"What is this?"
"The Great Bush?" His fellow visitor from Tsou answered.
"That's a bush? It's at least three stories tall!"
"It's the bush known as Temple Guardian." It says so in the brochure.
"But, it's almost a kilometer across?"
"Brochure says it's a perfect kilometer square, another sign of the influence of the elements."
"Welcome visitors, perhaps I can be of assistance?" The tour guide spoke flawless Tsou, both were impressed.
"Thank you most kindly, we were discussing..."
"We were debating whether or not Temple Guardian could be a mere bush..."
"As is it known Tcha bushes, or tcha plants, grow ceaselessly as long as they are alive... Temple Guardian was growing on this spot more than twelve hundred arnds ago, when Mountain Home was discovered."
"There are engravings, as of course, such a discovery predates photography... But pictures taken in the last three hundred or so arnds, show it growing faster and faster, until fifty arnds ago, when other plants were planted nearby."
"It stopped growing?"
"Who chose those names?"
"The three children of the Aumhavar who planted chose each the name of the one they planted. No one expected them to survive, but survive and thrive they did. Little Green is of a size with a gazebo by now."
"Can we visit those?"
"You walked past them... Here."
"Oh, they look so tiny, by comparison, but only by comparison."
"Please, move away from the holy bush... Those thorns are not decorative, and could hurt you quite badly. Even pachyderm's skins were shown to be vulnerable in an accident."
"What about armor?"
"I'm told the Kagomine Military will not station anyone closer to the bushes than the current line." She pointed, almost half a kilometer away. "Until they have discovered an armor that is safe for their troops to use."
"Wouldn't a pilder work?"
"A pilder was attempted, but because it must allow a great range of movement, the pilder suit slipped, baring skin, and the trooper was injured,
"Of all the stupid, useless..."
"You have a visitor, honoured meritant!"
"Let them in."
"My heroine, you shouldn't get yourself injured, we only have one of you!"
"Now, explain to me how you got yourself hurt, you invented the darn suits of armour, how did you not think that titanium alloy chain mail would not protect you against thorns?"
"Ow, exactly that, I thought they would protect me, I had however, not seen the foe before."
"Which one did you fall in on?"
"Had to be one of the smaller ones, I was overflying temple guardian, saw the thorns, and backtracked..."
"Going by the report, you were 'fished out' of Peaceblossom, a Tcha Blue Rose Bush of unusually large size. Thorns the size of adult fingers were surgically removed, and you will make a full recovery, for which at least two weeks bed rest is required!"
"Wait, how big?"
"The thorns are on your nightstand." Mariwolfe looked, then looked away, shuddering, she was lucky it has missed her liver and kidneys...
Amalthea continued: "And the doctor said: I'm just glad we didn't discover that your bone was weaker than the thorns, if I'd gone through the spine, you'd be months in traction"
"Months?" But that's just a vegetable!
Protein crowned prickles, we've known for a while they made good weapons, after all,himself had a tchathorn-tipped club for a weapon, and was by all accounts formidable with it."
"What, that was real?"
"I can show you the club, 815 years later, I'm handling it gingerly still..."
"Where did he get the thorns?"
"His wives gathered them off Temple Guardian, via their sorcery, according to eyewitness accounts."
"Off the big bush hisself, huh? How big are they?"
"Big as the ones on your nightstand, but that's after 800 years, I imagine Temple Guardian was bigger..."
"The ones I saw were larger than a large slashbeat's claws. I took pictures too."
"Promise me you'll be more careful, I can't have my best engineer taking crazy risks and landing in the hospital. I know you're not my best medic, but we're so overwhelmed due to the plague, I almost reactivated all the chaplains to serve in medical units."
"Why didn't you?"
"I reassigned every chaplain under quota... Next best thing."
"So, right now, your entire armed services are operating mostly without noncoms?"
My forces are operating with just the fiercest, most fearsome non-coms I got left, it does, however, mean I should reassign at least one..."
"Sixth, it's the only fleet with two above quota! I can't spare two above quota for a single fleet!"
"So I'm being reassigned?"
"What, no... wait... you mean?"
"Amarat owned their transfers, as far as HR is concerned, he is sixth fleet. If you beach him, they follow."
"Why didn't you?"
"You mean besides that I had an actual thistle, while I am an engineering specialist? Oh, the fact that I actually had more tonnage in drydock to nursemaid than the fleet's ever had out at any time prior to its history? No one but me and you know I had three Flycarriers to fix, not one. And in six months, I'll be thistle for seventh fleet, most likely. I can't own TWO fleets, that'd be just ridiculous."
"But if I reassign you, it'll blow the secret."
"Not necessarily. Reassign me to research base. I'm wasted on a ship, at least, when Amarat's around. I swear that boy was invented to make me look bad."
"Now, he isn't that bad..."
"He's that good, that's what gets under my skin... Put him and Flora on a fleet, make sure they don't have a lethally incompetent commander, and wait for the results. Prepare lots of medals."
"What, sohas nothing to do?"
"She's a fine officer, but Amarat and Flora have flight experience, she's a career naval officer. When the flight crews, which are about two thirds of that fleet's complement, I remind you for free, talk to Ria, they don't speak her language, and vice versa. Amarat and Flora have flight books pilots would sacrifice an arm for, and boxes of honour that make a pilot worth his salt go googoo eyed. The merits? That's gravy. Meihomei, I've served with Ria, she is a fine officer, but for the love of the elements, get her her own ship, away from those two."
"I can't give her her own ship, I need to give her her own fleet... Which someone was preparing for me..."
"Oh, you wanted Ria for that?"
"That's's call, but Ria was her second in command at sixth, the only question is who gets promoted up, and who stays, really. I don't have many experienced flycarrier fleet commanders. Ria and Flora are top of that list, now that Maelle runs my entire navy for me. Why are you asking for a lateral transfer? Aren't you expecting a promotion?"
"From Telbun? There are no promotions, there's just more work Meihomei."
"No wonder you landed on medical leave."
"What, no, I.. never!"
"I'm just winding you up, do rest up, Kneecole will need your help soon."
"What,, what's she got to do with this?"
"She's come a long way, and if I have to rank my Non-Coms above quota, she's next, Logistics, Special Ops has seniority, but he's..."
"Retired from Telbun, he's done it all, don't need to remind me how good he is, at everything..."
"I have to remind people he is just one person, actually, plus, he's on medical now anyways, The Plague..."
"Oh, no, can... can I at least send flowers?"
"I'll send Shibue to you, she can help arrange it. I don't even know which hospital he is in, at my request, I don't want anyone to get to him while he's down for the count."
"What about the?"
"She's off for the count too, said she was going to be his orderly for the duration, dammit, I don't have ministers so they can play nursemaid..."
"But he has nursed her, for decades... I get why, if she thinks it's his... last dance, she wants to be there..."
"Exactly why I didn't drag her out of there with charges of insubordination, I'm not a monster. But her timing could use improvement."
"You know, you're the only one, Tadros, the only singular person in all of Kagomei, whose flag honours have to fly in your hospital room?..." She paused, then continued. "That Rising Sun flag? The Nisei consider it an act of war to besmirch it. And the Merits, your two Elements-be-blessed merits? They're flying at flag so you don't get a title 118 on yourself. Who am I fooling? I got a Merit, I got a Rising Sun too, if our places were reversed, you'd be reminding me of that too, I bet. Or maybe you'd be doing something perverted to me under the covers, I never know with you..."
"What's today's passphrase?"
"In the light of dawn's earliest light, shine you crazy diamond."
"Enter, Shibué, you got news?"
"Yes, the doctors say he seems to be improving, even if they still need to keep the medical coma for another week. And from the outside world?"
"I got priority mail, for our patient."
"Meihomei asked me to get him this, seems it's from one Telbun to another."
"Ah, I even forgot, he does keep that ridiculous silver diamond flag somewhere..."
"Besides the Rising Sun, as is proper, it is older, by two hundred arnds, after all..." They both looked at the white cloth, with a sheen of metallic silver in a lozenge, surrounded by a thick, hollow lozenge of platinum metal.
"I guess you can read it to him, unless it's secret to him only?"
"Well, you are cleared into everything..."
"No, I'm not cleared for non-com to non-com business. I'm considered a de-facto officer."
"Hmm, I'll skim it then... Oh, nothing untowards....
To: Tiger-striped Bundle Tadros Dandelion,
From: Mariwolfe Tannenbaum, Medals, from my own hospital bed.Thrice-Meritant of Honour
Honoured Soldier, I send greetings, my heart grieves knowing you've been laid low by the evil plague stalking our people. If even a warrior such as you are not beyond it's grasp, no wonder no serviceperson in Kagomei is safe. My prayers go for your speedy recovery.
"What, Mariwolfe's on medical too?"
"Yeah, the duty roster for over quotas reads: Amarat Veneer Meritant, Kneecole Mckibbins, Ohtei, Rahjani, Slotkins, Dubrassard, Narembourg."
"Just seven of them? Where are they?"
"One per fleet, right now, plus two on base, one in Kima, the other in Byzance Dock."
"Wait, so which fleet for Amarat?"
"Third, administratively attached to the palace, due to lifeguard duties."
"Telbun's second for Sixth Fleet, promoted above quota temporarily... And holding down Megamisama Dockyard since Sixth is in Port."
"What she wasn't above before?"
"No, she didn't have the nod, but she did get half-stripes enough to be considered. Just the paperwork didn't go through, so Meihomei put in an Edict."