Shepherd Moon, Chapter 8: When It Rains, It Pours
Tasha looked at the Plot computer, and stared at a group of dots moving across the screen.
"What are they?" she asked the pilot-navigator.
"Detterex and Tirosian vermin, My Lady," the pilot answered. "We have been tracking them ever since we crossed the edge of the Federation boundary, but it is only now that we have become sure of them. We thought that they were just interference, but as we went into deceleration, the picture has become clear. They are Empire spacecraft, beyond a doubt."
Tasha nodded slowly.
The bridge's access tube dilated and Ren stepped out. Tasha turned and gave him a brief smile. Ren came over and stood by her.
"There are further problems, My Lady," Reena was saying.
"My Lady, Astrogation says that, according to their calculations, the enemy will be emerging into sub-light at approximately the same area and time that we will. Obviously, they plan to intercept us."
Tasha thought awhile. "Their spies are very good," she was saying to herself. "We must keep tighter security at the palace." She looked up from the Plot screen. "When do we become ship-maneuverable, Pilot?"
"In a short while, My Lady. I cannot be exact as to the time. The Chief Engineer says that the drive fields are fluctuating because of the long trip."
"Ship-maneuverability" was the term they used when a spacecraft’s speed was low enough that relativity effects were negligible, when the ship becomes maneuverable again and course changes can be made. It was also when short-to-medium range navigation systems start working, and EVAs became possible again.
The problem had to do with the effect of time dilation. Even as early as the twenty-first century, Earth had been aware of such problems, which was why their old-style “global positioning system” satellites had to have timing adjustments. Of course, these were very minor things - minute fractions of seconds – and such minor problems were easily managed. But at higher velocities, the discrepancies become larger, enough that they would cause interaction problems within the timing components of computer or electronic systems, and problems with the time perception of pilots, just enough to case errors in judgment.
It was therefore important for ships to transition to and from light speed quickly, and to avoid maneuverings during these “transition speeds.” But once they hit the speed of light and are able to engage their FTL drives, these problems disappear because their drives would isolate the ship and everything inside from time dilation.
For the Federation and Empire, they pinned this at 0.4C. As for Earth ships, Earthpeople estimate this to be at about 0.6C, largely because of better compensating systems and better atomic clocks (at this point, this was still an estimate since their ships had yet to attain velocities approaching light speed).
In any case, “ship-maneuverable” speed was the speed where onboard systems and time perception are not too affected by time dilation that maneuvering and short-range comms were still safe or possible.
Tasha nodded at the pilot’s comment and thumbed a switch. "Wing Marshal," she said, and an aged warrior came on the screen.
"Yes, My Princess," she said as she brushed silver-streaked hair from her eyes.
"We will be ship-maneuverable soon, Marshal. Make sure your pilots are prepared for launching."
"Yes, My Princess. All will be in readiness."
Tasha turned to her bridge crew. "Prepare all batteries and issue sidearms to all hands. And prepare my personal ship. I shall be leading the attack wing myself."
Ren gasped and reached for her. She batted his hand away irritatedly. Tasha turned to the pilot.
"Send a signal to our other ships as we become ship-maneuverable, and have them make similar preparations."
"Yes, My Lady."
Ren was pulling on her sleeve. "Tasha, no. Let them do the fighting. It is improper for –,"
"Ren!" she cried, and turned to look at everyone. The bridge personnel were looking away, embarrassed. Even the pilot was pretending to study the Plot screen.
She turned back to Reena. "I shall be in my quarters, Pilot. Inform me of any new developments."
"Yes, My Lady."
She turned to Ren. "Husband! Attend." They left the bridge in silence.
As she turned to lock the door to their quarters, she said, "do not do that again." She unhooked her belt and dress-sword and threw them into a corner.
"Tasha -," Ren said.
"You will not embarrass me again," Tasha said. "Ever."
"Tasha," Ren said again, pleading.
"I took you along with the understanding that you would not make a nuisance of yourself. I told you that there may be fighting. And you agreed."
Ren bowed his head, almost sobbing. "Yes, My Princess. I will remember."
Tasha looked at his stricken form, and her anger softened. "No, my dearest," she said as she took him into her arms. "Do not cry. I understand. But you know I must do this. I must. A princess of the blood cannot do otherwise."
"I know, I know," Ren said, crying, "But I am afraid."
"Hush, my dearest."
Ren pulled back and wiped away his tears. "Ever since our marriage, when I surrendered my being to you in the Eternal Bond, I have given up any hope of living if ever you should be taken away from me." He looked into her eyes, those beautiful sapphire eyes that he loved so much. "Please do not do this."
A little of Tasha's anger returned, and her arms around Ren tightened slightly.
"It is good that you remember the Bond that is between us," she said. "Do not force me, Ren."
"I won't." Ren kissed her softly on the lips. He smiled shyly, looking into her eyes. "Tasha? Do you want to? Tonight?"
Tasha smiled and slowly started to undo the jeweled buttons of his shirt. She leaned down, rubbed her cheek against the fine hairs on his chest, and allowed him to lead her to the bed.
She opened the psychic link between them, and was answered by a wave of passion. She swooned with the intensity of it.
the Elyran Rites of Marriage were very old ones, so shrouded in antiquity and thousands of generations of Elyran custom, that none could find the beginnings of the Rites. For Bridges, part of the Rites was the Consummation of the Bond, where psychic links are opened and hold the couple together, stronger than any physical chain ever could.
The Bond teaches emotional dependence of one Bridge to the other, for the physical and emotional closeness is so intense that, oftentimes, one cannot live without her partner. That was why warriors were forbidden to marry until they retired. Royalty were exempted, of course.
In normal parlance, in the Bond, the more dominant of the two is called the "bridge," and this is usually the female partner. It was probably because of this that Elyran society became a female-dominated one, though with the arrival of the Great Teacher (some priestesses would call her the Messiah), Elyran civilization slowly moved away from such bigotry.
However, not all Elyrans were really bridges. Only about five percent of the population were real bridges, and these were mostly royalty.
A real "bridge" is able to extend a kind of control over her partner, but to extend full control would greatly traumatize him, often sending him into insanity or suicidal shame. The degree of trauma was often as strong as the depth of the psychic hold of the "bridge."
Tasha was so deep into Ren's soul that she never held him so strongly to her will, for it would surely mean his death.
Yet Ren was one of the few - a male "bridge." Male bridges were considered rare, and their favors were fiercely competed for. But Ren was also handsome and intelligent, and a prince of the blood. Many of the royal family made a bid for him, including the princess Mara Dorian-Kerr, but it was Tasha, a playmate and friend from his childhood days that he picked.
If he were to be given away, he thought, it might as well be to her as anyone’s. It was for this that the aging feud between the Northern Kingdom and the Great Plains was given a new cause for dispute.
On the day of the Consummation of their Bond, as Ren opened his psychic gates to Tasha, for the first time in his life Ren felt a power stronger than his: a bridge stronger than him. Tasha tore his barriers down like flimsy pieces of tissue, and he was laid bare to her like an open book.
For him, as well as for her, it was the beginning of a voyage of discovery. Before her, he never knew how it was to be one, truly be one, with another. And he knew that it could only be this way with Tasha. What was conceived of as a marriage of convenience became a true one. And what he thought of as just a playmate of his youth, he now saw with different eyes.
True, the dangers of the Bond to the lesser partner were many, but so were there many dangers to the dominant bridge.
The bridge-to-bridge Bond could only be broken by the death of one, and a partner's death is as traumatic as it could ever be for the other. It was akin to having a part of her soul torn from her. And the intensity of the pain was as strong as the depth of the link, and Tasha and Ren's Bond was as deep as any in the royal family. The only way to endure the pain would be to open a bond with another. Any Bond with any other. Though the results of such a union were often thought of as futile since the soul lost to madness have never been redeemed, except in legend.
Tasha and Ren's excitement increased as they undressed each other, their fingers scrambling to undo buttons, and, as she lay naked on top of Ren, Tasha completed the link.
The opening of a link often brought with it sexual excitement, the link amplifying every sensation to an unparalleled peak. Any other form of sex would pale in comparison. This was also one of the reasons why Elyrans were always monogamous in their amorous liaisons.
Tasha reached for Ren with her feelings, and was answered with his own fiery passions. As she took Ren in the old, ancient way, and the waves of sensual fire spiraled upward and upward, Ren cried out and gushed into her. And as they both reached their peaks in ecstasy, she smiled inwardly, to know that only she, she alone, could bring Ren to this most intense of pleasures.
The crew made way for him, as Lord Norga strode along the Defiant's corridors. Being a Detterex, Norga looked much like an Elyran, though of course larger and taller than any Elyran ever could be. Solid-black eyes glared at passing crew-people and his three-fingered hand gripped his dress-sword as if he was about to cut them down.
Though he was not of the royal blood, he was given the privileges of royalty. For he was mate to the princess, Lady Arvan, and that explained much.
Princess Arvan, the eldest child and therefore the heiress to the most powerful family of the royal Detterex clan, ruled with an iron hand. Most of those around her on the bridge gave her a wide berth, and spoke most softly and carefully, for her subjects feared her.
Like most Detterex royalty, she was brutal, domineering and ruthless, secure in the knowledge of her royal birthright. This also extended to her close personal relationships. She had gone through seven partners already, some were bridges like her, and was as ruthless with them as with anyone else. All seven came out insane, their Bonds with the princess almost tearing up their psyches. To be linked with her was akin to torture; no rape was as fundamental as the power she held over her mates. Each one succumbed to insanity after only a short time.
But it was different with her eighth mate.
Arvan saw Norga in one of her slaver pits on Detterex, and was struck with his physical beauty. Norga was tall, taller than Arvan, his muscular body developed by years of laboring under harsh masters. Though his body bore the marks of his years as a slave, he still retained the craggy good features he inherited from his father, a highly regarded slave-breeding stud. And he still retained his teeth and nose, and his solid-black eyes remained unclouded.
Arvan took him in, never once considering that the slave could perhaps be a bridge, let alone one that could overpower her in the Bond. She was, after all, unquestionably the dominant bridge with her seven mates. But, when she opened the gates between her and her new "husband," she was assaulted by the sheer raw power of a native bridge. Though her psyche was strong, his was stronger. It was too late to back out then, and it was too late now. She felt the debasement and humiliation she had forced upon her previous husbands. She despised herself for her dependency on her lover, but she could not help herself. No drug could be as addictive as this. She yearned for the insanity that had claimed her other lovers, but Norga was very careful to avoid such an ending, and kept her on a knife-edge of sanity and insanity.
She turned when she heard the bridge tube dilate open. She had to force herself from rushing to her lover, and blushed with shame.
Norga stood beside her and held her hand, as was the right of a mate.
"T'chahn, My Lady," he said with all but a sneer.
"T'chahn, my love. I see the day has found you well."
"And you." He turned away to look at the Plot screen. "Are there any further developments?"
The pilot-navigator came up. "Yes, My Lord. Our initial estimates were correct. We are just coming out of hyperspace and we will be ship-maneuverable in half an hour, but it is only now that we are getting anything definite from Plot. We are now in the outskirts of the Earth system, as are the Federation ships. But we will be a few minutes ahead of them before reaching ship-maneuverable speeds."
"That is unexpected good news. Signal the other ships to launch attack craft as soon as conditions will allow. We will ambush them. And even if they tumble to our plans and put up a fight, we will decimate them."
"I have already given such an order, My Lord."
Norga's eyes narrowed to slits. "You have, eh?" His hand jumped to his sword. "Are you trying to make a fool of me, Pilot?"
"No, My Lord. I merely said -,"
Norga's swinging sword-blade cut her throat in mid-sentence. Pink blood splattered on the navigation console. The pilot's expression seemed to say that she couldn't believe it. Her body toppled to the deck, slowly dying as blood spurted from her.
"Norga!" Arvan exclaimed, bending, trying to catch the falling body, but she was too late. She clenched her fists in anger.
"You should not have done that," she said in deadly monotone. “We needed her.”
The other people on the bridge stared. Norga felt a vestige of fear. “She had not spoken that way to me before,” he thought. Unconsciously, he stepped back. He tried to sound unaffected. "I should not?" he asked sarcastically, only a fraction of uncertainty creeping into his voice.
Arvan stood slowly. She glared at her mate. Norga stood uncertainly.
“What is happening?” he thought.
Arvan still stood there glaring at him. He saw with his peripheral vision her hand clenching on her sword-hilt. “By the Gods,” he thought, “she's going to kill me.”
But Arvan slowly unclenched her hand and hid her face.
"No, of course not," she said. She was ashamed of her weakness and yearned to die.
Norga breathed a sigh of relief. "Prepare our ships," he said.
"Of course," the princess said, and turned away to leave.
O'Connell paced the bridge of the Seeker, waiting for something to happen. Anything at all. She was looking at the main screen, which was trained on Mia as she worked down inside the ship. She envied her. At least she had something to do.
She looked at Mia as she labored along with the officers and enlisted personnel. Two months was not a long enough time for a captain to get to know a crew, nor for two hundred and eighty-six men and women to get to know their new captain. Yet there she was. Mia presently had her jacket off and was talking to one of the midshipmen as they both wrestled a square tank into its slot. He smiled shyly at a joke that Mia made.
Perhaps it was the large amount of time that she spent among the crew, and the lectures that she regularly gave that made the crew feel at home with her. In fact, most of the first attendees came out of curiosity. But, as they got to know their new captain, and as more and more attended her lectures, it, as well as she, became just another part of shipboard life.
The Seeker and her crew had seen more work in the past months than they had seen in a while. Everyone had done their share of work. Even O'Connell had helped carry and clean up. She had come to think of her time on the bridge more as a rest period than as a duty station.
But the ship was showing signs of their hard work. Everything was shipshape now, and back in their places again. Her Shrike fighters and Mud Turtle personnel and assault carriers were reassembled, and, if O'Connell could believe the chief engineer, they were better than ever.
Collins and his people were as good as their word, and everything was working again, though the engines were still running in sub-light. She remembered her visit to the Engine Room and her surprise when she saw from the various newly-calibrated indicators that engine power output was only at five percent.
Captain Steele had said that only a few cables and circuits needed to be connected, and they could have FTL anytime they needed it. That was the very first thing that she looked into. Only thing to do now was try out the new engines.
"Commander," her communications officer called. "I'm getting something from the Empire fleet. A radio signal."
"You are? Translate immediately, and call the Captain to the bridge."
He nodded and turned back to his console. "Captain Steele to the bridge. Captain Steele to the bridge, please."
On the screen, she saw Mia turn and walk out of the picture.
"Navigator," she said, "let's see exactly where they are."
The navigator threw up a picture of their sector of space. Two blinking dots were moving slower and slower, and slowly converging.
Mia came in, just putting on her jacket.
"Yes, Commander? Anything new?"
"Aye, sir. We've just picked up something by Phase-Wave. It's coming from the Empire ships."
"Have you translated it?"
The communications officer turned. "Doing that now, sir."
"What's it say?"
The communications officer held a phone to his ear. "It says, 'Coming out of light-speed, and ship-maneuverable in eight and three-eights minutes. Prepare to launch attack according to plan as soon as able. By order of Princess Arvan.' A similar message in Tirosian is being broadcast from the leading Tirosian ship."
"Princess Arvan. Hmm. That tells us a lot. When do we reach the two fleets?"
"Twenty-three minutes, present course and speed."
"Not good enough. Helmsman, increase engine power to ten percent. Commander, prepare Shrike squadron for launch and arm all weaponry. Lieutenant, inform the Hermes and Constellation that they are to do likewise."
"Now," she said as she reclined in her command seat, "we wait."
- Washington DC
- Mistress of Confusion
Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.
Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.
Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.