Nova stared at him, and it felt like an endless stream of realization was unfolding in his head, incongruous with his lived reality.
The fact was, five years ago at Thera...
" Ah, I've gone and embarrassed myself in front of you again... That's no good, I'm such a miserable excuse for a Commodore General..."
Nova's memories of the incident were heavy and blurred with adrenaline, and overshadowed by the many duels he had had to endure from his brothers in the aftermath.
The historic battle at Thera, a fringe colony that had been established under his rule at his uncle's insistence, had been the turning point in the DASS-Starka conflict. A stalemate that had raged for 500 years was brought to a close by the most crushing defeat his uncle's administration, and more directly, his own, had ever faced.
At the time, what he had heard was that the DASS commander of the assaulting fleet had been killed in battle. And that some young captain had turned the battle almostly singlehandedly by assuming informal command.
At this point in the battle, his uncle had taken command from him and shunted him off back to the palace. Within the next two weeks, he had received word that the territory had been occupied and his remaining forces routed. His uncle had ceded the territory.
Within the next year, there was a non-aggression treaty that everyone in the family had signed off on, except the stubbornly traditionalist Diurn.
It had seemed strange, how that had turned it so quickly...
But the shame of losing such a large chunk of his territory had then been eclipsed by the trials he went through to keep his station as Lyena.
William, small and light, leaning over the railing so carelessly he could be thrown over it with a push, smiling mildly...
Nova stared at him.
" You have other Starka on board?" Nova asked, changing the subject.
William seemed to go with it easily, relieved that Nova hadn't said something else.
" Well, yes? I know you don't associate much with the lower ranked soldiers, but we've got a lot of young ladies from Thrace, for whatever reason? I mentioned it earlier, one came by my office and thanked me..."
That would've been someone born when the territory was under his control. The thought pricked at his skin.
" Having so many women around seems like a hassle. As much as they seem to like you," Nova said drily, covering the tightness in his chest. " Though personally, I've always found that to be a hassle as well."
" You should try to speak with them sometime or another, now that we're all on friendly terms," William suggested.
" I doubt they'd be happy to see me," Nova deadpanned. " If they do really considered themselves liberated."
William got a bit closer to him.
" If they had a problem with you being onboard, someone would've complained by now," he said cheerfully. " So it seems th-"
Nova could not stand how that man walked.
He was clumsy, easily predictable, and every movement created openings. Perhaps it was his restlessness, that made his instinct default to seeing things the way he saw them in duels; he couldn't feel at ease, even when he felt no hostility from William Masterson whatsoever.
It was more like, he couldn't comprehend William's sheer incompetence and helplessness.
" You're boring me, Commodore General. I think I'll take my leave now."
He cut him off midsentence, annoyance clear, and William did not falter, same tired, vaguely anxious smile on his face.
" Mm, is that so? I suppose it's warranted... I brought up a lot of uncomfortable things. I've never been good at conversation..."
" Good night, William."
" Ah. Yes. Right. Good night, Nova."
... Though they were in space, and what was night and what was day was determined only by clocks.