William had gone back up to his office on the Theologica, and so Nova was alone.

The lunch had been unsettlingly smooth, beyond those few minor bumps in the conversation at the start.

He was... Yes, he was unsettled by the fact that Redlin appeared to earnestly want to get along with him. And that he had been grateful for his help.

Even though he knew.

" Lyena," someone called out for him. He bristled, recognizing the voice.

" What," he answered stiffly.

" Could we talk alone for a bit," Redlin requested, standing at the end of the hall, holding one of his cats.

" Why," Nova asked, still stock still.

" I want to catch up with you," Redlin answered. " Without others interfering, or pretense."

“ Haven’t you been speaking without pretense this entire time?” Nova responded.

“ I’m doing my best, but… We can’t speak casually if you don’t speak casually,” Redlin stated. “ I know you’re like, expected to be formal and all that, but, damn, man. Isn’t it exhausting?”

“ When something is necessary, it isn’t exhausting,” Nova replied.

“ Do you talk like this with the Commodore General?” Redlin asked.

“ The Commodore General and I converse professionally,” Nova replied.

“ Lyena-Nova,” Redlin said. “ I know you’ve been lying about that. I just want to know how involved with him you are.”

Nova glared at him.

“ Why does it concern you whether I’m involved with someone,” he asked. “ We haven’t spoken in twenty years.”

“ So you are?” Redlin asked, voice harder than it had been before.

“ I didn’t say I was. I just want to know why it matters so much to you,” Nova retaliated. “ Are you going to treat me like Lorn does if I am? Or are you going to congratulate me for not being broken if I’m not?”

Redlin gave him a bit of a look.

“ I understand that I’m currently indebted to you for your lenience to my raeli,” he said. “ But I had a conversation with the Commodore General that has left me at a loss. I can’t understand whether you’re an ally to me or not, as we’ve spoken up until now. I want to know how you actually feel about all this.”

“ Isn’t it enough for me to say that I’m allying my faction and future regime with the DASS,” Nova said.

“ It isn’t,” Redlin said. “ You owe me an understanding of who you are as a person, as my brother.”