After a large, unpredicted, earthquake rocked Peru, the South American Transnational News Net canceled its interview, the last one on her schedule. Hayley didn't mind the cancellation. She had already spoken to too many reporters and before too many assembled delegations.
Returning to her hotel, she eagerly packed and caught a shuttle back to Los Angeles where she found an empty seat on the 8 am to Parliamentary. She promptly changed her reservations. Though apart for only five days, Hayley couldn't wait to be with Christine again. Wife, spouse, partner, to be together, especially after those first few days of wedded bliss that had not been; she needed to know that their conflict had been an abnormality. Arriving a day earlier than expected, Hayley quickly devised the scenario she would use to surprise her love.
Passing through the retinal and ten-digit fingerprint scanner, Hayley found her seat and buckled the restraints. Opening her valise, she removed her flexible reader and brought the screen to life. She chose, LAST and page 568 of Myths and Legends: Religious Similarities between the Yretan of Yreta-Cuta (Trinidia) and Earth's Mystery Religions appeared. A tome as large as her own, she had already read it through twice. Intrigued and captivated, she had read the numerous stories repeatedly, as well as, the layered analysis. She easily admitted that Dr. Light Horse was a genius in her field and found she had come to admire her scholastic sensibility.
She pulled down the file menu. A Basic Yretan Primer replaced Myths. This she had also been studying. Not as big as the tome, Light Horse had co-authored this book with someone called Mrelx. She plugged in headphones and listened to the basic pronunciations. She recognized Light Horse's alto and the Yretan Mrelx as they went through the basic lessons. The lessons had impressed Hayley, and Mrelx's way of speaking, which had at first been off-putting and strange, had a lilting musicality. The pronunciations, syntax, and grammar were difficult, something between Mandarin, English, and the click languages of the Khoisan, who lived in the Kalahari Desert in Southeast Africa. Yet, as he be came more accustomed to the nuances of what she was learning, she found it accessible. She found herself drawn to it. The small slices of text included simple expressions of everyday conversations, basic short stories about Jon'ai and other myths, and trivia about the Yretan. Hayley enjoyed the decoding process, and felt triumphant when understanding came more easily.
On their way home from Kaua'i, Christine had asked her about the text on her screen. Hayley had told her of her self-imposed project, about her desire to put together a history. She had been crushed when Christine, had immediately forbade her from undertaking any such endeavor. For the sake of peace, Hayley had almost expunged everything related to Yreta Cuta from her reader, but she hadn't been able to press the delete key. The mysteries of the Yretan had captured her curiosity. She wanted, no needed, to learn more. She planned to contact Dr. Light Horse and ask for her contact. She already could guess—Mrelx. She couldn't wait to try out what she had learned with someone who actually spoke the language. She felt odd, like a little girl who had just learned the mysteries of her ABCs. Now, I'll really be a galactic historian, she had thought more than once. Not just human history; the history of non-humans, too.
Docking at the station's spaceport, Hayley did not expect anyone to greet her. She had kept her return a secret. She had wanted her surprise complete. She disembarked and went to the luggage center and arranged for the valedroid agency to send her cases directly to her apartment, no their apartment. Christine had decided to move in with her.
Sparky went wild when she let him in from the backyard. Yapping excitedly, jumping hither and thither with great abandon, almost doing a back flip, he knocked over his water bowl, which, like the food dish next to it, was empty. His tongue hung thirstily. She picked the squirming ball of excited fur into a big embrace. They exchanged kisses. He gave her face a thorough washing, and she gave him a kiss on the snout. "You miss, Mama?" She put him down and he barked, running over to his dishes. She immediately took the bowl and filled it. Almost diving into the cool clear liquid, the little dog drank as if he hadn't seen water in days.
Wondering, feeling anger flare as she did so, "Did Mama Christine forget?" She glanced about the apartment as she put some kibble into his food bowl. The apartment was almost exactly as she had left it. As with the water, now almost nearly gone, he gulped the kibble when Hayley set it on the ground. He paused only to cough when he tried to swallow without chewing thoroughly. "VAS?"
"Activated," the mechanical voice responded.
"Is Chief of Staff Christine Stone on station?" she asked. The computer answered in the negative. "Chief Stone is on Mars. Do you wish to leave a message?" the computer asked, anticipating her next request.
Only when he had cleaned that bowl and drank another long drink from the bowl Hayley had refilled while he ate, did he finally go in search of his ball. Hayley threw it. The little dog returned immediately and set the ball at her feet. Wagging his tail and jumping about, he demanded more play time.
"No!" She almost gave into her irritation, but thought better. "No—VAS, wait!" She changed her mind. Who knew what kind of emergency might have arisen since her departure. She tossed Sparky his ball. "Send the following message." Sparky yelped merrily. "I'm back on Parliamentary." She paused and watched Sparky for a beat as he continued in his play. "Come," she finally said. A grin tugged from her soul. "Come when you can. I might need help with my shower. End message. Edit to remove pauses."
An hour later, the valedroids arrived. They set her cases in her bedroom. When they had gone, with Sparky's assistance and between tosses of his ball, she unpacked.
The time, she glanced at the clock above her main workstation. It was only 1206.
"Activated," the mechanical voice responded.
"Is Dr. Light Horse on station?" she asked.
"Roll registers the minister in attendance for the current meeting of Parliament."
Hayley interrupted. "VAS, view session."
Less than a foot tap passed. The large wall monitor flickered on. She took Sparky's ball and gave it a toss. Merrily, he scampered after it.
"I know of what I speak," said a woman, not quite slim. Her skin coloring and facial features showed off her Native American ancestry. The tag beneath her name read, "Marie Menchu." She was a representative from Central America. A second little overlay in the lower left corner said she was from Sayaxché, District of Petén, Guatemala." She's probably of Mayan descent, guessed Hayley who provided Sparky with another toss of his ball. "My country lived under the boot of first Spanish colonial domination and then under the Big Stick policies of the Northern Colossus that was and continues to be the United States. They took our oil, our minerals and ores, and cut down our forests to build their plantations and steal our lumber, but I hear you say, `you were paid.' Yes paid. We were paid nickels on the dollar and remained one of the poorest countries in the world. Money only lined the pockets of those who had used their strength, their guns, to gain and hold on to power. For the average person, families, babies, there was nothing. A university educated man could make a better living playing tour guide than teaching. The people were left to fend for themselves on the scraps of those who took what they wanted. "That is what these contracts will do to the people who live on the moon. To those who went to Ceta Bine Two, and to the natives on Trinidia. This government has no right to sell off their inheritance and steal their self-determination. I urge you to vote down DeBow's contracts and place a ban on all future contracts."
Hayley threw the ball again.
The ministers assembled either hooted or cheered the Central American minister as she returned to her seat. The Lieutenant Governor pounded her gavel and after a time order returned. She called on Bruce. Hayley had seen Bruce in action many times. Usually on the nets, but since coming to Parliamentary, she had usually gone to watch him from the gallery. She picked up Sparky's ball and juggled it in her left hand. Sparky sat patiently, and then let out a tremendous, "Yip."
"Yes, Master." Hayley half frowned, yet chuckled, and gave the ball a toss.
"My fellow ministers, do not let the whines of those in our party who would be better off in league with the Greens. Their grasp of what is right and what is best for this great Confederation and the billions who look to us for prosperity is in direct opposition of what the U.G.P. stands for."
"What is that?" The camroids cut immediately to the commanding alto voice that had interrupted. Dr. Light Horse rose from her desk. Her eyes were steady, piercing, defiant. She took a step in challenge. "Just what does the U.G.P. stand for?"
"You say prosperity. I say destruction! I say rule by the hegemony of the conglom oligarchs! Allowing Cavendar and Hyundai Ore and Metals Corporation and their subsidiaries to destroy the Lunar environment. Letting them destroy more of the moon! Endanger more of its nearly million citizens. The toxic waste they have created and buried. The radioactive wastes shipped for burial by the Confederation's Nuclear Waste Management Department and the congloms that they sell to."
"Contracts approved by the President of the United Lunar Colonies and your own Assembly."
"Pawns of the greater U.G.P. and the congloms that continually insure their election."
A cacophony of voices tried to shout down Bruce's opponent.. The lieutenant governor pounded her antiquated gavel.
"Light Horse, you do not have the floor."
"You foment rebellion!"
"Return to your seat now!"
"No! I report nothing everyone up with current affairs already knows. Reported by the congloms' own nets. Tabloids. Registered voters …"
The gavel pounded. "Light Horse, sit down!"
Light Horse wheeled on the Lieutenant Governor. "Yes, you would like to silence me! Bind my mouth shut! Keep me from repeating the list of transgressions perpetrated by this government on its off-world citizens." She turned back to Bruce. Bruce stood toe-to-toe with the tall Lunar Minister.
"Transgressions?" His gesture was broad, almost a bit over dramatic.
"You made sure registered voters not favored by your wing had been purged from the rolls. You saw the lines, the frustrations of the liberal wing as they were denied their basic rights."
"Your candidates won!" Bruce looked over at the Lieutenant Governor. Hayley knew that he wanted the sergeant-at-arms to remove the antagonist. She was breaking every rule regarding parliamentary procedure.
"Luckily for us the International Civil Liberties Union forced the Secretary of State to accept provisional balloting." Light Horse responded.
Hayley knew this story. She had seen it unfold on the newsvid. Somehow, nearly 50,340, almost all supporters of Light Horse's regional colleagues, had been purged. The Secretary of State had reported the error had been a result of a computer glitch. This had taken place several months back, when she had just moved to Parliamentary. Light Horse had been the most vocal on the moon, supporting her wing of the party. Few had mentioned the glitch or scandal—the word choice depended on which faction was speaking— during the current session. But now, the contracts had finally made their way through their respective committees and had come to the floor.
Now that she had seen the inner workings of the executive suite, Hayley caught herself wondering. Shaking her head, she voided all thoughts contradictory to what she wanted to believe. Light Horse was a rabble rouser. Christine, Bruce, Delores, her mom, her dad, no one in the Party would have deliberately sabotaged any election. As she had then, she believed the computer had made an error—just as I don't know the entire story about Ceta Bine Two and its desire for independence, or so she wondered.
"In two years when the President comes up for re-election, he will fail. The blinders are off and my people will no longer accept your lies or be led about like the blind you and those who have had a lock on this party and government think they are. The moon will be free! And as the moon goes, so will the growing numbers who will see through the subterfuge—and soon, you and DeBow will be out on your ears and the rest of humanity will return to the ideals and practice of our great Constitution!
"Right on!" Compatriots on the floor and in the gallery called out. "Self-determination, now and forever."
Bruce snarled. "You only want to destroy our greatness!" He glared at the Lieutenant Governor. "Get this woman off the floor!"
The Lieutenant Governor slammed her gavel. "Light Horse you are out of order! Order! Order!"
When the chaos had died, she rapped her gavel in quick, noisy succession and called for adjournment until the following morning when the "assembly will at last take a vote on the mining and waste disposal contracts for the moon, Ceta Bine Two, Io, Titan, and Trinidia."
Hayley tossed the ball. Sparky chased it and returned to drop it again at hr feet. "VAS, screen off." Hayley sat back and rubbed her temple. She looked at her wristcom. "Come on, Sparks." She walked over to the cabinet where she kept his leash. "No sense sitting around all day. Who knows when Chris will call? Let's go to the park."
In the several months Hayley had lived on Parliamentary, she had gone down to the Legislative Wheel only a few times—once on an impromptu tour with Christine, once to watch the induction ceremonies with her family, twice she had joined Bruce and Christine for lunch, and several times she had gone to watch Bruce make an important speech. Christine had said her appearance in the Friends' Gallery, would make good press for him, the party, and her family back on Mars. She had wanted to see him any way. That was what she had wanted to do. Bruce was her brother-in-law, she his sister-in-law; supporting one another was something families simply did for one another.
This trip was different. She had not meant to come. Christine was still on Mars and not expected back until 2150, or so. They had spoken while Hayley had been at the park with Sparky. Christine had said she'd eaten lunch with colleagues, including her father who had wanted to discuss the geological survey on Ceta Bine Two, and "would certainly enjoy a plate of your lasagna, and maybe a little dessert, too." Having tired Sparky out, she had returned to the apartment.
Sparky had gulped down a bowl of water—she wanted to remember to remind Christine that when she was gone, to make sure Sparky was watered and fed— and then jumped to cuddle in Hayley's lap as she looked over some notes she had made regarding Yreta Cuta. She had let her mind wander. She had refilled Sparky's bowl and completed her decision. She didn't know what force had taken her possession. She had put Sparky out in the yard, checked the water level in his bowl, and promised to return shortly. Her feet had propelled her forward, through the central habitat ring to the movers out to the Legislative Wheel. Now she had arrived and the jitters gripped her conscious as she walked into the anteroom for Minister Dr. Kaliska Light Horse.
A pleasant woman who reminded her of the women she'd seen in Hawaii greeted her. She was round in face with long hair that Hayley could tell was once dark as ebony, but had gone gray. Her eyes were dark and as she looked up from her desk, they had a motherly quality. Her smile upon seeing her was wide. Her teeth were perfect not like the photos she had discovered in the history museum she had dragged Christine to see. Those photos had been taken during the 1900s when dentistry was still young, and rarely available to most, let alone the natives populating the archipelago that was then the Territory of Hawaii. She hated herself for the stereotype that came to mind, but she could easily envision the woman in one of the grass skirts worn at the luau she and Christine had attended. Their smiles had been equally mesmerizing and Hayley had found herself drawn into their performance. She had found more than one attractive. Christine had, too. Her remarks during the performance had made her desires perfectly clear. On the way back to their apartment, Christine had purchased a grass skirt. She had made Hayley dress in the manner they had seen enjoyed during the luau. Topless, except for a lei, barefoot, and the grass skirt, nothing else, their impromptu luau, where Hayley had taken the place of the pig, poi, and hula dancers, had lasted until sunrise.
"Yes, may I help you?" asked Hanna Kaula, or so said the name engraved on the nameplate Hayley spied when she entered. Hanna Kaula, Executive Assistant.
"I was hoping I might speak with Dr. Light Horse," her voice quivered. She hated this. She hated this sneaking around. She felt like a traitor, but she was doing nothing wrong. She wanted to know. She had no one to test her on what she had learned. Her curiosity had been piqued. She needed to learn more. All she needed was the contact. From there, she would be on her own. She would learn about the Yretans' history. Perhaps she could expand understanding. Surely knowing the Yretan would benefit everyone and help deepen the friendship of the two people. She would do the research on her own time and not use any government resources. She was only looking for a pen pal, maybe an occasional call to discuss history.
"She's taking a call right now. Please make yourself comfortable." The assistant indicated a comfortable looking couch along the wall adjacent to the suite's entrance. Hayley walked to a proffered seat taking note of the artifacts decorating the walls and end tables. One, a gigantic bronze of an ouroboros, a snake or dragon swallowing its tail, decorated the length of wall directly above the couch. On closer inspection, Hayley could see it was a dragon with two pairs of wings and a three pronged tail which held a bowl filled with stars flowing planetward like a waterfall. Below it, in precise calligraphy a card explained:
Like the ouroboros of Earth myth and alchemy the Orm of Seljor Cutata symbolizes the cyclic nature of the universe.
Two more bronzes adorned the wall leading to a door behind which Hayley guessed was Light Horse's office. One, sitting on a simple oak shelf, was the face of an Yretan. Unlike the vids, this rendition was stately. She could still see the vestiges of the Neanderthal she had always picked out on the vids. However, the brain cavity, if this depiction had an aspect ratio of 1:1, was similar to modern humans. Another falsehood. She thought of the misconceptions she had held thanks to the nets.
Besides the slight protrusion of the Yretan's supraorbital torus, the Neanderthal brow line and a larger nasal cavity, the forehead hardly receded and the Yretan had a chin. There was no snout. The face was hairless. The ears were larger than human ears and protruded like a chimpanzee's through a mane of long shoulder-length hair that reminded her of the nomadic Huns who had terrorized the Romans in the fourth century.
Like the bronze over the sofa, this one also had a card: Ta Li - Mrelx
So this was Mrelx. Ta Li. She remembered the word from her language studies. Ta Li, the word meant parent, birth parent to be exact. Why Ta Li? She wondered. The craftsmanship was awe inspiring. She had seen other bronzes like this bust. This was not like those found in Western institutes of government. These reminded her of those she had seen in Dallas during her talks. She had had time to visit a gallery showing African art. It had been a traveling show, a collection on loan from a collector. This one reminded her of the clean lines found in the work of the Maasai. Their detail had been just as exquisite.
Light Horse's assistant interrupted her thoughts. She was speaking into a com. "Dr. Light Horse, Dr. Genetti is her to see you."
"I'll be right out." Light Horse's voice replied.
"Thank you?" Hayley nodded to the assistant. "How did you know my name?"
"You've been on the vids."
The door to Dr. Light Horse's office opened. Wearing a big grin, the recalcitrant parliamentarian sauntered quickly into her foray. "I had wondered if you would ever come. I'm glad you have."
Bashfully, she tested the fruits of her studying. "Moreme. Ng ngon. Oroho?"
Light Horse's smile broadened. "Foon ying, Dr. Genetti. Utz manitox, Dit?"
Light Horse had understood. "Ndiho." She was engaging in a real conversation. She had understood Light Horse's response. She spoke with greater confidence.
"Haw dzah ghah ma low?" She pumped Hayley's hand in welcome, or was it congratulations. It didn't matter. Hayley knew she had done well.
"Hanna, could we have some water?"
Suddenly, her fears slew her joy. Christine would not be happy. "Jok wliwini ni. I won't be staying long. I have to get home." Hayley said hoping to keep the anxiety welling from within hidden.
"Of course." Light Horse's easy smile faded.
"I," Hayley's chest tightened. She had to start again. "Christine doesn't want me to undertake the project. I haven't told her that you suggested it, but—God, this is more difficult than I thought it would be." She didn't know how to explain. It had nothing to do with the anthropologist or her project, yet it did. All of it was a problem. Why was she telling this stranger her fears?
"I understand," Light Horse sighed, clearly disappointed. "I don't—."
"No,' Hayley interrupted. "I want to do the project. I want to very much."
"Oh," Light Horses expression showed her confusion.
"I want to do the project. I need to do it. You've trapped me."
"I?" Light Horse started to protest.
"Don't say you haven't. You dangled the prospect before me and you knew that once my interest was raised I would have to dig on."
"You're giving me too much credit, Dr. Genetti."
"I think not. That said. I need to do this project. I want to research Yreta Cuta's history. All I need is your contact. Mrelx, isn't it?" She pointed to the bust.
"How did you guess?"
"You worked with her on the Yretan language program. It's her voice on the exercises?"
"Yes," Light Horse smiled. "Except it's not she?"
"I know Yretan are both male and female. True hermaphrodites; its zee."
"Yes, zee." Light Horse affirmed. "You are doing very well with your study of the language. Hanna, do you have the compound contact information?"
"All ready have it," she said. "I've sent a copy to your in-box."
"Not my office," Hayley said. "Christine would be upset if I had anything from your office."
"I understand." Hayley gave Hanna her private addy. The errand complete Hayley thought about going. She knew she had to go, even told herself that she had to be going. She had gotten what she had come for. There was nothing else. "I wish," she said though before she turned to go, "that I could stay a little longer. Christine won't be back from Mars until after 2100 hours. I'd like to have a longer discussion. Learn more about the Yretan, Mrelx."
"I would enjoy the discussion," replied Light Horse. Her eyes were soft, gentle.
"Wliwini Ni, Kali," she said one more time.
"Take care, Hayley."
Hayley gave one final wave and left.
As the door closed, Light Horse sighed. "What have you gotten her into?" asked Hanna.
"Trouble, I'm afraid." she replied and returned into her office.
In anticipation, Hayley removed her clothes and threw on her teal terry robe. She ordered a long loop of the most romantic instrumentals she could think of and set the controls for her large observation windows to exterior opaque. Checking the wine supply Christine had brought with her when she moved in, she selected the chief's favorite. She set it in a silver bucket and ordered some ice from the dispenser. Taking two glasses from the cupboard, she put everything on a tray and took it into the bedroom where she dimmed the light. Sitting on the bed, she waited.
Christine's flight had been pushed back. She had eaten at the Spaceport while taking one last meeting. So Hayley had put the lasagna into storage. They would eat it another night, or perhaps later when exercise would leave them famished.
She did not wait long. Within thirty minutes of her preparations, the front door hissed open.
"Hayley?" Christine's excited voice preceded her as she walked into the bedroom. In her standard uniform jacket, the straight-legged trousers, shoes, and her hair perfectly coifed, she looked as she always did, the professional bureaucrat. When she smiled and the recessed lights brought a sparkle to the green flakes in her brown eyes, the image Hayley had of Christine as a young woman, the image she had fallen in love with came alive.
Standing from the bed, Hayley took a step and tugged once on the sash holding her robe together. It released. The robe opened exposing the subtle curves of her unclothed figure. Christine's smile widened devilishly. Taking one more step, Hayley entwined her arms around Christine's neck and pulled her close. "Welcome home, my beloved." They kissed hungrily. The robe slipped from her shoulders as a pair of knowing, greedy hands explored the sensuous contours that sent shivering waves throughout her body. She pulled off the uniform hiding her lover's form. Her zealous, frenzied fingers did not want to work properly. She led Christine over to the bed.
"I thought you needed help with your shower," Christine said between kisses as Hayley pulled her to recline on top of her.
"I thought a brief, or not too brief, workout would be fun. Need to sweat a bit first." She let her hands explore the surging muscles above her. "I've missed you, my Love," she cooed. Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the lips traveling along the side of her face.
A sweet fruity odor touched her.
"A new perfume?" Christine did not answer. Her lips slowed, as if they were measuring the nape of her neck. "I love it," Hayley said. "Very sexy."
"I never knew hell until these last three days," Christine finally replied, taking a deep breath. "Oh, Doctor, I think I might need to give you a complete physical."
"And since we missed the last midterm," she countered, "I will want a thorough final exam. Each question could take a good hour."
Hayley gasped. Christine had begun question one.
"You're so beautiful," Christine leaned over her. She intertwined the long strands of Hayley's flowing hair between her fingers. "My wife." Smiling broadly, she bent over her. Tenderly, their lips met in a soft brushing movement. "My princess."
"My queen." Hayley almost flinched with the cliché. Hayley followed Christine as she rose and intertwined her arms around her chest and rested her head against her shoulder. Her hands messaged Christine's nipples.
Christine turned back. She unbuckled the harness and removed the dildo which had at one time during the night had been filled with sperm. "Come, I need a shower before I dress."
"Do you think that wise?" she asked, giving her most seductive smile. Christine pulled Hayley into the bathroom. "I might be a little late." Christine kissed her and then quickly, turning on the water, pulled her in. The water was icy. Hayley squealed. Christine laughed, and then they laughed together as the games continued. However, Christine's forecast proved true. She dressed quickly and rushed to eat the fruit compote Hayley ordered from the food processor. "Bruce and several representatives from the consortiums will be in at 0930," she explained the highlights of the day's agenda. "Light Horse and her gang managed to beat back the vote yesterday on the contracts. Rumor has it they're going to try to initiate a complete filibuster and kill the deals until after the recess."
Hayley swallowed a gulp of sweetened Earl Grey. "I'm meeting Ivan about the new scripts I sent up last night. Will you have time for lunch?"
"Don't think so," Christine adjusted the cuffs of her white silk blouse.
"Honey," she looked around. Hayley realized she was missing her jacket.
"You left it in the bedroom. I think I draped it on the changing chair," she said.
Christine disappeared back into the bedroom and returned just as Hayley set the dishes in the recycler. Hayley spied her as she was fastening the last of the navy blue buttons adorning his blue-gray jacket.
"Have I ever told you just how handsome I think you look in your uniform?" Christine gave her look of obvious triumph and glee.
"Honey, wait," Hayley spied a dark smudge on the collar; Hayley licked the tip of her finger and prepared to see if she could rub it clean.
"What are you doing?" Christine grabbed Hayley's hand.
"You have a smudge."
Christine craned her neck look then stepped back. "There's no time." She wetted her own finger and dabbed at the stain. She could see the stain was not coming out.
"If you give me a second, the clothing recycler can remove it."
"No, I'm fine," Christine frowned with annoyance. She pulled away. "It's fine. I must have brushed up against the track on my office door. It's been leaking lubricant. I need to be going," she said with a rush. "I'll see you tonight." Christine kissed her. "If I get home in time, maybe we can put in a set or two of tennis or maybe you can show me your technique in the VRC. The one you used to beat Carol. Remember you promised at the reception."
Hayley snickered. "I'm not too sure I'll be a very good teacher, but a session in the VRC or tennis, both sound fun and, then another physical?"
"Sounds like a plan." Christine imparted Hayley with a quick kiss.
Heading toward the door Christine spied Hayley's flexible reader lying on the coffee table. She paused and glanced down at the slim portable instrument on which Hayley kept her data. She flipped open the cover and depressed the on switch.
Hayley could easily guess why—maybe. "Honey, what are you doing?" She walked over to take the device from Christine's hand.
"I want to check," she paused in mid reply and penetrated Hayley being with a venomous warning. Hayley shuddered and dropped her extended hand. She focus returned to the reader she held. "I told you to delete," again she paused. Hayley knew why. "You've password protected the directory?"
"I carry work contacts, data from the office. I thought it would be safer."
"Open it." Christine thrust the instrument at Hayley.
Barely able to steady the palsy from her hand, Hayley took the reader and started to enter the string that was her password. She had to press delete and begin again when her fingers nervously overlapped two of the alpha-numeric buttons of the front panel. "I don't understand."
"VAS," Christine grabbed the implement, "transfer Hayley's directory to the main screen. Where is it?" She turned on Hayley. She jabbed a finger toward the screen. "Where is it?"
"What do you want?" Hayley glanced up at the listed pathways.
"Don't play games with me. Is it under projects?" Christine demanded.
"VAS, open pathway Projects." The screen blinked revealing hundreds of file folders. "And, don't tell me you don't know what I mean. I know you had VAS locate her whereabouts. I know you went to her yesterday."
"Her?" Hayley was immediately livid. "You've had me under surveillance?"
"I also know you spent time with her. You went to her yesterday and you spent the night with her in San Francisco." Christine responded in kind. "You've been fucking with me!"
"I would never—"
The blow that would surely leave its mark knocked her off balance and left her crumpled against the coffee table on the floor.
"Don't you lie to me!"
Hayley rubbed what would surely become a bruise beneath her eye. Tears had already appeared, but they came silently.
"What do you take me for, a fool?" Christine towered above her. Her fists she had balled.
"No," now Hayley sniffled.
She raged, "What are you? A mole? Reporting to her all along?" She struck out.
Cowering, Hayley ducked the blow. "I've only—"
The mad scowl of a bulldog marred Christine's exterior with the hideousness of Mr. Hyde's monster. "And what was that charade you had at the governor general's dinner?"
"I swear we'd never met before."
"VAS, locate all files having to do with Trinidians or Trinidia." Several dozen appeared, none by Dr. Light Horse or her colleagues.
"Try Yreta or Yretans." Dozens more flooded the screen. Hayley had removed the authors' names, but, "I told you to delete these."
"Sure you can. Just like, I'm going to do now. VAS, delete all files referencing Trinidia, Trinidians, Yreta, Yretans, Yreta-Cuta, Dr. Light Horse and," Christine addressed Hayley, "who's this Mrelx?"
"A contact I've gotten to help me obtain resources on Yretan history."
"VAS. And Mrelx, VAS delete them all."
"Deleting files," VAS confirmed.
"I thought I told you to not pursue this endeavor. I don't want you involved in this."
"Christine, please." Hayley choked back an urge to stutter. "With all the problems the U.G.C. is currently having over Ceta Bine Two and Yreta-Cuta—I want to write a history. The history I told you about. I'm a historian. It's what I do."
"I understood your proposal the first time."
"I don't understand you."
"There is nothing to understand. I said, `no.' You are my wife and you will obey."
"Like some dog?" Hayley's eyes narrowed defiantly.
"Better than a dog and you've already shown me that you can't be trusted."
"Trusted?" Hayley stood. "I've done nothing."
"You and Light Horse," she growled.
"We've had two conversations. Besides, I don't think she's the enemy the party's made her out to be."
"So you say I'm the enemy?" Christine's tone softened. "You didn't think me much of an enemy when you called me to your bed last night."
"You're my spouse. I love you."
"You just said I'm the enemy."
"You bitch!" This time Hayley saw it coming, but she froze. She fell to the ground. "I'll show you the enemy, you whore. You are mine! You will obey!"
From out in the yard, barking wildly for help, Sparky dug at the barrier separating him from his crying mistress.
Light Horse turned back to the voice calling her name and set the small valise with the information data chips on her desk. As if on their own, her left eyebrow arched up beneath the canopy of dark bangs that feel along her forehead. The rest of her expression remained neutral giving the three approaching ministers no chance to detect even a hint of her mood.
"What do you think you're doing?" asked the one taking point, the one who had also halted her progress toward the exit and the halls leading back into the Ministerial Offices and Apartments.
Light Horse sniggered. "My office. The head. Maybe home to get a bite."
"You're out of line, Loony." The overgrown simian on the left snarled.
"Sticks and stones," Light Horse tisk-tisked. From the corner of her eye, Light Horse watched Ministers Jomo of Eastern Africa and now the Moon, and Jay and Wolenski, also from the moon, move to watch her flank.
"The bosses are tired of you and your ilk. We demand you end the filibuster on the new contracts!"
"Or what, Sharpleton?" she stared down Bruce, who had let the larger of the two men take the lead. "This chamber is sanctuary. Remove your goons or the notoriety you want as the party stalwart will be that of being nothing more than a common thug."
"Oh, I'm not here to threaten you. I'm here to order you, or face ruin."
"That's what you said last election, but walla! Here we are," Light Horse indicated her compatriots. "Unless they believe otherwise we continue the filibuster on opening the moon to more Terran garbage and waste. You will cease and desist with your strong arm tactics." This time she indicated the automated camdroids focusing in on their conversation.
"Or what?" asked one of the gorillas, this one had almost no neck.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Light Horse flashed an impish grin and casually strolled from the chamber, breathing a sigh of relief as she made her retreat.
The scent of fresh, vine ripe Roma tomatoes lingered on her hands as Hayley pulled back the odd little strands of hair that had escaped from her clip and tumbled in front of her right eye. Tossing the salad, she portioned it out into two individual teak bowls. She double-checked the china and the place settings, polishing away any imperfections. The chronometer said it was almost twenty hundred hours, the time Christine had said she would try to get home.
"VAS, turn oven to low, warm." She didn't want the cheeses to burn. The wine, she spun back to the counter where a Burgundy from the hydroponic vineyards on the massive Agro-24 spacestation circling Venus sat. Releasing the cork, she set it on the side bar and then fixed the soft sourdough she had picked up from Christine's favorite bakery in Little Paris.
The table was set. "Perfect," Hayley sighed. The uneasiness clawing within her heart and gut would not go away. The hair fell out of place again.
Returning to the vanity in her bedroom, Hayley took a brush, unfastened the silver cameo clip she used for special occasions, and pulled the long mane back. She brushed it vigorously away from her face.
She paused. They were still large—the bruises; they scarred her arm and the gullet of her throat like the blemishes on an organically grown, over-ripe banana. Unbuttoning her blouse, she pulled it off in favor of another, this one more Victorian in design, with long-sleeves and a high collar. Looking back into the mirror to finish her hair, the camouflage could not keep the memories of the last several weeks from returning.
What's happened? She shivered. Hayley finished fixing her hair and returned to the living room. Restless, she activated her net and worked on her assignments for the administration.
The door hissed open. It was 2145.
"Christine." Hayley nervously straightened the skirt and blouse. She deactivated her net and rose to greet her. "You look exhausted." Light Horse did it, she thought, but said nothing. She and her colleagues had managed to outwit the lieutenant governor and take hold of the floor. No vote would take place. Not yet. Perhaps tomorrow, but then the session would end and rules stated that unless Parliament was confronting an emergency, the government could not force an extension. Parliament, not meant to meet year round, would adjourn for four months. If any emergency were to arise during the recess, the Governor General could convene an extra session. Since war wasn't likely to break out, the new contracts would have to wait.
Her thoughts did not remain long on the political battles she knew were not helping Christine's disposition. Instead, she had but one focus. I was at fault. She had accepted the blame. With the legislative battles tearing at the administration, Hayley knew her desires, as logical as they were, had simply pushed tired, war weary button. No wonder Christine had exploded. Tonight the best wife in the world. Best wife. Best wife. I've got to make it all right. Kissing Christine, Hayley hoped to coax something more inviting than the resentment emanating from her taciturn spouse.
Christine spied the table. "What is this?"
"Dinner. I cooked. You enjoy my pasta."
Christine removed her jacket and draped it on the couch. "I do," she said without enthusiasm.
Hayley ordered the oven to turn off. She removed the pan of lasagna and brought the steamy dish to the table, placing it on a small antique iron trivet. "I finished the last three scripts today. I went over the copies with Ivan." She had called in sick to the office and had communicated with Ivan via VAS. "He said he really liked them and would be able to start production as soon as he received your okay."
Don't you order me about, said the look Christine shot Hayley as she took a seat at the table, but she said almost too calmly, "Good. I'll get to it when I can."
Hayley had at least hoped for a hint of surprise, a How nice! or at least a small grin.
Hayley cut the casserole giving Christine a gooey, cheesy helping. "They had fresh tomatoes in hydroponics today—not the genetic rejects that taste like plastic." Hayley took her seat. "I found some of the wine you enjoy."
Christine poured some into her glass, studying Hayley suspiciously. "Hayley, what's going on?"
Hayley shook her head and silently swore at herself. "Nothing," she answered. Her hands were jittery as she took a slice of bread from the basket.
"I didn't come home for this!" Christine threw down her napkin and stood.
"No, Christine." Hayley grabbed her arm. "Don't go. I'm just doing this all wrong." Tears welled in her eyes. "All I'm trying to say, and so badly, is that I just wanted to create a warm romantic evening. I know so much has been going on, and how stressed out you've been." Warily, Christine sat back down and reclaimed her napkin. "It's just that I wanted to get things around here back to normal. I wanted to see your smile. I like your smile," she coaxed. "You are one of the most beautiful women I've ever known, and when you smile, your face lights up. It's so filled with whimsy, like a young girl. I love it. I love you. I just want to make you happy.
A glimmer of a grin crept across Christine's face. "We're fine," she said nodding and picking up her fork.
"I love you, sweetie," Hayley repeated. "You mean everything to me."
"I love you, too," came the reply that was too mechanical.
In complete quiet Hayley acknowledged the reply and ate. When they had finished, Christine went over to check her latest messages on the net. Hayley quietly cleaned. She put a stopper in the wine, set the dirty dishes into the recycler, and wiped down the counters, cook unit, and table. She sniffed, but she let no other hint of emotion escape.
"Christine," Hayley was the first to break the silence between them. She walked over to the couch where her partner worked. "I wanted to apologize, about this morning. I'm sorry." She kissed the nearest cheek. Christine did not look up. Sitting, she focused on her reader. Her cue, leave me alone. This at least was normal. Christine needed to work. She was the DeBow's chief of staff. She had many details to take care of.
Tonight the best wife in the world. Best wife. Best wife. Make it all right.
Spying Christine's jacket, she took it up off the couch. She sniffed. It reeked. Dark smudges, like the one she had tried to clean that morning marked the collar. "You door track's still leaking lubricant." She spoke softly. She licked her thumb and rubbed the stain. Wonder what treatment to use? She expected to find the mark more or less part of the fabric, like a dye, but oily. However, the stain felt waxy. She scraped at it with the tip of a short, somewhat manicured nail. The substance came off, some of it. "Christine, you've got lipstick here." She commented, more surprised that anything else, without thinking.
"Give me that! Christine snapped snatching the jacket from Hayley. "What are you doing?"
"You have some more stains. I thought—"
Christine's face screwed with simmering rage. "Mind your business!"
Christine wore almost no lipstick and when she did, like now, it was terracotta. This was darker. Edgier. Younger. Like …
"Elise." Realization dawned. "You accused me. You accused me."
For the first time that night, Christine grinned, almost proudly. "Be thankful I came home tonight."
"You accused me and all along it was you." Tears fell.
"Don't be so shocked." Christine chuckled "You know what I was like. You actually thought I only slept with you?"
"You married me. You say you love me." Hayley felt her world crashing down around her.
"We have great sex. You look good on my arm. What more is there?"
"You said you loved me?"
"Don't get all melodramatic, Hayley."
"You married me!"
"I want children. There is still a large segment of the population that wants to see their public officials in a warm, committed family relationship. It was time for me to do that, but monogamy. I do my best. Elise and I have been together since the week I hired her."
"What of all the guys she sleeps with?"
"She's bisexual, and she's careful. We both are. We test ourselves regularly. Listen Hayley, my definition of marriage isn't the same as monogamy. I believe in the old European model. One wife, but with mistresses and lovers on the side. A wife is for family, children. Nothing more."
"I love you."
"Yeah. I know, and in my way I love you, I guess."
"Not very much right now, but sex," Christine let a finger travel the length of Hayley's arm. "Surprisingly, you are good."
Hayley pulled away. "And you accused me of cheating on you with Dr. Light Horse?"
"You are to stay away from her!"
"I was not cheating! We had two conversations. You're the one who's been unfaithful. You've cheated. You hurt me this morning. Now I see why. You don't love me. I'm just some kind of prop, a play thing. That's not what I want. You're not the person I thought you were. I can't stay with you." Tears running down her face, Hayley turned to leave.
"Where are you going?"
"Out of here. Taking Sparky for a walk." She motioned to the back where Sparky sat watching. "When I come back you need to be gone."
"Christine, we're through. I won't live with someone who doesn't love me."
Christine seized the arm she had just teased. "I won't let you ruin me."
"You were a playgirl—oww!"
"You will do as I say!"
"Christine!" Hayley cried out.
"You will be my wife. Do you hear me?"
Throwing her down, pinning Hayley's arms with the weight of her own body, Christine tore off Hayley's clothing. The entire room became a blur in the swirling vortex of panic swallowing her. In an instant, she was back to that morning— back on Mars, a young girl, plunging into the depths of the greatest abyss anyone could fall into and survive. This time, she let the abyss swallow her whole as she fell, and so she plunged. She let the blackness of the morning swallow her whole.
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