How Ocean Merlani Stole their Navigator | Part 1: The People We Call Home | Prologue
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
Two Florivans stand in a small office in the Nav/Quan wing of the Sol Central Academy’s Houston Primary Campus.
It’s a cozy sort of office, with warm tones throughout the decorations complementing the standard wood-paneled interior. The two-seat couch on the far wall is upholstered in grey, but draped with no fewer than five bright-colored blankets on one side to match the two geometric-pattern-embroidered pillows nestled on the other. A simple wood and steel desk takes up the center of the room, its surface neatly arranged with framed photographs around the outer edge. The computer interface built into the center of desk’s surface is currently disengaged, as is its usual set of large holoscreen projections. Behind the desk, a sheer ivory curtain obscures the scene of the campus green space and other buildings which could otherwise be seen out the large windows.
The younger of the two Florivans stands at attention in front of the desk beside the matching high-backed wooden guest chair. They’re wearing the pale grey uniform of an Academy cadet and have all four of their hands clasped together behind their back. Two narrow departmental stripes run around the cuff of each of their four jacket sleeves: one in rusty orange and the other in bright blue. The upper half of their chin-length silver hair is pulled back with two narrow braids into a grey barrette at the top of their head, just behind their catlike ears. The cadet’s skin is a deep greenish-blue tone underneath the signature silver stripes of the species. The fluffy silver tuft at the end of their long prehensile tail twitches erratically, betraying a nervousness which the cadet is otherwise doing their best to conceal.
The older Florivan is roughly the same height as the cadet, although both of them are nearly a head shorter than average for their species. Their skin is a brighter true-blue color than the cadet’s, while their long silver hair is arranged into an ornate braid which coils all the way around their head. They’re dressed in a charcoal-grey Academy Instructor’s uniform, complete with ivory collar and a Commander’s insignia pin on their lapel. A second pin marks them as a reserve officer of the Sol Coalition Defense Fleet.
The cadet has been standing in the Commander’s office for at least ten minutes now, waiting to either be disciplined for something they don’t remember doing or be told whatever it is that made the Commander call them in after training hours in the first place.
At the moment, the Commander is over by their office door, occupied with a hushed conversation with their human counterpart. Said counterpart is leaning on the door frame: a tall, bald human man of the paler variety with a salt-and-sand beard, also dressed in an Academy Instructor’s uniform. An additional silver insignia pin over his breast pocket of a winged star marks him as a fully qualified pilot. Whatever it is the two of them are talking about, their voices are both pitched softly enough that even the cadet’s keen ears can only make out a few words here and there. If the posture of the Florivan instructor’s ears and long silver-tufted prehensile tail are any indication, it’s nothing too terribly serious.
After a few more minutes, the human instructor half-chuckles at something the older Florivan has said. He gives his counterpart an affectionate pat on the head, nods to the cadet, and leaves.
The Commander turns back from the doorway and strides gracefully over towards the desk. “Thank you for your patience, dear.” They smile at the cadet. “I didn’t expect we’d be interrupted like that—usually Sarge can handle the antics of his Nav cadets without my advice.”
“Of course, Commander Cerulean.” One of the cadet’s ears twitches curiously. “May I ask why you wanted to see me?”
The Commander sets a hand lightly on the cadet’s shoulder for a moment as they pass by in a gentle, affectionate way. “I’m just a bit concerned for you, dear, that’s all—and since we just finished compiling next year’s roster, I thought it might be good for the two of us to talk about a few things.”
“Commander,” the cadet says, hesitantly and still with a somewhat forced formality to their tone, “I assure you, I’m fine. I just… didn’t click with anyone this time around. I’m hardly the first jumper to go into their second year without a counterpart.”
“True. Your cousin Mereday took almost six years before we finally found a human who suited them…” There’s a flicker of sadness that crosses the Commander’s trio of golden eyes for a moment or two. They pause at the corner of the desk to blink it away and then look back to the cadet. “That isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about, though. I know you’ll find a Navigator for yourself eventually. Most of us do, sooner or later.”
“Then why am I here, Commander?” The cadet seems genuinely confused.
The Commander remains silent for a moment as they sit down behind the desk, leaning on their lower set of elbows with their hands folded together. They fix their three golden eyes on the cadet with a pointed expression and gesture vaguely with one of their upper hands. “I had a chance to look over your class schedule for next term.”
“Oh.” The cadet’s ears droop slightly.
“I know you’re enthusiastic about your secondary course, dear,” says the Commander, gesturing abstractly with one of their upper hands, “and I’ve spoken to a number of your instructors about the potential workload conflicts, considering that you’re attempting to complete the full Advanced Geosciences and Exoplanetary Mineralogy tracks instead of choosing one or the other like most of the other undergraduate students do—but I was hardly expecting to have to do the same with Colonel Albright of all people.”
The cadet hesitates. “I did talk with her about the scheduling before I turned in my registration forms—”
“—I’m sure you did.” The Commander shakes their head. “It’s just… Well. Highly unusual, you realize?”
The cadet’s tail swishes disappointedly. “You don’t want me in her classes at all, then, Commander?”
“I’m not sure I understand why you want to be in them in the first place, to be frank.” The Commander lets out a concernedly exasperated sigh. “Or, for that matter, why you seem to think that it’s physically possible for you to keep up a course overload in three different departments at the same time. Two is pushing it to begin with.”
“I’m only taking four physical skill units across in Sec/Tac, Commander,” the cadet protests. “That’s hardly an overload—”
“—It is when one of those units represents participation in an intra-system ranked competition team.” The Commander pauses and gestures for the cadet to sit down in the chair they’ve been standing beside all this time.
The cadet complies, although with an awkward hesitation.
“I was aware of your extracurricular pursuits when we signed you, dear.” The Commander folds their hands back together. “Unusual, for sure, but considering your background I suppose it wasn’t too surprising. I have a quirk or two of my own from being raised by humans—but we both know who and what we are, when it comes down to it.”
“…Yes, Commander.” The cadet’s ears slip into a less confident position. They have all four hands folded together in their lap now, holding their sets of four long fingers tightly interlaced as if forcing themself not to fidget.
“Not that I was planning on stopping you from pursuing them in your free time, of course…” The Commander tilts their head curiously. “But I’ll admit I didn’t realize you intended to actually compete with the humans.”
“I’m…” The cadet hesitates. “I’m not in it for the competing, really.”
“Then what is it?”
The cadet looks away now from the Commander’s eyes, all three of their own turning down to stare at their hands instead. “…I don’t know how to explain.”
“Try, if you would, please.”
The cadet forces back a sigh while trying to find the right words. “The Colonel’s been letting me sit in on her recreational classes all year. When she asked if I’d like to sign up for the full-credit ones and join her team next term, I… I couldn’t turn down the invitation, Commander Cerulean. I just… couldn’t. That’s all it is.”
“Hmm. I see.” The Commander is silent for a few moments, the same way they are when one of the Nav cadets has done something wrong and they’re waiting for their counterpart to point it out first.
“I…” The cadet sighs again, their ears drooping further even as their third eye glances back up at the older Florivan. “It means a lot to me, that she thinks I’m skilled enough to ask.”
After another long silence, the Commander nods slightly. “Well, I’m not going to try to stop you if you’re set on it, dear. Colonel Albright is one of my oldest friends, and I trust her judgment… but if this starts impacting your performance in the Strange or your other studies, I will have to intervene. Do you understand that?”
The Commander looks at the cadet for another long moment and then shakes their head with a small sigh and makes a shooing motion towards the door. “That’s all I wanted to say, dear, I know you have places to be.”
The cadet stands and turns to go, and has just waved the door open when the Commander speaks again. “And Merlani?”
The cadet turns back to look at the Commander. Their ears perk back up at the use of their private name and the unspoken signal that they’re now talking as family members rather than instructor and student.
“You know I’m here if you need to talk, don’t you? You don’t have to face everything alone.”
“I know, Entile Wyndi. But I’m fine. Really. You don’t have to worry about me.” The cadet dips their head with a reassuring smile before they leave the office.
The Commander lets out a long sigh now as their eyes fall on two of the many framed pictures arranged on the corner of their desk. In the first, a young Florivan who shares their bright, clear blue coloring stands beside a young pinkish-pale human woman with curly red hair who’s posing in her Academy-Medical graduation outfit. In the second, a young human man of the mildly tan variety with mousy-brown martian curls sits on a garden bench beside the same young Florivan. A little girl who matches the human and seems to have borrowed his uniform jacket is perched on the young Florivan’s lap, smiling shyly at the camera.
“It’s in my nature, though, kitten,” the Commander says, even though the cadet is no longer there to hear them. They absently run their fingers over the beads woven into the knotted-thread bracelet they wear hidden under the cuff of their lower-left sleeve. “I never stop worrying about any of you…”