Gnothi Sauton

Know Thyself

(by Lawrence Kinden and Haley Brimley)

At 6:59:59 in the morning, the alarm clock activated and forced the girl's brain to interrupt its emission of delta waves, thus driving her sweetly out of sleep. Thirteen-year-old Melody Nocturne felt as though she was waking up naturally, and with just a slight groan she stretched her arms and slithered out of bed. She switched on the large holographic projector on the far wall, broadcasting the Earth Morning News ("morning" as per standardised Earth time), and turned up the volume.

Still yawning, she entered her twin sister Harmony's bedroom without knocking. "7am, sis. C'mon, outta bed!" she called as she approached the window and pulled the drapes open.

"Aww you gotta be kidding," came the growled reply.

From the top of the one-mile high Earth Academy for Talented Youth main building where they lived, the view was breathtaking: the huge metropolis covering the whole planet glittered of neon lights and frenzy activity. Countless vehicles floated hundreds of feet from the ground in neat rows, and giant view-screens advertised every sort of goods available through SolComNet®, the vast electronic network of trade and commerce through the Solar system colonies. As an Army pilot trainee, Melody's attention was drawn for a moment to the commercial for a new star drive software that was to be installed on military starships next month. Then, still yawning, she turned back to Harmony, seeing she had rolled on her tummy and was sleeping again.

Shaking her head, Melody took off the covers and swatted her sister's pert and slightly chubby panty-clad bottom twice. "Up you get, young Einstein!" she said. "Equations don't solve themselves and you've got a field test today."

"Ouch! Okay, okay!" Harmony whined, slowly getting up and rubbing her backside. "And equations don't solve themselves yet, I'm this close to mastering a procedure which will allow us mathematicians to spare lots of time by..."

"Spare my time and cut off the tech stuff, Harm," Melody said as she walked out. "I don't bore you to sobs with piloting techniques and weaponry equipment, do I." As much as she'd praise her for it, she wouldn't share nor understand any of her sister's passion for mathematics.

As Harmony continued her dissertation on non-linear equations (basically talking to herself), Melody proceeded to the next task, walking in Symphony's bedroom and again opening the window. "7am, sister, outta bed," she repeated, wondering why they always forgot to program their own darn alarm clocks.

Symphony's growl wasn't less pronounced than Harmony's, but she curled up in the fetal position and faked a pout. "I don't wanna go," she mumbled.

Sighing, Melody knelt by her bed. "It's your big day... they're sure gonna love your artwork."

"I'm a crappy painter."

"You're a great painter," Melody said as she surveyed the room, filled with painting tools, canvases, brushes and whatnot. Entering Symphony's realm was like taking a step two centuries back in time. "You're just a crappy student sometimes. Come on, get up and face the music," and with that she tossed away the covers and again swatted her other sister's small, inviting rump.

"Oww!" wailed Symphony, who nonetheless got up straight away.

Melody grinned to herself, seeing that her methods to motivate her lazy sisters still worked. Being the most active, responsible and self- disciplined of the triplets, that task often weighed on her shoulders, especially after their parents' death. She kept repeating to Harm and Sypmh how they had had a great opportunity in being accepted to the Academy due to their unique talents in their fields, and how it would have been foolish to throw it all away just because of laziness. It wasn't uncommon for boys and girls to be chosen and trained at such young ages, especially when they showed genius talents like the Nocturne triplets did, but thirteen-year- olds could be careless by nature, and sometimes they needed encouragement.

"It's your big day too anyway," Symphony said as she stretched and followed Melody to the kitchen. "What time is your drill?"

"Fourteen Zulu... that's 2pm," she added, seeing the puzzled look on her sister's face. "We're going to practice emergency evasive maneuvers and I get to be Junior Pilot Assistant for the first time so I'm nervous as heck."

"You are nervous?" said Harmony as she dragged herself in the kitchen too, a distraught look on her face. She'd taken off all of her night- clothes and hadn't cared to wear anything else, causing a fit of giggles from Symphony. "Think about me, instead. I gotta turn in my calculations for my study group project on quantum field..."

"... quantum field-driven propulsion technology applied to commercial vehicles," her sisters echoed in unison.

Harmony quirked an eyebrow. "Had I said that already?"

"Oh, no, I'm just becoming psychic," Melody teased. "And speaking of that, I hope it's well done. I didn't see you working tooooo hard on it as of late. You're always thinking about those abstract theories of yours."

"Those abstract theories of mine are going to change the world, one day!"

"Yeah, yeah, and Symphony's paintings will be valued a billion credits each, one day; and I'll pilot the admiral ship in deep space exploration, one day... but that's not right now, girls," she insisted as she pushed buttons on the FoodMat, preparing instant coffee. "As of now, you focus on your study group, and you on your Junior Gallery exposition. There will be time for the rest, okay?"

"Yeah whatever," said the still naked Harmony as she rolled her eyes, grimaced, grabbed her cup of coffee and stormed out of the room, slamming the door.

Melody had to count to ten not to get angry - which was something extremely hard to accomplish while in Harmony's presence - while Symphony giggled again. "She's nuts."

"She likes maths, of course she's nuts, heh. Thank God you do listen to me sometimes," said Melody as she sipped her coffee and circled her sister's shoulder with an arm.

Cuddly as she was, Symphony purred and snuggled up close. "Sometimes."

"Hehe... hey, jokes aside: your painting for the Junior expo is ready, isn't it?"

Symphony swallowed the last of her coffee and nodded, hoping to conceal the worried look in her eyes. "Err, yeah, sure. It's perfect."

Melody pretended not to notice her hesitation. "Cool. Can't wait to see the results."

"Uh-huh, thanks."

And with that Symphony busied herself with the FoodMat, preparing the snacks that would be the girls' lunch for the day. Co-operative as she was (most of the time anyway), she tried to help with house business as much as she could, something that Harmony rarely cared for, if at all.

Less than thirty minutes later the Nocturne triplets were dressed up and ready for their day. Melody took a brief look at herself in the mirror and nodded with satisfaction. Her athletic frame was wrapped in a skin-tight light-grey uniform with a light jacket, but despite her muscled body due to intense physical training and the cropped blonde hair, she still maintained an aura of femininity. Harmony was ironically even less girlish, not caring to comb her dark red genetically-altered hair, which fell untidily over her forehead; the shabby way she kept her Math Department cloak made a typical messy genius out of her. Symphony, then, was by far the weirdest of the Nocturnes: she looked every bit of the artist she was, with her purple hair, original clothing ("old worn rags", according to Melody) and always a hint of paint on her fingers or face; only her sweet, large green eyes and her complacent and mild-mannered mood saved her from being exchanged for a punk.

All three made quite a group as they filed out of their small apartment in the Academy building, heading for the lift that would take them to their classes.

* * *

Melody sat in the darkened room and watched the flight simulation on the small monitor in front of her. The other students around her were all doing the same. Her stomach grumbled. She tried not to think about the snack Symph had packed for her sitting in her locker. Instead, she quickly and efficiently typed in commands on the keyboard in front of her, maneuvering her craft into a support position for one of her allies on the Red Team. On the screen, the blue colored craft of her enemy came into view as she flanked it and quickly gunned it down.

Somewhere behind her there was muffled cursing. Melody frowned, she didn't approve of cursing. Particularly when it came from one of her sisters. Harm was especially bad about it if Melody didn't take her to task. Sometimes it even went so far as to need a certain amount of correction. But her sisters weren't present in the flight simulation room and so she quickly returned her focus to the task at hand.

Melody and the ally she'd just helped sent a few messages back and forth as they tried to help the rest of their remaining team. The Red Team had started out at the disadvantage, trying to disable a more powerful fleet of ships supported by unarmed civilian ships. Looking at the large view screen at the front of the class showed the current score as well as the number of units left on both the Red and Blue Teams. Despite her recent victory, Melody's team was losing badly. They needed to do something or they were going to loose, and Melody had not been on a losing team in months.

Quickly she typed a message to her teammates. "I have an idea." Then she typed in a command to her space craft and took hold of the control stick. Two minutes later, her team had won.

As the simulation ended and the lights came up, Melody slowly wound down out of 'military mode'.

Instructor Treppe, a middle aged man in his pale grey uniform, quite similar to the students', moved to the front of the class and began to discuss the recent exercise. Melody followed along, paying close attention to the critiques he offered. Suddenly, he turned his attention to her.

"Miss Nocturne," barked Instructor Treppe, "Why did you attack the civilian supply convoy?"

"Sir. They were providing supplies to the blue team. Disabling the supply convoy was critical in crippling the enemies operations."

Instructor Treppe nodded as he often did after Melody spoke. "Indeed. And yet now the civilians no longer have their supplies."

"Sir, it was a valid target so long as I did not destroy it. The Red Team had plenty of supplies to support the civilians that convoy was meant for."

"A valid response, but you're not seeing the whole picture. Miss Nocturne, your military instincts are superb. However, you must take into consideration public relations. If the civilians hate us for destroying their supplies, for making them dependant upon us for food, there may be an uprising. Autocratic governments do not work."

Melody's discipline held and she managed not to look surprised at the veiled rebuke. "Yes sir."

"It was a sound military maneuver, but next time think about consequences beyond winning the battle."

"Yes sir."

Instructor Treppe nodded once. "Very good. Class, dismissed."

The students all stood and began making their way out the back of the room. Melody took her time and was the last to the door. It had been months since she had been told that anything she did militarily might be incorrect. She had been getting used to the constant praise and it was jarring to have otherwise.

Frowning, Melody shoved her hands into her jacket pockets. Her right hand came into contact with cellophane wrapping. She withdrew the snack bar, her frown fading into a faint smile. Her stomach grumbled again.

Thanks Symph, Melody thought as she unwrapped the granola bar. She may have been lazy at times but Symphony was always thinking of her sisters. She must have slipped the snack into Melody's pocket that morning when Mel wasn't looking. How did she guess I'd leave the snack she packed in my locker?

Melody had just stepped into the hallway when Instructor Treppe's voice called out, "Miss Nocturne. A moment if you please."

Melody halted and spun about with military precision, a half eaten granola bar in one hand. "Yes sir?"

Instructor Treppe beckoned for her to approach so Melody did so walking stiffly, each step precisely 30 centimeters apart. Most of the aspiring pilots didn't bother to drill in the marching techniques as Melody had, but that was one of the things, she believed, that set her apart.

"Hungry, Miss Nocturne?" he asked with a smile.

Belatedly, Melody returned the snack to her pocket.

Instructor Treppe chuckled. "It's fine Mel. You're thirteen years old, and thirteen year olds are always hungry."

Melody tried not to blush. She was the youngest in her class and didn't particularly like to be reminded of the fact.

"In any case," Instructor Treppe continued, "I wanted to talk to you about the drill this afternoon. I know you've been in live drills before, but Pilot's Assistant is an important job, even Junior Pilot Assistant."

"Yes sir," replied Melody.

"I cannot impress upon you enough just how important this drill is. You're the youngest student to ever be offered this position. You're instincts are excellent, your reflexes superb. I have no doubt that you can perform the duties of the post without fail."

Melody did blush at the praise. Her irritation at the earlier rebuke melted away.

"However, I must remind you that you are the Junior Pilot Assistant. You are of lowest rank during this drill. You have something of a reputation for an. impressive temper and have been the ranking member in all of the recent simulations. But now you'll be lowest rank again and I just want to make sure that you'll keep your temper in check."

The blush deepened and Melody had to clear her throat before replying, "Yes sir."

Instructor Treppe nodded again. "Okay. Trust your instincts and keep your cool and you'll be fine. Good luck, Miss Nocturne. Dismissed."

"Thank you sir."

Melody performed an about face and left the class room.

* * *

"Professor Hart! Oh, thank God I found you!" Harmony called out in the crowded hallway.

Several people heard and turned around - including professor Hart, by incident - as the careless thirteen-year-old made her way through the chattering students to reach her target. The tall, thin woman sighed and just waited for the most frustrating Apprentice in her class, but also the most talented, to say what she wanted this morning.

"What do you want this morning, Harmony?"

The girl snickered and fished in her bag for her notebook. She handed the teacher a bunch of wrinkled, messy papers with calculations scribbled all over. "I'm almost there! Before you say anything, I know that purely theoretic non-linear equations should be for senior students, but..."

"Exactly, they should be."

"... oh but, I'm soooo close to developing a template for a revolutionary procedure!..."

"Listen, Harmony..."

"Factorial composition will no longer be a problem! This procedure allows us to skip steps 12 to 19 in the usual Spencer method, and that's days of calculations even with supercomputers..."

"Harmony, please..."

"It works just like LaGrange with equation study, it will totally change our approach to..."

"Miss Nocturne!" professor Hart snapped.

Harmony went silent and frowned, biting her lower lip. "Y-yeah?"

"Finally," the teacher said as she ran fingers through her hair. With a sigh, she returned her the notes. "This is extremely advanced algebra, Harmony, and it's best left to extremely advanced students, no matter how talented you are. There's some good ideas in your calculus, really," she admitted, making her smile, "but it just can't take you where you want... not even close, actually. Not now, at least."

Her smile disappeared and her mouth gaped open in disbelief. "B-but... but I tested them on my home computer, and they looked fine," she said.

"And perhaps they are now, but I can tell you it won't work in the end. It needs development." Professor Hart sighed and smiled just a bit. "Look, Harmony: you're one of the most talented students we've ever had, but you can't just skip directly to the last day of class... you need to take your courses regularly like everyone else, and work on what you are told to work."

It was Harmony's turn to sigh, and she did so adding a big eye roll. "I knowwwww, but..."

"No but's, miss Nocturne," Professor Hart replied in a firmer tone. "Don't hurry, it will all come in due time. And speaking of that, you were due your calculations for your study group project on quantum field-driven propulsion technology applied to commercial vehicles..." she glanced at her watch, "... two minutes ago," and she extended her hand, clearly expecting the girl to give her what was required.

"Yeah," Harmony said, shaking her head.

Not caring to conceal her disappointment, she stuffed her notes back in the bag and produced a small transparent chip, practically slamming it in professor Hart's hand. She quickly muttered an apology and walked away.

She hated it how no-one seemed to care about her ideas and projects. The only projects she was ever asked to participate in were these stupid school things that any student could do, and that the commercial companies didn't really need anyway. What was the big deal in the practical applications of mathematical theory in the propulsion field? She really couldn't see the use. That almost made her and her classmates some sort of theoretic engineers... which was just a little higher than the guy at the Arex Corporation factory who would physically assemble the damn drive. That, combined with the fact that she wasn't even being given a chance, enraged her beyond belief.

Harmony stomped her feet all the way to class like a toddler, then slumped in her chair and waited cross-armed for the lesson to start, chewing on a straw of her dark red hair.

"Hey, Nocturne woke up on the wrong side of..."

"Piss off, West." She snapped without even looking at her classmate.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Killer math bimbos from off-world colonies!" West snickered, then patted her shoulder. "Relax, Harm."

She took a deep breath not to get back at him. A few minutes later finally Professor Hart walked in and took her armchair behind the desk. She started talking about the study group projects right away, going through the various groups boys and girls in Harmony's class had formed. Hers was letter 'F', and when Professor Hart got there she wasn't happy.

"West and Dubois, good job with performance projections. Saarinen, good job on calculus consistency, but the day you'll decide to type in your work instead of hand-writing, well, that will be a great day for mankind." The class laughed before Hart resumed: "Nocturne: to say that your calculations are wrong is the understatement of the century. Should we pass these on to the Arex Corporation, all the merchants' space vehicles from here to Ganymede will explode on ignition."

Again, the class roared with laughter, causing Harmony's ears to flush deep red. She gritted her teeth and tried to control herself, twisting the hem of her cloak with nervous snaps of her fingers.

"We all understand your dedication to... other projects, but as I said, you must concentrate on the task at hand, and the task at hand you just failed, earning a low grade for your whole study group."

That did it. Being blamed for other idiotic students' sloppy work, and the guys' groans of protest behind her back, really ticked Harmony off, and before she could hold it, she spat: "Well then I shouldn't have been assigned to a group of goddamn losers!"

This time the class fell into a deadly silence. Some looked in Harmony's direction with aghast looks on their faces, while others snickered silently, hiding their mouths. But Professor Hart just shook her head: it was said that she would not lose her composure not even on Doomsday, and true enough, she simply pointed at the door.

"Please, miss Nocturne. I do not tolerate rudeness or tantrums, and in this state you are of very little use to your group and the class. You may return to your quarters for today, and we shall have a talk tomorrow before class. And re-do those calculations, due Monday. Dismissed."

Harmony didn't know what was more hurtful, if being treated like a kid ("tantrums", she had said??) in front of everyone or being told what to do everyday regardless of her aspirations. Too exhausted to put up a fight, and not really seeing the good of it anyway, she just snatched her bag from beneath the desk and ran out of the classroom, already on the verge of tears. She had never been so humiliated before, and she could only imagine what Melody's reaction would be when she would find out about this all: she hated her usual "I told you" speech!

Somehow, Harmony's hand flew back to rub her bottom as she walked to the nearest lift.

* * *

Symphony entered the art studio with a certain amount of dread settling upon her slight shoulders. Other art students, all older and taller and far more confident with several more exposés under their belts wandered in around her and settled at their projects or talked amongst themselves in small groups.

Symphony made her way slowly through the studio to her easel by the window that looked out upon a carefully wild garden. When day dreaming or waiting for inspiration, Symph would sometimes stare into that garden that was specifically allowed to grow its grass long and the vines out of control. It was a little bit of the untamed, it was what Symphony aspired to imagine. But the girl stopped before she reached her easel. She had covered it last night after spending hours staring at what she had done.

It was a painting to be sure. That is, it was paint of an oil base spread upon canvas. And, quite simply, a painting is what she was expected to present to the gallery this morning. She was to be one of the featured artists in the Junior Gallery, a show that would last a month. And yet, Symphony was not satisfied with that. She wanted more. She wanted to present art. Whatever was under that covering, the canvas resting upon the easel, it was most definitely not art. At least, not in her eyes.

The other students were all putting finishing touches on the pieces. Some were chattering excitedly about the upcoming show. The dread she had felt earlier had transformed into doom and a cold sweat broke out on her body. Symphony knew that her painting was terrible; that it would be ridiculed and scorned; that all would wonder why they had let such a child present a piece in such a prestigious gallery much less focus on her work.

Suddenly, the purple haired Nocturne girl keyed in the pass code to her oversized locker, lifted her covered painting off the easel and thrust it inside. Then she closed and locked the door and left the studio as quickly as she could, her stomach roiling uncomfortably. She made her way through the hallways, painted a soothing tope, to the lift that would take her to the residences. She tried not to think about what would happen when she didn't show up with her painting in a few minutes. Would they just go on without her? Would they look for her? Symph squeezed her eyes shut as the lift took her home and tried harder not to think about any of that.

Upon reaching the apartment she started towards the bathroom, shucking off her comfortably worn clothes as she went and tossing them in a ball through the door of her bedroom. Then she turned on the radio in the bathroom finding her favourite station. It was a station funded by the Academy and student run. They usually played 'rock and roll' from the late twentieth century.

Enter Sandman by Metallica erupted from the speakers. Symphony turned it up in an attempt to shut out the nagging voice that was telling her to go back to the studio and quit being such a baby. She turned on the shower as hot as she could stand it and then let it wash over her, soothing her anxieties and allowing her to forget about the possible consequences. Absently, she rubbed at a smudge of green paint on her left pinky.

The combination of hot water and loud music drowned out the tonal beep of an incoming call. Symphony did not hear when the voice of the head of the Arts Department, Bill Wiluly, asked about her well being and whether or not her art would be available on time, that they'd hold off opening the expose until she was well enough to attend as he didn't want her to miss such an important occasion. Bill was a kind man and it would have broken Symph's heart to hear the worry in his voice.

All was silent once Symphony stepped out of the shower and turned off the radio. She took her time in drying off with an oversized towel. Then, her skin pink from the hot water and prolonged drying, she padded to her bedroom and was immediately more at ease. Bending over, she picked up the ball of discarded clothes and put them in the hamper. Paint materials scattered about was one thing, but Symphony had strict limits when it came to slovenliness.

Finally the girl slipped into a bright blue and green silk robe and laid down upon her bed looking up at the ceiling, letting her mind slowly wander where it willed. She didn't mean to fall asleep but the adrenaline had drained from her system and the hot shower relaxed her the rest of the way. Symphony began to drowse, her eyelids fluttering, and before she knew it was sleeping peacefully.

* * *


Melody turned around and smiled at Bill Wiluly as he saw him approach her in the 157th floor main corridor. "Hello Mr. Wiluly. How are you doing?" she asked politely, while something inside her told her this was about Symphony.

"Fair. And your sister?"

"Umm, which of the two? Heh... just kidding," she said with a nervous smile. She still hadn't forgotten her small incident during the simulation, but was looking forward to distracting her mind and enjoy the brief break she'd been granted before the drill: feet up and the holo-screen turned on would have been a dream. "I don't know, you tell me. You've just seen her, while I..."

"I didn't see her all morning."

Melody froze. "Really?... I saw her taking the lift to the Art Department wing, this morning."

"And in fact her easel is empty, but she didn't turn in her artwork. I called her but she either didn't hear or didn't want to respond. I was just going to your apartment to check on her."

"She must've been under the shower with the music on, that's a habit. But still... I'm sorry." The girl silently cursed at herself: she should've understood that Symph wasn't ready to face the music when she saw her that morning.

"I see," said Mr. Wiluly. "Anyway, please let her know that I wish to wait on her before opening the expose, but it's getting late and students and their relatives are already gathered, and..."

Melody felt a rush of blood to her head and all the sympathy she had for her sister was replaced by disappointment and a hint of anger. "Oh no, please go ahead. I'm sure she'll enter next month's expose. I apologise for the trouble she's given you, Mr. Wiluly."

Bill shook his head. "No, really, we can wait, but tell her to turn in her painting within the next hour, or I'll have to go ahead without her." He sighed. "She's always so introvert... like she was living in a world of herself, sometimes."

"Oh believe me, I know."

"I imagine you do. Well, thank you, Melody. Tell her to hurry, and also that I wish to speak to her in private tomorrow morning."

"I'll make sure she does both things on time personally, Mr. Wiluly," Melody replied in such a firm tone that even the man was surprised. As they parted ways and walked in opposite directions, he wondered whether Melody Nocturne was her sisters' guardian or just one of the triplets.

* * *

"Symphony!" Melody yelled as soon as she entered their apartment.

She tossed her jacket and bag to one side and went straight to her sister's bedroom. Again she entered without knocking, and what she saw surprised her: the girl slept like an angel, wearing her robe and unaware of everything. For a moment Melody was moved to compassion, for she was very close to Symph and they shared a special bond, but soon she felt anger return.

"Symphony Maria Nocturne!" she yelled again, and this time Symphony jolted up, brusquely awakened and wide-eyed.

"What...? Oh. Hi Mel..." she said in a feeble whisper, her eyes downcast and blushing. She started twisting her hair unconsciously.

"Where's your painting?"

"Mel, come on... I really didn't feel like showing it, it's crap, I told you!"

"I know what you told me, and it's okay if you think it's not your best work," Melody said as she sat on the bed, calming down a bit, "but Mr. Wiluly has been looking for you and is waiting on you to start the expose."

Symphony's hands went to her mouth, and she was speechless.

"I told him to commence without you, but he'd have none of that and he'll be waiting another hour," Melody continued. "Why on Earth didn't you turn in the darn picture, Symph??"

"It sucks," the girl replied in a meek, almost babyish voice.

"I don't think so, but even if it does: why does it?"

There she was, again backed in a corner by the smartest Nocturne sister. "'cause I didn't spend enough time working on it... I'm sorry Mel, it just... I... Aww I don't know!" and she hugged her.

Melody shook her head again, and while she patted her sniffling sister's back she heard and saw a storm in the form of Harmony enter the apartment.

"I'll kill that bloody...!" she started, but froze as soon as she saw her sisters. "Oh. W-what's going on here?"

"Oh, a painter's block," Melody promptly replied, not wishing to give away too much. "What's going on with you. Why aren't you in class?"

Harmony tried to affect nonchalance. "Professor Hart and I had a. disagreement."

Melody raised an eyebrow. "A disagreement?"

For a moment Harmony looked hesitant, and in that moment Melody could see that her sister felt a measure of guilt. Then the moment fled and Harmony looked angry.

"God damn it, Mel! I hate this place. They're always holding me back. I have all these ideas. If only..."

"Harm," Melody interrupted quietly, "why aren't you in class?"

"She kicked me out."


"Hart sent me home for the day, all right?!" Harmony exploded. "I didn't work much on my study group project and she reprimanded me. In front of every one."

"I see. I suppose your group's grade was lowered because of this?"

One of Harmony's hands went back to rub at her bottom reflexively. She nodded.

"Well, I've heard enough. I thought I said it quite clearly that we needed to focus on what we're told to and not on other stuff, right? But you both didn't listen, and here's what you get. You were lazy and earned low grades and had others suffer for your irresponsibility, Harmony, and you did just the same, Symph. And you're both likely to get official reprimands tomorrow, and those are registered on your files, sisters!" Melody exclaimed, again shaking her head as her sisters were silent for once. "Really, it's quite a shame that you didn't want to listen to my advice."

She reached for Harmony and gently, but firmly, took her elbow and walked with her. "Symph, join us in the living room. You can sit on the armchair while Harm and I have a talk."

"Shit," muttered Harmony. "C'mon Mel, can't we discuss this?"

Melody led her sister to the couch where she sat down. "I'd appreciate it if you curbed that foul tongue of yours, Harm. I'd hate to be angry when I spank you." Melody then unclasped Harmony's pants and pulled them down to her knees.

"It's not fair Mel," Harmony muttered.

"Not fair? You lowered your group members' grades. How's getting a spanking for it not fair?" Melody took her sister and pulled her over her lap.

Harmony shook her head. "Not that. They won't listen to my ideas." The dark-red haired girl was much more subdued now that she was looking at the floor with her bottom a military target.

"We've been over this, Harm. Focus on class for now." Melody hooked a finger into the generic grey panties provided by the Academy. "We'll have time for our own projects later." Then she dragged the panties down her sister's slightly chubby bottom, baring it to the living room. Symphony just sat with her feet tucked underneath her, and watched, not moving.

Melody wasted no time. She was a soldier after all, it was her business to be efficient. She began to spank Harmony's bare bottom with crisp measured slaps that covered evenly her sister's pale cheeks. Each spank made Harmony's flesh jiggle and bounce. And though Harmony did not cry out at first, Melody could see her shoulders shaking with sobs already.

She must really feel bad, Melody thought.

As the spanking continued, Harmony began to moan with each slap. Melody watched as Harm's bottom and upper thighs turned pink and then a bright red. Soon Harmony began kicking and squirming. She was crying freely now, an occasional 'owie' escaping her lips.

"You know I don't enjoy this, Harm," Melody told her sister, "but you also know that without it you would remain unmotivated and persist in such deleterious behaviour. I want you to apologize to Professor Hart and to your group members for your actions today. Is that understood?"

"Yes," cried Harmony. "Yes I will. I'm so sorry Mel." her words dissolved into tears again.

That was enough, Melody decided. She stopped spanking and helped Harmony to her feet. Then she stood and wrapped her sister in a hug. Symphony stood up and hugged them both, sniffling a bit already and on the verge of real tears.

That girl is magnetically attracted to hugs, the incongruous thought floated through Melody's mind as she rubbed her sisters' backs.

"It's okay," she whispered to Harmony, and planted a quick kiss on her teary cheek. "Why don't you lie down, hmm?"

The girl nodded and complied, breaking the hug and drying her tears as she lay on the couch, on her tummy of course.

"I'm sorry, Mel..." Symphony started even before her sister could say or do anything. She felt really ashamed of herself for behaving like that, and sorry that she was such a screw-up sometimes. It wasn't rare for her to see Melody as a 'big sister', though she'd never voiced that feeling.

"Me too, Symph," Melody replied matter-of-factly before sitting again, this time on the edge of the armchair.

She unlatched the cord tying Symphony's robe at her waist; the purple- haired girl blushed and hid her face in her hands as she felt her only protection slide off her shoulders and fall into a heap at her feet. She lowered her fully nude slender frame onto Melody's lap right away.

As much as she sympathised with her sister, Melody knew she had to teach a lesson, something which had worked in the past; so she raised her hand and delivered the second spanking of the day.

"What I told Harmony applies to you as well, Symphony," she said in a firm but calm voice as she spanked her bottom cheeks briskly. "You will turn in your artwork today, and face the consequences for your sloppy work, if it's really sloppy..."

Melody focused on the girl's lower cheeks and sit-spots, keeping her hand rigid and smacking it down at a narrow angle; fresh tears and yelps of protest from Symphony told her she was driving the message home.

"... and then you will apologise to everyone in your class for the delay, most of all to Mr. Wiluly, who is a wonderful person and doesn't deserve to be treated like this."

That broke the dam for Symph, who started weeping freely: disappointing not only her mates, but also her teacher and her sister was simply too much for her to bear, and she dissolved in heartfelt sobs as Melody's relentless hand now smacked white fire on her upper thighs.

"I'm sowwy Mel, owww!... please..." she begged through her tears as she squirmed over Melody's lap, the sting hard to bear by now.

Sometimes Symphony thought she was a cry-baby, but her sister's spankings were no picnic and she dared anyone not to cry under her muscled, Army- trained arm and wrist.

Melody circled Symph's waist with her free arm and continued for a while, knowing her sisters' different levels of tolerance and pain thresholds: she knew that Harmony's crying meant a spanking done and over with, while she needed a 'sounder' reaction from Symphony for her to stop. And a sounder reaction she got, because less than a minute later, when she released her grip and gently patted the bright red bum in front of her, she had a bawling and sorry thirteen-year-old over her lap.

Just as she'd done before, she helped Symphony up and enclosed her in a tight hug. Her eyes darted towards Harmony, who had been watching all along; her crying was now reduced to a sniffle or two, and she just couldn't resist Melody's silent invitation to join them for another family hug.

Melody rubbed their backs while they rubbed their sore bottoms, and didn't spare a few kisses and reassuring words here and there. She didn't really like having to go through such rituals, but she loved her sisters too much to let them get away with their occasional weaknesses.

"Alright," she said after a few minutes. "It's almost time for my drill... Harm, you find Professor Hart, apologise and then get to work on that project again. And really, watch your mouth: you're the only one in here who swears and I hate it. Symph, where is your painting?"

"I-in the big locker," said the sniffling girl.

"Okay. Retrieve it and take it down to the Junior Gallery. They're waiting for you."

She smiled as she gave these orders. Quite surprisingly, but not even that much after all, she got a clean and simple 'yes Melody' from both of them. Nodding, she stood, collected her jacket and bag and ran out the door - so much for her rest before the drill.

Once in the lift which would take her to the Docks, Melody sighed and leaned against the wall. Why does everything always weigh down on my shoulders?

* * *

The shuttle trip to the Simulator Ship had been quick and easy. Melody thought about how must have been in the past when travelling to space had been dangerous and expensive. What strange times those must have been.

At the ship's dock, Melody met the crew she would be working with. The captain, introduced to her as Benjamin Kipperman, was about to graduate from the Academy and was a darn good pilot from what she had heard. There were several others as well, but the one who Melody would be working with most closely on this drill was the Junior Pilot, a young man named Ray Perkins.

"Geeze," she heard him mutter. "They're lettin kids on now?"

Resolutely, Melody ignored him.

The instructor for this mission appeared then and, to Melody's delight, it was Instructor Treppe.

"Good afternoon everyone," he greeted.

"Good afternoon, Sir," they all chorused back.

"Today we will be practising emergency evasive maneuvers. We are 0,1 parsecs from the Sun, and an enemy vessel is attacking us on the starboard side, while another fires direct hits at our ventral section, but is more distant. We have limited firepower but we are faster than both vessels and can outrun them. Avoid critical damage and keep propulsion, life support and stabilisation active in order to win the drill. The ship is ready. All hands to your posts. This drill begins now."

They all scrambled to the small space craft and into their positions. Soon they were hurtling though space as Treppe sat back and watched.

An hour later, Melody was running a frustrated hand through her short blonde hair. The word 'Failure' was flashing across the screens of the ship's computers in large red letters... for the third time. The cause of that word was sitting next to Melody in the person of Ray Perkins.

Melody heard Instructor Treppe sigh. "Mr. Kipperman, you are captaining this vessel, find out what is going wrong and fix it."

"Yes sir," said Ben formally though Melody detected a note of irritation in his voice as well.

As if everyone on the ship didn't know that the mistakes were coming from the Junior Pilot's terminal. They probably all thought it was her fault. Today really wasn't turning out well: first Instructor Treppe's critique after the battle simulation, then having to scold and spank her sisters, and now this. It took all of Melody's self discipline not to bawl out the fool and smack him upside the head.

"Gunner, keep those fighters away as much as you can," Ben was saying. "Engineer, I want as much maneuvering power as possible." Both of these tasks had been performed well thus far, Melody knew, but she suspected that Mr. Kipperman was trying not to embarrass the real problem. "Pilots and Assistants, can we please have faster responses in stabilizers?"

The drill was begun again. Ray thumped Melody's shoulder as the ship began to move. "Hear that kiddo?" he asked her with a sneer.

"Yes," Melody hissed, "I heard the captain ask that the stabilizers be dealt with faster. You've been not only doing it slowly, but incorrectly. I, on the other hand, have been maintaining systems, and I do not recall hearing the captain mention that at all." The girl's hands were flying over the control panel as she spoke, making sure that the ship's systems were all running as they should be.

There was the sound of gun fire and the ship banked left sharply. Melody waited barely a moment, just long enough to see Ray reaching once again for the wrong panel: he was going to screw it up again.

"Idiot!" she shouted. Melody slapped Ray's hand away and quickly stabilized the ship. Again her hands flew across the board taking on both her own job and Ray's at the same time. "I don't know how you managed to get this far in the Academy without knowing how to run the stabilizers of a space craft," Melody continued as the ship swerved, performing the emergency evasive maneuvers of the exercise in the opposite direction as Ray was about to do, "but I'm not going to let you continually make us fail! I have never seen such utter incompetence!"

The ship's cabin was silent for a moment, then suddenly all alarms sounded and a blinding light exploded on the bridge. The word 'Failure' flashed across the screens again. Melody was breathing hard and staring at the control panel in front of her, wondering what the heck was wrong now. She could feel the looks of the others on her back as the exercise came to yet another negative close.

Finally, Instructor Treppe's voice interrupted the silence. "Miss Nocturne, explain yourself."

Melody had to clear her throat before she could speak. Her face felt hot and her ears were burning. "Sir, I... Mister Perkins had engaged the ship's stabilizers incorrectly three times, causing us to fail the mission."

"I understand that, Miss Nocturne. And you obviously thought you could do better."

"Y-yes sir..."

"Is crashing the vessel into the Sun's corona part of your idea of 'doing better', miss Nocturne?"

Melody froze. She looked at the simulated sensors panels and saw the ship's hull burning in the combustion of the star's outermost layer.

"I knew I couldn't steer port 'cause the Sun was there, Sir!" Perkins said. "I kept steering starboard but... somehow I didn't manage to keep it stable, and..."

"Enough, Perkins. Your mistake is as evident as Nocturne's, if not worse. Anyway: Nocturne, I asked you to explain yourself. More specifically, your outburst."

"He's an idiot, sir!" Melody burst out despite herself. "He's arrogant and he was wrong."

"But your solution lost us the simulation just as well," said Ben.

"Exactly, Kipperman. With your encyclopaedic knowledge of the military chain of command, tell me, Miss Nocturne, is it not possible that there was a better way to handle the situation?"

Melody felt her throat constrict. There was proper procedure to be followed. She knew that. The captain would have considered the situation as a whole, while she... Why hadn't she contacted the captain and told him of Perkins' incompetence? Melody hung her head. "Yes sir."

Instructor Treppe nodded. "Very well." He then turned his attention back to the entire cabin. "Mr. Kipperman, your team has failed but you can count on some good personalities here. You will have another chance next week. Take us back to the Academy docks."

On the way back, Treppe took Perkins aside to talk to him in private and left Melody to handle the Junior Pilot's Assistant position by herself. She did so flawlessly despite the tears in her eyes.

* * *

Melody got her crying under control the moment before she walked in her apartment. Tossing the jacket and bag aside, she headed straight for the bathroom, where she activated the shower.

"What's up?" came Symphony's voice behind her. Mel startled, not having noticed her.

"Oh... hey. I'm fine. I need a shower. All done with your expose?" she quickly switched subject.

Symphony shrugged. "Yeah I guess. The picture's there. I stayed a while and came back here... and my bummy still smarts," she added in a whisper.

"I see," was Melody's less than heartfelt reply as she took off her uniform. "And Harm?"

"I'm here," her other sister's voice called as she walked in the bathroom too, this time wearing just a thin, loose T-shirt. "I've just finished my calculations. They were really easy," she blushed.

"Good," said Melody.

"And, really," Symphony spoke again, "we're sorry, and we know we're not supposed to let eagerness have the best of us and we should stick to what we're assigned and not expect to know better, and..." she took a deep breath. "Yeah well, that's all."

"Yeah, thanks for reminding us, Mel," Harmony added, less convinced but still sincere.

Though she tried hard, Melody couldn't think of a situation where she had felt more embarrassed than the present one. No longer than a few hours before she was preaching about the importance of doing as they're told and not getting ahead of themselves... and now she'd just done the same. She felt ashamed and blushed deep red.

"What's up, sis?" Symphony raised her eyebrows as she placed a hand on Mel's shoulder.

Neither she nor Harmony would have expected their 'big' sister to burst out crying. Melody sat on the toilet, holding her head in her hands and bawling like a baby.

"Th-the drill..." she choked out between sobs. "I screwed up. All wrong!..."

Symphony knelt by her and hugged her, rubbing her back. "Why, what happened?"

"Yes, what happened?" said Harmony in a far less complacent tone.

Melody felt a shiver running down her spine as she explained the afternoon's events to her sisters, not leaving anything out, from Ray Perkins' obvious incompetence to her own mistakes that had caused a stern reprimand from the instructor.

"He said it's going to end up on my file too," Melody concluded as she wiped her eyes dry with a tissue. She shook her head as she got her sobs under control and eventually stopped crying.

Like always, Symphony could barely stand it when someone else cried, and she was almost moved to tears herself. But Harmony's resolution was stronger, and though she was feeling sorry for her sister, she still crossed her arms and stood over her.

"Well, what you did was very irresponsible and dangerous. It sounds to me like you've earned yourself a good spanking, Mel."

The words echoed like gunshots. Symphony's eyes widened as she looked from one sister to the other, but even more surprisingly, Melody hung her head and gave a little nod; her sense of self-discipline was strong enough to realise when she'd been wrong and needed correction. It still felt weird, though, because she had never been spanked, let alone by her sisters. She did not feel like the tough well-trained officer she was to become as she sat there being scolded like a naughty little girl.

"I... I know," she finally managed to say.

The following seconds she saw through blurred eyes. She stood and followed Harmony to the living room, and watched as her genius sister sat - quite gingerly... - on the couch. The irony in that scene escaped Melody's mind at that moment.

Symphony remained behind, and again occupied the free armchair, hugging her knees and watching wide-eyed. She barely believed it that Mel, usually so in control of things, was standing there in her thin light-grey cotton panties and matching undershirt and about to get spanked. She silently admired Harmony for her resolution, even though her other sister looked nervous too.

That didn't stop Harm from lowering Melody's panties to mid-thigh and not- too-gently pushing the girl down over her lap. She lost no time and started applying her un-experienced hand to Melody's lean, slightly muscular backside.

"You're the best young pilot in the Academy," she said as she smacked away at random, "and you can't screw that up because of your temper."

"I know... I'm sorry!"

Harmony looked at Symphony and arched her eyebrows, and gulping, Symph nodded and added: "Yes... you can't, Mel," was all she could say.

Though Harmony put every ounce of strength in her blows, they weren't exactly doing much to Melody's 'tough' bottom. Despite that, within a minute into her spanking, the early teenager was on the verge of tears, mostly due to how bad she felt rather than the harshness of the punishment itself.

At last Harmony's arm was tired. She saw the bright pink hue that coloured her sister's cheeks and shook her head as well as her sore arm and hand, and also made a mental note to give more 'calculated' spankings in the future. "Symphony? We need you." she said.

The girl's first reaction was to shake her head. She... spanking Melody? It wasn't even something she could imagine, let alone do. But what happened next caught her by surprise:

"Symph... it's alright..." It came from Melody.

Ironically, that gave her the resolution she needed to go ahead. Trying to swallow the big lump in her throat, she stood and walked to the couch and sat to the far right. Harm shifted Melody's body further right, so that it rested on Symphony's lap, and the purple-haired girl looked down at the pink twin globes as her sister took Mel's wrists in her hand and restrained them.

"Go ahead," Harmony repeated.

Taking another deep breath, Symphony nodded and raised her tiny painter's hand and delivered a feeble smack across Melody's backside. She understood without being told that she needed to hit harder, and harder she went with a loud slap! to Melody's right sit-spot.

"Oww!" That was the first time she cried out, and a few tears rolled down her face.

Having seen that she could spank too, Symphony soon got into a steady pace and proceeded to administer her dose of smacks to her blonde-haired sister's bummy, mostly aimed at her sit-spots and thighs, as Harmony nodded; with one hand she restrained Melody from squirming too much, while caressing her hair affectionately with the other.

Everyone knew how capable Symphony was with her brushes, but apparently she had a hidden talent in painting a bottom red, too. By the time the spanking was over, Symphony and Harmony had a very sorry, sore and crying sister over their laps. Just as she had done with them earlier, they helped her up and both hugged her very tight, letting her cry on their shoulders.

"I'm sorry... I should've known better."

"It's alright. We all need to know ourselves better," said Harmony. And suddenly, without a word, they all turned to the far wall, where the Academy insignia was shown proudly. Encircled in a yellow and blue band was a sketch of Da Vinci's "Man", and the motto read: "Gnothi Sauton".

"Know thyself," Melody said aloud, remembering their first day when they'd all been taught the meaning of that phrase in ancient Greek as reported on the Oracle of Delphi.

It was quite a while before any of them wanted to leave the others and go to bed.

* * *

At 6:59:59 in the morning, the alarm clock activated and Melody Nocturne opened her eyes. It was Saturday and she had no Academy related obligations to tend to. Therefore she got out of be slowly, taking that time to compose her thoughts. As she stood at her bedside she gently laid a hand on her silk nightgown-covered bottom. Yesterday had not gone well. They'd spanked her. Melody could not remember ever having been spanked before, it had always been the other way around. She'd never thought she'd need one. But Harmony had been right. Her bottom tingled at the thought.

Both of her sisters had managed to salvage their mistakes, but Melody had not. There would certainly be another chance to prove her worth on a ship, but never another chance to make a first impression on people like Ben Kipperman.

It doesn't do to dwell on the past, Melody reminded herself. With a faint sigh she left her room and walked into Symphony's room without knocking, as always. Much to her surprise, Symphony was already awake. Clad in a painter's smock and her nightdress, Symphony was sitting on a stool in front of a large canvas. She didn't notice that Melody had entered.

"Good morning, dear sister," Melody greeted.

Symphony looked up and smiled. "Mel, good morning. If you'll give me a few minutes I'll come make breakfast soon."

"Ya know, I could make breakfast for myself," Melody pointed out.

Symphony frowned. "Don't you dare. You'd probably break the FoodMatTM."

"All right," Melody relented.

She smiled as she left Symphony's room and next went to Harmony. The second shock of the day was that Harmony, too, was awake. She was sitting naked on her bed, papers and pencils scattered about her. Her hair was a wild mess and she had one pencil behind her ear, one between her teeth and one in her hand. Why the girl insisted on using the arcane writing instruments, Melody would never know.

"Good morning, genius."

Harmony jumped about a foot in the air. "Crap, Mel, can't you knock?"

"Perhaps when you start waking up on time during weekdays, and speaking without cursing," Melody retorted with a raised eyebrow, causing Harmony to grumble a bit and roll her eyes.

"Symph says she's gonna make breakfast in a bit," said Melody. "Think you can extract yourself from the abstract for some food?"

Harmony smiled. "I'm always hungry, Mel."

The two of them made their way to the kitchen where Symphony was already getting things ready. Breakfast was bacon and potatoes and gravy and toast and butter and biscuits and milk and lingering over coffee while watching the Earth Morning News.

At seven o'clock, Melody stood up, drawing the attention of the other two. "Symph, don't forget that Mr. Wiluly said he wanted to talk to you this morning."

Symphony nodded. "Okay Mel, I'll get ready right now," and she scampered to her bedroom.

Harmony sighed. "I suppose I ought to go talk to Professor Hart." She stood up as well.

"Yes, and I intend to see Instructor Treppe," Melody told Harmony as they walked to their rooms. "It was quite a day we had yesterday, wasn't it?"

"It was," Harmony nodded. "Look, Mel, spanking you... it was... Well you're not mad, are you?"

Melody looked surprised. "No. Why would I be?"

Harmony shrugged. "Just wanted to make sure. You... we never spanked you before after all. And, I just want you to know that I'm not mad either. I... I really do appreciate your... your motivation."

Melody smiled. "I'm glad to hear that. But I want you to promise that if you ever think that I need another spanking, you'll let me know."

"I promise."

The two shared a quick hug before disappearing into their own rooms to dress for the day. Shortly, the three Nocturne sisters were leaving their apartment. They had people to see and apologies to make.