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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 27: Elyra Prime

 

The Death of Arvan –

Naturally, of course, the news was also received on Earth. And after in-depth consultation with the leadership, and a long consulting session with Mumu, Pinpin and the Telcontari ambassador (Mumu and Pinpin were beside themselves in excitement), Secretary-General Romarkin informed Nick, and Mia later on, that the Earth had decided to accept the role. Nick was to announce this decision during the next Assembly.

As of that time, the Elyra-bound ships had reached the end of their short, three-week journey.

After a short forty-hour sublight trip, the fifteen ships arrived at Elyra Prime, the second planet of fifteen around their yellow primary. The system was unusually crowded but it only had one gas giant – the tenth from their sun (number eleven to fifteen could be considered “dwarf-planets,” per the Earthers classification system, similar to their own Pluto, and crossed their equivalent of a very, very sparse asteroid belt regularly). But the one thing it didn’t have much of were asteroids and other rocky flotsam, which was not common to other systems.

However, its planets did have more than their normal share of moons. Elyra Prime itself had eight moons, and Star Harbor was based on the second largest of these moons.

Star Harbor was Elyra’s main garrison and main port for their military, and as such, was the home of the single largest fleet in the Federation. This was where Mia’s ships were escorted to. At the moment, a fourth of the Elyran fleet was moored in Star Harbor, plus the ships sent by the Federation. With all of the ships now on Elyra, it made everyone feel invincible.

As for the Fifth Fleet, they comported themselves as a separate group. The seven Elyran crews took their instructions from Princess Tasha, but she usually deferred to Mia. Mia, knowing her need to maintain cohesiveness in the her little coalition squadron, made sure to course all her instructions through Tasha, the First Ambassador or Daxx, except when they directly asked for instructions.

-----

The first order of business was to brief all the leaders of Elyra Prime, so Mia asked all the commanders to accompany her planetside. The planetary government had set aside the largest coliseum on the planet for a special summit, and they got there before the bulk of the attendees.

All of the commanders of all the ships and their first officers, plus Mia, Tasha, Ren, Daxx and the First Ambassador, met with the gathered planetary military and civilian leaders. For the sake of time, many of the normal civilities that Elyrans were so fond of were dispensed with, though they did have the ceremonial drinking of krahnng, wine or their equivalents, and they began their briefing.

Mia was asked to speak first so that she could brief the gathered leaders about the approaching enemy. Thank goodness the tank on her arm had been taken off already, otherwise, she’d be deathly embarrassed.

Because of the limitations caused by the Curtain of Light, Mia explained that they couldn’t get much information about the enemy, but at least they could see the general proximity of the enemy to the system in real-time. Tasha then took the floor and briefed everyone about the enemy’s new tactic of using suicide shuttles with disguised nuclear weapons. Also, with the reports from EarthForce, Tasha reported that they seemed to have updated this tactic during the attack on Earth, that it wasn’t just shuttles that could be made into a bomb but any kind of smallship, even comparatively tiny fighters.

Admiral Daxx then took over and briefed everyone about the force that they had just brought over from Colossus: seventeen capital ships - seven Elyran, six Earther, three Dixx and one Arachnian. Together with the twenty-one Elyran capital ships (or twenty-five in base-8) already moored in Star Harbor and the twelve other assorted ships (or fourteen in base-8) that the other Federation nations had sent, Elyra Prime now had fifty capital ships at her beck and call (or sixty-two in base-8). It felt like Homecoming Month to most of the population (or Fleet Week for the Earthers).

The impending attack wasn’t much talked about yet as they covered these items.

After which, Princess Mara Dorian-Kerr briefed everyone of the state of affairs on the planet, outlining the defenses that they had at the ready, which included the firepower of all the capital ships available, and all the planetary defenses they had set up.

They then took a two-hour break for rest and a meal, and so that everyone could absorb all the information they had just been given.

During the break, Tasha brought her friends over to Mia’s table, and introduced them to Mia and O’Connell.

Tasha was making a special effort at rapprochement with Princess Mara Dorian-Kerr, the leader of the Great Northern Kingdom, the second most powerful kingdom on the planet, so she introduced her first. She had then introduced Ambassador Fal of the First Colony and her husband, Micah. Though Fal wasn’t a royal, she was Tasha’s best friend. Beside her was Princess Elaan, the ruler of Everon, their largest and most powerful off-world colony. Princess Thalassa of Harcon, the next most-powerful kingdom on the planet, also came over, with her mate and Princess Rahda of Petri in tow.

Mia bowed Elyran-style but it seemed Tasha and Ren had briefed her Elyran friends. They all held out their hands for an Earther-style handshake. It became oddly quiet after that, and it made Mia nervous. Especially with Tasha on the side giggling.

“All right, Tash,” she said, “what’s so funny?” Mia paused, a little chagrined. She didn’t mean to call her “Tash.” Mia didn’t know if Tasha was offended. She just continued to giggle.

“Oh, Mia,” she said, smiling. “I will not tell.” Mia humorously put her hands on her hips and huffed theatrically. The gathered leaders did not miss the byplay.

“If I may, My Lords and Ladies,” Mia said, taking her turn, “I would like to introduce Elizabeth O’Connell, captain of the Shepherd Moon and my second-in-command.”

“Greetings, Captain,” Mara said and shook hands with her. “Would it be allowable to ask, if you are mated to the Lady Amelia?”

“No, My Lady,” O’Connell replied nervously. “But she is my commander, and also my friend.”

Mara looked slightly confused.

Ben moved forward. “If I may, My Lady,” Ren interjected, and waited for permission.

Mara nodded.

“My Lady, unlike us, in Earth military organizations, it is actually not an accepted practice for subordinates to be married or partnered with their superior.” He then bowed towards O’Connell. “Pardon our question, Captain. In our culture, married couples are partners in almost all things. So, in military hierarchies, it is extremely common that leaders would have their partners reporting to them. It is actually extremely unusual for leaders not to have their partners with them.”

“I see. Thank you, My Lord.”

Ren bowed.

Mia then introduced the rest of her command staff, and as they exchanged pleasantries and shared wine and krahnng, Sahsha came over. Mia leaned down and Sahsha whispered to her.

“My Lords and ladies,” Mia said, “they’re ready to begin again,” and she followed Sahsha back to their area.

“So…” Mara quietly said to O’Connell, and gestured to the Mia and Sahsha. “Are they…” She left it hanging.

“Ummm, yes,” O’Connell said, “but they aren’t really spreading that around?”

“It is a secret?”

“Well, no… It’s just something that they’re not telling people as a matter of course.”

“Is it because the little one reports to the Lady Amelia?”

O’Connell chuckled. “Oh, no. Sahsha’s a civilian. She reports to the Secretary-General, not to the Admiral.”

Mara nodded. “Is it because they are both female?”

“Not at all! Ummm… are same-sex relationships not accepted in Elyran society?”

Mara looked at O’Connell, not understanding the question. “What do you mean? Why would that matter?”

“But you were asking about…”

“I was just wondering. Because there will be no children from this union, I suppose? Does Lady Amelia not want heirs?”

O’Connell shrugged. “I think that’s not something they’re worried about at this point. Right now, everyone is focused on the Detterex and Tirosian menace.”

“Well spoken, Captain.”

“But I’m curious, My Lady: how did you know?”

She shrugged. “I do not understand the question. Isn’t it obvious?”

O’Connell felt she wasn’t understanding the situation. She was clearly out of her depth. At times like these, Nick would have been great to have around. She tried to change the subject.

“I guess I was wondering how an Elyran picked up on it… Anyway, I think we need to get back. It’s time to strategize. We have less than a month before the enemy arrives.”

“True. It was indeed a pleasure to have met you, Captain. I am pleased to have a fellow warrior and sword maiden with us to help us guide the people to victory.” She held out her hand and, when O’Connell reached out as well, Mara didn’t go for her hand in a handshake but rather gripped her forearm. O’Connell did the same. After a little bit, Mara let go, and O’Connell did likewise. She didn’t know the significance, and just nodded to the alien and continued on to her seat, just as Mara went to hers.

-----

As planning for the impending invasion continued, there were many ideas thrown about. The main stumbling blocks were the EM suppression field and the use of “atomics” (as the Federation people called them).

The first thing they decided to accomplish was to establish the size of the enemy squadron. Capitaine Dupont explained that there is no way for Earth tech to determine that since the “curtain of light” disallowed radio and other detection. The only way to know was via optical inspection, which was not possible while above lightspeed, and when in sublight, one needed to get close enough. However, there were a handful of “educated guesses” they could make. One was that, since the apparent size of the EM suppression field was roughly the same size as the one that they last saw on Colossus, it was reasonable to assume a squadron of the same size.

Another was that since there was only one EM suppression field, the enemy would be coming in from one direction only.

Capitaine Dupont, assisted by the First Ambassador, stood and used a long stick pointer to point at the image on the large screen where an animation of the Elyran system and the incoming enemy was shown. Dupont would have preferred a laser pointer but he managed with the stick.

He explained that, given the trajectory, the enemy would be approaching in the direction of an empty part of the system that was in direct line to Elyra Prime. At this time of the year, there were no planets or other planetary bodies in that region of space where the enemy was going to go through. The nearest planetary body was about thirty million kilometers away. That meant another assumption could be made – that the enemy intended to fly straight to Elyra Prime instead of going around Elyra’s sun or some other strategies they'd seen the enemy use before.

A fourth assumption could be made, though it was a bit of a stretch – that their target was Star Harbor. And, given they were attacking the heart of Elyra, one of the most powerful Federation races with the largest single fleet, a fifth assumption was that this was a suicide mission – the enemy was not expecting to get out of this. It was yet another suicide squadron. That gave everyone pause.

Princess Elaan, the ruler of the Everon Colony, then took the floor to say said that, regardless of the EM suppression, all of the enemy’s smallships need to be terminated on sight, so any strategy must be designed around that consideration.

Princess Rahda took the floor this time, and brought up a very disturbing thought. She said that, since the enemy squadron was a suicide squadron, why couldn’t they not use their cruisers themselves to deliver the atomics. This therefore meant that none of the enemy ships must be allowed to approach any population center.

Mara therefore declared that a perimeter must be established, and the enemy must not be allowed to breach that perimeter.

Mia then brought up another unsettling idea – that they might need to use atomics themselves. An uproar greeted this idea.

Ren called for order, and most of the Elyrans settled down. Tasha was a bit irritated since Ren caught the eye of many of the people in the crowd. It was a common thing, but Tasha had never really gotten adjusted to it. One of the words that Tasha had learned from the Earthers was “hottie.” Her beloved Ren was an incredible hottie and she just had to learn to accept it.

After order was restored, Ren turned the floor over back to Mia.

Mia had several ideas. They were all extremely unorthodox and everyone marveled at the genius of them. Mia’s audacity, and bold and imaginative approach to the problem were first greeted with suspicion but as they discussed them, they thought Mia brilliant, with an almost-instinctive grasp of space battle tactics and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of theirs and the enemy’s ships and technology. For the rest of the night and the following day, they documented their strategies and appointed and assigned roles. By the third day, they were ready to organize.

They knew that they wouldn't be able to communicate through the EM suppression field, and none of the other ships except those from the Fifth Fleet had laser comms. Mia had therefore made up a code using the six visible spectral colors – violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, plus white. It turned out the others could see other colors of the spectrum, but they remained within the Earthers’ spectral range. The plan was they would signal each other using rocket flares in these seven colors fired in specific patterns and towards specific directions. None of the aliens had thought of using such an archaic, some even said primitive, way of communicating, but they all thought it was brilliant.

At the appointed time, Operation Messiah was put in effect and all of the ships flew off in their assigned directions - all except for the Talon and the Shepherd Moon, which remained.

The Federation ships flew away, pregnant with missile ordnance they had requisitioned from Star Harbor’s stores. The Earther ships had to make do with the ordnance they were already carrying since they couldn’t adapt Federation missiles to their systems.

The Shepherd Moon and the Talon stayed in Star Harbor’s docks, to be coated with a layer of black powder that stuck to the surface of the ships via a static field. At the same time, the largest number of rocket-powered orbital missile gunships the Elyrans could muster were brought up from the planet’s surface. At the harbor, they were all coated with the flat-black paint-powder in the same way, and their rockets were replaced with ion thrusters.

It took several weeks for the work to be finished, and the Talon and the Shepherd Moon eventually took off from Star Harbor with the largest fleet of missile gunships the Elyrans had ever seen. They used Elyra Prime’s other moon to slingshot the gunships in a fast trajectory towards the enemy. The trip was interminably slow since Talon and the Shepherd Moon had to pace themselves so they’d be able to accompany the gunships, but everything was so meticulously planned they got to their appointed place in plenty of time.

As soon as they arrived at the predetermined area, they all maintained station-keeping, arrayed themselves like an old-fashioned roadblock, and put themselves in the way of the enemy.

In the meantime, Star Harbor, Elyra Prime and all the Elyran colony worlds had deployed their planetary defenses and hunkered down for a siege.

-----

Eventually, the enemy arrived. Talon, the Shepherd Moon, and their fleet of repurposed orbital gunships were arranged in front of the enemy, blocking their path. Their color-absorbing flat-black color had camouflaged them from the enemy. Normally such a trick wouldn’t have worked, but in the absence of sensors, the enemy was reduced to visual detection. And to the enemy, it was like Talon, Shepherd Moon and the gunships weren’t there.

They opened fire as soon as the enemy was in range. As expected, in the lead were about half a dozen shuttles, the suicide nuclear bombs, so Talon, Shepherd and their gunships opened fire on them. As soon as they turned the static off, their coating fell away in patches, but the camouflage had already fulfilled its purpose.

What Mia didn’t tell her allies was that the Shepherd activated her own EM suppression field as soon as the enemy came into range. The danger of the enemy using atomics against them was therefore removed. Of course, to everyone, the disappearance of their deflector fields and communications was because the enemy just maxxed out their “curtain of light.”

As soon as the shuttle-bombs were obliterated, Mia and Tasha’s gunship squadron shifted targets and opened fire on the cruisers. The sheer density of the missile attack was such that the enemy was forced to brake, which was possible by then since they had already decelerated sufficiently. They valiantly tried to protect themselves against the onslaught but the surprise attack and the volume of missiles got through their defenses, and they did terrible damage to the ships at the leading edge.

But the enemy, which turned out to be a fleet of twelve Detterex and twelve Tirosian cruisers, plus one tanker ship, were eventually able to regroup. As soon as the first wave of missiles passed, they returned fire. Shepherd Moon used her rail guns to shoot down all the enemy missiles that she could while the rest continued their bombardment. The enemy was hard put to defend against the extremely dense waves of missiles.

This impasse continued for several long minutes, with the Elyrans losing several gunships while the enemy sustained severe damage. By then Reena’s people reported that they could see the other Federation-Earth ships approaching, as planned.

As planned, these reinforcement ships approached the enemy in four directions: the enemy fleet’s port and starboard sides as well as below and overhead. Emulating the intruder that attacked Colossus, they were traveling at their highest sublight velocities. As soon as the enemy was in range, they let fly the maximum number of missiles that they could deploy, in as many waves as they could, catching the enemy unawares as they zoomed past.

The two-way pincers attack was totally new to the Empire commanders (and the Federation commanders as well, actually), and they could not defend against it. The Detterex and Tirosian ships did their best to shake off the new missiles but they weren’t able to fire their anti-missiles in time, and their ships reeled from the enormous attack. They were, however, able to fire missiles at the rapidly-escaping Federation and Fifth Fleet ships, but they were flying too fast. Just like the intruder that had attacked Colossus, the ships just cut through the exploding missiles mostly unscathed. The same effect also protected them from friendly fire, and they flew through Talon’s and Shepherd’s own missiles with the same indifference.

At that point, most of the enemy ships started faltering, yet Talon, Shepherd and their gunships continued to pour it on. Seeing an opening at their rear, the one vector that had not been covered, the ships that were still capable of it, pirouetted one hundred eighty degrees. But the last group of Federation and Fifth Fleet ships had been approaching from that end.

Not moving as fast as the other four groups, this last one approached at more normal speeds. This was a larger group, too – this one constituted a third of their fleet.

They had let lose their own missile wave in yet another pincer attack with the Talon and Shepherd’s group. At the moment, the concern was to not get hit by friendly fire. But by arranging their ships in a predetermined pattern, and using pre-set firing patterns, they were able to continue their attack at full-throttle without hitting each other. The Shepherd fired colored signal flares to signal which patterns to use, and they continued to decimate the enemy.

Eventually, there was no more return fire and the Fifth Fleet and Federation ships deployed their fighters to administer the coup de grace.

But from the middle of the now-derelict ships, two suddenly emerged from the broken sea of Detterex and Tirosian ships.

Because of the suddenness, none of them were able to react, and by the time they were able to send most of their ships after them, the two surviving enemy ships were already accelerating fast, and fast approaching transition out of ship-maneuverable, and also in an escape trajectory out of the system.

Knowing Detterex and Tirosian physiologies, they knew that their crews were probably suffering, if not already dead. What they were doing was totally lost on Mia.

The other enemy ships were non-reactive anymore, sitting there like real derelict ships, but Mia and the others weren’t taking chances. Earther Eagle fighters, along with dozens and dozens of Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian fighters flew over, around and through them looking for any more resistance, but there was nothing anymore. Mia felt it was safe enough to turn off her EM suppression field, and when they did, they found out that the enemy had also lost its own EM suppression field, too.

Communications were suddenly restored, and deflectors started to work again.

But, as the fighters were inspecting things, yet another ship burst through.

This one, a Detterex “corvette” - small, maneuverable and lightly armed, roared through the Shepherd’s and Talon’s formation of gunships, and made straight for Elyra. With newly-activated deflectors, the cruiser just barreled through the gunships and ignored everything.

With communications restored, the Shepherd used one of its disposable Phase-Wave transmitters and sent a message to Star Harbor that one enemy ship had survived and was on its way to Elyra Prime. Shepherd Moon and the Talon were about to give chase, but the Elyrans should prepare.

The earlier two ships were clearly a red herring, meant to lure the bulk of the defenders’ ships away, which they did, and this allowed this new one to get through.

The thing was, even with the enhanced engines of the Shepherd Moon, and with the Talon’s tuned-up systems, they had no hope of getting ahead of this one, which was traveling headlong in a suicidally fast trajectory towards Elyra. Patrol boats were therefore deployed from Elyra and all the lunar bases.

Hours later, at the midpoint between Elyra and the remnants of the enemy fleet, Mia and her people were expecting the Detterex ship to start decelerating, but it continued to accelerate.

Mia discussed the situation with O’Connell, Tasha, Ren, and Reena. O’Connell reported the intruder was still continuing its acceleration. It was like it was trying to transition to light speed, but if it didn't adjust its trajectory, it’s just going to slam into Elyra at incredibly speeds.

Tasha asked what the implication of that was. Mia said that such an impact would definitely cause several geological and weather effects. It could definitely disrupt the planet’s ecosystem that, in the long run, could cause incalculable damage to the biosphere. What’s more worrying is that, an impact with an object travelling at such speeds could conceivably cause a planet-ending catastrophe.

She went into lecture mode and told her alien friends about what Earth scientists called the Chicxulub Impactor, and how it crashed into their homeworld about 66 million Earth years ago, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. That might happen to Elyra, too if the enemy ended up crashing into it. And with the higher velocities that it could reach, the cataclysm might end up being even worse.

Ren was familiar with the theory of the effect of such large planetary impactors on thriving biospheres, and wanted to hear more about it, as well as the dinosaurs. But Tasha told him to concentrate on the problem at hand.

“Truth be told, Tasha,” Mia said, “there is no way to prevent the impact, but we can prevent an extinction-level impact. What I need is your advice on how?”

“What are you thinking, Mia?” Ren asked.

“As I can see it, we need to break up the intruder into smaller fragments so that even if the fragments enter the Elyran atmosphere and impact the ground, the kinetic energy of the fragments would be so much less individually. However, my concern is that the total energy it has would still be transferred to the biosphere.”

“I agree. But at least it it will not be a world-ending catastrophe. How do we do this?”

“Well, we could use atomics…”

“No!” Tasha said.

“But…”

“Mia, there are two reasons not to use atomics,” Ren said, “the least of which are the conventions against their use, and the firestorm of public outrage it would cause. The more important reason, however, is that the debris will be radioactive, and that may be as dangerous as your Chicxulub impactor.”

“We have technology that can remove radiation contamination…”

“I know. Nevertheless, it may take time to bring it to the planet.”

Mia looked stubborn.

“Do you have other options, My Lady,” Reena said.

“Well, we can’t really bombard the enemy – it’s traveling too fast. The Colossus effect…”

“Colossus effect?”

“The effect the Colossus intruder exhibited when it was traveling in high sublight – it was practically immune to missile attacks.”

“So what can we do?”

“We can put something in its way. Preferably several somethings of high density and mass.”

“I suppose we can contact Star Harbor, and ask them to assist.”

“All right.” Mia then faced O’Connell. “Captain?”

“Aye, Admiral.”

“Get your people to crunch the numbers and pass it on to Tasha.”

“Aye.”

-----

Tasha, care of the Shepherd Moon, sent a message to Star Harbor, with all the information that Star Harbor needed. They also warned that another EM suppression field would come on shortly. They needed the field to deactivate the enemy’s sensors and defense fields in order for the plan to work.

Because of the short time available, the people of Star Harbor got to work right away. In the short time that they had, they were able to tow their entire supply of battleship-grade steel plates to the predetermined coordinates (it wasn’t too far away from them, only a thousand miles, so it wasn’t too difficult) and riveted them together into multi-layered plates a half-square mile wide each. What took time was bolting them together, and creating as many half-mile square plates as they could make. They were then arranged like a stack of cards in a deck, with about twenty miles of space in between each. But they didn’t have too many of the plates so, to supplement them, they towed the hulls of the four ships presently under construction in Star Harbor. As the hulls were being towed in place, another crew used the remaining powder coating they had left over and painted the first of the plates in flat black.

So, in the middle of empty space now floated four steel plates a half-mile square each, all in a row. At the end of the row floated four empty ships’ hulls, also arranged in a row. And they did all this work without the benefit of radio communications.

All of this had depleted Star Harbor’s stores so the storesmaster hoped this was all worth it.

And, as soon as they were done, the Elyran crews vacated the area. They hoped the enemy would arrive soon because the plates and ship hulls had already started to drift, but they didn’t need to worry.

The intruder arrived and, as per the plan, the intruder smashed into the first metal plate with a detonation like a fairly large nuclear device. But that wasn’t enough to completely stop the intruder.

In quick succession, the ship smashed into the other three plates, and eventually plowed into the four ship’s hulls, each time detonating as more of its kinetic energy was released by each collision. By the time it had smashed into the fourth hull, the ship had fragmented into small pieces of flotsam and jetsam already, and had lost a lot of its speed and inertial energy.

Though a substantial amount of the rubble still flew towards Elyra, they didn’t pose the same threat as before. The fragments were small, and their velocity was now less than a hundred kilometers per hour. After a month, they should provide very spectacular meteor showers. This was not a dinosaur killer situation anymore.

As planned, Shepherd Moon switched off the EM field, and they could use their Phase-Wave sensors again.

The Shepherd’s detection officer whooped and turned to her captain with a thumbs-up. “We’re free and clear, Skipper!”

O’Connell sighed.

“Inform all the other ships,” she said to her comm officer. “Tell them…”

“Skipper!” the detection officer called again.

O’Connell turned. “What is it?”

“I’m seeing something. I don’t know what it is…”

“Call the admiral to the bridge, and give me a close-up of that thing, whatever it is.”

When Mia arrived on the bridge, she went straight to the detection area.

“So, let’s see this mysterious thing,” Mia said.

O’Connell stepped back to let Mia see the screen.

“That looks like a lifeboat or escape pod.”

“Several lifeboats, actually,” O’Connell said.

“Show me a tactical projection.”

The detection officer pressed some buttons and it showed the clustered lifeboats moving towards Elyra, but instead of a direct course, it was on a curving path around the planet. It was a masterful piece of astrogation as it allowed the planet’s gravity to capture it and its atmosphere to reduce its velocity.

“Change the resolution to ten minutes per frame,” Mia instructed, and they watched the speeded-up computer animation show that the lifeboats would circle the planet several times but eventually would come down.

A close-up map showed that the lifeboats would land somewhere in the middle latitudes.

“Beth,” Mia said. “I think you should call the other ships, but the first one to call should be Talon.”

“Aye.”

-----

The Shepherd Moon and the Talon continued on to Elyra, the whole time tracking the progress of the enemy lifeboats. Several patrol boats were dispatched from Star Harbor and the surface to try and intercept them.

No one could have survived the collision so everyone had assumed that the eight lifeboats were empty, and it was a malfunctioning ship that caused them to be ejected. But as the patrol boats got close, the lifeboats opened fire with pulse guns. When the first patrol boats were shot down, the others moved back.

It was assumed that the proximity defenses of the lifeboats were damaged, so they gave them a wide berth and decided to take care of these tiny malfunctioning ships after re-entry, that is if they didn’t crash land or burn up by then.

But the lifeboats executed a controlled re-entry, and they started to purposefully move in a specific direction. As best as they could tell, the boats were making for the Great Plains Kingdom, maybe even the capital.

The authorities were still not ready to give up on the idea that the lifeboats were empty, but O’Connell sent a message saying they were receiving signals from each.

-----

Police and rescue craft were dispatched to where the boats had soft-landed, and everyone waited with bated breath for the officers to report, but after twenty minutes of silence, when the police vehicles started moving but there was still no communication, it set off alarms all over the entire region.

A kind of high-speed chase ensued. However, the civilian police force was outclassed. These were well-trained Detterex warriors and, even though the police were provided air support, the intruders were still able to weave through the capital city with impunity, causing casualties where they went, even while they were trying to shoot down their air pursuers.

A call went out to the nearby military garrisons, and they sent out several squads to capture the enemy. It was especially urgent since the enemy seemed to be making for the Royal Palace.

By that time, Talon and Shepherd Moon had arrived.

Showing great skill, Reena was able to maneuver Talon into an orbit similar to the ones the lifeboats executed, and the ship zoomed around and around the planet as the centrifugal-centripetal effects of the orbit and her thrusters slowly bled off her velocity.

As for Shepherd Moon, she didn’t need to do any fancy maneuvers and just decelerated directly.

By that time, Mia and O’Connell, accompanied by a squad of fully-armored Marines, left the Shepherd onboard the Admiral’s Barge. Tasha and a squadron of her fighters also roared out of the Talon and made for the palace.

An overflight of the palace showed that it was in an uproar, and the enemy seemed to have been cornered in the southern tower given the people surrounding it. Mia, Tasha and their ships landed in the middle courtyard, where the hijacked police vehicles were abandoned. Mia and O’Connell ran down the barge’s ramp and towards where Tasha and some of her pilots were milling about and going through the police cruisers. “Princess!” Mia called, and ran up to Tasha. She saw her pained expression. “What, Tash! What is it?”

“Mia,” she said, and held up several chrome tubes and components. “The Detterex have a nuclear weapon.”

“Are you sure?”

“These are the parts of a Tirosian atomic bomb. They assembled it right here and have probably brought it into the palace.”

“If it’s a bomb, why not detonate it right away?”

“I don’t know, but Mia. But if there’s even a possibility that they have atomics…”

Mia nodded, dug into her armor and brought out her CC. “Commander Kajima.”

“This is Kajima. Yes, sir.”

“Activate the EM field, Commander. A five hundred mile diameter field. Do it now.”

“Admiral?”

“No questions, Commander. Now!”

“Aye!”

A few seconds later, her CC’s comms cut out.

Mia faced Tasha. “An EM suppression field is in effect now, Princess. If they have a bomb, it won’t work.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask about that. Earthers have the Curtain of Light?”

“Yes. Just like the Elyrans have it.”

Tasha laughed at that.

“Okay,” Mia said, “what do we do about the Detterex?”

“They went to the South Tower. The Queen is usually there. It is my thought that they are after her.”

“The Queen?”

“Ren’s mother. The queen of all Elyra.”

“Let’s go, then.”

The Earther and Elyran warriors sprinted for the South Tower’s entrance.

The milling Elyrans, many of them part of the royal court, moved aside to let them through, and they pounded up the stairway going to the upper chambers, passing several of the elite Elyran guards and some Detterex soldiers dead or dying. Clearly the fight had been fierce and brutal.

At the top, they met with several of the guard who were stopping people from approaching or going through. An elder Elyran male was struggling with some of the guards.

“Warriors!” Tasha called. “What are you doing! Enough!”

The soldiers looked towards them and recognized Tasha.

“Lady Tasha!”

“Warrior. What’s…”

“It’s His Royal Majesty, Princess. He’s…”

The old man turned and saw her.

“Tasha!” the man called. “Daughter, tell these soldiers to let me pass!”

Tasha re-sheathed her sword and ran to embrace him.

“Father.”

“The Detterex have her, Tasha. I must go to her! I must…”

“I understand, Father. But you should not. You will only put her in danger.”

“But…”

She kissed him on the cheek. “I will go and bring her back, My Lord.” She turned to the guards. “Are there any other Detterex in the palace?”

The lead guard shook her head. “None, My Lady. Only the ones in there remain.”

“How many?”

“Two eights and two, My Lady. They are holding The Queen and her lady-in-waiting.”

Tasha nodded. “Warriors, keep your liege safe. I will rescue The Queen.”

They bowed.

“That woman with you…” the king gestured to Mia.

Tasha gestured towards Mia. “My father, this is the Lady Amelia Catherine Steele of Earth. She commands the Fifth Fleet of EarthForce; she is a friend of all Elyra, and my kinswoman.”

Mia knew this was an important moment, and that she had to make a good impression. She bowed in a stylized form that she’d seen in an old movie. She knelt on her left knee, held the hilt of her sword in her left hand with tip of her glowing blade on the floor, and bowed.

“Your Royal Highness,” she said.

The man ran to her.

“You are the Earther warrior,” he said. “Save my wife, My Lady. Please.”

She stood. “Tasha and I will, Your Highness.”

Tasha and her pilots, and Mia and her Marines, split into two groups, and crept up on either side of the passageway. Eventually, they reached the doors at the end. Carefully and quietly, Mia’s soldiers hunkered down and slowly pulled away the bodies of the Detterex warriors and Elyran guards piled against it.

Tasha then carefully pushed the door open with her sword blade.

Just as the door started to move, a very loud detonation reverberated down the hallway, and a three-foot wide hole in the massive wooden door appeared.

“This is Tasha, Royal Princess of Elyra!” Tasha called. “You have our mother. Give her up and we will let you live.”

A Elyran-sounding female voice laughed.

“So, it’s the little princess,” the voice answered in Detterex. To Mia, Detterex was almost exactly like Elyran, except for a different cadence and accent. But neither Elyran nor Detterex would admit that.

“I am pleased you are here,” the voice continued. “I thought you would still be with the Earthers. How is your ship, Tasha? The last time we met, your little rag-tag squadron was up in flames. Did you have to beg a ride?”

“The Talon is quite fine. She is overhead, in fact. Unlike your fleet. Do you know, none of your ships survived the battle, as well as those you sent to Earth?”

That was greeted with silence.

“Speaking of which,” the voice said, “no doubt your very inventive strategies were courtesy of the Earthers. No Elyran could have managed. Tell me, is she here?”

“Who are you referring to?”

“You know who – the Earther captain. Is she with you?”

Mia signaled to Tasha and pointed to herself. Tasha nodded.

“Yes, Princess Arvan,” Mia said. “I am here. Please let the queen go. I promise we will be lenient.”

The Detterex princess laughed in derision. “Clearly, you do not know Detterex as well as you think you do, Earther.”

Mia made several gestures to her Marines and half of them quietly crept backwards and then presumably back down to the courtyard.

“You must know you cannot get away, Princess,” Mia said. “There is no escape. At the very least, allow us to help you survive this ordeal.”

“Is this Lord Norga’s idea, Princess?” Tasha said. “Such a despicable act can only be the idea of your husband. A Royal would never do this.”

“Shut up, Elyran!” Arvan grated. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“You have no way out. Your weapons are useless, you have no communications, and your bomb does not work.”

“Ahhh. You have heard about my plan.” Mia and Tasha grimly nodded to each other. They didn’t deny it. Mia signaled her people to don their helmets.

“What is this plan?” Tasha asked Arvan.

“Never mind. All that you need to know is that you will provide us with an FTL-capable craft, that you will allow us passage frm this planet, that you will do all of this, otherwise, say goodbye to the queen.”

Mia looked at her wrist, and nodded to Tasha.

“Another of Lord Norga’s brilliant ideas, no doubt,” Tasha said.

“You Elyran bitch!”

“Now!” Mia cried in English.

Mia and her Marines rushed through the broken doors and winged the Detterex soldiers with their guns while the Marines that had scaled the walls of the tower fired through the windows. The Detterex were extremely surprised that the Earthers’ weapons were still working, so they were easy targets. Many of them were downed with capped knees while others suffered from near-fatal wounds to their vulnerable shoulders and arms (unlike the Earth Marines, their armor did not protect their legs, shoulders or arms).

“Weapons down!” Mia yelled to the Detterex while Tasha and the others rushed through the doorway with swords out. Before the Detterex knew it, they were all disarmed and were now gathered in one corner of the room at gunpoint. The Detterex princess remained in the middle of the room holding the Elyran queen. Over on the far side by a window was Norga, holding the queen’s lady-in-waiting with the tip of a sword.

“I am sorry, My Mother,” Tasha said.

“There is no need, my child. You have made me so proud, and I cannot love you any more than I do now. My Ren chose well.”

“Quiet,” Arvan growled.

“You be quiet, rebel,” the queen said, referring to Arvan with the old slang word for Detterex. “You cannot stop me from speaking, and you cannot stop my daughter. You will not live past today. Know that, and set your mind to that inevitability.”

“Well, you will not survive the day, too, old hag,” Arvan said and buried her sword in the queen’s belly.

The queen screamed in agony.

Arvan threw the queen at Tasha and jumped through one of the windows.

Norga threw the queen’s assistant at Mia and did the same – he jumped through the window.

Mia ran to the window Arvan leaped through. She looked below and saw the two standing already. Many of the guards had rushed to them and were now dueling it out with the two Detterex. Like all Detterex, the tall couple was about 2.2 meters tall while the Elyrans were just a trifle over 1.5 meters. With their reach, the Elyrans weren’t able to get close enough. Mia was only a little over 1.8 meters herself. If she had to go into a sword-fight with these two, she’d be in a heap of trouble. At least the Elyrans seemed to be holding their own.

She calculated things. If the Detterex standard gravity was 0.9 G while Elyra was 0.8 G, and if these two survived their jump, then she’d probably survive. She jumped.

-----

Tasha cradled the queen and told her soldiers to fetch the medical people.

“Mother,” she sobbed. “Nooo...”

The old woman chuckled feebly. “There you go, again, Tasha,” she whispered hoarsely. “Always jumping to conclusions. I am yet alive.”

Tasha touched her face. “Quiet, Mother. Conserve your…”

“Oh, do be quiet child, and fetch my husband.”

It wasn’t needed. The king had rushed through the doors and went directly to His Queen.

“My bag!” he screamed and one of the guards handed him what an Earther would have called a “doctor’s bag.” He was a licensed healer, after all. In fact he was the dean of the Royal Institutes of Health and Medicine. And it was his standing order that someone will always have his bag close by at all times.

“You old woman,” the king said fondly as he worked on her. “You never could say quiet.”

“You love it,” she said, and chuckled weakly.

“I love you. Now be quiet.”

“Father…” Tasha said.

“Hush, child. Keep her steady while I work.”

“Please hurry.”

“Oh, Tasha,” the queen said, “allow the man to work.”

“All right, mother,” she said, and continued to talk to distract her. “I’m sorry. Ren will no doubt be here soon. And the Lady Amelia is after the two Detterex. She’ll get them. Mark my words. After all this, I want to introduce you to her. I think you’d like her. Would you like that? Mother? Mother!”

The king put his hand on her arm. “Tasha, I’ve put her to sleep. I’ve stopped the bleeding for now. Now, we need to get her to the hospital.”

“A moment, Father.” She gestured to one of the Marines. “Warrior,” she called. “Come here!”

The soldier rushed to her. This one knew Elyran enough to understand.

“Yes, My Lady.”

“Is there a way to contact the Shepherd Moon? We need to turn off the EM field now. There’s no danger anymore.” She pointed to the abandoned nuclear weapon.

The soldier saluted. “Aye, My Lady. I’ll go to the shuttle and have them transmit a laser comm. Can I bring that?”

“Why?”

“We’re under orders to space the bomb, just in case it’s been booby trapped.”

Tasha struggled with the mixed Earther-Elyran speech. She was glad Ren had been teaching her the Earther phrases and idioms he knew, and understood what “spacing” something was, and what a “booby trap” was.

“Go ahead, warrior,” she said. “But do it quickly.”

The soldier saluted. He pointed to a couple of other Marines and, together, they gingerly lifted the crate-sized bomb and walked out.

“Guard,” she said, and pointed to one of the Royal Guards. “Help your Earther comrades bring the bomb to their shuttle. Clear the way for them. Do it quickly. Do it well.”

“As My Lady commands.” She bowed and rushed after the Marines.

Someone brought a gurney and they slowly walked to out the room with the queen.

“Marines,” Tasha said to the Earthers. “Who is the most senior?”

A sergeant raised her hand.

“You are in charge, then. Watch over the prisoners. Someone will be by to you, but for now, they are your responsibility. Is that clear?”

“Crystal clear, My Lady,” she saluted

Tasha saluted the soldier Earth-style and rushed after her father-in-law.

-----

Mia landed with a dull thud, but she miscalculated. She would surely have broken her legs or her knees, but it was the ground that saved her from injury – it was extremely soft, porous and springy. She fell on her side, and worried that she'd damaged her sword.

But she couldn’t worry about that now, because Norga saw her and started running headlong towards her.

She breathed a sigh of acceptance, plugged the power cable into her sword and braced herself.

Norga had a mace and a large broadsword. He swung the mace around over his head, and with a movement of his wrist, the mace started descending towards her. Mia rolled to her right and the spiked metal ball buried itself in the spongy ground where she'd just been.

Mia stood, bringing her gun up. Norga struggled to pull his mace out of the sod but the mace was stuck like it was buried in soft clay. He decided to leave it and, with a warrior’s scream, he charged Mia.

Mia instinctively fired her gun and hit Norga squarely in the face.

“Nooo!” Arvan screamed as she saw her husband fall. She swept the Elyrans harassing her with her sword; they all fell back, and she rushed to her husband’s side, literally throwing Mia away.

She grabbed Norga by the shoulders and shook him. “Don’t die!” she screamed. “Don’t die! Bastard, don’t die!”

But as she held him up, she felt the life leave him. “Nooo!”

Mia looked at her in sympathy. “I didn’t mean to kill him,” she thought, “but this is war…” She didn’t know how to comfort this woman.

“I’m sorry, Princess,” she said.

“Kill me,” Arvan grated.

“There’s nothing that can be done.”

“Kill me!” she said.

“Princess, don’t say that.”

“Kill me now. Before the madness begins!”

“Madness? I don’t…”

“If you don’t kill me,” she screamed, “I’ll make you!” With a wild yell, she rushed Mia with her sword extended.

Mia didn’t have a choice. She raised her glowing sword, tried to parry the tall alien’s sword only to cut the blade off, and stabbed her through the abdomen as she fell headlong into Mia.

Unnaturally, there was no gout of blood. Her sword’s laser cauterized most of the wound, but it was fatal nevertheless. Her thrust hit several organs, and severed the spine. Arvan fell over backward at the break and hit the ground.

Mia rushed to her side. She was still alive, whereas an Earther wouldn’t be.

“I’m sorry, Princess,” Mia said. What else could she say?

“I’m not,” she said, barely audible. “You have freed me from bondage.”

“I’ll get you to the healers…”

“No need,” she whispered. “It’s too late. But thank you.”

“… But I…”

“You killed that pig, my husband.”

“Your husband…”

“You are a worthy adversary. Well met, Princess.”

“I am not a…”

“I would ask a boon, Princess. After all of this, will you bring me home?”

“Hold on. The healers will be here in moments.”

Arvan reached up and pulled her closer. With her hand on the back of Mia’s head, Arvan pulled her down and kissed her.

Mia’s eyes flew open. She was surprised to say the least. But she didn’t dare pull away. The woman was dying, after all.

“They were right,” Arvan whispered. “You are a very strong bridge, and quite attractive. If only I had met you before Norga…” She kissed Mia again. And as they were kissing, the Detterex princess passed away.

Minutes later that was how the healers found them, with the dead princess in Mia’s arms, and Mia quietly crying and holding her. The medics gave her space while they took Norga away, but eventually took the dead princess from her arms. A couple of Marines stood by and waited patiently. After a few moments, she shook herself and walked away.

-----

The medics were talking to each other as they drove away.

“So that was the Earther princess,” the driver said to his partners.

“Indeed,” one of the medics said. “She was as impressive as I’ve heard. One against two. And against the Detterex princess and her gladiator, no less. And the duel was quite short as well.”

“It was?”

The other nodded. “The witnesses said that it lasted barely a few moments. And…”

“And?”

“The Earther princess. She was holding the Detterex princess in her arms as she died. She was crying.”

They drove on in silence.

“The Earther was kind and merciful.”

The other nodded.

 

Princess Amelia –

The entire system was in a party mood as they celebrated the unmitigated victory they just had over the Detterex and Tirosians. Only the Elyran leadership really worried about the fact that it wasn’t over yet. But, for now, it was a time of rejoicing.

The handful of Detterex soldiers that they were able to capture at the South Tower were the only survivors of the invasion. Over 6,000 had died on the enemy’s side compared to about a hundred gunship pilots, and the fifty police, royal guards and citizens that perished trying to stop Arvan and her people after they landed.

Included in the list of casualties were the Detterex Princess Arvan and her husband, the Lord Norga, at the direct hands of the Earther princess. Arvan and Norga were the heirs apparent to the Royal Detterex Family so, to the Elyrans, Mia was like a hero, even more than she was before, because it was at her hand that the queen- and king-to-be of the Detterex Empire were killed.

But the details of the last moments of Arvan had circulated as well. That Mia had shed tears for her enemy showed that the Earther didn’t kill with impunity, and tried to preserve the dignity of her enemy. Rumor had been circulating that she had actually killed the Detterex princess out of mercy: the pain of separation from her bridge could have actually driven the Detterex princess to madness, and ending her life was a kindness.

They said that Mia knew she had to do it, but was reluctant. Her kindness to the enemy was therefore according to the teachings of the Great Messiah, that it rang with the mythos of what it was to be Elyran.

The people’s hearts had gone out to the Earther “princess,” and many came calling at the royal apartment that was allotted to her. The Marines at the door were forced to turn them all away, but they did accept the gifts they left in her behalf. Another apartment right beside hers had to be cleared and used as a storage area for all the gifts.

Mia had locked herself in for the moment because she didn’t know what else to do. She had made a mistake yet again, though she didn’t exactly understand what it was. This was not the way to maintain a low profile.

She was virtually trapped in her room now since she wouldn’t be able to step outside without being mobbed, and she so wanted to see the sights of Elyra.

Still, with Phase-Wave and the portable comm system from the barge, she was still able to do her work.

Earlier on, their people had taken the non-working bomb out into orbit. They had then ejected it towards open space, and then sent a laser comm flash towards the Shepherd. They sent a message back and said they'd wait until the bomb was far enough away to not be a danger to anyone. They sent their remaining complement of Mud Turtle shuttles out to establish a perimeter around the bomb and make sure no one crossed it. When it was judged far enough away, the shuttles were all recalled and the EM suppression field was turned off.

And, as they feared, there was an electrical trigger in the bomb. Once the field was gone, the trigger switched on and the atomic bomb exploded.

That was the last of the tricks that the Detterex had up their sleeves, and everything had started to return to normal. Tasha was praised for her quick thinking, and her EarthForce rank of Admiral was quite fortuitous as it allowed her to instruct the Earthers properly and on time. She, of course, said that it was really the Earthers that thought to bring the bomb out into space, but that didn’t diminish the reputation she had started to gain.

As for Mia’s part, she had to document the detonation as complete as possible, and to transmit it to the Federation ASAP.

The fleet of fifty ships had returned to Star Harbor, and its stores were again strained to resupply all the ships. As for the Earth ships, all they requisitioned were billets of iron or steel, which they used to manufacture their own ammunition onboard. This, however, opened another surfeit of rumors. The storesmaster asked what all the steel would be used for, and researched what an electromagnetic projectile launcher was later.

There were other things that needed to be done, but most of them were just the minutia of command. Mia missed Nick since he would normally take care of all of this. But he was currently back on Colossus acting as the Earth’s interim ambassador, so Mia had to do for herself. She had to find a new adjutant soon.

As soon as Mia had some free time, she called Sahsha, asking if she could pass by. Mia asked Tasha to bring Ben along, too, if possible.

Ten minutes later, Sahsha and Ben were delivered to her doorstep via royal carriage. Mia marveled at the splendidly-appointed vehicle, and the fact that they were brought here in ten minutes. Mia supposed that this was normal for life in the palace, and welcomed the two in.

She plied the two with what was available in the little pantry her hosts had provided, and settled down.

But Sahsha didn’t beat around the bush and asked what was wrong.

Apparently, Mia had been watching the Elyran news and wanted to understand what the entire thing with the Detterex was - what all the hullabaloo was about the death of Arvan and Norga, and how it related to her.

Apparently, Ben and Sahsha had been getting along well and had been sharing insights and information because it was Sahsha who took it upon herself to explain.

As Sahsha explained it, at the core of the situation was the idea of “bridges.” It seemed that Elyrans had a sense or an ability that Earthers didn’t seem to have, and was ignorant of it at the moment.

It was a kind of telempathic quality of Elyrans that they were able to sense in each other, and this had a direct relation to their attractiveness to each other. The entire population all had this quality to a certain extent, but it was usually very minimal. However, the telempathic quality of about a fourth of the population was so strong that it was almost physically palpable. These individuals were called “bridges,” and partnerships or “marriages” (for lack of a better word) with such individuals were highly sought. The Elyrans called this the “bond.”

Naturally, bridges looked for matches with fellow bridges (although there were partnerships where only one was a bridge, these were extremely uncommon).

In such partnerships, the bond was usually between a “dominant bridge” and a partner “submissive bridge.” Sahsha supposed that the dominant bridge was the more active or, actually, the one that preferred to dictate how the relationship would be, whereas the submissive was the more passive one that sublimated her wants and needs and preferences under her partner’s. Sahsha said that, of course, the more powerful one was the bridge, and such partnerships were considered matches made in heaven.

Ben corrected her, saying that the dominant bridge wasn’t necessarily the “one in control” or the more powerful bridge, but Sahsha couldn’t get the subtle nuances of the relationship Ben was trying to explain.

Ben explained that, yes, the one dictating the particulars of the relationship would be the “dominant bridge,” but as Mia listened, Ben clarified that a “submissive” bridge could actually be the one in control – after all, control would be with the one who had the stronger telempathic power, and a submissive with the stronger power could actually just be “allowing” the dominant to structure the relationship according to her preferences, and that doesn’t mean she’d given up control.

Ben said there were no submissive-submissive relationships but, as she thought about it, Mia realized a submissive-submissive bond could never happen. Even if the natural inclination of a bridge were to be a submissive, if she partnered with a less powerful fellow bridge, she would probably “allow” her partner to dictate things, and thereby making that other one the dominant, and thereby freeing her to be what she wanted to be – the submissive in the bond.

But the negative side of powerful bonds was that a kind of emotional dependence develops between the pair. For those with very strong telempathic powers, losing one’s partner was so extremely traumatic that the person would descend into a kind of violent madness. Death was much more preferred so that the person would be spared the loss of her mind, and the loss of her dignity. So, although bonds with powerful bridges were sought, they were also dangerous.

“So that’s what Arvan meant…” Mia thought. “That I was actually freeing her from madness…”

Therefore, everyone viewed Mia’s “execution” of the Princess Arvan as a kindness - something that others might not have done for her given that she was Detterex. Mia had shamed Elyrans by her example, that she spared the Detterex princess the madness when the Elyrans might not have because of spite or prejudice.

But Mia didn’t really do that for her. Mia felt fresh tears roll down her eyes. If she only knew… She could have avoided killing Norga. She wondered how many Detterex she and her fellow Earthers had caused to descend into madness already.

Ben came over and hugged Mia. “You did what you had to do, My Lady. And you spared her.”

“But I killed Norga… If I didn’t…”

“This is war, My Lady. You did what you needed to do, but instead of leaving the princess to suffer her madness, you spared her. Others would leave Arvan to the madness, out of a sense of revenge perhaps, or as a way of venting their anger. You did not.”

“I didn’t really, Ben. I just didn’t know…”

Ben kissed her on the cheek. “But you did, My Lady. Believe.”

Ben gestured to Sahsha, and she took over. She wrapped her arms around her lady love.

“Mia,” Sahsha said. “The Elyrans say you’re a bridge. A dominant bridge, in fact. So you knew. You couldn’t help knowing. You may have done what you did instinctively, but you knew.”

“Sahsha…”

Sahsha kissed her on the lips to stop her from speaking.

“We’re all proud of you, Mia,” Sahsha said. “The Queen and King have even asked to meet you again. When you have the time, of course - they’re not pressuring you. In fact the entire planet would like to see you again.”

“Is the queen all right?”

“She’s still bedridden, but she’s not in danger anymore.”

Mia hoarsely cleared her throat. “That’s good. Maybe we should plan on visiting her soon.”

“Maybe,” Sahsha smiled at her. “But it’s your decision.”

Mia gave her a tight hug and a kiss.

“Thank you, Sahsha,” she said. She reached for Ben and gave him a hug as well, including a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you, Ben.”

Ben shrugged and tried to hide his reaction. “It was of no consequence.”

“I guess you have to go already. No doubt you have stuff to do.”

Ben nodded reluctantly. “Yes, My Princess. But if you need me, call me anytime. I shall be here straight away.”

“Oh, stop that, Ben,” Mia said. “I am no princess. I don’t even know how that got started.”

“Of course, My Princess,” Ben said mischievously. Sahsha laughed.

“Oh, shut up! Both of you!”

Giggling, Sahsha and Ben stepped out and closed her door. They made their way to their vehicle.

“Ben,” Sahsha said, and put her hand on his arm. “I’m going back. Mia needs me. She didn’t want to say it because she wanted to put up a brave front. But I don’t care. She needs me.”

Ben looked at her. It had taken a while as it does with submissive bridges, but he finally saw. Sahsha was actually an incredibly powerful submissive bridge herself. It was highly unusual for a female to be a submissive but it wasn’t unheard of.

Realizing that, Ben just wanted to cuddle and kiss her. He knew he was a submissive himself (he was a male bridge, after all, as most submissives were), but it didn’t matter. Ideally, it should be a dominant and a submissive together, but given their disparate levels, he and Sahsha could still become partners. Of course, despite both of them being “submissives,” Sahsha would probably be the dominant one in their relationship given her stronger telempathic level (or maybe make him the “dominant” so she could remain the submissive), since she would be the one in control.

Mia was right - “control” was with the one that had the greatest influence in the relationship, and Ben was surprised that Mia, an alien, was able to understand the crucial difference between being dominant in a bond, and being in control.

-----

Ben gave her a hug. “Of course,” he said. “Sahsha? Can I ask? Are you and her…”

Sahsha gave him a nervous little smile. “I don’t know. I think so.”

“Well, you watch out. She is an incredibly powerful dominant. You might not know what you’re getting yourself into.”

She giggled. “Oh, I think I do. But…” She became serious again. “But maybe nothing like that this time. Mia needs support. I’ll just hang around and be there if she needs help. I can say I just wanted to help with her paperwork or something. Can I call you if she needs help?”

“Any time. You have my communicator code?”

She nodded and went back to Mia’s apartment while Ben was driven away.

-----

The following day, Mia and Sahsha decided to go visit the queen at the hospital facility just outside the palace. Elyran castles weren’t surrounded by a moat or anything like that, so it was easy to go across to the hospital. What they did have in common with Earth castles were tall, strong walls, spires, towers and a large gate.

Mia had asked the First Ambassador and Daxx to join them but they had begged off – apparently, they had already made plans to do some sightseeing. Daxx hadn’t been to Elyra before and the Ambassador had promised to tour her around the capital.

So, it was just Mia and Sahsha this time.

Since they were meeting the queen and king, Mia had worn her dress blues again, but wore the matching pleated white skirt instead of the white legging-style pants this time. She was informed that it was actually the summer season, so this wad the appropriate combination. Someone at the quartermasters might have goofed since she felt that the skirt was a little too short. She'd have to get a new one sometime later.

Because of the slightly-denser atmosphere, the Elyran sky was of a much lighter color than the sky on Earth. Instead of sky-blue, the Elyran sky was almost white but with a tinge of blue. She therefore had to wear her military-issue dark glasses. Nick would have called them aviator sunglasses, but Mia didn’t care whatever they were called. All she wanted was to see better. As for Sahsha, she preferred her high-fashion round sunglasses.

So they stepped out for the short 20-minute walk to the “hospital.” Sahsha would have preferred to ride a car, but Mia insisted. She said it was a way to see more of the place.

As expected, there were several people who stopped to say hello. Most just bowed as they passed, as Elyrans usually did with royals. But some had seen the news videos and had learned about handshakes. It was a way to practice Earther customs and, for most, an excuse to touch the Earther princess.

Elyran palace guards supplemented Mia’s Marines, and politely kept all but the most insistent well-wishers away. None persisted too much, however, especially with the tall Marines – the tall, armored Earthers intimidated simply with their mere presence.

Nevertheless, Mia and Sahsha were very gracious and polite as they greeted the people.

The news raced through the Elyran media channels that the tall, beautiful Lady Amelia of Earth had finally come out, and was walking to the medical facility where the queen was presently. Much attention was focused on her companion, the shorter Earther female administrator, Sahsha Delyer. Per the information they were able to dig up, she was the liaison for the Earther ruler, “Secretary-General” Alexandra Romarkin, and was, shockingly, not a royal. Much was made about how freely Earther royals and commoners seemed to mingle, and this speculated partnership between Mia and the “commoner” Sahsha seemed to be the epitome of this liberal society.

Though their relationship didn’t seem to be documented, the bystanders were able to confirm it, and the growing hordes of Earth-obsessed fans were very curious about the diminutive Earth bridge. She wasn’t really diminutive – she was average by Elyran standards, but not when she was standing by Mia. She wasn’t fluent in their language, but her translator more than made up for it. And she was very open and friendly.

When they got to the hospital, they were quickly passed through and directed to the royal suite. Only a couple of Marines accompanied her while the rest remained by the entrance.

“Mia!” Ren said and rushed to give her a hug. “It’s good to see you out of that apartment.”

He pulled both of them to the king and queen, and made introductions.

“It is good to see you again, Lady Amelia,” the king said and embraced her.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Mia said. All of her study of the Elyran rules of etiquette seemed useless since the queen and king didn’t seem to want to observe the proprieties. She wondered if she should still bow.

She was ushered to the side of the queen.

“Come here, child,” she called.

Mia was too tall, so she knelt by her bed.

“Your Majesty.”

“Thank you for saving me.”

“It was but my duty.”

“Nevertheless.” She pulled her down into a heartfelt embrace.

-----

The morning was mostly taken by pleasantries, and Mia and Sahsha got to know the royal family a little more. The queen’s husband constantly hovered around her, but she took it in good humor. With such excellent care, she joked, she knew that she’d be up and about soon, and making life difficult for her court again. Everyone laughed.

Mia and Sahsha were treated like family, but they tried not to be too familiar, and carefully referred to the queen and king as “Your Majesties.”

Several callers came to wish the queen well, or to have a short visit, and met Mia and Sahsha. Later on, on the strength of those short introductions, some of them would claim to know Mia quite well and were close friends with her. Later, this would be useful in bolstering their political standing on Elyra.

Mia and Sahsha marveled at how basically similar things were between Elyran and Earther families. Or at least the royal ones, she laughed.

It was a very pleasant morning, actually, but they had to cut it short because she and Tasha had a meeting.

The five of them left the queen and king, and went down to the next city via surface vehicle for the new summit. Mia insisted. Besides, it was just an hour’s ride, and it was a way of seeing more of the planet, she said. Ben said that it was probably a mistake. News had probably already spread and they’d probably encounter a bunch of people wanting to get a peek at the Earther princess.

Mia pshawed that away, not believing anyone would go through the bother of actually following them.

But when they found their progress impeded by the crowds of well-wishers that lined the streets and roadways they went through, Mia finally believed it.

She didn’t want to disappoint the people who'd no doubt been waiting for a while for them to pass so she asked the windows’ tint to be taken out. She waved through the windows and the people cheered her and the others as they passed.

She became silent as she waved. “Such nice people,” she mumbled.

“What are you thinking, Mia?” Sahsha said.

“Oh, nothing much. Only that Elyrans and Earthers are basically the same. Our differences are really only skin deep.”

Tasha and Ren looked at her, and smiled gently.

“Only skin deep,” Ren said, savoring the Earther idiom. “I agree.” He reached out to Mia to hug her, and Mia smiled, returning the sentiment.

They arrived at the venue late. Mia extended their apologies to everyone, and they got into the swing of the meeting.

-----

The first thing that was discussed was the health of the Queen. Ren thanked everyone for their good wishes, and said that she was well on the way to a full recovery. Ren said that it was because of the quick thinking of his beloved wife and Elyra’s newest and greatest friend, the Lady Amelia, that she was rescued, and that the capital was saved from atomic destruction.

This was greeted with a standing ovation.

Mia and Tasha, the two best friends’ arms around each other’s shoulders (or rather, Mia’s arm around Tasha’s shoulders, and Tasha’s arm around Mia’s waist), stood and bowed to the gathered people.

Next, Daxx gave a summary of the system’s current status, the status of the fleet, and the status of the enemy. Essentially, everything was “A-Okay,” as the Earthers would have said, with comparatively minor injuries and fatalities. All of their hopes were met, and were, in fact, exceeded.

Inspection of the wreckage of the enemy ships did not reveal any surprises (they were obviously looking for traces of the EM suppression field technology but didn’t find any, although they discovered several booby traps). The Elyrans ignored the big elephant in the room – the fact that the Earthers had the EM suppression technology. They decided to bide their time, and find out about it later. Besides, their scientists had already figured it out, more or less, and if the Dixx and the Arachnians weren’t asking about it…

With regards the wreckage of the enemy fleet, after inspecting and documenting everything, and after getting clearance from the various squadron commanders, Constellation deployed a nuclear weapon (the question of its use was bumped up all the way to the Admiral). They used a thermonuclear warhead instead of a run-of-the-mill atomic weapon, and it was able to get rid of all traces of the enemy fleet. (They did, however, preserve some of the wreckage for proof, and fully documented the operation.) Afterwards, they didn’t need to worry about it anymore.

Star Harbor was slowly recovering and its stores were being replenished as fast as Elyran industry could replenish them, but they still did have enough on-hand to re-stock the stores of all the ships.

So, everything was mostly back to normal.

And that brought them to the main point of the meeting – to discuss what to do next.

Mara took the floor and said that the immediate danger had passed, so it was her opinion that the fleets sent by Earth and the Federation should be deployed to the next targeted planetary systems. The Elyrans must not monopolize the resources that their friends had shared with them, and allow them to go to those who need the most help. Furthermore, in fulfillment of their commitments, they must provide their own share.

This was met with great applause, and the Elyrans decided that the five Elyran ships sent from Colossus would be supplemented by nine more, and that these fourteen cruisers would be assigned to the volunteer fleet. In total, the volunteer fleet was now twenty-six.

As for the Fifth Fleet, Mia said that they would add their strength to the volunteer fleet as well, with only two provisos. One was that the Earth cruisers must remain on Elyra until relieved by EarthForce, and that Shepherd Moon must return to Colossus.

Mia explained that the Federation required the regular business of Colossus to continue regardless, so EarthForce had ordered her return to fulfill the role that Earth had accepted, which was to take over the role that the Telcontari would be vacating. Further, they intended to formally update the Federation on recent events and provide evidence of the involvement of the Tirosians, and that there was now sufficient cause to include them in the Federation’s declaration of war.

She did have a suggestion, which was to ensure one of the Earther cruisers to remain with the volunteer group of ships so that they could remain in touch (the Elyrans didn’t push, but it was clear they really wanted to inquire after the Earthers’ instantaneous communication technology). Other than those provisions, Mia said that EarthForce would follow the collective decision of the gathered commanders for now.

And the decision was for the amalgamated squadron to split into two groups, one to proceed to Dixx and the other to Arachnia.

The Elyrans would have eleven of their cruisers remain in the system, which was judged adequate enough to protect the Elyra for the moment, while Shepherd Moon would return to Colossus.

As they were firming up these plans, the palace issued an announcement. The queen and king had called a conclave of all rulers and noble-borns of all the kingdoms, fiefdoms and colonies of Elyra, to discuss a matter vital to the race. Lady Amelia was invited as a “famiriel,” which is the Elyran word for a foreign ruler who will be accorded all the rights and privileges given to members of the royal bloodline.

Gathering all the rulers of the seven kingdoms of the planet was easily done, especially since Tasha was here already. For the sixteen colonies, eleven were represented by their rulers. For the remaining five, the royal family asked the assistance of the Earthers to contact them. (Perhaps that capability of theirs was one of the reasons why Mia was declared famiriel.)

Responding to their queen’s summons, the rulers of these last five colonies were now on the way.

As for Mia, she looked for a reason to delay the trip back to Colossus so that she could attend the conclave. Mia asked Ben its purpose, and he said that, though it wasn’t officially being announced, it was the intention of the queen and king to step down from the throne.

Mia wondered why it was even necessary, but based on the current statutes, this could only be effected by a joint act of the royal families. Sahsha explained that Elyra was a parliamentary monarchy, and part of the current statutes said that the heir apparent could not automatically assume the throne. Their history recorded many instances where political infighting between the royals almost tore their civilization apart. Now, before the one next in the line of succession could assume the throne, all the rulers from the royal clan must confirm her ascension. If not, a steward would be elected by acclamation, and will act as the sovereign for a year, and then the next in the line of succession would try for the throne, and so on. This rarely happened, however, since the next in line was almost always unanimously confirmed.

Sahsha said that it was the closest to a “real” democratic monarchy that she had seen, as oxymoronic as that sounded, where the monarchs were not just figureheads, and the Elyrans had been making it work for countless millennia.

Mia decided to delay the Shepherd Moon’s departure until the remaining rulers arrived and the conclave was concluded. In the meantime, all Earther off-duty personnel were given an opportunity to see the sights.

O’Connell authorized the use of the shuttles to bring all the sight-seeing personnel to their appointed destinations. Everyone was, however, required to leave all their CCs and other Phase-Wave equipment onboard, but were temporarily given radio-based communicators as well as translator buttons and lifesigns detectors. They were also given vouchers in case they wanted to buy something. None were allowed any sidearms, however, though they were allowed to carry their sword-arms or equivalents.

The Earthers were instructed to be on their best behavior, and everyone would be directly answerable to the Admiral for any infraction – anything at all. This made everyone extremely polite and careful, especially after some of the crew from Engineering were caught being “disrespectful” of the spouses of some of the women they encountered. It was hardly necessary since the Elyran women took care of matters quite efficiently. Captain O’Connell herself personally went planetside to apologize for her people, and accepted all penalties levied on them, which amounted to the miscreants spending the night locked up. The Elyrans just chalked it up to the Earthers not being able to hold their liquor. It was partially because of that incident that Earthers got their reputations as lightweights when it came to drinking.

The Elyrans involved held no grudges, however, and were as cordial as ever. In fact, the crew that instigated the disturbance said that the Elyrans were acting quite friendly, in fact flirty, the whole time.

The Admiral ordered the maximum allowable penalties for the offense, plus back-to-back shifts for a week, “bread-and-water” (not that the offenders were literally restricted to bread and water – it was just a term inherited from an older time), and being restricted to duty stations and quarters while in the Elyran system.

Mia’s penalties could be considered excessive, but they were far from inhumane. Besides, everyone got fair warning. But that did the trick - no one wanted to lose the chance of seeing an alien planet so there were no further incidents.

-----

Mia, Sahsha, O’Connell, Daxx, the First Ambassador and many of the Earther officers were asked to give interviews, and they obliged. The Earthers were very open and frank in their interviews but they were also up front about not being able to talk about certain topics. No one really minded except, perhaps, for Lady Mara and the other rulers.

The Elyrans were very fascinated with their visitors, especially about Mia and Sahsha. The two tried to be as normal as they could, and went about their days as normally as possible until the conclave.

-----

Ben said that the conclave could be messy. The Lady Mara of the Northern Kingdom could end up blocking the proceedings, given the bad blood between her and Tasha. But it turned out to be “much ado about nothing,” as Earthers might say. In fact Mara was very subdued during most of the conclave.

At the conclave, the queen and king had explained their reasons for stepping down – they feared that, due to age, they were not as in touch with the pulse of the people anymore and could not properly forward the peoples’ interests, and the queen feared that they did not have what it took anymore - her recent brush with death just emphasized this. It was time to pass the mantle.

Princess Radha stood and expressed respectful disagreement, that her aunt and uncle were as close to the people’s heart as ever, and were as capable as Elyrans half their age. If it was truly their will, then she would respect it, but she did beg that they reconsider.

Tasha and Ren were confirmed as the next heirs in acclamation. Surprisingly, their fiercest advocate was the Princess Mara of the Northern Territory, and it was her support that swayed those that were not fully convinced of Tasha yet.

In five years, then, per the tradition, the reigning queen and king would step down and the heirs-apparent, Princess Tasha and Prince Ren would ascend the throne.

At the end of the conclave, the queen and king made the official announcement, which was broadcast to all Elyran news outlets. As for the sixteen off-world colonies, Mia and her people used their disposable Phase-Wave transmitters to send compressed messages to them announcing the conclave’s outcome.

Though Ren and Tasha, by virtue of her marriage with Ren, were, by default, the next in the line of succession, they could not declare themselves as the “heirs apparent.” But after the conclave, they could now. It was just a title, but it was a harbinger of many things to come.

By that time, Shepherd Moon was ready to depart. Talon was also also accompanying her to Colossus. The Elyrans (namely Tasha and Ren) had decided to go and help the Earthers in providing evidence and witnesses to the Detterex-Tirosian invasion, and to install a new ambassador that will replace Tasha.

-----

The cruise back was old hat by now, and the short trip back to Colossus was totally uneventful.

Mia and Tasha regularly kept in touch with their other ships, as well as with Daxx and the First Ambassador, while EarthForce continued to track the enemy. The most troubling were the two ships that had escaped Elyra, and they paid special attention to that. With their initial acceleration, it was almost a hundred percent certain that the people onboard the ships were already dead. But that was suddenly in doubt because, sometime during their FTL flight, their FTL engines cut off, and they dropped into sublight – the nearer one first followed by the other one.

Their direction of flight intersected several interstellar bodies, notably a couple of rogue asteroids. These asteroids were pretty near the paths of the two enemy fleets. When the ships hit these bodies with velocities just below light speed, they detonated with the power of several dozen or more nuclear weapons the size of the one that was left in the Elyran palace.

That they both encountered asteroids was too much of a coincidence. The only thing they could have been were signals to the fleets ensconced in their “warp” fields traveling faster than light. Soon after these “signals,” the first group, and then the second seemed to decelerate to sublight. After which, they then changed their directions of flight. The two fleets seemed to be headed back home – one to Tiros, and the other to Detterex.

This information was communicated to everyone. It seemed that a re-planning and a rethink was in order. Mia’s and Tasha’s return to Colossus seemed more appropriate now.

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: 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.

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