" Ah, it's Neda! Having trouble with the coffee machine?"

Her ears pricked up, and she turned to look at him with an anxious expression.

" W-well! Commodore General! I, um, was going to get a coffee, but I've just realized, I'm-"

" Two credits? That's a shame. Do better on your shooting drills next time, alright?" he chided lightly, swiping his card. The charge went through.

" R-right!"

She got it out of the machine.

" I can't stand black coffee... I like sweet drinks, you know?"

He got one from a different vending machine.

" Yes! Well! I haven't been able to have coffee before... So I wanted to try it..."

She sat on the bench across from him.

" It's a pretty common drink," he said, with surprise.

" No, it's that the caffeine was... It does a funny thing to some medicine I was taking... But I don't have to take it anymore, since you signed off on my file last week, so I was going to celebrate that being processed..."

He vaguely recalled signing something with her name on in his endless flow of busy work. It hadn't struck him as important at the time.

" Ah. Masterson. There you are."

He turned around on the bench to look over at Nova, standing in the doorframe to the small lounge.

He could see Nova's eyes flick over to Neda for a minute. She was looking up at him with surprise, too.

" Oh, Nova. Did you need something? Do you feel better after talking yesterday?" William asked blithely, taking a sip of his drink.

Nova visibly tensed.

" Not to interrupt your ceaseless womanizing, but I was going to speak to you about how close our ship seems to be to Lyewa-Diurn's territory."

William noticed that Neda seemed to go pale at the mention of the name, and grip her drink tighter.

He smiled and waved it off.

" He won't cause trouble if the Crown Prince is aboard, will he? It'll be fine," he said.

" I'm sure he won't cause trouble, so much as he will certainly set out to arrange for it in a legal manner," Nova replied stiffly. He looked over to Neda again. " And the fact you have so many women aboard will only serve to incense him further."

William leaned back and considered it for a moment.

" Well, I suppose he can try to fuss about, but he can't really do much with me in the way, can he."

Nova flicked an ear in annoyance.

" As you say, then."

He looked over to Neda, expression unreadable.

" Girl. Are you satisfied with such a thing? Your body is at stake in these..."

His eyes narrowed.

" Coffee?"

She stood abruptly.

" Lyena-Nova. Sir. With full respect, I don't have to disclose myself to anyone but my commanding officers. You are not my Lyena anymore. I have no reason to communicate these matters to you. The Commodore General is supporting my decisions, and so I will support his."

William watched this exchange, a great deal of it flying over his head; but what did not escape him was the very obvious bristling anger her words had caused to arise within Nova. His facial expression was neutral, but his ears were pressed down flat and his tail was thrashing; his pupils were restricted to slits.

" Nova," he entreated. " Nova."

" What."

He stood and walked over, and pressed his drink into Nova's hands.

" Have some soda and maybe you'll calm down," he said.

" I'm not angry," Nova replied.

" You're scaring my cadet," William said, voice a bit lower than normal.

" Not as though she has any regard for me," Nova said.

" Then why don't you have some for me?" William asked.

Nova's ears flicked.

He took the drink out of William's hand, a bit roughly, and took a long drink of it.

" Ah, I'm surprised you acquiesced to that so easily, Nova," he said, friendly tone. " Or maybe you just like sweet drinks too?"

" They're disgusting," Nova replied flatly. " But I would rather have regard for you, as useless as you are, than Diurn."

He turned and left.

Neda let out a long sigh, like she had been holding her breath.

" Lyena is so scary!" she complained.


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