Chapter Six Sinistral

Chapter Six
“Sinistral”

They’d gone straight from the city square to the solar farm.

Overseer Marriott had put Maya in charge of B-Team and sent them out to the same far-flung corner of the solar farm that they’d been to yesterday- the same part that the unmarked intruders had stormed through. Most of the solar farm had emerged unscathed, but this stretch of array here was the exception.

And so the remnants of B-Team- which at this point consisted of Michael, Maya, Isha and Aidan- worked. The first step was simply to assess the damage, to see what had to be done.

“Fuck me.” Said Aidan with a whistle, after three hours of ‘assessment’ in the burning sun; he held his datapad in his hand, entering yet another list of material needed for yet another sad, trashed solar panel. “It’ll take months to fix this.”

“Yep.” Said Michael, scowling at the fields; but a sudden thought entered his head and he grinned. “But! It’s only a few weeks ‘til Vocation Week. Which means we’ll all have fucked off from this dog’s breakfast of a job. Let the fresh meat come in and cut their teeth on this.”

“You guys are trying to become mod-suit sergeants, yeah?” Asked Aidan.

“That’s right.” Said Michael. “And I hear we’re in real luck.”

“Whaddya mean?” Asked Maya.

“Where does my dad work, Maya?” Asked Michael.

“He works down in the garrison, doesn’t he? Supplies and shit?” She said.

Michael rolled his eyes. “’Supplies and shit’. Close enough, I suppose. He says the garrison’s going through a huge expansion, and they’re gonna be desperate for new mod-suit pilots.”

“Makes sense. Probably spooked the Guilds, seeing the garrison screwed up like that.” Said Aidan thoughtfully. “Why mod-suits, anyway?”

“It’s interesting, has a bit of prestige.” Said Michael. “Pays well.”

“That’s sort of the same for me.” Said Maya. “I don’t like the idea of being Lord Darumbal’s Menial ‘til I die, don’t like the idea of my kids being the same. If I become a suitjockey and do real well- like, I dunno, save one of Lord Darumbal’s kids- then I could ask to be freed as a reward. That’d make me a Capital, and I could do whatever I wanted.” She said, her tone serious- it had an urgent quality to it.

Michael opened his mouth, and for a moment Isha dreaded that he might make a joke- it didn’t seem to him as though Maya would take it well. “If you do really well, he might even make you a Lord.”

Isha let out a very small sigh of relief.

“Maybe.” Said Maya quietly. Then she smiled. “Baroness Chang sounds pretty fuckin’ nice, actually.”

“I’d love to see a Baroness Chang.” Said Isha brightly. “But what about you, Aidan? I have no idea what you’re going for in Vocation Week.”

Aidan glanced around sheepishly, then cleared his throat. “I’m going for university entrance exams.”

There was a stunned silence- and then Isha let out a low whistle. “Holy shit, mate. You never told us you’d done that well in school.”

“Yeah, seriously.” Said Maya, her eyes wide. “So what happens? You do good at school, they tell you that you can take exams in Vocation Week?”

“More or less.” Said Aidan.

“Damn.” Said Michael, a huge grin on his face. “Doctor Aidan Franklin… Man, you’re gonna be an Erudite and Maya’s gonna be a Capital, and here I am settling on ‘it pays good’. Thanks, fellas, y’really putting my big ol’ ambitions into perspective…”

“Do you know where you’ll be going if you pass?” Asked Maya.

“University of Brisbane, probably.” Said a blushing Aidan. “They’ve got some sort of deal with Lord Darumbal-”

“Oh, shit.” Said Isha suddenly; the rest of the team turned toward him. “Remind me to give Overseer Marriott a thing when we go back.”

“A thing?” Asked Michael.

“The clinic doctor says I’m supposed to meet with a psychologist tomorrow.” Said Isha. “So I have to give a special certificate to the Overseer to skip work.”

The others stared at him. Isha suddenly felt a wave of self-consciousness creeping up into his face. “… What?”

“Why are you seeing a psychologist?” Asked Michael with a frown.

“Uh, the doctor said he was supposed to talk to me about my vocation. She said it was routine…?” Said Isha tentatively, looking from face to quizzical face. “You fellas got one too, right?”

“Sorry, mate.” Said Aidan apologetically. Maya shook her head, and Michael shrugged.

“… So I am the only one.” Said Isha nervously. “Why me?”

“It’ll be fine.” Said Maya reassuringly. “Probably nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah, mate, don’t stress.” Said Michael, slapping Isha on the shoulder. “They p-”

But he suddenly broke off. Michael and the others stared at something in the distance, behind Isha. Isha turned as well.

A spider-like cataphract sporting Darumbal colours was ambling down one of the alleys between solar arrays.

“That’s one of Darumbal’s Knights, isn’t it?” said Michael. “Wonder what they’re up to?”

“Dunno…” Said Isha with a frown.

A few seconds later, Isha realised that the cataphract was turning- toward them. It moved in an unhurried manner, or so it seemed- it was still moving quite fast.

“One cataphract a week’s enough for me.” Muttered Aidan.

“Amen to that.” Said Michael nervously.

A minute later the cataphract reached them. It lowered itself onto the ground, its chest only a few metres off the ground. A sideways rent in its fabric-like hull appeared around its chest, revealing an opening cockpit hatch. Isha and the others immediately fell to one knee and bowed their heads as the knight within emerged.

“Good afternoon,” Said the young man within. Isha risked a quick glance up.

The Lord nimbly hopped down onto the ground; he wasn’t wearing an activity suit, but rather a white shirt and loose trousers, over which was worn a long dark blue double-breasted jacket with golden edging, which he wore over his shoulders with the sleeves empty. With a sudden jolt of recognition, Isha realised it was the same Lord from this morning, the Lord who’d whipped Davo. “I am Lord Lachlan Darumbal, third child of Lord Henry, Duke of Capricornia. I have come to speak with a young man who goes by the name of Isha Misra.”

Isha felt Lord Lachlan’s eyes fall on him- and a second later the eyes of his friends. Isha nodded, although he didn’t raise his head. “I am Isha Misra, my Lord,” said Isha nervously.

Lord Lachlan walked over to him. For a second Isha felt the pressure of the Lord’s weighty stare on his back and neck; he felt a spike of trepidation. He felt the irrational desire to squirm and fidget, which he did his best to suppress.

A second later, Lord Lachlan clapped Isha on the shoulder, causing him to startle sharply. “Brilliant.” Said Lord Lachlan lightly. “Rise, Misra. Let’s go for a ride.”

Isha rose automatically, even as his mind froze. A ride? With a Lord, in his cataphract? Isha flitted through his thoughts of the day before, trying to find some transgression or mishap he’d committed. Suddenly a memory emerged- the pretty red-haired woman asking him for the passcode- the passcode which Isha knew, even though he wasn’t supposed to. The passcode he gave out, even though he wasn’t supposed to.

Images of Davo- helplessly restrained, whipped, led away with a bloody back- rushed through Isha’s mind. But Lord Lachlan was already briskly walking away- Isha had no choice but to follow. He glanced back at his friends: Maya’s eyebrows were drawn together and she stared at Lord Lachlan with narrowed eyes, her hands wringing each other slowly; Michael was instead staring wide-eyed at Isha; and Aidan had a thoughtful frown on his face as his gaze shifted between Isha, the Lord and the cataphract.

Then he followed Lord Lachlan to his cataphract. Lord Lachlan had already climbed atop the hatch ramp and vanished inside; Isha visibly hesitated to take the first step, his foot hovering over the smooth inner side of the ramp for a few seconds before setting it down and walking the rest of the way. Isha peered around as he stepped into the cockpit proper, and despite the feeling of his heart pounding fretfully against his ribcage, he couldn’t help but admit a sense of curiosity as to what he’d see within.

The cataphract’s cockpit was like the inside of a perfectly round, hollow sphere. It was about two metres in diameter, and almost completely featureless, with the walls all smooth, dull and black. The pilot’s seat, with its cushioned padding and harness, sat in the middle of the sphere and ran across the floor as well as the back wall. There were no monitors, no computers or controls that Isha could see, and the only thing of note besides the seat was a collar sitting atop its headrest: it was narrow, small and black, and a host of cables ran from one end of it and into the wall.

The cataphract’s innards looked nothing like the cockpit of other modular suits Isha could recall seeing. It was an elegant space. Isha felt some of his unease ebb away, his heart slowing in its mad dance- although he couldn’t say why.

Lord Lachlan had already taken his seat. He fastened the collar around his own throat and closed his eyes for a few seconds. On opening them, he waved a hand toward his right. “Take a seat, the suit’ll handle you.”

Isha walked cautiously around the pilot’s seat and crouched awkwardly next to it. As he did so, the rounded bulkhead beneath him shifted, and out emerged a stool, backrest and harness. Isha startled, then slowly sat down and buckled himself in.

“All set? Great.” Said Lord Lachlan. The cockpit hatch closed, and Isha thought he felt the suit rise- although the movement was slight within the cockpit, and he couldn’t see the outside world at all- there were no monitors or camera feeds.

“Ugly business this morning.” Said Lord Lachlan. “You probably saw it?”

“I did, my Lord.” Said Isha quietly.

“Mmm. I don’t like whipping people, but I suppose it’s better than lethal injection.” Said Lord Lachlan.

“Was he really in line to be executed, my Lord?” Asked Isha.

“Absolutely. Modsuit’s camera feed recorded the entire thing.” Said Lord Lachlan. “… It also recorded the minute or so before he ran away, and, look, it’s pretty obvious he would’ve done fuck all if he’d stayed and fought. Running was probably the best thing he could’ve done. All in all, if his staying could’ve changed the outcome for the better, he’d be dead. It wouldn’t, so he isn’t.”

“… Yes, my Lord. I was there for it too.” Said Isha.

“Yeah, I saw you on the feed. Guess this makes this your second cataphract trip.” Said Lord Lachlan wryly. “If I had things my way I would’ve left it at some stern words behind closed doors, but there are laws, eh? Always laws. I’ll be lucky if I get away without a whipping of my own.”

“You’re going to be punished, my Lord?” Asked Isha, his tone full of surprise- and a hint of skepticism.

“Probably.” Said Lord Lachlan brightly. “The old fella’s pretty strict about the laws, you know… Watering it down for your mate isn’t going to go down well back home.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, my Lord.” Said Isha. He stared down at his hands, which were balled up together in his lap. “His Grace wouldn’t execute you, would he, my Lord?”

“Shit, I hope not.” Said Lord Lachlan, frowning. “I mean, he probably won’t…”

Isha didn’t answer him, and for a minute or so, they were silent.

“So how’re you liking your first inside ride in a cataphract?” Eventually asked Lord Lachlan.

“… Strange, my Lord.” Said Isha slowly. “I can’t see the outside, I can barely feel it walking… The only thing to look at right now is you, my Lord.”

“Heh.” Lord Lachlan smirked. But a moment later the walls of the cockpit shimmered- even the ones beneath Isha. Where before the cockpit had been a round dull ball, now all around Isha was the outside world- the sandy dirt ground below, the solar panels, the city… Every inch of the cockpit’s walls had become a grand panorama.

Isha’s jaw slowly dropped. He stared around at the cockpit’s walls, at their crisp, sharp image. He looked down to see the cataphract’s body moving beneath him- including, he realised, the part of the chest he was now in.

“Incredible.” He murmured. “Nothing like a normal mod-suit’s cockpit. Is this what you see?”

“Yeah. Well. My view’s a little busier, but more or less.” Said Lord Lachlan. He hadn’t moved much during the trip, yet the cataphract was moving on its own- it turned, and the world around Isha blurred past him for a disorientating second. He closed his eyes and looked back toward Lord Lachlan.

“I bet you’re wondering how all this works, eh?” Said Lord Lachlan. “It’s moving on its own! It’s not magic, though, it’s something special cataphracts have called-”

“The ghosting system.” Blurted out Isha. “My Lord,” he added hurriedly.

Lord Lachlan turned and peered at Isha curiously. “The ghosting system. That’s… Right. How did you know that?”

“My father was a mod-suit sergeant. He- learned some things about cataphracts.” Said Isha.

“Oh. Huh.” Lord Lachlan shrugged. “Did you learn much beyond the name?”

Isha’s thoughts traveled to his datapad at home, loaded up with books, books he’d read time and time again. He remembered his father, years ago, handing him a datastick with one particular book on it… But instead he shook his head. “My father never told me anything past the name, my Lord.”

“Not surprised.” Said Lord Lachlan. “I’ll keep it simple- see this collar?” He tapped the collar several times. “I put it on, it connects to my nervous system, and then I can pilot the cataphract using my mind- just like it were my own body. Pretty brilliant, eh?”

“Yes, my Lord.” Said Isha.

“Between this and all the work and rare crap that goes into a cataphract, well… Y’can leave your old mod-suit at home when it comes to comparing of these things.” Said Lord Lachlan glowingly; he patted his armrest fondly. “Honestly there are days where I think I move faster in this thing than I do on foot.”

Isha glanced down below, where the cataphract’s eight legs were striding swiftly across the landscape in long, loping bounds.

“But you’re probably wondering why we even bother with crappy old regular suits in the first place, eh?” Said Lord Lachlan, his tone as though he were broaching a great and unfathomable mystery.

“They’re cheaper.” Said Isha instantly. “And each mod-suit is mass-produced, so a pilot trained in one can usually pilot any other… Er, my Lord,” he added, catching sight of Lord Lachlan’s irritated rown.

“Yeah, that’s all true.” Said Lord Lachlan, his creased forehead slowly easing out. “But this ghosting system’s also a big part. D’you know how old I am this year, Misra?”

“No, my Lord.” Said Isha.

“I’m twenty-two in May.” Said Lord Lachlan. “I first started training with this baby- the Mintji-Kurri-Kurri, that’s its name- since I was six years old, but I was only fully able to proper handle piloting it when I was seventeen. And no, I’m not slow or any shit like that- I’m a pretty textbook case. These things are deadly, but they take a whole lotta time to learn how to handle- for me, it was eight hour sessions three times a week for eleven years. And you wanna know what the kicker is?” He said with a smirk.

“Yes, my Lord?” Said Isha politely.

“Your basic Menial sergeant spends six months training how to use a suit, they can go on to use basically any mass-produced suit they want. A poor Knight boy like me spends eleven years training to use one cat. I want to use a different cat, then I better be ready to start all over with that one.” Lord Lachlan laughed darkly. “I saw this one poor bastard once, just a kid really… Ten years of practice, had his cat’s computer systems utterly shredded on his second duel. No backups, either… Sad business.”

Isha didn’t say anything in response. Ten years… What would it be like, to suddenly lose all of that so quickly? He thought about it, waking up one day and suddenly not knowing a wrench from a screwdriver… He scowled for a moment. He imagined the reactions if he showed up to work like that. The Overseer’s cold expression, the pitying looks from his friends, their efforts to hide it…

“Which brings us back to you.” Said Lord Lachlan, snapping Isha back into the moment.

“Me, my Lord?” He said in surprise.

“Yeah, you. Have you ever heard of someone being called a ‘sinistral’, Misra?” Asked Lord Lachlan.

“… No, my Lord, but it sounds like an insult. Sort of thing you’d say if you wanted to start a scrap.” Said Isha.

Lord Lachlan snorted. “You’re not wrong. But no, it’s a good thing. And more importantly, you’re one. Well, we think.” Said Lord Lachlan, a hint of doubt creeping into his voice.

Isha sat quietly and waited patiently for the Lord to continue; within, however, his thoughts raced. What was a sinistral, and why was it so important that the son of his liege lord took him for a cataphract jaunt to talk about it?

But Lord Lachlan remained quiet, his brow furrowed as though lost in thought. After a minute of the only sound being the light loping of the cataphract’s springy legs, Isha eventually spoke up. “My Lord, what’s a sinistral?”

“Hm?” Lord Lachlan turned toward him. “Oh, right. So.” He leaned forward slightly and tapped his collar. “Ghosting system. Takes years to learn how to use it. Unless you’re a sinistral. Dunno why, but a sinistral can slap on the collar and just like that, use a cataphract. Any cataphract, doesn’t matter which one, doesn’t matter how long they’ve practiced…” He clicked his fingers. “Boom. Natural aptitude. Odds of being a sinistral are 1 in 400,000. That means there’s probably only eight or nine people like you in the whole kingdom… Assuming you are one, “ he added.

Isha’s rushing thoughts came to sudden crashing stop. He froze and stared wide-eyed up at Lord Lachlan; his mouth had slowly opened and now sat in a wide, collapsed ‘o’.

“Yeah, it’s a big deal.” Said Lord Lachlan, glancing at Isha with a smirk. He reached over and flicked Isha hard in the left ear.

Isha flinched away from the sharp pain; he gingerly rubbed his ear, but now his thoughts seemed to be on the move once more. A sinistral- someone who could pilot a cataphract, any cataphract, without training whatsoever… He was one of them? Suddenly things began to fall into place for him. “… You don’t know for sure yet, my Lord,” he said, “Is that why I’m supposed to see a psychologist tomorrow? To find out for sure?”

“Yeah, exactly.” Said Lord Lachlan. “If you suspect a menial of being a sinistral, then there’s supposed to be this whole process. Blood tests, years of analyses, and yeah, interviews with psychologists. But it seems like a whole lot of fucking bother to me.”

“What do you mean, my Lord?” Asked Isha.

“Seems to me like you only need one real test.” Said Lord Lachlan. He brought Mintji to a stop, unclasped the collar, left the chair and turned toward Isha.

Isha’s gaze flicked between collar and Lord questioningly. He didn’t move.

“Well in you get.” Said Lord Lachlan impatiently.

Isha slowly rose from his chair. He stepped in front of the seat- which suddenly seemed much larger than he’d recalled. He took a hesitant step forward- then stopped. “I won’t get in trouble, will I?” Asked Isha nervously.

Lord Lachlan scoffed. “I’ll handle it all, relax.”

Isha quickly nodded, then cautiously sat down in the seat. The cushioning was firm, springy and comfortable, yet to Isha it also felt heavy, even unwelcoming. He shifted and squirmed in the seat, and no matter what Lord Lachlan had said, he felt the intense urge to leap out of it and return to the small, low little chair below him. Yet the Lord’s eyes were on him; and so Isha shuddered a breath, forced the urge down and sat back against the seat.

Lord Lachlan stepped over, picked up the collar and strapped it on tightly around Isha’s neck. “There,” He said, stepping away. “I’ll turn the system back on in a second, you ready?”

Isha nodded, feeling the collar squeeze discomfortingly at his throat. “Yes, my Lord.”

“Here we go. Good luck, don’t let it suck your brains out, mate.” Lord Lachlan twisted a dial on the back of the collar.

“Wait, what-” Isha began, his eyes widening- but before he could finish, a sudden flood of feeling rushed into his mind. There were sharp, painful jolts behind his eyes, and all of a sudden he couldn’t see; there was an immense pressure tightening around his head, as though it were being squeezed by a web made of millions of tiny, unbreakable strands. Then the strands were cutting through his skin and ran down through his veins, through his chest, then into his arms down to his very fingertips, which spasmed uncontrollably. He felt his legs jerk beneath him, that fierce, fiery impulse jutting itself into his very toes. His eyes were wide, seeing nothing, and his hands were squeezed firmly shut, grasping air.

All of this happened in a second, albeit it felt much longer than that. But all of a sudden Isha became aware of the web- and suddenly he was the web. He felt the way it ran through his little body- and he traced it back, back into his gigantic body, the one he was now within. He felt his legs under him, long and slender and multitude, taking elegant, swift steps; he felt his arms, lean, powerful and titanic; he saw the world now, the little solar panels below, the tiny plumes of dust that swirled around his many feet, the city that suddenly seemed much closer than he’d realised.

Isha looked around at the endless playground of solar arrays; a sudden whoop of fierce joy rushed from up his chest and through his mouth. He leapt forward with giddy abandon, landing cleanly amidst the solar panels. Now he danced amongst them, bucking and whirling and kicking out with his beautiful legs. It was wild and reckless, yet he never hit a single solar panel, each leg falling cleanly in the gaps and rows between.

Isha pirouetted and hurled himself free of the garden of solar arrays and landed in a wider clearing of dust and dirt. He raised his heavy claw and struck savagely down into the ground; to his delight the ground yielded easily. He jammed the claw deep into the pliant earth and let its barbed, serrated teeth sing. Huge plumes of bare soils, gravel and dust blew into the air, clouding his vision- but he simply changed his eyes, seeing the world through heat. He gazed adoringly down at the claw and its red-hot glowing teethed belts as they gouged the earth below.

But even as he toyed with the earth around him, a part of his mind went ever within, into where the web became densest, a writhing heart at the cat of his body. There were walls around it, but he barely thought about them; he broke through each one with ease and dove into the heart. The systems within laid themselves bare before him- endless reams of words on a million topics, sealed by hapless codes that he broke and changed on a whim; permissions and privileges designed to keep out the unwanted embraced him at Isha’s will, contorting themselves to fit him to the exclusion of others. Lachlan Darumbal’s face flashed before his eyes, but Isha ignored it, willing the face to fade, to-

Isha cried out as a sudden pain bloomed across his face. A second later he felt the web suddenly and brutally cut itself off him. He felt his thoughts suck back into his head like water swirling around a drain.

And all of a sudden he was Isha again, little Isha Misra the menial, sitting in an over-large seat meant for a Lord.

Lord Lachlan had fallen over; he was now sprawled against the side chair Isha had been using earlier. Lord Lachlan clutched in his hands the ghosting collar. The Lord looked blanched, his eyes narrowed grimly, an expression of fear and panic on his face, fading only slowly. There was a purplish mark across his right cheek.

Isha stared at him with unfocused eyes- it was troubling to parse the picture. He felt as though he wasn’t all there, like he’d left a part of him behind. He tried to think back over what had just happened- and found that it didn’t all make sense, flashes of nothingness, gaps of chaos between coherent thoughts.

“What happened?” Mumbled Isha.

“We learned why there’s a fucking process, I suppose.” Said Lord Lachlan with a wry, dark chuckle. He placed the ghosting collar aside and stood up, mustering up some composure as he dusted himself off. “You got off on it, that’s what happened. You were out of fucking control, you ripped up the ground, you were about to start firing off the plasma gun before I yanked the damn collar free.”

“Oh. What happened to you?” Asked Isha, eying Lachlan’s cheek.

“You didn’t appreciate my heroics. You punch harder than I thought,” Said Lord Lachlan, rubbing his cheek with a wince.

“Oh my God.” Muttered Isha in horror. “I struck a Lord, oh no- my Lord, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, I don’t even remember-” He leapt out of the seat hastily, but the moment he moved he felt a sudden intense spike of vertigo. He toppled to the left- and before he could stop himself, hurled the remains of his lunch across the ground.

“Fuck me.” Said Lord Lachlan, his expression wrinkling in disgust. “Just- just sit down for a bit.” He scrambled back into the seat and slapped on the ghosting collar.

Isha, meanwhile, had slid onto the ground. His face was lathered in sweat, he’d gone pale and his eyes were wildly dilated; he looked as though he were about to faint. “S-Sorry,” He mumbled, and tried to mop up the sick with his hand. Before he could, however, small slits emerged in the ground; out came a swarm of tiny mechanical beetles that swiftly swamped the sick. A few seconds later they dispersed, leaving behind a completely clean surface in their wake.

Lord Lachlan turned the cataphract around and marched it hurriedly away from the great ugly gash Isha had left in the earth. After about five minutes of walking, Lord Lachlan stopped, unclasped himself and opened the hatch. He took himself and Isha outside into the heat and the air, and sat Isha down against one of Mintji’s legs. He returned a minute later with a flask of water and two breadrolls for Isha. “Tucker up.”

Isha wolfed down the bread and took a few long pulls of the flask. Some of the colour had returned to his face, and he didn’t look quite so wild-eyed.

“Feeling better?” Asked Lord Lachlan.

“Yes, thank you.” Said Isha. “I’m sorry-”

But Lord Lachlan held up a hand, bidding Isha to stop. “Nah. Look, it wasn’t your fault, there was a process, I shoulda followed it, but sometimes I’m an idiot. The Duke’ll kick my arse for it, don’t you worry.”

“Y-Yes, my Lord.” Said Isha, nodding once. After a few seconds of silence he spoke again: “Does that mean I really am a sinistral, my Lord?”

“Seems so, Misra.” Said Lord Lachlan. “No normal person makes a cataphract do that on their first try.”

“Oh.” Said Isha. He looked down at his hands- hands that seemed unusually small and frail. He glanced up toward Mintji’s claw, parts of which were covered in layers of dust and clod. “What happens now…?”

“The idea was that the psychologist’d test you tomorrow, we’d get the results, and then during Vocation Week my father’d approach you with an offer to become a squire for us.” Said Lord Lachlan. “You’d become a Lord, and get your own cataphract, and in time you’d become a fully-fledged knight with a plot of land of your own. In return, you’d give us your service, fighting against our foes and protecting the weak and whatnot.”

“Me? A Lord?” Said Isha. Even saying it sounded strange to his mouth. “Just like that?”

“You’ve won a kind of lottery, Misra.” Said Lord Lachlan. “Here’s your prize. Sinistrals are real useful- in the right hands, with the right training and equipment. And we’re House Darumbal. There’s nothing we can’t buy.”

Isha didn’t say anything to that. He stared down at his hands again, his face a mix of emotion.

“Not what you were expecting for Vocation Week, eh?” Said Lord Lachlan with a wry smile.

“… What about my family?” Asked Isha quietly; Lord Lachlan’s smile faded, and he frowned in concern.

“They’ll get a pension equal to four times your current wage.” Said Lord Lachlan gently. “Once you become a Knight, they’ll be elevated to Lordship as well, and be allowed to live with you. Assuming you agree to come with us.”

“Oh.” Said Isha, lightening somewhat. “I see…”

After a moment’s silence, Lord Lachlan slapped Isha on the shoulder. “I’ll give you a ride back to the courtyard, you take the rest of the day off.”

“Thank you, Lord.” Said Isha quietly.

About five minutes later they returned to the courtyard, which was empty save for Overseer Marriott sitting outside his office, enjoying a smoke. As Mintji arrived, Marriott leapt upwards, standing at-attention with his back straight.

“Reckon he’ll shit himself when he sees who it is?” Asked Lord Lachlan with a smirk.

“I hope so.” Said Isha with his own short chuckle.

Lord Lachlan opened Mintji’s hatch, and Isha hopped out. Marriott squinted at him- and then his mouth opened wide; his smoke fell from his hands and onto the barren soil.

“This menial’s to take the rest of the day off. My command.” Said Lord Lachlan.

“Y-Yes, my Lord,” Said Marriott hastily. He shot Isha an utterly perplexed look, all mystified scowls and squints- to which Isha simply gave him a friendly smile and a short shrug.

“One last thing, Misra.” Said Lord Lachlan. “I’m returning to Bedourie tomorrow- my father’ll want to know how to react to the attack. It’ll be too much hassle to wait for Vocation Week, and it’d be a shame if Birdville were attacked again and you died- too much risk. If you want to agree to my father’s offer, be outside the Darumbal manor by 0900 tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow-? But that only gives me tonight to talk it over, to think it over-” Said Isha, but Lord Lachlan held up a hand and cut him off.

“Misra, being a Lord means more than fancy suits. We need to lead, and the luxury of time isn’t one we often have in stock. Consider this your first trial of Lordship.”

Mintji rose off the ground. “I hope to see you tomorrow, Misra. If not- well, have a good life.” Said Lord Lachlan.

With that, the hatch rose and sealed the cockpit shut. Mintji turned and ran into the city, leaving Isha behind.

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