Warnings for this chapter: violence, war, dystopias, mass-slaughter (non graphic) , body modification ala cyborgs, mentions of regulated prostitution, vague medical stuff, some PTSD and dytopiaaaaaas in SPACE!

000

The 12th And Smallest Moon of Jupiter 2— Derse.

The seniors of Dominus Academia enjoyed many privileges, such as godlike respect from the lower rungs, private dormitory rooms, a lack of curfew and—a less often invoked privilege—permission to skip their final exams if and only if the Academy's tutors and professors believed the senior in question was skilled enough that an exam would be nothing more than a formality. Two to three seniors in any given class of three hundred would be except from, perhaps, one exam each. It was not uncommon for an entire graduating class to forget about the exam-skipping privilege, simply because the odds were so against their favor.

The class of 5074, however, skipped eight final exams their graduating year.

One was Li Wang from Cherry 35, who skipped his final Chemical Weaponry exam. Another skipped Recovery & Reconnaissance, though it wasn't particularly surprising, as Berwald Oxenstierna was from a particularly cold and dark planet, Scandan, whose thick atmosphere allowed for easy terraforming but was left perpetually frosty due to its distance from a star. All residents of Scandan were trained in basic rescue procedures from a young age.

Six exams were skipped by two students, a nearly unheard of event in Academy history. Both of them skipped their Focus exams, which were traditionally taken a month before the official graduation ceremony.

Francis Bonnefoy of G. Versailles XIV, (Louie, as residents called it, the end result of a long and complicated history of typos and mispronunciations of official reports) skipped his exams in Troop Management and Care, Empire History and Strategy.

Arthur E. Kirkland—the youngest of the infamous Kirkland family, some of the first colonizers of Brittannic, the Four-Stack Planet, the planet most famous for the utilization of a Stacks System—skipped Chemical Weaponry, Espionage, and Strategy.

Bonnefoy and Kirkland confronted each other in the dorm room halls mere minutes after the electronic mail announcing their unprecedented exceptions.

"Sourcils," Bonnefoy said, printed electronic mail in his hand, his arms crossed over his chest. He was, as usual, out of uniform and more gorgeous for it.

"Frog," said Kirkland. His red uniform was buttoned to the top and his pants had recently been ironed. He too held a printed electronic mail crumpled in his fist.

"I have some news you'll be extremely interested in," said Bonnefoy, waving his paper.

"Funny. I do too," said Kirkland, a wicked grin on his face.

The nearby students took a few steps away, unsure if the tension mounting in the air between the two would erupt into one of the rare but violent brawls which were not uncommon among stressed seniors. With the end of their nine year schooling and a lifetime of military service ahead of them, tempers ran high and patience ran low. A handful of fights each year was not unexpected, and the medical staff and guards guaranteed that no one ever walked away with much more than a scratch. The Academy was one of the safest places in the galaxy, aside from the capital of the capital planet, Pompeii, Rome, Italia.

In the same movement, both Kirkland and Bonnefoy thrust their printed notes into each other's faces, shouting for the other to run off cowering in the face of accomplishment. A moment passed between them.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," said Kirkland.

"Couilles," said Bonnefoy.

"All right, we can make this work. We can still make this work," said Kirkland. "Whoever gets the highest total scores on the rest of the exams wins definitively, including the exams the other's been excepted from. How's that sound?"

Bonnefoy nodded. "Fair. And if you help me with the chemical weaponry, I'll help you with history."

"Deal. And booze it up out of spite during the strategy exam? Bluno's Bar?"

"You have never had a better plan in your life."

000

The drinking at Bluno's Bar—just a short bullet rain ride away—like many other things between Bonnefoy and Kirkland, became a competition. Unlike most of their contests, Francis Bonnefoy was an uncontested winner. Arthur Kirkland simply could not hold his alcohol.

They stumbled out of the bar at 23:39:07, arms wrapped around each other and grinning from ear to ear. They stumbled from side to side, each doing their best to steady the other until they finally made it to the bullet train station at 23:44:49. It took a moment for them to fumblingly insert their ID cards into the access doors to the very full loading dock.

Trains on the Earth That Was, Francis could tell you from his studies in Empire History, were loud and rancorous, noisy polluting beasts which shot sparks and crashed frequently. They were no longer on the Earth That Was, however, but on Derse, the small terraformed moon of Jupiter 2. Like all other planets within the Empire, everything was regulated and safe, including the trains, which were separated from the loading dock by force fields at all times while the trains were in motion.

There were no such things as glitches. It was entirely planned that all trains throughout the empire docked at the exact same time, allowing the force fields to work on an inexpensive timer rather than a sensor. Fifteen years prior, when the Academy's star was a few degrees different, the docking time had been three minutes and seven seconds earlier. Due to a minor circuitry situation, each train station on Derse had to manually reset the timers on the force field. Therefore, it was the error of a then-newly trained station mechanic, who had gone on to become head mechanic, that the timers of the particular line going from Battery Square to Dominus Acadamia's front entrance had only been reset by three minutes and two seconds.

For five seconds, three minutes before the train's arrival, the force field lowered entirely, and Francis and Arthur—leaning heavily against it to support their drunken bodies, as all the benches were filled—fell onto the track.

It took them a few moments to orient themselves, wondering why they were suddenly on their backs and why their rear ends hurt so badly.

A few moments later, someone nearby shouted, "Are the force fields down?"

By the time Francis had stumbled back onto his feet and found himself face-against the force field, his heart thumping and his stomach beginning to churn. It was 23:48:30, and the force fields were not down not down NOT DOWN.

It was remarkable how quickly he sobered. He beat his fist against the force field. People on the dock began to scream. The clock showing how long it would be until the next train was ticking down rapidly. Arthur was still in the middle of the track, clutching his rear and saying, "What's all the ruckus?"

A station worker knelt against the force field next to Francis. "Stay as close to the force field and away from the track as you possibly can. We're working as quickly as we can to get you out. Please remain calm. Proper authorities have already been called. Please, remain calm."

Francis grabbed Arthur's wrist and tugged him towards the edge of the track, pressing their backs against the now-very-present force field and trying to steady his breathing as Arthur refused to stand straight, demanding in his drunken state to know what was going on. Arthur never could hold his alcohol or sober up nicely, Francis reflected as he stared at the clock across from them, feeling the force field against his back. Staring at the clock in front of them.

00:00:31…

00:00:30…

00:00:29…

00:00:28…

00:00:27…

000

"Caer Beilschmidt," said the aide. Germania Beilschmidt, head of Dominus Acadamia, looked up from his desk, which was covered in perfectly aligned pens, pencils and papers. His handwriting was flawless cursive. His long blond hair was braided into perfectly symmetrical knots, which were part of old traditions at his home planet.

"Speak," said Germania Beilschmidt. "I don't have all day."

"There's been an incident, sir. Two of the students, Kirkland and the elder Bonnefoy—they've been in an accident. They're currently in medical care. Bonnefoy will survive, but Kirkland has died twice thus far. They don't believe his body can support him anymore."

"Is my son present?"

"He is, Sir," the aide said.

"I want live feed from the operating room," said Germania Beilschmidt. He set down his pen and sat back in his chair, looking to the screen on the side of the room. With a few frantic clicks, an image appeared on the monitor.

Ludwig Beilschmidt was covered from head to toe in his scrubs. Only his piercing blue eyes were uncovered. He was proud of his twenty-twenty vision and the dexterity of his large hands. He didn't so much as glance at the screen which had lit up in front of him with his father's image, concentrating on deftly maneuvering the needle and thread in his hands, even as he said, "Father. This is unexpected."

"Tell me the damage." Germania Beilschmidt said.

"His chest is badly injured. Many of his internal organs are ruptured. His head is relatively intact, and so we've set up a life support system to keep his brain functioning. For the time being, he is alive in that manner, but unconscious and unable to communicate or be of any use. Our last two attempts to reconnect the brain to the rest of his body have been unsuccessful. We've had to revive him twice. Either he'll remain comatose as a head in a jar or he'll die, Sir," Ludwig said.

"His family will be most upset."

"We've done all we can think of, Sir."

Germania Beilschmidt did not sigh as much as left out a huff of disappointed air. Ludwig flinched all the same. "The military will be upset as well. It's a shame to lose someone so useful."

"A useful mind, anyway," one of the surgeons who was not Ludwig said, though Ludwig turned to glare at them. Their body was offscreen, and Germania Beilschmidt did not recognize the voice as any surgeon or student he was familiar with. "If he were just a body, he would be replicable."

Where Germania heard, if only we'd lost what was already cannon fodder for the rebellion, Ludwig appeared to have heard something else. On the monitor, his head jerked upward, his blue eyes wide.

"Father," said Ludwig. "If I can preserve Kirkland's life, may I be exempt from my final exams?"

000

The doctors stabilized Kirkland's life support first, hooking up his brain to artificial lungs and an artificial heart, adding bits and taking them away as necessary until brainwave function was stable, if incomprehensible. The second thing the doctors did was set a time limit.

Three days, they decided. Three days on that life support system would be all Kirkland was guaranteed. Afterwards, the likelihood of permanent brain damage or a rejection of the new body would be too high to bother.

They took the remains of Kirkland's body—most of a pair of legs and arms, part of a spine, some ligaments, some marrow and bone shards—and they called in the Bio and Engineer students.

They welded a skeleton out of adamite and threaded the top of the spinal cord with wires. They wove steel into Kirkland's limbs. They soaked his body in electronics and plastic. They realigned his eyeballs and slid links into his skull, making the attachment of the life support system to the reinforced chest cavity of half-blood-half-iron a smooth fit. They put six ports in his back, three round holes in a vertical line, two inches in diameter each sinking into his body where each shoulder blade would be. Then—when someone pointed out the potential difficulties of surviving with such an appearance—the surgeons spent six hours grafting pale skin over the exposed metal.

And then they turned him on.

000

For Ludwig, it was like watching the birth of a masterpiece.

His three Focuses were in Management, Medicine and Engineering. He was near the top of his class in all three, and watching the product of all his work, the fruits of his labors, the culmination of cooperation between all three of his Focuses—

He could hardly breathe as they hooked Kirkland up to the computer. True, they were not actually doing much more than running several basic simulations and MRIs through the new technology to ensure that his brain was still active in its comatose state and that noninvasive brain scans would be possible without disrupting his wiring.

The computer they had been granted permission to use was not only the largest but one of the newest in the medical facility, with an extraordinary amount of processing power and various applications. It was also the only computer they were granted access to which had enough ports to effectively hook Kirkland in.

The cords hooked into Kirkland's back ports smoothly. Three to the left ports, three to the right. They were large cords, and so the fit was tight, but they managed by leaning Kirkland against one of the main processors and having an intern hold him steady. Feliciano Vargas—one of the other Medical Focuses, and one of the two grandsons of Their Great Lord Romulus, Body of the Empire—had commented that they looked like angel wings. Ludwig did not see what he meant, but nodded regardless. He was not about to disagree with Their Great Lord Romulus' beloved grandson on such a trivial matter.

He was also too busy trying very hard to not wring his hands. The Engineering Focus students were beginning to give him thumbs-up signs, and waving to the Medical Focus students who were in charge of operating the computers, as the computers were property of the Medical department.

The final checks were cleared. It had been three days. The computer was turned on and humming, Kirkland was hooked in and held in place properly. It was now or never. He would live or he would die.

(Ludwig wished he'd had more time to plan.)

The program to awaken Kirkland's body and bring him out of his comatose state was launched. The intern holding Kirkland shuddered at the static residue from the wild electric pulse. There was a beeping, and then a buzz, and Kirkland's eyes slid open.

His eyelids fluttered, more accurately. Ludwig prided himself on being accurate. Kirkland's eyelids were fluttering and his fingers were twitching. The screen showing his brainwaves indicated a large frequency increase. The heart monitor beat steadily at 84 bpm.

Ludwig licked his lips. "Status," he said.

"Heart rate 84 bpm, blood pressure 120 over 80, brain wave frequency is 8 Hz. Body temperature is stable at 94.7, hydration…"

Ludwig nodded along to the report. "Run the first scan."

The room stood, silently observing the technician typing away at one of the massive keyboards.

"Scan completed. There doesn't seem to be any brain damage and we have an extremely clear picture. His information processing centers are very active while his emotional, remembrance and stimuli centers are relatively dormant, as though in a drowsy or sleepy state."

Ludwig frowned.

"Continue running the planned tests."

The technician nodded, and for the next two hours they stood (until Feliciano Vargas complained of his legs hurting, and so chairs were promptly fetched) and watched the scans be completed, until very suddenly the technician said, "He's responded."

"What?" said another.

"Kirkland. He responded through the computer to our last scan. The cues fed directly into his brain. He's responding to them and it's translating into the computer."

Ludwig quickly stood from his chair and hurried to the side of the technician. "Run another scan, similar to this one. Orders."

The technician did. Kirkland, honest to the story, responded.

It was in binary.

Ludwig continued watching the screen even as he pointed to one of the fifteen year old interns standing around the edges of the room. "You. Fetch Kiku Honda from Coding and Ciphers. His dorm is Claudius B102. I want him here in no less than ten minutes."

The intern scampered off. Seven minutes later, Kiku Honda hurried in, struggling to walk at the speed of a sprint.

"You asked for me Beilschmidt-san?" Honda said. He readjusted his red uniform and stared at the floor rather than Ludwig's face. Honda had a large collection of photos of all the senior class in various stages of nudity, which had been confiscated by Ludwig (who was also a proud student leader) the year before. They hadn't ever spoken before, and had yet to speak much since, but Honda was the best in their class with computers and coding, and Ludwig was not the sort to mistake moral misconduct with inefficiency.

"I need you to serve as a translator. Kirkland appears to be able to communicate in binary while he is attached to the computer and given specific information or commands. We need to study this phenomenon now in case it's impossible to recreate."

Honda nodded and hurried in his shuffling way to the computer. He brushed his hair out of his face and squinted at the computer screen. "He says that he is unable to comply with the command to go left due to being attached to the computer and unable to access his body, Beilschmidt-san."

"Can he answer questions, then?"

Honda paused and began to type. "He says 'yes.'"

"Ask his name."

The keyboards clicked. "'B, F-P 94578111097, Kirkland, E. Arthur.'"

"Age."

"Nineteen years, forty-eight days, and approximately seven hours, or three hours and forty five minutes, thirty seven, eight, nine seconds. He seems unsure, and is continuously updating the number he gave for the seconds."

They continued for another thirty minutes, Ludwig feeding Honda questions which he entered as information and translated the response. They gradually began asking more complicated questions. Several recording devises had joined the already placed archival cameras. Caer Beilschmidt was contacted, and began to supply questions of his own.

"If one has a small outnumbered squadron of troops surrounded in a small basin, how would one respond?"

Kiku stuttered out the response, "'If airships are available, bomb. If it is possible to sabotage long range weaponry, do. Call for aid from the nearest unit, as in accordance with policy, unless a unit is meant for espionage, an additional unit should be no more than one darsect distance to provide quick aid. If an overwhelmingly successful rescue is unlikely, the outnumbered squadron is to act as bait for the second unit to pin any rebel forces. If other units are indisposed, the stranded squadron is to radio all necessary information to base if possible, then attach time bombs to their chests set for five minutes. All ammunition possible is to be fired at rebels indiscriminately or disposed of via explosives. Once the ammunition and supplies are disposed of they are to run into enemy lines and detonate their bombs in the thickest possible conditions.'"

Germania Beilschmidt, from within his screen, nodded. "Give him the specifics for the present battle on Moldovera. The coordinates are 423-29-148. The information is being relayed to you via electronic mail as I speak."

Honda nodded and once again began typing away. He recited the response—which took a whole minute to answer, longer than any of the previous lag times—taking ten times the time it took for Kirkland to create it.

It began with "Have the troops currently in the city of Glen Do release the M05 poison gas," and ended with total annihilation.

"Hold him in this state for the time being," Caer Germania said.

Then he was gone.

000

It was two hours after the initial question that news of total vicious victory on Moldovera.

Kirkland had been hooked into the machine for nearly five hours.

Kiku typed, "Your plan was a success," and the simple reply was an affirmative.

Ecstatic, buoyant, radiant and confident, they unhooked Kirkland from the computer, a crate of alcohol on the way to celebrate their newest, greatest accomplishment. They crowded around the terminal, cheering and jeering and ready to swarm. There was much laughing and back-patting as brain connection was severed and the wires were unhooked. They waited, no longer with baited breath or on the edges of their seat to see if they had successfully saved a life they'd thought unsavable, but instead they were mulling with energy and the joy of a job done better than ever hoped for. The happiest accident of all. A miracle. With each unplugged port cord, there was a whoop of cheers. When the final cord was taken from the port of Kirkland's left shoulder blade, Kirkland opened his eyes, opened his mouth, and screamed.

000

Francis awoke the day before. He was still confined to his bed. He initially hadn't been able to feel his legs at all and he was still unsure if that was an effect of the accident or the drugs. The head station mechanic had been terminated permanently, and good riddance. He deserved it for making Francis live off liquids for the coming months, forcing him to go into physical rehabilitation when he was supposed to be graduating, and giving him such a killer headache.

He hadn't heard any news of Arthur, and he hadn't given it much thought. Arthur was undoubtedly in one of the nearby rooms, also confined to a bed, or perhaps under heavier sedatives (given the Kirkland temper, especially when ill, it wasn't unlikely).

There was some part of his mind which considered that Arthur may have been more seriously injured, but it was not an especially persuasive though. It seemed more likely that Arthur had already been released and was simply being passive aggressive about visiting Francis in the hospital because he was upset about losing the drinking contest so badly. Or perhaps Arthur was frightened that Francis' family may show up mid visit. In fact, the more Francis thought about it, the more he wondered if Arthur was simply frightened of running into his younger sister, Marianne, who hadn't come around to visit him either.

Not that he was upset.

Francis was a calm, rational individual. His teachers had always told him it was a strong point of his. He could think through panic and pressure. He could claw into the archives of his mind and pull out a specific historic event to draw reference from in most any given situation. He knew the words to use when soldiers were frazzled beyond help and he knew how to give clear and concise directions, even to those in the deepest throws of panic. He knew how to turn a battle around in any given situation. He just couldn't plan ahead or admit that sometimes defeat was preferable to a pyrrhic victory.

This may have been connected to the reason why despite how often nurses came in, Francis still did not ask them to remove the clock.

23:30:24

23:30:25

23:30:26

He didn't know what he would do when the clock hit 24:50:00.

He wouldn't be hit by a train. He knew he wouldn't be hit by a train. He was in a hospital, in a bed, on a comfortable mattress and absolutely sober and nowhere near train tracks. He didn't know how it was possible that he remembered being hit.

(But he did. He thought he did. He was pretty sure. The tremor in his bones told him so.)

He was watching the clock, wondering not very distantly—not very consciously—why neither Arthur nor Marianne was here to distract him, when it came ripping down the hall.

A scream from—somewhere.

The western wing.

The rooms weren't soundproofed, in case patients cried for help, but in all his years of fencing injuries and vibrator accidents, Francis had never heard such a scream come through the halls. It was all the force of a newborn child and the pain and terror of a tortured dog. One who had fallen of a bridge. (Put him down, his father said, handing Francis a gun.) In all their years of rivalry and mutual torment, he had never heard Arthur scream that way.

Forgetting about the numbness in his legs, Francis ripped off his blankets and got to his feet. He fell down almost immediately. With hardly a pause, he crawled to a wheelchair beside the door and hoisted himself up into it with much less difficulty than he expected.

He sped through the hall as fast as his arms could steer him. The scream had silenced some seconds before, fading into short, pitiful squeals and intelligible shouts. Francis could keep his level head. It was his skill. He ignored the ringing in his ears and the pounding in his frontal lobe until he reached a large double door at the end of a hallway. He burst through without even attempting to announce his presence. A strange jolt of sensation jolted through his numbed legs.

It was, it was certainly, Arthur crumpled on the floor with a wide circle of purple lab coasts around him.

But it couldn't have been. The Arthur Francis knew would have never crumpled or cried like an animal to be put out of its misery. Arthur's skin was a few hairs paler than the skin of this Arthur on the floor. Arthur's eyes didn't shine so brightly through the fingers frantically rubbing at his tears. Arthur didn't blubber or moan or whimper. Arthur didn't struggle to his feet and dash towards Francis, throw arms around him and shout, "God, Francis, what did I do? Tell me what—there were over three hundred thousand on Moldovera, and did I—"

But that was exactly what this Arthur did.

Francis wrapped his arms around Arthur's trembling shoulders and lay his head next to Arthur's sopping cheek.

"Shh," Francis said. "I can't help you if you don't shush."

Slowly, Arthur quieted somewhat. Enough that the doctors were able to pry Arthur off of Francis and the security guards were able to escort him safely out of the room to- to- to somewhere else. Hopefully somewhere good. Francis wasn't sure, he had been too distracted, to frazzled to hear anything outside of Arthur's heaving breathing and the humming beneath his skin. Now that Arthur was gone however, taken by the medical students—the best in the galaxy, at Dominus Acadamia. They would take good care of him—Francis was able to hear the head of the Academy speak over the screen.

"…wiping. He may be useful with keeping Kirkland calm should this become a repetitive situation."

"What?" Francis said. He turned to look at the screen where Caer Beilschmidt's torso-and-up was represented.

The headmaster's icy blue eyes focused on Francis, and he was reminded for a moment of how the Beilschmidts and his family used to feud. In that moment, wheelchair bound and helpless, he was glad those days were over. "Consider yourself fortunate to not be mindwiped because of what you've just seen. You may have just proven yourself valuable."

Francis was forcibly confided to his room, where the clock ticked 23:39:20, and the train was ever-coming.

000

Guards were brought to Francis' room a few days later. They opened the door and saluted. Francis returned the salute, though he was still unable to reliably stand. The doctors' visits had not been as frequent since his excursion in the wheelchair. Marianne had still yet to visit him.

The guards came and saluted, transferred Francis very gently from his bed to the wheelchair, and they wheeled him down the hall. They passed the large double doors, which were the last thing Francis recalled directionally from his last excursion outside his room. They wheeled him into an elevator and up to the roof, where a military lift was waiting. Francis was wheeled in and his chair was strapped and he strapped to his chair with great care and attention to his comfort, though not much paid to his consent. Despite the precautions, the flight was smooth and conducted entirely without giving Francis access to a view to confirm the location, and there were no clocks aboard to give Francis an idea of how much time had passed since takeoff. Thank god.

It had seemed like a short flight, and the center spire of the Dominus Acadamia's main science building was still in view, so the flight couldn't have been so far, but Francis didn't ask questions as he was wheeled out of the lift and into another building which he didn't recognize.

They took another elevator, and three doors down from the doors was a large square room cut in two by what appeared to be one-way glass. The outside was fashioned as an observation center similar to the ones Francis remembered from their interrogation classes, which Francis had excelled in but not been chosen to Focus in. The room was fashioned as a hospital room, with a white bed and walls, a holographic window, two sleek metal chairs and a clock on the far wall. It ticked along merrily, unaware of any distress it may have caused.

A conversation was already in progress. Arthur sat in one chair, his skin appearing torn in places, beneath which something shone when the overhead light hit it in a certain way. Across from him in the second chair was a man dressed in the golden uniform of an Acadamia professor or Military Leader.

"…therefore, in order to avoid over congesting your brain, you will be subjected to mindwipes at the end of each session. The greatest side effects we imagine would occur would be lethargy for a short period afterwards and some damage to your short term memory. Alternatively, not giving you the mind wipes may cause you severe stress, predispose you to several mental disorders which would usually be related to aging, as well as a potential to dethatch you emotionally from others. Do you understand why this decision has been made?"

Arthur nodded. "Yes, Sir," he said. He seemed no worse for wear than he had when Francis had last seen him sober before the accident, as they stepped out of—before they met at Bluno's. He looked like he had in class, his back straight and his eyes wide and earnest.

"And you consent unconditionally to using your new capabilities for the benefit of the Empire when called on?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Thank you, Kirkland."

The man in the golden uniform stood and saluted. Arthur stood and returned the salute. As the man in the golden suit left, Arthur shuffled back into his bed and curled up, slowly running his fingers over his arms and legs, fidgeting with the tatters of his skin and bringing his palms up to his eyes when his shoulders began to shake and his eyes grew wet and swollen.

"Bonnefoy is here, sir," the guard to Francis' left said. Francis tore his eyes away from the window Arthur was beyond to see the golden-uniformed man approaching. Salute. At ease. God, he wanted to go back to his dorm and sleep for a week.

"Have you been made aware of your situation, Bonnefoy?" the gold-uniformed man said.

"No, Sir," said Francis. He wasn't used to being seated—even by necessity—when speaking to professors or military leaders. His eyes flickered to the man's chest. There were rows upon rows of decorations. Francis finally managed to place him as one of the Generals who had somewhat retired from the war with the rebels in order to oversee the military forces for the area of the Academy. His name escaped Francis.

"Several days ago, you witnessed a top secret military experiment involving Kirkland. It was a rousing success with a few minor setbacks, such as the event which you witnessed, which was the result of a mental backup. A simple mindwipe is all that's necessary, but they are simply patches and cannot account for emotional distress outside of the Initiative which may affect the process. You skipped your exam in Troop Management and Care, did you not?"

And history and strategy, Francis thought. "Excessive mind wiping can permanently damage a brain, sir—" he blurted. Then. Quickly. "Sorry, Sir. I meant, yes, Sir, I did."

The General frowned at Francis, wrinkles creasing his face. Francis swallowed and tried to not waver. The guards beside him shifted uncomfortable. Finally, the General seemed to decide it hadn't been the greatest offense and simple continued to speak as if the break hadn't occurred. "You were also acquainted with Kirkland and got along with him positively prior to his accident."

"Yes, Sir."

"Kirkland has been promoted," the General said. "After physical therapy and graduating, he will be moved to Pompeii and set to work in a unique position. He will need a caregiver who can act as both an emotional and technical support capable of taking charge, informing authorities of situations, and calming him if necessary. You, coincidentally, have just set yourself up as the first candidate. If you refuse, you will be mindwiped to the time of your initial waking."

Francis took a breath and steadied his nerves. If he were standing, he was certain he would be getting close to lightheaded. "A question, Sir."

"Permission granted."

"What would my job be, more specifically?"

"This is an experimental position," was all the General said.

"And if I should wish to resign from that position?"

"It would be discouraged."

Francis took another breath.

"You have until tomorrow to decide. Until then, you will remain here."

"What about my family, Sir?"

"They should not be a concern in this matter. Communication will not be restricted, though the nature of your job will be strictly confidential. However, you are not permitted to contact anyone outside of this facility until you have given an answer."

Well, that was straight forward enough.

Francis looked back to the window which Arthur was through.

He was still curled on the bed. His pillow was beginning to darken. His shoulders still shook. In the lull between the General's words, if Francis listened closely, he could hear Arthur's quiet wails of, "Oh, God, how am I supposed to explain to Mum, oh, hic, oh, God, fuck, hic."

000

After two months of extensive surgery, additional medical treatment and physical therapy, Francis Bonnefoy of G. Versaille XIV and Arthur Kirkland of Britannic graduated after nine years at Dominus Acadamia, as the only two students in the school's history to graduate exempt from all of their exams.

It was a quiet affair. Their families and close friends were invited. Headmaster Caer Beilschmidt said a few words about perseverance in the face of difficulty, loyalty to the empire and duty to its citizens. He handed them the diplomas silently.

There was a small luncheon afterwards. Caer Kirkland got drunk and Lady Bonnefoy joined her, leaving their children to record the proceeding breaches of protocol. Marianne Bonnefoy gave her elder brother a photo album and a box of chocolates. The elder Kirkland brothers all pitched in to give Arthur an old sock, a dead black snake and a book on relationship advice.

The next day, Arthur Kirkland and Francis Bonnefoy boarded the ship to Pompeii, Rome, Italia, the core planet of the Empire, where they slid, silently, out of the ranks of men.

000

The 2nd Moon of Prien, An Outlier—Joten

They had warning. The first moon of Prien had been annihilated utterly. Meteors had rained down on the planet's surface and dust had clouded the skies of the second moon, Joten, for days. The dust would have likely lasted even longer, had the Empire not chosen the third day to attack.

Alfred and Matthew were half brothers—orphans— and had called Joten home for the few years they'd been stationed there. They'd woken three days before to look up into the sky and see their sister moon glow red. Then redder. Then it had finally broken up in front of their eyes.

The first meteorites had hit two hours later and wreaked havoc on Joten's capital city. What little of a capital building existed, in any case. Prien was an outlying planet, relatively far from the planet and space station cluster which made up the inner Empire.

In fact, very little lived on Joten except for the small settlements surrounding the city which made up Joten's capital, and a major infestation of rebels.

Joten, mostly an ice planet, had burned. Between the meteors and the relentless assault of the Angel Assault bomber ships causing moon-wide fog and firestorms, Joten had been swallowed in a matter of days.

They had been shoved onto the last evacuation ship which was able to leave the atmosphere. It was packed to the brim with what supplies were able to be salvaged. Crammed in on top of the packages of food and water containers were the last few survivors of Joten. They fled to the even-further-out dwarf planet of Uliratha, which was home to a larger and better hidden rebel base.

Off of the moon with the tiny population of one million, only seven hundred survived.

"We were helping people board the ships, and Al was getting the rations out of the storage," Matthew said, his voice a whisper, as the rebel nurse draped a blanket over his and Alfred's shoulders. "We didn't have time to get everyone out. We're supposed to have more time."

"Almost none of the ships got off the ground," Alfred added. His shivering was terrible, and he curled into Matthew's side. Had he not been scowling, he would have looked small and frightened, but it was all shock and anger which shook his frame. "It was fucked up."

The nurse nodded and put his hands on their shoulders. "You're safe here," he said. "It'll be all right for a while."

"No," said Matthew. "It's not safe anywhere."

They had learned long ago that there was nowhere completely safe. They had learned it through example by their parents and friends.

"Your mother was murdered by the Empire," a rebel general, Steve Hunter, said to Alfred hours later. Days later. It depended on the rotation time. It depended on the planet. It felt like a long time after the attack. A lifetime ago since the skies had spat out rocks and sleek ovular ships had hovered high above their heads. Steve Hunter turned to Matthew, "and your father."

"Yeah," said Alfred, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. His legs were crossed and propped up on an empty small crate. In the chair beside him, Matthew sat beside him, half curled in on himself, eyes sunken and mouth closed tightly. "We know."

"You both understand what they can do. But you're still here, even though you know the odds."

"'Course we are," said Alfred. "—We're not fucking cowards."

"This is what's right," said Matthew, leaning forward in his chair, his voice nearly a hiss. "There's nothing else to do."

General Hunter nodded slowly, his youthful face—despite an already naturally dark complexion— had been tanned and lined by the powerful rays of Uliratha's star. When he frowned, as he did then, his worry lines became apparent and his shoulders seemed to slacken. "Then no matter what, you would oppose the Empire?"

"No matter what," they said.

(Like their parents before them. And they could not forget what it was to look at the moon burning in the sky and know that what they were seeing was a whole world of life being exterminated. One couldn't see people on a map.)

"There is an opening," General Hunter said. From a file to his left on his makeshift desk of two-by-fours and cinderblocks, he pulled out several papers. "The Empire, as you know, prides themselves on their military families and they like keeping their officers… well cared for."

Alfred leaned forward, his hands dropping from behind his head to take the papers and look at them, leaning towards Matthew to share. His eyebrows furrowed. "Oh hell no."

Matthew snatched the papers from Alfred's hands to look at them more closely.

"The Empire hires whores. Exclusive whores. Rigorously background checked; very high class hookers. They can get access to the highest of high ranking officer's houses should they get lucky enough to climb high enough up in the ranks and catch someone important's eye. I don't like asking you to do this. But we need at least people totally loyal to the rebellion," said General Hunter.

"This is the stupidest plan I've heard in my life," said Alfred. "And Matt can't go anyway!"

"What?" said Matthew. "If anyone shouldn't go, it's you!"

"What are you talking about? At least I can handle my own. You'd just get—I don't know. Hurt! Really, really badly hurt!"

"You would get angry and blow your cover and immediately wind up dead!"

"Would not!"

"Would too!"

General Hunter let them bicker for a few more short moments before slamming a fist down on the table. The brothers both jumped back to attention, muttering quiet, "Sorry, sir,"s.

"This is a very dangerous mission," General Hunter said, "and very long-term. We can't guarantee when or if we would be able to extract you. We already have a pimp in place who is loyal to us, but it's the prostitutes would be in the greatest danger and able to gather the most information. You are well within your right to refuse, but insider information could be the turning point to this war."

Alfred looked at Matthew, and Matthew looked at Alfred.

"Would we be able to find a way to stop the Angel Initiative?" one of them asked.

"If you climb high enough in the ranks, yes, we believe the operators of the Angel Initiative would be available," said General Hunter.

"I'll do it," said Alfred.

"You're gonna kill yourself," said Matthew, "I'll do it."

"You're a fucking twig, Matt."

"And you're an idiot. At least I'm smart."

"At least I didn't collapse after the first day of basic."

"Why don't you both go," said Hunter. "You can cover each other's backs, make sure neither of you get into trouble, and double your chances of obtaining new information."

Both brothers paused and stared at each other—not feeling comfortable staring at a general for too long—before muttering a quiet, "We'll think about it."

They were dismissed.

000

wow i hope this one is easier to write out then some of my other stories have been.

Did you miss me, space cadets? I missed you! It's been forEVER since I wrote a space story! Did you all know that? Because the last space story I wrote was like, The Starman and that thing is old as heeell. I still love it very much though.

I'm going to try and squeeze in the more overlooked characters from Hetalia in this one though- Seychelles (Michelle) , Cuba (Micheal) (because they are siblings and no one can convince me otherwise) , Camroon (idk what his fanon name is) , Egypt etc. are all planned to at least make cameos. Let me know if anyone has a character in particular they don't see often who they would like to see make at least a brief appearance!

space space space space space

DEDICATED TO VOYAGER 1, WHO HAS LEFT THE SOLAR SYSTEM! AHH!

Inspired by Shachaai's post ( shachaai . tumblr post/39250393201/space-cyborg-idek-drama-au ) , introduced to me and co-plotted by somethinglikeagnome, that collab plot was taken by me and written out.