The next few weeks were a whirlwind of planning for the Queen of Zalta herself had invited the leaders of the four major powers in Human Space, in fact the Queen of Zalta had requested audiences with the heads of state directly rather than a cabinet level official. This of course sent President Crow’s Secret Service members into a nervous fit for it wasn’t too long ago that the last President of the Human Federation was killed leaving Christina Crow and a few others as the only members of the government still alive. There was no way that they would allow for such a thing to happen again.
Two full squadrons of super juggernauts along with an appropriate number of lighter units for escort was detached from the Sol Defense Fleet to conduct President Crow to the Zaltaen home system. The Zaltaen ambassador didn’t even so much as bat an eye when the Human Federation Space Force insisted upon sending no less than sixteen super juggernauts and their escorts to Zalta. After all, didn’t an almost equivalent force appear between Terra and Mars only a few months prior, and without warning no less? The humans at least had the good grace to let the Zaltaens know that they were coming!
When Space Force One, normally known as the HFS Augustus Caesar, and her consorts neared one of the jumpgates at the edge of the Sol System on the opposite orbit from Pluto a single Zaltaen Royal Navy liaison stepped forward to the jumpgate controls in the astrogation section. She certainly looked out of place, what with her Zaltaen uniform among the sea of Human Federation uniforms on the main command deck.
President Crow watched everything from the displays on the arm of her chair on the Caesar’s flag bridge. Admiral Reyes watched from his own command chair next to her as his flag captain, Anastasia Floros, watched her crew and the Zaltaen officer. Both were acutely aware of the president’s two Secret Service agents as well as the two Marines occupying a space near the after hull. Typically, the ship’s Marines would occupy the security foyer immediately behind the bridge but having the president herself there was enough of a special case to warrant armed Marines on the flag bridge.
The Zaltaen female tapped a series of commands into the Jumpgate Controller Interface System or JGCIS, then produced an external memory device to plug into the system. Captain Floros’ cyber security people had had fits when they heard that the Zaltaen officer would be plugging a device with God knows what on it into a secure system aboard a Human Federation warship. The Zaltaen officer had been all too aware of why they had issues with it and did her best to accommodate the cyber security personnel and their security screenings of the device she was about to plug in.
Once Floros’ people determined that the device only contained data files that would allow the human-built JGCIS to authenticate with the Zaltaen jumpgate network did they relent and give her permission to plug it in. Even so, a cyber security petty officer was standing beside the Zaltaen woman, watchful for anything while the rest of the cyber security crew monitored the JGCIS and navcomputers remotely.
The fact that the human-built jumpgates could interface with the Zaltaen network wasn’t lost on anyone. To those in the Fleet that specialized in jumpgate mechanics and theory it only raised more suspicions that the jumpgates were, in fact, alien technology in origin.
Still, Commander Witkowska, Reyes’ flag operations officer and Commander Rodrigues, the flag astrogator watched the Zaltaen with a hint of suspicion; however, the Zaltaen took it all in stride. She knew that her own Royal Navy personnel would view a human officer doing the same thing with just about as much suspicion, and probably more for too many Zaltaens saw themselves as superior in every way to humans. However, as the senior partner in the growing Zaltaen-Human Alliance, she wasn’t one of them. She’d spent enough time around humans to know that for all of humanity’s faults and failings, they weren’t all that different from her own people. After all, Zaltaens were liable to screw things up just as much as a human could; Zaltaens weren’t perfect and she knew it.
The Zaltaen finished her work and stepped away from the controls as she disconnected her device from the computer console. Lieutenant Commander Dulak and Senior Chief Petty Officer McClelland at astrogation tapped a few more controls before the officer looked up from his displays. As they were doing that, Captain Floros turned toward her communications section. “Lieutenant Commander Micheli, please contact the Jumpgate Control Service and request an outbound vector on any available jumpgate and get us into the queue. Tell them our destination,” and wouldn’t that give the HFJGCS a fit as well, “and our number of ships.”
“Yes ma’am!” her comms officer said. A little over a minute passed before Micheli turned back to her captain. “We’re cleared to use Exit Path 2-0-5 on Jumpgate Two. We’re fourth in the queue ma’am.”
“Got that astrogation?” Floros asked without looking up.
“Of course, ma’am, Exit Path 2-0-5 on Jumpgate Two,” McClelland repeated. “The task force is in the queue ma’am.”
Everyone on the bridge waited as the next three ships ahead of them went first. All three were stupendously large freighters, each easily out-massing most heavy cruisers, bound for whatever destination. Each disappeared through Jumpgate Two in a nearly blinding flash of light before it was their task force’s turn to line up at the jumpgate.
“Permission to enter the jumpgate sequence ma’am?” Dulak turned and asked Captain Floros.
“Permission granted,” she told him. “Once you have the sequence in, please forward it to the coxswain and prepare to take us out.”
“I have the course and the sequence ma’am,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Samuel Torres, the coxswain said.
“All ahead one-third,” Captain Torres told him.
“All ahead one-third, aye!” Torres repeated as he pushed the throttle forward.
“Forty-five seconds until the task force is inside the jumpgate’s field ma’am,” Dulak called out. Floros waited patiently, settling back into her command chair as the task force crept closer. As soon as the fleet was ready to jump the HFJCGS activated the jumpgate and the fleet passed through. To the outside universe there was a bright flash of light as each ship passed through the event horizon of the jumpgate.
For less than a second, in a measurement of time that no chronometer could ever measure, Task Force President ceased to exist in the material world. They were converted into what the theorists insisted were quantum particles accelerated to speeds that were literally unquantifiable. Before that second was up an equally bright flash of light spangled the universe on the other end in the Zalta System as each ship emerged from the event horizon of the receiving jumpgate.
“A textbook transit,” Captain Floros told her bridge crew. “Thank you very much.”
The senior chief and the lieutenant commander at astrogation grinned at each other before they set about determining their location. The Zaltaens had already updated their star charts so any human ship would know where they were in Zaltaen Space, but they still needed to determine their exact position.
“Ma’am,” Micheli called out. “I have the Zaltaen equivalent of the HFJGCS on comms. They acknowledge our arrival and have given us an entry vector into the Zaltaen system. I’m also getting word that a task force of Zaltaen warships will be screening us in-system.”
“Pass that to astrogation,” Floros told her.
“I have the vector,” Dulak informed her. “Charting course to the inner system.” He passed the same information to the flag astrogator to be passed to the rest of the task force.
Floros looked into the small repeater plot on the arm of her chair and saw the scores of ships that dotted the Zalta System as their light speed sensors updated the plot. The time late images appeared in it, swelling the plot so much that she got up from her chair to cross over to the master plot. “That’s a hellva lot of ships and installations,” she breathed slowly. “And it looks to me like we’re the first to the party.”
“Seems that way,” Admiral Reyes answered her from the flag bridge where he stood with President Crow at their own master plot. “I don’t see any ACH, Midasian, or Siriusian ships anywhere in the system.”
“Neither do I,” Captain Floros told him. The task force accelerated away from the Zaltaen jumpgate along with their escorts. About half an hour later the light signaling the arrival of the task force from Midas appeared on the plot. Their task force only consisted of a slightly understrength squadron of ships that were bigger than battleships but still smaller than super juggernauts.
Admiral Reyes tapped the touch screen on her repeater plot to pull up the data on those ships. “I guess the reports we heard that Midas was building dreadnoughts are confirmed.” He gave a short, sharp laugh before he turned to President Crow. “That’s their way of getting around the Naval Arms Limitation Treaty of 2275. The treaty says they can’t build juggernauts or super juggernauts, so they went and built dreadnoughts instead. As you can see, they’re a little smaller than our super juggernauts.”
“What can we do about it?” Crow asked.
“Not a damn thing really,” Reyes replied baldly as he headed back to his command chair. “They didn’t break the treaty after all. Sure, they broke the spirit of it, but they kept the letter of it. In essence, they didn’t violate the treaty.”
“That’s a hellva way to spin that,” Crow remarked as she too sat back in the command seat set aside for her.
“That’s true, but it’s not enough for us to call them on it. And what would we do? Give them a slap on the wrist and tell them what bad little boys and girls they’ve been?” Reyes barked another derisive laugh. “I suppose if Midas is doing this then the reports that Sirius is doing the same will be confirmed too, and if they’re not I’ll eat my hat.”
Another fifteen minutes passed before a task force from the ACH appeared, nearly identical in size to that of the Human Federation’s. Ten minutes after that came Sirius, with only a single squadron of their dreadnoughts.
“Admiral,” Floros spoke over the com to the flag bridge.
“Admiral Reyes here, go ahead captain.”
“My combat information center has finished an analysis of the Midasian and Siriusian warships,” as she spoke a graphical representation of them appeared on the main plot. He and President Crow stood up again to walk over to it. “Let me draw your attention to the Midasian ones in particular. You’ve probably already noted their weapons batteries, but what concerns me the most is that the Midasian ships are producing a higher rate of acceleration than our own ships. It’s not just their dreadnoughts sir, it’s their escorts as well. Even though each Midasian ship is bigger and heavier than their Human Federation counterparts, each one is faster than us. We’re reading that they’re cranking out 0.35 light as opposed to our own maximum of 0.3 light.”
“That means one of three things. Either their sublight engines are better than ours, they’re willing to take greater risks with their inertial compensator upper limits, or they’ve developed a better compensator,” Reyes responded. “Captain, are we able to see the after sections of their hulls?”
“If you’re asking if we’ve seen their engines, then no,” Floros answered him with a shake of her head. “I could have my people launch recon drones toward them, but then we’d have some explaining to do to them and the Zaltaens as to why we were employing drones like that in their system and I’m fairly sure that the Zaltaens wouldn’t take kindly to that.”
“No,” Reyes shook her head. “I doubt they would. I don’t exactly want to have to explain to the Zaltaen system governor why we launched sensor drones within their system. Even though we’re friends and all that could be seen as spying.”
“Nor do I,” Christina Crow responded as she too shook her head. “The last thing I want to do is have to apologize the moment I get down on the surface.”
“Very much so,” Floros answered the both of them as he turned back to his controls. “Anyways,” Reyes looked over Floros’ shoulder, “if I had to guess sir, I’d say they have better compensators. That’d give them a tactical edge if we and Midas ever ended up in a shooting war.”
“And we’ll see their engines when they perform turnover to decelerate to come to rest relative to the planet.”
“Well, then, we’ll just have to wait and see what Midas has.”
President Crow rode a Marine assault shuttle down to the spaceport near the Zaltaen Royal Summer Castle. The Marine pilot complied with Zaltaen Air Traffic Control in every particular during the landing, not wanting to give the Zaltaens any reasons to complain. To the Zaltaens, it was bad enough that she was coming down in an assault shuttle. If that wasn’t bad enough, her Secret Service personnel were augmented by two full squads of Marines.
There had been a lot of back and forth between the protection details of the human visitors and the Queen’s Guard about the human visitors bringing armed retainers into the queen’s presence. Normally guests of the queen were screened for weapons and had them confiscated. The Queen’s Guard insisted that they could handle all security requirements and that the Secret Service details, as well as the Marines, would be unarmed.
The humans, however. flatly refused that. It almost became an impasse and could’ve derailed the summit entirely until the queen weighed in. She decreed that since the humans weren’t Zaltaens, and that the humans had special security requirements for their heads of state, just like her people had for her, that the human protection details would be granted special dispensations and diplomatic immunity.
Once on the surface each head of state was whisked into aircars, each armored against anything this side of an all-out antiaircraft weapons-based attack.
Tucked in just behind Crow’s convoy was President John Renalt’s convoy, followed by Chief Planetary Officer Gregory Upton of the Corporate Republic of Sirius. Picking up the rear of the human formation was that of Supreme Chairwoman Dianora Sottosanti from the Genetic State of Midas.
The many human aircraft were also escorted by a significant force from the Royal Zaltaen Aerospace Force. The sleek aerospace fighters, each armed to the teeth with whatever weapons the Zaltaens used, put any human-built craft to shame. Their fighters were elegantly designed, smooth and streamlined, and had the best stealth capabilities the Zaltaens could mount on a fighter craft.
Even though the Zaltaen craft were only a few hundred or so meters away the humans’ sensor suites had the devil’s own time tracking them. It infuriated the humans, not because the Zaltaens felt the need to use said stealth systems, but because humans couldn’t match said capabilities. Everyone knew that the Zaltaens could pull some jaw-droppingly fancy stuff with their technology, but this made even the Midasians blush with green-eyed envy.
None of them relaxed even an iota when the huge airborne procession crossed into the planetary capital city’s airspace. The Marine pilots detected several sensor systems tracking their approach but none of them could fault them for that.
Only when the aircars passed into the air defense protection of the Summer Palace did the Royal Aerospace Force craft and the human Marine gunships break off and head for hangars nearby. One or two gunships stayed with the aircars when they landed, discharging the Marine and Secret Service escorts before they too took back off to head to the hangars.
Zaltaens from the Queen’s Guard in their own armor awaited them on the landing fields, forming a literal wall around the aircars. A knight with the rank of lieutenant colonel emblazoned upon her armor stepped forward to greet everyone. “On behalf of the Queen of Zalta, I welcome everyone. If you’ll follow me, I’ll escort you to the throne room.”
The human leaders were soon led into the palace and through the winding, beautifully decorated hallways to the throne room. The passageways of the palace were ornately but tastefully decorated. The native stone floors and walls gave the entire structure something of a look out of medieval ages, where the walls kept not only the elements out, but potential invaders as well. And knowing the little bit of Zaltaen history that Christina did know, she knew that the Zaltaens had fought their fair share of wars amongst themselves before their Unification. Their Unified Kingdom had been born before their people reached the rest of their solar system, let alone the stars.
Christina turned her head to look at her compatriots from the other human powers. President Renault, who even to this day she still had trouble thinking of him as an independent head-of-government, strode along behind her and just to her right. His eyes darted this way and that, taking in as much of the palace’s modest grandeur as he could before his eyes caught hers. He gave her a brief smile before his eyes went back to looking around. With him being the head of government of the next largest power in Human Space, Crow had better damn well get used to the idea that Renault’s star nation was independent. It was hard though, because up until a little over a Terran year ago, those planets and star systems had been part of the Human Federation for over a century and a half, if not more. To think of them as an independent star nation was going to take time.
Chief Planetary Officer Upton of the planet Sirius had the look of a man who was measuring the palace up, almost as if he were determining its real estate value. Likely the palace cost something on the order of tens of millions of Siriusian Credits, but that didn’t seem to faze Upton. The look in his eyes made it seem like he could buy the palace with the spare change in his couch. That and the glances he gave Supreme Chairwoman Sottosanti just about turned Crow’s stomach. Those too were the looks of someone looking over an objet d’art, as if Sottosanti were a prized treasure that he could purchase.
Sottosanti gave almost no indication that she was impressed by the palace in any way. It wasn’t contempt on her part, more just disinterest. She wasn’t a fan or student of architecture or art. She was a geneticist, a scientist, and a politician and her interests lay in the here-and-now. What she wanted was for her and her people to get access to as many Zaltaen databases as the Zaltaens would allow them to, and maybe a few they weren’t allowed access to. Zaltaen technology was something most humans coveted, but the Midasians coveted it even more so. And if she noticed any of the looks that Upton was giving her, she was doing a damn good job of ignoring those.
Before long, the group came to a large set of old-fashioned, unpowered wooden doors. Just as on the home world, two knights stood, one on either side of the doorway. Both were wearing Zaltaen power armor that looked as if it was centuries ahead of Midas’s armor and Midas’s made the armor of the other three human powers look primitive by comparison. “The human heads of state and their escorts are here to see the queen,” the lieutenant colonel leading them said, as if the knights guarding the door hadn’t known exactly who was coming and when and hadn’t been tracking them the second the humans touched down outside.
The senior of the two knights brought up a commlink with a tiny, specific movement of her jaw under her helmet. Speaking only over the comm she announced the humans’ arrival and was given permission to allow them to enter the throne room. Nodding slightly to the other knight both slung their rifles across their backs before stepping inward, toward each other, and pushing the doors open. Said doors swung open with nary a sound, showing that the doors and their hinges, while ancient, were very well cared for.
As Crow walked into the throne room, she couldn’t help but to be astounded by the ornate stained-glass windows depicting what she could only guess were notable previous members of the Zaltaen Royal Family. As she continued to walk toward the raised platform where the queen’s throne was, she saw a suit of armor that looked like it came straight out of the old folk tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. She was about to touch it when the suit of armor moved. Crow jumped back a bit, clearly startled by the motion of the armor. One of the Secret Service agents behind her grasped her by the arms to help steady her. “The hell!?”
The armored figure lifted their hand to raise the visor of the helmet they wore. “Don’t be alarmed, I’m with the Queen’s Own,” a female voice said from under the helmet. “This armor is our more ceremonial armor as opposed to the armor of the guardsmen you saw outside. Don’t mistake this archaic looking armor as just being a throwback to tradition, it provides protection, even against modern weapons, but not as much of the other armor.” The guard reached up to take her helmet off. “I am Danrynn of the House of Nightwind.
“My house,” Danrynn continued, “the House of Nightwind, has served the royal family as far back as the fifth monarch. It’s only just within the last two of my family’s generation that we’ve held such a prestigious position of being positioned with the Queen’s Own. Wherever the queen goes, the Queen’s Own follows.”
Crow looked about the room and didn’t see anyone dressed in anything remotely close to being in royal attire but, then again, Crow didn’t have any idea what to expect when it came to the attire of the royal court. “Excuse me, but I don’t see the queen here.”
“The Guard protects every palace within the kingdom, but the Queen’s Own protects her person, her personal residences, and any space that she may find herself in. We’re a smaller unit within the Queen’s Guard and we work closely with them, of course, but we’re the ones tasked with her family’s personal protection,” Danrynn explained.
“Madam President, Mister President, Chief Planetary Officer, Supreme Chairwoman,” another Zaltaen said as she walked up to the four human leaders. “I am Erinasha of the House of Sageflower, I serve as the queen’s chief stewardess. I’ll be taking all of you to the table where we will be starting the formal state dinner.”
“If I may ask, does everyone have the whole ‘of the house of’ in their name?” Crow asked.
“Yes,” Erinasha nodded her head. “It’s a tradition that goes back to the very first days of the kingdoms, it’s hard to break thousands of years of tradition you know. Today, however, the formal address and introduction is used mostly among the people of upper echelons of society.”
“And you’re her chief stewardess?” Upton asked from behind Crow. “Even that’s a part of high society too?”
“Yes!” Erinasha exclaimed. “I maintain all of the domestic needs of the royal family. I manage all of the other stewards that work in the palace when the queen moves between them. I keep the queen’s official schedule as well as work closely with the Queen’s Guard on matters of security as well as many other duties and responsibilities. My family has been serving as stewards for at least five generations and I’m the third to act as chief stewardess.” Erinasha looked about the room. “Everyone who serves the queen is of high society no matter what we do for her.”
She briefly looked at Danrynn who was standing nearby, “The Queen’s Own are all drawn from the noble houses, both great and small, but the Queen’s Guard is open to anyone from the armed forces, regardless of branch of service, and is open to the nobility and the commoners. Only those guardsmen from the noble houses are elevated to the Queen’s Own, with a few exceptions given to those who served in the Guard or the other branches of service with distinction. As you may guess, most of the Guard comes from the Royal Army and the Royal Zaltaen Marine Corps.”
Erinasha paused as her commlink beeped for attention. She raised it to the side of her head and listened before nodding her head. “The queen is on her way here. If I may,” Erinasha said as she gathered the human leaders together, “I’ll lead you to the table. Please bear in mind that when the queen enters the throne room that everyone, regardless of who they are, is to stand.”
After Crow and the other human leaders were seated and their escorts were settled at nearby tables where they could keep a watchful eye on their respective leaders, a Zaltaen male appeared in another doorway just to the right of the raised platform at the back of the room. He was dressed in tasteful, yet ornately colored garb. “The Queen of Zalta!” he called out, his voice clearly ringing out over the throne room. After he’d finished four more of the Queen’s Own entered the throne room, forming a protective cordon around the queen.
The pomp and circumstance continued as a woman who appeared to be no older than twenty-five Terran years old walked down a set of stairs from which Crow could only surmise was her royal chamber. As Crow observed her, she moved with such grace that it seemed like she didn’t walk but so much as float across the floor. She appeared to move with the grace of a professional ballroom dancer. She held her head high yet at the same time she didn’t seem like she was overly pompous. She soon came to a stop and the servant that introduced her took hold of her cloak and took it off her shoulders. As he did the queen seemed almost relieved to be rid of such an anachronistic garment. Bereft of the cloak the queen was dressed in a very well-decorated flowing robe that hid all of her features.
The queen raised her arms and lowered them to tell everyone at table to sit. Meanwhile Crow looked about the room as she saw that all the queen’s servants and guards knelt before her. The queen looked to each of them and nodded her head. “Please, rise!” They all rose from the knelt position and lowered their heads in reverence. With a small smile on her lips she surely turned thousands of years of tradition on its ear when she followed up with, “One of these days I’ll break you of all this bowing and scraping. Seriously, enough is enough.” Crow and the other human leaders gaped at the Zaltaen queen who merely kept the small smile on her lips and shrugged at them.
Then, as soon as the moment passed, she was all business again. “I am Queen Raina the Fourth of House Greenfeather,” the queen spoke, not loudly per say, but with a level of force that said she didn’t need to speak loudly. “I’m pleased to meet all of you. It’s my sincere hope that within the next few weeks my people and yours can come to a just and lasting peace that’ll unite the galaxy in a new era of security and prosperity.”
News reporters from the Kingdom of Zalta were taking vids and pictures throughout of the entire event. Crow had to wonder if all of that was merely for show, she couldn’t be this way all the time. Could she? Crow heard stories from many Zaltaens that she met that their queen was a rather soft spoken and kind woman, much like she did when she told her palace guards and staff to quit with the forced decorum, yet here she was, not at all what they said she was like.
But then again, when she herself had to be in front of other politicians and reporters she put on an act. When Crow spoke on television it wasn’t her true self, she was a different person when she was in public. In private, however, she dropped much of that; her closest of advisors often said that she was a much more mild-mannered person when in her private residence or when nobody else was around.
When the reporters left the chambers, the queen lowered her head and then began to speak softer. “Sorry about that,” she told them with a small smile on her lips. “I have to play to the role that the media expects me to play,” she nodded her head, “I’m sure that as leaders yourself, you know what I mean. Right?” Her smile widened as each of the four human leaders nodded their heads. Crow was pleased to know that the stories she had heard of the Queen of Zalta were in fact true.
The queen sat down in her chair at the head of the table. “As many of you are aware, I’ve called you here to have a formal,” she flashed a wry grin, “yet not too formal,” her face returned to a resting state, “conversation regarding the kind of relationship that we’re going to have between our two species. I certainly hope that from this day forth each of your governments can call Zaltaens your friends.”
The queen ignored the slight frown on Supreme Chairwoman Sottosanti’s face at Midasians being lumped in with mere unaugmented humans. The queen knew how Midasians thought of themselves, but she wasn’t going to pander to Sottosanti’s inflated opinion of Midasians, nor was she about to insult her other guests by implying that Midasians were somehow a different species. Midasians were augmented humans yes, but they were still human.
She frowned as she looked to the four human leaders. “I should apologize for how my people hid among your people for so long. It was a decision that was made long before I,” she raised her hand to her chest, “was born. My mother wanted to end the policy of hiding among you, but she ran headlong into institutional inertia which took quite some time to overcome. This policy had been in place for over three hundred and fifty Terran years, so you can only imagine how ingrained it was for us to carry on with it. I’m sure that as fellow government leaders you can understand how such things can come to be.” She waited for them to nod their agreement before she went on.
“It wasn’t until I was elevated to the throne that the policy was just about ended,” she again put her hand against her chest and slightly bowed her head, “Please understand that if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have at all signed off on such a scenario, but again, it was from before I was born. I didn’t find out about it until I was old enough to understand what was happening and why. Like my mother, I found the whole thing insulting to your people. I’m certain that us hiding among you for that long didn’t endear us to many of your people. Nor do I blame you for being as suspicious of our people as your media outlets have suggested.”
She rose from her chair. “As the Queen of Zalta, I’d personally like to extend the apologies of the Crown and my government to all of humanity. I deeply apologize for how our first contact transpired with your people. I’ll endeavor to make sure that my people and yours will build our future relationship based on the ideals of mutual trust and respect. There will be no more hiding in the shadows, no more looking over your shoulders. We’ll stand or fall together in the galaxy, and my people will do it without spying on yours. Let’s call a spade a spade, as some humans put it; we were spying on your people, hiding in plain sight for as long as we did.” Finally, she bowed slightly, placing her left hand over her chest and her joined fingers touching her right shoulder while her right hand came up, doing the same to her left shoulder, overlapping her left wrist.
The four human leaders were stunned at how vulnerable the queen made herself out to be in front of them, she really did appear to have put all her heart and soul into the apology. It was indeed a humbling experience. Everyone was silent until President Christina Crow stood up from the table and looked to her three other human leaders and then to the queen. “On behalf of the Human Federation government and our public, I,” she bowed in return, “accept your apology.”
John Renault stood up as he looked to her. “Like my esteemed colleague, I too accept your apology for what your past leaders have done. We accept that it wasn’t your decision and that you’re doing everything within your power to rectify the mistakes of the past. However,” he paused, “we may accept your apology, but that still doesn’t make things all well and good between our two peoples.” The queen frowned slightly, her brow furrowing in slight consternation.
“Unfortunately,” Crow budded in. “I’d have to agree with President Renault. The beginning of our peoples’ formal relationship wasn’t built on mutual trust at all. As you admitted, you were spying on us. That’s a hard thing to admit, I’ll give you that, but it’ll be a long time until our people are willing to forgive yours entirely. Your people hid among us for over 350 Terran years. That’s going to take time to get over.”
Dianora Sottosanti stood up. “As the Supreme Chairwoman of the Genetic Republic of Midas, I too accept your apologies. I too agree with the other human leaders here, only time will heal the wounds between our two peoples.”
The Chief Planetary Officer of the Corporate Republic of Sirius, Gregory Upton, stood up as well. “I too accept your apology,” he nodded his head, “but I also agree with my colleagues. What your people did to us felt like a stab in the back not unlike what happens in the corporate boardrooms of my star nation. It’s going to take time for us to truly trust your people.”
“I see,” the queen slowly nodded her head and looked to the ground, embarrassed, “I can apologize all I want, but I can see that only time will build the kind of trust that we’ll need to form an official alliance.”
She paused for a moment as she looked to her servants. “Now that my,” she snickered as she smiled ever so slightly, “groveling is done, may we move onto happier moments?” The four humans nodded their heads. “My personal chefs have prepared a meal for you as well as your staffs and personal guards. I do hope that it’ll be acceptable to you. We have, as you humans put it, pulled out all the stops for this most magnificent of occasions. We may still not be the best of friends here, but I can at least serve you dinner tonight. Hopefully, Chief Stewardess Erinasha’s people have gotten it correct.” The queen blushed slightly as she admitted, “we don’t get much practice with preparing human cuisine in all its forms here on Zalta, but I hope we managed to get something right.”
Later that evening as dinner concluded the queen stood up while her stewards poured the evening’s final drinks. As the queen’s staff poured an amber colored liquid into some of the most exquisite looking tumbler-style glasses that any of the four sitting at the table ever had the experience of holding, the queen stood up. “I have one of the finest Scotch Whiskies that your world has to offer. I have to admit, I’ve taken a liking to some Terran drinks, particularly Terran wine,” she briefly stopped her chief stewardess then nodded her head when she read the bottle’s label. “Yes, it’s the Macallan Sherry Oak 25 Year.”
Gregory Upton was impressed. He liked Scotch but didn’t normally drink it. He was a beer man, despite what some of the upper crust of Siriusian society might think of him for liking something so “low-brow.” But he could appreciate how good the stuff in his glass was. How the queen managed to get a bottle of a 25-year Scotch imported to Zalta was beyond him. But then again, maybe it shouldn’t have been. If Zaltaens had been on human worlds for as long as they’ve been, it wouldn’t be that hard for them to bring back bottles of the good stuff over the centuries.
“As many of you have said, sending my people among your people under cover was a very damaging mistake and one that will take a lot of effort on our part to build. That, however, doesn’t mean that we can’t share in a bottle of Macallan 25.”
The queen raised her glass. “To our long trek to building the trust we should’ve started with in the first place.” The four leaders then clinked glassed with each other.
Gregory Upton had to smile as he took a sip of the Scotch, it was every bit as good as he imagined it would be. Meanwhile Christina, who was mainly a Canadian whiskey drinker, savored the taste and nose of the drink in her hand. There was a lot going on in that glass, far more than any simple bottle of Crown Royal or even some of the more high-end Canadian Whiskies that had come out in the last hundred or so years. Dianora, who had enhanced taste buds, smiled as she noted every single subtle flavor note. Even she was impressed and there wasn’t much that could impress her.
President Renault, however, seemed to think he was in heaven as he took a sip of the Scotch. While the war between the ACF and the Human Federation had only been a little over a Terran year, it hadn’t taken too long for things from the Human Federation to become rarer and more expensive. Fine drink was one such example. Some worlds in the ACF made very fine alternatives, but there was just something about Terran whiskies of all varieties. Renault supposed it had something to do with the grains, how they were grown and the soil, the water, and likely dozens of other environmental conditions that could change a whiskey’s profile. He sighed and smiled as he let the smooth Scotch go down his throat.
As the toast ended the queen stood up, the four leaders also stood up out of respect to the monarch. “I’m sure that many of you are tired from your long journey to our planet. Surely a travel here aboard a warship, no matter how nicely fitted out a stateroom aboard one might be, can be tasking. My stewards have staterooms arranged for each of you for the duration of your visits. As for tomorrow, we’ll be talking trade deals and the exchange of technology. For the ones that have requested a private audience with me, I’ll be taking those now.” The queen then walked out of the room followed closely by the Queen’s Own.
Gregory Upton was the first person to have a private audience with the queen, so he walked away from the table and approached the queen’s chamber, tumbler of Scotch still in his hand. The guard at the door simply looked at the door and then nodded her head as she opened it for him. Once inside the guard inside looked to him. “The queen will be with you shortly; she’s taken a moment to refresh herself.”
Upton simply nodded his head as he sat down in an elaborate office. Perhaps it was where the queen met dignitaries and performed her royal duties while on the planet. The throne room was built to impress and meet lots of visitors to the palace, but he simply couldn’t see the queen conducting official state business from such a place.
After twenty minutes passed, he was wondering if perhaps the queen forgot when he heard a door open and outstepped the queen, now attired very differently from the flowing robes she wore before. “Sorry,” the queen said as she stepped into the room. “I simply had to get out of the royal clothing. I’d love to do away with all of the fancy clothes, but it does come with the territory. You do understand?”
There she was standing in a far less formal royal outfit; it still had an air of royalty, but Gregory had to admit it didn’t look nearly as heavy and bulky as what she wore at the table. Being in her presence, Gregory Upton felt overdressed in his three thousand credit three-piece suit for he wasn’t a man to just simply buy a suit off the rack like a common man. No one of his station did that. His suit was a bespoke suit made by the finest of Italian tailors. He was arguably the best dressed human out of the heads of government except maybe for Supreme Chairwoman Sottosanti. The formal gown that woman wore oozed sexiness in so many ways as it clung to her gene-wrought frame.
“Your majesty,” the queen cut him off with a quick chop of her left hand. “Please, call me Raina. It’s so very rare that I can escape the trappings of the royal life. Here, in one of my personal offices, I can be myself. I can step away from the trappings of royal protocol and just be…, a head of government and not ‘the queen.’ If you get right down to it, how am I really all that different from you except for the titles?” She smiled as she thought that finally the pressure was off of her for she was no longer in view of her guards and servants which she had to keep up appearances for.
“I see, and I can completely understand,” Gregory Upton nodded his head. Then he got down to the business of business. They spoke of the beginnings of trade treaties and technology exchanges with promises that the queen would set up meetings for Upton and members of her government’s Foreign Office and Ministry of Trade. While she was the queen she relied on a number of advisors, experts, her prime minister and his cabinet members, to run her star kingdom. There was simply no way that the full weight of the government and its responsibilities, especially for something as large as her star kingdom’s, could be put upon a single person.
After a few minutes of polite pleasantries were exchanged along with appointments set up for the relevant offices that Upton would meet with the man asked, “Raina, how much do you want for it?” The queen hummed questioningly at him. “The bottles of Macallan Scotch you have,” he elaborated. “Name your price, I’ll pay it. The fact that a bottle of their Scotch was in your private collection would undoubtedly carry much weight among the elites of Siriusian high society.”
“CEO Upton,” the queen shook her head. “I can’t and I won’t sell them, they’re a sort of treasure for my house. We only pull these bottles out on very special occasions. To sell them would diminish the treasure that is these bottles. If there’s one thing I really, really, appreciate about human society it is that your people have a greater appreciation for the finer things. We in the United Kingdom of Zalta, we’re a stuffy lot… you may have noticed.” She waited for him to nod. “We have our wines and our ales. But something like whisky? Good heavens!” She cracked a very girlish smile that made a stab of desire run through Upton. She picked up on it, of course. She was a telepath, and a very strong one at that, and it was mere child’s play to read his sudden emotional spike.
“Surely there must be an amount of money that I could pay you that would allow you to part with at least one bottle.”
The queen shook her head. “I’m sorry CEO Upton, I won’t part with even one bottle, but rest assured that if you ever want to speak with me again, these bottles,” she pointed to a room off to the side that just had to be climate controlled, “will be there and I’ll be more than willing to share some with you.” She looked back to Gregory Upton. “I’m sorry to end this but I do have a meeting with Dianora Sottosanti. She told me that she has something very interesting to talk with me about.”
If that wasn’t a polite dismissal, Gregory Upton hadn’t seen one. She wasn’t going to part with it no matter how much money he was willing to throw at her. He was used to the idea that every man or woman had their price. Apparently, Queen Raina didn’t have one for the liquor. Well, that was fair after all. The cost in time and money to get even a single bottle to Zalta must have been extraordinary, just as it was on some human worlds. He got up from his seat and walked out of the office with a slightly disappointed look on his face.
“CEO Upton,” the queen said as he walked out of the room, he looked back. “Later this evening before you turn in for the night, I’ll be willing to share another glass of it with you.” He nodded his head just before he stepped out. “I would thank you very much Raina.” With that he walked out of the room to see Dianora standing outside.
Upon looking at Dianora, he had to admit that she just about oozed both confidence and raw sex appeal. Her appearance was that of a supermodel, but in a lot of ways, dialed up to eleven with a height of nearly two meters tall and that was without the ridiculously tall high heel shoes she wore. He had to wonder how she walked in the damn things without falling over, yet, when she walked, she made it look effortless.
He looked at her as he studied her appearance; she was wearing a red-colored formfitting Donatella Versace gown that barely covered enough of her to keep herself decent in public. It was so short that it could barely be called a gown, it was just long enough to cover her backside, and it also clung to the woman’s ample chest.
As his eyes fell down her voluptuous form, he marveled at how well toned her legs were. About the only thing that made her outfit look anywhere close to being tasteful were the black tights that she wore on her legs that, if you asked Gregory, only served to make her look better in his mind.
He brought his eyes up and noticed her hair; her hair was long, so long that it nearly went down the entire length of her back and it was colored the most sensual color of burgundy red. Her skin was a perfect olive colored complexion, her eyes were a perfect color of blue, and her lips were full and plump that also had a most sinful color of red lipstick.
With all of that said, Dianora was the very definition of sexy. It was like someone took all of the most perfect of feminine qualities, mixed it together in a blender, and out came Dianora. He couldn’t help but to wonder how she performed in bed. While he was eyeing her, Dianora smirked; she knew that Gregory was checking her out. She didn’t need to be a telepath to know what he was thinking. Oh, I’m going to mess with him even more, she thought. As she walked into the queen’s office she arched her back slightly and put far more sway into her hips which sent Gregory’s mouth to the floor.
As Gregory passed Dianora by and once she was inside the queen’s office, Gregory walked past the guard from the Queen’s Own standing outside the office. “If you think that I or the Supreme Chairwoman didn’t notice what you were doing, and what she did in return, think again.”
“So?” Gregory asked. “A guy can look. Can’t he?”
“Yes,” the guard paused. “I suppose you can, but I can guarantee you that she wouldn’t even, as you humans put it, give you the time of day. I sensed her thoughts, you’re so far out of her league it would take ten years in hyperspace to come halfway there.” She rolled her eyes under her helmet. “Why look if you can’t have it?”
“Nothing wrong with window shopping,” he said with a chuckle.
“Yes, but even with your money you can’t afford it.” Even her rather limited telepathic abilities told her all she needed to know about the man. All the man thought about was his money and how much he thought people were impressed by it.
“I guess I think this way because back on Sirius One, I can buy any woman I want,” he said with a laugh that was entirely too casual for the discussion they were having. “I have four women in my life.”
The guard looked at him, her eyes widening. “Aren’t you married? I thought you humans were monogamous in your marriages.”
“Yes, I’m married to one woman,” Gregory smiled as he nodded, “but men of my position on Sirius One and even Terra are sort of expected to have a wife and a few mistresses.” He smiled as he looked the guard over, and despite the armor she was wearing she could tell that he was trying to undress her. “Do you want to be woman number five to me? I can make that happen.” He smiled as he walked closer to the guard and put his hand on her shoulder. “Just say the word and I can make your dreams come true.”
“No thank you sir,” she said with a shake of her armored head as she lifted his hand from her shoulder armor. She then waved him away with a dismissive gesture.
“Ah,” Gregory laughed. “But you don’t know what you’re missing. I can shower you with whatever your heart desires.” He smirked as he turned his head to walk away. “I can whisk you off this planet to a world of money, fame, and absolute luxury. And then there’s the sex, I can pleasure you in ways you never thought possible. I’ll have you screaming my name every night.”
“Sir, please go. I’ve already said no once, now please, leave. I won’t be so polite the next time.”
“Whatever you say,” he told her flippantly as he walked away.
Meanwhile inside the queen’s office, Dianora sat down as the queen gathered her hands. “I understand that you have something interesting to talk to me about. Am I correct in saying that?”
Dianora nodded her head. “It’s my understanding that your people don’t have many men. Is this correct?” Dianora had studied enough of the Zaltaens to know the answer before she asked it, but she wanted to hear the queen say it. If there was one thing her and her planet could do for Zalta, genetics and medical research was but two of them. With no sense of self-modesty, she knew this, as she was one of the leading geneticists on Midas, was the chairwoman of the Midasian Genetic Approval Board that paired their citizens together to create the most perfect of children for the next generation and she was the head of the genetics research department at Mendel University, Midas’ most prestigious university.
“Yes,” the queen nodded her head. “What of it?”
“What if I told you that I can solve your male problem? Right here, right now.” The queen’s eyebrow raised in curiosity.
“It really all comes down to genetics and if you know anything about Midasians, we specialize in that kind of stuff.” She looked down at herself and ran her palm down her ample sized chest. “As you can see, I’m a perfect genetic specimen. I’m as perfect as my people come. Brains and looks,” she shrugged her shoulders, “in perfect harmony.” She raised her finger to point that out. “Oh, and strength too. I’m easily twice as strong as your average human male, and not just because Midas is a heavy gravity world.”
Even Raina had to admit that Dianora was attractive looking. In some ways, Dianora’s looks made her feel jealous, despite it being said that Raina was one of the most beautiful monarchs to sit on the throne in generations. And here Dianora was, making Raina look like she was one of the common people. That, however, didn’t stop Raina from thinking that Dianora was full of herself until she tried peering into Dianora’s mind with her telepathy and… she was blocked.
Suddenly she heard Dianora’s voice in her mind. You didn’t expect to hear my voice inside your head there, did you? It’s impolite to scan a person without their permission. I think there’s quite a few examples in humanity’s science fiction that deals with telepaths or other kinds of psychics or psykers, however you want to call them, that use their powers too blatantly.
“We got some Zaltaen DNA a little while ago,” Dianora spoke out loud. “We’ve been doing some studying of your genetic code. One of the things that we gleaned was the gene for telepathy. Humanity already has it within our genetic coding, but as it stands now, it’s too weak to produce even a latent telepath. Zaltaen DNA helped us enhance the human telepathic gene and get ahead of the slow process of evolution. Needless to say,” she smiled, “I just had to have it. We’re currently looking into ways to expand it to more of our people, specifically for law enforcement or military pursuits.”
The queen raised her eyebrow at that, Dianora was definitely full of herself but after peering into her mind again and seeing what was there, she had a good reason to be full of it. She was beyond intelligent, it scared Raina to learn just how intelligent she was.
Add in the fact that the woman could tell that Raina was scanning her and was able to deflect the scan and it really made her a formidable woman. Though, if Raina pushed, she could easily move past any mental defenses that Dianora had. This human woman might have telepathic powers, but they were still raw and underdeveloped, whereas Raina was born a telepath and was taught by the best teachers from a very early age how to use her powers safely and effectively.
“Anyways,” Dianora smiled. “I’m a geneticist and a damn good one at that.” She again raised her finger to bring emphasis to that last phrase. “While perusing your genetic code, myself and our nation’s top geneticists came across exactly why you have a male problem.”
“I see,” the queen nodded her head. “What’s the problem?”
“It’s your gender chromosomes,” she nodded her head. “Both of your gender chromosomes are breaking down. Quite badly if I do say so myself. It’s causing all sorts of genetic issues, including cell death. Honestly,” she crossed her legs in a sultry manner which made the queen’s eyebrow raise, she then put her hand on her knee and caressed it. “I’m surprised that your people, for being as scientifically advanced as you say you are, didn’t find this on your own.”
“Well,” the queen replied sharply. “We haven’t exactly been sitting on our rear end here, we’ve been fighting a war, so most of our research and development budgets have been going into developing better defense technology. We’ve been at war with the Vonosh for more than five hundred of your years.”
“Oh, yes,” Dianora replied. “The Vonosh War. But seeing as how your species is standing on the precipice of extinction, I’d have thought you’d be putting more effort into seeing why you have such genetic issues.”
“Come again,” the queen asked. “What do you mean by that?”
“Based upon our own research, your people,” she nodded her head, “are heading for a genetic breakdown that will happen in roughly fifty generations. Right now, the only gender that’s having major issues are male, but that’s only because the chromosomes that are charged with making a male are experiencing the most severe of degradation. Females, of course, have a different set of chromosomes and so far, those chromosomes aren’t experiencing nearly the same amount of genetic degradation. It’s only going to be a matter of time until even females of your species are going to be seeing the same signs that your males have today.”
The queen stood up and walked around the room and then looked Dianora in the eye. “Why tell me this?”
“Because your majesty,” Dianora nodded her head, “I tell you this because we’ve fixed it.”
“What!?” Raina exclaimed. “How?” she paused as she threw her hands in the air. “No offense but we’ve had over a thousand years to study our genetic code and we’re no closer to finding a cure. Yet you,” she put her hands on her hips, “just waltz into my office dressed in a manner no head of state I know of would be dressed and tell me that you have a cure for our genetic issues,” she snapped her fingers, “just like that! How?” Raina asked. “Don’t be offended when I say that most Zaltaens have greater intelligence. While humans were still crawling out of their caves, we were building our monarchy.”
“Think what you want of me, but when you have my kind of looks, the kind that’s been gene-wrought to be as perfect as I am,” she raised her head high and put her hand to her ample chest, “you’re going to show it off. And oh, do I love to show it off.” She looked back down and thought to herself as she remembered how Gregory was undressing her with his eyes. “Gregory, the man you met before,” the queen nodded her head, “he very much approves. Of course, he’s only a man.” The way Dianora said it so… dismissively spoke volumes to Raina. “He’s just like any male after seeing a pretty female. He’s reduced to a slobbering beefheap when he sees a woman like you or I. That and he’s a Natural.”
“When you say, ‘I’, what do you mean by that?”
“Please,” Dianora smiled, “don’t tell me that you didn’t know that he was checking you out as well. I’ll have you know he finds you to be very attractive.”
“I kind of sort of got that kind of thought from him but I didn’t peer into her mind to confirm it.”
“Oh honey,” she laughed, “he had it written all over his face as he left your office. If he could, he’d make you woman number five to him.” Raina’s left eyebrow raised. “Anyways, to get back to what you were saying.”
The queen nodded her head in approval and in fact waved for Dianora to get on with it. “You have to understand, I’m not human.” Dianora shook her head as a wide smirk came across her face. “None of my people are humans. We’re Human 2.0. We’re stronger, faster, smarter than any of the Naturals we sprang from.” She looked down at herself, “and we’re quite frankly, a hellva lot more attractive than anyone that springs from the random meshing of DNA.”
The queen began to laugh. There it was… the famed Midasian ego on display. She remembered talks with the people from the Human Federation and the intelligence reports on the Midasians, a number of topics when it came to the Midasians was that they thought very highly of themselves. One such person from the Human Federation government put it that many of them had an ego the size of a small moon. There were a few that weren’t like that, but those were the minority.
“What are you laughing about?” Dianora asked.
“Are all of your people like you?” The queen asked. “As, if you’ll forgive my saying so, arrogant and full of yourselves as you’re showing me? Many from the other human powers very much dislike your peoples’ attitudes toward them.”
Dianora had to laugh at that, she did have a rather inflated ego; she knew that. “To address your first point; yes, and no,” she laughed again. “Some of us know how to rein in our egos, I’ve just never been really good at it.” She tapped her finger to the side of her head. “When you’re as intelligent as I am, I just don’t see the need to rein in my ego. To answer your second point, as to how they feel about us? Fuck them,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“I can see that,” the queen laughed again. “Anyways,” she paused. “How do you know the genetic fix works? Obviously, I’d like to know if the fix actually works before we continue our talks. I will of course have you and your people talk to our scientific and genetics community to verify these claims.”
Dianora pulled a datapad from her purse and handed it to the queen. “I do have to admit, for the lay person, it’s going to not mean much.”
The queen nodded her head as she began reading the datapad but then looked to Dianora. “You know, I may be the queen and all but that doesn’t mean that that’s the only thing I know. I’ll have you know I’m a very educated woman.”
“I didn’t imply that you were stupid or ignorant, Queen Greenfeather.” She reached over to take the datapad back from Raina. “All I’m saying is that the topic is pretty complex. I’d not be surprised if you didn’t understand it. You may be intelligent, but genetics isn’t an easy subject. People on my planet take the better part of ten years to learn how to do what I do.”
The queen smiled. “Actually, I do know a little about genetics.” She pointed to a plant that was sitting in the window. “That’s a purpose made plant that I developed; it really is quite stunning. Don’t you think?”
Dianora looked to the plant; she was impressed. “I’m quite impressed. However,” she put a finger up, “it’s one thing to mess with plant DNA, it’s completely different messing with a being that has more than three billion base pairs. We’re not even in the same ballpark here.”
“Regardless,” the queen replied rather confidently, “I read your data, your genetic fix does indeed show promise, but we’d need to do some testing.”
“Of course,” Dianora said with a smile. “I’d expect no less from your people. We have a supercomputer on our planet that’s built specifically to process genetics. We ran our genetic cure through more than five hundred genetic permutations and generations and the cure is viable.” Dianora paused. “Oh, and we have about fifty Zaltaen men on our planet as proof of that, they’re living quite lavishly if I do say so myself. We even have a few Human/Zaltaen hybrids as well.”
The queen’s jaw dropped. “How!?”
“Cloning of course.” Dianora shrugged her shoulders. “How else would we do that?”
“Alright,” the queen stood up and walked around the room wondering just what the Midasians wanted for their cure. It wouldn’t come cheap, she knew that, what with the future of their species hanging in the balance. At this point it was a seller’s market. She then looked to the Midasian. “What do you want for it?”
“Your entire scientific, genetic, and technological databases. All of them, even the classified ones.”
The queen coughed as Dianora said that. She wasn’t quite ready for that response. “Going straight for the jugular, aren’t you?” the queen said with a wince. “We were going to start sharing some technology with your people starting tomorrow.”
“Ah, yes,” Dianora sighed and then cocked her head as she raised her finger. “But at what pace? If I had to hazard a guess it would be at a glacial pace.” She looked to the queen and the look on her face was all that she needed to see. “Yep, a glacial pace. I expected that.” Dianora sat back in her chair and tugged at her dangerously short skirt; it was riding up on her thigh a bit too high for Raina’s taste. If not for the black tights that the Midasian woman was wearing it would be entirely obscene. “Make your choice your majesty,” she said as she pointed to her wrist as if she was pointing to a watch. “If you want the cure, you give all of your technology to us. If you don’t give us an answer by the end of the week, I’ll delete the cure from our databases.”
The queen shook her head as she sighed. This was extortion! Either the queen gave over the whole of their technology database in one fell swoop or the Midasians would delete the cure and the Zaltaens would die off in fifty or so generations. It wasn’t a hard choice. They were after all a dying people. Even their own top geneticists knew this, but they were very hesitant to try and correct the genetic defects for fear of making things worse. That and there was a war on, in case somebody hadn’t noticed. Their entire economy a wartime economy, with much of their industrial and scientific endeavors dedicated to war production.
The queen sighed as she looked back up at Dianora. “I’ll have to talk to my science advisors on this, there’s no way that I can make this kind of decision on my own. Even though I am the queen, I can’t make that kind of decision on my own.”
“I’ll give you seven Terran days, starting now,” the queen eyed her carefully as Dianora brought up a holo-display on her wristcomp and set a timer on it. “If I don’t get an answer by then, I will have my people delete the research data.” She then tugged at her skirt and turned around so as to not allow the queen to see the look on her face.
“And trust me,” she raised her finger in the air, “once I order the deletion of the data, there’s no bringing it back.” I’ve got her right where I want her, Dianora thought, right where I want her indeed. I’ve got her backed into the corner; she has no choice but to give into my deal. And people think that only Siriusians drive hard bargains. With that she walked out the room leaving the queen fuming.
“Oh, how do I hate that woman!” she hissed. “I hate her indeed!”
“Hate who?” Illiara, Raina’s younger sister asked in Zaltaen as she came running into the room and leapt into the arms of her sister to embrace her. “Who were you talking with?”
Raina shook her head as she stood up. “A Midasian that’s way too full of herself for her own damn good.” Illiara giggled at Raina’s cursing. It was rare that her older sister would curse around her. She shook her head and sat down at her desk as Illiara sat down in a plush armchair in front of it. Meanwhile, Raina pounded her desk which made her sister jump. She’d never seen Raina angry like she this. “The audacity of that woman!”
“What?” Illiara asked as she looked to a trinket on Raina’s desk and picked it up. She quickly put it back for Raina gave her the kind of look that said to leave it alone.
“Oh, nothing,” Raina said as she looked at her younger sister from across the desk, “nothing that you have to worry about, at least not yet.” Illiara gave her a questioning look as she gathered her hands in her lap. “It’s things that as queen I have to worry about, and you don’t, Crown Princess or not.” She smiled and gave her sister a reassuring look. “Now run along sis, I have to talk to someone. I’ll be in the kitchen in a few moments and then we can get some snacks.” Illiara’s eyes lit up as she squealed and ran out of the room.
The queen then pushed a button on her computer to summon her science advisor. After a few minutes her Chief Science Advisor, Melora of House Greenmoon, came in. She immediately saw her queen’s displeasure.
“Melora, I just had a rather, shall we say, unpleasant talk with the Midasians. It turns out that they have a genetic fix for our people.”
“That’s great to hear!” Melora said as she sat down in front of her queen’s desk. “However, I take it from the tone of your voice that they want something in return.”
The queen scoffed. “You got that right!” she stood up and paced around the room, something that the queen usually never did unless something, or someone, annoyed her. From the look on the queen’s face, Melora could tell that she was highly annoyed. “That Midasian woman just got done extorting me!” Melora’s eyebrow raised. “Either we give them the whole of our technology database, all of it, even the classified portions under the Official Secrets Act, or they delete the genetic cure.” Melora hissed when she heard that.
“Before I continue, I have to ask.” The queen sat down. “As the head of the Zaltaen Ministry of Science,” she leaned forward in her chair and put her elbows on the desk, “I need to know something. That, harlot of a Midasian told me that the genetic issue that we have isn’t just effecting our males.” The look on Melora’s face spoke volumes. “So, it isn’t just effecting the males of our people?”
Melora shook her head.
“Alright,” the queen sighed. “Spell it out, tell me what that means.”
Melora lowered her head, she was embarrassed that such information was being held from their monarch but there were those in the scientific community that felt that the queen had more pressing matters to deal with. “We’ve been getting reports that in some communities even women are succumbing to the same genetic issues that males have been plagued with. Though I do have to say that it’s happening more in those houses that have smaller gene pools.”
The queen nodded and stood up from her seat and walked over to her liquor cabinet for a bottle of human Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and poured two shots of the stuff and placed a glass in front of Melora who graciously accepted it.
“Explain,” the queen said as she sat down behind her desk and steadied herself for what she had to think wasn’t good news. “I’ve a feeling that I’ve been kept in the dark on this situation.”
Melora took hold of the glass and swished the bourbon around in the glass a bit before taking a sip and as she had done so she smiled as the amber colored liquid reached the back of her throat. She reveled in the taste of it for she, like the queen, had come to like it.
“Put it simply,” Melora looked to the queen as she put the glass back on the desk. “We’re a dying people. As I said before,” she frowned, “even women are starting to experience the same genetic degradation that’s been afflicting our males. Granted,” she shrugged her shoulders, “only about five percent of females have it, but it’s there. Some of our top geneticists believe that within the next fifty generations, we’ll be looking at a cascade failure of our entire genome.”
“Why wasn’t I made aware of this before?” The queen took the bottle and poured herself another shot. “Why am I only finding out about this now!?” she practically yelled.
Melora hung her head low, it wasn’t exactly something that she wanted to tell her monarch. “We thought we would have a cure by now,” she raised her head and then shook it. “Unfortunately, due to us having to put so much our resources into the war, we’ve fallen behind in coming to a cure. Not only that, but we didn’t want to come to you until we were absolutely certain of our findings. Many of us in the scientific community didn’t want to panic you with something only half-proven.”
“Can we cure this on our own?” the queen asked Melora with a kind of look that sent a chill down her science minister’s spine. “Or will I have to give into that bitch of a Midasian’s demands?”
Melora sighed. “Not in time, not in time at all.” She shook her head in despair. “I can only imagine that that Midasian knows this and that’s why they’re essentially backing us into a corner. By the time we come to a cure on our own it will be too late. Our genome is very much at a tipping point, we have to come up with a cure now or quite literally, we’ll be extinct, and not by war.” She shook her head. “I wish I had better news your majesty, but it is what it is.”
“How far along are we on coming to a cure on our own?” The queen pleaded questioningly, really not wanting to accede to the Midasian’s demand, but rather rely on her own peoples’ ingenuity. “I thought we’ve been researching this issue for the last thousand or so years. Why aren’t we closer to a solution?”
“Every time we think we’re close, more genetic issues come up,” Melora handed a datapad to the queen. “As you can see, we initially thought that it was isolated to that of males only but now that it’s effecting females as well it changes everything. This is a systemic issue with our gender chromosomes and it’s only going to get worse with every successive generation.” Melora took back the datapad. “If only we had more time, we could find a cure; but we don’t have the time. We’re staring into the abyss. If it wasn’t for this stupid Vonosh War and how we’ve had to put nearly all our resources both economically and scientifically into it, we would’ve had the cure hundreds of years ago. This war has devastated whole parts of our economy including large parts of our sciences. When your enemy wants to squash you flat and enslave you, you tend to want to do everything you can to prevent that from happening.
“Also, I didn’t want to worry you but,” Melora put her hand up for the queen to see. “As you can see, my hand has a slight tremor.” The queen looked to her worriedly. “This is how it starts with females,” she put her hand down, “it progresses from this point to one of several ailments that eventually ends in death. I’ve been on drugs that have managed to slow it down, but eventually the drugs won’t work any longer and I’ll be looking at full loss of motor control.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” the queen pleaded. “I thought you were my friend. Friends tell each other things like this!” She put her face in her hands. “Why Melora, why keep something like this secret? And not only that but a secret from a longtime friend.”
Melora stood up and put hand on her queen’s shoulder from across the desk. “Because,” the queen looked up with tears in her eyes. “I didn’t want to worry you,” she looked as a tear dropped down her own face. “I didn’t want to see you like this; I didn’t want you crying over a friend like you are now. That and it’s still in the very early stages.” The queen reached up and wiped her eyes. “I’ve got a good ten or so years until the drugs stop working and by then I’m sure that we’ll have new drugs that will once again keep the worst of the symptoms at bay. I’ll be fine, I always knew that this was going to happen to me, and I’ve made peace with it.” She looked to her queen while trying to reassure her.
“But I haven’t!” the queen said as she still had her face in her hands. She looked up. “Melora, you’re one of my closest friends; one of my closest confidantes.” She put her palms out. “We’ve gone back years Melora! I remember playing with you when we were children! We ran around in the royal courtyards chasing each other and having fun. I can’t imagine my life without your friendship.”
“I didn’t want to worry you.” She got up and walked around to the other side of the desk, knelt and put her arms around her closest friend. “I needed you to be worried about our people rather than me.” Without knowing that she was quoting humans at all she said, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”
Raina looked to Melora. “Do I even want to know how many people in my inner circle have it?”
“Well for one,” Melora held onto her friend’s shoulders. “Your mother has it.”
Raina looked to her in complete and total shock. “WHAT!?” Raina shouted. “Does that mean that I’ll have these symptoms as well?” Melora shook her head. “What does that mean? Will my sister have it?”
“As of right now it seems to be skipping generations in females. We don’t know why. But as the genetic issues become more severe with our genome it’s going to progressively become worse to the point where all females are going to be suffering from these issues.”
“So why keep it a secret?”
“Because, as I said before,” Melora squeezed her friend’s shoulders. “We really did think we were going to cure it. A year ago, we thought we were close but then suddenly something changed that broke our entire model of the how the genetic issues came about and how it affects us.” She shook her head. “Like I said, if not for the damn Vonosh War we’d be a whole lot closer; maybe we would’ve had a cure decades ago.”
“So, does this mean that the Midasian cure might not work?”
“No,” Melora shook her head. “It’ll work as long as we apply the fix to our current issues which will fix it but, if we don’t apply it soon, we’ll be at square one. Therefore,” she nodded her head, “if they indeed have a cure, we need it and we need it fast! We need to deploy it as quickly as possible! Many in our military and scientific communities won’t like handing over our entire database to humans just like that.” She didn’t see Midasians as Human 2.0; to her, they were still human, no matter what the Midasians thought of themselves.
“Will the cure reverse your symptoms, Melora?” Raina looked to her friend. “Will the cure help you and my mother?”
“If the cure does indeed work and I get the treatment in time,” she slowly nodded her head in reassurance, “then yes, my symptoms will be reversable and I’ll be cured of the ailment. The same goes for your mother. I hate to say it, but we should work with them. Whatever resources they need, we should see about getting it to them. If that means sending some of our geneticists, doctors and scientists to Midas, then so be it.”
“Melora, gather our entire scientific database, translate it to English, and then get it ready for the Midasians to be able to use it. I believe that they still use flash memory SSDs based on silicon, they don’t use data crystals.”
Melora stood up. “It will be done.” She turned on her heel and walked out of the room leaving the queen with her head in her hands. “Oh, Great Maker,” she whispered as another two tears slipped down her cheeks. She stood up from her chair, wiped the tears from her face and eyes and walked out of her office. She tried very hard to put the thoughts of the situation as deeply in her mind as she could for she didn’t want to alarm her sister since her sister was a telepath too.
The next morning Raina had summoned Dianora to her private office. As she walked into her office, Raina eyed her. She was still very much dressed like she was dressed like before. No Zaltaen would be caught dead wearing what she was wearing, nor would most human women aside from street walkers. It would have been positively scandalous, shocking even, for a Zaltaen to be caught dead wearing anything close to what Dianora was wearing. Though some human fashion had been making its way to those of her people it was still considered to be scandalous to be revealing quite so much of one’s own body.
Dianora flashed a smile as she walked into the office and sat down as she saw a series of external SSDs. “I see that you’ve come to the right decision,” she held her hand out for the drives, but the queen closed her fist around it. “You drive a hard bargain!” She stood up from her chair and came within a few centimeters of Dianora’s face. “And from here on out, you… personally, are persona non grata in Zaltaen Space! I want you off my planet and out of my space before the day is out.”
“So I am,” Dianora scoffed, as if that was a tiny price to pay. “Hand over the SSDs, I’ll give you the cure, and then I’ll be on my way out in the fastest warship we have.”
“You first,” the queen replied in a tone of voice that could rip the paint off the walls.
Dianora handed one of the SSDs to the queen and then she handed it to Melora who connected it to her datapad. She scanned the data with every sort of possible antimalware that they had, once it was verified as clean, she uploaded the data to the Zaltaen Central Archives and then nodded her head.
The queen then handed the stack of SSDs to Dianora as she nodded her head. “Oh,” the queen smiled, “and as the humans say, fuck you.”
“Now, now,” Dianora said as she turned on her impossibly high heels, “that’s very unbecoming of a queen.” With that she walked out the door.
As soon as the door closed Raina screamed, “Fuck you, you bitch!” in Zaltaen.
“Was that really necessary?” Melora asked.
“Yes!” the queen shouted before she slumped back down in her chair and took a calming breath… or three. “Did you hear her?” Melora looked to her queen. “Did you hear how she spoke? That arrogance! She practically bled arrogance!” She pounded her fist on her desk. “I swear to the Great Maker that if I ever see that harlot again, I’m going to rip her head off!”
The queen then turned to Melora. “See to it that the cure is analyzed and distributed to all of our people as quickly as possible. I certainly hope that dealing with the other human leaders won’t be nearly as much of a nightmare as it was dealing with THAT one.”
“Your majesty, we’ve not been all that humble with them either.”
“Don’t remind me,” the queen told her.
Meanwhile Dianora turned to her assistant as they walked out of the palace. “I can see that the queen isn’t happy with you.”
“I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if she’s happy with me or not,” Dianora smiled. “I have what we want! And we can deal it out to the other human powers when we want to and for how much we want to charge for it. We’re going to be the premier power in Human Space literally overnight. Oh, boy! Oh, happy day!” She then began to laugh manically, even to the point where her own assistant was nervous. “See to it that this data is uploaded to our ship in orbit before anything happens to it!”
“Yes ma’am.” With that Dianora handed the drives over to her assistant. She too scanned the data with every sort of possible antimalware that they had and only after that, did she upload the data to their fleet in orbit to a fully firewalled system onboard. “It is done Dianora.”
“Good,” Dianora smiled as they walked to their awaiting assault shuttle and its escorts. “Now let’s get out of here before the Zaltaens have us arrested or shot.”
The queen walked into the banquet chambers where she had dinner with the other human leaders. She did everything she could to put the interaction that she had with the Midasians behind her. She could only hope that dealing with the other human leaders were going to be a more pleasant experience.
“Welcome,” the queen smiled as she said it in what she hoped would be a much better sounding tone. “I do hope that we can come to a fair and equitable trade agreement with your people and your respective governments along with the sharing of technology.”
President Crow looked around the room and noted that the entire Midasian delegation was absent. “Where are the Midasians?” she asked.
Raina’s face filled with hate at the sound of the word ‘Midasians’ but quickly covered it up. “The Midasians,” she said it with venom in her voice, “have chosen not to continue with us at this time. They’ve other issues to attend to.” Yeah… like not being shot. “They send whatever regards that they can… muster and apologize for not being able to attend this meeting.”
It was a bald-faced lie and Raina knew it. She also knew that the humans knew it too.
A Zaltaen month later Melora walked into the queen’s office on Zalta 4-A for it was weeks after the queen had the trade and technology sharing meetings with the human powers. That is, except for the Midasians who now had everything.
“What’s the update on the cure?” Raina asked Melora as she walked into the room. “Have we come any closer to using the cure that those people gave us?” She didn’t need to elaborate on who “those people” were because by now most of Zalta knew.
Melora walked up to her and she held out her hand; there was no tremor, not even a slight twitch. The queen gasped as Melora nodded her head emphatically. “Once we verified that the cure was going to work and it was indeed safe for us to use, I was the first patient to have the cure administered to. I volunteered so as to come up with a good way to deploy it.”
“Melora!” Raina shouted as she brought her into a bearhug. “You shouldn’t have done that!” She backed off and then looked her friend of many years over. “You could have died if the cure didn’t work. What would’ve happened if it didn’t work?”
“I knew that if I was to come to you with proof, I needed to be the proof. As for if it didn’t work? Others would’ve taken up the work.” She sat down as the queen sat down behind her desk.
“Once we verified that the cure was going to work and that it was safe, we introduced it into our first set of test patients using what’s known as a retrovirus. We specifically engineered the cure into a retrovirus to replace the effected gene sequences of our genome.” The queen nodded her head indicating that she understood. “Once we had the retrovirus made, we gave it a small test group, including myself as Patient Zero. I didn’t want to give you any kind of hope unless the cure worked on me.”
“What about my mother?” Raina asked.
“She was given the cure after we determined that it was safe,” Melora nodded. “She has since shown a marked improvement in her health,” Raina put her hands over her mouth. “Given more time, your mother will be completely cured of her affliction.”
“Why time?” Raina asked. “If you’re cured why will it take more time for my mother?”
“Your mother has had it for the last fifty years,” Raina gasped. “I, however, have only had it for the last ten years so it took far less time for my body to be able to recover. This cure is a savior to our people, we have to thank the Midasians for it.” Raina’s face contorted as Melora said the word ‘Midasian’. It might as well be a swear word to her now.
“There’s no way that I’ll thank that smug bitch of a leader those Midasians have!” Raina shouted. “I’d rather eat proveto buns than to crawl on my hands and knees to thank, as humans call them, them jackasses.”
“Wait!” Melora said. “I thought you hated proveto buns!”
Raina laughed. “That’s my point!” Melora laughed. “Great Maker, do I hate those things! Even the smell of those things makes my stomach flip.”
“You’re funny there,” Melora said in between laughs. “Yes, indeed I do remember how you hate those things,” she thought back to when Raina was a child. “I remember you had a rather unpleasant experience with those things.”
Raina put her hands to her mouth. “Oh, Great Maker,” she said as she swallowed hard, “don’t remind me about that.” She held her stomach. “My stomach wasn’t right for a week after that!” Melora laughed. “Hey, I’m your queen; stop laughing at my expense!”
“I can’t help it! You were my friend long before you were my queen!” Melora said in between laughs. “I still remember how you were in the bathroom the entire evening that day.” Raina gave her a death glare and she began laughing again. “I can’t help it, you were so sick!”
“Please, knock it off!”
“Alright,” Melora calmed down. “Maybe I can send a message to them on your behalf? Maybe just to their scientific community rather than their supreme chairwoman.”
“That’s acceptable,” Raina said as she brought Melora into another bearhug, “I’m glad to know that you’re cured! I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my closest of friends.” Melora smiled as she returned the hug. “I’m happy for myself as well.”
“There is a problem though,” the Raina looked to her. “Only about seventy-five percent of those we gave the retrovirus cure to had the cure take hold.” Raina looked to her wondering what that meant. “It doesn’t mean that the cure doesn’t work on them, it just means that we’re going to have to engineer a different delivery method for those people who it didn’t work on. Ultimately the answer is that a whole new generation of Zaltaens will have to be born with the cure to truly wipe out the genetic disease. Once the new generation is born with it it’ll become a natural immunity to the defect. We’ll be cured of it.”
Continue to Chapter 5…