As usual you really have a handle on the politics of an organization like an army. You capture the chilling impersonality of such a group well.
By choosing to have Nooj remain oblivious of the concessions that have been made for him you definitely have a believable way of showing his naivete as a young adult. One little nitpicking thing, on this note. In the sixth paragraph you write "Nooj, of course, was unaware of any of these concessions." I would omit "of course," just because it doesn't really add anything to the story and because it isn't obvious given what he have read of the adult Nooj that he would not notice such a thing.
I like how throughout this chapter the point of view shifts to Nooj's superiors. It givesthe reader an uneasy feeling. Everything Nooj does is being watched an remarked upon by others, whether they are his fellow cadets or his superiors.
I like Kaith too and the way she reacts to Nooj's carelessness about his own skills is quite believable.
This: "For a time only the silken hiss of steel on steel and the shuffling of four feet disturbed the quiet of the large room and glittering motes in the beams of light which held the fencers in an illusionary amber cage." is very lovely indeed.
I like the understated way in which you suggest that Kaith might be attracted to Nooj. And Nooj's reasons for his various actions are convincing and interesting. As always I find his motivations fascinating. Although he is slightly more naive, he still has a great understanding of how people react to him, without having any vanity to speak of. I think that is perhaps the most remarkable thing about him. While he may have been vulnerable to Paine's impressions of him, usually he simply does not care to an extent that is unheard of for most people. Because of this he can manipulate others ideas about him much more effectively. In this he reminds me a little of someone I know.
Author\'s Response: Hi - it is nice to have you back. You are one of my most perceptive readers. I have decided to bite the bullet and fill in the period of his life when he was training to become an officer in the Spiran Army. And I have just finished the final story in this series. Now he is in the Crusaders and another set of burdens are on tap. Nooj is quite oblivious to the fact women find him attractive. He is concentrated upon the one motivation which does not change - his fixation on death. I try to account for that in the series I have just completed. It is a challenge to deal with a hero who keeps saying he wants to die and does not get on with it. Thank you again for your attention.