The Septim ambassador's eyes trailed over him, a degree of dislike evident.

He still introduced himself.

" I am Gudrev Il-Sem, representative of Septim and Siluria," he said.

" Pleasure to meet you. I am Lyena-Nova, cultural ambassador to the DASS. I'm honored to be hosted by your city. I've found it very welcoming."

This was all blatant formality, undercut by the uneasiness that always follows when memories of conflict are fresh.

Nova had no doubt that this Gudrev Il-Sem did not think well of him, and he also hazarded a guess that his opinion on the DASS might not be so fond, either, going off what little snippets he had heard off the news about public opinion.

But he was getting a free meal out of all this, at least.

And it was necessary if he was to integrate the Empire into DASS during his reign.

... He wondered why he had given so much serious thought to doing that. William would probably be dead by the time he inherited, and what other reason would he have to join it? Just having peace was good enough for him.

He had a certain amount of pride, after all.

And going so far as to integrate into DASS... it seemed like such a lot of hassle he didn't want to get into, that wouldn't really be of any benefit to him.

... What did he really want out of any of this, anyway?

" And you are the Commodore General William Masterson?" the Septim ambassador asked, eyes sliding over to where William stood. " I've seen you on the news. You're very... eloquent."

William smiled.

" Well, not so much, but I wanted to give off a good impression for the people," he said, as though it was some sort of excuse.

" You were responsible for the victory at Thrace, as well?" Gudrev asked politely.

" Yes. Though I had only just been promoted to Captain at the time," William replied.

" Forgive me saying so, but it's a bit strange for you to play guide to someone like the Lyena, then, isn't it?"

They sat down at the restaurant table.

" Lyena-Nova and I have an excellent working relationship, so there's no need for your concern. He's quite sincere about his intentions for peace," William said. Smiling.

" Is that so?" Gudrev asked, looking over to Nova.

" The Commodore General has been very accommodating towards me, despite our previous conflict," Nova answered. " I'm grateful that he's allowed me to accompany the Theologica's tour for the time being."

Ordering food.

" And how long will you be in the care of the DASS? Do you plan on staying indefinitely?"

... Nova didn't like how he was blatantly trying to needle information out of him.

" I'm actually returning to the homeworld for a while next month," he said. " I have urgent family business to attend to."

He could feel William's eyes flit over him. That made sense. He hadn't told anyone else about his decision on what to do with the Lyeha, after all. That was something he had thought about alone.

" I see," Gudrev said.

" Ah, Commodore General, I apologize for arriving late, the Lyeha said she was feeling ill and couldn't come."

... Kirie had arrived.

It seemed strange to Nova that Lesa would be feeling ill, but at the same time, he found himself relieved that he wouldn't have to speak around her. She had somehow or another grown a looser manner in her comparative freedom at the DASS.

... Well, that, and William had quite literally told her she had carte blanche to be as disrespectful as she pleased.

William motioned to her.

" This is Lieutenant Kirie Honda. I'm sure you were acquainted with her father? We've been friends since we were in military academy together. She handles a great deal of the busy work involved in the running of the fleet," he said.

She pulled out a chair to sit down.

" Yes, I recall that the former flagship Technologica was helmed by a Commodore General Robert S. Honda," Gudrev said. " He and I were on good terms. I didn't know he had a daughter, though."

" Pleasure to make your acquaintance," Kirie said.

" More to the point, Gudrev, what is it about Silurian vegetables that's so good? I'm relieved they aren't moving all your agriculture off-planet," William interjected, good cheer. Nova supposed he should've been used to it at that point, but there was still something so surprising about the ease with which William lied that Nova almost wondered if he actually did like them after all.

" Oh, Commodore General, is it really alright for you to joke about such a thing?" Kirie asked, concerned. " After all, this is a matter with a great deal of economic importance..."

Gudrev laughed; thin, reedy, like his voice.

" It's alright, Lieutenant. It's not as though these changes will take place over night," he said. " Though I suppose tensions have been running high, it's nothing to endanger our relationship with DASS over."

" Yes, I suppose we came at a bad time, didn't we?" William mused.

" I'm grateful that someone more levelheaded than Rosenthal appeared," Gudrev said. " She was so firmly against the repeal she was going to get herself into legal trouble."

William leaned forward a bit.

" Was she really?" he asked. " She's always been stubborn, but that's surprising. She loves her laws."

" She loves Siluria as well, you see," Gudrev said. " She has a citizenship here in Septim."

" I'm surprised. She seems like the sort of person who doesn't have a life outside of the military at all."

" Oh, such as you?" Nova threw in a light jab. He felt vaguely uncomfortable being silent during the conversation; Kirie seemed used to it.

" Oh, please, Lyena-Nova, you know I have plenty of hobbies," William replied, cheery.

" Yes, like slacking on your paperwork," Nova said. " Or losing your ID card every few days."

" Lyena-Nova, aren't you the one who spends two hours sleeping in the ship's garden center every day?" William retorted cheerfully.

That sort of back and forth was relieving, and made the atmosphere feel more natural.

" You two certainly seem to still have a rivalry," Gudrev observed. " I suppose time doesn't heal all wounds."

" Ah, apologies, Gudrev. I assure you, we're getting along. It's light, friendly chiding," William said, as though taken offguard.

" Is it?"