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Clover Spear - Chapter Cover Art

Chapter 31[]

Clover Spear - The Story of the '56 War[]

Prologue, Book 2, The Hammer Falls

The Launch of a Shopping Spree Campaign[]

Royal Palace, Avalon City
New Avalon
January 19th, 3057

Omiko Kurita nodded to herself as she followed Katherine through a door guarded by two stone-faced members of the Davion Guards. Having grown up in the sprawling complex of Unity Palace that was the nerve center of the Draconis Combine, Omi was used to the concept of the palace being a maze of offices, audience halls, living areas, gardens, and the million and one working areas that insured whatever a member of House Kurita needed, she need not venture outside the guarded walls of her home.

So finding an exclusive beautician for the private use of the Davion family was not unexpected. She herself had availed the usage of one on Luthien to prepare for Court appearances during the Coordinator's Birthday and similar ceremonies when the Keeper of House Honor would attend as a symbol of the Pillar of Ivory that supported her father's rule.

The usage of the beautician to conceal her origin and ancestry so that she and Katherine could travel outside the walls of Davion Palace for their shopping trip was a novel experience to the sheltered Kurita royal. Considering that her very existence had been secret for the first five years of her life, Omi was both nervous and excited for a trip outside the bubble that had defined her.

Currently Omi and Katherine were lying side by side on couches as their hair soaked in a dye developed by LIC. This would turn Katherine to a brunette from her instantly recognizable natural Steiner blonde. Combined with a change from her Court finery into her waiting NAIS sweatshirt and jeans combo (with built-in body armor as a precaution), the Archon-Princess Regent of the FedCom would become yet another anonymous grad student whose scholarship check had just arrived. Meanwhile for Omi, a white turtleneck sweater 'borrowed' from Katherine along with khaki slacks (also with armor inserts) would pair with her newly blonde hair and contact lenses that would change her eyes from Kurita steel-blue to a more inconspicuous hazel.

"So, Katherine-ch..." Omi broke off at the mock scowl from her future sister-in-law and rapidly edited the automatic honorifics out to use the name that Katherine was going to use. "Kathy, how often have you done this? The sneaking out of the palace in disguise, I mean. It is to me, I confess that I rarely saw the outside of Unity Palace before."

Katherine sighed "Not as much as before Father's death, Omi. Before that, we would do it...four times a year or so? According to Mother and Aunt Nondi, it is something of a tradition for the Steiners to venture outside the Triad and the Nagelring during holidays in disguise. Well once they were old enough, of course. I'm not supposed to know this, but Big Brother got into a drunken fistfight over a girl one time in a dive of a bar outside the Nagelring as a cadet and narrowly avoided getting arrested when the police showed." Katherine giggled wickedly "Mother was furious while Father laughed when they heard from his covert close cover detail. Father said that you could expect nothing less for a child of his named after Uncle Ian."

Omi laughed in turn. "Oh my! To have been an insect on the shoji screen when news of that reached their ears!"

"Oh yes. I also know that Victor was the one to corrupt poor little Yvonne last New Year's for her first taste of that forbidden fruit. It must have been really good, since Victor had an ear to ear smile the day afterward that he couldn't contain. Since he is normally a bit broody, that was very out of character for him." commented Katherine
"It was incredible, but I'm sworn to secrecy about why Victor the Grump was on Cloud Nine the morning after. Sorry, Mad Kat, you will have to look elsewhere for your hot gossip on His Royal Grouchiness." A new voice sounded from the door unexpectedly.

Omi turned her head to look at the girl standing there, who responded with a cheeky smile and wave before leaning against the doorframe. The fact that it allowed her to politely ignore a muttered German curse from Katherine was a bonus in her eyes as Katherine sighed deeply. "Evie, you know how I hate that nickname. What brings you here?"

Yvonne Steiner-Davion flipped her auburn-red ponytail over the shoulder of her cadet uniform and smirked. "Harassing you in short. You of all people should know better, Kathy. I have to do something to amuse myself, and Victor is still under doctor's orders to take it easy, while Peter and Arthur are both off-planet. Soo...who is your partner in crime, Kathy?"

Katherine opened her mouth, but the youngest Steiner-Davion cut her big sister off with the ease of long practice in family gatherings and slipped into Lyran German as her smirk widened. "Lass mich raten. Kleine Asiatin, blaue Augen, superhübsch Du musst die Omi sein, auf die mein großer Bruder Victor steht. Komisch, Du hast Dich besser gehalten als ich dachte." (Let me guess. A very pretty small Asian with blue eyes, you must be the Omi (slang for Grandmother) that my big brother Victor has the hots for. You look younger than your age.)

While Omiko's German was basic at best, she was aware that clearly there was a joke in that statement somewhere and laughed politely as Katherine convulsed in uncontrollable giggles before giving a scandalized shout. "YVONNE!"

Yvonne gave the image of wounded innocence to Katherine's angry glare. "Well, she is the Omi that Victor has fallen for. Anyway, where are my manners?" Yvonne then gathered herself and performed an inexpert but clearly rehearsed bow to Omi as she spoke in accented Combine Japanese slowly. "Hajimemashite. Konbanwa Kurita Omiko-san. Watashi no namae wa Steiner-Davion Yvonne desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu."

Omi smiled in return and wiped a tear from her eye at hearing the formal words of introduction in her native Japanese. "I am pleased to meet you as well, Yvonne-chan. Please, call me Omi. Where did you learn Japanese?"

Yvonne dragged a chair to face the others and sat down. "Albion. After finding out about you, I decided to take Introductory Japanese as my elective this semester. Even if we had never met, as a future lawyer and spare administrator for the dynasty, I can do worse than to be able to talk to people from liberated worlds. So, I plan to double minor in Chinese and Japanese as part of my course load over the next two and a half years."

As a timer sounded, Katherine began to gather her now-black hair out of the dye bath and gave Yvonne a stern look. "Speaking of Albion, shouldn't you be on campus?"

Yvonne shook her head with a broad grin. "Nope. I'm two weeks ahead in all my classwork, the next field exercise is a week from Tuesday, and Colonel Zigler plans to boost physical security on the campus before then just in case the Blakists or Capellans try to hit us. So, in other words, I was ordered to make myself scarce and stay in a secure location while they upgrade security protocols. So here I am."

Katherine sighed. "I don't suppose that you can be persuaded to not come along? I planned for Omi and I to hit the malls discreetly to do some serious shopping before we both go stir crazy. And you, Evie, have never been particularly discreet."

Yvonne's grin widened, looking remarkably like the video Omi had seen of Hanse Davion. "You know me better than that, Kathy. We'll argue, I'll win like I always do, and then I'll come with. Besides, when I'm discreet no one has ever caught me. The only benefit of being the baby of the family is that people overlook me. I'll get the disguise Victor put together for me and meet you back here, Ok?"

With that, the redhead waved goodbye and headed out of the room in a rush. Omi stared at the door in confusion as Katherine spoke. "Your brothers were never that bratty, were they Omi?"

"Iie (No), Katherine-chan." Omi carefully shook her head as the staff wrapped her newly dyed hair in a towel turban to dry.

"Lucky." she was quick to comment

A half hour later, Omi found herself in the passenger compartment of a nondescript but heavily armored minivan. True to her statement, Yvonne had invited herself to the outing, with her disguise being a black leather jacket with the insignia of some sports team on the back, a black T-shirt that read 'Give Blood, Play Rugby!' in blood-red letters, a Skye-style red with green and gold patterns tartan skirt, studded gloves and a fake Celtic tattoo on her right cheek in blue.

Katherine's only response to the budding sports hooligan's appearance was to pinch her nose and mutter something under her breath. Omi caught Victor's name in the muttering and mentally winced. Experience watching Grandfather as a young girl was more than sufficient to detect the signs of a brewing future argument.

Clearly it was time to refocus the attentions of the sisters before the harmony of their outing was marred. "So, Kathy, where are we going?" Omi asked politely, looking across the passenger compartment to the seats facing her as Katherine and Parvati claimed them.

Katherine smiled impishly as the door was locked behind her. "Camelot Center."

Yvonne and Parvati both perked up in response as Omi looked blank. "I see. I take it this is one suitable for us to spend our money at then?"

Yvonne laughed as their vehicle started to move out of the subterranean garage hidden under the palace. "You have no idea, Omi. None whatsoever."

Omi smiled and rooted around the built-in cooler by her knee to produce a bottle of Panpouran green tea. At Parvati's nod, she handed her friend that bottle and then took one for herself. "Yvonne-chan, Katherine-chan, do you want some?"

Yvonne shook her head. "I'm afraid I'm a coffee drinker, Omi-chan. Kathy is the tea type."

"Ahh, I see!" Omi produced a bottle of Jacobs Kronung coffee for Yvonne, and then a final bottle of tea for Katherine. "I will have to invite you one day to a proper chanoyu to introduce you to a fine tea, Yvonne-chan. I..." Omi broke off suddenly and swallowed as she rested the bottle of tea against her forehead and closed her eyes, "I-I-I was able to carry Shiro Kurita's tea set with me from Luthien as I fled. So much was lost...."

The others watched in silence as Omi swallowed several times and then took a deep breath. She opened her eyes, and looked at the array of lights speckling the streets of New Avalon outside her window as night began to fall. Finally Omi whispered to her reflection in the glass, "And here I find myself on New Avalon. The first Kurita to set foot here, the object of my family's ambitions since before the days of the Star League. Yet, I am no Sphere-striding conqueror, no victorious warrior crushing the Yellow Bird under my heel once and for all." She laughed bitterly as the car stopped at a red light. "Just another penniless refugee as the Combine-my home-burns and my cousins fight among the ashes. Where lies my duty and my honor as a Kurita when all is laid low? What would Mother, Minoru, Hohiro, Father say to me now from their place in the Land of the Dead?"

Suddenly Yvonne spoke as she reached over to squeeze Omi's shoulder gently. "Nana korobi ya oki, Omi-chan. Fall down seven times, get up eight. That was the first phrase my instructor at Albion taught me in your tongue. Yes, our ancestors and yours have been blood enemies almost from the beginning. Yet we are not them, and we need not become them again. I miss Father and Mother too and always will, I fear. Yet 'Out of the night that covers me,/Black as the pit from pole to pole,/I thank whatever gods may be/For my unconquerable soul'"

Kommandant Parvati joined in on the next stanza of the poem that all the cadets at Albion had memorized as the motto of their school. "'In the fell clutch of circumstance/I have not winced nor cried aloud./Under the bludgeoning of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed.'"

Omi listened in silent reverence, the tears flowing down her cheeks as the poem continued. "'Beyond this place of wrath and tears/Looms but the Horror of the shade,/And yet the menace of the years/Finds and shall find me unafraid.'"

Katherine handed Omi a box of tissues to let the Kurita girl wipe tears from her eyes as she joined in on the final stanza. "'It matters not how strait the gate,/How charged with punishments the scroll,/I am the master of my fate,/I am the captain of my soul.' You are among friends... no, you are among family, Omi-chan."

Omi nodded thankfully as she wiped her cheeks with the offered tissue. "Doumo arigatou gozaimasu!" She gave a shaky but genuine smile with the automatic words of gratitude, then suddenly chuckled and shook her head.

"What's so funny?" Yvonne asked curiously, leaning forward to see the expression on Omi's face.

"Before Victor-chan woke up after his injury, I was reading to him as his spirit wandered. I just remembered words of enlightenment there that I saw, but never viewed until this moment. 'See how elastic our prejudices grow when once love comes to bend them' from the ninth chapter of Moby Dick. A koan for my journey toward satori."

"Buddhist enlightenment." Parvati interjected for the sisters. "A koan is a paradox for the seeker to meditate on to gain understanding of herself and of the universe. 'Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?' is one of the classical koans from Zen."

Omi nodded and handed the box of tissues back. "A step on my own path to the top of the mountain." At the curious looks, she elaborated, "When I was a young girl, Father told me that I must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain. I watched him take his own step along his path when I was presented to Grandfather's court for the first time and Father stood in the face of Grandfather's disapproval of his marriage to Mother. Father had to grow strong through adversity to walk his path so he could stand before Grandfather's anger on that day."

Omi then looked to Katherine and Yvonne. "Just like you are having to find your own strength now. We all have our paths to the mountain, and I hope that I can help you walk yours just as you have helped me walk mi---" Omi's voice trailed off as the Kurita girl stared in slack-jawed shock at her first sight of their destination. Her mouth opened and closed several times with no words coming out.

"Merciful Buddha, what is THAT!!!" Omi exclaimed

"I see she finally found her voice."

Katherine chuckled evilly in response as the car turned onto a guarded access road for the mall. "If you think this is over the top consumerism, wait until I take you to my favorite in Tharkad City. You haven't lived until you have spent time there."

"Kathy's right you know. The Archon's Kroner is the largest mall in the Sphere. Camelot is only fourth largest. Besides, you haven't shopped until you have shopped with us Steiner women."


Raiders of the Camelot Court Mall[]

January 19th, 3057

A date that would live in (shopping) infamy.

The day that Omiko Kurita, daughter of Coordinator Theodore Kurita, Keeper of the House Honor of House Kurita, and a girl who never knew the joys of window shopping, trying outfits on with her friends, and making the love of her life audibly question if he would have to sell the Davion Brigade of Guards off to cover the credit card bill, led a terror raid on Camelot Center.

Fortunately for the raiders, the businesses had long-standing arrangements to have purchases shipped to the Davion Palace for a modest handling fee, of course. Otherwise the raid would have stalled out after the third clothing store pillaged on account of the raiders throwing a disc out in their backs from the volume of shopping bags that they needed to carry.

The bags that they would have accumulated after the sixteenth store would have required the assistance of most of the company of infantry from the First Davion Guards securing the mall and providing a plainclothes close-cover cordon around them to carry.

Hope was briefly offered for the beleaguered retailers of Camelot Center when after the twenty-third store hit, the raiders instead headed to an ice cream parlor instead of continuing their trail of depleted inventories and managers rubbing their hands in glee over quarterly sales targets exceeded.

Sadly, after ice cream, the raiding force launched a fresh assault upon the good merchants of New Avalon with the Steiner-Davion sisters breaking trail.

Behind the vanguard came Omi and Parvati who was agreeing to use her DMI training to jailbreak Omi's first ever iPhone so that Omi could transfer the music she had stored on her Voice of the Dragon media library account in the Combine. Let it not be said that DMI agents were immune to bribery, especially when the bribe came in the form of a 'Gotta Have It!' sized custom mango ice cream sundae from Coldstone. With extra cherries on top. Kommandant Parvati figured if someone from Macintosh protested later on, she could probably arrange a pardon for the hacking job from Katherine anyway. Besides, that was a good sundae and with the account password Omi gave to her over it, she could not only have MI4 vacuum out Omi's playlists, but also any interesting data in that cache for the analysis folks to chew over.

A tug on the sleeve of her AFFC Gym sweatshirt interrupted Parvati's private musing about electronic espionage and mango sundaes. She blinked to focus on Omi, who was pointing at a display of Asian kimonos in the window of New Kyoto Trading Company. "Kath, Evie, I'll be in there!" Omi called as she started to drag Parvati toward the Lyran importers.

Katherine and Yvonne looked at each other then at Fox's Tail Luxury Furs next door and threw rock paper scissors. Katherine won with scissors and a smirk and headed for the fur store while Yvonne headed to New Kyoto to use her copy of the family's Federated Commonwealth Express Black Select Card to finance Omi's impending purchases. "I swear, she is like a kid in a candy store. I can't blame her for going spare since she was so sheltered, but...."

A pair of late twenties men with discreet earpieces, military haircuts and loose button-down shirts concealing the arsenal they were carrying spoke softly to her as they followed their principal into the store, "You're right, Ma'am. She's making us tired just watching her shop." He then tapped his earpiece as his partner scanned the crowd of shoppers for threat signs. "Control, NIMUE is joining ELAINE in New Kyoto. Observing."

Inside Yvonne found Parvaati standing with an amused look as a smiling Omi conducted a conversation with the middle aged manager in rapid-fire Japanese. She sidled up to the DMI agent. "What's up?"

Parvati shook her head. "Apparently they do traditional textile crafting. I caught 'Nishijin work' before the clerk called her manager in to speak to her."

The manager steered Omi to a counter where the Kurita girl sketched out several round symbols and neatly wrote notes next to each one in kanji on the paper provided. Beside her, the manager nodded and interjected his own questions. Yvonne listened to the stream of Japanese from that quarter and then slowly nodded. "She's ordering custom kimonos. For herself...and for all of us too."

Finally the flood of Japanese ended and Omi bowed to the manager, who returned the bow. "This is where I come in. Time to pay the bill our friend racked up and make arrangements for her orders to get shipped to the Palace. We also serve who carry the almighty credit card for the greater good of the Commonwealth."

Parvati laughed.

The Aftermath of a Shopping Spree[]

January 20th, 3057
Medical Wing, Davion Palace
New Avalon, Crucis March

Victor's tablet chimed with the notification that he was receiving an email on his personal account. He paused in his daily regimen of situps and poked at the touchscreen with his one good hand.

A brief holograph formed showing a blinking message from Katherine. Victor read the subject line You won't believe what we did last night out loud, then poked at the first attachment.

A holograph of a grinning Omi with a dye job in the center flanked by both his sisters waving to the camera in front of King Arthur's Castle that was the centerpiece of Camelot Court appeared.

Oh God, they didn't. he thought

With dawning dread Victor opened the second attachment and facepalmed with his remaining hand as the credit card bill began to scroll endlessly.

"Fifty-three pages?!?!" he moaned. "At this rate I will have to disband and sell off Battlemech regiments to pay for them..."

Chapter written by, Yellowhammer

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