Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The breeze from the windows is lethargic, like everything else in the oppressive heat and humidity. Tutor Phenedras shakes his head in resignation and puts down the cane he’s been using to point out the finer points of ‘Machiavellian Strategies as Applied to Urban Populations within Technological Civilisations’. He’s even working from Ducann’s original text, but it’s difficult to convey his enthusiasm while sweltering in his robes. All he has to do now is find an elegant excuse to declare an early recess.
Something hurtles through the highest window. With a clatter of metal-edged wings, a Pickaxe Head Drake slows as it swings twice round the auditorium, finally settling into a hover at the centre of the open space. Phenedras smiles: that lazy flapping of wings isn’t enough to keep it in the air, let alone stationary. It’s got gravitic implants.
The door slams open to admit a helmless woman in plate armour, blond hair wound in tight braids against her head. As the five cadets amongst his class leap to their feet, right fists snapping inward to land over their hearts, he catches the glint of a thin tiara.
“Knight-Mistress Scopa. Welcome.”
He hears sharp intakes of breath and sees amusement glint in the familiar eyes of the woman before him.
“Much as it’s flattering to be mistaken for my daughter…” Her voice trails off.
Phenedras leaps the lectern and drops to one knee, his right hand pressed flat over his heart.
“My apologies, Eternal Princess. It’s been a while since I’ve been in your presence.”
“You salute like a shipman.”
He looks up and grins: “Funnily enough, that was also the last thing you said to me.”
Rian Rho Scopa crouches to stare into his eyes.
“Captain Phen Dras. So this is where you disappeared to after telling my father to shove his Command Ship up his arse.”
“Whilst it became obvious I wasn’t alone in that sentiment, it seemed wise to remain out of sight.”
“For nine years?”
“I stayed away until my Shierre passed, but with seven years agone, it seemed pointless to attempt a return.”
“I heard she’d died. My condolences.” She looks up: “Just a moment.”
Standing up, she points at the drake.
“Naddamu! Get back to the roost or you’ll be sparring with the Firemouth.”
With a screech, the drake rushes out the window it came through.
She looks at the display screens.
“Ducann? On a day as hot as this? That’s just mean.”
There’s muted laughter.
“I was about to admit my folly when your companion flew in.”
“Phen, you’ve never admitted failure in your life. Don’t start, and do get up. Now, I presume Dean Tironsh will object without better cause than it being too damn hot?”
“Then tell him I said it’s mandated by evolution.”
Phenedras waves toward the class: “I’m not seeing it. Do elucidate us, Eternal Princess.”
She raises an eyebrow and smiles: “Don’t think I’m letting that cheeky tone pass. A deferment is all you get.”
He grins.
She continues.
“We are stood here today amidst the greatest civilisation humanity has ever had. After countless cycles of boom-to-bust because of ignorance and greed, we evolved. Onyx, Green, and Gold: the darkness from whence we came, the fertility of our present, and the promise of our future. Seventeen worlds, nine systems, four races. With education for all and greed an outlaw creed, only a lack of adaptability can stop us. Such as stubbornly trying to teach Ducann when it’s over forty degrees outside.”
Phenedras laughs and raises his hands in surrender: “I’m presuming no counter-arguments. Class dismissed.”