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Home of my tech rants, free programs, and a story or two…

Space 2315, Peace… Chapter 6

President Christina Crow stepped into her bedroom of the Presidential Mansion in Tehran and breathed a sigh of relief at being back. She had just gotten off the Marine assault shuttle that had brought her down from orbit from the super juggernaut that brought her back to Terra after her visit to Zalta 4-B.

Idly she wondered when the military would relax its hold on her life. Surely, she didn’t need a Marine escort with her at all times, did she? She could understand why and even tolerated the fact that they’d want her on a Fleet pinnace or Marine assault shuttle when going to and from Space Force One. Every president had done so for as long as there’d been a Space Force and a place beyond Terra for a president to go to. Before that presidential transport had usually been aboard Air Force One and still was when the president was going to other places on Terra. But did she need Marines escorting her from any shuttle and into the building? Isn’t that not what her secret service personnel were for? During the crisis on Terra and shortly thereafter, she perfectly understood why the Army or the Marine Corps wanted her under their almost exclusive protection, but that had been months ago and Terra was back to normal; or as back to normal as it could after a major terrorist attack.

The technology trade agreement that was signed with the Zaltaens was a major step in the right direction for the Human Federation, but it came with some terms that were rather strict and that didn’t exactly sit well with many in the military and those in the scientific community; nor was it going to sit well with members of the newly formed Congress. The Zaltaens indicated that the technology that they were going to share with the Human Federation would need to be developed and implemented under the supervision of Zaltaen officials. Naturally, there were those people that felt that the only reason the Zaltaens were doing so was to slow humanity’s progress.

One such official in the scientific community compared the Zaltaens to the Vulcans during the beginning years of Earth’s space exploration in a television show titled Star Trek: Enterprise. Crow wasn’t well versed in early science fiction, she had more important things to be involved in, like running a multi-star system government, and not only that but one that was still rebuilding itself after losing a major war. She knew about Star Trek, who didn’t? But that didn’t mean that she was familiar with every single book, comic, HD series (Japanese or Western animated or live action), HD movie, and every other incarnation of the much beloved science fiction universe.

Her admirals and generals pressed her to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, but she knew that if she were in the position of the Zaltaens, she too would have insisted on the same terms of conditions. The Zaltaens didn’t want their technology to be turned on them, or God forbid, used in another war with then Allied Colonies of Humanity. There were still some misguided fools that believed that if they had even a little bit of an advantage, they could’ve squashed the ACH flat; Crow, however, wouldn’t hear any of that.

Those same admirals and generals insisted on trying to get the same kind of advantage that Midas had gotten; it was soon becoming an open secret among diplomatic channels that Midas had extorted the entire Zaltaen database out of the queen, classified secrets, and all. Midas had all but held a loaded gun to the Zaltaen race, saying that they’d cure some genetic flaw in exchange for the secrets or Midas would let the Zaltaens die. Who knew how true that was? The Zaltaens weren’t saying, that was for damn sure! True or not, Midas had gotten all of the Zaltaen technology, which went a long way to suggesting that there was some truth to it all.

The level of distaste directed at Midas among the human diplomatic corps was quite palpable, along with the implication that literally overnight Midas had become the preeminent power in Human Space. Already there were those that were heaping burning coals of shame upon Midas and the military was already planning secret first strikes in order to stop Midas from being able to use the Zaltaen technology to their sole advantage.

Which was almost certainly the exact reason that the Zaltaens were so hesitant to give humanity all of their technology! The fear that humanity would destroy itself or even enter a state of perpetual cold war had to be in the forefront of every Zaltaen mind. That alone made President Crow very sympathetic to the Zaltaens’ reluctance to share everything.

She, herself, was tired of war and much of the Human Federation shared her sentiments. There was no way that she would start another war with the ACH, there were other pressing matters at play that needed to be resolved; namely the rebuilding of many military structures, ships, and other such industrial infrastructure that had been taken out during the war. The idea that one man, one crazy lunatic, could plan and take out an entire government still haunted her to this day. It was the day that she was thrust into a situation that she didn’t ask for.

Crow surmised that the only reason why most, if not all, government agencies were collectively in one place was because the Human Federation government had become too complacent over hundreds of standard years of what was becoming known among the academic circles as the Pax Humana. That mistake cost them dearly when Bernard Hernandez had singlehandedly lopped off the head of the Human Federation government leaving her as the one of the few elected members of the government remaining alive.

Crow made it a mission of hers to made sure that nothing like that was going to happen again. As soon as she was sworn back into office on her official Inauguration Day she went to work to spread as many government agencies as possible across the globe and to other planets. She also urged the military to relocate as many major component commands as possible to different worlds in their sphere of influence. This was all in an effort to no longer have all of their eggs in one basket. With the looming Vonosh war and how many saw them as the largest threat humanity had ever seen, Crow made it a mission of hers to make sure that if the Vonosh were to attack the Sol System the Human Federation could still operate even if Terra and Mars were to be captured, or worse, bombed from orbit, by the Vonosh.

All of this started with plans to construct a massive space station in the Alpha Centauri system to replace the Persepolis space station that had been destroyed by the then ACF a couple of months back. The Zaltaens were only too happy to help the Human Federation construct said space station but with one condition, the space station would be a joint Human Federation and Zaltaen command with an official joined crew. That was another thing that many in her military had issues with, they weren’t yet comfortable with the idea of a shared command structure with the Zaltaens.

Crow knew that if they didn’t take Zaltaen help it would take them years to rebuild much of the space infrastructure that had been destroyed during the war. The Zaltaens were busy pouring what resources they could spare into the Human Federation, as well as the other powers in Human Space, all in an effort to gear humanity up for what may very well be the largest war in human history. And considering that they’d just fought the largest war in human history said something about how big everyone was expecting the next war to be.

Why the Zaltaens were so quick to offer up their help, Crow could only guess; perhaps they knew more about what the Vonosh had in store for humanity than they were letting on. Perhaps the threat was closer than they were initially told. Crow could only hope that that wasn’t true and tried her best to shake that thought out of her head for the idea of them going up against the Vonosh with the Human Federation at less than half-strength wasn’t something that she was looking forward to. She could only hope that what she was thinking was only some kind of irrational fear that her subconscious mind had dug up.

She walked over to her private liquor cabinet and poured herself two fingers of Scotch Whisky and sat down on her bed and slowly sipped down the brown liquor and soon the weight of the day melted away as the alcohol mellowed her out. She then stood up and walked into her private bath and quickly brushed her teeth. She was far too tired to think about taking a shower, all she wanted to do was sleep and she was hoping that the liquor would do just that, allow her to sleep while her head swirled with ideas. She climbed into bed and just as soon as she closed her eyes, sleep did indeed claim her as the liquor did its job.

Her alarm started beeping at seven the next morning. Crow thought about pressing the snooze button a few times, but she knew that wasn’t going to make things any easier on her later that morning. She had things to do and if she didn’t get a start on them now, it would only make for a more hectic morning and not only that, but it would annoy her chief of staff as well as her chief steward and his staff. Her Chief of Staff, Lisa Spencer, was adamant about staying on schedule. So, she pushed the covers off herself and stood up from the bed.

She raised her eyes to the ceiling as she remembered all the meetings that she would have to attend that day, as the thoughts rushed over her, she couldn’t help but to hang her head low. “No rest for the weary,” she said to no one, for she was the only one in the room besides her sleeping cat. There were going to be meetings all day but the one that was the most important one of them all was the ones with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Space Force and members of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees. The Zaltaens were stressing that the Human Federation would need to start rebuilding their space infrastructure as fast as possible and that meant meeting with the various people who held the purse strings of the federal government. The Zaltaens were rather insistent on building the replacement space station in the Alpha Centauri star system as fast as possible and that meant that they needed the funds quickly to begin construction alongside the Zaltaens.

It wasn’t going to be too bad, the Zaltaens were going to foot more than half the cost to build the station but that still meant that the Human Federation would have to come up with the other half of the cost. How the station would be built? That wasn’t yet addressed but she only imagined that it would be a joint effort to build it.

And it wasn’t just the funding of the construction that would have to considered, the commander of said station would have to be considered as well. There were several people on a rather long list of names that were forwarded onto her from the Space Force’s Department of Personnel. She had had that list of names delivered to her days ago and her advisors urged her to go over the names so as to familiarize herself with the people but with the planning of and the said meeting on Zalta 4-B it left her little time to do that.

She walked over to her dresser and looked at herself in the mirror, her hair was a mess and she could swear that the job was aging her. It was said that past presidents of the Human Federation aged faster while in office; when she looked at herself, she had to agree. She remembered seeing the before and after photos of President Barack Obama of the former United States of America. When he began his presidency, he had a head full of black hair but afterwards he walked out with far more gray hair and lines on his face that hadn’t been there when he started.

She shook her head as she walked over to her closet and pulled out an appropriate looking outfit for the day. She couldn’t believe how much thought went into the making of her wardrobe. Teams of people were hired to dress her and choose outfits for her to make her look presidential. Never in her life had she had a closet full of outfits, even when she was just a senator. She never was much for fashion; a simple suitcoat, a skirt, and tights was what made up most of her outfits back when she was a senator but now it seemed like that wasn’t good enough. She was told that her past outfits weren’t presidential enough. She shook her head as she thought about that, she could only shake her head at that. What does it even mean to look presidential? She asked herself. I’m still the same Christina Crow, I’m still the same person I was a year ago except with a fancier title in front of my name.

With her winning the presidential election it cemented her place in the seat of power for the next six standard years. And thankfully it would only be one six-year term! When the Constitution of the Human Federation was first written the framers of it wrote, “The Office of the President of the Human Federation will be held by whoever is elected for only one, six-year term.” That was it… one single six-year term.

Her own reelection was being treated as if she had been the Vice President of the Human Federation. Under the constitution, if the vice president had to take over, such as in the case of a presidential death, then he or she would finish the original president’s term, stand for reelection if they chose to, then step aside after that term was done. That avoided any constitutional crises and even her worst critics among the most staunchly conservative politicians and newsies were keeping quiet about it.

When she was sworn into office after the tragedy that befell the Human Federation a few months ago there was far too much to do to be worried about than to pick and choose a wardrobe. She thought back to when she took the oath of office while standing in that hospital hallway, she had no idea what she was getting herself into; the presidency was thrust upon her, it wasn’t something that she asked for.

Since she’d been reelected to the Office of the President, and not just thrown into it by happenstance, her position now came with far more formalities than she was accustomed to. It was only a few weeks ago that she had chosen where she would live her life as president.

Before she’d been whisked off to Zalta 4-B she had meetings with people who were experts in public relations and public image. She could remember how she had people present to her hundreds of various outfits to wear as president and as she walked into her rather large walk-in closet, she finally had an idea just how huge her selection was. She shook her head; she didn’t want to know how much all of that cost. And at the taxpayers’ expense no less! The Labour Party in her railed against anything that smacked of bourgeois; and having a full wardrobe that she surely couldn’t go through in a standard month, at the expense of the Human Federation public, smacked of the excesses that her party generally was against.

She looked at the rack of clothing and simply closed her eyes and let pure luck choose an outfit for her. When she opened her eyes, her hand was on a rather impeccable red skirt suit that consisted of red suitcoat, a white blouse to be worn under it, and a red skirt that was all expertly tailored to fit her for she wasn’t in a kind of position to be simply wearing something off the rack. The skirt itself wasn’t too short, she had insisted that if she had to wear a skirt that all her skirts would be no shorter than just five centimeters1 above her knee. She was the President of the Human Federation, not a slattern!

Crow thought back to when she was on Zalta 4-B and she saw what the Supreme Chairman of Midas, Dianora Sottosanti, was wearing at the official meeting with the Queen of Zalta. The way she was dressed was appalling if you had to ask her. Dianora’s skirt, if you could even call it a skirt, barely covered the more important parts of her body. She shook her head as she recalled a mental image of the chairwoman, she herself wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something that damn short.

She took the outfit out of her closet and laid it across her bed that still had the covers turned down on it. Her bed would later be made up again by one of the many stewards that helped keep her household neat and tidy, what there was of it. She then walked into her private bath and took a rather hot shower; it was the one thing that she found that woke her up faster than even a cup full of espresso. After taking that hot shower she felt like a new woman ready to take on whatever the day was going to throw at her.

In a few minutes she had gotten herself dressed in her chosen outfit complete with a pair of black tights and a pair of red high-heeled shoes that matched the color of her outfit. That was another thing that annoyed her, she had a shelf full of shoes of various colors and heel-height and she knew that they were expensive for nearly every shoe that she had in her closet had the Armani name on the insole.

As she opened the door of her private chambers she smiled as she saw her Chief of Staff, Lisa Spencer, along with a secret service guard. Her Chief of Staff was the one that coordinated every single one of her meetings and kept her on schedule. “Good morning Madam President!” she said with far more enthusiasm than Christina could muster that early in the morning.

How does she seem so perky in the morning? She asked herself. She breathed out a sign. “Morning Lisa,” she said in reply. If you had to ask Christina, the jury was still out on whether the morning was going to be a good morning; that hinged on the outcome of her meetings.

“You definitely look like you’ve settled into your role as president.” Crow turned around as Lisa said that.

“Oh, stop that,” Crow scoffed, “I’m just a regular person. I don’t think of myself as being special just because I’m president.”

Lisa shook her head. “You’re far too modest for your own good Madam President. You’re, after all, the most powerful woman in Human Space. You have the power; you really need to start acting like you own that power.”

“Ah,” Crow said as she looked to her Chief of Staff, “but I see that’s where many of my predecessors went wrong. They let the power go to their heads, they forgot that they answer to the People. I,” she put a hand to her chest as she continued to walk, “will never forget that. I was reelected by the People to represent them, not my personal interests and thirst for power. That is something I take to heart every day that I wake up as President of the Human Federation.”

“There’s a difference between owning the power and letting it go to your head,” Lisa replied, shaking her head at the president’s blatant idealism; idealism that she was almost certain wouldn’t last through to the end of Crow’s presidency. Power corrupted everyone eventually, that was as true today as it was during the days of the Roman Empire; and probably more so now than back then. But Lisa wasn’t going to say that it to Christina. Oh, no!

“Owning the power just means that you know how to wield it and to get things done with it.” She continued as she stepped forward and put a hand on Crow’s shoulder. “As for letting the power go to your head, I sincerely hope you’re right about yourself,” that alone came too close to what she was really thinking. “The Human Federation public believes that you’re not another run-of-the-mill politician. Maybe they’re right,” she ignored the sudden severe look Christina gave her, “but you have to be the one to prove them right.”

“I definitely try,” Crow smiled. “I don’t take my job lightly; I know the people of the Human Federation are depending upon me to do the right thing. I ran on a campaign of doing right by the people of the Human Federation and I intend to do just that.”

“And the people know this,” Lisa said, nodding her head. “But this office, Congress, and all the other trappings of government, it does things to people. It changes them, usually for what’s seen as the best of reasons and intentions; and you know as well as I do where that road leads to.”

“But, enough of that,” she continued as she saw Crow frown. “I don’t need to lecture you about the pitfalls of power; I just hope that it doesn’t come to that,” she carried on before changing the subject. “Now if only we can get Congress to stop bickering like schoolchildren.”

Crow had to laugh for Lisa was right. Congress was just as much of a mess as it was before the terrorist attack. At first things ran rather smoothly in Congress, but as the people settled into their rolls they turned back to the old ways; partisan politics as usual. Mark Spencer was not only Crow’s Vice President but also President of the Senate. For the last few months, he’d tried to work with the Speaker of the House to bring about change in how things were conducted but it was a slow-moving process. One might say it was like trying to herd cats.

Getting the idea that it wasn’t all about each political party’s interests, but the good of the whole nation, was hard to get through people’s thick skulls. Getting the voters to realize this was going to be even more difficult. It didn’t help that the various media outlets, most of whom were out-and-out political shills for one party or another, helped to stoke the furnace of partisan politics. Christina had, even as a senator, resigned herself to not listening to media reporting on government. If you believed even a quarter of what some people in media said about one party or another, you’d start to believe that one party was God’s gift to the Human Federation and the others were literal spawns of Satan or some other unholy creature.

That wasn’t to say that then Senator Crow, now President Crow, avoided the press. She couldn’t. It went with the job of President of the Human Federation. She couldn’t keep herself sequestered in the presidential office or the residency or the situation room, and she sure as hell couldn’t call a lid on all news coverage of what she did. She, or her press secretary, had to be out there in front of the HD cameras and be available any time, day, or night.

She continued to walk down the hallway to her private dining room where she often took meals and conducted official business. As she started walking, she could hear her secret service guard mutter something about Phoenix being on the move. Phoenix was Crow’s secret service code name. She pulled out a chair at the head of the table and Lisa came up behind her and slid her close to the table. Just as she looked up her chief steward came walking in the dining room. “The usual, Madam President?” Leah Dorrian asked as she placed a steaming cup of coffee in front of Crow. Christina nodded her head and Leah took that as her answer.

Crow then looked across the table and picked up one of the many datapads that were stacked on the table in front of her. She pushed the power button to wake it up and read it. It was a report from the House Judiciary Committee; she pushed the power button on it and laid it down on a pile that she nicknamed the ‘I’ll handle it later’ pile, there were more pressing matters of state at hand than to deal with their petty squabbling.

She picked up another datapad, the datapad that had a list of names that were forwarded onto her from the Department of the Space Force; it had twenty names on it. She didn’t know any of the names of the people on the list, so she knew that there was going to be a long vetting process ahead of her. The first name on the list was a Vice Admiral Miyasaki Yurisa. Full Japanese descent… has been in the Space Force for nearly thirty-five years, rose through the ranks rather quickly; becoming a flag officer in under twenty-five years. Space Force Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, two Defense Superior Service Medals, two Bronze Stars, four Meritorious Service Medals, Purple Heart recipient, two Space Force Commendation Medals, two Joint Service Commendation Medals, four Space Force Achievement Medals and two Joint Service Achievement Medals, the Space Force Good Conduct Medal with ten oakleaf clusters. Lost her entire arm while in combat. Damn, she said as she read that last part. Currently serving under Admiral Olivia Barnes in the Fourth Fleet. She then picked up her personal datapad and noted her name.

She then continued to go through the list, the next person on the list was Vice Admiral Amber Taylor. Currently serving under Admiral Sarah Morgan in the Third Fleet. Lost her left hand while in combat with the ACF at the battle of Tau Ceti. Other than that, her list of awards read very similar to Vice Admiral Yurisa’s. She looked up as Lisa came over to the table. “This is the second Purple Heart recipient that I’ve seen,” she pointed to the datapad, “and to think these people lost limbs during a war with our own brothers and sisters.”

Lisa shrugged her shoulders. “Yeah, I get it,” she said as she sat down in a seat to the left of her. “But you’re going to find many in the service who came through the war without a Purple Heart. Not everyone was serving at the front line. There were plenty of officers and enlisted who served well back of the lines. Take the Sol Defense Fleet for instance. Almost the entire fleet sat out the war. About the only time elements of it left Sol was when they escorted you to Zalta.”

Crow shook her head as she noted Amber’s name on her personal datapad and went onto the next name, Vice Admiral David Cunningham. “Interesting, this admiral is a guy,” Lisa looked to her questioningly. “The two other admirals I read about were women. Is there any reason?”

“No reason at all,” Lisa said as she took up her cup of coffee and sipped at the hot liquid. “You’ll find that as you go further down that list that it evens out to a near fifty-fifty split. And not all of them are going to be admirals either, some are Marine Corps generals.”

“Marine Corps?” Christina nearly squeaked. “Really?”

Lisa set her coffee mug down. “The Space Force didn’t want to slight the Marine Corps by insinuating that only Space Force officers would be considered.”

“But it’s a space… station…,” Christina replied slowly, as if answering her own question.

“Mmhmm,” Lisa hummed to her. “It’s true that a space station runs very differently from a warship. But for a facility that typically won’t move and doesn’t necessarily need an officer who thinks in terms of space combat all the time, a Marine flag officer is just as suited for the job. Also consider that the Marine Corps and the Space Force work very closely with each other, and not just because both fall under the Department of the Space Force. And before you say anything, there’ll likely be other Space Force officers and enlisted on the Marine general’s staff, if it comes to that, and they can advise any Marine general about Space Force matters.”

“I see,” Christina nodded as she returned to looking over David’s bio and noted his name on her shortlist. She then began to continue going over the list of names until she reached the end. By the time she was done with the list of names she had six people that had shown promising service records on her shortlist, one of them being a Marine Corps lieutenant general. She wasn’t looking forward to having the sit-down interviews with them since she, Crow, could hardly say that she was qualified enough to properly vet a person for a position as important as this space station was going to be.

She was about to put her datapad down in front of her as her chief steward placed her breakfast in front of her. “Thank you, Leah,” she nodded her head as she slipped out of the dining room. She then came back a few moments later and put a plate in front of Lisa.

“Well, I’ve got it narrowed down to six names.” Lisa looked at the list of names that Christina compiled. “We have Vice Admiral Miyasaki Yurisa, Vice Admiral Amber Taylor, Vice Admiral David Cunningham, Vice Admiral Elena Mitralli, Vice Admiral Amanda Irvine, and lastly Lieutenant General Lorenzo García.”

“Nice,” Lisa said as she took a bite out of her toast, “I see you have a Japanese woman on this list and if I’m not mistaken you also have a Hispanic and an Italian.”

“Yes,” Christina nodded her head as she sipped from her coffee. “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m favoring people from the North American continent. Amber Taylor is from Britain.”

“Yeah,” Lisa laughed, “with a last name like Taylor. Yeah.” She scanned the list. “Who else was on the list, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“There’s a Commander Richard Smith on the list but he doesn’t have the rank or the time in service necessary to command a space station of this kind of importance, so I skipped over his name.”

Lisa took hold of the datapad and looked at Richard’s Space Force record and bio. “It looks like he’s on the fast track to captain.”

Christina Crow nodded her head. “I may not know a lot about the military but even I know that he’s not qualified enough to head up such a command. He may be on the track to command, but he hasn’t made captain yet. Choosing him would cause a lot of upset in the upper ranks and I don’t need that happening.”

“Okay,” Lisa took hold of the datapad that Crow was reading. “So, if this Richard guy isn’t an admiral, how the hell did he end up on this list of candidates?” Crow took back the datapad and began to read it again.

“Apparently he comes highly recommended by the Zaltaens because of prior contact with them. However, that doesn’t make up for Richard’s lack of rank and experience. In fact,” Crow began reading the datapad again, “it looks like every one of these people on the original list of people have had prior contact with Zaltaens.”

Lisa nodded her head. “You’re probably right,” she said as she put the datapad down. “I’ll set up a meeting with the Admiral of the Space Force, Vanessa Sawyer. You said it yourself, you don’t know a lot of how the military works, so I figure that you’ll need some help in choosing who’s going to be the commander of that space station.” Crow nodded her head. “How does the end of the week sound? I figure that will give these six officers more than enough time to get back to Terra from wherever they may be. I’ll also let the Zaltaen consulate know about this meeting so that they know to send one of their delegates to also sit in on the meeting.”

Crow nodded her head again. “That sounds good to me.”

“Well,” Lisa said as she put her fork down. “You have a meeting with the House Appropriations and Budget Committees at 0900 hours. They want to go over the budget that will be needed to rebuild much of the space-based infrastructure.”

Crow rolled her eyes. “Just what I wanted to do, talk with a bunch of penny-pinching bureaucrats.” She put her fork down as her steward came into the room and cleared the table and refilled their coffee from a carafe on the table. “What time is it?” Crow asked as she looked at a datapad. “0830. Half an hour until that meeting.”

“They’re waiting downstairs,” Lisa said as she noticed the time. “I can call them up if you want to get started early.” Crow nodded her head. She reached into her pocket for her commlink and called downstairs. “You can send the House Appropriations and Budget Committees people up right now; the president wants to get an early start on the day.”

Three hours later Christina Crow stood up from her chair at her table as the committee members left the meeting, though it was difficult to find the money in the budget to allocate to all of the needed space construction projects that had to take place across the Human Federation. With the war over, some economists believed that the economy would slump into a recession since largely it was the war effort that kept people employed. Her plans were to spin up even more industrial and military production which was going to stave off that fear. More people than ever before were going to be employed to rebuild the orbital infrastructure, establish new deep space mining operations, and build new commercial ships and warships. All of which amounted to the potential for a growing economy.

The only hindrance was that it’d require a huge amount of startup investment that the government and public sectors simply didn’t have. Congress would have to work with the private sector to fund the necessary construction projects.

Lisa looked to Christina as she paced around the room. “See?” Crow looked to her. “That wasn’t so bad. I’ve sat in on many of your meetings in the past and that one by far was the most productive one you’ve had in a long time.”

“That may be so,” Crow answered as her steward came in with a fresh carafe of hot coffee and filled her cup. “But it always seems like I’m pulling teeth to get the government to admit that they need to spend money.”

Lisa sat down and grinned at her, “No, the government isn’t averse to spending money. The different political parties just can’t decide on what to spend the money on. If you were to ask a Labour or Liberal-Democrat congressperson, they’d say they want to spend it on social programs; though admittedly the Liberal-Democrats wouldn’t go as far in that as Labour does. Liberal-Democrats would side with Conservatives in that the military needs to be expanded, but neither will agree with the other on just how much. Conservatives are far more friendly to industry than our Labour Party, whereas the Liberal-Democrats and us are friendlier to labor unions; again, with the Liberal-Democrats striking a balance between our two parties. Then there’s the National Party and Greens that are averse to us really spending anything on industry, but I can’t really figure out what they want.”

“So, no, it’s not an aversion to spending money, it’s just that none of us can agree on what to spend it on. That just leads us to a lot of horse trading and quid pro quo,” Lisa continued after she took a sip from her coffee. “That committee knows that we need to rebuild orbital infrastructure.” Crow looked to her. “They were downright reasonable in their budget.”

“But I get the feeling that the military isn’t going to be happy with the funds that we’ve procured. They’re going to say that we’re helping out the megacorporations rather than defense.”

Lisa stood up from the table, taking a slow lap around it but never taking her eyes off of Christina. “The military has always been the one to rant about not getting enough money, it’s been the universal constant for as long as militaries have existed. Don’t pretend you don’t know that.”

“But I didn’t sit in on the budget committee,” Crow said as Lisa’s communicator beeped. She answered it and she heard something about Admiral of the Space Force being downstairs. “Yes,” Lisa said as she looked to her communicator, “send her up.”

A few minutes later the Admiral of the Space Force, Vanessa Sawyer, came into the room. Crow stood up as Vanessa entered. They exchanged salutes and when the admiral dropped her salute Christina said, “Please, take a seat admiral.”

“Thank you, Madam President,” Vanessa said as she took a seat at the table to the right of the president. She took out a number of datapads and put them on the table in front of her. “Madam President, I have some classified material I need to speak to you about.”

“Alright,” Crow turned to Lisa. “Please send for my national security advisor.” Lisa nodded her head and walked out of the room. A couple of moments later, Alexia Lacasa walked in. As Alexia sat down, Crow pressed a button on the underside of the table and the whole room became a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). Several locks on the windows and doors of the room locked, windows automatically tinted, and signal jammers and white noise generators were turned on so as to eliminate the possibility of electronic and auditory listening devices.

“Good,” Vanessa nodded her head as she turned to one of the classified systems in the room, systems that couldn’t be accessed unless the room was in SCIF mode. She spent a few moments establishing a VPN datalink to the various military and intelligence agency systems. Accessing the Space Force’s top-secret systems took a few moments more before she called up the files she needed. “As you know, Admiral Kimery’s fleet was nearly wiped out when a virus infected her fleet’s computer system.” Christina and Alexia nodded their heads, knowing that much. “But what you don’t know is how the fleet got infected. Based upon some intel that we’ve been gathering over the last few weeks; we’ve concluded that that wasn’t by accident.”

“Every report I’ve read so far said that it was a delayed action virus transmitted through the subspace commlinks to ships in the fleet,” Christina replied. “That somehow the virus was able to infect low-level systems such as lighting or life support and hid there until a specified time. Upon which it would awake and wreak havoc on a warship’s primary systems. About the only way to block it completely was to shut down all subspace commlinks. Which in turn would leave a fleet unable to communicate in near-real time; and only then via direct laser transmissions, which complicates command and control over light seconds of distance.”

“Yes, that’s how it was done,” the admiral replied, glad that she wouldn’t have to explain that at least to the president. “But what you don’t know is how the virus was able to do so much damage.” Vanessa tapped a few controls and the report she was reading from appeared holographically above the table. “Someone was feeding information to the then ACF, telling them about our digital vulnerabilities. I’m not going to get into the weeds about just how the virus worked and how it infected our systems because that’s something even I don’t understand.” She shook her head. “Something about buffer over… something. I don’t claim to understand it. All the information is ready for your review on classified systems Madam President.”

“I believe that Vanessa is talking about a buffer overflow vulnerability.”

“Right,” Vanessa replied to Alexia. “How do you know about that kind of stuff?”

“I was a bit of a geek back in my college years,” Alexia answered, which garnered her raised eyebrows from the president and the admiral. “I took a few C and C-plus-plus programming classes back when I was in college just for fun alongside my political science classes.”

“One does not just take programming classes for fun Alexia. That’s some heavy stuff.”

“Back then I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Alexia nodded her head. “I loved computers and what they could do but I also wanted to go into life as a public servant, ultimately the later won out and I continued my political science classes and went into politics.” She paused. “Anyways, think of a buffer, an input buffer, as a chunk of program memory where incoming data is placed stored to later be processed by the program in question. However, this is where things get interesting. Imagine you have a buffer that’s so many bytes large,” she raised her hands up and drew out what looked like a box in midair, “but the input data is… well, larger.”

“It overwrites the program in memory,” Christina answered.

“Exactly,” Alexia began, “the data that overflows out of the buffer is essentially executable code. Ordinarily bounds checks would catch this and cause the host program to crash in such a way as to prevent the vulnerability from causing any harm but apparently, if my thinking is correct, someone found a way to utilize the vulnerability to their end.”

“That would be correct,” Vanessa nodded her head. “The systems analysts found the vulnerability in our subspace communication systems along with the hypervisor systems that we use to run multiple computer systems on the same hardware. Apparently, the virus was paired with tunneling worms to get past our firewalls and once past those they were able to exploit the hypervisor, escape the hypervisor, and infect other instances running on the same hardware.”

“But I thought that most of those systems were changed after the ACF broke away.”

Vanessa shook her head. “No. To replace a lot of that programming would take years. We didn’t have years. We had weeks before the shooting starting, and by then the ACF was already turning their best cyber warfare people loose on the very same systems we were using and found a way to shut us down. Even now, the vulnerability is still there. It’ll take years to ensure that the base code is completely rewritten and applied force wide. And not just on Space Force systems either. Any computer in the armed service will have to have its code reworked. Because from what I’ve been told by cyber security professionals is that this virus could exploit all armed forces systems, regardless of branch of service.”

“Now, you might be thinking that it doesn’t matter if an Army or Air Force computer is used in such a manner. The Army is a ground fighting component that doesn’t typically interact with the Space Force. But what if an adversary were to use that Army or Air Force system as a springboard to launch a full-on cyber warfare operation against the rest of the service? They could conceivably use said system to infect other systems until it becomes self-sustaining and our own systems infect each other,” she finished.

“Could it have been just found by accident?” Crow asked.

“It could’ve been since anyone with a de-compiler could have decompiled the binaries for analysis. But regardless, a full investigation is underway.”

“That’s what we believe,” Vanessa said as she moved onto another report and brought up the holographic projection of it. “Onto other things. We have some mockups of what the new station in the Alpha Centauri system is going to look like. As you can see, it’s rather extensive. It’s more ambitious than anything we’ve ever tried to build in the past. When we go to page two of the report,” Crow reached out and used her hand to swipe to the next page and the computer and holographic projector moved the page, “you can see that much of the station is of Zaltaen design. You’ll see that it’s bigger than anything we’ve ever built before. If I had to put it in simplistic terms, it’s like the Hilton Hotel in space. But, if you go to page three of the report,” Crow changed to page three, “you’ll also see that this thing will be heavily armed and armored. I can only imagine that many in the service will be pole vaulting over themselves to get posted there. The Zaltaens are trying to outfit this station to be as comfortable as can be, while still retaining the military readiness of one of Terra’s orbital defense stations.”

“Already though, there’s some in the military that are wondering what’s the point of building such a heavily armed and armored space station such as this.” When President Crow gave her, a searching look the admiral went on. “Simply put, a space station is stationary. Any schoolchild knows that. What some are suggesting is that it doesn’t matter how powerfully we arm and armor the station if an enemy can standoff and launch kinetic rounds at it from a distance that the station’s defenses can’t hope to reply. They can do so from the extreme edge of a solar system. Now, kinetic rounds are incredibly hard to target and shoot down or even divert, even for modern-day targeting computers. They move at appreciable fractions of the speed of light and when you factor in the amount of red shift, it just about makes them all but impossible to target. The best defense against kinetic rounds is mobility. Even if a kinetic round were to miss by even a millimeter, it’s still a miss.”

“What’s the proposal to that then?” President Crow asked, leaning forward to rest her chin on a raised hand. “If what you say is true, isn’t this space station just one big target then?”

“That’s where Zaltaen engineering will come into play,” Vanessa replied easily, highlighting parts of the station that looked like outsized pods. “These are sublight drives that the Zaltaens will build onto the station. Mind you, they won’t be nearly strong enough to move the space station very far or for that long and they’ll burn through the fusion plants’ reactor mass like nothing else. But the Zaltaens assure us that they’ll be capable of moving the space station even the few meters necessary to avoid a kinetic strike. That is, if we have sufficient advance warning of an incoming attack. And hopefully not a saturation bombardment pattern. The Zaltaens are also indicating that they’ll be outfitting the station with some of their top-of-the-line shield systems as well. I was aboard a Zaltaen ship with their shield systems online, it’s amazing technology if I do say so myself. I watched another Zaltaen ship fire a high-energy plasma burst at us and it didn’t even scratch the hull. It splashed against the shields and dispersed.”

“Plasma burst?” Crow asked.

“Think of a ball of hot plasma not unlike what you find in the heart of a star. Plasma cannons such as those are Vonosh technology, so it proved to us that Zaltaen shields can deflect Vonosh weapons. To further prove the point, they had a Zaltaen particle beam fire at us as well with the same result. I don’t know how their shields will react against our position cannons, but it sounds like many in the Zaltaen military and scientific community want to test it.”

Vanessa gave the two women some time to digest that before she went on with the next bit of news. “There’s one thing I have to bring up that’s a bit disturbing. I don’t want alarm you because we don’t have enough data to prove it, but deep space listening and scanning posts are detecting increasing amounts of movement in areas of space that are indicated as Vonosh Space according to Zaltaen star charts.” Crow’s jaw dropped slightly upon hearing that.

“Again, I have to stress that we don’t know what the movement in that area of space indicates,” the admiral continued. “It could just be normal activity for the Vonosh since we really don’t know much about how the Vonosh operate. Or it could be that they’re gearing up for an invasion. We’ll continue to monitor that area of space for any changes and will let you know as soon as we know any additional information. We’ll also share that intelligence with the ACF, once proper intelligence sharing agreements are signed, since the Vonosh are actually closer to ACF Space.”

“Great,” Crow said sarcastically, “another thing to keep me up at night. Like I need any more of those kinds of things.”

Vanessa shook her head. “Again, Madam President, we don’t know what’s going on in that area of space, but I’m obligated to tell you otherwise. We don’t have enough information to begin to put together what I’d consider a reliable intelligence report. And our traditional ways of gathering intelligence don’t apply there either. If we could sneak warships into the area, we could drop stealthed satellites or recon drones in order to gain imagery intelligence and signals intelligence.”

“Add to that there’s no way that we know that would allow us to gain human intelligence there. And no, I don’t mean that just because the Vonosh aren’t human; we don’t see how we can insert actual human operatives onto their worlds and orbital facilities to gather intelligence or gain informants. Even the Zaltaens have had little success with this, and their stealth technology is orders of magnitude beyond ours. If you remember, they literally hid among us in plain sight for centuries and we had no idea they were there. Now, if the Zaltaens are having trouble with that, presumably because Vonosh technology can pierce Zaltaen stealth tech, just imagine what our relatively ‘crude’ technology can’t do.”

“If I may say ma’am,” the admiral admitted, “if it comes to a shooting war with the Vonosh, and by every indication it will, we’ll need to leapfrog Vonosh technology. We’ll need to bend every financial, industrial and research resource to do so. And before either of you say anything, yes, I’m aware of the current political fight in the Appropriations Committee over the budget.”

“Could it be that the Zaltaens aren’t telling us the whole truth about the Vonosh?” Alexia asked. “Could it be that an invasion is sooner than we think and that the Zaltaens are just trying to keep us calm?”

“Again,” Vanessa closed her eyes and shook her head, “we don’t know. The Zaltaens could know something and that’s the reason why they’re so insistent on us rebuilding our space infrastructure as fast as they are and why they’re willing to put so much of their own effort into doing so. It could also be that it’s in our best interest, and theirs, to rebuild humanity’s economies. Word has it that they are pushing the Allied Colonies and the other human factions just as hard as they’re pushing us.” She paused to shrug her shoulders. “All of this is pure speculation though; we could be throwing theories out all day and night to try and see what sticks. All we know is something is happening. What that something is? We don’t know. We’ll, however, have to stay the course on rebuilding our ships and increasing recruitment in all branches of service, as well as rebuilding our commercial and industrial orbital infrastructure throughout the Human Federation along with keeping an eye on that region of space for any changes.”

“Do you think that my office will have to introduce a bill to bring back the draft?” Crow asked.

The admiral shook her head vehemently, “No madam president. A conscript armed force will never be as highly trained and motivated as an all-volunteer force. And quite frankly, I’d never want a conscripted Space Force person aboard one of my ships. A draft should only be considered in the direst of circumstances, and quite frankly, we’re nowhere near there. Even if, God forbid, the Vonosh were to land on Terra and take the planet, I’d still advise against a draft.”

She continued, trying to keep a smile from her face. “Speaking of that, I pity the fool who tries to take one of our more established worlds by a ground campaign. If the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Third World War have proved, it’s that a force that knows the lay of the land very well will give an invading force no end of grief. Just take North America for instance. The former United States still has a population that has more personal weapons per capita than any other place on Terra. Maybe it’s the cowboy mentality, but Americans love their guns. And if the likes of ISIL or the Taliban of old were bad, just imagine what people in North America would do to an invading force. There’ll be IEDs and bushwhacking for days.”

“Is there anything else?” Crow asked.

“No Madam President,” Vanessa said as she stood up and saluted her commander-in-chief. “When I have more, I’ll bring it to your attention.”

As Vanessa began to walk away from the table a thought came to her mind. She turned around and looked to Crow. “Madam President, did you have some time to look at that list of candidates?”

Crow nodded her head. “Yes,” she said as she handed her personal datapad to Vanessa. “I have six people on that shortlist.” Vanessa looked the names over. “Nice choice of people, very nice indeed.” She looked to the president. “I imagine that you have set up meetings to personally interview these people, right?” Crow nodded her head. “Good,” Vanessa nodded her head, “let me know when the interviews are scheduled, I’ll make time to sit in on them.” With that Vanessa saluted her commander and chief as Alexia deactivated SCIF mode and she walked out of the room.

“Well,” Crow stood up and walked around the table as Lisa walked back in. It seemed like every meeting that she had was just like the one she just had. It was always bad news, never good news. “Just once I’d like to have a meeting where I get some good news.” Lisa looked to her as Christina threw her hands up in the air. “You know,” she shrugged her shoulders, “no impending doom, no catastrophe. That sort of stuff. I’d like to have some good news for a change.”

“Well,” Lisa picked up her cup of coffee, she did have some good news; or at least she thought it was good news. “I do have a bit of good news,” she began as Christina motioned for her to continue. “The jury found Bernard Hernandez guilty on all five counts. Conspiracy to commit mass murder, wire fraud, usage of biological weapons, and last but certainly not the least, conspiracy to commit terrorism and treason. The jury deliberated for what must be the shortest deliberation in history, they only deliberated for five minutes. Bernard even admitted to committing the crimes while in the court room, he acted like he was proud that he did so. He called himself a patriot, a savior to his people. He was so battered and deep fried in guilt that it’s surprising that the judge didn’t just throw the case out simply because there couldn’t be such a thing as an impartial jury in this instance.”

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Crow muttered but it must have been loud enough for Lisa to hear.

“Yeah,” Lisa sighed as she slowly nodded her head, “but Bernard really overdid it. Even some of his own countrymen see him as a deranged lunatic and they have no wish to be connected to him in the slightest. Many of his own countrymen have turned their backs on him; they see him as a pariah.” She paused. “It was damned hard to find an appropriate jury what with how many people were killed that day, almost everyone knew someone who died in his attack. Finding an impartial jury was nearly impossible.”

“But we did, right?” Christina asked. “Tell me we found an impartial jury; Bernard needs to be brought to justice.”

“Yes, we finally did find an impartial jury but we had to go all the way to Corporate Republic of Sirius to find people who didn’t want Bernard dead just for funsies.” Christina raised an eyebrow at her chief of staff’s choice of words. “Nobody in the Human Federation was willing to be impartial, it would have resulted in a mistrial. Despite that we knew that Bernard was guilty six ways to Sunday, he still by law deserved to have a fair trial. The evidence was damning. His defense attorney tried to say that he was insane, but Bernard shot that down when he told his defense attorney to and I quote ‘Shut the fuck up! I did it! I did it because nobody else had the balls to do it! The Human Federation can eat a dick and die for all I care! I’ll see you all in Hell when you get there!’ After that little display his defense attorney all but walked out of the court room.”

“Damn,” Christina said as she sat back down at the table. “I take it that the defense attorney gave up at that point.”

“You can’t defend a person who clearly doesn’t want to be defended, he clearly admitted in no uncertain terms that he did it and that he felt like it was his duty to his people to carry out such heinous crimes.”

“What did they sentence him to?” Christina asked. She really didn’t want to know; it was morbid curiosity at this point.

“The jury found Bernard Hernandez guilty on all five counts, his sentence is death by spacing which is to be carried out at the end of the week.” Christina looked to her with a confused look on her face, she didn’t know what it meant for the death penalty hadn’t been used in the Human Federation in more than a hundred years.

“They put you in an airlock, seal it and open the space door. You spend the next five minutes chewing hard vacuum until your lungs turn inside out, your eyeballs freeze and your heart explodes in your chest.” Christina’s face contorted into a look of horror. “It’s the worst kind of death you can imagine.”

Christina wrapped her own arms around herself as she shivered. “Damn,” she said as she looked at Lisa. “I thought we got rid of the death penalty nearly a century ago, we considered it to be too barbaric.”

“The jury felt that his crimes fit the need for such a sentence. The jury, despite being from the Corporate Republic of Sirius, was completely disgusted at his crimes. Even they found that doing such things to fellow humans was distasteful despite the many other distasteful things that you can find in the Corporate Republic of Sirius. You know, things like sex trafficking, slavery, prostitution, and other such wonderful things that their government tends to overlook provided that the right palms are greased.” She rolled her eyes as she said the word ‘wonderful’ to enhance the sarcasm in her voice. “We even reached out to the Genetic State of Midas for their opinion on what the guy did, and despite their attitudes toward us ‘Naturals’ they even said, ‘Fuck him. Space the bastard. A bullet would be too kind.’”

“And you said that it’s going to be carried out at the end of the week?” Christina asked. Damn, someone wants his death to be quick and not have him sitting about. “Any possible reason why?”

Lisa nodded her head. “They’re not wasting any time with Bernard, many in the Human Federation want him dead as quickly as possible. That and the fact that the longer he’s still alive the more of a chance that people will see him as a martyr, twisted as that may be.”

“I do have wonder what do the Zaltaens think?” Christina looked to Lisa. Christina had to wonder if the Zaltaens would find the sentence to be barbaric considering how evolved they claimed they were when compared to humans. Would they find the idea of sentencing Bernard to death in such a way to be something that they would find unacceptable? But then again, did it really matter? It was after all an internal matter and one that the Human Federation had every right to handle as they saw fit.

“This is what shocked me.” Lisa cocked her head. “Considering how evolved the Zaltaens claim to be when compared to us lowly humans,” she said as she rolled her eyes, “they seem to be perfectly fine with the chosen sentence.” Christina simply looked to her and blinked her eyes wondering just what the Zaltaens meant by that. “I suppose it was because they themselves had their own people killed as part of Bernard’s planned attack. Remember, the Zaltaen Consulate was hit, and their own ambassador was killed along with many of our own people in New York. The queen, herself, was frothing with rage when their ambassador was killed. Apparently, the ambassador was family to her. And not only that but several of their people were killed in a market square by an Islamic State of Terra jihadist who was found to be connected to the same group that pledged allegiance to you guessed it,” she nodded her head, “Bernard Hernandez. So yeah,” she shrugged her shoulders, “they have no problem with him being put to death.”

“Damn,” Christina said under her breath. “To have them call for his death seems a little out of character for the Zaltaens.”

“No,” Lisa shook her head, “they didn’t exactly call for his death. But they’re certainly not saying that they oppose it. There is a difference here.”

“Interesting,” Christina said as she put her chin in her hand. “And what about President John Renault of the now ACH? What’s his take on all of this?”

“His answer was, and I quote, ‘Space the bastard, I don’t care. If you need a volunteer to push the button, call me; I’ll gladly do it and have a steak dinner, medium-rare, afterward’. His words,” she shook her head, “not mine.”

Christina began to laugh at that. “A steak dinner you say,” she said as she continued to laugh. “I guess that there’s no love lost between those two.”

Lisa shook her head. “Nope, not at all. In fact, President John Renault of the ACH pronounced on several news channels throughout Human Space that Bernard Hernandez is a traitor to his nation and a nonperson. He said in no uncertain terms that he didn’t know the kind of hell he could have brought down upon his nation if not for the restraint you had shown after his attack. To this day he thanks you for not sending the full might of the Human Federation Space Force down upon the then ACF and in doing so bombing them all back to the stone age.”

Christina sighed as she thought back to the day that the Human Federation was attacked by Bernard Hernandez which led to her being the president. She recalled the kind of rage that was coursing through her veins that night. She looked up to Lisa. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I was damn close to doing just that. I remember how I felt when I learned Bernard Hernandez was responsible and that he was from the then ACF, I wanted to call out for blood that day.” She shook her head. “I was so close Lisa; you have no idea how close I was to ordering the Space Force to do just that; to set course for Altair and damn the consequences in doing so. I was beyond angry with them that day, we all were beyond angry that day.”

“Well then,” Lisa looked to her president and put her hand on her shoulder, “I guess we all have to be glad that your better angels won that day.” She paused. “The bad part is, there were many of our own people that would have sided with you on doing that. It was a dark day that day, a dark day indeed. Thank God your better angels won that day.”

“I know,” Christina said as she reached up and took hold of her hand that was still on her shoulder, “I have no idea what stopped me that day, but I thank God that something did.” Just then a sound of a cat came up behind her as the cat hopped up onto a chair and then onto the table. “Sparky,” Christina stood up from her chair and picked her cat up, “you know not to get up on the table you silly cat.” Sparky just meowed. Christina looked to Lisa. “I think he’s hungry. Can you tell Leah that Sparky is ready for his breakfast?”

“No problem Madam President,” Lisa said as she stood up from her chair and walked into the kitchen. Moments later the two women walked out of the kitchen, Leah was holding a dish with cat food in it and placed it down on the floor in front of Sparky. The Maine Coon cat took the food as no less than his due and started eating with a soft purr emanating from him.

“What’s next?” Christina asked as she looked to Lisa.

“I figure that it would be a good idea that we get into contact with the people on your shortlist. Let them know that we’re going to want to interview them.”

“Good idea,” Christina pointed to Lisa. “Make it so.”

“Your next meeting isn’t for another hour or so.” Christina looked to her. “You’re ahead of schedule for once.” Christina nodded her head. “Unless of course you want to continue, and I’ll bump your next meeting up.”

Christina thought for a moment or two. “Let them know that we’re moving ahead with an accelerated scheduled today. Let’s get it done now.” She looked down at Sparky. “I don’t imagine Sparky will care if we have a meeting while he’s eating.” Sparky looked up at Christina and mewed. “I swear that Sparky understands me.”

“I’ll have the ambassador from Zalta come up as soon as she’s ready.”

A few minutes later the Zaltaen ambassador walked into the room and when both Lisa and Christina looked to her their jaw nearly dropped. There the Zaltaen ambassador was dressed very much like a normal human. She was wearing a business suit that was quite like what they themselves were wearing, skirt and all.

“Hello,” the Zaltaen said as she bowed to the two of them. “I’m Reladris of the House of Skywind.” All she received was unblinking stares. “What?” she asked as she sat across the table from the two human women.

“It’s just… it’s quite strange to see you wearing something so human.” Crow paused, “I guess I’m so used to seeing Zaltaens wearing normal Zaltaen clothing. The previous Zaltaen ambassador never did such a thing, she always said that she was a bit of a conservative. She kept to the robes that your people tend to favor.”

“Yes, well,” Reladris looked down at herself and back to the two of them sitting at the table with her. “There are those of us who have been, shall we say, resistant to many of your more human ways. I’m younger than the previous ambassador and the younger generations of my people aren’t quite so stuffy and are far more open to change. Besides, I’m not just serving as the Zaltaen ambassador here,” Crow and Lisa looked to each other wondering where she was going with this. “I’m the official liaison to your government. I’m here to work closer with your government than in the past so I want to look more the part.” Meanwhile Crow’s eyebrow raised. “In some ways, human fashion is being adopted by the younger generation of my people. This is very much so for the formal wear.”

“I guess I can see,” Crow’s eyebrow raised. “A business suit is a business suit after all, but I figure that I’m not at all going to be seeing a Zaltaen walking down the streets of Tehran wearing a mini-skirt.”

“Uh,” Reladris paused. “No. No, you wouldn’t. But then again, in this city I doubt I would see many human women doing the same seeing as how conservative this city tends to be. Maybe in New York or London or Paris, yes, but certainly not Tehran.”

“I guess you’re right,” Crow nodded her head. “But I do have to ask, how are your average people adjusting to living on Terra? What is the average Zaltaen wearing here?”

“It really depends upon where on Terra you’re talking about. In cities like London, Berlin, and New York, my people are dressing more like humans to fit in. However,” she said with a shrug, “some of the more conservative people are quite scared of how much human fashion is coming to our star kingdom. Many of them see human fashion as a threat to our culture and social mores. The conservative bunch tend to move toward more traditional cities like Kyoto.”

“I see,” Crow nodded her head once. “Though I do have to ask though, what do you mean by working with our government more closely?”

Reladris pushed a series of folders across the table to Crow. The president reached for them and opened them. As she continued to read them her eyebrow raised. She was halfway through the first page when she closed the folder and looked to Reladris. “If I’m reading this correctly, your government wants to have oversight when it comes to the building of military hardware. Am I correct in assuming this?” Reladris nodded her head. “What exactly does your government mean by ‘oversight’?” Reladris was about to speak when Crow continued. “Why is this? I’m not exactly comfortable with the idea of having your people looking over our shoulders just to get some help from your people.”

“I’m not surprised that you would say that” Reladris nodded head. “Let me try and explain what’s going to happen.” She paused for a moment. “Ultimately it’s your people who’ll have complete control over the construction projects. My government will have nothing more than an advisory position. Remember, you’ll be working with rather new technologies that we’ve recently given you and we want to make sure that said new technologies are implemented correctly and safely. It’s new technology for humanity, and we want to be sure that your people understand what it is that they’ll be installing and operating. Think of us as the instructors at a school. After all, we wouldn’t want some sort of accident to occur with our technology because of some technical misunderstanding. We won’t, and I must stress this, we won’t be holding your people back in any way. Queen Raina has made it explicitly clear that those days are done and gone. If we’re to be partners in an interstellar alliance then we need to start acting like we mean it.”

“Why is that?” Crow had to wonder why. There were many Zaltaens that Crow dealt with in the past that seemed like they didn’t fully trust humans to do anything right and that they looked at humanity as if humans were barely out of the caves they once inhabited. Yet here this Zaltaen was acting the complete opposite of what most Zaltaens acted.

“Because to be quite honest, I’ve become quite fond your people and your star nations.” Crow looked to Lisa while she continued. “Don’t get me wrong, my people are far more advanced technologically than your people are; however, it’s become the opinion of the younger people that our society has stagnated. This has been a long-held belief for some time now, but that kind of thinking has become even more prevalent since we started to get to know your people nearly three hundred of your years ago.”

“I,” she put her hand to her chest, “personally believe that, in a lot of ways, my people seem stuck. Some are so concerned with maintaining the status quo that they see any kind of change, whether it be from within or from outside our borders, as a threat to our way of life. We face an existential threat in the terms of the Vonosh Empire and their allies and subject races, yet there are those that are more concerned with societal norms. They see things such as changes in ways of dress or even food and drink as much an existential threat as the Vonosh. To them, making even the most basic of concessions to a changing world is a disruption of all that they hold dear. Thankfully, the ones that think so are in an ever-shrinking minority.”

“Do you remember your experience on Zalta 4B?” the new ambassador asked to which Crow nodded in agreement. “Ever since the queen mother took the throne nearly two hundred of your years ago, she was working to try to bring some new ideas on how our society can move forward. As you can probably imagine, the hardliners have been resistant to such changes. That’s just one of the many reasons why Queen Raina dissolved our parliament recently and took back much of the control that had been taken away from the crown over so many years in the past. She, like her mother, have seen how in some ways our society has regressed so they’ve been working to move our society forward. She intends to have parliament restored before the year is out, after special elections have been held. But the reason she did it is because parliament had all but eroded the power of the Crown to the point where the queen was largely ceremonial in a constitutional monarchy. She isn’t going to be an absolute monarch, but nor will she be relegated to a figurehead.”

She paused again. “As for myself, I’ve moved to Terra full-time like many of the younger generation of my people have done. I have an apartment in New York and now here in Tehran, seeing as how both are currently serving as capital cities.”

“I see,” Crow said as she nodded her head.

“Like I said, I’m quite fond of your people. In a lot of ways, I feel more comfortable among humans than among my own people. I had to go back to Zalta a few months ago and as soon as I set foot on the planet, I felt like I was just a visitor to my own home planet. As soon as the more conservative members of my people saw that I was acting more human, I was instantly shunned; even by me wearing a human-style female business suit. And we both know that said suits aren’t risqué or unprofessional. It’s just that said suit was so… human. And to the hardliners that might as well have been a scarlet letter, if I may borrow the term, on my forehead.”

“So, what I’m saying is that I would never bring something to you that I felt would be detrimental to you or your people. Nor would my queen. The Crown is dedicated to seeing humanity rise on its own merits. If we help you a little along the way, that’s to be expected since we are introducing new technologies to you.”

“So, who is going to be this so-called advisor from your people?” Crow asked.

“I, and others like me, will be,” Reladris nodded her head. “Like I said, I wouldn’t be bringing this kind of plan to you for you to sign off on it if I didn’t believe that it was a good idea for your people. In fact, I will be vetting those of my people who will be advisors to your people. I’ve every intention to make sure that only those who, shall we say, don’t look to humanity as inferior are chosen for this job.”

Continue to Chapter 7…

  1. Two inches.[]