Thanks for all the good wishes I received for Final
Exams. The dreaded tests are almost over, and I should be back to my one-week
posting schedule. Major thanks to Diva for helping me sort out my small there
vs. their problems. Comments, and suggestions, are very welcome at: Adarkbow@yahoo.com
With a yawn, she slowly stretched out her arms and grinned as Emie's hold on her tightened slightly.
Julie nearly purred in reaction to the warm breath, which played over her ear as Emily spoke. Twisting around, she cuddled closer to the source of warmth and smiled, enjoying the half-asleep/half-awake stage. Times when she could wake up slowly were few and far between, and she relished those mornings when she could luxuriate in waking up without an alarm.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and grinned at the light-blue silk shirt just a few inches in front of her nose. It was strange waking up next to someone, and surprisingly intimate. Refusing to let her thoughts stray from the pleasant warmth and scent of the woman curled up with her, she leaned forward slightly and nuzzled Emie's neck, grinning as that got an answering rumbled purr from the First Guardian.
"How are you feeling this morning?"
Tentatively Julie stretched, pleasantly surprised when her limbs felt stiff, instead of the pulled muscles she had been expecting. Her head, on the other hand, was a different story, and she winced at the headache.
"I have a headache, but otherwise alright. You?"
Julie reclaimed her spot, head leaning against the front of Emily's silk shirt, and smiled as she could hear the First Guardian's voice rumble through her chest when she answered.
"I slept better than I have in a long time. We can stop by the medical bay after breakfast and get you something for the headache. You sure you're alright after yesterday?"
Julie sighed as Emily's hands began a leisurely massage of her back, and her eyes slipped closed of their own volition. It was hard enough to concentrate with her senses filled with the scent, touch, and feel of Emily, and the back rub wasn't helping her focus on what had happened yesterday at all. What it was making her focus on was the pleasant warmth of their shared body heat, the way the silk-covered guardian felt where they touched. The pain in her head dimmed to where she was able to ignore it.
"Hmmmm... yes, I'll be ok. It was just a bit of a shock... oh yes, right there. Umm, you're good at that. Is Katya going to be alright?"
"Right here? Yes, Katya is going to be fine. They had to do a few blood transfusions, but other than that, she's fine. Weston was with her last night when I gave a call. The doctors expect her to be out of bed after a few tests tomorrow, and back on duty in a couple of days. Don't worry about God, she's in good hands back at Longbow."
Julie nodded her head, glad that Katya was going to
be back on her feet soon. She'd been worried when her friend had gotten so
pale, her lips turning blue from the loss of blood. Emily's message continued
for a few minutes, until the Guardian slowly began just stroking her back,
and Julie was more content than she ever thought she could be. There was no
where else she wanted to be than to be held in Emie's arms, listening to her
friend's breathing, and enjoying the way they fit together. Of course, her
mind supplied, it would be oh so much better if we were both naked, and we
were pressed together
skin to skin.
"What are you chuckling about?"
Oops, busted. Julie shook her head, not about to talk about that yet. They were attracted to each other, that was pretty clear. She'd had her share of one-night stands during her time with Majestic. Long-term relationships were pretty much out of the question. The Major must have known what she was up to, everyone in Majestic was under one form of surveillance or another, but he pretty much didn't care as long as she did her job. This was different. She didn't want this to turn out to be just another roll in the hay, and that scared her more than she could have thought.
"Oh, about what?"
Julie toyed with a button on Emily's shirt, enjoying the feel of the blue, silk shirt under her fingertips. It took her a moment to realize that Emie's hands had stopped their slow rubbing of her back.
Julie did her best to resist laughing at the nearly pouting tone in her friend's voice, but a glance up at the comical pout on Emie's face did her in and she laughed. Burying her face in the silk shirt she shook her head.
"Sometimes. This isn't going to be easy you know."
Julie grinned as she heard the Guardian's chuckle, and long arms wrapped around her, holding her tight.
"That's a bit of an understatement. Especially considering you're not done with your training. It's going to be a while before I get to see you again I'm afraid. At least I have a teaching stint at the PAFB two weeks from now for a month.
Julie sighed, thinking of those two weeks, and then the doubtless long time after that, in which she wouldn't get to see Emie. The sooner they kicked the Bak'ra's butts out of the system the better, as far as she was concerned.
"Is this going to cause problems? You and me, I mean?"
Emily pulled back at that, freeing a hand, and using it to tip up Julie's face so that Julie could see the solemn expression on her face.
"As long as it doesn't interfere with our duties, no. Guardians are cut a lot of slack in the way of personal relationships. After the miner's revolt, by Imperial decree, a Guardian is afforded the same rights as Imperial Citizens, even though their ship self is officially owned by the Emperor."
Some of the tension eased from Julie's body at Emie's words and she relaxed back into the loose embrace, enjoying the closeness.
"Emie, there's something I wanted to ask you about your family."
Her friend's hand started stroking her back once more and Julie smiled against the silk shirt as she closed her eyes. She knew that both of them would have to move sometime soon, but until she had to, she was going to enjoy every second of this.
"I met your father, and your brother, but what about your mother?"
Emily's hands stilled and Julie felt her friend stiffen slightly. Cursing herself for bringing up what was probably a touchy subject, Julie carefully pulled back enough so that she could once again see the Guardian's face, and reached up to cup her cheek as she spotted the old sadness in those blue eyes.
"Hey, I'm sorry, you don't have to tell me. I was just curious, I haven't heard much about her."
Emily smiled sadly and kissed the palm of the hand that was cupping her cheek.
"Don't worry, you just caught me by surprise. She was a Guardian, and my father loved her dearly. She died a year after I was born, trying to evacuate an outpost in a system who's sun was going Nova. I only remember her from holo-pictures I've seen."
Julie knew that kind of sadness intimately, and she raised herself up enough to kiss Emie lightly on the lips, hoping to chase away the sadness in her friend's eyes.
"What about your family?"
The only reason Julie didn't flinch, was because she had been expecting the question.
"I was in fifth grade, my parents got into a car accident. The roads were icy, and my father hit a patch of black ice on the way to pick me up from a school play. He died on impact, but my mother lived for two days in a coma, before her body gave up. I remember waiting for them, when all the other kids went home, thinking how mad I was going to be when they showed up, after they couldn't even come to the play."
She remembered that day. Her class had put on a play with the fourth graders, and she had so much fun dressing up like one of Robin Hood's merry men. The teacher, a nice, buxom old nun, had stayed with her when her parents hadn't shown up. She'd stayed with her even when the police showed up.
It was only when she felt Emie's arms tighten around her, drawing her back into a hug, that she realized she had fallen silent.
The First Guardian's voice was soothing and she closed her eyes, snuggling deeper into the embrace before answering.
"I ended up bouncing around the state system for a while. Then Major Sims, he was a Lieutenant back then, found me during one of my little so-called epileptic fits. He figured out what was going on, and I've been helping Majestic since then."
"I'm sorry, when the gift first starts to become apparent, it's usually a bit traumatic for the child. I wish I had been there to help you."
"You're doing a pretty good job of keeping me out of trouble so far."
Emily snorted at that.
"You do seem to attract trouble, don't you?"
Julie grinned and nodded slightly, relishing the comfort she was enjoying.
"The Major always said I had a talent for stumbling into things."
"No more stumbling, at least while you're a trainee. I don't think I can survive it if you keep on being where the trouble is."
"I promise I'll try, at least for a while."
Emily chuckled at that and Julie smiled as she felt her friend gently kiss her on the forehead.
"As for your Major Sims, I'm detailing him, his counter-part in Red Star, and Sergeant Major Torsson to set up a new intelligence service. I'm rather tired of having surprises pop up on me. We've had problems already with one group of Bak'ra infiltrators, I don't intend to be surprised by another group that might have managed to get into our ranks."
"The Major loves that cloak and dagger stuff, he'll be happy. I think he was sad when the cold war ended and there wasn't any clear enemy anymore. Then he joined Majestic, and he found another mission to dedicate himself to."
"You know General Whittecker?"
Julie nodded. She remembered the tall gray haired general who was the head of Majestic. She had only met him a once or twice, and he had been stiffly formal those few times when she had actually spoken with him.
"Well, he's gone missing."
Julie looked up at that in surprise.
"Missing, what do you mean missing?"
"Missing as in, gone, as in no longer anywhere where anyone can find him. Last he was seen was two months ago it seems. Any idea where he might have gone, or why?"
Julie frowned at that, and shook her head, propping herself up into a sitting position.
"No, I didn't know him very well, just met him a few times. I don't think any of us knew him very well; he was the one who directed where the Majestic teams were sent. He was our funding link; he knew where all the skeletons were buried for everyone on the Senate appropriations committee. Why would he leave now that he actually found out that he was right, aliens existed?"
Emily followed suit, sitting up as well, and Julie sighed, as they no longer were curled up together. It seemed that the real world was bound and determined to make them notice that it still existed.
"I'm not certain, but I think that Major Sims first job is going to be to find Majestics's leader."
Both of them groaned as the com unit in the other room chirped.
"Time for us to get up I suppose?"
Emily shrugged in apology and yawned, as she slowly stood upright.
"Go ahead and use the bathroom, I'm guessing you'll want a shower. I'll get breakfast and find out what's going on down at PAFB. Julie?"
Julie stopped as she headed for the bathroom, turning around as Emily said her name.
"No more getting yourself into trouble for a while, promise?"
"I already promised I'd try."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"So what's so frickin urgent I couldn't spend a few more days teaching?"
Emily, as Julie had helpfully pointed out, was pissed off, and Weston was more than a little thankful to the Guardian Trainee for sending him a little note this morning and giving him a heads up. She was a remarkable woman, and Weston could understand why his sister would be more than a little irritated at having what little time she got to spend anywhere near the pretty young woman cut short. This time, however, there really was no way around it, and he gestured for her to take a seat. They were in the main meeting room at Longbow base; the fairly large amphitheater was going to be the site of the rather urgent meeting called by the Emperor for most of the senior staff.
"Father called an emergency meeting after a few rather worrisome developments."
Blue eyes narrowed as Emily took the seat her brother had waved towards and folded her hands on top of the table.
"An Emergency meeting? Why? We're on schedule, for the most part, regarding the build up of the fleet and the orbital defenses. We have a shot at stopping the Bak'ra, not a great one, but we'll be at least ready for them."
"It's not a problem on the military front, well, at least not yet. Father had a few questions about the new ship designs that Birk put together, but mostly he's worried about some of the recent attempts by international companies to get rights to Tiri technology and the re-gen centers."
Weston watched as his sister took that in and nodded in understanding. He often had thought that they had both been born in exactly the right order. As much as he could appreciate the ordered life of the military, his mind simply did not work that way. His strengths lay, as their father's did, in the war of diplomacy. It was a war that his sister was uniquely unsuited for, with her tactical way of thinking through most problems. It was, he suspected, a relief to both of them that he was the first-born child, and that she was the First Guardian.
"I just wanted to warn you before the others began to arrive, and give you a chance to get ready to answer some questions about the new ship designs. I know Birk put them together with the help of the humans, and that he fully supports them, but this is a bit of a radical departure from the standard Guardian-class ship design."
His sister stood at that and moved towards the serving table, pouring herself a cup of coffee. Coffee had quite nearly become an addictive drug to quite a few Tiri, who found the dark drink delicious. Weston was not among those numbers, and still preferred a glass of human wine to what he referred to as boiled tar. His father, on the other hand, had discovered the English habit of having tea.
"As First Guardian I shall answer any questions put to me by the Emperor, you know that, Weston. I wouldn't have signed off on the ship designs if I didn't think they had a good chance of working."
"Don't shoot the messenger, Emie. How is the training going?"
He watched her as she gathered a small plate of food from the table, not having had a chance to grab lunch before catching a shuttle to Longbow.
"As well as we can expect, considering we're condensing a training program that should take ten years into two. We're down to a hundred and fifteen gifted trainees, and it's almost the end of the second training cycle. I don't think we'll lose anymore of them. Ten dead from the Bak'ra attack though, that's a serious blow to our force build up. Good salad."
Weston chuckled at that, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip of his own coffee as he considered his sisters words.
"What sort of odds do you give us, really?"
Emily slowly finished the bite she was chewing on, and considered what they were going to face.
"Really? Maybe a hundred to one, I don't know, it depends how far we go in the next few years before the Bak'ra find us, or one of the other planets."
"Anything new on their advance?"
Emily shrugged, taking another bite of salad, chewing it and swallowing before answering his question. Weston couldn't avoid grinning at the table manners that seemed to have been successfully engrained in both him and his sister, despite their best efforts to avoid it.
"No, not since the sensor station in system RFZ-1005. We don't have any more sensor platforms between there and a system halfway between here and Tiri Prime. If we're lucky, we won't hear anything for another year or so."
"And Julie? How is she doing?"
"She's shaken up, that's to be expected after what happened. I've tripled security at all the bases, and I've ordered a full security review, along with medical scans of every Tiri who survived the Evacuation. We can't be certain that those were the only Bak'ra infiltrators."
An emergency meeting was not what Emily had planned for tonight. Tonight was Julie's night off, and the First Guardian had been planning to take her friend out to dinner at this cute, little restaurant not far from the base. Those plans had died a quick death when she got the summons from the Emperor. Her month of teaching was going to be over soon, and she had only managed to see Julie alone once or twice since she had started teaching Advanced Tactics to the remaining Guardian Trainees. Life was just not fair, and Emily had to resist the sudden urge to pout as she took her seat at the meeting table.
She was not the only one who had been called from their duties to attend this meeting. There were, all told, thirty people seated at the table itself. Added to that, were several hundred representatives from nearly every nation on Earth, who sat in the auditorium-like seating surrounding the table. They would be allowed to listen to the discussion, but for the sake of expediency, would not be allowed to ask questions. They were here for the sole purpose of keeping their individual governments apprised of the situation, and they knew it. Since no senate had yet been elected, the thirty heads of departments and services that sat around that table were, for all intents and purposes, the Tiri government. Each of them had sworn allegiance to the Empire, except for Julie, who, as a Guardian, swore her allegiance directly to the Emperor himself.
Meetings were still held in person; it was just far too easy for an electronic version of a person to be formed, and used. Secure channels and authorization codes went a long ways towards making certain that sort of thing did not happen, but all meetings which needed to be secure were conducted in person.
Since it had been called as an Emergency meeting, her father dispensed with the usual pomp and ceremony, and called the meeting to order by raising his hand, and waiting for the table, and then the auditorium, to still. Microphones, hidden in the wooden tabletop, picked up his words so that the rest of the auditorium could hear him.
Emily watched carefully as her father commanded the attention of those around him. He looked, if possible, older than the last time she had seen him at Mars Base. The stress of what he was attempting to accomplish was eating away at him, and for a moment there, he had seemed a tired, frail old man, an image that frightened Emie. That moment had passed though, and the blue eyes which met her own were as alive as ever, and that slight grin of his let her know that things could not be all that bad, at least not yet.
"As you all know, I have called an Emergency meeting of the Interim Council to discuss several disturbing reports which have recently been brought to my attention. Since we are all gathered here though, I first will ask the First Guardian to give a brief overview of the changes which have been made to the Guardian-class ship designs, and why they were made."
"Thank you, Sire. As most of you know, I am Lady Emily Windstar, First Guardian. Here you will see the basic design specifications for the latest Guardian-class ships. This data, of course, is to be considered top secret, and the usual Imperial consequences apply to any who distribute this information without Guardian Command's prior authorization."
She nodded towards where her Provost was sitting in the bottom row of the auditorium seating, and waited as he activated the holo-tank. A schematic representation of the five-kilometer long Guardian-class ships appeared over the central table, and she used a laser pointer to designate the items as she spoke of them.
"Here you see the current Guardian-class design, officially called the Type-Thirteen Variant. All Guardians who survived the evacuation from Tiri space are of this variant, although that is more a matter of chance than anything else. At any one time, there are usually up to three or four variant generations in service. All capital ships utilize a gravitic drive system for movement in normal space, which can be augmented by plasma thrusters, similar to the engines utilized on our smaller craft."
She took a moment to highlight portions near the front and the rear of the massive ship.
"Here and here are the main gravitic drive systems in the Type-Thirteen Variant. The system works by forming a gravity "wave" before and behind the ship, a few kilometers from the ship itself. These waves basically push and pull the ship through space, eliminating the need for bulky propellant, which was one of the major hurdles, which the American and Russian programs faced whenever attempting to reach another planet. The gravitic drives allow us to also bend what essentially amount to shield bands along the flanks of the vessel, to protect against missiles and energy weapon attacks.
"Now, traditionally, the majority of the weapons emplacements were located along the flanks of the vessel. These include the missile launchers for the warp gate missiles, which are the weapon of choice for long distance engagements. Due to the massive gravitational wave generated ahead of the bow and stern of each ship, nearly all weapons are mounted on the flanks of the ships. A Type-Thirteen Variant Guardian-class ship contains forty missile tubes per broadside, along with twenty-two plasma launchers. This, of course, does not include the defensive weapon emplacements, such as the anti-fighter missile launchers, and particle projection cannons. Added to this, are the bays for the full sword of fighters that each Guardian carries, a hundred fighters in total. As you can all appreciate, the organization of all this along the flanks of the ship means that broadside real estate, as it were, is at a premium.
"This could be alleviated by lengthening the ship even further, however, it has been found over the centuries, that five kilometers is about the maximum that we can manage with our technology. Longer than that and we start running into problems with forces exerted upon the ships structural design from the gravitic drives. The Warp-Gate drives are located near the center of the ship, along with the command center. Each Guardian ship typically contains three fusion generators, one for backup with two needed to open a warp gate."
Pausing to take a drink, she thumbed the switch on the pointer, and waited a second as the holo-tank display changed. A new structural diagram appeared, this one with a quite noticeable difference from the previous one. Instead of a long cigar shape with weapons emplacements along the sides and a slight bulge at both ends for the gravitic drives, this one had almost a hammerhead design at its bow.
When the Tiri had first been forced to unveil themselves, they had made the physics and engineering behind most of their basic technology available to the top engineers and theoretical physicists on earth. That had been a mostly public relations move on the part of the Tiri, since they expected it to take several years for the scientists to even begin working their way through the massive amounts of data.
Which was why Birk, and Tiri scientists and engineers had collectively snorted in amusement when said humans had come forward with design suggestions for the next generation of Guardian ships.
Some of those top minds were present in the auditorium at the moment, and Emily smiled as she recognized Birk and his small clump of Tiri and Human engineers near the top row of seats.
"As I understand it, when the humans came forward with
design suggestions and the possibility of using Tiri technology in a
new way, Tiri scientists and engineers started out by ridiculing them, and
ended up by refining them. There is something to be said about taking a fresh
look at everything that we do, and since humans have no preconceptions of
what can, and cannot, be done, they are doing a great job of forcing us to
do just that. What you see before you is the design for the Type-Fourteen
Guardian-class ships. You will all immediately notice the major structural changes near the bow of the ship. This hammerhead configuration was made necessary by the inclusion of the very first functional Gravitic Weapon system ever developed. I won't go into the specifics, but I have seen it demonstrated, and although it does not have the range of warp gate missiles, it is extremely effective. The downside is that the front gravitic drive wave cannot be operational when the weapon is used, which of course, decreases the acceleration of the ship for the three minutes it takes for the weapon to charge, and then fire."
Emily grinned as she saw one of the human scientists sitting near Birk do a fist pump action.
"Tests have already been carried out, and the very
first variant fourteen class experimental ship will be nearing completion
in the shipyards above Mars in the next few months. Once we have done trials
of the new weapon systems onboard her, the systems should be perfected and
completely installed in the other Guardian ships in time for the bounding
of the trainee's. This system will reduce the number of warp gate missile
launchers which can be mounted on the flanks of the ships to thirty tubes
per flank, and the plasma launchers to eighteen per flank, despite the increased
space afforded by the hammerhead design.
That is all, Sire."
The holo tank switched off and she hazarded a glance at the faces around the table, finding most of them a tad doubtful. She didn't blame them; it was a rather radical departure from what had become traditional designs. The one thing about the lengthened lifespan, it tended to alter perception of time, years no longer seemed long, and she feared that it might have affected some of the rapid ingenuity that these humans showed. Or, perhaps, that was just one of the many subtle differences which separated the Tiri and human kind.
"Thank you, First Guardian. We do not have time for
questions now, but I am positive that you will get some later. Now that we
have that explained, I shall bring forward the main reason for this meeting.
Yesterday, I was informed that several major international companies were
going to attempt to get patents issued for Tiri technology. It appears that
the oil companies, along with the pharmaceutical companies, are quite worried
about what our technology will do to their financial security. It seems that
they have been planning to attempt to get patents on nearly every piece of basic Tiri technology. They intend to attempt to force us to shut down the re-gen centers and build their own, which they will charge for use of, of course."
The table nearly exploded with outrage at that. Basic technology, such as the regeneration centers, was considered to be the property of everyone. All of the Tiri, Emily was amused to see, had begun to consider humans one of them. She grinned as she spotted the same amused expression on her father and brother's face. The Emperor allowed the outraged conversations to continue on for a little while before raising his hand. Conversations ground to a near instant halt at that and everyone at the table turned to pay attention once more to their Emperor.
"Lord Alderson, you are the senior surviving member of the judicial branch of the Tiri government. You were charged with setting up the Imperial judicial system when the time came, and I am pleased to find that you have done well with what time you have had so far. Can we stop them from doing this?"
Lord Alderson was a hawk-faced man that Emie had had the misfortune of taking a class in Imperial Law under during her time as a trainee. It had not been her favorite class, and she still regarded the older man with a bit of apprehension. She was positive he could be a charming man, but he had terrorized her in the classroom, and she still avoided him as best as she could.
His voice had not even changed from what she remembered.
It was nasally, and she could pick up the slight accent from one of the colony
worlds in it. He played with the data pad that he had been putting notes into,
and she rather suspected that if any Tiri still wore glasses, he would be
fiddling with his at that moment. I wonder what Julie looks like with glasses;
she said she used to use them for reading. With a mental start she realized
she was doing it again, her thoughts were more and more drifting towards the
young red-head, and she had to concentrate on what Alderson was saying, forcing
herself not to consider
how cute Julie must have looked with them on.
"It will be tricky, considering all the different nations and laws we'll be dealing with. I just know that many of these nations are going to start arguing about sovereign rights soon. We'll do our best to force the issue to be heard in Imperial courts, where we have quite a lot of precedent to back us up. I shall have to look into the exact wording of their attempts before I can give you a more definite answer though, Sire."
The Emperor nodded and glanced around the table. Something else was going on here, Emily was positive of it. Her father would not have called an emergency meeting to only tell them that. With a glance towards Weston she raised an eyebrow in silent question. Weston shook his head slightly, indicating he hadn't a clue either. Frowning ever so slightly, she looked back towards her father.
"I expected that to be Lord Alderson's answer to this information, and many of you must be wondering why I called this meeting if that is all he can tell us at the moment. While it is true that Lord Alderson can not tell us much more until he has had a chance to look over the documents we have from these companies, we can determine what our stance is to be on this issue."
Lady Lorin, in charge of the infrastructure and the resources necessary to build it, leaned forwards slightly, speaking only when the Emperor nodded towards her.
"Sire? What issue?"
"What we are going to do about the rights to at least what we consider our basic technology. We have two options, sell them to the highest bidder and further stabilize the economic stability of the Empire, or make them available, for free, to any who wish to learn how to take advantage of it."
There was a moment of silence, and then everyone began speaking at once. Emily herself stared at her father in astonishment. What he was suggesting would have some very profound impacts on humanity, whatever decision was reached. Again, the table grew quiet as the Emperor raised his hand.
"Lord Tharsin, I believe you spoke first?"
Lord Tharsin, head of the Imperial Treasury was a small man by Tiri standards, only five and a half feet tall by the old empirical measurements. His shock-black hair was another oddity in a race that tended towards light colors. He was a distant cousin of the Windstar family, and, perhaps despite that, had managed to rise to his current position on his own.
"I would suggest we consider selling them very carefully."
He glared at the others who began to speak, waiting
for them to silence before continuing to
present his opinion.
"Our economic status is not secure as the humans measure these things. We could acquire enough currency from nearly every nation on Earth to allow us to continue with the rapid build up. Otherwise, we will be heavily in debt by the time we conclude the build up, and our economy will be quite strained even before the Bak'ra arrive."
So saying, he sat back in his chair, yielding the table. Emily found herself raising her hand slightly, and nodded as the Emperor recognized her.
"With all due respect, Lord Tharsin, I believe that we should give the instructions of how to build our basic technology away for free. It would be of great benefit to many of the nations I have visited, especially the third world countries. Imagine what our agricultural processes alone would do for them? We must also remember that the goodwill of the people towards the Empire is quite possibly of more value to us than currency at the moment."
She leaned back, and the table once more was filled with a dozen or so low-level conversations as everyone began conversing with their neighbor. The Emperor allowed the conversations to continue for some time, listening to a few of them and nodding slightly as he recognized a valid point. It did, however, come down to what Emily and Tharsin had said. Which one did they require most, a stable economic status to continue the build up, or the good will of the people?
Finally the Emperor slowly raised his hand once more, and the auditorium once more grew silent, awaiting his decision on this. More than one of the representatives in that auditorium would be affected by whatever the decision was.
"I thank you all for your input into this. I believe I have reached my decision. Lady Lorin, you will make the plans available for our basic technology to anyone who requires them. That is all; this meeting is at an end. Weston and Emily, please wait a few moments, I would have a talk with the two of you. Ah, one more thing before you all depart."
The few who had begun to stand and gather their things as the Emperor wrapped up the meeting stopped and waited respectfully, even those few who looked a bit ill after the Emperor's decision regarding Tiri technology.
"I want elections to be scheduled within the next three months for an Imperial senate. Now, I know that many of you have not had a chance to read over the Imperial government, and how it was formed. I suggest you do before we begin setting up for these elections. That is all."
The noise level once more rose in the auditorium, and
all those at the table rose and bowed to the Emperor before filing out. Emily
watched with curiosity as more than a few in nearby seats began excitedly
talking about the upcoming elections. This would be the first worldwide election
ever held and Emily suspected that it was going to be a learning experience
for everyone involved. Grinning, she cast a look towards Weston, thank the
Maker she was not involved in the diplomatic side of things. Marin guards
aided the rest of the auditorium occupants to quickly and efficiently file
out. Once the doors were closed,
Emily looked towards her father and arched an eyebrow.
"Father? What may I do for you?"
Weston nodded in support of her words, and looked at their father expectantly. Slowly, the Emperor rose from his seat and fetched himself a cup of tea, using the time to marshal his thoughts.
"I wished to ask you, Emie, what do you propose to do with this Betty?"
"Father, I do not think we can do much with her unless she wishes us to. The only way we could remove her from the computer core without her permission would be to shut down the entire network and then purge them. Which we can't do unless you are willing to shut down the fusion plants and the gravitic systems."
Emily watched in concern as her father slowly lowered himself down into his chair, wincing as he did so.
The Emperor waved away her questioning concern and took a few deep breaths.
"It is nothing, Emie."
Weston and the First Guardian shared a look of concern as their father carefully took a sip of tea and leaned back in his chair. The vital energy that he had exuded during the meeting fading away to leave behind an old man who's shoulders bore the weight of not one, but several worlds' survival.
"I think I should like to have a word with this Betty when I return to Mars Base. Now, how are the two of you? I seldom have a chance to talk to either of you these days. I wanted to tell you both that I think that these human women that you seem to have become attracted to are quite nice, and that God will make a good Empress one day. I don't envy either of them, since they will have to keep the two of you in check."
"Father! We aren't that bad."
The Emperor let loose a rather undignified snort of disbelief in answer to her brother's outcry and Emily had to hide a grin by taking a sip of her coffee.
"Son, trust me, neither of you are easy to get along with on occasion. I think those two are up to the task though. Now, come, let us discuss how we are doing preparing for the Bak'ra over dinner. I find myself feeling a tad hungry after that meeting."
Julie yawned as she stretched, working out the kinks from having been bent over that computer console for so long. Finally though, it was over; her second training session was over. Waving towards the others in the van, she hopped out as the van came to a stop by her house, and slammed the door shut after her. It was autumn now, and the trees had turned colors and were just starting to drop their leaves. Julie personally thought it was a beautiful sight, and she indulged herself in staring at the trees behind the house, taking in the gold and red colored leaves.
The damage to the base caused by the Bak'ra raiders had been repaired a while ago, and Julie could hardly tell where the pulsar darts had ripped apart most of the wooden porch. Still, the memory of those days lived on, and she found that she woke up from nightmares more than ever now, and was fairly certain that the horrible image of watching the first two trainees being cut down across the Oval from her was always going to invade her dreams. The day, however, was far too nice for her to brood on that, and she could not resist a smile up towards the blue sky. Closing her eyes, she spread her arms and tilted her face towards the sun, enjoying the warmth it offered, since the days were starting to get a bit brisk.
"Piss off, Mary, I'm having a moment here."
"Hmm... does this moment have anything to do with a certain First Guardian, because if it does I'll leave you two alone?"
Julie dropped her hands and did her best to glare up at the teenager who was lounging against one of the pillars on the porch.
"It didn't until you mentioned her."
"Hey, not my fault you haven't seen your girlfriend in over a month now."
"What? She isn't your girlfriend?"
Green eyes narrowed as Julie leaped up the stairs and mock-threatened her friend with a fist.
"You know, it's a bad idea to tease frustrated people."
"Oh poor, Julie, she's frustrated. Guess I'll just leave you alone with your memories and hope you figure out how to handle that hmm?"
Her tone of warning did nothing but cause the younger trainee to burst into laughter. Julie folded her arms over her chest and tapped her foot, waiting for Mary to come back to earth.
"I'm sorry, it's just you got this half-exasperated, half-embarrassed expression on your face."
"Hmph. Just you wait until you start liking someone and see how much sympathy I'm going to have for you! I just knew I shouldn't have told you about Emie."
Mary chuckled and hugged her in answer to that, before heading for the door. Julie smiled and rolled her eyes behind the teenager's back before following her.
"Where are the guys?"
"HA! They were out of here so fast I barely had a chance to say goodbye. Marcus is taking Harry out to some place he knows in Mexico for the break."
They had a week long break in the schedule before all of the trainee's were due to report in for the next phase of training. Which would include actual duty time onboard Guardian ships, and the first of the capital ships, which were being produced over Mars.
"Lucky them. What are you up to during the break?"
Mary grinned excitedly in answer to that.
"Well, that depends. What are you up to during your break? I know you had something planned with Emily, but with all the trouble going on with the Re-gen centers are you two still doing something?"
Julie, barely, managed to avoid rolling her eyes at
the mention of the current crisis. Most of the world's governments had come
to the, grudging, agreement that it was in their best interest to aid the
Tiri however they could. The alternative was not a pretty one, considering
the Bak'ra's use for any other life form was in the form of chattel. Still,
there were problem spots. Most notably a few international companies, which
had managed to get patent rights to several Tiri technologies in a handful
of western nations, were causing all sorts of problems. To everyone's surprise,
including the Tiri, the situation had
rapidly come to a head recently.
"I wish. She's out at Longbow, trying to keep things from going to hell in a hand basket. Why?"
"Well, I may just have been able to score passes for a shuttle ride to Mars Base. Whaddya think?"
Green eyes widened at that. Passes on a shuttle going to Mars Base were not exactly easy to acquire, not with all the traffic going back and forth these days. Studying Mary, Julie eyed her a bit suspiciously.
"How did you get passes?"
"Hey, I didn't hack the system if that's what you're thinking. I fixed a little bug in the mainframe, and in thanks, the nice Captain got me a pair of tickets."
Julie looked at her in disbelief.
"Ok, he might have had plans on coming with me, but, wouldn't you know it, he just couldn't manage to get the week off."
Julie felt another headache coming on.
"And how, pray tell, did he manage to not get the week off?"
Mary did her best to look as innocent as she could, which wasn't very convincing, considering the evil twinkle in her eyes.
"Well, I may have nudged the duty roster slightly when I was fixing the glitch."
"Oh come on, its not like I wanted to spend a week with him on Mars Base. God, what a bore that would have been. Come on Julie, you know you want to come; we have a whole week off. What else would you do? Just stay here and hope that the problems were settled soon enough for Emily to come and spend some time with you? You know that if that happens, she'll come see you at Mars Base."
When that didn't work, Mary did her best puppy dog look and stuck out her lower lip.
That got a laugh out of the redhead and Julie batted her on the arm.
"Fine. Mars Base was fun last time; we might as well enjoy the week off. I promised Emie I would try and stay out of trouble. How much trouble could I get in on Mars Base? Since we already foiled a plot to blow it up, I figure it shouldn't have any more problems for a while."
Emily stared in disbelief at her Provost.
"What do you mean that it's not the Vice President?"
Her tone of disbelief caused him to swallow, and he did his utmost to keep himself from reacting to the growing anger on the First Guardian's face.
"The man claims to be the recently appointed Ambassador to the Empire, for the United States, Ma'am."
"Angwar, I did not come down here to talk to some Ambassador. We need to sort out this nonsense about the Regen Centers, and quickly. Dealing with this Ambassador is not going to do that!"
"Where is our visitor?"
Angwar recognized that look in her eyes; it did not bode well for the person she was irritated with.
"He was escorted to conference room four, Ma'am."
"We'll see about that."
Angwar winced slightly as the First Guardian stormed
out of the command center and headed towards the conference room, located
two decks above, her Honor Guard trailing behind her. The Ambassador was not
going to enjoy the First Guardian's visit, he was positive of that. It was
bad enough that she had been called to take part in settling this and having
to deal with diplomatic situations, but what was even worse was this had erupted
during the small vacation she had been planning for weeks with Julie. The
First Guardian had been in a bad mood for the last two days, growing more
irritable as she had to suffer the seemingly endless courtesy calls from American,
Canadian, and Mexican officials in an attempt to settle what was rapidly becoming
an international incident between the Tiri and several multinational companies.
The oil and pharmaceutical companies were the worst though. Probably because
they had the most to lose if the Re-gen centers and the Tiri fuel cells became
standard technology, which they did not control. After the months of attacks
from them, it was obvious that most of the Empire had
lost sympathy for them. Since the Tiri valued actions above words, the actions that the companies had taken, to attempt to halt the free Regeneration treatments, were seen through a very poor light. The free access to those centers for all citizens was among one of the most sacred freedoms, which all Tiri held dear. Otherwise, only those who could afford it would get the life prolonging treatments, which would invariable lead to a class structure. That had been the original cause of the Miner's revolts, and the Empire had learned from that dearly bought lesson.
No, the First Guardian was not in a good mood, and the Provost almost spared him a bit of pity. Shaking his head, he went off to double check on the supplies that were being sent up to North Star, and get an update on the construction of the orbital forts.
To say that Emily was annoyed was a gross understatement of the facts. She seethed on her way down the corridor, and throughout the lift ride up two decks. Her Honor Guard knew better than to draw any attention to themselves when the First Guardian was in such a state of mind, and she barely noticed them as she stalked out of the lift, barely waiting for the doors to slide open.
She'd been summoned, as a Windstar, to attempt to negotiate with these companies, while her brother and father, dealt with other problems in Southeast Asia and Africa. Weston was going to owe her big time for this one. I should never have agreed to help with this, it's taking too long, and now I don't even get to spend anytime with Julie. Argh!
The two Marines stationed outside of the conference room came to attention as she approached, one of them activating the door for her as she passed.
"Thank you, Marine."
Her voice, she was certain, was cold, and she felt
the Marine stiffen in surprise at her tone as she passed him and entered the
room beyond. After the Emergency meeting, the First Guardian had been able
to return to finish her week of teaching, and enjoy at least the last of Julie's
free days with her, hiking through the nearby Adirondack Mountains. They had
made plans to spend Julie's week off together to celebrate the end of her
training sessions. Unfortunately, those plans had disappeared now that these
international companies were doing there best to try and make certain that
they were the ones controlling
who paid for Tiri technology.
Emily had arranged a meeting with the US Vice President,
a man by the name of Charles Fairchild, to attempt to make certain that the
government understood the Tiri position on this and sort out the current problems.
She had been assured that the Vice President would arrive this morning. That,
however, had turned out to not be the case, and Emily had reached her limit
with these diplomats who said one thing and did another. To a Tiri, actions
were more important than words, and the government's
actions were clear as far as Emily was concerned.
Her appearance was sudden enough to cause the portly man in the room to nearly choke on the coffee he was sipping.
Her tone was not exactly welcoming as she crossed through the room; blue eyes narrowing in annoyance as the man set aside the coffee cup and smiled nervously.
"I'm sorry for the change in plans, Lady Windstar, but the Vice President could not make it. I am Ambassador Bussard."
Emily ground her teeth together while her lips pulled back in what could have, possibly, been called a smile by anyone who did not look closely. The Honor Guard stiffened tightly at the slur to her, whether intentional or not.
"That is, First Guardian Windstar, Ambassador."
The balding man's smile faltered slightly at that and then returned full force as he offered her his hand. The First Guardian grimaced and shook the offered hand, despite the fact that, traditionally, Tiri offered each other small bows in welcome.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, First Guardian Windstar. I understand you want to discuss the possibility of setting up a meeting with the President to discuss what you might perceive as an attempt by certain companies to restrict access to some technology. Which, may or may not, actually be Tiri technology."
Emie stared in astonishment at the man as he went on, and on, to discuss the reasons why the technology might not actually be Tiri technology. Then why it would be important to stop the technology from being accessed by just anyone, such as, heaven forbid, the Third World countries. The First Guardian's posture stiffened more and more throughout the Ambassador's assault on her intelligence. The Honor Guard took their cue from her, and drew to attention, glaring at the Ambassador. Who didn't seem to even notice as he proceeded to go into the problems associated with getting a meeting with the president, since he was a very busy man, didn't she know that, and he could not just drop everything to have a meeting with her, even if she was the First Guardian, and what exactly did a First Guardian do?
The First Guardian in question watched in near disbelief as the man before her rambled on with no sign of stopping anytime soon. The question about what a Guardian did was the last straw though, and she slammed her hand down on the top of the table which separated them, resisting the urge to leap across it and strangle him to silence.
Ambassador Bussard stopped in mid-sentence and stared in surprise at what he surely thought was the mad woman across from him. He opened his mouth to ask what right she had to tell him to be quiet; didn't she realize he was an Ambassador for the United States?
Emily pointed her finger at him and growled.
"If you open your mouth once more, I will have you tossed out of here on your fat behind. Do you understand me?"
She loomed over his five foot seven inches, and the Ambassador found himself nodding.
"Good. Now, listen to me very carefully, Mr. Bussard. Your people assured me that I would be having a meeting with the Vice President, not some Ambassador that I have never seen before. Since I have not had that meeting, I have thus wasted the entire day down here, when I should have been taking care of shoring up the defenses for this system, to protect this Planet. Which means I am in a very bad mood."
She growled as she said the last bit, and the Ambassador felt himself take a step backwards as sweat beaded on his face.
"Now, you are going to rectify this situation, and do you know how you are going to do that?"
Bussard swallowed in near terror as she took a step around the table and slowly began stalking him. He shook his head, having only the barest idea who he was still.
"You, are going to return to your government, and you are going to tell them that I will meet with the Vice President, or the President, within a week. If I do not, I will make it my personal cause to make absolutely positive that those people whom you referred to as Third World countries, get access to our technology first. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Y-yes, F-first G-g-guardian."
The sudden smile almost made him wince, and she patted his cheek with false happiness.
Glancing towards her Honor Guards, all of whom were desperately trying not to grin, she nodded towards the Ambassador.
"Make certain that Mr. Bussard is escorted outside."
And with that, she spun around and left the sweating man behind, wondering what had just happened to him.
"You never answered my question you know."
"Hmm? What question?"
Julie and Mary had taken adjoining rooms at another hotel, called the Sunrise, which was located near the center of Mars Base. The Gardens had been full, and Julie had no inclination to stay there without Emily. The two trainees' rooms shared a balcony, which, while not as scenic as the veranda at the Gardens, had a nice view of the city. They had only arrived at the hotel late last night, after a full days travel from PAFB, and both had managed to get to their rooms, and collapse on their beds.
The day so far had been spent lounging on the balcony, and indulging in room service. Both of them were lounging on recliners, and sipping the drink that gave the hotel its name, a Sunrise. It was a sweet multicolored drink that probably had more alcohol than she realized.
Mary grinned and twisted around on her chair, wrinkling her nose at the red haired woman.
"Are you and Emily, well, you know?"
"Are we what?"
"Are you together, geez?"
Julie laughed and settled a bit deeper down into her recliner, gazing up at the dome high above, taking a sip of the cold drink that room service had brought up only a few minutes before.
"What makes you think we're together?"
Mary made a snorting noise and flopped over onto her stomach. Both were enjoying the relatively warm temperatures inside of the dome, and wearing T-shirts and shorts.
"Because I've seen you together. It's just so obvious."
"Well, if it's so obvious, I don't have to answer now, do I?"
"Ergh! Come on, Julie, you two are killing me here. At least let me have some romance to be happy about!"
The chirping of an incoming com signal saved Julie from further inquisitions into her relationship with the First Guardian. Almost leaping from the recliner, she headed in towards her room, calling over her shoulder as she went.
"Guess you'll just have to content yourself with God and Weston then."
She was laughing at the gagging noises behind her when she reached the com panel. A quick glance indicated that it was a long distance signal being routed to the base from Earth, and Julie smiled as she spotted the ID tag that came with it. It was a prerecorded message, unfortunately, since the ten-minute delay for communications between Earth and Mars made conversations a bit difficult. Still, Julie was happy to get something from the First Guardian. It was nowhere close to being as good as seeing her in person, but these little messages had helped keep her sane through most of her training.
"Hey you, I only have a few minutes before I have to take a shuttle back up to North Star. You would not believe what idiot I had to deal with today in the government. I swear, Julie, I was going to wring his neck. He just kept on blabbering and going on and on..."
Julie couldn't resist grinning as she watched Emily look upwards and mock pray for divine aid.
"I swear, I'm getting towards the end of my patience with these guys, and if they try to jerk me around one more time, I'll snap. I really am sorry I didn't get to take you on a vacation, and I'm going to make it up to you. If we get this settled soon enough I'll meet you at Mars Base and take you to this great restaurant that I know. Have fun with Mary, and remember, don't get into trouble! Bye, Sweetheart."
She smiled at that and lightly touched the com screen where the First Guardian's face had just been. She called me sweetheart'.
"Oh yeah, well that settles my question."
Julie spun around so fast she nearly fell down and stared at the younger trainee, who was leaning up against the side of the open sliding door, grinning.
"Oh calm down, Julie, it was pretty obvious. I even made a few bucks off the boys on a bet."
The color drained slowly from Julie's face at that.
"You bet about it?"
"Well, Duh, it was a pretty sure-fire way to take some of their money. Of course I bet on it."
Groaning, Julie massaged her temples as another headache began to make its presence known. If the boys knew, then the base gossip vine probably had spread it already. She couldn't remember seeing any odd looks tossed her way, but maybe that was because she hadn't been paying attention. Or maybe, her little voice reminded her, no one cares.
"Come on, Julie, wanna go and see some of the sights?"
"Ah, no, I think I'll just stay here and enjoy some peace and quiet for a bit. I've got a bit of a headache again."
The teasing smile disappeared at that, and Mary took a step inside frowning.
"Hey, I'm sorry about teasing you, but the Tiri don't care you know? And I thought you two deserved at least to be happy, and, well, you look good together."
"It's ok, Mary, don't worry. I think I want to lounge around here for a bit and just relax."
"You sure? You've been having a lot of those headaches recently, maybe we should get you to see a doctor?"
"Mary, it's just a headache, don't worry. Go on and have fun. I'll take a nice long bubble bath later on, maybe indulge in a nap; I just need some rest."
"Ok, if you're sure. I'll be back around dinner time, and we can grab some food together."
Nodding, Julie waited until her fellow trainee had left before wincing and rubbing her temple again. The headaches were indeed getting stronger, and more frequent. The littlest things set them off, and she was starting to get a bit worried. If they kept up after the vacation was over, she decided she would go see the base doctor once they got back to PAFB. For now though, she was going to take a nap and then have a nice long soak in that huge hot tub.
"Weston, I don't really give a shit who they think they are, I am not going to give in to what are essentially bully tactics and close down the Regeneration Centers! By the Maker, I don't know what's gotten into them, but these companies aren't backing down in the face of reason."
Weston sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. Even through the com panel, Emily could tell how tired her brother was.
"Do what you can, Emie. Intelligence thinks that someone, or some ones, is pushing these companies to do this. The Maker only knows why they would try something this idiotic, but they are doing there best to annoy all of us. I have another meeting with some of the leaders down here, and Father is doing what he can in Africa. Take care and let me know if anything else pops up."
"Will do. Good hunting, Weston."
"Good hunting, Emie."
Ending the com call, she leaned back in the chair,
staring up at the ceiling of her guest quarters at Longbow base. After putting
a bit of terror into the Ambassador, she was fully expecting the call that
came two hours later from a very apologetic Vice President. She had been assured
that there had been a mix up of sorts, and that he would have time to schedule
a meeting with her tomorrow. Which she didn't particularly believe, but at
least she would get her meeting. Which was good, since the local "Authorities"
had shown up just before sundown with a cease and desist order from the state
courts. It ordered her to
shut down the Regeneration Clinics located at Longbow base, until such time as the issue was settled. In an American court, she noted with a mental snort. The international companies had gone through with their threats, and applied for patents on basic Tiri technology. Even after said technology was to be made available for free, by Imperial decree.
The man, an officer of the courts, if she understood that correctly, had handed her the order to cease and desist, along with the thinly veiled threat that if it was not followed through, they, whoever they were, would take steps to stop the daily long lines of people who formed to get the prolong treatments. Similar events had taken place at the Re-gen clinics across most of the continent, and she knew that her father and brother were having their own problems in Africa and Southeast Asia. Her response to the threat was to smile predatorily, and respond that any such act would be considered an act of war.
The man had stammered a bit and left quickly after that.
Things were on the verge of getting out of control, and lashing out at the messenger of this particular bad news had probably not been her wisest course of action. Still, it had been nearly as satisfying as sending the Ambassador away with his tail between his legs.
The high point of her day though, had been getting a message back from Julie in response to the one she had sent out earlier. Unfortunately, the ten minute delay made a good conversation pretty much impossible, and tying up that much bandwidth on the communications arrays was prohibited unless for an emergency. Such as her talk with Nicholas after the Mars Base incident. Still, if she managed to sort things out with the Vice President tomorrow, and she would sort them out or else, she would have time to get to Mars Base before Julie's week off ended.
Grinning at the thought of seeing the cute redhead soon, she sat upright once more and reached for the first of the stack of reports that Angwar had delivered for her to review earlier. Thoughts of a particular Guardian Trainee kept distracting her from her work in the most wonderful of ways.
Said Guardian Trainee was lounging on a balcony, reading a Tiri historical novel and sipping a freshly delivered margarita. The headache had slowly disappeared after taking some analgesics, and Julie had spent the afternoon relaxing in a nice, long bath, taking a nap and now reading. It was getting towards the evening, and she set aside the data pad in favor of watching the dome lights slowly dim. It wasn't as good as watching a sunset, but still, the Tiri had taken pains to make it as close to that as they could, even making random shades of red arc across the dome before the lights slowly shut down.
She was just languidly considering heading inside to continue reading, when the sound of packages being tossed onto a bed, and a light coming on, signaled Mary's return. Stretching first, Julie got up and carried her things with her to see what the teenager had been up to all day. Peeking inside the sliding doorway she grinned at the number of packages spread across the bed.
Mary grinned in answer and began sorting through the clothing and computer parts that she had bought.
"Oh yes, I didn't have enough to buy one of those portable computers they use, but I got enough components to put my own together."
Shaking her head Mary wandered in and claimed a seat.
"Why get your own when you can get one issued to you?"
Mary shot her a look that clearly said that she was missing the point.
"That's not the same. I want to build one, and tinker with it. It's more fun that way. Oh, and guess who I got to talk to today?"
Wondering when Mary expected to have time to tinker with a computer, and hoping that she wasn't thinking of only doing that for the rest of the week, Julie smiled.
"I got to talk to Betty."
The red head blinked in surprise at that, and Mary grinned proudly, arranging the components she had bought on the top of the armoire to inspect after dinner.
"And guess what else I did? I got passes to go up and get a tour of one of the orbiting shipyards tomorrow morning. Isn't that so cool?"
At Julie's warning tone the younger trainee smiled as innocently as she could.
"You didn't, by any chance, manage to get passes to go up to see these shipyards the same way you got passes to come to Mars Base?"
"No! Of course not."
Julie relaxed slightly at that.
"Betty got them for me."