Airomem spent much of her time now in the power room.  She would watch as each of her engineers ran through the necessary checks, smiling if one of the new recruits caught a temperature that was trending out of range, and remembering the years when she herself had been fresh on the floor.  But that had been long ago- back when she was just out of school, in the years when Prometh still taught her combat tactics.
She’d risen among the ranks quickly- in part, because of her father’s influence.  But also due to the extra time she spent listening to Prometh’s recounts of every possible piece of information about the reactor.  When she was on shift, the reactor ran.  And those in the Lear leadership were quick to pick up on that correlation.

But in addition, Airomem volunteered at the Port and Starboard entry points, disregarding her father’s best wishes.

Engineers were considered high class contributors to the Lear on their own – as a result, they were not expected to contribute to guard duty, similar to other skilled workers such as the doctors and the teachers.  

“What you are doing is an unnecessary risk!”  Her father said when he found out the first day she had volunteered, “You belong in the power room.  And more importantly, you’re my daughter, and as leader there is a chance you might take command upon my passing!”

“Then why was I trained for combat?”  Airomem demanded, “Everyone else is required to defend the ship.  I’m no better than them.”

“You were trained to understand how to make proper decisions,”  He father replied, “But this is impractical.”

“Unless I experience it, my judgement is hollow. Besides, I know you did the same at my age.  You were said to be the best, and I will uphold your name.  And the chances that I will be on guard during an actual attack are minimal.”

Begrudgingly, and with his arms folded across his chest, her father relented.  But she noticed that those days when she served, there were more guards than typical, and they were the largest.  And always, she served on the flank, out of the way from direct strikes.

After her second month of volunteering she arrived at her shift early, and rooted herself firmly in the center.

“Today, I am the cornerstone.”  She said when the other guards arrived.

“But Airomem, on direct orders from your father-”

“I don’t care.  Today, I am Cornerstone, unless you want to fight me for it.  And if you do, I’m sure he’ll love to hear about how you jeopardized the well being of his daughter.”  She said, as the stun guns in her fingers came to life, her arms hanging loose near her waist.

The guard bit his lip, then moved aside.

“Fine,”  He said, “But this doesn’t come back to me.  If your father asks, Earnest let you.”

“Earnest has been dead for a year.”  She said.

“Exactly.  And I’ll be dead tomorrow if he finds out it was me.”  He answered.

“Earnest it is,”  Airomem answered, and took up the center.  And she stared down the hallway, doors ajar down its length, dark stains covering the floor in increasing frequency the nearer they were to her.  Occasionally she would catch sight of a gaunt face, of cheeks tucked too far in to be healthy, and eyes sunk too far in to know hope.

And on her third month of guard, she saw one  emerge from around the corner and walk their way, his mouth ajar, his posture swaying with each step.  Behind him appeared ten other faces, each watching as he approached the door frame, edging closer from a distance with a knife tucked loose in his belt.

“Lone straggler,”  She said as the other gaurds jerked to attention, “Carrying no tribute, armed.  Approaching at thirty paces.  I’ve got this.”

“No,”  Said the guard accompanying her and pushing her to the side, “I’m afraid I cannot allow that.”

“Have the Lear grown so complacent that they send tiny girls to defend their borders?”  Shouted the straggler, now only ten paces away, as he cackled, “Come back out, little girl.  I wonder how you taste?  Not so gamey as my usual meals, but everyone knows that Lear taste the best!”  

He licked his lips as Airomem pushed herself to the front again, switching on the tasers, adapting a staggered stance.

“Not a step more!”  She shouted, “Or we will be forced to take action!”

“Not a step, not a step,”  Chanted the man, his arm muscles twitching as he danced forward, “Step.  Step.  Step.”

He leered as he slinked closer, the breath out of his mouth putrid even from a distance as Airomem’s arms stiffened, “I’ve been exiled, little girl, by my own people!  I have nothing to lose.  Figure I might as well get a last meal in!”

Then he darted forward, pulling his knife from his belt and slashing as he crossed the door frame.  And Airomem jammed both of her stun guns directly under his ribcage, turning the power to maximum.

He shot off the ground, his own legs propelling him as his clothing smoked, crashing against the ceiling before toppling down again, the faces at the end of the hall recoiling as he landed.  Airomem stepped over his body out into the hallway, her stun guns still burning bright, and her voice shouting.

“Let it be known!”  She said, the faces flinching as each word lashed across them, “That these doorways mark not only the entrance into Lear territory, but into death!  Let it be known that I am next in line for the crown, and I will tolerate no uprisings!  That I will bring darkness upon your lands, and burning light, until no plant grows and no child goes unhungry!  Let it be known that our tolerance for you has come to an end, and if you do not make peace, you will face far greater consequences!”

“Are you trying to start a war, princess?”  Hissed the guard as she cross over the border again, and they dragged the body away.

“It’s for their sake, as much as ours.”  She responded, “And we do not have much time left.”

Chapter 29