Destiny's Choice is an original work of fiction, a science fiction thriller of novel length with uber qualities. The plot is layered with romance, political intrigue, sex, and violence. At times the drama can be intense. Enjoy. Once completed I hope to find a publisher. I appreciate comments good and bad, especially if they are constructive.
Chapter 15: Plans
"If an artisan has taken a child for bringing up, and has taught him his manual skill, the child shall not be reclaimed. If he has not taught him his manual skill, the pupil may return to his father's house. Codes of Hammurabi.
"The progress of freedom depends more upon the maintenance of peace, the spread of commerce, and the diffusion of education, than upon the labours of cabinets and foreign offices. Richard Cobden is a speech to the House of Commons, June 1850.
"Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power vested in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, when the rule prescribes not, and not to be subject to the inconstant, unknown, arbitrary will of another man. ˜ John Locke in the Second Treatise on Civil Government (1690).
Hayley was pacing as she spoke to the VAS in her apartment. She paused only to throw Sparky his ball.
"Good boy," she spoke softly as she removed the ball from his mouth, gave him a pat, and tossed the ball back down the hall leading into the bedroom. The carpet muffled the scamper of doggy feet in pursuit underscored her return to the text she was dictating. "Speaker Five˜
"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal˜Martian Constitution, Preamble.
"Dissolve to HOST walking across the General Assembly of the United Galactic Confederation of Parliamentary. Title fade up. Host˜
"Freedom and laws. Divergent principles that we have come ∑ No cut that last. HOST stumbles, PULL BACK, QUICK DISSOLVE to COLLEGE CLASS in stadium seating, laughs, TEACHER calls for calm as she goes to HOST, now obviously a STUDENT, flushes with embarrassment tries to regain composure."
"In-coming call," VAS interrupted.
"Hold˜Save composition to file."
"Saved," VAS replied a double heart beat later.
"VAS, I'll take in-coming now." Hayley picked up the ball Sparky had dropped at her feet and gave it a toss back down the hall.
"Hey, Buddy," came the most familiar voice in the galaxy.
Hayley turned to back to the large plasma screen dominating the wall. She felt a large goofy grin spread across her face. "Carol!" She sat on the arm of her couch.
"So how was your first day?"
Carol looked great. Dressed in her usual orange jumpsuit, she looked relaxed and fresh, which off course made sense as day was just now breaking on Mars.
"You wouldn't believe my first project." She picked Sparky up as he returned with his ball and held him in her lap. "Look it's Auntie Carol." She helped Sparky wave a front paw.
"Thanks, sweetheart." Carol accepted a glass of juice from Tanner, who snuggled next to her on the couch in their apartment.
"And Uncle Tanner ˆ Tanner, AWOL?"
"No, just took a day off since I was on Mars."
"He heads back tonight."
"Giving Carol a hand with the newer cadets ∑"
"Then hopefully we'll find a moment or two." Carol exchanged a sweet kiss from her beau.
"You are both so cute together," Hayley couldn't help smiling.
"Now what about this project you have?" Carol idly drew her thumb across Tanner's right knee as she leaned back in his arms and sipped her juice.
So Hayley painted her a portrait of the day and its events, and then of her events to come.
"And of course it's more than half done," Carol teased.
"Well, the ROM, I've got the treatment done, and I had a great sense of what I wanted for the opening so I've been doing what I can to mold it into a script. I found this great software program and uploaded it into my VAS system."
"Ah huh," Carol smirked. "And what of the other treatment?"
"It's started," Hayley grimaced waiting for a bit of teasing.
"My little over achiever," Carol tilted her glass of juice in her direction. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?"
"A little, but the feeling's mutual, for both of you." Hayley ached to break through the monitor across Sol. She raised her right hand toward the screen. With an expression filled with the misery of loss, Carol did the same.
Tanner broke through the emotion giving Carol's side a tweak. Carol jumped and slapped back playfully. "So details about this dinner with the boss?" asked Tanner. "First here on the station, now tonight."
"Hayley, are you blushing?" Carol grinned.
"Goodness girl, you're as red as an Ibis," Tanner spoke over Carol.
"Stop teasing." Hayley threw a wave at the screen.
"I love it." Carol replied. "Spark give Mommy a kiss for me."
"Sparky, kiss?" Hayley lifted the dog so he could lick her cheek.
"Seems like you're getting more than enough kisses," Tanner smirked back.
Carol elbowed him in the ribs. "Enough, Mister. We've teased Hayley enough."
"It's all right, Carol. I'm just so˜I don't know."
"Hayl' just take it for what it is."
"And what's that?"
"A blossoming friendship˜maybe something more, maybe not. Hayl' this is virgin territory for you."
"In more ways than one."
"I know. That's why I want you to just be. Don't freak out. Robin's long ago, way, way time to move on. Enjoy yourself tonight."
"I will." Hayley scratched Sparky behind his left ear.
"Now the reason I'm calling," Carol gave a clap and rubbed her hands together to control giddiness officers weren't allowed to show. I'll be on Parliament Thursday thru Sunday and I don't want to stay in the barracks."
"You hitting me up for a bed?" Hayley laughed. "And with the moon so close."
Tanner sighed, "I gotta take my troops out for a week-long excursion."
Hayley laughed. "Ah, now I see. I'm only a port in a lonely storm."
"I sure hope so." This time Tanner tackled Carol, pinning her on the couch. In a mass assault, he tickled her until she raised her hand in surrender.
"Hey, guys. Guys?" Hayley spoke over the laughter. "If Sparky and I can't join in˜"
"That would not be fair," Carol wiped her face as she sat back up. "Two against one."
"Absolutely. It's the only way I ever beat your butt." Hayley laughed.
"Except for Triple Plane Scrabble or Boggle." Carol listed the games Hayley routinely beat everyone at.
"God, I'm missing you."
"Hayley, you've only been gone three days."
"I know," she whined.
"Besides, after you get off work, we can go out and play˜get something to eat."
"So when do you arrive?"
"I thought about coming in on Wednesday around eighteen hundred hours."
"That should work."
The buzzer to the apartment sounded. Sparky immediately bounded from Hayley's lap yapping his warning. Standing, she nervously searched her skirt for the tell tale signs of pet ownership, removing several obvious hairs.
"Ah, the boss."
"Hayley, relax. Just pretend she's, well˜well me."
"Impossible, you're one of a kind."
"So are you, buddy. Take it easy and I'll see you Wednesday."
"Better get Sparky and let her in. Have fun, Hayl."
"You too. Love you, guys."
"Ditto, now go. Bye!" The screen went blank and returned to a view showing the script.
"Okay, okay˜coming!" Hayley tried to catch her furry defender, who kept one step at arm's length. "Come on, Spark. It's just Christine. You remember her. Ah-ha!" She scooped the dog into her arms. "Got'cha!˜VAS, door open." The door slid open. "Come in," she gave Christine a nod as she stepped back, keeping Sparky and his tough little growl in her arms.
"Some guard dog."
"Yep. He's really friendly. See, Spark. It's just Christine."
"I don't know what it is, but dogs and me˜"
"Pet him. Once he knows you're welcome in his castle."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure. See Spark," Hayley spoke in soothing tones. She scratched a half-flopped ear. "She's my boss˜," Hayley caught an amused look in Christine's wary expression. "Okay, mommy's friend. Good boy," she continued the scratching, smiling encouragement as Christine stroked the dog's back. "See? Friend˜both of you." She chuckled. "I'll set him outside and I'll be ready to go."
Hayley opened the sliding glass door and set Sparky on the immaculately mowed lawn, pausing to make sure his water dish was full. She gave the pup one last ruff of his fur and slid the door shut. She found Christine staring at her VAS monitor, hand on her jean wrapped hips, her lanky body slightly skewed, her upper torso provocative in the way it jagged just so at the spine. For a moment, until she was aware of what she was doing and mentally slapped herself silly for such brazen stupidity, her gaze lingered on the subtle softness of Christine's pillowy breasts, the nipples˜and that was when she felt her face turn beet-red and she shook herself from the lustful reverie.
Christine turned back. "I think this is a bit long-winded," she nodded at the screen, but I like what you're doing. Maybe˜," She pulled back her auburn mop back from her face˜she was wearing it loose, very feminine, or so Hayley thought˜and smiled, the understated pink-red highlighting the faint cherry hues tinting her cheeks. Her eyes, brown and glistening, weren't round, more like almonds, seductive almonds in the way they looked at her. "Later. I looked over your treatment˜and I see you're already working on the script. Confident of approval?"
"Just wanted to get started. I can send what I've done for your review. I'm also `bout half way through the second treatment.. I'll have both done before you get back from your trip."
"Send it to Elise and she'll add it to my PDA. Now, enough work."
"All work and no play," her boss winked. She nodded at Hayley's attire. "I like this."
Quizzically, Hayley quickly scrutinized her slate-gray silk blouse, black slacks, blazer, and black sandals. "I thought I'd dress down," she admitted. "I really don't care much for skirts or dresses, except it's been ingrained that it is what I should wear for work."
"You'll notice that I'm not much for anything too frilly myself, but for work, this is fine. Clean cut, neat, shows the package all too well. I should be duly chastised for missing out on this opportunity."
"For this," Christine took her hand. "You are a beautiful woman Dr. Genetti. Very." And with that she leaned down and brushed her lips against Hayley's. Lightly at first, then it lingered until the warmth of contact made Hayley dizzy.
"Wow," she caught her breath. "But I think you did do that. In you office," she giggled.
"Yeah, wow," Christine smiled.
"Chinese˜s'been a long time." McClurg twirled a noodle around his fork, stabbing a prawn before he sucked it all into his mouth. "And prawns. A missed delicacy to be sure˜sea food."
"I thought Ceta Bine Two had an ocean?" Light Horse bit into the large prawn she held with a pair of wooden chopsticks.
"Three, but nae crustacean, at least any that be edible. You haud those very well," McClurg pointed with his fork at the chopsticks in Light Horse's left hand. "We've discovered a thousand microscopic life forms, algae, plankton, a number of eel-like fish, no fins and warm-blooded. They build nests. They're a delicacy because they're so difficult to catch. I don't care too much for them. Too much like snakes," he shivered.
"So what led you to Ceta Bine Two?" Light Horse carried a trio of stir fried green beans into her mouth.
"Wanted to have a venture. To pioneer a wast unsettled lawnde."
"What do you do?"
"I went as a botanist to catalogue and study the interrelation between plants there and their habitat. There are many of us who went to Ceta Bine Two to see if we could create a world where humans could live in harmony with an already intact ecosystem."
"Except the expeditions were financed by the conglomerates and the U.G.C."
"So were the Moon, Mars, and every other extra-Terran endeavor." McClurg's brogue sung melodically as he stabbed a second prawn. "Immaterial."
"But you knew they were going to establish mining operations?"
"Yes, and I was simply going to catalogue the plant life I found.
"So what changed?"
"We fell in love with the planet. Simple as that."
"I love Chinese," Hayley glanced at the long fingers intertwined with her own.
Christine noticed and gave the hand she held a squeeze. "I have a feeling you simply like good food."
"Pretty much," she said cautiously returning her date's gesture and gave the hand in hers a squeeze back.
"I should have a reservation for two, under Stone," Christine gestured to a short Asian woman dressed in a sky blue silk kimono bordered with multi-colored butterflies. She wore her long ebony hair in a tight bun held in place with the peacock feather, the feather's blueness a perfect match for the kimono.
"This way Chief Stone."
The interior of the restaurant was dark, except for several strategically placed festival lanterns and the candles that decorated the tables. Most of the tables were occupied, but Hayley spotted a small cluster off to the left where the hostess was leading them. Hidden in the shadows only one, no two, had any occupants.
"Here˜wait," Christine caught Hayley as she reached her chair. Christine's voice dipped. It was seductive, alluring. "Let me," She pulled out the chair and waited for Hayley to sit.
Taken aback, Hayley hesitated, but then slid into the proffered seat. "Thanks," she said, her voice warm and slightly embarrassed. "You didn't have to do that."
"Oh, but I wanted to." Christine helped Hayley as she slid the chair so she pulled close to her place setting.
Dipping her head slightly, Hayley kept an eye on Christine as she took her place opposite. "You're so silly," she said, keeping her voice low.
"Some would call it butch."
"So that makes me the fem? Rather old fashioned don't you think?"
"For an old-fashioned girl," Christine winked and reached up to take a menu from the host. "Trust me?" she asked Hayley.
"To order?" Hayley thought a moment. She knew what she wanted, but thought better. She nodded. "Sure."
Christine handed back the menu. "We'll start with Pork Shu-Mei, Fun Gor, and an order of Hot and Spicy Squid."
"Anything to drink?"
"A bottle of rice wine?" Christine asked Hayley.
Hayley nodded, "Could we also have a pot of tea and some water?" Hayley added.
"Tea?" Christine raised an eyebrow.
"I am an old-fashioned girl." Hayley grinned.
"Ssoo--," Light Horse replied in half a sigh, her ever aware gaze sighting Christine Stone as she followed the establishment's host to a table in the shadows opposite where she and McClurg were finishing their dinner; the only thing left was to crack the fortune cookie she had been playing with for the last ten minutes and pressing her thumb print on the credit tray their waiter had left on the table. "Let me tell you, it's going to be a rough journey. Ceta Bine isn't like Mars or even Titan. It's the same problem the Yretan are having with their government and the U.G.C." Light Horse pulled the generic fortune from her cookie. Glancing at it˜Romance comes into your life this year in a very unusual sort of way˜, her thumb pressed against the thin, crisp shell, shattering the cookie over her plate. She rolled the thin strip of paper and set it on her plate as she picked at the cookie fragments and popped them into her mouth. "Communication when the Lunar Colonies and Mars began advocating for independence and full membership in the U.G.C., it was almost instantaneous. Travel had reached three-quarter light speed and distance was miniscule. Even with today's speeds Ceta Bine and Yreta and the rest of the extra-solar colonies might as well be on the far side of the galaxy. Humans are funny like that. Even today, mainstream humans care little about what happens in their neighbor's backyard. The perception must be of direct impact, and then it's important. The assassination of Tern, Yreta's Prime Minister," Light Horse poured a stream of pale green tea from the tea pot in front of her into a small, handleless, white ceramic cup decorated with exotic bird-like kites. She nodded at McClurg's empty cup. He shook his head negatively. "When his wife was assassinated, no one here would have given two cents, except for the humans who also died. The congloms could strip-mine the entire planet and no one would care."
"Doesn't help that the Yretan look so dern ogly."
"I guess that depends on one's point of view." Light Horse drank the warm liquid hiding her annoyance. Instead she plowed ahead with her point. "What's worse is the lack of media coverage˜the lack of any effort to get to know them. They are a remarkable people with profound insights about the philosophical nature of the universe."
"So what will we need to do? What `boot my people?"
"Make it more immediate. Colonies were formed to obtain natural resources, or so most people who give a damn will say. At least the congloms are no longer interested in our backyards. Let them go to some unpopulated planet and do what they wish."
"But Ceta Bine is our home."
"Home to only about ten, what maybe, fifteen thousand˜mostly miners, scientists, and farmers."
"There's eighteen thousand four hundred nineteen as of when I left, and families are growing and transports arriving with new colonists every day˜and that's the other thing we're worried about. Quite a few are loaded with minor criminals. We don't have any intention of becoming another Botany Bay, or a dumping ground for Earth's own overpopulation like the rest of Sol. I mean it when I say that we intend to live as much as possible in harmony with the planet."
Light Horse let her clandestine gaze slip over to the chief of staff and her blonde guest. At first, she watched Stone, then the blonde. The blonde was laughing as Stone was obvious flirting. Another conquest, thought Light Horse. The blonde was, well, too nice. Fresh˜clean, surely she had just stepped off the farm, if indeed any small town farming families still existed. She replied to McClurg without a beat. "I understand your position and even sympathize, but the truth remains: who gives a rusted valve plug about you when the congloms are the reason you were able to move in the first place and the resources from Ceta Bine Two means that the seventeen billion humans on Earth and Mars don't have to have their lives destroyed by toxins and other industrial pollutants."
"That's rather harsh."
Light Horse's focus snapped back on the Ceta-Scot. "Those are the realities, Warren. The realities. It's not right, but it is the way life is. Humans are basically parochial creatures, even your people's desire for independence. It's parochial. It matters to you. Who else cares?"
"So you won't help."
"No, I didn't say that." Light Horse picked up a fragment of the shattered cookie and nibbled on it.
"But you paint such a lopsided picture."
"I'm being truthful." She glanced back at the blonde, noting how the soft lighting from the candle in the middle of the table played off her features.
"So what can we do?"
Light Horse glanced back at her guest. "We make people care."
"And we are human after all. We're just like them. We look like them and live like them. Won't be like the Yretan and their cause." McClurg followed Light Horse's eyes as she looked back at the blonde.
"Yes˜yes, you are."
"Ah, Stone," he said.
Light Horse said nothing, catching her breath. Caught, she sipped her tea, which had grown cold.
"Ah, lass," the brogue deepened. "Good taste."
"She looks familiar," Light Horse pressed her thumb on the credit payment slot of the bill tray. "I really need to be going."
McClurg followed. "Cute, lassie. Looks like Stone's casting her spell. A hard mean woman, but I guess," he cast a glance backwards. Light Horse could hear Stone's distinctive cackle. "Even a vixen can have an innocent look in her presence." He nodded at the blonde.
Light Horse glanced back, her eyes met Stone's sober cold stare.
"Dr. Light Horse?" Hayley followed Christine's angry stare. Christine didn't respond. "Isn't that the gentleman who needed to speak with you this morning? I heard his voice. Such a wonderful accent. Scottish I think. Who is he?"
"Where's he from?" Hayley asked.
"Ceta Bine Two," replied Christine as Dr. Light Horse and the representative from Ceta Bine Two disappeared through the exit.
"Really?" Hayley said with a bit of awe. "I wish I'd known."
"Why?" Christine's voice sharpened as she turned back and locked on Hayley's open expression.
"I know the timeline. You know˜the who, what, where, and when of the colony's discovery and establishment, but I've never met a resident. I'd love to learn more. Go there one day."
"The U.G.C. has some major conglom contracts on the planet."
"What's the relationship with the citizens? I understand that a large segment of the population is trying an experiment which will preserve the biosphere in a more or less pristine state."
"Never'll work." Christine took a sip of her wine.
"Contracts, and the planet's a natural treasury of resources."
"Except for Trinidia it's the most earth-like."
"Irrelevant. Congloms have staked out their claims and have contracts. Besides, we need the resources."
"Surely, they exist elsewhere? The various asteroid belts, my father says those here in Sol have enough natural ores to last centuries."
"Listen, Hayley. Certain realities exist in politics. There is a give and take that takes place. Without the congloms our extraterrestrial and extra-solar expansions would not have been the success they've been."
"But surely the people matter? Look at Mars and the Moon? The people eventually rebelled. Just as they did on Earth."
"Hayley," Christine's chest rose as she took a deep breath. "We were enjoying a nice meal. Don't get going down that road. You won't like it."
"Hayley stay away from the politics and stick to what you know."
"But?" Hayley pressed.
"No!" Stone's voice was soft, yet Hayley heard the threat of danger she had not heard before. Christine changed the subject of discussion. "Before the rest of our dinner gets here, or is spoiled," again Christine breathed deeply, as if trying to corral her temper. She used a pair of chopsticks to lift the squid appetizer to her mouth. "You were describing how Bruce asked your father for Delores's hand. So old fashioned. I just can't picture him doing something like that, or Delores even caring."
Hayley plucked a small octopus covered in chili, garlic, and soy sauce from the community bowl in the center of the table and popped it in her mouth. She used the time spent chewing to reflect on what had just happened. The tone, the look Christine had given her just a moment earlier had given her pause. So unlike what she had known, had seen. She glanced up into the eyes watching her now. They and the accompanying facial expression had softened; they watched her warily. Hayley found her tongue tied, nearly paralyzed and she wondered if perhaps she should simply excuse herself. She had failed, angered the woman before her, broken the connectedness she had felt. Perhaps ruined her job. Maybe it was time to return to Mars. Maybe she simply wasn't cut out for this life. Return to droids. History, her classroom, research, obscurity was safe. Being at odds with Christine disturbed her. A sensation of fear gnawed at her. Fear and connectedness.
Hayley looked up. Christine's face had softened. Reaching out, she gesture for Hayley to give her hand. Hayley did so, placing her right hand in Christine's. "Honey, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you like that. I know you were just trying to help, but the issues right now are very complex and so filled with emotion. Please accept my apology. I didn't mean to demean you, or hurt your feelings. Will you forgive me?"
Hayley nodded agreement and in that instant a tear slid down her cheek. Gently Christine reached up and brushed the tear away. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry, too." Hayley fought to contain her mix of relief and angst. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you angry."
Leaning over Christine brushed her lips against Hayley's. "Darling don't worry. It was all my fault. I over reacted."
"I was so worried I'd blown everything."
"Nah," Christine chuckled as she increased the pressure on the hand she held. Hayley squeezed the hand holding hers back in return. "Why don't we finish dinner, forget all talk of work and galactic affairs, and go play. I know I need it."
Hayley nodded again.
"Good," Christine smiled. "Tell me more about Bruce and his proposal. I love learning more about him and Delores. The mental picture of Bruce on bended knee,' Christine shook her head. "And then Delores doing the same before Bruce's mother. What would have happened if either said `No'?"
Hayley sipped her water. She sighed, realizing that at times and on some topics, she and her boss would disagree. "I don't know. I've never given it any thought. Who would have disapproved. They were in love?"
"I know I've seen her before." Light Horse rounded the console, sat, and pushed herself up close to the desk. "VAS I need a blonde woman. Twenties, one hundred seventy-or-so centimeters ∑"
"Doctor, are you in need of sexual services."
"No." Light Horse hung her head and pulled back her dark hair from her eyes. Surely, they were blood shot and with an early transport to Armstrong she knew where she should be. Definitely not her office. But there was something. Something about the blonde. Something.
"When I get back, I really want to take you out for golf. Jeremiah and the Executive Department will be hosting a tournament at the start of the next session. Best ball. I was thinking we might team up."
"I know nothing about golf."
Christine's thumb stroked the back of Hayley's hand. "That's why I should teach you. I'm pretty good if I don't say so myself. Usually I get thousands of credits for one private tutoring session. You should feel privileged."
"Why me? Surely you know someone who knows how to play?"
"But not as beautiful. Besides, DeBow asked me to invite you. He wants you to meet others in the party and on the team. Bruce will be playing and I've asked him to bring Delores. Should be fun."
"Oh, so I'm just needed to fill out the foursome."
"No, I just want you for your body," Christine released a deep, throaty laugh as she wrapped her arms around Hayley's waist and gave her a tickle.
Hayley yelped and did a jig stepping from the grasp.
"Well, well. Look where we are." Christine grabbed her again, tickling her with frantic fingers, lifting Hayley's blouse from her skirt. She backed Hayley into the alcove of her apartment's entrance. "So you'll play golf with me."
She couldn't escape the tickles. "Yes˜oh, yes," Hayley surrendered.
Christine pulled her into an embrace. The embrace didn't stop as hungry lips captured hers. Hungry, the lips grabbed and sucked, and the tongue, strong and sure, pushed, seeking entrance, lapping the taste of soy sauce, sweet and sour, cotton candy from their return to the carnival, and the lightness of Hayley's soul and breath.
"Wow!" Hayley stepped back breathless when her lips lost the demanding mouth that had taken hers possession.
"You taste good." Christine kissed her again, and again. Her lips meandered along Hayley's jaw, along her right ear and paused just long enough to suck a lobe, then along her neck.
"Gah," the vocalization so short communicated Hayley's loss of control and flight into an alternate plane of existence.
A hand wormed its way into the fabric of the silk blouse. It tickled. It warmed. The lips nibbled and continued its tasting tour. Breast and bra cup separated. Sensation and heat. Hayley gasped. She fought for breath and when the lips returned she pressed herself into the hand, into the body her hands pulled hard, pressing pillowy bosoms to press against her own. Flesh breasts and warm skin beneath her hands and then.
"You are fabulous," Christine kissed her cheek.
"You make me feel," Hayley didn't know how to express what she was feeling. She only knew she had never felt the tingles, or heat, or the light-headedness like this before. Foreign emotions, she could not translate them. Nothing in her vocabulary would make due.
"Unfortunately, I've got an early transport tomorrow and you have work to finish."
Oh that, thought Hayley having totally forgot about the project˜having forgot even her name.
"I have no desire to go anywhere."
"No," murmured Hayley, who wrapped her arms around Christine and pulled her close, resting her head against the narrow, but solid shoulder.
"Hayley," the tone was warm, but serious.
"Huh?" Hayley looked up into the face she knew she would miss until its return.
Lips blended with hers.
"When I get back?" The smile was wide with a touch of bemusement.
"Absolutely," Hayley sighed, lost in the moment.
They kissed again, long and with a sensuality Hayley knew she would need again. "I wish you didn't have to go," she said, a tear forming in the corner of an eye.
"You're so sentimental."
"Part of the package," Hayley's smile blended with the embarrassment she felt with the whirling emotions.
"When I get back, a real date."
"What was tonight then?" She giggled.
"And the carnival?"
"I don't plan to stop with just dinner. Golf, dinner, real time together?"
"I'd like that." Impulsively Hayley kissed Christine on the cheek.
Christine kissed her back and waited for Hayley to release the lock from her apartment. Two more kisses and then Christine pushed Hayley. "Get to work," she teased.
"I'll see you next Monday."
"Maybe sooner," Christine laughed. She flipped her auburn hair back over her shoulder, turned around, and left.
Releasing the lock, Hayley leaned against the door. "Wow!" she sighed, reveling in the wash of feeling flowing above, below, around, and through her.
Then Sparky barked. Standing on his hind legs, he waved his front legs and clicked his paws with agitation against the sliding glass door.
With a laugh, she went to let him in.
"Are you sure your associates won't care?"
Light Horse allowed McClurg to take the window seat, preferring the aisle to stretch her legs. "Nah, they'll love you as much as I do." She clapped his shoulder.
"Ah, darling," he leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Just don't let my wife know." He laughed, removed a PDA from his jacket pocket, sat, and began the process of strapping into his safety harness. "So, you'll be speaking at the Association brunch in Armstrong?"
Light Horse sat and fastened her harness. "Yes˜a moment to get the message across, do the prerequisite hobnobbing, and fundraising˜also a little engagement at the University."
"The Lunar Association of Indigenous People? I heard somewhere that you had indigenous ancestors."
"Here and there," she pulled her PDA from the interior pocket of her jacket and turned it on. The screen winked to display a midnight blue field with a line of icons. "Larry Yelp and Marco Martinez," she said, pausing a moment in her answer to instruct the small computer to open a library labeled Martian Prime. "They'll meet us at the spaceport. We'll get you settled at the Hyatt. I want to drop by my apartment and pick up some of my regalia. After the brunch, they'll take us out to the reservation for the powwow." She watched an index of files form into a phalanx. "From there we'll go into Tranquility Base City and then through some of the villages."
"I can't thank you enough for allowing me to tag along."
"No problem. The only way to make your issues more immediate is to make them public." She tapped a file. "Your situation and ours are similar."
"Except you're independent."
"Sometimes I think its in name only."
"Then I must thank you for your support."
"Excuse me," the flight attendant, a young Filipina with a short bob, interrupted. Her name tag indicated her name was Balita. She wore a snug, unisex, dark blue and totally impractical jumpsuit, and a pair of ankle-high black boots. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Please," perked McCloud, his eyes scanning the woman appreciatively, "Some orange juice."
"And you, ma'am," she eyed Light Horse.
Light Horse looked up from her display. "A thirty-five percent raspberry pulp, banana fifty percent, and fifteen percent papaya juice?"
"Interesting combination," commented the bulky Scot as the woman moved back up the aisle with their order, his attention following until she disappeared into the kitchen opposite the stairs leading to the cockpit. He turned his gaze back to Light Horse. "What ha' there?"
"Where No Man Has Gone Before," she muttered as she scrolled from the cover to the start of the introduction.
"Hey, that's the young lass Stone was eating with last night. Who is she?"
"Hayley Genetti˜Dr. Hayley Genetti." The lilt of the name resonated with melodious effortlessness, as if practiced for ages, yet as natural as the breath of a spring rose garden.
"A historian," Light Horse gave the Scot a look that said shut up I want to spend some time read. She scrolled to the start of the text and McClurg settled back in his seat and looked out the portal at the busy spaceport.
The flight attendant reappeared, this time with a tray of glasses filled with a variety of juices and alcoholic drinks. Smiling broadly, she exchanged pleasantries and deposited drinks on the various trays.
"McClurg," Light Horse paused her reading and took the glass of orange juice. She handed it to her companion. "Thank you," she set her own in the holder of the faux leather tray that separated her seat from the Scot's. She dropped her eyes back to her microcomputer.
Her senses told her that the attendant was once again making her way up the aisle to the in-flight station. In a rush of shadow, the thump of a determined shuffle, scuffle, then thump. A tall form bulldozed into the attendant, knocking her over in sputter of gasps and clatter of plastic and metal. The smell of peach, almost overpowering, filled the cabin.
"Excuse me," a familiar alto voice said with exasperated gruffness.
Light Horse lifted an eye and surveyed the aisle. A frown pulled her lips.
"Chief Stone," the attendant braced her arms on the armrests and pulled herself up.
"Sorry Rosie," Stone's gruffness softened as she recognized the woman. She adjusted her valise and gave the woman a hand.
"Running late as usual?"
Stone let a salacious smile crease her face and brow. "Overslept," she purred.
"Poor baby," the attendant giggled.
Stone caught a chuckle as she looked up to peek at her audience. Their eyes made contact˜slate-gray and woody-brown. Neither spoke, their glares speaking volumes.
"Your usual, Chief? Bourbon on rocks?" The attendant's voice was playful.
"Too early," Stone looked back at the shorter woman. "Orange juice," she winked and slipped into the seat closest to the hatch.
From her seat, Light Horse frowned as she watched Stone fasten her harness.
"Such a vratch." McClurg's brogue trilled softly. "Wa dun you suppose she's up to. Goin to Armstrong same as us. Coincident I dun suppose."
"Probably same as us, except in reverse. The party knows that the grassroots faction in our assembly will be introducing a bill to clamp down on the abuses of the United Mining Consortium and the Waste Managers Disposal Corp," Light Horse looked back at the text on her display.
He leaned closer. "The two of you," he said gesturing forward to where the confederation's chief of staff sat, "don get on too much."
"Noticed that last night. She has one nasty stare."
"Ladies and gentlemen, please prepare for departure. Please check your restraining harnesses." Video monitors on the back of the seat in front flicked on. "If you are uncertain about ∑" Light Horse tuned out as the monitor showed the different safety procedures.
"You a speed reader?"
"Something like that," she sighed.
She had only needed half an hour to locate information on the mysterious blonde. Dr. Hayley Genetti. She had started simply by performing a search on Stone's latest activities and low and behold, she had found a press conference announcing the addition to DeBow's team, a Director of Historical Education, Dr. Hayley Genetti. The entire conference was on file. Downloading the file, Light Horse had watched the complete presentation and then found herself smiling as she watched the obviously reserved historian handle the jaded press corps that covered DeBow and his imperial administration. Oh, yeah, but then she had frowned and gone in search of everything she could find about and written by the Martian.
"Dr. Genetti. She isn't related to Dr. Donald Genetti?"
"Her father." Light Horse returned her attention to the PDA screen.
"A load o brock."
"You've met." Not a question, a statement˜the look in McClurg's disapproving expression said he had and that he didn't think much of the Martian.
"He's a geologist." That she had read. "He's headed at least two Confederation surveys of Ceta Bine One and Two. We've had a number of quarrelsome conversations. He's one of the reasons my people feel as they do now."
Light Horse nodded. She looked out the portal to her left and noticed the station quickly receding, its glistening bulk partially obscured by shadows and the emerald greens and blues of humanity's home planet looming like wallpaper in the background. She looked back down at her PDA.
"Have you met him?"
She shook her head and mumbled, "Just his reputation."
"You're trying to read. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry. My curiosity's up. I'm being rude."
"And the lass has indeed a fine face. I noticed."
Light Horse how much she should share of her musings. She'd said little to Hazel before she left for the spaceport, even though Hazel could tell she had spent the night in her office, catching only a little sleep on her couch. She glanced back up the aisle and focused on the long slender arm of Christine Stone. She faced McClurg. "Let's jus' say I don't trust DeBow's Chief. They've hired Dr. Genetti as their Director of Historical Education."
"More than obvious."
"Twice looks are a deception," McClurg shook his head. "Such a lovely lass, but treuthless is her mistress. Blessed be that you are not so false, Dr. Light Horse."
Light Horse chuckled. "Don't think I won't be just as ruthless as she," she gestured to where Stone sat. "I have pledged to protect my own just as she has hers."
"But wouldn't you say that pledge is one for the greater good, and not to line your pockets and the pockets of friends at the expense of others?"
"I hope so," Light Horse sighed.
"See, there ya have it. That is why I'm here with you. You are our only road to liberation and self-determination."
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