tagSci-Fi & FantasyStarlight Gleaming Ch. 14

Starlight Gleaming Ch. 14



The story is told from the perspective of Senior Lieutenant Ranji Kandikan of the Imperial Air Force.

The days move slowly while Ranji tries to balance home and his new command. His family – Captain Janetta Tlacotli, Second Sergeant Zinja, Sergeant Cholan – as well as Corporal Sowitwee's wife Nariya, all continue to heal in the Naval hospital. Janetta nears the time when she can finally leave the hospital and return to duty.

With the destruction of their home, Ranji and the rest of the family have taken up temporary residence at Janetta's empty hangar. Corporal Ixma, the fourth member of Janetta's Flight Crew, has become fast friends with Calia, Ranji's Personal Servant. Anton Sonilawa, a family bodyguard sent along to protect Calia, helps with childcare for Ranji's newly adopted daughters, four-year-old Sisi and two-year-old Mina.

His Second in Command, Doyya Lovyanchiti, has nearly died from her wounds, but Ranji, Third Sergeant Yalcamara, and Private Stimmi discovered the injured Doyya and took her to a clinic for emergency care. Yalcamara stayed awake at the clinic all through the night, keeping watch over her.

Doyya was injured defending Melannee Siroptic, one of the women who acted in the role of Commander Orchid, known throughout the Empire as the Vengeful Hand of the Emperor. Melannee has since vanished, and Melannee's other alias, Sergeant Innati, is wanted by Minister Supay, head of Imperial Security, arguably the second most powerful man in the Empire.

As part of the fall out, Melannee's ally and Ranji's new blood-brother Tomin Hayantotichti (formerly of Imperial Security) has a new identity as Ground Service Lieutenant Bilan Monaycote to protect him, his new wife, and his sons. Ranji sends his friend and former teacher Styen Topangiti along to help make sure they arrive safely at Tohingo with the freighter full of refugees. Commander Ajanta Barankoshto was instrumental in helping with the evacuation. However, the huge Condor transport that was supposed to ferry the refugees blows up shortly after take off. Ranji believes this to have been the work of Minister Supay. Supay has also been discovered to have authorized the selling of orphaned and homeless children as food to draconian agents.

Ranji focuses on getting to know the people in his command, enforcing the Protection Orders that prevent forced sex from those of lower status or rank, and finding a new home for his family. All the while, his upcoming orders for ten weeks of training continue to loom ever closer. As if all that wasn't enough, Ranji intends to do everything in his power to stop the planned assassinations of Arjun Kandikan, Ranji's father, and himself by draconian agents.

The enlisted grades in order of progressive seniority are Pvt for Private, FCpl for Field Corporal, Cpl for Corporal, Sgt for Sergeant, TSgt for Third Sergeant, SSgt for Second Sergeant, FSgt for First Sergeant, and SrSgt for Senior Sergeant, the highest level NCO. Enlisted grades are worn on the upper arms, while officer grades are on shoulder boards. Unit patches are on the upper left arm, above any enlisted grade.

A heartfelt thanks to my reader, gyfurune, who helps catch my mistakes. Any errors that slip through are my own.

* * * * *

Private Stimmi pulled up by the open bay doors of Janetta's hangar. Getting out of the back, I moved around to the front passenger seat and opened the door.

"I'm pretty sure I can walk, sir," Doyya protested sleepily.

"Not a chance," I scooped her lean body up into my arms, mindful of her head coming through the vehicle door.

"Over here," Calia indicated, pointing to a new, single-sized bed. Ixma and the girls hovered around them. Even Anton looked on with concern.

The hangar was getting crowded with beds. There were five of them now.

I laid Doyya down carefully. Ixma swooped in and helped make her comfortable. Sisi and Mina stood by and watched the activity with interest. Stimmi brought the clinic discharge paperwork and her pills. Calia took them from him.

"Where's Sowitwee?" I asked, looking around.

He hustled up, wiping his brow. "I was emptying the trash and recycle, sir."

"How's your knowledge of wound care?"

"Basic only, before going into pharmacy. But I do know she needs to stay propped up until the Nu-skin patches are completely absorbed. She's not going to the Naval hospital?"

I shook my head. "Too many questions as to what happened. It's the only way to protect the woman who saved you and your wife, and the Lieutenant herself. And I will remind you not to mention her name."

He nodded solemnly. "To protect her. I understand, sir."

Anton brought over some pillows and put them behind Doyya.

I walked back to the vehicle. "All right. Sowitwee, you're coming with me. Sergeant Chita tells me that tablet computers are on backorder, so we'll swing by the Commissary and I will spend the credits and buy you your own tablet the tech programs you need. Stimmi, are you going to need help getting Sergeant Yalcamara to her quarters?"

"No, sir. Normally, she's a handful, but when she's like this, I can carry her just fine," he grinned.

"I heard that, Stimmi," came Yalcamara's sleepy voice from the open window. "You couldn't handle me even on your best day. I only let you think you can to build your self esteem."

He grinned even wider, nodding at me.

I grinned back. "All right, Stimmi. Take off. See you at four bells."

"Yes, sir."

"Does Doyya have any other clothing?" Calia asked. "She's only wearing a hospital gown, it's rather flimsy. She'll need something more."

"Doyya, give me your address. Talk to Calia and Ixma and make a list. We'll swing by your quarters and pick up some things for you."

She shook her head. "Almost everything is boxed up still, sir. When I got promoted, I had to leave my enlisted quarters. I barely had time to move before going to Capisco."

"I see. Still, make the list and get the information to me, either by giving it to Ixma or to Calia," I told her.

"I'll need a new gun, phone, and laptop, sir," Doyya reminded me.

I sighed. "All right. I'll talk to Sergeant Chita about getting the old equipment discharged as lost, and get you replacements."

Sowitwee held out my holstered pistol. "What should I do with this, sir?"

"Put it back in the glove box of my vehicle. Instruct the AI to open the glove box only for adults, Corporal. I'm driving Janetta's HueCac, and leaving my vehicle here. That way, if you need to take everyone, there's room."

Then I caught the worried look in Sisi's eyes, standing partly behind Ixma. I went to her. Crouching down, I said, "Sisi, come here, please. May I hug you?"

Coming close, she nodded, then glanced up at Doyya.

I hugged her close. "What's got you worried, Sisi?"

"She doesn't look very good. Is she gonna die?"

"Oh, no," I assured her. "Doyya is going to be right as rain before you know it. She'll probably be sore and achy for a while, but we expect her to make a full recovery." Giving Doyya a look, I added, "That's an order, Lieutenant. A full recovery."

"Yes, sir," she replied with a tired grin. "As fast as I possibly can."

"That's the spirit."

Calia gave Doyya a bottle of water with electrolytes, and she took it gratefully.

I brushed the loose hair from Sisi's face. "You know, your kiss this morning made my day really special. Kisses and hugs help other people feel better. I hear it's said that hugs and kisses from children are magical, with special healing abilities. Maybe, if Doyya allows it, you can give her one, too. And it might help her get to feeling better even just that much faster."

Sisi looked at me thoughtfully, then at Doyya. "My hugs are magic?"

"The very best magic, Sisi," I assured her. "Do you mind, Doyya?"

"That would be nice," she smiled, and leaned over.

Sisi leaned up and gave her a hug with a quick kiss on the cheek. "Get better! 'Tenant says so."

"Yes, ma'am," Doyya answered.

Pleased, Sisi bounced up and down on her toes. "I'm a lady!"

"Yes, you are," I agreed.

"Are Mina's hugs magic, too?"

"Very much so," I told her.

Doyya then gave me her address.

"Calia? Get me her sizes. I need to get back to work. If you need help, give me a call. For anything else, call the Commissary and have it delivered. They should know where we are by now."

"We'll take good care of her," Calia assured me with a smile.

"Yes, we will, won't we, Mina?" Ixma added. Mina clutched her rabbit and hid behind her legs.

"Come on, Mina," Sisi said, pulling her by the hand to Doyya. "She needs you to give her a hug and kiss, too."

Mina looked dubious, but accepted Sisi's direction.

That's my girl, I thought. By the grins Ixma and Calia gave me, they were thinking the same thing.

* * * * *

I parked my vehicle beside the hangar and then hopped into Janetta's two-door HueCac. When I flipped the power switch, I checked the batteries. Less than forty percent. When I got to work, I needed to hook it up to the charging station against the building.

Sowitwee hopped in beside me. We stopped at the Commissary, and quickly took care of the purchases for him. Then we headed to work.

Chita and the rest of the staff present made their inquiries about Doyya. I told them she was much better than yesterday when we found her. I also told them about Sergeant Yalcamara staying awake all night to keep watch. They didn't know what Doyya had been doing in Capisco, but they knew I had worked briefly with Commander Orchid, had received my command from her, and that Doyya's mission must be more secret Imperial Security business. I would have preferred they not talk about it, but I was afraid if I mentioned it, it would make Doyya's trip seem even more important. Yalcamara's actions, too, fitted in with that view.

Stimmi and I planned on doing the safety check rounds that evening. I didn't expect Yalcamara to be back on duty until the next day.

Sergeant Matiwatli showed me his progress on the inventories, and where he was going next. I signed off on his itinerary and praised his work. Having functional emergency shelters on this forward base could save lives if we were attacked.

I also checked on Sergeant Ronsat, the fourth sergeant in my unit. I hadn't talked with him except in passing. Like nearly everyone else, I had taken him into the unit based solely on Doyya's recommendation. His file said he had an electronics and computer hardware background before coming to Supply and Logistics. His current job was to keep our computers maintained and running, talking to each other, keeping our firewall secure, and to make sure our data and image backups were up to date. He asked about my laptop. I informed him he could and should keep my desktop up to date, but that neither he nor anyone else was allowed to touch my laptop. I would handle any data transfers myself.

Ronsat seemed competent, but after our chat, I sent an email to Doyya, with a copy to Sergeant Chita, to make sure that he had enough duties to occupy his time, but not allowing him to be overwhelmed either.

Realizing I was remiss in several things, I wrote a message to my father, knowing he would immediately pass along the information to my mother. I wrote about Bilan Monaycote, stating that he and his family would be arriving with the refugees.

Dear Father -

Bilan is my brother in arms, and I have pledged to protect his family and he to protect mine. I have sent Styen along to help make sure they arrive safely. Like the refugees, they are in need of a safe place to stay. I can think of no safer place nor one filled with as much hospitality and accord than the home I grew up in. Please welcome them for my sake. I will arrive in the next week or so, and he and I will discuss more permanent arrangements.

I am grateful to you and Mother for helping those families left without protection. Some of the men were no doubt motivated by greed, but the overall corruption and greed were so bad here that some faced starvation if they did not participate. My Aide is Coporal Sowitwee. His wife was even kidnaped to secure his participation! Sowitwee and Nariya are devoted to each other. They remind me of your devotion and love for Mother.

Two of those caught in the maelstrom were four-year-old Sisi and two-year-old Mina. I will tell you all the details of how it came to be, but suffice it to say that I have adopted both girls as my own. The tale of events is not for the squeamish, but I assure you that I have very happy with the choice. Mina still grieves for her family, but is beginning to bond to her new mother, Ixma. Sisi is a delight, and takes seriously her role to help watch and care for Mina.

Their full names are Sisi Topkoransa Ba'lanchicotl Kandikan and Mina Nayanoshti Ba'lanchicotl Kandikan. I wanted them to keep their surnames, so that when they become adults and wish to learn more of their blood kin, they have a starting point. Second Sergeant Zinja is Sisi's adoptive mother. Corporal Ixma is Mina's new mother. Ba'lanchicotl is their House name, and I wanted them to have a clear, legal tie to their daughters. I have written to you before about both of them.

I apologize for the quality of the photos of the girls – they are from their dependent's files. I have not had time to get their portraits done nor had time to take any photos myself. I will remedy that as soon as I am able. My greatest priority is finding a new home for all of us to live in. And if she asks, tell Mother they have not yet found the culprits who destroyed our previous home.

Calia, Styen, and Anton all arrived safely. I have sent Styen along with Bilan and his family to help make sure they arrive safely at Tohingo. Calia and Anton have been of invaluable assistance, helping Ixma take care of Sisi and Mina while the others recover in the Naval hospital.

I know my admission will please Mother immensely, so please tell her that she was right about having Calia here with me, and I was wrong to oppose Mother's advice. I cannot discuss too much else either over the phone or by message, but when we are together, I hope to explain everything and answer any and all questions you have – barring those that I must keep as an officer of the Imperial Air Service.

Mother will no doubt open your home to Bilan and his family, and then be frantic to hear more about – surprise, Mother! – her new granddaughters. Again, please assure Mother that I will get photos to you and bring everyone to visit after my upcoming training is completed, and as soon as I am able to arrange things.

Please know, Father, that I appreciate more and more the wisdom you have imparted, and I also know you have more to teach me. Styen taught me to be a Warrior, and I am indebted to him for that. But you taught me to be a man, to know what is right and what is wrong, and for that I am and will remain eternally grateful.

Your loving son, Ranji.

Part of me hoped that Bilan's family, especially his two small boys, would distract Mother long enough for me to deal with all the pressing needs demanding my attention here.

Sighing, I wondered how life got so complicated. But looking back, I didn't really see how I could have done things differently. I sent the encrypted message and got back to work.

* * * * *

Towards quitting time, Sergeant Chita informed me that more women from the 917th Logistics were asking for escorts to their quarters, and some were asking about getting protection while going to the Commissary, the Cafeteria, and the Laundromats.

These requests certainly had merit, but our security team had other duties. Still, providing a real response was integral to making the Protection Order a reality.

"What do you suggest, Chita?" I asked.

My Senior NCO took a long breath. "Sergeant Yalcamara's team is small, sir. Only eight troopers. There's no way we can continue to do this on an ad hoc basis, and we are pretty busy keeping up with the list of requests as they are now. As of yesterday, the Security Team were booked for half their shift just doing safety escorts. The requests today are double that of yesterday. With only two vehicles and eight bodies, we simply can not keep up. And while what they are doing is important, they are barely able to work on any other of their assigned tasks."

"All right. Let's get a bus. We'll check one out from Motor Pool. Have it delivered if you can, with a driver to deliver it, drive the route, and take it back afterward. Fill out the paperwork and I'll sign off on it. We'll use the bus to drop the women off at the enlisted quarters."

She pulled her keyboard closer and began typing away. "What about those who have their own place, sir?"

"Exactly how many people are asking for escort?"

"It's up to thirty one, sir. Twenty two reside at the Women's Enlisted Barracks, but the other nine are in cottages within the various base housing areas. When the 917th gets their replacements, there will be almost four hundred people here, and more than half are expected to be women. Plus, some of the women working in the warehouses have also asked for safety escorts." She frowned. "It does get intimidating, walking to and from there, late at night. No place to run to. Not many others about."

I leaned against her desk, folding my arms, watching as screens moved under her skilled hands. "Plot it out on the wall map. I want to see where all the locations are. A bus already sounds like a better option. Hmm. Thirty? Better make it two buses. And likely someone will ask for morning rides as well. Might as well query the swing and night shifts, too.

"The 1025th Communications also has a Protection Order," I told her. "Call them. See if any of them also want rides. I suggest contacting Third Sergeant Barris, too. She works for Field Commander Barankoshto at the 67th Armored, Ground Service. I'm sure they also have women wanting rides, especially if they know they are available. Maybe we can work out getting some buses permanently assigned to this task, with regular routes and pick up times around the base, as well as permanently assigned drivers. If we coordinate, we can share resources and manpower, so our unit is not doing all the work. Maybe some sort of job rotation."

Chita rapidly typed, filling up both her monitors with dialog boxes and open files.

"For right now," I continued, "we need a bus for tonight. Paperwork for the bus and the map. Delegate, too. If you run into a road block with your requests, don't argue with them, just pass them on to me. I'd like to get a fresh look at what information we have tomorrow, and hopefully get a representative from the Ground Service to attend."

Sergeant Chita paused, nodding thoughtfully as a smile slowly formed. "I'll get right on it, sir. I'll put a couple of people on finding out locations and putting those on the map."

"Hmm. On second thought, get a second wall map, reserving it for transportation routes."

She immediately nodded.

"We want to keep one dedicated for Auditing and Security Oversight, helping us manage our own, separate tasks. I think the transportation map will quickly become very busy. And detail someone to do a digital version, with access by you, myself, Lovyanchiti, and Yalcamara."

"Yes, sir." Chita paused typing and wrote busily in her notebook.

"Do you need a third monitor, Chita?"

"Already ordered, sir," she said, still busy writing.

When she paused, she saw me watching her. I grinned, and she did, too. Then we both burst out laughing.

Then I spotted two men wearing work coveralls and carrying paint cans, brushes, and a ladder coming through the office doors and heading our way.

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