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Playing With Matches

This part originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.

Part 3

191st of 2029 (017-98): The Lord Protector’s Birthday Ball

Isabella and I had taken Jane dress shopping the day before. She found something she liked, it followed her new style, low cut, revealing and sultry. I wondered what had happened to change her. She was always daring, but never so brazen. Ariaryn was to be her escort, they were planning to meet up at the ball. Isabella did not approve. “Jane, it’s just not the way it’s done. He comes here and picks you up, bringing you a bouquet and then takes you to the ball.”

She snorted “Seems kind of archaic to me. Why not just meet up like a regular ball?”

Isabella tried to explain “Because it’s not a regular ball, it's the Lord Protector’s birthday ball. It’s the way things are done. I’ll call Corwin and Peter and get them to pick him up first. I assume he’s got you the flowers?”

“How would I know?”

Isabella just shook her head. “Jane, my dear, I will get them to pick up some flowers, too.”

Ariaryn arrived with Corwin and Peter. He looked good, black suit, white tie, satin waistcoat. “I got you flowers.” He presented Jane with a beautiful bouquet. Isabella looked at Cowin, he smiled and shook his head. I think that meant he got them himself. He seemed more than a little awkward when she kissed him, blushing bright red again. I looked at Jane, I had seen that look in her eyes, just once before, for another man. I wondered what had happened to him, but now was not the time.

I thought our arrival was impressive; limousine, red carpet, flowers, glamorous gowns and elegant suits. There were photographers, reporters, film crews. The light, the attention, it didn’t take long to change from impressive to intimidating. I was so thankful for Eervir’s dress; it hid the scars and made me feel a little attractive again. It didn’t hurt having a handsome man beside me. We were announced and greeted by Lord Protector McCloud and his spouse Leena. Isabella was right, Peter was attentive, charming and a wonderful dancer. I chuckled just a little; it was a pity he was gay.

Jane and I were at the bar, Isabella and Ariaryn were off on the dance floor along with Corwin and Peter. I could see Siish and Sharik there too. I wanted to talk with Jane, though. “Sweetie, you know he’s besotted with you?”

She turned to me, “Ariaryn? Yeah, I know. But….” She didn’t finish.


“Yes, Greg. It’s not easy, you know, deary.”

“You’ve never told me what happened, Jane.”

She took another drink. “We were at Igoo, last big battle. We were covering the withdrawal. The drive was out, I was working in engineering, getting it back online. Just before we jumped we took a meson22 hit.”


“Yeah, it hit the bridge.”

“A lot of people died, Jane, it’s just the way things were. I assume that’s what happened to your hand?”

She nodded, “I know, but I took it hard.” You could here the hurt in her. “I fell apart, drank a lot. I lost count of how many people I had in my bed. When Siish found me, I was a mess, deary.”


“I don’t want to get hurt again.”

I hugged her. “Sometimes, sweetie, you’ve just got to take a chance. He’s a good man.”

She laughed, “I thought you said he was a kid.”

I had to chuckle, “Yeah he is, but a damn good one.”

The dance had finished; the others had come back, Sharik was hanging off Siish’s arm. Jane turned to Ariaryn. “You want a drink, dear?” He nodded, she called the bar tender over and got a linkwin. She smiled at me and turned the glass three sixty degrees as she passed it to him.

The night was growing old; Jane and Ariaryn had spent a lot of time on the dance floor now, Isabella was with Peter. Sharik took my hand “You alright, Afira?”

I didn't understand. “Yes? Why?”

She looked at me. “Jane, Ariaryn?”

I still didn't understand. “Yes?”

“I mean, Siish says you share a room on the ship.”

The keedit dropped; I laughed, “No, no, it’s not like that.” I had to think, why did we share a room still? “…we’re like sisters.” My eyes fell to the floor. “After… I didn’t want to be alone, you know.”

She stroked my left check, “Not really; I don’t think anyone can know.” She took my hand again “You know, I’d really like to be friends. We should be friends.”

Lady Councillor Inash Gubashiidi surveyed the ball carefully. These things were as much about politics as socialising. Nashu Manish was with Ashi Minomoru as usual, but for how much longer? Ashi was ailing and his son Kaito was enamoured with Kamees Sherin. The McClouds, Minomorus, Khaadiis and Mavals commanded twelve votes and the Lord Protector, but three of those votes depended on the Minomorus. When Ashi retired the balance would change. She should be happy; she had always voted with the Zagiirmiskurs, they had been good to her family. But the Zagiirmiskurs were allied to the Chaudhrays and Sherins, and tomorrow Oskar Sherin would step down in favour of his son. Kamees Sherin had almost destroyed the Protectorate once, giving him another chance didn’t seem a good idea. She wanted to switch her allegiance but the question was how to do so and what price could she secure for it. She waited for Madam Manish to be alone and approached. “Ah Nashu, you are looking ravishing tonight.”

She smiled recognising the opening, “And you, also, Inash.”

Madam Gubashiidi sighed heavily, “Such a pity about Ashi, he really hasn’t been the same since his beloved Margaret passed. I do fear he will be joining her all too soon.”

Madam Manish knew this all too well. “Yes, I fear you are right; it will be great loss.”

Madam Gubashiidi continued, “So many changes, Nashu, did you know Oskar is to retire tomorrow?”

“I had heard rumours.”

“Kamees will bring such an interesting view point to the Council.”

“It will be exciting, Inash.”

Madam Gubashiidi nodded, “Yes, but I find I tire of excitement now; the perils of age, I suppose.” She made a point of sighing. “Of course, Kamees will inherit his seat on the Security Committee.” She paused; it was time to make her proposal: “Unless overturned by a two thirds majority.”

Madam Manish understood her meaning. “Of fourteen votes.”

“Yes, fourteen.”

It was acceptable. “You know, Inash, I have often thought you would make a fine addition to the Committee.”

She nodded “Sharikkamur and Siishubuu, they make a lovely couple, don’t you think.”

“Yes, quite handsome.”

Madam Gubashiidi grinned, “You know I have hopes there; it has been far too long since I attended a match.”

Madam Manish suppressed a laugh, they had both been at the match of Wilhem Eiammes and Ora Ludteen not eight days ago. “I must agree, Inash, far too long for the both of us. Perhaps with suitable encouragement.” But there were complications. “Corig Wa, such a tragedy how she has suffered.”

Madam Gubashiidi nodded again, “Indeed, unspeakable what they did. We all owe her a debt.”

“Quite, she so deserves to lead a happy life.”

“Oh yes, certainly. Sharikkamur lunched with her the other day, she was saying how she hoped they could be friends. I think we should all do our best to accommodate her.”

It was Madam Manish’s turn to nod, “Yes, I think we should.”

Inash looked over at a table. “Colin and Saraa Kirsov; such a lasting match, don’t you think? Do you see much of them nowadays?”

Nashu smiled politely, “Yes, from time to time. Now, you must excuse me, Inash; I am afraid I promised Samuel at least one dance. But I will find time to talk again before the evening is out.” The floor was not the only place where dancing took place here.

Samuel and Leena were sitting quietly as Nashu approached. “I’m terribly sorry Leena, but I must steal your spouse for just one dance.”

Leena grinned, “I saw you talking with Inash; of course you must.” They approached the floor. Samuel was tired; it had been a long night “So, Nashu, what did Inash want?”

“She informed me Oskar will be announcing his retirement tomorrow.”

“It had to happen, so now we have to deal with Kamees on the Council.” He sighed deeply, “How long do you think Ashi has left?”

“A few months at most; he already wishes to retire.”

Samuel chuckled, “I suppose I should start work on my retirement speech now then.”

It was Nashu’s turn to chuckle. “Perhaps not; Inash is willing to switch allegiance.”

Samuel’s eyes narrowed. “Her price?”

“Oskar’s seat on the Security Committee. Oh, and a match between Siishubuu and Sharikkamur.”

He frowned, “Steep, but worth it.”

“I think so.”

“Can you convince Siishubuu to the match?”

She looked down. “Probably, but it will require something from you, Samuel. The matter I mentioned before, young Sakuya Trace. We will need him freed.”

“Well, if we have the Committee back, we can do it. But it will be tantamount to a declaration of war with the Sherins.”

She smiled wryly, “Keeping Kamees off the Committee will do that anyway.”

Samuel nodded knowingly, “I will call an emergency meeting as soon as Oskar makes his retirement official.”

“Good, and then Ashi can retire. Spend his last days with his family.”

The Lord Protector hummed, “Nashu, with a two thirds majority we can get the treaty to the assembly for ratification23.”

“Samuel, he deserves to spend his final days with his grandchildren, perhaps even reach some peace with Kaito.”

“We only need wait till the next regular meeting, Nashu, only six days.”

192nd of 2029 (018-98): The Manish Estates

Siish was fuming; the very idea, it was outrageous “I won’t, Mother, I utterly refuse!”

She knew this was going to be difficult but she hadn’t anticipated quite how difficult. “Please see reason, Siishubuu; you must, and you must today.”

“I will not propose to Sharik, and that is that.”

One more appeal to reason. “Siishubuu, I don’t think you realise the desperateness of the situation. Kamees Sherin will inherit his father’s seat on the Council, Ashi Minomoru will die soon, and his son Kaito will take the Minomoru’s three votes to the hard-liners. They will control the Council. There will be war again. And this time we will not survive.”

Siish was still furious at the very suggestion. “You talk like Sherin Femral is the enemy, Mother, and anyway, we won the last war.”

“He is, Siishubuu, a dangerous and reckless extremist who will drag us to destruction. And we only ‘won’ because the Imperium didn’t realise we’d lost.” She turned away; she had hoped to avoid this and she did not feel good about it “Siishubuu, there is another consideration. If you agree, I will secure Sakuya Trace’s liberty.”

Siish fumed again, “Mother! Even for you, that is too much! Demanding my match for that boy’s freedom!”

“Siishubuu, I am no fool. I have read all your reports; I know what happened on Winchel. You do not want it for your own account, you want it for Corig Wa’s.” She hesitated, considering how far to go. “Sakuya Trace is in a bad place, Siishubuu, a very bad place. It will destroy him, and destroy him quickly. And the woman you love will not be able to sleep at night when she learns what happened to him.”

His rage boiled over. “Mother, you wouldn’t dare tell her! You are many things, but you are not a monster.”

His mother was ashamed. “No, you are right; I wouldn’t tell her.” She took another tack. “Siishubuu, do you remember how Isabella was when she first came here?”

Siish had been serving in the fleet and not seen her much then, but he’d seen enough to remember the wreck of a woman she had been then. Like a wounded animal, aching from some hidden pain. He also remembered how attentive and concerned she had been for Sakuya. He spoke quietly, not wanting to understand. “Isabella?”

“Yes, she came from where young Lord Trace is now.”

Siish stood in shock. “I thought you had that place purged?”

She drew a heavy breath, “I did, but it changed when Oskar Sherin took over as head of the Security Committee. Yet another reason why you must do this, so we can regain control of the Committee.”

Siish made a decision. His mother was right; she would not be able to live with herself if she found out. Nor could he bear the thought of Sakuya suffering like that, himself. “You know the Luriani have a saying, shi tarasa shish garia yishi tyain toi lasres.”

Madam Manish smiled; he’d understood. “‘You shouldn’t dance while your feet are on fire’; very appropriate; but then again, they have a saying for everything.”

He took a deep breath. “I will not promise, Mother, but I will talk with Sharik.”

192nd of 2029 (018-98): The Gubashiidi Estate

They were walking in the garden, the two matriarchs were taking tea in the drawing room. “So, what do you think they’re talking about Sharik?”

She stooped to savour the fragrance of some roses. “Politics, I imagine; Oskar Sherin is retiring, lots of wheeling and dealing.”

He hesitated, uncomfortable. “Yes, so I’ve been told.” He resolved to be frank and honest. “Sharik, Mother wishes me to propose a match with you. Apparently, if we do, your mother will switch her allegiance in the Council.”

She didn’t look up from the flower. “Yes, I know; Mother told me this morning.”

He was surprised at her nonchalance. “Doesn’t it annoy you, even a little?”

She stood and turned to face him. “Perhaps a little, but I do understand.”

“Sharik, do you love me?”

“Love? No, but I am very fond of you; I think we would make a successful match.”

He took the plunge. “I’m in love with somebody else.”

She smiled at him, “Yes, I know, Afira. I like her.”

“Mother suggested we could have an ‘agreement’ regarding her.”

She took his hand. “Have you talked with her?”


“You should. But if she’s agreeable and you’re discreet, yes, we could have an ‘arrangement.’ As long as you’d accept an ‘arrangement’ for me if I’d like one.”

Siish was a little astounded. “Do you have somebody?”

She giggled politely, “No. But you never know.”

They walked together in silence awhile longer while Siish considered. Finally he stopped and turned to her “Sharikkamur Gubashiidi Mesu Mmarislusant Advocate, would you do me the great honour of becoming my match?”

She blushed, “Siishubuu, you are such a romantic. Given the circumstances there was no need to be so formal. But…” She lowered her eyes and fiddled with her hair demurely for a moment. “Siishubuu Manish Khaadii Mmarislusant Kaptan, I would be honoured to accept your proposal.” She reached over and kissed him.


Notes numbered 1-21 appeared in the earleier parts of the story.

22. Meson gun. A form of particle accelerator the fires exotic particles that can bypass normal matter and damage the interior of a ship.

23. The Treaty of Ghou that ended the Luriani War was never formally ratified by the Protectorate. Ratification required first a two thirds majority in the Lord Protector’s Council followed by a simple majority in the Protectorate Assembly.