as just being part of courtly training, since hardly anyone is truthful, but my instructor had some insight I think we can use in our present situation. She said the most important thing when you are 'faking it' is acting like you belong. If you are looking around, second-guessing yourself, people will doubt you. If you stroll along an exude confidence, and as if you know your exact purpose and destination, they will be much more likely to believe it as well."

"Lady Solae, we are at the correct distance Zatis's exosphere to begin our descent," Mia reminded her mistress gently as if attempting to seduce her from the attention being paid to Rene.

"Thank you, Mia. I don't really have a plan," Solae stated sincerely, "except to go straight to the PEA once we touch down in the space yard. While you were asleep I was too busy dissecting the data gathered and attempting to solve a mystery, and right now my focus is on landing us safely. I might be piloting but I am not a pilot; because this is not committed to muscle memory it takes all of my concentration. Even if I had all the time and energy in the world I doubt it'd help me fashion a true plan on Zatis. I've no contacts here, no allies of which I am aware, no holdings, no assets- we're on our own. We'll have to improvise unless you devise another course of action."

The marquise strapped herself into her chair, securing the safety harness straps meant to keep her from ejecting through the cockpit in the even of disaster, and moved her hand across the screen of a console. In the wake of her fingers various displays flickered back to life from where they had been dormant. Zatis was a haven for criminals but not without bureaucracy. The space yard alluded to seconds before kept most moving in an orderly fashion to pre-assigned spaces determined by ship shape, size, and arrival time. Guests could access their vessels at their disposal, order maintenance, or even contract engineers and mechanics to make improvements during their stay. Efficiency was the bedfellow of profit and while Zatis might not respect law, it certainly respected economic incentives.

"Mia, I would like you to talk us both through the landing process. I will still be driving us, so to speak, but I want for Rene to learn this with me as well," Solae ordered casually.

"Lady Solae, you are an excellent pilot," Mia re-assured with her typical overly amorous flattery.

"Thank you, Mia, but this isn't up for discussion- from either of you," Solae insisted.

What she did not reveal to the artificial intelligence, if only because she didn't want to be derailed by a philosophical debate with a synthetic consciousness, was that she knew things could go horribly wrong at any given moment. Perhaps decades from now she and Rene would be sharing cocktails on an alien shoreline laughing about her dalliance into the realm of aeronautics. It was more probable, however, that her future would result in incapacitation, capture, and/or death, which would force her fiance to know how to helm the Bonaventure as well as possible. If something tragic occurred to Solae she would be damned if she'd let her arrogance and pride result in Rene's downfall as well.

"How long from now until we have our feet on the ground, Mia?" the diplomat asked, both of out of interest and as a means of smoothing things over now that she had asserted her authority rather sternly.

"Less than an hour accounting for traffic in Zatis's atmosphere," Mia purred, referring to the transportation vehicles that was used to cross terrain on more advanced planets. There was a wide variety of such vehicles; public transport that carried many people and used minor gravitational manipulation, more archaic creations of the poor that could barely hover if at all, and the 'jets' of the aristocrats that were sleek, fast, and conveyed them from one point to another without requiring a full spacecraft crew (as well as the resources).
Approximately an hour and a half before they would need to make their descent onto the surface of Zatis Mia provided an alarm- a gentle beeping noise that rose in intensity every thirty seconds- to awake Solae as pleasantly as possible. The marquise was reluctant to leave the comfort of her bed and only did so begrudgingly, largely due to the nagging insistence of the artificial intelligence (who had the best of intentions). With time to spare before she was required in the cockpit she showered, changed her clothes, fetched a nutritional bar as a meal substitute, and made a mug of instant coffee in an effort to make herself more alert. Exhaustion had not only made her sleep deeply, it had also made her exceedingly groggy when she was ripped out of the world of dreamless repose, so she was hopeful the chemical stimulant of caffeine would assist. They had less than an hour, yet more than half an hour, when she finally made her way to the pilot's seat.

"Mia, how close are we to Zatis? No, let me rephrase. How much time left in the approach before we breach the upper atmosphere?" she inquired as she stifled a yawn. "I assume there is a shipyard where we can safely land and store the Bonaventure since we don't have a shuttle."

The Bonaventure was a perfectly functional spacecraft and spacious for only two occupants, but it was one of the smaller freighters; as such it was a popular choice for merchants transporting delicate precious goods and smugglers similar to the previous owners that needed to keep their vessel light, cheap, and fast. What lacked in the ability to ferry large amounts of heavy cargo it made up for in the boon of not needing to dock at a space station. Carriers typically had to put themselves in orbit or dock at a station because their size made it burdensome, if not impossible, to safely land on the surface. Even the most elite aristocrats had private yachts that toed the standards of what was allowed to pierce the sky. Depending on what sort of business they had, and nobility were notoriously paranoid about privacy unless they wanted it broadcasted, taking a shuttle could be anything from an inconvenient to an embarrassment or detriment to their plans.

"Fourty-three minutes, Lady Solae. Did you want to set safety protocols in place while we are en route? It is my understanding that you will not be disclosing your identities once on Zatis and that I should not allow anyone to board while you are away," she purred affectionately.

"I hadn't thought about that yet," the linguist replied honestly as she leaned forward and pulled one of the screens on a swinging arm closer to her to scrutinize. Mia obediently displayed an array of counter-measures in the event that someone was trying to break into the Bonaventure. If Duke Tan's forces located them they would undoubtedly try to prevent the engaged pair from making it within a hundred meters of their getaway vehicle, but Zatis was not populated with honest folk, and it would be madness to park their traveling home without any precautions taken against theft or damage. It would only take one overly curious and morally bankrupt individual to stumble into their sanctuary and find the means to expose their true selves.

"Lady Solae, as you make your selections, may I be of any assistance in locating accommodations for your stay on Zatis?"

"I'm afraid that we'll probably be using aliases and using the sort of establishment that doesn't take reservations, Mia, but thank you for asking," Solae murmured as she rapped her fingers on the side of the console thoughtfully. There was something almost exciting about waltzing into a seedy hotel with Rene. It was dangerous to be certain, but it was one of many places that had been forbidden to someone of her stature growing up, and thus there was a childish thrill at 'breaking the rules' even if her parents would never again be able to enforce them. As her thought turned to her parents she wondered quietly if there were assets they possessed of which she was unaware. Preparations for empowering her to inherit their title had been cut short with their untimely deaths. Duke Tan had unintentionally crippled her from using all the resources at her disposal simply by eliminating the elder Falias.

"Are there any public logs of visitors to Zatis or public property records for the planet?" Solae asked suddenly.

"I do not believe so, Lady Solae. Is there something in particular you are seeking?" she asked with captive wonder in her sultry tone.

"Just wondering if there is something I am missing. I don't believe this is the sort of place my parents would be caught vacationing but they were... eccentric, so I can never be certain what they did or did not do in their private lives." It was refreshing to talk to a computer because, as machinery without an ounce of emotion, it could not and would not judge her for her confessions. Mia might react with a pre-programmed response to a topic or sentence for which she had a trigger, but she couldn't feel appalled, she couldn't roll her eyes and deem something 'crazy.' It was painful to speak of her mother and father but it kept their memory alive. There were few others in the universe she'd discuss them with as freely as the algorithm that was inappropriately seductive. "Once I turned thirty they planned to give me full disclosure of every holding they had, every account, every connection and its nature. I didn't really care about how much money we had but I hoped it'd give me more insight into what sort of people they were when they weren't reprimanding me, or dictating my behavior, or criticizing a count for poor etiquette. I don't know what they did when they were my age, or who they had affection for outside of their political marriage, or what hobbies they explored in their free time."

"I am sorry to hear that, Lady Solae. Would you like me to seek more information on the deceased Falias?" Mia cooed.

"If you can covertly access any information about them it'd be appreciated," Solae smiled. "Here I've been investigating Rene's family and Amellia's family, and now I may very well know more of them than my own."
"We're still a few hours out but no issues thus far," Solae reassured as she dimmed the cabin's lights. Without overhead illumination it was easier to take in the glow of the stars. The cockpit itself was not completely devoid of any light, as there were many controls and screens that could not be safely toggled off now that they were in their destination solar system, but there was an ambience to the darkness. The Bonventure was private, quiet, and peaceful as it sailed, and it was easy to imagine they were a pair of wayward teenagers sneaking out after curfew to gaze at the night sky. The marquise let out a soft sigh as she gazed upon the dazzling jewels of incandescence beyond their heavily shielded windows.

"Lady Solae has entered an REM cycle for approximately twenty minutes cumulatively since our departure from Panopontus," Mia crooned to Rene. The noblewoman was her mistress, but the artificial intelligence system was clever enough to know that Rene could persuade her when a computer could not. Her programming had a prime directive to keep its human or humans safe and well- even if that meant it might annoy, frustrate, or be forced to 'tattle' on them.

"There is quite a bit of traffic in and out of Zatis, and from what I understand they are rather lax with confirming identification or cargo. I don't think we'll have any issues landing," Solae continues as if she had not been interrupted by Mia ratting her out to her fiance. "I've set our course to touch down in their capital city as that's where the PEA is located. Most of the ships are coming and going from that city in particular so we'll blend in with the crowd rather well I suspect. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some models exceedingly similar to our vessel's manufacture."

"Lady Solae, I am able to automate the piloting until we reach orbit above Zatis if you would like to rest with Sir Rene," Mia suggested with such sultry inflections it sounded as if she were making innuendo. In this particular case there were no such intentions. Mia wanted Solae to actually sleep so that she was not deprived when she set foot on soil. While Mia didn't quite realize how dangerous Zatis truly was to the couple, she was sophisticated enough machinery to have a basic notion, and thus was compelled to keep prompting Solae the longer that she was awake.

Solae shrugged her shoulders and rubbed her eyes. There were worse things to be nagged about. She felt guilty, however, about making Rene sit alone by himself seeing as he was undoubtedly no longer tired. Leaving a man who was injured, still shocked about multiple revelations, and uncomfortable flying a spacecraft felt like a crime in and of itself. With some hesitation she rose and stretched, neither committing to leaving or staying, and instead trying to work out the stiffness of her back and posterior that had been in uncomfortable seating for an extended period of time.

"On the subject of your family and Amellia... we don't have all the information we need. Our priority is to get to the PEA to send the empress a warning about Duke Tan's coup, but we might have a window of time afterwards to see if I can access their communications center. Not only will their library be more robust, the time it takes for me to send or receive messages will probably be a lot shorter as well, which will allow me a chance to see if either of my contacts can be reached." What went unsaid was that if they did manage to send their message to the empress's forces through the PEA they would desperately need allies- perhaps even moreso than they did now. Duke Tan would be more determined, more panicked, and less cautious about trying to seize them, and the empress would not send reinforcements instantly. They would need to hide for days, weeks even, mayhaps longer, with people that would not betray them as the war escalated and the rewards for their capture increased. If they sent the warning through the PEA they would need help. Without knowing anyone on Zatis the communication center and her prior acquaintances might be their only hope of long-term survival.
After Mia had talked her through some basic first aid, to make certain that Rene was stabilized and in no real medical danger, they had come to the conclusion it was impossible for Solae to physically drag the soldier to the captain's quarters. She simply did not have the strength to support his weight. With no other options she put a pillow under his head, covered with him with a blanket, and tried to make him as comfortable was feasible. There were stimulants that could have brought him back to consciousness by force but the marquise decided against utilizing them. It was better for Rene to rest. There was little doubt they would have further opportunities after landing on Zatis and beyond to put such pharmaceuticals to better use. Traveling through space was not an emergency that merited forcing him out of repose.

"All right, Mia, let's get back to work," she said after she was finally satisfied with Rene's arrangement. The noblewoman had pulled a cheap metal chair from one of the other rooms on the ship. It was the only one she could locate that was neither broken nor bolted to the floor, but it was wildly uncomfortable and the legs were slightly uneven. Their furniture could certainly stand to be upgraded.

"Would you like me to keep running the same analyses?" Mia purred as Solae scrolled through a listing of the compressed files she had downloaded at the communications center.

"Yes, I have some manual searches I want to do independently," she murmured as she selected a data set and pulled her pen and scrap paper closer to her. It was an archaic way of taking notes, especially by aristocratic standards, but she knew it would help her focus and create a better mental map of the information they had.

"Mia, I'd like all our analyses and conclusions to be accessible by only myself," Solae said as she started to scribble down some shorthand. Instead of delving into the Chastain's family history she was digging into her own. The last matriarch and patriarch of the Falia family had connections, secrets, and resources at their disposal, but they hadn't prepared her to assume all the responsibilities she had as a future leader quite yet. If Solae hoped to realize herself as heir without the luxury of someone on Capella that could hand her all the documentation in their wills, she'd have to search for what she needed herself.

"Only you, Lady Solae?" Mia asked with her seductive undertone suspiciously absent. This abnormal request seemed to have short-circuited her sultry vocal subroutine.

"Yes, only me, Mia." Solae sighed and leaned back in her chair, glancing back at Rene where he lay on the floor so peacefully. In truth this was a reprieve from the heavy tax reality had on psyche- even if passing out like he had was one of the worst ways to earn such a respite. "I don't expect you to fully understand, Mia, but I blame myself for Rene being in this state. I should have tempered myself and chosen a better time to deliver the news to him. Right now I don't think that... that it's right to ask him to shoulder the burden of this investigation, not until I'm sure it won't bring him harm like this. Our findings at least for now should be inaccessible to him."

"Lady Solae," the artificial intelligence began to protest, "Am I to deny access to the gathered data itself? What you downloaded was largely public information, correct?"

"Yes, it was. No, it would be wrong to try to prevent Rene from reading whatever articles and press releases he wishes. I know this is unusual Mia, but I don't intend to keep these things from Rene forever. There's no sense in having him upset, though, over preliminary findings. Once we have more concrete results, that I am relatively certain are factually accurate, then I'll broach the topic with him. Do you understand."

"Yes, Lady Solae," Mia said with a synthesized sigh of resignation. Solae couldn't help but smile. It was clear that the program's loyalty lay with her for whatever reason, and deferred to her over her fiance, but it was undeniable that Rene was only second to Rene and no other. If life ever favored her with a family she could imagine a highly modified Mia (to not sound so inappropriate) showing the same favoritism to her future children. Lord Armon might be dead but with his death he had given his ex-beau a truly precious gift.

Hours passed in silence save for the scratching of an antiquated pen on mismatched pieces of parchment. As Solae studied, alternating between the subjects of the du Quentains, Chastains, and Falias, she had tacked notes around the hold. All of it was in abbreviated shorthand, with half-formulated theories unintentionally made cryptic by her methodology, and almost all of them with enigmatic numbers that corresponded to each other, sums of money, trade contracts, or other such things- though none were labeled. It was utter nonsense to anyone except Solae and perhaps someone patient enough to spend time decoding.

More than once she had dozed off for a few moments and then woken. Sometimes it was the sensation of gravity pulling her down that made her bolt upright, sometimes it was the sheer discomfort of her unforgiving chair, sometimes it was the panic that seizes many people right before they drift off, but no singular serenade had been successful. She was on her third cup of coffee when she started to realize that the answers she desperately wanted to be hidden in these monotonous texts would not be found. It was not her lack of effort that stymied her; she had pieces of the puzzle, but not enough to complete it. This was the figurative outer rim but she would have to gather many more pieces. What was doubly frustrating is she knew that they would not be easily obtained.

People she wanted to seek out were not in this sector. Places she wanted to visit were several jumps away and not anywhere convenient to the PEA they sought. They were fugitives running from Duke Tan without an army to protect them, without the security that money could give them (as it was hard to seek out a bank or her inheritance just yet), and without the luxury of the imperial archives. Solae had very good clearance as a marquise, but she was not a duke or duchess, and she was not a handmaiden, so she would have limits in the best of environments. Only the empress herself could change that- and there was no guarantee how much reward she'd be given at the end of their adventure, assuming they survived.

Solae groaned to herself silently, leaned forward, and rested her forehead on her makeshift writing desk.
Solae was at a loss of how to properly console Rene on this recent revelation. All of nobility's offspring had been raised to suppress their emotions, to deal with the world pragmatically, and to react with shrewd cunning rather than feeling. It was no small wonder that nearly every aristocrat was secretly the patient of therapist and psychiatrist that helped them deal with the unhealthy amount of baggage that came from such a mindset. The marquise did not know how to soothe her fiance's invisible wounds. Both her education and upbringing would have her tell him that this was nothing to be upset by as his father marrying was only the execution of a business contract.

But her heart knew that this was so much more than the cold calculations the courts might make it out to be. Rene loved his father and undoubtedly sought his approval despite the passage of time and his ascension into adulthood. Even if he had managed to break free of that desire for affirmation, every child regardless of status wanted to be special to their parents. They wanted to be cherished, adored, a source of pride. Intellectually Rene knew his father would need to sever their connections due to the serious accusations levied against him and the subsequent enlistment into the marines. That did not make it any less painful to face the reality he had been discarded. Solae doubted Alric du Quentain had forgotten his son, but the speed with which he had moved on with his life was almost cruel in its efficiency.

"The Chastaians married into the Falias a few generations back," she explained slowly. "I believe my great, great grandmother was a Chastain? She had to abandon her family name to become a Falia, but it did create an alliance between the families that has persisted through to my father. He was of the opinion we have achieved so much because of both our connections and our contributions from the bloodlines that wed into ours." Solae had never formed an opinion one way or another. Both her mother and grandfather were Falias by marriage (since her paternal grandmother inherited the title and holdings as an only child) but neither had spoken of their past. Because she had always known them as members of the esteemed Falia she never dwelt on the notion they were not always devoted members of its lineage.

"I don't know the details, but my father has been... or rather he was 'bailing them out' so to speak. They made several poor investments and after the empress took the throne people have been very reluctant to honor the same agreements they had before." Noble families were almost universally wealthy but the exact assets each possessed was a private affair. There was pomp and circumstance to be certain, but the liquid currency they had at their disposal, the holdings they owned, the precious collections tucked away in their vaults was not public knowledge. There were allusions to it, there was boasting and grandstanding, but a duke could go bankrupt while maintaining a decadent appearance. Similarly, 'lowly' viscounts could hide their recent returns made them twice as rich as their social superiors.

"I can only assume they arranged for this union with Gisella in part to help their finances," Solae murmured more to herself than to Rene. "Father was talking about cutting them off when I was a teenager and was getting increasingly annoyed with them. Mother was paranoid they had discovered our yearly profits had increased significantly, and so they didn't need as much as they were asking, and instead were trying to take advantage." She shrugged with indifference. It hadn't been her decision to make and neither of the late Falias would have sought her opinion and advice on the matter. More than once she had been told explicitly she would get the 'whole story' of their net worth once she inherited. That her father was unwilling to put a figure on it with his own daughter made her suspicious Duke Tan was not actually the most affluent man on New Concordia.

"Mia, are you still processing data?" she called out.

"Yes, Lady Solae. I am capable of running additional analysis concurrently. Do you wish for me to analyze the Chastain family's history since Sir Rene's exile?" she asked breathlessly from a speaker overhead.

"Pull in records for a year preceding the murder just to be certain, Mia. I'll look over the information on hand as well but it is possible either of us or both of us will miss something significant," she decided as she changed the screen from an image of Lucrecia to clippings about one of the Chastain's mining companies on an otherwise barren planet at the edge of the sector. Rene had enough to digest without a visual reminder that a tiny baby had been borne from a woman young enough to be his sister or wife; instead she was now his stepmother. Solae resolved herself to breach etiquette if Rene became her legal husband and anyone tried to compel her to address Gisella with matronly honorifics. The marquise had not just survived a harrowing assault on the embassy, a brush with death escaping New Concordia, and landing a ship for the first time through the hurricane to call someone a few years older than her anything other than her first name.

"Do you want to go lay down, Rene?" she asked as she glanced over her shoulder. "I can't promise Mia will behave herself, but I solemnly swear I won't get into any trouble until we get closer to Zatis. And I won't try to land without waking you if only so I can make you suffer through my lack of experience with me," she declared with a good-natured smile and a wink.
"How far are we from Zatis?" Solae inquired as soon as they had lurched out of the jump point closest to the planet in question. Stars and black holes were the anchor points, typically called 'horizons,' that allowed such quick interstellar travel. Occasionally there was a world only an hour or two away from one but it was never practically habitable. The marquise knew from experience it would take some time to arrive at their destination.

"Twenty-two hours and twenty-three minutes," Mia purred.

"Excellent. That gives me plenty of time to start dissecting the information I downloaded at the communications center," Solae announced as she squeezed Rene's hand and rose from her seat. There were a few different interfaces capable of porting in data collected and stored on external sources. Fortunately the cockpit's was within reach and had been previously tested when Mia herself was uploaded. The diplomat used an unassuming thick cable to connect her device to The Bonaventure.

"Mia, can you extract everything on here for me? I think the hold is probably the best place to start making a map," she mused aloud. It would be difficult to much more than pilot or read quietly to herself in this miniature command center. While it might be efficient for steering the ship it would be woefully inadequate space for spreading out everything into a visual array.

"The hold, Lady Solae?" Mia asked breathlessly as if she lived for the sort of excitement that could come from decompressing figures and documents.

"I want to be able to make hand-written notations and plot all our evidence into something a little more complicated than can be handled in a conventional display," the noblewoman tried to explain. "It'll help me make sense of things and see the patterns that are more intuitive than statistical. I'd still like you to run your own analysis, Mia."

"What should I analyze, Lady Mia?" there was a sultry trill that sounded much more like genuine excitement than it ought to. Artificial intelligence was purposefully programmed as to not anything remotely similar to feelings no matter how accurately they emulated emotions. Solae was finding, however, that some clever coder had made Mia seem to want to be put to use. Perhaps it was an invention meant to make users feel more at ease given commands, or because they didn't want their machinery 'complacently' idle, but it was nice to feel camaraderie with the computerized entity.

"We're investigating the murder Sir Rene was accused of. You and I know he is innocent but the rest of the universe does not. We're going to find out what ripples were caused by Amellia's death and Rene's presumed guilt. Flag any intersections- people who benefited from both even if indirectly. We want to correctly track social gains such as stature, monetary gains from trade agreement forged as a response to this crime, and we also want to track the losses. People are more likely to take a risk for a big reward than pure revenge," Solae prattled on as she made her way towards the hold. There weren't many writing instruments or loose sheets of paper but she would make do with what was available. She had always found scribbling things down manually in shorthand helped her recall more easily. All the genetic advancements in the Stellar Empire couldn't make learning and memorizing a completely effortless process.

"Understood, Lady Solae," Mia acknowledged.

By the time Solae had reached the hold and called up the data packet on her screen she was already overwhelmed with how much raw intelligence there was to process. Most, and regrettably maybe all, of it would be of little use in their endeavor. The murderer might be hiding among these little shreds of truth but most of Capella was innocent of any meddling with either the deceased handmaiden or her exiled paramour. With a flick of her hand she decided to focus first on the Du Quentain family themselves, starting with the patriarch. Her heart fell into her stomach as his image and attached article appeared in perfect clarity.

"Alric Du Quentain has wed..," she murmured. The notice was dated less than a year after Rene's enlistment. Given the standard length of engagements, either Rene's father had been planning this as soon as he heard his son was accused or he had rushed his betrothal. The former scenario would imply that the elder Du Quentain had never once believed that his heir was innocent of murder... or at least he was as good as guilty. The latter scenario would suggest some sort of societal or economic struggle that would compel a widower to finally marry. Few aristocrats wed for love and Alric did not strike her as a romantic figure.

Solae swore under her breath. "Mia, page Rene and tell him he needs to come here right now."

The space vessel was not so vast that it took much time to get from one area to another. Rene came jogging, his brow creased in concern, because Solae's message sounded urgent and that provoked worry from the paramour. Solae stepped in-between the soldier and the digitized portrait of his father that was in crisp color on the screen behind her. Although he could have glimpsed it there was little chance he could have caught more than a glance of the image- the text was too difficult to read without drawing closer.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Rene asked her.

"Rene, your father remarried and... had another child," she said as she took one of his hands into her own. He might be shocked. Rene might have even considered this might happen. Male nobility had their sperm frozen and stored at sexual maturity for a variety of practical reasons so there was no fertility issues in an older man; for all intents and purposes their genetic contribution was no different than if they were in their prime. All that was required is they find a woman or surrogate of child-bearing age. For the prestigious lineages there were many that would volunteer for a position because the union would net them power, influence, wealth, and a modicum of control through their progeny.

Solae could not help but tense slightly at the innocent question of where they were headed to next. Internally she knew it was not her fault, at least not not entirely, that they were escaping from the trials of one world only to thrust them into yet another complicated scenario on another. The marquise had certainly not been the mastermind behind the coup. More than once she had caught her mind wandering to the strategic weaknesses in Duke Tan's plot that she would not have missed. Regardless of where the blame could be placed she knew that her response to his query would dampen his spirits considerably.

"Mia, can you take us clear of Panopontus and to the jump point we charted earlier?" she asked politely with a diplomatic sidestep of Rene's inquiry. There was a knot forming in the pit of her stomach in anticipation of his distaste for their next stop and how quickly his joy would erode at their poor prospects. Ironically the devastated city of San Roayo had more wealth in the form of stability and hope than the duo that was clearing their orbit.

"Lady Solae, I can not make final preparations until Sir Rene has informed consent of our destination," Mia purred as if they were in the midst of discussing an illicit affair rather than interstellar travel. Solae was stricken with the sudden desire to retire to the captain's quarters with her lover and pretend the rest of the universe simply didn't exist. Had they any chance of actually staying indefinitely free and hidden she might have seized the opportunity. The rebellion forces had made mistakes but none so large that they would miss the small vessel adrift one jump from New Concordia.

"Yes, I understand," she sighed with resignation in her voice. "The closest planet with a functional PEA is Zatis."

"Sir Rene, I am obligated to inform you that Zatis has an extremely prevalent cultural criminal element," Mia told the soldier beau with such overt sensuality that Solae felt like an intruder on intimate pillow talk. The artificial intelligence hadn't particularly bothered her before, because they did not interact all that often, but she could only imagine the reaction of Lord Armon's less brief paramours. Not all of them would have been fans of a computer emulating the seductive tones traditionally reserved for romantic entanglements.

"Criminal element?" Rene repeated with obvious warranted concern.

"Yes, Sir Rene. The Stellar Empire has an arrangement with Zatis wherein they do not interfere with illegal activities, and let the planet informally govern itself, so long as the empire is notified of certain crimes against the Stellar Empire as a whole. Additionally, the Stellar Empire is allowed espionage agents to monitor the more egregious transactions that takes place."

"If they won't let the empress rule over them then Duke Tan should have a more difficult time as well," Solae interjected quickly. What went unsaid, however, was that there would be that many more people who were not loyal to any ideals and would want to claim the bounty (and more) on Rene and Solae. Mercenaries would be more common than heroes on Zatis- if any of the latter existed on the surface at all.

"It's a gamble but no one on Zatis will think anything of people in disguise. It's our best shot at getting a message to another outpost or embassy before we're found. It's not the optimal solution but we can't run forever. I promise that once we've sent our warning we can retreat to wherever you think is best. Stars, we can come back here to Panopontus if you believe Duke Tan would be fooled by returning to a place we already departed," she suggested.

"Sir Rene?" Mia asked breathlessly waiting for his judgment.
"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.
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