It takes three security checkpoints to get into the secure meeting facilities near Atea’s command center, and there’s still a quad of Turai lurking alertly outside the door when Luis arrives. That’s enough to draw a line under the list of attendees at the meeting as Luis presents his ID, and gets waved on in. Inside the room are six people, three standing and three seated. The three standing men and women are all Turai, in full carapace, helms down and only their green and blue hoods around their necks identifying them as Bashakra’i. The three at the table are less of an unknown, seeing as they were the ones that invited Luis to this meeting in the first place: Brinai, Bello and Onas, the three-member leadership council of the Bashakra’i resistance.
The Atea standard lowered light levels gives the room something of an ominous quality as all six people turn to face Luis as he enters the room, although Brinai’s smile and Bello and Onas’ polite nod alleviate that somewhat. “Welcome, Luis, please, take a seat,” Brinai says as she gestures for Luis to sit across the table from them.
Luis bows, and take one of the chairs opposite them. “Good afternoon,” he says.
“We’ve asked you here today, Luis, to review and assess your contributions to the Bashakra’i, and discuss your future with our people,” Brinai says. “As you know, we have a history of extending official Bashakra’i citizenship and status to those that give of themselves to our cause - like Onas, for example.” Onas nods. “He may have been born Napai’i, but he is one of our people now. We are gathered here today to discuss extending a similar courtesy to you - but more than that, your future with the Turai. That is why we asked you here alone, instead of with Arketta.”
Luis nods. “Okay.”
Brinai and Onas both smirk - Bello remains too humorless for such reactions. “We have all seen how you have given of your time and effort to our cause, Luis,” Onas says. “But we would like to hear from your superior officer in our Interceptor Corps before we make any sort of real offer.” He nods to one of the Turai, who puts a hand to her helm to activate the vox inside it.
A few moments later, Yisai walks through the door to the conference room, wearing her full Turai uniform, save the most decorative and unwieldy elements, like the cape, her golden skin and white uniform painting a particularly bright picture. She bows a full honorific to the council before returning to attention. “Rav-Odun Yisai Akruis reporting, Sir.”
“At ease, Rav-Odun,” Onas says, and Yisai instantly snaps to a more relaxed, but still official, posture. “We’ve asked you here to help us assess the worthiness of Luis Stanhill for full Bashakra’i status. Would you mind answering a few questions for us?”
Yisai’s eyes flick towards Luis momentarily before returning to the wall opposite her. “I would like nothing more, Sir.”
Onas nods. “Well, then let me first ask you about Luis’ performance as an Interceptor. How has he been working out? How does he fit in with your squadron?”
“Excellently on all counts, Sir,” Yisai replies. “He has shown a preternatural ability as an Interceptor and has bonded very well with his equipment. He is interested and involved in improving his performance envelope, practices routinely with the squadron, and has more than exceeded his mandatory patrol time for this quarter despite his responsibilities on Narsai. I am currently preparing to offer him command of a wing for a month to assess his readiness to command, and I have every expectation that he will excel in that role as well.”
Onas nods. “A glowing recommendation, Yisai, thank you.”
“How do you find his loyalty to the Bashakra’i people?” Bello asks. “Not just to your squadron, but to all of our people.”
Yisai fidgets uncomfortably for a moment, and even afterwards Luis can read the agitation on her mostly blank expression. “He is...his loyalty has improved dramatically in recent months since joining the squadron. He has missed fewer patrols, and spends more time on station and in the hangar. That - that is all that I believe I can speak to about loyalty. Sir.”
Bello grunts, but nods his assent.
And then it’s Brinai’s turn. “Rav-Odun, would you support Luis being granted full Bashakra’i status?”
Yisai nods, and the fidgeting stops instantly. Luis knows that she doesn’t really smile, but he also knows it’s about as close as she gets. “I would, Ma’am. Luis would be a proud addition to our people, and would only bring honor and accomplishment to the Bashakra’i and the Turai. Also, it would end the bureaucratic dealings I have had to accomplish in setting aside security concerns to have a Narsai’i as an Interceptor.”
All three members of the council chuckle at that. “Yes, I suppose it would benefit you as well,” Brinai says. “You may stay, if you wish.” Yisai looks to Luis, who blinks for a moment, a bit overwhelmed, then nods gratefully to Yisai. Permission granted, she simply remains where she is as Luis looks back to the council.
“So!” Brinai says. “I think we’ve heard everything that we need to - not that all three of us haven’t seen proof of Luis’ worthiness with our own two eyes.” Onas and Bello both nod to that, and Brinai turns to Luis. “Luis, we wish to extend to you full Bashakra’i citizenship and status, and all that entails. You will be considered one of our people in all matters, a full child of Bashakra. That would also make you eligible for full membership in the Bashakra’i Turai, and allow us to make your mostly-unofficial rank of Samal full and official. You would have to swear allegiance to Bashakra and the Bashakra’i, and accept our orders, but in return, you would be given all the rights and privileges of our people, including a home on Bashakra when it is reclaimed. We will be making a similar offer to Arketta, but we gathered that it would be a bigger decision for you to make, first.”
Luis nods, grinning a bit absently. “That’s...umm. Thank you. I…,” he trails off, then after a moment collects himself, pulls himself to a more military bearing, and bows towards Brinai and the other two member of the council. “Thank you for the offer, and I would be honored to accept it.”
Brinai nods, and Onas gives Luis a small smile, while Bello simply raises an eyebrow. "No second thoughts, Luis? One would think you would be concerned about what the Narsai'i might think."
"Oh, who cares what they -" Brinai starts, but Bello hushes her with an arched eyebrow.
"Please, Luis, continue," Bello says.
“Thank you,” Luis says. “I’ll probably need to have...some words with the State Department, but that’s not a problem either way.”
"That doesn't answer my question, Luis," Bello says.
“No, I don’t,” Luis says.
Bello smiles - the first truly friendly thing he's done the whole time. "Good. Then you truly are one of us - because we don't give a shit what the Narsai'i think, either." He looks to the side. "Onas? I believe you have the bottle?"
"I do," Onas says, and pulls out a clear bottle filled with a brown liquid and labeled "Shanoor Fruit - 10 Years". He pours a couple of fingers into a glass and slides it across to Luis. "One of the first batches we had enough resources to try wood-aging on," Onas says. "Better than anything the Imperium makes."
Luis picks up the glass, gives it a swirl and a sniff - vanilla, cherry and raspberry, and wood - and then takes a sip. It burns like it's at least 100 proof, but the fruit and wood come together to taste like a toasted caramel vanilla raspberry sour-cherry candy with a oaky smoked finish, like if brandy and bourbon had a baby. Luis lets it go down for a moment, then takes another sip.
After a moment, he turns to the council. “So, is there some kind of formal ceremony?”
"This is it," Brinai says as she accepts a glass with a splash of the brandy, and Onas hands one to Yisai. "Everyone have a glass?" Bello, Onas and Yisai both raise theirs. "Then raise your glass, boy." Luis does so. "Luis Stanhill, I hereby declare you as a member of the Bashakra'i people."
"And I affirm your status as an active-duty member of the Turai and your rank of Samal," Onas adds, and with that, all three leaders and Yisai toss back their drinks. Luis joins the toast, and the alcohol going down his throat isn’t the only warm glow he feels.
Brinai slams her glass down on the table. "And now it's all over but for entering you into our database, which believe me is the far more tedious and annoying part, which is why I'm delegating it. Come back tomorrow afternoon and someone will get you all printed, sequenced and scanned in. And bring Arketta with you, we'd like to extend this offer to her as soon as possible."
“Thank you,” Luis says. “I will.”
"Now, go!" Brinai barks as she hauls herself to her feet. "You've got work to do, I presume. Your leader orders you to go and do it." She smirks at Luis at that. Luis offers an only-partially-serious bow with a grin on his face, and leaves the conference room. He walks away, still slightly stunned, but feeling pleased and pride for the offer, and accepting it feels good. After he makes his way through the last of the security doors, he activates his vox and calls Arketta. “Hey dear...no, the meeting went great. Actually...funny story...”