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 20: Duels
Kimberly Adams spied the Genetti clan sitting together in the public gallery overlooking the floor of Parliament. They had come to watch Bruce Sharpleton and his hundred twenty-four colleagues renew their pledge to "serve and protect the United Galactic Confederation and its citizens."
At the conclusion of the brief oath the Lieutenant Governor, standing imperiously on her dais, laid her gavel on the block. Its echo could not break through the applause of the assembled guests and dignitaries or the shouts of the ministers congratulating one another. Pausing, the short blonde woman gave everyone a few more minutes to bask in the glow of the moment and to allow those watching on the various news nets to enjoy the infectious excitement that always accompanied the annual swearing in ceremony. Finally, after enough time had lapsed, pounding the block three more times, she quieted the vociferous crowd. The United Galactic Confederation's 115th Parliament was officially opened. After a few more announcements about caucuses and the prerequisite committee meetings, the Lieutenant Governor closed the first meeting, reminding everyone of the Governor General's dinner later that evening.
Delores kissed her husband when he finally appeared in the outer corridor. Deftly, Kimberly programmed her accompanying camdroids to zero in on the happy couple for the folk back on Mars.
"Good afternoon, Minister Sharpleton. Council-Representative Genetti-Sharpleton." Kimberly commented approvingly on Delores's flowing floral maternity gown. "I see your morning sickness finally ended?"
"Yes, finally," Delores chuckled lightly. "And none too soon. I've always witnessed Bruce's swearing-in. I swore I wouldn't let it make me miss this year."
"Impending motherhood agrees with you," Kimberly complemented. "Minister Sharpleton, how do you feel about the upcoming parliamentary session?"
"We have some tough legislation to push through, and of course we'll have to mend the fractures caused by Dr. Light Horse and her alliance's inflammatory rhetoric. As the leader of the Martian block my job will be to keep them on course and to keep the United Galactic Party firm in its support behind Governor General DeBow and his program."
With Harry Anderson, the net's political reporter standing off to the side waiting for his chance to interview Bruce, Kimberly knew she had to keep her interview focused on the light and trivial. She wished she could touch more heavily on issues of government, but she knew her job. She pressed on hoping to learn more about the minister's growing family. She commented with an air of certainty on an unconfirmed rumor, "I understand you're expecting a son."
"Yes," Delores glowed.
"How about your seat in the Martian Council?" Kimberly probed.
"My mother served on the council while she was pregnant and after the birth of my younger sister. I plan to continue the tradition."
"Have you picked a name?" she asked.
"No." Bruce was coy. He put an arm around his equally famous spouse and exchanged a knowing glance with a twinkling eye.
Kimberly could tell he was playing with her and the audience. The time was right, Kimberly decided. She would be coy, too. Rumors were everywhere. Many had seen the couple together. If anyone knew the truth, Delores would. She remembered how Delores had kept Hayley's arm in hers during the Genetti book talk reception.
"I was able to see portions of Hayley's training seminar ROMs," she commented casually. "Hayley has really matured since coming to Parliamentary. She's doing a superb job. Governor General DeBow and Chief Stone have made only favorable comments both on and off the record."
"You're keeping track of my sister?" Delores chuckled with amusement.
Kimberly's lips curled. "Rumors are rampant about your sister and the administration's eligible chief of staff. Now, mind you I think they make a good match, a very attractive couple, but you must admit, the political consequences are intriguing, the House of Genetti, and the fast-track Ms. Stone. Some say DeBow is grooming her as a successor. What do you think?"
Giving Bruce a quick don't-you-say-anything kind of glare, Delores smiled wryly. "No comment, Kim. Perhaps you should talk to the rumored couple."
"What rumored couple?" Christine asked, appearing from no where. Holding Hayley's hand in her own, she gave Kimberly a broad smile.
"Then the rumors I guess are true?" Kimberly had her camdroid zero in on the twosome.
"What rumors?" Christine played to the reporter and droid. She put an arm around Hayley and pulled her close.
"That you and Doctor? ˜ Minister Genetti?"
"Doctor," Hayley chose for the reporter.
"So, you are a couple?" Kimberly let her façade slip. She grinned broadly, both intrigued and happy to see the Genetti's skittish kitten finally finding a place in the pantheon of Genetti mythology.
"I'll tell you Kim," Christine said, radiating joy. "I'm the luckiest woman alive. I've found a very special lady." She gave Hayley a kiss.
"Is it love?" Kimberly's sculpted brows perked, sure she had scooped every other reporter and news service.
Christine's youthful glow pushed through the political game face. She beamed. "Yes,"
"Do I hear wedding bells?" The reporter coaxed.
"Maybe," she said with a wink. "That would depend on what the intended says." She gave Hayley a quick kiss on the lips.
Kimberly noticed Hayley's surprised expression. "Doctor?"
Hayley did not answer immediately. Christine's exchange had apparently caught her completely off-guard.
"I˜," Hayley began when Kimberly asked her again. Turning back into the glare of the bright light Hayley blinked. "Yes. I love Christine very much," she answered demurely, "but as of yet I haven't heard any specific proposals," she played and accepted a passionate kiss with the confederation's most eligible bachelorette.
Wedged between Christine and their mother, Hayley was quiet in the midst of the banquet's din. Christine bubbled enthusiastically, shaking hands with those who stopped by to say hello or to talk business.
Reaching for her water glass, Hayley saw Delores's gaze. She gave her pregnant sister a salute and then gestured to the plate and the too rare prime rib. Shaking her head, Delores crossed her eyes in the old blah expression they had used as children. Hayley understood. She laughed and offered her half-eaten roll. Again Delores shook her head.
When Christine excused herself to go play politician, Hayley's attention focused on the looming platform. Her appetite diminished. Pushing aside the half-eaten meat and baked potato, she only nibbled on her roll. Just as the waiters began passing out the dessert, she excused herself from the table and walked quickly from the table. Reading the signs of her sister's nausea, Delores rose to give chase and perhaps the hand holding Hayley still needed. Before she could move, their mother motioned that she would check on her youngest and excused herself.
Spying a colleague with whom he needed to speak, Bruce gave her a kiss. "Don't worry about Hayl."
"I'm sure she's fine," her father seconded.
"Dad and I are going to talk with Sam about the debate that is sure to begin tomorrow over the administration's new mining proposals and the funding DeBow is requesting. He's still on the fence. We shouldn't be long."
"Go on," Delores gestured. "I'm all right, Dad. As long as I don't stand or look at any more living beef."
Returning from her rounds and finding Delores seated alone at the table, Christine sat in Bruce's vacant chair.
"Where's Hayley?" she asked.
"Bathroom," Delores replied sternly. "Don't worry," she said accusingly. "My mother's with her."
Christine looked at the exit. "She was doing better," she defended. "Only a little nausea."
Delores's expression remained hard.
"You're still not angry with me?" she jested in a hushed whisper. "I understand you really laid into poor Bruce for not telling you about my attraction."
Delores narrowed her eyes. Of course, she had fumed at her husband! He had said nothing about Christine's interest until she had asked him about his antiquated good ole' boy attitude at catching Christine with her near naked sister.
"I would have never guessed you were so protective," she teased. "Or are you jealous?"
"Jealous?" Delores scoffed. "I've been over you since forever. I'm talking Hayley," Delores whispered angrily. "Hayley!" she repeated the name for emphasis.
"I know very well who she is."
"And I know your track record. Is Hayley just another of your conquests?"
"No." Christine let her hand touch Delores.
Instinctively, Delores thought about pulling away. She did, but covertly. Christine swallowed as she inspected her empty hand. She swallowed again and waited as the waiter set a small cup of chocolate mousse before each plate.
"Hayley is not a conquest, I assure you," she whispered to Delores. "I love her and I'm serious about what I told that reporter. I think Hayley would make a good wife."
The confession caught Delores off guard. "Just as you were in love with me, or what about the rest of your harem of mistresses and gigolos?"
"I swear, Del." Christine crossed her heart. "I haven't been with another woman since I started sleeping with Hayley. Del, I really love your sister. She's the best thing to come into my life."
Suspiciously, she studied Christine's trained face. She saw no hint of the Machiavellian craftiness or arrogant chauvinism she knew resided just below the surface. Her cheeks and brow were smooth and more pink, almost lobster color, than normal. Her big gray-blue eyes sagged with puppy-dog demureness. There was no cocky confidence. It had vanished as she argued the veracity of her avowed devotions.
Delores spied her father. He and Bruce had corralled the hapless minister from Europa.
"Hayley actually has a girlfriend!" Their father had gushed at breakfast. He had been pleased and had rambled on as if he should deserve the credit for setting up the pair. It was a good match he had declared to Bruce. Hayley could one day be First Lady of the Human Galaxy and the Genetti-Sharpleton position on the political ladder would be secure.
Less vocal and ignoring the political ramifications of the match, their mother had only wondered why Hayley had said nothing about her new friend.
Though shocked, nonetheless, their parents were pleased. Hayley had indeed had the good sense to fall for someone as right as Christine Stone. They had always liked Bruce and Delores's outgoing friend and colleague.
Their mother returned.
"How's Hayley?" Delores asked, delaying her answer to Christine.
"She's fine." Her mother returned her napkin to her lap. "A little nausea was all. She's adjusting her make up."
Governor General DeBow mounted the steps to the centrally located podium. The sound system activated. Delores glanced up at the podium and then back at Christine. Staring at her, the chief's expression begged for acceptance.
"I hope you have enjoyed your meals," DeBow began. "The chocolate mousse is especially good. Please continue with your desserts."
"You better not hurt her," Delores warned under her breath as DeBow's remarks filled the crowded banquet hall. Bruce and her father returned to the table.
Delores had not seen Hayley come back into the room. Standing off to the side, she watched Delores and Christine speaking. She was slightly flush and leaned against the wall. Spying her, Delores could see the narrow-eyed curiosity written on her face.
Christine followed Delores's gaze. She looked up. Smiling, she began to rise. Hayley motioned for her to remain seated and gestured that she was fine. Her gaze returned to the looming podium.
DeBow finished the last of his introductory remarks. "As many of you know, at the end of the last session, the administration added a new minister to its staff, a minister of historical education to produce programs explaining the historical background and justification for the policies undertaken by this government. The brainchild of Chief Stone˜," DeBow acknowledged. Christine stood and gave a quick wave of acknowledgement to the applause. DeBow continued with his remarks, giving the assembled diners a thorough synopsis of Dr. Genetti's academic and familial background and the work she had performed since joining his staff.
Delores glanced back at Hayley. Hayley saw her. She smiled. Or was she smiling at Christine? She had just given her a wink.
"So with great pleasure," DeBow announced boldly, "I would like to introduce my new Minister of Historical Education. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Hayley Genetti."
Those in the assembly applauded as Hayley walked across the front of the room and mounted the stairs. She paused to shake DeBow's hand and then took her place at the podium.
"Good evening." Hayley moistened her lips. "I would like to thank Governor DeBow for inviting me here this evening and providing this wonderful meal for my family reunion." Hayley smiled, but Delores could detect the cringe. "I was surprised when Chief Stone informed me that Governor General DeBow wanted me to deliver this evening's keynote address. Honored, an attack of nerves immediately overwhelmed my sensibilities. After all, I stand today before the greatest orators of our day. As I was sitting at my table, enjoying the sumptuous repast, I couldn't believe the company˜Speaker Youstlinger, Ministers Myra Christiansen, Olga Kenyatta, Justin Freud, George Michaels, Chang Kim Pak, Katsunori Fukutome, Maureen Holva." Hayley quickly pointed out the most famous representatives serving in the Parliament. "And of course there is my brother-in-law, Bruce Sharpleton and our gracious host, Governor General Jeremiah DeBow."
She paused when a spontaneous, but polite, applause broke out in gratitude for the Governor General's fine meal. When it had subsided, Hayley continued. "The cynics of the press and in the bully-pulpit would say that the distinguished servants of the people are merely hot-aired bombastic promoters of the special interests. I tell you, that this is not so. Grandiloquent as you may be the work you do for the United Galactic Confederation deserves nothing but praise. Since its creation the ministers of the U.G.C. have worked to improve the quality of life for the entire human race. As representatives of all Terrans, Moonies, Martians, station dwellers, the colonists of Titan and Europa, and those brave men and women venturing into the cosmos to settle among the stars, you are the promoters of progress and advancement. Yet, while you are the leaders that will lay the foundation to take humankind into the Twenty-Fourth Century, you are also the heirs of those great men and women who came before and gave to your safekeeping the legacies which allow you to sit in that august chamber we call the Parliament of the United Galactic Confederation. I hear you ask, to what legacies does this young woman refer? I'll tell you."
Here, Hayley began the main text of her speech, a brief synopsis the histories of the democratic principles on which the U.G.C. and every other governmental body on Earth and beyond had been based. As Hayley spoke, Delores was surprised by the new ease she spied in her sister. Unlike that first speech, which had begun with such trepidation, Hayley's voice did not falter. It sang. Quick staccato lists of basic historical facts bridging Magna Carta to the U.G.C. Constitution, dramatic inflections punctuating and accenting the key ideals intertwining democracy and equality blended with a lilting counterpoint of memorable, cherished proclamations by Edmund Burke, Jefferson, Lincoln, Mandela, and Yang Chin Tan. Harmonious, the hymn's anthem swelled in rising crescendos. In awe, Delores could see Hayley was no longer a shy member of the chorus line. Hayley was now a diva in total control of her dais. The aria was hers.
When Hayley's solo ended, Delores did not rush to congratulate her. A little envious, yet proud, she waited as DeBow, with Hayley at his side, introduced his rising star to select members of the appreciative audience.
Hayley extended her hand. "I'm so happy to meet you, Mr. Speaker."
The tall, gangly man, a twin of the late Ichabod Crane, placed his skeletal hand in Hayley's and gave hers a firm shake.
"She did very well." Christine's appearance startled her.
Delores turned back. "Yes," she agreed. She looked back at Hayley. "She's still nervous. It's in her eyes. Her moves are too deliberate." Delores pointed out Hayley's imperfections.
"But she's not hiding. She's staying with DeBow," Christine puffed.
Delores caught the affection of the gaze. She smiled and looked back at her younger sister. Perhaps, Christine would be all right. "I give you my blessing," she hooked Christine's arm in hers.
"I said," she clarified. "I give you my blessing. You and Hayley?"
"I'm glad." The pleasure in her face intensified. "I see Bruce with Minister Llewelling. Llewelling's the junior minister from the North Sea District," she explained as she led Delores to play the game they so enjoyed.
Hayley's head swam. So many names. So many faces˜all new. She hoped no one would expect her to remember them. After all, she had no seating chart. Yet, she kept up as DeBow pressed forward to greet the ministers, who in turn gave her their compliments.
"Oh, you are so right! This Parliament is the standard-bearer of democracy."
"And of the free enterprise system."
Hayley recognized each platitude for what it was. Perhaps, they believed as strongly as she about the ideals that had followed mankind into space. Yet, their antithesis, the tyranny of totalitarianism lurked closely. Such a thin line divided the two. In some of the poorer countries on Earth, dictatorships still broke the spirits of their citizenry. Hayley wondered whether any of these career politicos really understood and appreciated the ideals they had promised to uphold; she hoped they did.
After about forty minutes, DeBow came across someone he needed to speak with in private. He excused himself and left Hayley with half a dozen ministers to fend for herself. Alone, with no crutch on which to lean or hide behind, Hayley found her courage waning. She would have to do more than smile, say "you're welcome," and respond to whatever bits of small-talk DeBow had thrown her way. Conversations now rested on her shoulders.
For a few more minutes, Hayley, having already fielded the praises of those she was with, engaged in the prerequisite, but totally uncomfortable chit chat where she basically affirmed that she was indeed a Martian Genetti and then answered what questions she could and desired about Delores and her pregnancy.
"She's with Bruce," Hayley said, spying Delores's growing apple figure.
Enjoying the attention as she patted her swelling womb, Delores held a glass of ice water and laughed intermittently as Bruce spoke. Then everyone laughed. Bruce gave his wife a genteel kiss.
The two ministers who had inquired about Delores excused themselves and made their way through the milling crowd to give the impending mother their regards.
Legislative and executive ministers and other ranking members of the government and their guests blanketed the room as thickly as the loops of a fine shag carpet. Feeling like Waldo on the Martian commons, the crowd ignited the claustrophobia Hayley had combated so successfully. Her newly tuned defense mechanisms sputtered. They were about to shut down.
Surveying the room and the access doors, Hayley concluded she was stuck. There was no upstairs here where she could go hide. There was no Carol for comfort. She couldn't just run away. She couldn't disappoint Christine or embarrass the Governor General or her family. She had made a commitment. So, she vowed to stay, to fight harder, and to push back her fears and discomforts.
The lights on the podium had been warm, her talk long enough, and the crush of ministers and each of the introductions tiring. Her mouth was dry. She was thirsty. A cool, clear glass of water would hit the spot. Picking the quickest path back to the table where she had left her dessert, she decided that chocolate would help. No one could begrudge her a chance to finish her dessert or to get a satisfying drink of water. So, she returned to their empty, safe table.
The voice was deep, a definite alto.
Hayley turned. "Yes?"
"You don't actually believe everything you say?"
"Come again?" Who was this? She stared.
"That it's all right for mankind to colonize outside Sol?"
"Yes," she said slowly scrutinizing her inquisitor.
Her inquisitor was just a centimeter or two taller than herself. With high cheekbones and an angular chin, her face was soft, yet strong and filled with stern character. It hinted of a soft tan, a nearly ruddy, complexion. Hers eyes were dark blue, but when the lights struck just right they flashed with a brilliant hue a crystal clear sky could envy. Her hair as also dark, not ebony or any shade of black, but brown like mahogany. She wore it tied back in a thin beaded thong. She was not dressed as the others in the formal blue, gray, and brown suits common and popular among the sitting ministers. Instead, she dressed much more casually. Her jacket was tan, possibly made of suede. Heavy and covered with intricate bead work and stitchery, her clothing was reminiscent of a style popularized by the myths of the old American west and reminded Hayley of the artwork done by Frederick Remington and the dime store novels of Zane Grey.
"Then you are dumber than you look!" The minister before her snapped angrily.
"Pardon?" She did not understand the reason for the verbal abuse.
Obviously, a Green sympathizer, she had done nothing to invite such an attack. She had purposely tried to frame her address so it remained neutral. At least the Greens could agree, or so she had thought, that upholding the principles of democracy and equality were of primary importance for everyone serving the citizens of the U.G.C. At least their rhetoric had led her to believe so.
"Only a complete idiot would believe and promote the current position of the administration. Mankind does not have the right to expand unhindered and without restraint!"
"I've never said that we do," she protested still confused as to whom she was speaking, or why she was challenging her.
"You are a parrot for the administration!"
"I am no such˜," she started.
The woman cut her off. "I would think a trained historian with your credentials would not be so inaccurate and allow history to be twisted."
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Dr. Kaliska Light Horse," she replied, wearing a dumbfounded expression hinting that she was amazed by Hayley's inability to identify her.
Now Hayley placed the face. She should have recognized her. The damned costume, get up. Who else would dress so? Damn her faulty memory! Damn the woman's arrogance! Damn her and all the problems she was creating for the administration! She wasn't even a Green; she was one of the administration's own, a member of the U.G.P., the United Galactic Party. She should be ashamed of herself, or so Hayley thought as she prepared to fire back an argument in her defense.
"Hayley?" Christine walked up, her bearing puffed and ready to tangle.
Bruce and Delores quickly followed.
"And here is the master puppeteer!" Light Horse snapped. "I see you've found yourself a mannequin, but the people will see through your ploy, Stone!"
Christine's eyes narrowed. Her face was taut with rage. "Leave Dr. Genetti alone!"
Light Horse did not back down. She challenged Christine. "I just wanted to meet the intelligence behind your latest propaganda ploy. Even trying to brainwash our youth."
"I'm not brainwashing anyone." Hayley defended herself.
Light Horse pointed her finger in her face. "Doctor, you are a parrot, and if you cannot see that, then you are the biggest fool in the galaxy."
Protectively, and with chivalrous gallantry, Christine put her arm around Hayley and pulled her away. "The Loonies you represent are the bigger fools."
"We're independent˜see through the administration's lies."
"You and the rest of your like only want to ruin the Confederation!" Bruce interjected.
"We are the only ones who can save it from its moral corruption, and believe me," Light Horse vowed, "we will do it!"
"Try!" Christine snarled as she pulled Hayley out of harm's way.
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