Daimyo Kitsune was having a busy morning. So far, his walk with Maoko had been the only peaceful part of it. Even though he had only been leader of the Eagle for a few weeks, he had quickly fallen into a routine of meetings, visits to areas that were experiencing problems, and, of course, martial arts practice. The arrival of the Reckless Faith was a welcome change to his routine, despite the awkwardness of his conversations with Vecky. He was proud of her, and wanted to get to know her better, but there was still lingering guilt over his decision to leave her with his brother Aoba all those years ago.
Tomo walked through the city on his way back from the library, where he had dropped off a trio of Secundian engineers with Eva and John. To his right walked Cassie, who said little as they headed to the control center. Their meeting would be brief; there was no need for too much formality for her to become a citizen, other than a simple explanation of her privileges and responsibilities, and her signature on the parchment. Ikari had agreed to be a witness.
As planned, the trio gathered in Tomo’s common room. The Daimyo sat behind his desk, and offered a squat bench for Cassie opposite him. Ikari stood in the corner, silent. The proclamation of citizenship, written out longhand, was already on the surface of the desk. Its text, in kanji, was well beyond Cassie’s ability to read, so she sat down and waited for Tomo to begin. The man pushed a clay inkwell toward her, which sported a genuine eagle feather quill.
“Shall we begin?” asked Tomo.
Cassie nodded. “I’m ready.”
“Lyra Cassiopeia, by signing this document you are agreeing to all the privileges, immunities, and burdens of a full citizen of the Eagle. Until your death, or you renounce these vows, you will always have a home here, as well as the responsibility to hold the welfare and safety of our citizens above your own, to meet any threat to the Eagle with complete devotion to us, and hold our reputation in the highest regard wherever your travels make take you. If you agree to these terms, you may sign where indicated on the document.”
Cassie signed with a flourish. “Done.”
“Then as Daimyo of the Eagle asteroid, one of the three great Stymphalian Raptors of Our Progenitors, I declare you a full citizen.”
Standing up slowly, Cassie looked Tomo in the eye. There was an intensity to her gaze that he couldn’t understand until she spoke again.
“Daimyo Kitsune Tomoyasu, I challenge you to mononofu ketto.”
Tomo almost laughed before shock set in. He gaped at Cassie, stunned into silence, before looking at Ikari. His second in command was just as frozen, and seconds ticked by before Tomo could think of anything coherent to say.
“You can’t be serious,” he finally managed.
Cassie’s eyes bored a hole through his skull. “I am. Do you accept?”
Tomo stood up. “I let you sign that document in good faith. Was this your plan from the beginning?”
“What does it matter now? I already had every right to challenge you, but I thought I’d be patient and play by your rules. Besides, an assassination wouldn’t have gained me anything.”
Again, Tomo reeled with confusion. “Why?”
Cassie walked toward the impressive collection of swords on display. “My whole life, I’ve been beset by traitors, interlopers, tragedy, and defeat. I was the only humanoid left alive on the Vulture, after a thousand years of glory. Even after my home was destroyed, I survived. I’ve earned a special place in the eyes of Our Progenitors, and fate has brought me here. I’m owed the Eagle.”
Tomo stood up. “They owe you peace, and you can have that here. You’re a citizen now, you’ll be accepted. Look, I can only assume that Reveki told you about mononofu ketto. You are aware that it’s a fight to the death, right? Once this challenge goes public, there’s no turning back.”
“I know,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “This is the only way I can be sure whether or not I’m still in favor with Our Progenitors.”
“I disagree. If I can’t convince you otherwise, perhaps your friends might. Will you at least do me the courtesy of talking to them before you commit to a duel to the death?”
Cassie turned away. “I already know what they’re going to say. This is the only path left for me. How long before we can get this done?”
Tomo sighed. “I’ll need at least 24 hours, will you be ready this time tomorrow?”
“I’m ready now.”
“Very well. The announcement will go out shortly. This challenge must be met with the blade. All of these swords are suitable; you may choose one now to acquaint yourself with by tomorrow.”
“I already have a similar weapon, thanks. I would prefer to be left alone until the duel. Is there somewhere I can prepare in solitude?”
Tomo looked at Ikari, so the other man replied.
“The main dojo will have several classes before tomorrow at noontime, but I believe the aikido dojo will remain vacant until then, barring any other citizens who may wander in for some personal practice.”
“Fine,” began Tomo. “Escort her there, and make preparations for any meals she may want.”
“Respectfully, sir, I’ll have Daisuke do it. I would like to speak with you.”
“Cassiopeia, Daisuke is in the control room. Ask for him, and he’ll take you to the dojo. Can I assume your weapon of choice is on the Faith?”
“It is,” she replied.
“I’ll contact the crew and have one of them bring it to you. At the appointed time, you’ll be escorted to the arena. Until then, I implore you to reconsider.”
Cassie nodded. “I’ll see you in the arena, Daimyo.”
Without another word, Cassie exited. Tomo and Ikari looked at each other in disbelief.
“Sir,” began Ikari, “I admire your commitment to the traditions of our home. However, you’ve ushered in a new era for the Eagle. If there was ever a time to rethink old ways, it’s now.”
“That may be, but the changes we’ve made are hardly being accepted universally among our citizens. To refuse this challenge would call into doubt my own ascension to power. I suppose I could have tried to silence Cassie, but that would have required either murder or imprisonment. I’m afraid the challenge must stand. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that I’ll take no pleasure in killing her. It saddens me that she feels like this is her only option.”
“I wonder if Reveki also told her about your training. Either she’s reckless, or confident enough in her own training to hope to win.”
Tomo huffed. “I don’t care one way or the other. If she’s inferior to me, then her supposition about the will of Our Progenitors will be correct. I’m certainly not going to take the threat lightly.”
“Of course not, sir.”
“In the meantime, I’m far too busy to obsess about this fight. I’ll be ready when the time comes. Right now I need lunch, then we’ll check in on our Secundian engineers and see what they were able to glean from Adeler and Scherer.”
“And hopefully something about the location of the Swan. You know, it’s too bad Cassie didn’t have the patience to find it. She probably stands a better chance at taking it over than the Eagle.”
Tomo smiled wanly. “Either way, Ikari, I’ll never know.”
The conference room on the Reckless Faith was once again crammed past capacity, though with a different mix of people compared to the last time. The crew of the Fox had joined them, but Cassie and Richter were absent. After giving the newcomers a tour of his ship, John had called the meeting to share what he and Eva were able to find out about the Swan from their time in the library. Before they could begin, however, there was something that needed to be stated first. Vecky knew about the news already. John stood by the large wall-mounted monitor and waited for the chatter to die down.
“This meeting is to share what we learned about the Swan. First, though, you may notice that Richter and Cassie aren’t here. Cassie has challenged Daimyo Kitsune to a duel for leadership of the Eagle. By their traditions, any citizen may challenge the leader. This is a fight to the death. Richter has agreed to loan her the Tarsus blade for the duel, and he’s currently bringing it to her. Cassie has requested that she be left alone until the fight, which is tomorrow at noon. Despite my urging, she’s only agreed to see Richter until then.”
Ari leaned back in her chair. “Does this really surprise anyone here? Cassie was always a bit touched in the head.”
“Delusions of grandeur doesn’t even begin to describe it,” said Miriam.
“Whatever her motivations are,” began Vecky, “I believe this was her intention from the moment I told her Eva’s story. It’s still a huge gamble; Tomoyasu is a formidable opponent. In fact, I don’t think he can lose.”
“Richter and I can tell you, Cassie’s no slouch herself,” said Ari. “I wouldn’t bet against her so quickly.”
“It’s pointless to speculate,” said John. “Cassie believes this is the only way she can know the true will of the Kira’To. Like myself, I’m sure many of you don’t think they give a shit at all. Besides their genetic infusion program and the occasional cryptic dreams some of us have experienced, they don’t appear to have done anything but set up an elaborate string of dominos and knocked over the first one. Anyway, we’re all invited. For the newcomers to our crew, I’ll leave it up to you if you want to attend.”
Aldebaran said, “I don’t think Richter stands much of a chance of changing her mind. It’s too bad that one way or another, we’ll be losing a member of our crew.”
“Richter is the last person who would try to talk her out of it,” said Ari. “I doubt he’ll even offer his opinion.”
“I’m sure Tomo is regretting his decision to take her on as a citizen,” said Eva. “A challenge for mononofu ketto from a non-citizen can simply be ignored. You can be sure he’ll be more cautious from now on.”
“All right,” said John. “Let’s not get too sidetracked. There will be ample time to talk about it until tomorrow. As to the purpose of this briefing, Eva, would you do the honors?”
Eva walked to the monitor, and brought up a star chart. “Sure. Okay, right now you all know some of the history of the asteroids. Part of that history is that all three had the same starting point. From what Cassie told us, that starting point may have been the star we know as Tarazed, or the Beam of the Scale, which is in the constellation Aquila, here. John and I were able to find several references to the same star in the Eagle’s archives. Beyond that, there wasn’t much to go on. However, if we draw a line back to Tarazed from the Vulture’s location before it was destroyed, and the Eagle’s current location, we can see the dispersal of their travel paths.”
Eva pressed a key on her PDA, and lines appeared on the star chart. John spoke again.
“As much as I hate to embark on a wild goose chase, we can only assume that the Swan followed a vector on a similar angle of dispersal that we see here. Given the maximum possible speed of the Swan, and that it wouldn’t have headed toward empty space, we get two regions of interest. Delta Sagittae, here, and 1 Vulpeculae, here. Now, we’ve already been to Alpha and Beta Sagittae, and had access to the archives on Hayaku and Freedmen. There are a few references to the Vulture, but none to the Swan. So, we propose that 1 Vulpeculae be our starting point.”
Vecky said, “According to that chart, 1 Vulpeculae is (distance) light years from here. It would take months for the Fox to traverse that distance.”
“Yes, and that leads to the next matter. Ari?”
Ari stood up. “When I was on the Almagest, we obtained an engine overdrive device. I downloaded the schematics to our database. The Faith doesn’t need it, but it may be possible to integrate it into the Fox’s stardrive. If successful, you would be at least fast enough to cut the trip down to a week or less.”
Vecky shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”
“What’s 1 Vulpeculae called in our local parlance?” asked Cane. “I’m not used to looking at the chart from this perspective.”
Eva accessed her PDA for a moment. “Dhil Al Thaelab?”
Talyn laughed. “We just call it Dellal.”
“Anything there of interest?” asked John.
“Sure,” replied Cane. “I’ve never been there, but I know there’s a solar community that sprung up around a habitable moon of Dellal IV a couple hundred years ago. Word is they’ve terraformed other planets in the solar system since then. I never had a reason to venture out that far.”
“Do you know how they feel about visitors?”
“No, but a quick search of the ‘net would answer that question.”
“Okay. It sounds like we have a plan. Christie, I would like you to assist Ari and the crew of the Fox with fabricating and installing the overdrive device.”
“No problem,” said Christie’s voice.
“Thank you. Now the last order of business. If the overdrive device works, here are your ship assignments. On the Faith we’ll have myself, Christie, obviously, Bailey, Andrews, Richter, Aldebaran, Zukova, and Sparrow. On the Fox will be Kitsune, Adeler, Venator, Talyn, Ferro, Colchester, Devonai, Penrose, Ehrlich, and Hawkes. For dismounted missions, we’ll have three teams of four if dividing by three, and two squads of six if dividing by two. The team and squad assignments are on the shared drive. Eva, please put a copy onto the Fox’s computer.”
“Can do,” Eva replied.
“So not everyone has a slot for dismounted missions,” said Ehrlich.
John nodded. “Correct. Andrews, Zukova, Colchester, and Penrose will stay on the ships unless they’re needed in the field. Our ships should be available for air support and overwatch at all times. Kitsune has agreed to train Colchester and Penrose on the Fox’s systems.”
“That’s it, then. If you have nothing else to do, you can relax or go explore the city. I imagine I’ll see most of you at the arena tomorrow.”
John exited to the bridge. Ari and Eva followed him. Friday jumped off the console and meowed at John.
“Do you really think Cassie stands a chance against the Daimyo?” asked Ari.
“I’ve seen him in action,” replied Eva. “The guy knows his shit. Then again, Cassie feels like she has nothing to lose.”
John leaned against the console. “I don’t get it. I’ve done everything I can to make her feel like a member of this crew. I gave her space, too, since everybody knew she was devastated by the loss of her home. When I asked her to participate in training, she did, albeit quietly. If not for masamune keto, I wonder what she would have done with herself.”
“Yes, that. I mean, is the Daiymo an elected position?”
“No. It’s either an appointment by the retiring leader, or by inheritance. I don’t know what they would do if a Daiymo died without an heir. I suppose he would have chosen a successor before then.”
“My bet,” began Ari, “is that she had no idea what she was going to do before Vecky told her about the dueling option. But I can’t image she would have been happy as a mere citizen of the Eagle.”
John looked out of the window at the darkened interior of the hangar. “It doesn’t matter. She made her choice.”