The first strains of the trumpet trio peeled throughout the cavernous interior of the modern cathedral dedicated to Maris, a noble Persian who, with his wife, Martha, and his sons, Audifax and Abachum, was executed by the Roman Emperor Aurelian in 270 A.D. in Nymphae Catabassi near Rome for the crime of burying the ashes of their fellow believers. Maris and his sons had suffered beheading while Martha was cast into a well where she drowned. Temporally secular, Hayley had long equated the red-stoned structure of Martian volcanic rock with Maris, the Etruscan god of agriculture, whom the Romans borrowed interpretatio romana, renamed Mars, and made God of War. Strings, winds, tympani, and a mighty pipe organ swelled to call forth the bridal prince, who took her place before the chancel and altar. Hidden in the Bridal Prep Room adjacent to the narthex, Hayley's imagination played the sequence of the scene unfolding as she placed a pair of shaking hands over a stomach that had spent the morning feeling worse than queasy.
"The music's started." Delores pointed out the obvious as she went to open the door.
"Come on, buddy." Carol placed a white-gloved hand on her arm. "It's time to join the woman you love."
Hayley wiped back a hint of dampness; she wouldn't cry. Not yet.
Delores opened the door.
Hayley glided to the opening. She stopped. "Thank you so much," Hayley wrapped her arms around the smaller woman.
Hayley had allowed Delores to find the dress she wanted. After all, she and her mother had made all the arrangements. Christine had kept her too busy. They had appropriated her parents' anniversary. Delores was nearly eight months pregnant, her belly protruding enough that she had heard Christine tease during the rehearsal the night before that it could easily hold her water bottle, or "a martini glass." Bruce had added. Christine had asked him to be best man along with Governor General DeBow.
Delores had chosen a black low-cut gown highlighted with mother-of-pearl. A slit showed the two inch heels she would wear for the ceremony and pictures. Simple in its design, yet elegant enough that Hayley knew her sister, even with her pregnancy, would be the most beautiful woman in attendance, which she didn't mind at all.
"Be careful," Delores warned. "You'll crush your dress." She gave Hayley's back a pat.
"I love you," Hayley replied."
"I love you, too, sweetie," Delores gave one more squeeze and a peck to Hayley's check, careful to avoid marring the make-up she had spent nearly an hour applying.
Now Hayley turned to Carol. Handsome, that was how Hayley thought of her. Handsome and beautiful. She stood tall in her crisp dress uniform. Service blues, white piping, gold braids at the epilates, where her rank gleamed proudly, She held Hayley's bouquet in one hand, her cap in the other. She handed her the bouquet of yellow and white roses with baby's breath.
"You will always be my best, best friend in the whole galaxy." Hayley brushed back tears. Somehow, she felt guilty.
"Forever and ever." Carol stuck out her left elbow.
Hayley links hers and allowed Carol to lead her from the room. Delores caught the floor-length skirt so it would not catch on the jam.
"My little sister getting married," Delores gave Hayley's arm a pat and took her place in front of their small assemblage. With a step she entered the nave.
Hayley closed her eyes. Inside she trembled.
"Yeah, buddy." She opened her eyes and gave Carol a grin. "I am. I am." A deep breath, "Okay, time to face the lions."
"To join with your life-partner."
"Yes," Hayley shared an even more powerful grin with her best friend.
Together, they entered the opening separating the narthex from the main chancel and to the glittering flash of cameras, vids, and every conceivable political power broker in the human galaxy started down the aisle.
After a few steps, Carol paused. She and Hayley exchanged one last emotional hug. "Dr. and Mrs. Genetti." Carol handed Hayley to them.
They exchanged one more glance, then as if on inspection, Carol made her way proudly down the aisle.
Hayley had at first been startled. She knew the exchange would take place. Her parents, and where they were going to join with her. They had practiced it twice the night before.
"Hi, Mom. Dad." She kissed each in turn and allowed them to take her by the arm. Her father held her arm much as Carol had done; her mother held her hand.
"You doing okay?" Her mother kissed the side of her face. She had been with them in the prep room until just a few moments ago.
"So many people," Hayley whispered.
"As a politician's wife, it's something you'll have to get use to," Sophia replied.
A politician's wife, the thought brought a lump to her stomach and throat in unison. No way, her primordial mind cried out in terror as her gaze took in the rows and rows of strangers, all friends and acquaintances not hers. She thought of bolting, but just then, she found Christine.
She was more beautiful than Delores. More handsome than Carol. Just more.
She was dressed in her government formals: black tux, shawl lapels, white shirt, black bow tie, black slacks with the requisite gold piping, and sash, showing off her civilian honors and governmental rank. Hayley couldn't take her eyes off the woman and she barely noticed the minister as he asked, "Who brings this woman to be married."
"We do," her parents answered in unison. They gave her hands to Christine, who took them and held onto them almost greedily. Her eyes darkened with the lust she shared during their most intimate times.
"You are so delicious," she said bending in to give her a quick.
"I think you're supposed to wait until after the ceremony," Governor General DeBow said with a chuckle. Bruce gave her a humorous grin. Christine simply smiled.
"I love you," Hayley murmured. She knew Christine could feel her nerves shaking her hands.
"Only a few more minutes, darling."
"Shall we begin?" The minister cleared his throat.
"Yeah,' Hayley nodded. "Dearly beloved," the minister started, but Hayley heard little of it.
Focus, she repeated to herself. She avoided the hundreds of gazes. The hundred ore stares. The vids, this was going out to anyone interested. Not since the King of England and Queen of Japan, having fallen in love at a state dinner to celebrate the signing of the Third Kyoto Accords, had "the human race been enchanted by such a whirlwind match" or so the tabloids had claimed. The importance of the match had swirled among the commentators and prognosticators, and Hayley had answered enough questions during her tour and Christine whenever the press was able to catch up with her, but by the time Hayley had reached the San Francisco Spaceport for her flight to Parliamentary, the need to know had at last become insatiable. Back on Parliamentary, where she stayed just long enough to refresh her clothes and pack what needed personal items and again on Mars, she could take a breath without camera flashing, microphones in her face, or the constant barrage of the thousands wanting to wish her well.
"I have read that the marriage ceremony, that moment when falling in love is replaced by the arduous drama of staying in love, the words `for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,' til death us do part' set love in the temporal context in which it achieves its meaning. As time begins to elapse, one begins to love the other because they have shared the same experience, the same moments of duration. Selves may not intertwine but lives do, and shared memory becomes as much of a bond as the bond of the flesh. One might say shared memory is not love itself but a consequence of being in love; but in what people commonly say about long-lasting love, it is the attitudes toward time implied in such words such as constancy and fidelity that recur.
"Having counseled with you these last couple of days, I have come to see the depth of your love, the depth of your commitment. Now comes life, and for you not just a life in general. You have chosen lives that place you before the spotlight, in front of the camera. You will need the most extreme diligence to ensure the success of the life each of you will shortly pledge to honor and keep. Be strong. Ground your love in each other. Not in the whims of those who might think your life only a fiction.
"Now, Christine?" Christine held out her hand. Bruce handed her the ring in his pocket.
"Always," Hayley's gaze left the safety of Christine's. She looked down at the ring, Christine's long fingers seemed to have trouble holding. She nearly dropped it, but caught it to the chuckle of on-lookers.
Christine clamped her fist about the ring. She knelt. The move took Hayley by surprise. "I" she started, her voice only a beat shaky from nerves, was immediately strong. "I, Christine Alyson Stone, give you, Hayley Michelle Genetti, my heart, my love, my self. I have loved you since I knew of your existence and I vow once more to love and cherish you from this moment on, throughout our life together and the hereafter." With the last part, she slipped the band of gold, inlayed with lapis lazuli, in place on her left hand.
Hayley couldn't help it. Watching Christine, hearing the conviction in her voice, brought forth a fountain of quiet tears. For a long while, even as Christine stood, having forgotten everyone but the tableau playing out before her, Hayley could do nothing. "Oh, my god," she choked. She took a handkerchief from Bruce, remembering at that moment where she was and what needed to happen next. She wiped back the tears. Once, twice, panic, she concentrated and forced herself to contain herself. She handed the moist linen to Carol, who also took her bouquet.
Now she would have to speak her vows. She knew them. Had written them, but had only shared them with Carol, who had proclaimed them poetry. She had thought have sharing with her parents or Delores, but had feared what they might say.
She held out her hand. Carol, who first had to place the handkerchief in her pocket, found the ring and gave it to her. This she clasped tightly, half relieved when she did not drop it on the exchange and worried that she would drop it so it would roll under ever pew to the back of the crowded church. She continued to fist it as she caught her breath and further steadied her emotions. She quickly thought about mimicking her partner, but thought better of it. She would probably trip and be called a copycat. She would do as planned, as rehearsed. She took Christine's hand in her own. It was warm from where they had been clasped while the minister had spoken. Yet, Hayley thought her own fingers felt cold. She forced herself from shivering. She inhaled. You can do this.
"Christine Alyson, you are the most amazing person," her words came out softly. "In the few short months you have been in my life," her words remained quiet. Only those closest could hear. She knew she should speak louder, but she couldn't. She didn't want to. This was the most precious moment she hoped to ever have in like. "I have found myself falling more deeply in love with you every time I see you. My love grows stronger with each passing day. It is strengthening even as I stand with you now. I love you. I commit myself to you. My heart. My body. My mind. My spirit. My all. I shall cherish you until time ceases to exist and the last thoughts of life leave this universe." She slid the ring on. "I love you." Focus on only the moment, the hand in hers, she kissed the hand on which she had placed the twin of the ring adorning her own.
They kissed even before the minister pronounced them life partners and spouses for life.
Four hours. That's how long they had been standing. The ceremony had taken less than twenty minutes, but the thousands of pictures in every possible combination, had taken another two hours and too many minutes. Then the receiving line and that had taken another hour. At last, Christine was escorting Hayley to their table. Sitting, the first thing Hayley did was pull of her shoes. Damned heels! She had never wanted to wear them, but everyone had insisted. Now here feet were toast and they still had to dance. The public display. The public display.
"Honey, Jeremiah and I are going over to speak to Blois for a minute. I don't think they're serving just yet." Christine gave Hayley a quick kiss. Hayley nodded and noted that the rest of her family had also stopped to chat with any and everyone.
"I bet by now you're in the mood for a night of Sparky, Gene Kelly, and a dozen bowls of popcorn," Carol whispered as she sat beside her.
"No, Julie Andrews, but you got most of it right." Hayley chuckled.
Carol patted her back. "Few more hours buddy and then no more this."
Hayley nodded, except, she remembered her mother's quip. I've married a politician; and thanks to the choices she had made, I'm nearly one myself. Hayley drank the already filled goblet of water before her and looked out at the life she had somehow chosen to be a part. "I would have never imagined this for myself in a million years. I'm not my mother. I'm not Delores. I'm not even the me they see when I have to go out and give speeches. I hate all of this."
"But you love her." Carol placed her hand on Hayley's gave it a squeeze. Hayley replied with a knowing smile.
Just then, a series of flashes exploded. Several camdroids also zoomed in. Reporters asked questions at once.
"Tell us about the ceremony."
"How do you feel being the Chief of Staff's wife?"
"Are you going to continue working?"
"Will you be going out on the lecture circuit?"
"What do you think of you parents sharing their anniversary with your wedding?"
"Such a merger. We've never seen a political merger like it. If I were a power broker."
Hayley wanted to find an escape. Every part of her remained frozen, fixed to her chair.
"Come on, everyone. Give her room." A familiar voice and a couple of shoves brought Kimberly Adams to the fore.
"What, and give you an exclusive?"
"Then at least one at a time." She fronted the army trying to intrude on Hayley. "Besides, what exclusive, you bunch of vultures. You saw the wedding same as everyone. What's new to ask? Your questions are old hat, asked and answered. You know the Genetti elders were ecstatic to share their special day with their youngest. The woman has already told us that she's happy, but now she needs a moment to recharge. There are plenty of victims for you to hound." She waved a hand indicating the rest of the party and their guests. Grumbling the pack turned. "Besides," she added with just a touch of cunning evil to her voice, "your parents have already given me an exclusive to the entire event. I would like to have your comments," she said to Hayley, who gave back what she hoped would be interpreted as the evil eye, "but perhaps we can chat later. Think of my coming over as a debt in need of payment."
"Tut tut, call me Kim. I've called you Hayley for ages."
That she had. The blonde reporter had always been kind to her, let her escape and leave her alone.
"Welcome." She looked at the place cards in front of the various settings.
"What are you looking for?"
"This!" she picked it up a card. "Part of my exclusive. Beat out all the politicos. Society page gets to sit at the main table. Maybe even get that scoop that will get me to the investigative branch."
"I'm sorry, Warren. The party's got every resolution we've introduced tied up in committee. None of the chairs will buck DeBow. He's got Stone keeping them in line. Nothing is going to get out." Kaliska Light Hose took a sip of her water.
Warren slowed his mournful pace and folded into the couch across from the minister. "I guess we're lost," he rubbed his face with a hand as he reached for a bottle of ale. He had need of something stronger than water, and Light Horse guessed that after this meeting he would knock back something even stronger.
"No," Light Horse said. "Warren, you cannot give up. Up until now you're people have used only extralegal means to get your views out. No one here had the guts to speak your case. Now you do. We've made allies, but some movements take time. Look at my own home, the moon. Changing minds will take time."
"Mars is the exception to all of humanity, and if the citizenry ever wakes up, the Martian government will experience such a revolution."
"But it takes time."
"Like the moon. Yelp and Martinez, Jay, Wolenski, and Jomo. It's taken time. First municipally, now up here on the station itself. Voices are being heard. The congloms are already thinking twice about the new lunar contracts. DeBow and his cronies haven't backed down, but the congloms don't like the adverse publicity they know we can cause them. You've got to get your own people to organize better, and not into mobs. Demonstrations have their place, but there has been too much violence. Too many just causes have failed because of it."
"And of government complicity."
"Yes." Kaliska drained the rest of her water.
The door to her office opened. "Excuse me, minister," Hanna said formally. "Yreta Cuta."
We're not due to link up for until next week. Worry must have painted what she thought was a calm façade because Warren politely excused himself. "I can see you have an important call. I'm hoping we might speak again before the next term. I might have some new strategies from my people."
"I look forward to that." Light Horse rose and followed him to the door. She took his hand and gave it a couple of pumps. "I plan to be away for a couple of months on some business and personal matters, but Hanna knows how to keep in touch."
"Thank you for all of the time you've been putting in for me—for our cause."
"Until you're free. You have my word."
The University Gardens hummed with conversation, laughter, and the tinkle and clink of fine chine, stemware, and silver. Nearly done with her shrimp and salmon entrée, Hayley had begun to relax enough to take not of the venue her parents had chosen for their original party, now her wedding reception too. As always, the fountains of blossoms of every conceivable kind and color provided the scene with a naturalistic canopy. Their fragrance was light and mixed easily with the puffs of the simulated breeze wafting beneath the artificial construct of the great dome protecting the University and surrounding environs.
"So where are you going for your honeymoon?" Kimberly asked. She brought an asparagus tip to her mouth as she waited for the reply. Hayley allowed Christine to answer, as she had most of the questions.
"We really don't have much time. We've taken space in a cute little bungalow on a beach on Kaua'i."
"Oooh, Kim grinned. Lovely choice. I love that island."
"I gather you've vacationed there," said Sophia rhetorically.
"With a dear friend several years back," replied the reporter giving no more hint of her own private life. "The Wailua Falls are absolutely breath taking as is Waimea Canyon. Very romantic. It's all so lush and the Pacific is just the perfect blue. It's also summer, so you won't be there before during the height of the rainy season. Was Kaua'i your choice, Hayley?"
"I've seen pictures, but it was Christine's suggestion," Hayley replied. "But I've done some research and am excited to see the terrain."
"Very different from what you're accustomed as a Martian and Spacer."
"Of, definitely," Hayley continued. "That's one thing I've enjoyed about my business on Earth. I get such a thrill just putting my toe in an ocean or river or see a snow capped mountain up close in person."
"Christine of course," Bruce look an extra sip of his beer, "I suppose has other plans for the `up close in person' portion of the sightseeing."
"Bruce," Delores gave him a nudge.
"Ah," Bruce turned to the reporter. "That of course is off the record," he added. He took the wine decanter from where he was sitting and refilled his glass.
"Mrs. DeBow?" He refreshed the First Lady's glass when she praised his diligence.
Christine blushed. "Oh, I'm sure my wife and I will find plenty of time to be together, but I plan to pamper her. After all, by the time we return, we're hoping she might be with child."
"So you're planning a family?"
"So soon?" Delores's shock played counterpoint to the reporter's delight on hearing the news first hand. "You're my inspiration," Christine commented to Delores. "You know I'm not getting any younger. I want to be young enough to play with my daughters."
"Daughters? So you've gone through the process of creating sperm?" This time Donald asked the question.
"Yes. In my position, pregnancy isn't an option. I'm too busy, too much in the fray. Yet, I do enjoy sex and have been bisexual, though you know I've always enjoyed the ladies more." Christine intertwined her fingers with Hayley's as she spoke. I never thought marrying outside my gender an option, so I wasn't worried about losing my ovaries and uterus." Christine's candor surprised Hayley. "If I found myself marrying man, say like Bruce," she teased as she said this and watched as Bruce shifted his tux tie and blush, "then if we decided on children, we could always pay a surrogate service. But as I said, I never thought I'd ever be attracted enough to a man, let alone fall in love with one. To be honest, Kim, I never thought I would ever fall in love, then one day while Bruce was making a routine call home to Delores, this beautiful woman happened to answer the comm. And her radiance filled the vid in my office. I'd like to say it was love at first sight. It was definitely lust, but her sweet sincerity, playfulness, and passion caught me as fishermen like to say, hook, line, and sinker." With that, Christine leaned over and gave Hayley a kiss full on the mouth. Her tongue pushed through taking full possession. "Love you, Sweetie."
"Always." Hayley raised her free hand to cover the heat of a serious blush.
"Do you always blush so?" DeBow's wife asked. She placed her nearly empty wine goblet back on the table.
"I believe you had that color after the `You may kiss your partner' kiss."
"And the time or two she's played golf with us."
"You have to admit she has a good swing," Christine boasted. "Never hit a golf ball until that first day we played. I took her to the driving range for about half an hour before."
"Though Hayley doesn't believe it's true she's a gifted athlete. We played Junior League tennis when we were young and she can beat me now, at times, in the VRC."
"You play laser warfare?" asked DeBow's in appalled disbelief. "It's so unladylike."
"You forget," Christine leaned toward the older woman. "My wife is a full on lesbian."
"I know, and I've heard of the prejudices of the past, but I just can't wrap my head around what I've heard. You're such a soft soul," she said the last to Hayley alone.
"Carol likes to play and I am really limited in my coordination. I like watching most sports and playing limitedly, but I am not quick of foot or hand speed. A tennis racquet gives me a large enough area to hit the ball, doubles, less space to run, and laser warfare, we began by setting levels."
"The rest involves brain power, quick wits, and a deadly eye." Carol rubbed Hayley's back affectionately. "Describes my best bud to the tee."
"You, too," Hayley gave Carol a playful brush of her shoulder.
"Do I see jealousy?"
Hayley's head swiveled to take in her new spouse. For the first time ever she spied a look she had never seen in her lover, but viscerally felt. Christine was not green, but the look was the same. Envy, and yes jealousy.
"Of course," Christine spoke without missing a beat. "Hayley and Carol share a friendship and love I don't think I'll ever have."
Hayley pressed her palm and added a hand to the one Christine already clasped. "Kim, you know Carol's more like a sister. That's how I love her, and I always will, but she could never be my spouse." But at one point, she remembered. "We have spent almost our entire life together."
"Again something my bride and I will ever share." Christine kissed the hand she held.
"Don't worry," Delores piped up. "I've never shared that kind of relation with Hayley either, but then you have to remember," she added, "we have nearly a decade between us. We could have never really played as children. By the time she was wowing everyone with her ability to read and do math at two and three, I was already entering adolescence. Besides, our differences are pretty big, and I really think she needed another Mensa miracle for a best friend. While, I have also felt envious of their relationship, after all I am her sister, I have always been grateful to Carol. She has truly been a blessing to Hayley."
"She's always kept me pretty grounded." Hayley kept her hands with Christine to let her know that her love was hers now, she gave Carol a warm smile."
"I understand you're shipping out tomorrow."
"Yes, I'm transferring to Trinidia to finish my doctorate and help with the establishment of a long-range propulsion lab on one of the moons."
"That's where your boyfriend lives," confirmed Kimberly.
"Tanner should have arrived day before yesterday."
"No word yet."
"It takes three days for a PSOL transmission to bounce through all the stationlinks to reach Mars. I hope it'll be on my comm. When I return to my quarters," where Carol had moved when Tanner had first transferred to the Moon. "If not, I'll have it relayed via my transport."
"If you had said something, I could have given you access to my lines."
"Oh, that would have been kind, but so expensive."
"With the work we do for the Confederation, its one of the perks of the job. That was one of the conditions when we helped the congloms pay for the development and installation of the new links." Christine informed the group, saying nothing few at the table already knew, or so Hayley guessed when she saw heads bob knowingly. She had at least learned something new.
"The press has unfettered access to the lines," Kimberly added. "As long as the wires and media congloms pay the requisite fees."
"I'm guessing that just like any new technology the price will eventually fall," said Donald. "We have to be judicious with how much we use the lines to conference with our people working anyone except Sol."
"So how are the problems on Ceta Bine Two affecting your surveys there?" asked DeBow.
"We are four months behind. We have gotten nothing done. Besides the protests, pressure is being put on the citizenry by the radicals to not work with us. Without local help, there is no way we can perform the work."
"What work are you doing, Daddy?" Hayley asked. She had had only a few conversations about his work in months.
"Parliamentary approved and sold licenses to the Arythium Consortium and Borax and Carbonate Combines to look for aluminum, gold, platinum, and various other ores found on the planet," he began.
"They are going to buy out the charter we've held since the Confederation had to buy out Ceta Bine Proprietary."
Hayley asked, "That was nearly a decade ago?"
"And it's been a drain on the Confederation budget," said Christine.
"You're a historian," DeBow went on. "You must be familiar with territorial governance from the national level?"
"Of course," Hayley said, keeping her tone steady as she recognized the condensing tone in his voice. "We were having to select, send, and pay for the administration and governance of colony, the one on Ceta Bine."
"Why not just give the people there the right to govern themselves the way everyone else in Sol does?" asked Carol.
"We've spent trillions in keeping that colony going when the Proprietary collapsed," said Christine. Hayley couldn't help noticing the definite look as she spoke to Carol that told her she should keep her mouth shut and that Carol should have known better than to question government policy."We have a right to recoup those expenditures. We owe it to you and every citizen who pays to keep the Confederation and its business going."
"So a population nearly equal to Io, which has at least commonwealth status, will have no measure of self-determination. Their status is going backwards."
"You sound like a follower of Light Horse," Donald laced his question with equal parts surprise and dismay.
"On Ceta Bine Two, she and those pressing for independence make sense."
"Carol, how could you?" Sophia and Delores spoke as a chorus.
"I might be military, ma'ams, but doesn't the Confederation guarantee freedom of thought?" Carol replied with a straightforward tone that was matter-of-fact.
For several long moments conversation at the table stopped. Luckily, at that moment, the wait staff swarmed by to whisk away empty plates. Soon it would be time to cut the cake.
"Well, I hope you are able to follow orders of your superiors," DeBow huffed under his breath.
"As long as they moral, yes sir."
Hayley bit her lip wishing the cake cutting would start and she could get away from politics, Light Horse, and find some way to tell those who mattered, besides Carol, that she wanted to do an analysis of Trinidia, no Yreta Cuta's history. For Light Horse had also gotten her to think. She had read the span of her published articles, books, and even some of her speeches. As a result, she had done nothing but think of her challenge. And now she had a big question, a question her curiosity, she knew would get her into trouble with Christine, who like everyone but Carol at the table had only one formed opinion about the enigmatic anthropologist. Were the Confederation's policies making the same errors as the old imperialistic policies of old?
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