Disclaimer: Just like the 8 preceding chapters, I do not own any rights to Last Exile. I do own one legitimate copy of the series, which I have let a family member borrow and miss dreadfully. These characters are the property of Geneon, and Chiaki Koichi, Tamioka Katsuhiro, and Yamashita Tomohiro. Please enjoy the final installment of this fanfic.

Chapter 9: Middlegame Begins

The next day, Tatiana was in a foul mood. The previous night she had stopped by to talk with Alista about their upcoming mission. However, Alister was not in her room. An extensive search yielded no Alista. Losing all patience, Tatiana left the ship to wander the Casino.

Tatiana had little patience with the rabble, and she was angry with Alista for causing her to be around those people. When she walked around the corner of the restaurant and saw Alista eating with one of the maintenance crew, she stopped. She watched them talking as old friends, and could only see red. Turning, she walked back to the ship; deciding to take care of this problem in the morning.

When Alister walked into the hanger for their training sortie, she was met with the uncontrolled anger of her superior. "What the HELL do you think you're doing?"

"Mam, I'm suiting up to fly." She finished the last fastener and started to walk over to retrieve her helmet.

"I can see that Alista. I want to know why you're consorting with the common rabble."

Alista froze in her tracks. She could see Geise standing behind Tatiana, and knew there was no right answer. "Are you ready to go?"

"You haven't answered my question." Tatiana was visibly angry now.

Alister sighed. "I cannot say anything that would make you happy." She retrieved her helmet and walked over to the ship.

"You could say you were never going to go out with that man again." Tatiana's hair was shaking with her fury.

"I could. But I gave you a promise that I would tell you the truth." Alister turned towards the stairs. "And never is an awfully long time." She climbed the stairs, not looking at Tatiana's crushed face or at Geise's saddened one.

The flight was short, mostly to keep the ship tuned. Since Tatiana was so angry, she whipped the loops a little too sharply. As they came back into the hanger, Tatiana had already taken off her gear before the ship was secured. "I'll be in my quarters when you decide to become civil again."

Alister waited until the mechanics had secured the ship before she stepped out of the cockpit. Geise was conspicuously absent and Alister knew it was because of what happened. Saddened that yet another man had turned his back rather than take a chance at losing his job as a result of Tatiana's wrath, Alister hung her helmet up and left the hanger.

When she walked out on the observation deck, she noticed the blinds were still up from their training trip, and the wind was blowing slightly. Being out among the clouds, the wind was always a fierce adversary. She rarely got to experience the gentler side of this facet of nature. She leaned over the rail, holding her face up to the sky so the sun could beat down on her forehead while the wind blew across the tip of her nose and lips. She didn't know how long she had been standing there when the voice spoke.

"It's a treat to have the opportunity to enjoy nice weather while at dock." She turned and saw Ressius sitting on a bench behind her. "Excuse me for disturbing your thoughts. I just didn't want to startle you when you came out of them."

Alister smiled and moved to sit beside him. "I rarely get to see you, it's sometimes hard to remember that someone lives in the heart of our ship to keep it working."

Ressius had always thought Alister a very polite young woman. He also paid attention to gossip, although he didn't partake in it. "If you don't mind my nosiness…" At her look, he continued. "Last night I happened to be walking on deck when I saw you return with Mr. Geise."


His chuckle stopped her stuttering. "You don't have to be embarrassed. I'm way past my dating days, but I do remember them. Geise is a good man. Just be careful not to cause conflict between what he needs to do and what he wants to do."

"What do you mean?" Her brown eyes sharpened.

"As an old man, it's awfully hard to watch young women go out into battle. I was always taught that women were to be protected at all costs. Without you, our survival is doomed." He chuckled before pinning her with a very astute gaze. "It's even harder when a man's heart is tied to one of those fierce warrior women."

Alister's eyes dulled with sadness and Ressius could see her again turning inward. "So I should just let him go?"

Ressius picked up her hand and stared at the palm. He wasn't a palm reader, but he almost wished he had the skill. "How do you hold the wind?"

"You don't."

"Exactly." He let go and stood. "But you have to understand that when it blows cold, it's part of its nature." He bobbed his head in farewell and walked back inside.

Alister stayed to watch the sunset.


Their fifth day at dock started uneventfully. Alex had decided first thing that under no circumstances was he going to be on the bridge with Sophia. However, by lunchtime, he was slouched in his commander's chair, trying to ignore the shapely thighs standing directly in front of his view. "Why am I up here again?"

"We have a surprise for you." Sophia didn't even turn to acknowledge her commander. She knew he was still mad at her for drinking with Walker, but if he'd stayed and had that first beer instead of foisting her off on Walker to escape his emotions, it never would have happened.

Alex felt like moping. He hated surprises. "Well, I'm here."

Sophia waited until she heard him shift in his seat. Squirm you little shit. Suddenly she gently barked the order. "Campbell…begin the training exercise."

Campbell nodded his dark head once before barking orders to his staff to run the training exercise. To Alex's surprise, Campbell commanded his munitions officer to open the front torpedo bays and prepare for a firing equation.

At the phrase 'firing equation' Alex jerked out his seat. "Campbell, you'd only be asking for a firing equation if using the new armor piercing torpedoes. What the hell are you doing?"

Campbell, as straight faced as possible, looked at his Commander. "I'm calculating a firing equation so that we can figure out the best place to put two armor piercing rounds in that ship out there." He pointed at the closed hanger bay doors, emphasizing that this was a 'training exercise."

Alex turned to Sophia. "Walker's done ahead of schedule?"

"Yes. He came by last night. You weren't here, we both looked. Walker wanted me to pass on some information to you. He said he tried to tell you the other day, but you had other things on your mind." Sophia handed him a cream colored envelope and turned back to complete the training mission.

As he sat back down, he pushed a finger under the edge of the sealed flap and ripped the paper free from the glue. Once the flap was loose, he pulled out a sheet of paper and opened it to reveal masculine scrawl in blue ink.

'Alex, I hope that this note finds you in good spirits. I'm disturbed by the amount of angst you are suffering under; but I know it's not my place to step in where angels have already fled.

I know we agreed upon a week to complete the 'repairs' on your ship, but I had my team double-time it. There were two reasons for this. First, you've gotten the mistaken assumption in your head that I'm vying for the attentions of your very sexy XO. Although I do admit that she is a magnificent creation, I also know that she is one bird that should never have her wings clipped. As much as I consider myself a free man, I am still tied to the cage of Casino Royale.

Second, the Dissith fleet has already petitioned the Guild to mediate over a battle between Dissith and Anatoray. That in itself is not unusual; but we both know what year this is, and the Guild has not been performing predictably. I know your attitude on certain guild members, and I'm loath to bring this up; but this is THE YEAR for the celebration. The Bitch must take a mate or else abdicate her throne. Rumor has it she's picked a family member, but none of us know which one.

You need to leave immediately to be of any use to the Anatoray side. Dissith is usually honorable, but something about this battle doesn't feel right. The bill is already on its way to the Emperor, and you need to round your crew up and get the hell off my island.

As always…Walker.'

Alex folded the missive and put it in his pocket. "Sophia, recall all members of the Silverna. We're setting out at 17:00 hours."

Sophia hid a smile. Turning, she looked her boss straight in his steely eyes. "Everyone is on board and accounted for."

Alex's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he said nothing about her pre-emptive maneuvering. "Fine. I'll be in my cabin, continue."

Sophia picked up the land-line connection and told the tall gentleman on the other side to open the blinds.

After Walker hung the handset up, he stayed to watch them leave. As the Silverna moved out of its dock, Walker took the cigar out of his mouth and lit it. He had an uncanny premonition that the next time Alex came by his dock, the world would have changed.

A/N: I enjoyed writing this one. I hope you've enjoyed reading it. Take care, and there might be another one soon, depending on how friendly my muse is to me.