Aboard EMS Ambulon, museum sailing ship of the Imperial Kagomine Navy, a singular officer was welcoming a new crew of cadets for a special cruise.
  "Attention to orders, and welcome to EMS Ambulon, students!" Most non-commissioned officers in the Navy would not have had such a spotless uniform, a few took notice. That his rank tabs looked like actual solid gold was a clue few missed, as well.   "Zim!" The non-committal greeting would have been given to a lamppost, when in doubt, Telbun Tadros Dandelion knew, so he didn't take it as a sign of respect.   "I am Meihomei 's Telbun of the armed forces, do any of you know what this means?"   "Everyone knows the Telbun is what happens to someone who teaches soldiers how to soldier for a living, Zim!" The tall and rangy young woman in the second row, her blue hair and dark skin a sign of not-so-distant Loro ancestry, was striking.   "Eh, a nice turn of phrase that, student, what is your name?"   "I am Academy student and Flag-Brévet Maelle Comma, Zim!"   "And what do you think I do, to teach others how to soldier?"   "Seems to me Zim that between enduring adverse conditions, the actions of the enemy and a soldier's bad luck, you remind them that while they endure, they're still the best we got, Zim!"   "My, and you're still in school?" Tadros had heard of the prodigy, she was living up to her hype, mostly, or at least, she was well-read enough...   "I hope to graduate this term, Zim!"   "And does any of your classmates have anything to say about this?"   "Student Comma is our valedictorian, Zim, we let her do the talking sometimes..." The student who managed those words was the only one not hiding a smile, he was however, biting his cheek not to let the smile come out, either.   "My, what a smart teacher you must all have..." Beat. "...but then, I know retired Taimini Dragenfels, I owe her a beer, seems there's some sense in this year's class, and my time won't be completely wasted. Attention to orders, students, I want the eight of you to get up on the rigging and put down the mainsail, the six of you up the rigging for that mizzen, six of you to reinforce the mizzenmast with the pulleys, you three at the mooring cables, and you four will be touring the deck, I want to see this ship ship-shaped in no time, do you hear me? Oh, and before we move on, do all of you know what those navy terms I used mean?"   "Zim-Zim-Zim!"   "Students released to duties, make me proud!"   "And me Zim?" Asked student Comma.   "You get to rest your brain, you're on navigation duty, plot us a course past Megamisama Lighthouse, direction Valkyrie Bay, and after that, you're on the helm."   "Zim-Zim!"   An hour later...   "Elements caught with their pants down, you can actually read a sextant?"   "I was taught by my late father Zim."   "And your father was?"   "At first Border Guard, then a Lifeguards served on ships all his life, could teach a sailor a thing or two, I miss him."   "Well, he certainly did a good job, so what did you expect to get to do here? I noticed you started when I said you were on navigation."   "I am the highest-ranking student, I expected ... I expected to be in nominal, often ignored command, Zim."   "You are the highest-ranking student here, and the privilege of commanding others is earned! I'm pleasantly surprised you know your way around navigation, it's especially important as you go higher in rank."   "So, I may not get busted back at sailor , you think?"   "You...?"   "Told those Mizzens you assigned that their ropes were slack, gave our new sail centre a boat twirl to unfurl her sail before she broke her arm trying to twist it loose without coming back down, and Zim? I'd appreciate it if you had noticed. You were watching them..."   "And I was watching you, and you did it just right, I had no need to say anything, you had it handled."   "Zim?"   "Flag-girl Maelle Comma, it is my Mei privilege to inform you that you are therefore to be referred to as acting Adjen of this boat, and your flag, such as it is, will ride in pride of place. on the first mast on Ambulon, just like Empress Kagome's once did, hundreds of years ago, before she founded Kagomei. Do I need to explain to you just what an honour this is?"   "Zim! No Zim!" She didn't think she had started crying, but... well those happy tears, just as long as no one else saw...   "For the next eight bells, or until ordered otherwise, you are Ambulon Flag-bridge, and are to be referred to as Ambulon-flag in official communications, repeat after me, not Ambulon-Factual, not Ambulon-Actual, Ambulon-Flag, got it? You are to file our passage notice to the lighthouse, and our plans to the lifeguards there to loiter in Valkyrie Bay working up exercises as ordered by Meihomei herself."   Later, in the communications cabin.   "Megamisama-Zenith, this is Ambulon-Flag, Megamisama-lighthouse, do you copy?" Her voice was shaking, she had done this a few times... in her dreams.   "We read you, Ambulon-Kagomei." Replying using the agreed upon formula, even as they were very surprised indeed, in the lighthouse, both to be replying to that coded word, and to be even seeing the ship today, they expected the ship at first light the next day, not at dinner time, even for a fairly proficient crew.   "Megamisama-lighthouse, be advised we are planning to loiter past your watch into Valkyrie Bay and conduct workups by order of Meihomei."   "Ambulon-flag, we'll be watching, and recording, seems you have real sailors aboard to even make it to us this soon. We were expecting your crossing next shift!"   "Lighthouse, I don't know what you mean."   "I shouldn't explain the joke, Ambulon, but the code between us and the Telbun is that he says to talk to us as Ambulon-Factual if the student needs work, Ambulon-Actual if the student needs just a little polish. In 12 years, it's the first time we've ever had someone who either mangled their orders or was actually told by the Telbun to communicate as Ambulon-flag, meaning they should be teaching at the academy, not taking classes. But judging from what we see here, Ambulon, it's not a garble, that's a taut sail!"   "Ambulon to Lighthouse, you expected half a sailor? On Ambulon?" She was insulted.   "Apologies, Ambulon-flag, but I've seen half-sailors on Ambulon before. If anything, it's the first time I'm seeing a full complement of full sailors on her. And a damn nice sight it is! Compliments from us, Ambulon, when you make it back to shore, let us know, we're buying. For those of you old enough to drink, anyways!"   "All of us are of legal drinking age, last I checked, lighthouse, but we don't all drink, you better pack some ribs too!"   "Orange ribs a la Tsou, we're making notes."   "Over and out, Lighthouse."   "Stay safe and proud, Ambulon!"   Ten minutes before shift end, on the flag bridge.   "You heard?"   "No, what did they say?"   "They said the sail was pretty taut and tried to bribe the crew with drink, I cut off their wicked attempt at bribery."   "Oh? They didn't compliment you on the smoothest passage through the The Neck of the Heart in at least 12 years?"   "Was that what it was?"   "Acting-Adjen Comma, this is the first cruise of Ambulon where I've not had cause to correct or instruct even half the crew, you beat me to it with most of them. I'm supernumerary here, and I shouldn't need to tell you that it is quite unusual for me to be so."   "I am flattered, Zim."   "Tacks, you can call me Kon."   "What's that name, Kon?"   "Tacks, because you're hard as a brass tack, and you'll be for sure, as much of a pain in the ass as one to someone, someday. You're a true fussbudget, not taking any flak, but not making mistakes of your own either. Anyone who wants to go up will have to worry you'll knock them back down on your own way to the top."   "And you can tell all that in a shift, Kon?"   "I can tell I don't have to teach you about the sea, and precious little to tell you about sailors. I get all the specials here, on Ambulon, the students whose parents hope will be bright stars, and the students who'd rather be left alone, but who show unusual insight. I don't say that little spiel about your flag being on the same mast as Kagome herself often, and not just because it's a rarely deserved comparison."   "Why then?"   "I try not to think of all the flags I've seen going up who didn't deserve it nearly as much as yours."   She blushed, then remembered herself. "Will that be all, Zim?"   "Oh, go get some rest, of course, Ambulon-flag, you're relieved. spear-haft Quinn! To the flag deck!"   "A non-com?"   "You think only officers can lead?"   "No, he can, he's just rough, unpolished, coarse, sometimes."   "Ah, yes, but that gives me something to do! Get some sleep Zim, I've not lost Ambulon yet, and I plan to hand her back to you for your shift."  
At the end of Spear-haft Quinn's shift.
  "Student Quinn, I commend you for your taking mad risks in your repairs to our splintered mast top, but that shouldn't be necessary. Learn to do things the safe way, this Navy needs to keep sailors after they've done heroics, not bury them at sea, am I making myself clear?"   "Aye, Zim, you are."   "Send Mast Dulong to me on your way down."   "Mast Dulong?"   "Zim-Kon-Zim."   "Going all formal on me?"   "I... think I better shape up, no way am I going anywhere good if there's a Maelle Comma to compare me against."   "Oh, you noticed she knows what she's about huh?"   "Aye, Zim, she even helped me with knots, and I thought I knew a bit about them..."   "Your three merits in class, and your extra-curricular badges in knot-making?"   "How did you know about those?"   "One of my cousins was your instructor, he does indeed know knots. However, he does not know sailing like Maelle Comma does."   "What do you mean?"   "Maelle was able to help you because she understood the context of the knot, not the knot itself. Am I making sense?"   "Totally, just knowing a knot is better than another if your rope is getting wet is useful, but if your rope is already rubberized, you look for other things."   "Except, that's not what I brought you here for, Mast. It's time for me to get forty winks, so I'm leaving you in command of Ambulon, you'll be Ambulon-Actual for the duration."   "Thank you Zim, do I leave the flags as-is?"   "You leave the flags as-is, we change them with the sunrise, remember?"   "Doesn't that mean the people with the graveyard shift don't get a chance to shine?"   "If they do a good job, we leave their flag on while someone else is on flag bridge. An old navy tradition."   "Not happening, not while Adjen Comma is on this ship."   "Why not?"   "You're telling me there's something someone can do on a workup cruise that would out-wow her?"   "Hmm, well it WOULD be difficult, but it's not impossible. Besides, My flag doesn't have to stay there either."   "Won't everyone throw a fit? You stepping down for a bunch of students?"   "Let them, this year, we are lucking out, two of the three command students are getting commendations, from me."   "And the third?"   "He's not started his shift yet, and he's got the most difficult job, he's gotta make sure I can sleep."   "I'm sure I can manage a steady boat, Zim."   "Not disappointed? That you don't get to shine?"   "Zim, if I get to shine, but to make you lose sleep, after you spent two shifts watching us...? I'm not that selfish."   "You may just end up higher than Mast in this Navy, Mast Dulong..."  
  "Ambulon-flag-bridge, Ambulon-flag-bridge, please respond."   "This is Ambulon-Actual."   "Ambulon-Actual, Megamisama-Lighthouse, scopes show you're drifting towards the Lai Dang/Tsou demilitarized zone, confirm your position, and confirm positive control, acknowledge."   "Lighthouse, this is Ambulon-Actual, instruments show... Wait, you said confirm positive control, give me a few..." He took his portable communicator, he had a feeling he was going to need it.   "Spearhaft Tammonnier?"   "Zim-Zim."   "I'm hearing a report that we've broken off, is there slack in the wheel?"   "No Zim, there's NO slack, none at all. We're being pulled away, and I can't make us swerve."   "And you didn't think to notify me?"   "Eh..."   "You thought I'd just run off and wake the Telbun, so you'd rather suffer in silence?"   "Kinda..."   "Do you know what that is, Tammonier?"   "Zim?"   "A teaching moment, I'm not the great sailor the Telbun is, I doubt anyone else is. But I still have two arms and two legs, and a voice, and as the acting Flag, I can order someone to go belay those lines before we wind up in another country!"   "Noted, Zim!"   "Haft Konnandoil, are we secure?"   "Aye, just took a little bit of lasso to get it right."   "Tammonier, are you slack?"   "I can keep us steady now, thank you, Zim, for the assist."   "Lighthouse-Nadir, do you copy?"   "This is Lighthouse-night-shift, I copy. Position-check please, Ambulon?"   "Position check, is 100.200 by Jade Bank, I am confirming by a visual check of the stars, do you concur?"   "Concur Ambulon-Actual, we concur you are no longer drifting, and your position is within Kagomine Territorial Waters, in time for this not to be reported as a violation of the treaty, thank you for your prompt response, Ambulon-Actual."   The next morning...   "Was there any event worth reporting this shift?"   "We slipped our moorings for a bit, drifted, Lighthouse called before it became a big issue."   "Lax bridge discipline?"   "Teaching moment."   "Oh, and I thought I was the one who decided what those were?"   "Err, well I hope you'll agree. I mentioned the two hafts involved that they should trust their commanding officer more."   "Oh, why?"   "Not telling me we didn't have positive control could have landed us in Tsou soup..."   "Ah, yes, that seems to happen almost every year, I keep suspecting someone's cutting or loosening the moorings here."   "And yet we work up here every year?"   "Yes, I'm not so old I fear to be wakened up in the night, Acting-Adjen, it was a pleasant surprise that you handled it without me, but you shouldn't have felt bad waking me up if you hadn't caught it in time. Besides, it's the best place to learn how to handle a sailing ship, the Neck has the most wind of any place in Kagomei"   "But I did, Zim."   "How do you know that?"   "Lighthouse confirmed we were twenty kilometres out of the demilitarized zone."   "That's a good catch... Of theirs, I bet."   "Aye Zim."   "What, not going to say you were responsible?"   "They told me there was a problem, and even advised of a fix. I just did what I was told. And told the sailors with me what they could have done better."   "Which was exactly what you had to do, Mast Dulong. That you are taking responsibility for this, as a mistake, even while you had no control over events says good things about you. This is going to my report to Meihomei, tomorrow, as an example of what officers should do, take responsibility and teach sailors."   The next morning. The three masts raised from Ambulon poop deck were all full, at the centre, the Neverraven sorority flag, marked with the Adjen's triangular-pennant-within-a-flag, to the right, the Bullpup Rampant of the Gryffindour, with the decorated spear haft denoting the rank of the same name, and to the left, the Coiled Cobra of the Snuffering, with a tiny flagless mast to indicate the rank of mast.   "Cadets, attention-to-orders!"   "Zim!" They all came to, as was prescribed for Attention to orders.   "This training cruise has been marked by many firsts, I want to highlight the noteworthy efforts of Mast Amidon Dulong and Decorated Haft Quinn, they earned an extra ration of beer on land when this cruise is done, on me! As for your commanding officer, Acting-Adjen Maelle Comma, she won the high privilege of a regular shift at command, and before any of you get any ideas, no one has earned that from me, nor have I seen any earn this on Ambulon, since I've been a CADET! If someone asks you who is a Sailor's Sailor, cadets, what do you answer?"   "The Telbun!!!"   "That was yesterday's answer! Today's answer is Maelle Comma, she keeps it up, I'm activating retirement. At any rate, this ship, including all of you you cadets, and your outstanding officers, have earned the official glowing attention of a letter from Meihomei herself! I will read."  
From: Kagomine Palace of Megamisama By order of Meihomei and spoken in her voice and at her pleasure   To: OR-10 Telbun Tadros Dandelion, Ryder Templum"
Dear distant cousin and Telbun, Most Mei Greetings,

I am most pleasantly surprised that for the first time since I've assigned you as my Telbun of the Forces, you've found a cadet cruise worthy of your praise.

Knowing what you've said about proficient commanders and crews before, I expect no less than this crew is fiercer than any Slashbeast, more knowledgeable than a Nisei Sage and loyal and brave to a level that would make my Valour-keeper, your mei cousin, Marhamat Dandelion take notice.

I will commend those at my Naval Academy for putting together such a strong and proficient crew, and await eagerly their progression to the ranks where they can assist the rest of my Mei Navy.

I commend through you those cadets,

I commend even more highly through you their officer-cadets, whose leadership seem so far to be impressive, as I got your positive evaluation of their first trial a day early, showing unusual initiative, fortitude and dedication to duty.

I know you also helped, but these results show these cadets had lots of inner talent, leaving you lots to work with.

I also know, cousin, that you hate giving praise, so I'm astonished you found it in your heart to give this much, this fast.

Today, Meihomei is proud of her Navy, Proud of her Ambulon, and Proud of all aboard her. If this cruise keeps those high results and effort, I plan to welcome these cadets home myself, as they show qualities my whole Navy must embrace.

Keep up the good work, in the name of Kagomei.
  There was a lot of blinked away tears from the cadets, and even the Telbun had seldom be so moved by a letter from his ruler.  

He woke up from deep sleep, sitting straight from deep sleep to rude awakening. "She can't be serious! She has to have been joking!"


He did not go back to sleep, he didn't attempt sleep for the next two days, but didn't tell any of the cadets why.

"Kon? Walk with me."

Which officer, even a nascent officer, a baby chick of an officer like this cadet, could do that effortlessly, show respect, and yet expect to be obeyed. "Zim-zim."

"Kon, you been riding this crew pretty hard after that letter, something I should know?"


"I asked a question, Kon, you carry the pride of the Armed Forces, but that doesn't mean you can ignore an officer."

"I'd rather not say, Zim, in case I'm wrong."

"I'm making it an order, whatever you fear being wrong about, I feel I better know. I know you don't have to answer, but I want it on the books that I asked."

How did she sound so reasonable? He'd known senior officers commanding divisions who didn't know to ask the question, and yet, nothing that she said was unreasonable, indeed, if she wasn't getting a perfect score already, he'd have to give her points for phrasing it that way. Just because he had the sheer rank to ignore the authority he had lent her, didn't mean that once he had given her that authority, he could treat it lightly. "Zim, I fear that in the letter Meihomei sent, she hid a cryptic message."

"Well, I can't decrypt it, can you?"

"Not an encrypted message, a cryptic message, I think she... implied she may be waiting for us on our return to the Academy."

"Elements most mighty and their fists of destruction! You've been running this crew ragged because you think we're sailing home... to an Imperial Reception?"

"I think so, but I'd rather not say it aloud, in case I'm wrong."

"Your discretion does you credit, Kon, but, let me make this clear, I'll say it just this once..."

He licked his lips. "Aye Zim?"

"I'll probably never meet you again, and I'm probably in command only for the next eight hours or so, but if you ever do that again, I'm calling my father's ghost and sicking him on you for being so cruel! How dare you leave me in the dark, of something so important, with my flag at first mast! Meihomei may just remember you were really in charge here, but I am the flag of record, I am flag bridge!"

Inwardly, Tadros Dandelion, Telbun of the Armed Services of Kagomei groaned.   She, for a period of five minutes, managed to make him feel... about an inch tall.   He was burly, 2m40 tall, and easily 90kilos, most of that muscle, except when he overdid the sweets. He had been an non-commissioned officer longer than this wisp of a girl had been alive.   He had been shot at, thrown off ships and boats, had parachutists falling over him try to drop kick his head, flown planes which had intense anti-aircraft weaponry aimed at them such that only his skill had allowed him, and his principal to survive.   He bore the Merit of Honour, the highest kagomine distinction for valour under fire, and the bore the standard of the dawn, the highest Nisan decoration, he was the second most highly decorated person in both Nisei and Kagomine, since his cousin, Marhamat Dandelion, bore the dawn standard, but had three merits to his two.   He hadn't felt this miserable, this inadequate, ever. The worse part?   She was right, he had let her down. She could land in some trouble, certainly, for sailing into port without knowing, that say, the academy docks were closed to all non-pre-cleared shipping. He should have told her.

"Zim, you... have... my... apologies..."

He couldn't remember the last time he had apologized, well not perfunctorly, but the last time he had apologized, and meant it so much!

"Just what am I supposed to do with you, Kon?"

"Brig me with bread and water Zim."

"That sounds a bit harsh, Kon, and we'll need your experience, in case you're right, and we are sailing right back into the Academy to meet... Isn't she the plank owner of this ship?"

"She is the hereditary plank owner, Zim, how? I've known judges and sollicitors who didn't know!"

"I can read a book, Kon! And Analecta Kagome is hardly a boring topic, even for a young teenaged girl."

"Well, Zim, we are sailing back, if I am correct, to a media circus, with hundreds of journalists, politicians, at least two or three very senior flag officers, and all the academy brass you've heard of, and some you may not."

"Any reason the Tracimei will be there?"

"Claiming credit?"

"What about the possibility Meihomei just wants a distraction to be away from the Palace?"

"I can't evaluate that in a precise way, but... It's not improbable."

The dawn painted the Academy Docks with golds, pinks and purples.

The Academy staff was there, as was... 'Oh Elemental Lords Almighty!' He swore to himself, watching over with an antique spyglass.

Fluttering a parasol over herself and her adopted sister, her baby nephew napping over his mom's breast, was Empress Amalthéa Kagomé herself. Alone but for a handful of her sworn lifeguards, she seemed to be enjoying a respite from all the attention.

"So nice to join me, Mikhala."

"Well, those are the duties of Nameihomei, as well as my baby boy's, as Bameimeito. And these officers, you seemed quite impressed with them."

"Telbun Tadros Dandelion usually will spare one word on a cadet, usually 'adequate', to mean he's graduating at the head of his class, and probably should be deep dipped for OF-02 officer's responsabilities."

"I know, I've read some of his evals, and met the officers, he is ridiculously hard to please."

"Then he sent me four pages of adjectives about this acting Adjen, superlatives, most of them, complimentary, all of them. He did not find anything, anything at all, worthy of improvement in that girl, for she seemed to know her naval duties as if born to them. Her skills at command would befit a Flag Ballista, he says. He slept better on this cruise than he had on any previous cruise he ever took cadets on! She reinforced her fellow cadet's leadership. She offered advice, was supportive, but never babying them! If I kept finding cadet cruises like that, he was going to retire!"

"Hmm, ok, so she's a hot patootie. And you want to meet her?"

"I want to know what she's really like, either she put him under a spell, which she shouldn't be able to, the telbun's flag is a relic of some power, most of it defensive. Or she really is that good, and I might as well get to know her now, since she'll likely end up running a ship or fleet for me, soon enough."

"Side party, debark, and play for our guests!"

The eight musicians's boots beat a tattoo over the flagstones of the dock, bagpipes, horns and flutes skirled while drums kept the beat of the Academy Anthem. The guests stayed upright, as once the Academy Anthem was played, they switched to the Kagomine National Anthem, the version without chords, while the military in the audience saluted the Flag Deck as it came down. Those that didn't just have an anevrism noticing the Telbun, his head looking at his shoes like a two year old stealing candy, was not coming down first from the ship.

"Acting-Adjen Maelle Comma reporting for duty, Tracimei Jeltran Kormick"

"Acting-Spearhaft Harvey Quinn, reporting for duty, Tracimei."

"Acting-Flag Amidon Dulong, reporting for duty, Tracimei Kormick."

"I yield the floor to an important guest, cadets, please, debark the ship, all, and make yourself ready for orders!"

"Aye-aye Zim!"

"Attention cadets!" Calling Meihomei's practiced 'ship voice' a voice was pretty optimistic, as it were, her sister had to shush her baby, who'd been awoken, brutally, by the sharp tone of command. "Attention, to orders! I will read." That was almost a joke, everyone else usually said 'by order of Meihomei', she instead said: "By my order, and because I judge it useful and prudent, I have mentioned in dispatches Academy crew #219, for they have impressed me with their dedication and initiative, as well as their demonstration of mastery over the sea." The cadets saluted again.

"Cousin Telbun?"


"You are to release the cadet class to liberty, for they have earned this, and more, and come with me, Nessun-Honour Valias awaits us."

The students were stunned, they were used to being ignored, but Meihomei stating her purpose meant they were being snubbed for such a senior flag officer, most crews would have been thrilled, just meeting.

Access & Availability
It's all but extinct for anything but pleasure craft, and one, single training ship in the Kagomine Navy, where it's used as an integral part of the Naval Academy system, acting as the capstone for the best students, and usually a springboard for the most remarkable career officers. A cruise on Ambulon is what the best of the best dream of, and the final test for student officers a bit like the Kobayashi Maru for Star Fleet: an unwinnable scenario mean to teach through failure.


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