New York Times Best-Selling Author, Nominated for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Series, Winner of the 2016 Locus Award, Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.
Shuos Jedao is awake...
...and nothing is as he remembers. He's a teenager, a cadet-a nobody-in the body of an old man; a general in command of an elite force. And he's the most feared, and reviled, man in the galaxy. Jedao carries orders from Hexarch Nirai Kujen to re-conquer the fractured pieces of the hexarchate.
But he has no memory of ever being a soldier, let alone a general, and the Kel soldiers under his command hate him for a massacre he can't remember committing. Kujen's friendliness can't hide the fact that he's a tyrant.
And what's worse, Jedao and Kujen are being hunted – by an enemy who knows more about Jedao than he does himself...
I once described Yoon Ha Lee as having the heart of a mathematician and the precision of a poet. This stand-out space opera trilogy is a testament to that, a magnificent epic you just have to read! – Lavie Tidhar
"For sixteen years Yoon Ha Lee has been the shadow general of science fiction, the calculating tactician behind victory after victory. Now he launches his great manoeuvre. Origami elegant, fox-sly, defiantly and ferociously new, this book will burn your brain. Axiomatically brilliant. Heretically good."– Seth Dickinson
"A high-octane ride through an endlessly inventive world, where calendars are weapons of war and dead soldiers can assist the living. Bold, fearlessly innovative and just a bit brutal, this is a book that deserves to be on every awards list."– Aliette de Bodard
"A dizzying composite of military space opera and sheer poetry. Every word, name and concept in Lee's unique world is imbued with a sense of wonder."– Hannu Rajaniemi
Jedao woke up in a luxuriously appointed suite, all ink painting scrolls and curious asymmetrical chairs and translucent tables. The last thing he remembered was being sprawled on a bed in a much smaller room wrestling his friend Ruo for a game controller. This had better not be a hotel, he thought, wondering if Ruo had persuaded him to do something regrettable again. He couldn't afford anything like this.
Not trusting the situation, he ducked down behind the chair he'd found himself in, and listened. No sound. After a while, he peered around, careful to stay silent. There was a closed door, and across from it, an open entrance to another room. No windows or viewports, unless they were concealed.
Ruo, he thought, if this is another one of your pranks—
A hint of breeze passed through the suite, and he shivered. He thought to look down. They'd done something to his clothes. He was wearing a thin, off-white tunic and undershorts. Maybe someone from Shuos Academy was hazing him?
No one had shot at him yet, so he risked standing up. Paradoxically, that made him warier. He knew what to do about bullets and fire and smoke.
That bothered Jedao the more he thought about it. The most immediate memory told him that he'd last been a first-year in academy, but he was sure that even the Shuos didn't put first-years into live-fire exercises. How did he know this stuff, anyway?
Jedao searched the first room, then grew bolder and tried the rest of the suite. There were six rooms, not seven, which made him frown. Surely the heptarchate still insisted on sevens for everything? Lots of objets d'art, too; no people to question. And no sign of Ruo.
A dresser occupied one wall of the bedroom, as luxurious as the rest of the furniture. Only the top drawer contained anything. Unfortunately, the anything was a Kel uniform. At least, Jedao presumed it was a Kel uniform, black with gold braid, the correct colors. He searched for pins or medals, turned the pockets inside out, anything to tell him more about the uniform's owner. No luck, although the double bands on the cuffs indicated that it belonged to a high officer. The style looked odd, too. The left panel of the coat wrapped around, and instead of buttons it had toggles, with hook-and-eye fasteners to keep the whole affair closed.
Next to the uniform, tucked in a corner, rested a pair of silken black half-gloves. That suggested the uniform belonged to someone seconded to the Kel, rather than an actual Kel soldier.
"All right," Jedao said, trying to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach, "this isn't funny anymore. You can come out now, Ruo."
Jedao considered the possibility that someone had forgotten their uniform by accident. He picked up the shirt and unfolded it again. Then the pants. They looked like they would fit him rather well—wait a second. He narrowed his eyes at his arms, then his legs, then considered his torso. When had he put on all this muscle? Not that he was complaining, exactly, but the last he'd checked he'd been rather slimmer.
He was starting to think that Ruo didn't have anything to do with this after all. At least, he couldn't think of any reason Ruo would pass up an overnight muscle-enhancing treatment. In that case, what the fuck was going on?
Even if the uniform would fit him, Jedao knew better than to put it on. Too bad he didn't have other clothes. But being shot for impersonating an officer didn't sound fun.
The door opened. Ruo? Jedao thought; but no.
A man came in, pale and tall and extraordinarily beautiful. His amber-flecked eyes with their smoky lashes were emphasized by silver-dark eyeshadow. While the man wore Nirai black-and-silver, Jedao had never imagined one in clothes with such decadent ruffles, to say nothing of the lace that drowned his wrists.
Jedao's new theory involved Nirai experimentation that he didn't recall agreeing to. Of course, in the heptarchate they didn't need to ask your permission. He backed up two steps.
The Nirai's gaze swept right to Jedao's hands, which were in plain sight and not doing anything threatening. The Nirai's eyebrows shot up. "I hate to break it to you," he said, ignoring Jedao's hostile body language, "but you're going to start panics going around with naked hands." He had a low, cultured voice, as beautiful as the rest of him. "I advise you to put on the gloves, although those will start panics, too. Still, it's the better of two bad alternatives. And you ought to get dressed."
Was the man a guest instructor? And if so, why wasn't he wearing insignia to indicate it? "Excuse me," Jedao said. "I'd rather not go around in Kel drag. If there are civilian clothes somewhere, I'll put those on instead. Who are you, anyway?"
"My name's Nirai Kujen," the man said. He strode forward until he'd backed Jedao into a corner. "Tell me your name."
That seemed harmless enough. "Garach Jedao Shkan."
Kujen frowned. "Interesting... that far back, hmm? Well, it's close enough for my purposes. Do you know why you're here?"
"Look," Jedao said, starting to be more irritated than frightened, "who are you and what is your authority anyway?" Granted that he was only a Shuos cadet, but even a cadet should be afforded some small protection from interference by random members of other factions.
Kujen laughed softly. "Look at my shadow and tell me what you see."
Jedao had taken it for an ordinary shadow. As he examined it more closely, though, he saw that it was made of the shapes of fluttering captive moths. The longer he stared at it, the more he saw the darkness giving way to a vast crevasse of gears and cams and silver chrysalises from which more moths flew free. He raised his head and waited for an answer to the question he couldn't figure out how to formulate.
"Yes," Kujen said. "I'm the Nirai hexarch."
Jedao revised his speech mode to the most formal one. "Hexarch? Not heptarch?" The name didn't sound familiar. He scrabbled in his memory for the names of any of the heptarchs and could only remember Khiaz, who led the Shuos. What kind of experiments had they been running on him anyway to mess up his knowledge of basics?
"It's complicated. Anyway, you're here to lead an army."
That made even less sense. The Nirai faction dealt in technology, including weapons, but they weren't soldiers; that was the realm of the Kel. Besides which—"I'm not a soldier," Jedao said. Not yet, anyway. Besides which, didn't you have to serve for years and years to get from grunt to general?
Except he had a soldier's body, and he'd listened for gunfire first thing.
Kujen's mouth quirked at whatever he saw on Jedao's face. "A real army," Kujen said, "not a simulated one. Potentially against the hexarchate's best generals."
Jedao was going to have to start asking questions and hope that some of the answers started making sense. "'Hexarchate'?" he asked. "Which faction blew up?"
"The Liozh, if you must know. The situation grew complicated very rapidly. The two major successor states are the Protectorate, which styles itself the heir to the old hexarchate, and the Compact, which was founded by radicals. Plus any number of independent systems trying to avoid getting swallowed by them or by foreign powers. I'll show you the map, if you like. You're to conquer the pieces so we can put the realm back together."
Jedao stared Kujen down, difficult because of the height difference, to say nothing of the distractingly pretty eyes. He was already certain that Kujen had to be leaving out great swathes of detail. "How in the name of fox and hound did all of that happen?"
"You don't remember?" A hint of dismay touched Kujen's voice.
"Clearly not," Jedao said, and felt the cold plunge of fear.
"I am in urgent need of a general," Kujen said. "You're available."
Uh-oh. "Do you want to lose, Nirai-zho?" Jedao said. "I'm not a general." So why had he gone for cover in this decidedly unthreatening setting? Admittedly, he imagined most generals spent time on their asses far from the front lines. "Playing games doesn't prepare you to wage war."
This must be a test for rabid megalomania.
"Well, get dressed anyway, and I'll show you what you're up against," Kujen said. "And use my name. No one uses that honorific anymore."
Jedao stared at him in desperation, wondering what to do. It was taboo to wear another faction's colors. Spies did it in the line of duty, but that didn't make it a good idea for him. On the other hand, defying a heptarch—hexarch—also struck him as a lousy idea.
"You earned the right to wear that uniform," Kujen said. "Do it."
Time to counterattack. "What's a Nirai doing messing around with military affairs anyway?" Jedao demanded. Maybe that would distract Kujen from the uniform.
"I'm the last legitimate hexarch standing," Kujen said. "The Protectorate is under the influence of an upstart Kel. The Compact, despite their pretensions of democracy, is under the sway of another upstart Kel. As I said, it's complicated. And I'm sorry to inform you that the Shuos hexarch turned traitor and joined the Compact."
As he spoke, Kujen retrieved the uniform and held it out to Jedao. "Come on," he said coaxingly. "Unless you really mean to go around half-naked."
Reluctantly, Jedao took the clothes and pulled them on. Then he stared at Kujen some more.
"I have some battle transcripts so you'll have an idea of what to expect."
"Are you sure you can't scare up a competent general?" Jedao said. "Or a mercenary commander?" Mercenaries had been illegal in the heptarchate, but maybe the regulations had changed. Or Kujen, being a hexarch, could bend the rules. Companies sometimes operated around the borders. "I don't—" He looked helplessly down at his hands. "Whatever you think I am, I can't do this. My memories seem to be muddled. If you really, truly need a general, you ought to get one who knows what they're doing."
Kujen smiled crookedly. "I have strong reason to believe that you're the only one who can help me."
That was all very well in the dramas, but a bad sign when people talked to you like that in real life. Jedao had a brief, disorienting memory of sitting in a room watching one with—an oval-faced Kel woman and several robots? Except he didn't seem to have a body, and he could see in all directions at once, which made no sense because he was pretty sure he only came with the standard-issue two eyes in front. Just as quickly as it had come, the memory dissipated.
Still, he might as well glean what information he could. "All right, Nir—Kujen, show me."
Kujen drew him into a sitting room and snagged a slate off one of the tables. Then he played back a sequence of battles in three dimensions, which took some time. The first were land battles on a variety of maps, including an ambitious amphibious assault. The later ones occurred in space, some involving large swarms. One side was represented by blue, the other by red. It became obvious that Red was the same commander each time, and was the adversary Kujen should worry about: aggressive, devious, and good at dragging the opponent about by the heels.
"Well?" Kujen said.
"We're fighting Red, right?"
Why did Kujen's mouth twist like that? "Yes," he said, without elaborating.
"We're fucked," Jedao said. "I don't know if you can tell, but you have to have noticed that in that last battle, Red gouged Blue into pieces while outnumbered eight to one. I have a better idea. This enemy you're so worried about? Invest in some good assassins." There he went, sounding like a stereotypical Shuos, but it was good advice, dammit. "Unless you're going to tell me that everyone in Red's chain of succession is also that good."
"No, that's unlikely."
"So what's wrong with assassins? Is this one of those situations where that would touch off a general war we're too broke to fight?"
Kujen shook his head. "We need to take and hold territory. Besides, I know you're up to fighting Red because you're also Red. That eight-to-one thing was the Battle of Candle Arc, by the way. Very famous. The Kel put it in all their textbooks."
Jedao's marrow froze. The fuck? How could he possibly be Red, let alone "also Red," whatever that meant? Or, for that matter, old enough to have carried out a feat that had gotten into textbooks? Were the Kel in the habit of handing their swarms over to teenagers?
"All right," Jedao said, "you win. I don't have any useful arguments against the insane. If this is a training exercise, you can fail me on it." Which was going to suck, because he'd been having difficulty with his math classes. "I will have to work hard for the rest of the term to make up for it, but I'm not afraid of hard work."
Kujen looked fascinated. "I need to clear something up for you. You really think you're a cadet?"
Jedao was silent.
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen," Jedao said reluctantly, even though he was starting to wonder.
"Take off your shirt."
Jedao hesitated, then fumbled with the closures.
Kujen rolled his eyes. "I won't look if it makes you feel better, although it's not as if it's anything I haven't seen before." He sauntered to the other side of the room, then pointedly turned his back.
Jedao resisted the urge to glare at Kujen's shoulder blades. Kujen sighed theatrically. Jedao took off the shirt and folded it over his arm, then stood there uncertainly.
"Shirt too," Kujen said.
Jedao bit back a retort and settled the tunic over the back of a chair. After he'd yanked the shirt over his head, he froze. He'd thought the older physique was bad enough. Beyond that, his torso was riddled with scars. Most of them looked dreadful. Hell, one of his nipples had been completely obliterated. He had no idea where the scars had come from. He prodded one. It didn't hurt. He almost wished it did.
"Even the Shuos don't do that to their cadets," Kujen said. "Grenade took off half your face once, back when you were a tactical group commander. The surgeons did an excellent reconstruction. You can't even tell unless you do a deep scan at the bone level. Anyway, do you believe me now when I tell you you're a soldier?"
Jedao put his clothes back on. "How many years?" Get the facts. Panic later.
Shit. "I had a friend..." Jedao said, then trailed off because he wasn't sure where he was going with the thought. Why would the hexarch keep track of another random Shuos cadet, after all? Ruo probably had gone off to make a name for himself as a celebrated assassin. And at this point Ruo would be twenty-seven years older.
Interesting. He used to write down all his arithmetic, and he'd just done that in his head. But Kujen had resumed talking, so he filed away the discrepancy to puzzle over later.
"Your abilities ought to be intact," Kujen went on, "but we're going to have to catch you up on the holes in your declarative memory."
"Yes, about that," Jedao said. "Is there a cure? Because it's very disturbing."
"Your opponent made off with most of your memories," Kujen said. "That's why she's potentially your worst matchup, and why we have to be careful. I retrieved the rest, but owing to circumstances there was some degradation. I'm sorry."
"Are you telling me I was attacked by a memory vampire?" Jedao said incredulously.
Kujen snorted. "You have a way with words sometimes... Exotic technology, and an experimental procedure besides. We could try to duplicate the circumstances if we capture her, but odds are it would drive you crazy."
"Why didn't it drive this memory vampire crazy?"
"Who says it didn't?" Kujen sighed. "I don't suppose you remember any of those Andan jokes?"
The bizarreness of this question made Jedao's mind go blank. He couldn't think of any jokes whatsoever, and besides, the entire situation struck him as decidedly unfunny.
"You used to have the most extraordinary collection of filthy Andan jokes," Kujen said wistfully.
"You could tell them to me and I could tell them back to you."
"No," Kujen said, "it wouldn't be the same."
That didn't make Jedao feel better, so he moved on to the next question. "Why the Kel?"
"You had an excellent career seconded to the Kel," Kujen said. "They promoted the hell out of you."
"Why can't you hire someone who doesn't have defective memories?"
"You've never lost a battle," Kujen said. "Plus, outnumbered eight to one. Crushing victory. Even I could tell." His voice was lightly teasing.
Jedao closed his eyes. Thanks for the pressure. "There's no guarantee I could do that again." More like no way ever.
"You could see how it was done in the playback, couldn't you?"
Did Kujen have no idea? "That's on a tidy spiderfucking three-dimensional diagram where you can see all the units arrayed neatly and everything has labels and there are helpful colored arrows for the vectors. As opposed to being there when somebody's warmoth has an inconvenient drive failure while it's sitting in a key pivot because the mechanics at the last layover half-assed the repairs, and you can't read half the hostile formants on scan because the enemy has a fancy new jammer, and one of your brilliant hothead commanders decides the best thing she can do with her tactical group is creatively misinterpret her orders and—"
Jedao shut up. He had no idea where the rant had come from, just like the scars. He couldn't tell if any of those things had happened or if he was being hypothetical. It was like listening to a stranger who had his voice and who talked exactly like he did. And who knew a lot more about warfare.
Who the hell am I? Am I a clone? He had the impression you couldn't give clones even dubious memories of battles, but then, he already had amnesia. How was he supposed to tell?
Kujen caught his arm and steered him to a chair. "Sit," he said, and tugged gently.
Jedao sank into the chair. Any more of this and his knees would dissolve.
"I'm not a military practitioner," Kujen said. "But I have experience dealing with the military, and the Kel think highly of your ability. In this matter I defer to their judgment."
"Am I some kind of expendable copy?"
"You're not expendable," Kujen said unhelpfully.
He hadn't denied it. "Fine," Jedao said. "What resources do we have?" With any luck this question would generate a concrete answer and not alarming creations like memory vampires. He would have to investigate the matter of clones on his own time, since Kujen was being closemouthed.
"The good news is that you will be pleasantly surprised by the capabilities of your warmoths," Kujen said.
Jedao imagined so, because all he knew about warmoth statistics came from video games. It didn't seem politic to mention that, however.
"Also good is that we have a supply of loyal Kel for those moths. The bad news is numbers. No matter what we do, we're massively outnumbered by any one of our enemies."
"We're talking about how many moths and crew on our side?"
"We have 108 bannermoths," Kujen said, "with crew of approximately 450 each. You also have two infantry regiments that you can distribute among the bannermoths and the accompanying boxmoth transports as you see fit. I would have obtained more moth Kel for you if that had been an option."
"You can't recruit more?"
Kujen made a moue. "A number of Kel are confused about who to follow. While I have the loyalty of a small number of bases—"
"You'd better show me that map," Jedao said, "so I can visualize the situation." Pretend it's a video game, he thought, despite his unease at treating something as serious as war as a game.
Kujen called up a three-dimensional map, neatly labeled. The Protectorate appeared in gold. While some of its boundaries looked more extensive than the heptarchate Jedao remembered, chunks of it had been bitten off. The second-largest polity, as Kujen had mentioned, was called the Compact. The map showed it in red.
"Red for Shuos?" Jedao said. Kujen had said the Shuos hexarch had thrown in with the Compact.
"Yes," Kujen said.
"Is Khiaz-zho still head of the Shuos?"
Kujen's eyes widened. Then he started to laugh.
Jedao didn't see what was so funny. "Well?"
"She's been gone for quite some time," Kujen said. "It's Shuos Mikodez now. You don't remember much of Khiaz, do you?"
"No," Jedao said. Just her name. "Why?"
"Why indeed," Kujen said. He zoomed in on the border space between the Protectorate and the Compact. "What do you think?"
A number of smaller states had sprouted up there. Jedao imagined that none of them enjoyed the situation. "Why haven't they been gobbled up?"
"Another good question," Kujen said. "The answer is that, after the assassination that took out the hexarchs other than myself and Mikodez, calendrical destabilization was so strong that the borders remain precarious even now. There are large regions of space where the old exotic technologies no longer work. They're most reliable in the Protectorate, but the Protectorate is overextended. It's exactly the kind of situation that attracts opportunist potentates and despots and governmental experimentalists of every kind."
"How did you escape the assassinations?"
Kujen shrugged. "Mikodez and I were more paranoid than the others."
Jedao sensed he wouldn't get more of an answer and returned to the map. "You said earlier that the Kel were divided."
"Yes. Protector-General Inesser seized power and is running the Protectorate. The other factions caved on the grounds that she was the one with the guns. In the Compact, there's a nascent democratic state backed by High General Kel Brezan. The Kel are having fits trying to figure out the mess."
"'Democratic'?" Jedao said. "What's that?"
"They vote on everything from their leaders to their laws," Kujen said.
Jedao mulled that over. "It sounds dreadfully impractical," he said, "but all right. What about your Kel? Who do they support?"
"I can guarantee their loyalty."
"Oh?" Jedao said neutrally.
"There were some morale issues earlier," Kujen said with a suspicious lack of specificity. "You'll see when you meet them."
"What kind of—"
"I want to see how you handle it."
A test. Jedao didn't like that either, but he'd manage. "What about the name of this memory vampire who has it in for me?"
Kujen relented. "Her name is Kel Cheris."
The name didn't spark any recognition in him. "Is she anyone I should know?"
"You, no," Kujen said with a trace of annoyance. "As far as you're concerned, she's only a low officer with a talent for math. I'm the one who should have predicted that she'd grow up to be a radical crashhawk."
Crashhawk? Jedao wondered. He would have asked, except Kujen was still speaking.
"We won't confront her straight off," Kujen said. "You're at a disadvantage right now. Later, with better resources, perhaps. But not yet."
"I don't want to go after her," Jedao said. Avoiding her sounded like good sense. If she was more him than he was, and unstable on top of it, she might be able to repeat the eight-to-one trick. He was betting that, as impressive as 108 bannermoths sounded, he didn't outnumber her eight to one. What would that leave her with, 13.5 moths? "I want to know where she is so I can run like hell if I see her coming."
"My agents are doing their best," Kujen said. "Unfortunately, she hasn't been sighted in the last nine years."
Great, she was lurking out there in stealth mode, so he wouldn't see her coming, either.
"Let me cheer you up," Kujen said, rather callously. "I'll show you your command moth." He picked up the slate and tapped at it. Jedao was impressed that the lace at his wrists didn't get in the way.
"It's triplets?" Jedao said, peering at the images of three moths that now hovered in front of him, a large one flanked by two smaller ones. All three moths had the characteristic triangular profile of Kel warmoths. The largest featured a spinally mounted gun along with the expected arrays of turrets and missile ports.
"No, the smaller two are for scale reference," Kujen said. "The one to your left is a fangmoth. You used to be fond of those. The one to your right is a—"
"—bannermoth," Jedao said, then stopped.
Kujen arched an eyebrow at him. "See, you haven't forgotten everything." His hands moved again. He had beautiful hands, with fingers tapering gracefully.
A fourth moth appeared above the central moth. It was broader and longer, and also had a spinal main gun.
"Cindermoth," Kujen said. "There used to be six of them. Now only four remain, and they're under Protector-General Inesser's control. No one currently has a mothyard capable of building new ones, which buys us a little time. Anyway, that central one is a shearmoth, and it's yours. I made an assistant name it, which was a mistake, but I hate naming things. Don't look at me like that, I just design them."
Kujen zeroed in on the spinal gun. "That's the shear cannon," he said. "It only functions in high calendar terrain, which is its main disadvantage, especially since you're going to be fighting radicals and rebels and heretics."
"So why bother with it at all?" Jedao said.
"It generates a pulse that warps spacetime," Kujen said patiently. "Creating the pulse is an exotic effect. Once that's done, however, it will continue to travel into any sort of terrain until it dissipates. I got the idea because of the way the mothdrive works, by grabbing onto spacetime and pulling itself along. Breeding the modification into the moth lineage took some time. But I think you'll find it worthwhile."
Jedao figured it out. "So you can fire it from our side of the border into theirs."
"I hope there are still conventional weapons," Jedao said, giving Kujen a hard look. "Because if it's a gravitational wave, it might yank formations out of place, but it's just going to pass through the moths themselves. I can't destroy them directly with it."
Great, he thought. He'd just said "I," as if he were going along with this.
Kujen made a pacifying gesture. "I wouldn't stint on that. And it's not entirely useless on that front—try it on a planet with oceans or atmosphere sometime, and you'll get some interesting turbulence. Check the other statistics—"
The readout appeared in front of the images. Jedao went through all the listed weapons as well as the numbers of missiles and mines, plus the amount of space it had for necessaries like foam sealant and pickles. Apparently the Kel love of spiced cabbage pickles hadn't changed. He gestured at the slate. Kujen handed it over so he could run his own queries. It took Jedao a few moments to work out the interface, but after a while he was able to call up some explanatory diagrams.
At first the numbers didn't mean much. With some thought, however, he could see the shearmoth's capabilities in his head; he could visualize the maneuvers it was capable of, how it would dance at his command. "How many of these do you have?" he asked, although he had already guessed the answer.
"Just the one," Kujen said with what Jedao interpreted as real regret. "You don't know what I had to do to source the materials needed to grow the mothdrive components. You'll have to keep in mind that the shearmoth's mothdrive and maneuver drives have better power to mass ratios than your bannermoths do, even if it's larger. Don't outrun them."
Obligingly, Jedao looked up the profiles for both drives and was impressed by the differences. He ran some computations to compare the power draw over a spread of different accelerations. After a while he became aware of Kujen's narrowed eyes. "Did I get something wrong?" he asked.
"No," Kujen said after a subtle pause. "You homed right in on the intersection of those curves."
Jedao had done that part in his head. Curious, but if the past years had magically fixed that part of his brain, he wasn't going to say no to that either. "It had to be there somewhere," he said. "If you assume the curves are approximated by—" He demonstrated.
"So I see," Kujen said in a voice so dry that Jedao was reminded that he was lecturing the Nirai hexarch on mathematics elementary enough that he had probably figured it out as a small child. "Well, while the Kel have always preferred to throw you at strategic problems, it won't hurt to round out your education. Considering the number of calendrical heresies flourishing out there, it can only help to develop your mathematical skills."
"I would like that," Jedao said, and was rewarded by Kujen's half-laugh, half-smile.
"In the meantime," Kujen said, "let's deal with the practicalities. Set your uniform insignia. I had thought you'd remember, but since you don't—the Kel like everything to be done according to protocol."
"Set? Shouldn't there be pins for this stuff?"
"I really wish I'd had a better way to check what you do and don't remember," Kujen muttered. "The uniform will respond to your voice. Just tell it your name and rank and it will read the rest from your profile."
Jedao did, and was surprised by the general's wings above the Shuos eye, two things he didn't remember earning. A full general, at that. Would that have made Ruo envious?
"Even if I'm forty-four," Jedao said, incredulous and not a little regretful about the lost years, "that's rather young." The idea of appearing before the Kel in this uniform was daunting enough. Appearing before them while claiming to be a general—their general—seemed like it would invite them to put holes in him. He heard they had good aim.
"The Kel respect rank," Kujen said. "They'll respect yours."
Will they now, Jedao thought. Only one way to find out. "These are real Kel," he said, "serving on real moths, fighting a real war. And you've decided that for this to work, I have to be a real general for you."
"That sums it up, yes."
A bad situation. Nevertheless, he needed to stay alive long enough to figure out how to tilt the odds not only in his favor, but in favor of the Kel who would be coming into his care. "I don't care how hacked up this hept—hexarchate of yours has become," Jedao said, "or how good this shearmoth is. A swarm of 108 moths, however impressive, doesn't leave us room for error. The only way this is possible is if I get good fast and we fight dirty."
On impulse, Jedao saluted Kujen. The motion came disturbingly naturally. He said, in formal Kel fashion, "I'm your gun." He felt he ought to commemorate the occasion somehow, even if the occasion was not remotely sane.
Kujen's eyes lit. "I knew you'd come back to me," he said. It wasn't until much later that Jedao figured out what he meant by that.