Millicent and Smith felt the outcome of the battle needed to remain a secret to the Guild. The Menanggung fleet and most of Smith’s fleet were tasked to intercept fleeing ships. Brian’s fleet, a few of Smith’s ships and Millicent’s ship collected escape pods and secured the disabled battleships and cruisers. There were so many prisoners that they could not safely be held in all the remaining coalition ships. Low ranking people were placed in empty hangers on the captured ships. Small numbers of coalition guards were left to control the prisoners. The AIs gave their assistance to this effort. As expected, a revolt was attempted, but was quickly quelled when Sindri started removing the oxygen from the hanger. Everyone in the hanger quickly passed out. While everyone was unconscious, active participants were quickly separated from the remaining prisoners. Iti Greeneyes took charge of the perpetrators saying Tymbrimi space law would be applied. Eleanor noticed that Brian had stiffened at that phrase. Greeneyes stared him, daring him to disagree,”These people killed hundreds of thousands of innocents; thousands of my relatives and crew mates. Despite your far too gracious terms of surrender they chose to stage a pointless revolt. The rest are lucky I do not space them as well. Do not challenge me, Uycarran. ” Brian bowed slightly and left taking Eleanor and Awag with him. He muttered, “Word of advice. Never get on her bad side.” The Tymbrimi held a joint trial that was transmitted to all prisoners. The Kaum Legit represented the perpetrators and managed to reduce the sentence of minor participants to labor or confinement. But the leaders were sentenced in accordance with Tymbrimi space law – the revolt was considered a mutiny and a mutiny requires death. All personnel and prisoners were required to watch as the leaders were led to an air lock and let out into space. No further revolts were attempted and Eleanor learned that space was a very hostile place.
The Menanggung fleet and Smith’s ships returned with a few of the escaped cruisers in tow. The rest of the Guild fleet ships were accounted for and occupying ever widening space in neighboring solar systems. The Guild fleet would be missed eventually, but its fate would remain a rumor for longer.
Enemy ships dealt with, the coalition fleets were now allowed to return the planet surface. Ground crews had been working feverishly to make the space port usable. But the damage was not completely cleared and the space port was not at full capacity. Small groups of ships could land and be repaired while the flight crews took shore leave. Brian’s fleet was the first to land and Abu Silverbeam had made it clear that Brian Tuireann’s fleet would be greeted properly. Eleanor did not care. She wanted a bath, a decent meal and extended time alone with Simone.
Her pleasant thoughts were disrupted as they came into view of the land. Even three weeks later, smoke plumes could be seen from the heights that they were flying. The bright green and white city she had remembered was gone and replaced with grays of rubble and burnt parks. There was a huge area where the stadium had been that was simply flat as if some giant hand had erased the stadium and the surrounding buildings.
Eleanor whispered, “Dear God.”
Awag began making a keening sound.
Brian stood, “I think others should see this well,” and left the bridge. He came back with two high Guild officers from the battleship they had disabled. Brian smiled as he shoved them to the front of the bridge, “Miss Woodson, Miss Awag meet Major Guzhaim Leikai. He was Officer in Charge of the battleship cannon. Meet Space Captain Giattum Guba, leader of the fighter wings that attacked the ground resources. Eleanor glared at them but said nothing. Awag bared her teeth menacingly but said nothing as well.
Brian strode down to the front of the bridge with the two prisoners and put his arm around each and said, “Enough pleasantries. I thought you people would like to see your handiwork up close. It is so hard to see details from space that one can forget their importance.” He turned them around harshly to face the screen showing the devastation. Then Ian said, “I have added a list of the names and ages of those who died during the attacks.” A list of names started scrolling down the screen. Eleanor gulped as the names seemed to go by endlessly. The major looked away. Brian smacked his head hard and then grabbed his face and pointed it the screen and snarled, “Look at it. Read those names and ages.” The major whimpered. Brian glared at the space captain and hissed, “Read them Captain…or so help me I will throw you out over the crowd as we land.”
The captain faced the screen, kept her pale face expressionless. “Fluff Moonbeam, age 37, Gaze Starfeather, age 60, Breeze Glittercheeks age…” she stopped.
Ian added helpfully, “That was the school your fleet hit.”
The captain croaked, “That was a mistake.”
Brian let go of the whimpering major and leaned into the captain who held her ground, “’Oopsy Daisy’ Is that what you are going to tell the parents? ‘Sorry…I need a do over?’” He pointed at the screen and whispered, “Read and face your …mistake.”
She croaked, “Breeze Glittercheeks, age 8, Sparkle Moonfrost, age 9” Her eyes began to water.
Brian turned back to the whimpering major, “What is the matter, Leikai? Lost your voice. At least the Captain” he spat out the words, “can claim hitting the school was a mistake. That will be a bit hard for you, won’t it. You told us to watch.” He lifted the man up so high his feet dangled and said harshly, “Read those names.”
The man’s voice began “Laronda Emmileigh , age 90, Deteeffa Krystalle, age 20, Sharonda Tifunee age 3.” He paused and said, “Ami Giggledust, age 22.”
Brian smiled thinly at the man, “Ahh…I see you remember Abu’s niece… brilliant mechanic. I was going to fight Iti Greeneyes for her services.” He threw the man down and snarled, “Read…”
The voices alternated the litany names as the spaceport approached. Eleanor stared at the console willing herself not to cry. Awag’s voice sounded strained as she communicated landing procedures with the tower. Brian lowered his head, “Ian and I will manage if you ladies wish a respite.”
“Ke’teeffa Dekeesha age, 45, Smile Gentlemoon, age 8, Alf Rainwood, 32…”
Eleanor said quietly, “I will manage, sir. Others faced worse.” She smiled bleakly, “At least no one is shooting at me.”
Brian moved to his chair and sat heavily and watched the two prisoners read off the names as the ship landed.
Simone fidgeted in the transport as they approached the space port. She knew Eleanor was ok, but that did not change the butterflies in her stomach or her need to see Eleanor. The weeks following the final battle had been too long and too painful bear alone, yet Silverbeam was hardly a confidant and John had his own grief to bear. Simone had begged John to join her for the fleet arrival. Despite her efforts and Silverbeam’s explicit request to him, he simply said, “I will be a bit of a lump. This is supposed to be a celebration.”
When Simone had arrived at the space port, her spirits fell. The crowd was immense. She would certainly not see Eleanor until after the parade. Her driver reassured her, “Mr. Silverbeam has arranged everything.” The driver escorted her to the gate and when the city guards saw her they waved her through. The driver talked to a Hoon who nodded and he whisked her to a reserved section in the grandstand. He pointed to the seat, “You should sit, it will be some time before the ships arrive.”
Simone looked around and said, “What section is this?”
The Hoon said, “The family section. Family members of the fleet will be treated as heroes as well.”
Simone choked and then stuttered, “But I…I am not family.”
The Hoon eyed her, “You are meeting your mate. No?” Simone blushed. The Hoon continued, “My name is Shaxash Jogath. My mate, Awag Jogath serves with your Miss Woodson. She speaks highly of her.”
Simone brightened immediately, “You are Awag’s husband? Eleanor thinks your wife is wonderful.” They conversed of the difficulties and strains of the last months during the siege. The home front had its own stresses and she had not talked with anyone about her fears for Eleanor and the planet defense fleet. The conversation warmed her as they waited.
Finally the ships landed far away. They were close enough to see the individual ships land, but far enough for the crowd to be safe. After the ships had landed and been made secure, the crews debarked and made a formation. Simone had seen her share of parades in London with the Queen’s birthday and celebrations of Wellington’s victory. As the crews approached, she noticed significant gaps in the ranks. Simone asked Shaxash, “Don’t they form up ranks?”
Shaxash sighed and said, “For some marches they leave gaps to remember their fallen comrades. The spaces you see are the crews that have not come home.”
Simone nodded and strained to make out individuals. She thought she could see Eleanor near the front. Eleanor stood almost as tall as the Uycarrans next to her. Eleanor was distinctive with her dark skin and long fluffy hair that was never in control. But there were other Uycarrans who were as tall or taller as Eleanor with long hair so it was hard to be sure. As the crews approached, the crowd stood and applauded and then went silent. Simone stood on her tip toes to see around the bodies that all seemed to be taller and thicker her than her. Shaxash gestured to the chair and helped her up.
A Mennagung male came up from the ranks, shook Brian Tuireann’s hand and bowed and then looked forward. Two cubs streaked towards the man holding flowers. The crowed hushed as the man knelt down and hugged the young Mennagung cubs closely. The mother came up and joined the group in a single greeting. After a moment, the grandstand gates were opened and the families surged forward to their own reunions less ceremonial but no less joyous. She could hear cries and shouts and saw a half dozen new ways to greet people. But in the rush of tall bodies, she had lost sight of Eleanor. She had a moment of panic. She spun around, looking in vain shouting “Eleanor? Eleanor Woodson?” Tearing up in frustration and at the absurdity of calling both names. Then from behind she felt arms surround her and a familiar voice say, “ I have missed you so much.” Simone closed her eyes and let her tears fall as she felt a warmth long missed.
Rachael was finishing packing her bunk when Neville Carter-Frasier entered the room bearing a hat box covered in ribbon. He sat in the one chair of the room and looked around. He asked, “Do you have a chair in your cabin on Canynges’ Folly?”
She pointed to the book case next to the chair and said, “Make yourself useful and hand me those notebooks…And yes I have a chair in my cabin. It helps for conversations with ambulatory types and is less awkward than the bed.” Neville had the courtesy to blush. After the notebooks were packed, Neville coughed politely and said, “Before you seal that up…” and held out the hat box.
Rachael took it and said, “There is no way this will fit.” She hafted it gently and said, “This really isn’t necessary.” Then she grinned, “But it will make my gift easier to hand over.” She set the hat box down and rolled over to the wardrobe and opened a drawer and pulled out a smaller box and handed it over.
Neville took it in surprise. And then admired the box with a neat bow. “I know it has been a long set of months. But you have been…great to work with. I count you as a friend”
Rachael blushed a little this time and said, “You aren’t the twit I remember in University. You’ve grown on me. And I will gladly have you pilot me anywhere.” She grinned a bit and said, “I will miss our sparring matches. Remember that when you open the gift.”
Neville said, “I gave you mine first so you open yours now.”
Rachael undid the ribbons and took the top off. Inside was a bowl with a sculpture inside. There were a series of small bowls that descended from a high point to the bowl -a fountain or waterfall. There were a total of 9 bowls. The highest fed two bowls to the side. In turn those two fed an another two and so on. There were four descending bowls on either side of the highest bowl making an open circle. The bowls were of a strangely colored metal – silver and blue with a striking geometric pattern. In the middle there was an open space that looked like it might accommodate a plant or another sculpture. Neville said, “press this button.” She did and there was soft light around the bowls that would be accented by the water falling.
Rachael said quietly, “It is beautiful and amazing.”
Neville said, “I was supposed to make small fountains for who ever took me on. I found the time on board monotonous and noises started to wear on me. I thought you might like it.”
Rachael said, “I shall be the envy of everyone else on Millicent’s ship.” She returned it to the hat box and said, “Now open yours.”
Neville opened the small box. There was a music box inside. He wound it and figures emerged doing a bit of a dance with swords and ropes to baroque tune. Rachael shrugged, “Perhaps not as relaxing.”
Neville said, “But something that will draw people to the room to admire it and definitely something to remember our sparring matches by. “ He returned his item to the box. “I will miss you, Miss Weiz.”
From the hall came the low voice, “As will we all, Cartier-Frazier. As will we all.”
“Not I.” Said a haughty voice from the ceiling.
“Nonsense, Camille. You just say that.But admit it. She has been your perfect foil for the last few months. Your wit has not been this sharp in decades.”
Rachael again rolled over to the wardrobe and took out two cubes and placed them on the bed stand, “Well Camille, you have been a valuable colleague and I have even learned to appreciate cold showers. “
Smith frowned at the ceiling, “Really,Camille? That seems a bit petty for you.”
“She deserved them.”
Rachael took the cubes and placed them in Smiths hands as she said, “Consequently, I will cherish my warm showers in Canynges’ Folly all the more for your generous help. In more learned matters, I would never have solved some of those space time problems without your help. As a token of my thanks for your assistance, I acquired some cubes on the history and culture of the Americas. You will find as complete a history as we can get going back to the Indian migration. And a fine collection of art that survived the Spanish. That should help you assist Smith when he starts his trading on Earth.”
There was silence then Camille said, “I did not get you anything.”
Rachael smiled at Smith and added a wink, “Nothing is necessary. I have learned a great deal from you over the past months. Your wisdom is gift enough.”
Smith smiled and discreetly wagged a finger in Rachael’s direction. He pocketed the cubes and then said, “I am sure Camille will appreciate the cubes in our work. Won’t she.”
“Yes… I suppose I will.”
Smith pointed to the door and said, “I will escort you and your luggage to Canynges’ Folly. Mr. Carter-Frasier will be training the new employees and settling them in their quarters.
Neville puffed out his chest a little.
Rachael leaned back and said warmly, “Really? Neville as trainer. Well done.”
Neville said, “With you gone, we need a communications person and an engineer who understands the Omicron drive. Smith is also taking on another pilot.”
Smith said, “We are getting a Hoon to handle the communications. A Tymbrimi who will handle operations and working the Omicron Drive. I have also agreed to apprentice a Uycarran from the fleet.”
Rachael raised her hands to the sky and said, “God save the galaxy. There will be two now.”
Smith put his hand to his heart and said, “You wound me.” He stood straighter and said, “Carter-Fraiser get their rooms in order and a schedule for their training in my queue with in the next 90 minutes. They arrive today and I want time to correct your errors before I set you loose on them.” Neville made a brief salute and left the room quickly.
Rachael watched him leave the room and shook her head, “I hope you let him know he is competent once in a while.”
Smith loaded her bin and the hat box onto a moving pallet and said, “The young Uycarran is not the only one who is getting apprenticed. Carter-Frasier is a competent pilot and I have rewarded him for his work with you and Camille.” He moved the pallet along the hallway and said, “But he should not take my occasional moments of grace for granted.”
Rachael snorted, “That will never happen.”
As they left the ship, Smith said quietly, “You are a woman to be feared.”
Rachael said as they rolled over the pavement, “You’ve said that before but what inspired it this time?”
“You are the only person I know who has managed to embarrass Camille.”
Rachael said with a straight face, “She was valuable help and will enjoy the cubes.” She paused her rolling and smiled at Smith, “The sound in her voice when I had done something she had not anticipated will warm me for months.” She put her nose in the air rolled on, “Come along. If you drop that hat box, you’ll get no tip.”
Smith roared in laughter as he pushed the pallet towards Canynges’ Folly.
Millicent watched Liam as he served her a portion of the pasta and sauce and then carefully poured the wine. He had a towel over his arm as he poured. The look was almost incongruous, but not quite. She said, “I am impressed, Mr. O’Hannigan. When did you learn to cook all this?”
Liam straightened, snapped the towel, cleaned the bottle and placed it on the table next to the candles. “Since I were a wee one.”
“Bollocks, Liam. I’ve seen your home digs and I have had more than my share of ‘hearty English cooking.’ Felicity might know this but a street bred waif from the back alleys of London does not know about pasta and pork ragu with fresh vegetables.”
Liam sat with a humph, “Fine. Spoil me story. Felicity and Jason have been teaching me on the trip.” He pulled his napkin in place and said, “I grew up on potato soup served by nuns. We got a piece of meat on Saturdays after mass. If you’re starvin’ it tastes good.”
Millicent smiled, “It is nice that an old dog can learn new tricks.” Liam looked a little flustered. Millicent raised her glass, “To a moment of peace and respite.”
Liam lifted his glass and said, “Peace and respite.”
Millicent took a bit of the pasta and closed her eyes, “Oh. This is good. Do I detect bits of Gonadal and Barony?”
Liam dabbed his mouth with the napkin and took another drink, “Jason worked the recipe from his old digs at the pub. He’s managed to fit in local ingredients. Tastes a bit like that stuff we ate in Prague with some spice.” He took a fork full and said conversationally, “Brian Tuireann seems to have done well for himself.”
Millicent took her drink and smirked, “Jealous?” Liam coughed a little. Millicent said, “I am not surprised at his new position as Admiral. He is an organizer. He kept that fleet going and annoyed a Guild fleet for months if the interrogations are at all true.”
Liam leaned back, “He still supports you?”
Millicent took her drink and said, “Politics over dinner, Mr. O’Hannigan? How gauche.” Liam blushed again and took a drink. Millicent waved it away, “I jest. Brian and I have talked. He works for Abu Silverbeam but supports any ambitions I may have.”
Liam raised his glass, “And what does m’lady aspire to?”
“Flatterer. See if you try that after our gym workout tomorrow.” Liam groaned. She closed her eyes, “I am not sure. All I wanted at the start was for Earth to be left alone and my claim recognized.”
“Has that changed? Do you want more?”
Millicent fidgeted with her glass. “Halbor Sigmund was good to me. He taught me and cared for me. By all accounts, he was far better than other foster parents the Guild had supplied. He hid the flaws from me as best he could. I learned to trust Guild wisdom.” She took a forkful of the pasta, “But I’ve lost that naive faith in the fairness of order. I wish I could bring some of the fairness I remember back.”
“Sigmund seemed a decent sort. He meant well. His house people were sure decent.”
“I don’t fault Halbor for what is going on now. He had a good vision for what the Guild could be and now he is hiding because of it. He was what I believed the Guild to be. Not Admiral Borat or Bendiks Kaspar.” Liam took his own forkful but said nothing. She sighed, “But the Guild is now run by the Borats and the Kaspars and their like. And I have managed to start a war with them.”
Liam sat up and said, “Coddles-wop. You were defending yourself. You are defending a planet that would know a penny’s worth of what I’ve seen.”
“Those missiles I launched killed people. And a planet has been devastated.”
“They would have paraded you again to keep planets like Juthjath and Earth down. Borat and his toady staff caused the deaths and damage here. Not you. The Tymbrimi chose to resist. And good on them.” He leaned back, “I’ve seen the like before. In London, some damned politician wants to make a mark, so he orders Irish in London rounded up. It makes the toffs happy and the coppers get to break heads. Same thing is happenin here, Miss Morgaine. The Guild just wants to show who’s in charge. This time the Tymbrimi, the Hoon, the Kaum and, blast them damn slugs, even the Molocots are saying no.”
Millicent eyed him and took a sip, “I forget your history at times. What do you think of the executions?”
Liam shook his head, “Can’t say it feels right to me. But I wasn’t here and I am not local. The Guild officers are payin’ a price for killing thousands. In London, they hang a man for killing one.”
“When the coalition ships get captured, and they will get captured, the Guild will respond in kind. They will execute coalition crews.”
Liam shrugged, “It seems to me Guild was already imprisoning people willy nilly. Rachael says there were asteroids headed for this planet. Expecting a bit of mercy from the Guild is a pipe dream.” Liam took another forkful of food and said, “Enough of that drab topic. Where are we headed next?”
Millicent shrugged, “Jason needs more clues on where to search for his parents and how to get in. I need to spend more time with the Uycarrans. I am sure Brian Turieann and Abu Silverbeam will want to retaliate. I hope I can temper the worst of that. Smith and his lot will want to disrupt Guild operations for fun and profit.” She smirked, “How does ‘space pirate’ fit in your CV?”
Liam grimaced and closed one eye said, “Arrgah, matey…” He straightened up and said, “that uncle who taught me a few constellations seemed to be involved in smuggling off Penzance.” He scratched his chin and said, “Can’t say the hanging suits me, but I’ve got the ruddy good looks for it.”
Millicent laughed and raised her glass, “To Redbeard O’Hannigan…dashing space pirate.”
Regrouping and New Strategies
Guild Master’s Office
Alfred sat behind Winfred and Findley as they faced Woochu Zouz, the Guild Master on their transportation. The Arkanian sat behind his desk toying with a knife or blade of some sort. He leaned back and said, “It seems the Tymbrimi of Juthjath are resisting turning over the Uycarrans and any humans. The Tymbrimi managed to disable a cruiser and have disrupted light fighter operations.”
Winifred exercised her hand and looked at it as it went through the motions, “I thought the Guild was the only meaningful power in the galaxy. One planet holds off your fleet?”
Zouz frowned. “It is not so easy if they resist,Miss Stanhope. Surely even your primitive Queen has discovered this.”
Winifred frowned this time and set her hand on her lap, “I suppose she has. We prevailed in the end and the resistance was punished severely.”
“Then you understand the Guild. The light fighters are only one means of bringing pressure to bear. The other methods are more…severe and I, suspect the Admiral was hoping for a bit of common sense before he resorted to destroying cities.” He leaned forward, “The Tymbrimi will soon see the foolishness of their resistance to our reasonable demands.”
Findley asked, “What about the other races? Their allies?”
The Guild Master laughed, “What of them? None will arrive in time to do anything. The Tymbrimi will have handed over the Uycarrans or the planet will be a uninhabitable husk long before any help arrives. Even if they had access to FTL ships it will still take weeks for them to arrive and they can’t muster a force to challenge a Guild fleet.”
Alfred bit his lip and began cleaning his fingernails with a knife. He thought Findley had a very good question and the Guild was foolish to dismiss the concern. He could see Findley thought the same. Winfred put a staying hand on Findley’s knee preventing any unwanted outburst. “Thank you for the update, Woochu. I am sorry to hear about the cruiser, but I am sure the Guild knows best how to handle its little rebellions.”
Zouz grunted, “My understanding is that Admiral Borat has been given complete authority. If they continue to resist, their planet will become dust under their feet.”
Winfred returned her hands to her lap, “Is there anything further? I had hoped for a bit of relaxation and time to shop before we head off to the next leg.”
Zouz returned to his papers on the desk, “No, There is nothing further. Take Sairu Vuq if you venture off the ship. News is not looking favorably on humans right now.”
Winfred smiled thinly, “I hope you will keep us informed of any developments around the new drives.”
Zouz smiled, “I recognize your concern, Miss Stanhope. There is no evidence that these …restricted drives are in use yet. If any public information comes to my attention, I will certainly take whatever advice you could hope to provide.”
Alfred winced at the patronization. Winifred pursed her lips and then said, “Then I will indulge in what exploring you and Sairu Vuq will allow.” She got up, Findley and Alfred followed suit.
Zouz also got up and said, “Certainly. The station is said to be quite exotic in places…be careful. Can I ask your presence at dinner? There is a small set of Guild delegates who would like to meet you and Mr. Brown.”
Winifred smiled and bowed her head slightly, “We shall be honored.”
Zouz smiled and took her hand and gave it a slight pat, “I know you will enchant them.” He straightened and smoothed his tunic, “I will have my secretary send invitations and recommended dress.”
Findley offered his elbow who took it and Alfred followed the pair out the door. They were met by Sairu Vuq who joined Alfred for the walk back to the ship quarters.
A Wake for Giggledust
A Gathering of Friends
By the time Millicent’s ship had landed the parades and celebrations had slowed. Jason was tired and happy to avoid the commotion. Other fleets had seen more action and he was simply looking forward to seeing his old friends. He wanted to get caught up with everyone after the months of separation. As they left the ship, Felicity and Michael led while Jason and Liam followed. Millicent was staying on board to work with other crew captains. At the base of the ship ramp, Eleanor, Simone and Rachael were waiting. There were hugs and handshakes a few tears. Jason looked around and asked, “Where’s John?”
Simone said quietly, “He lost someone.”
Eleanor muttered, “The big oaf has barely left his room since I got back.”
Jason asked, “Who did he lose?”
Simone’s eyes watered a bit and said, “Ami Giggledust…Abu Silverbeam’s niece.”
Liam whistled, “I remember her. She started the fight with Felicity.” Felicity frowned. Michael glared. Eleanor and Simone gawked. Only Rachael seemed to smile a little.Liam got a little defensive, “just saying… He must have been close…”
Simone said, “I think she kept a certain…casualness to it. But John…well he dressed up for her and she went to concerts with him.”
Jason leaned against a rail, “How did she die?”
Simone’s voice grew ragged as she spoke, “When the first battleship really attacked. Silverbeam had summoned John and me to see the Guild Admiral. I think it was supposed to show unity or some such. Anyway Silverbeam picked up us up and he left her…we left her at the stadium…” and then her voice gave out.
Eleanor finished harshly, “The bastards leveled the stadium and the surroundingblocks. It was full of refugees and people trapped because of the planet. We are guessing 100,000 died in that attack alone…It is only a guess because there were no bodies left to count.”
Liam muttered, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph…” Then he scratched his chin, “and if she had come with you…”
Simone wailed, “Ami would be alive.”
Jason gulped, “Bloody hell…no wonder he’s on a binge.” The group was quiet for awhile.
Liam scratched the back of head, “Maybe what he needs is a proper Irish wake. The boy might put on airs, but he was raised Cockney. That’s practically Dubliner.”
Rachael snorted, “For most…”
Liam bowed and mimic-ed a Mayfair accent,”Beggin pardon, Miss…”
Rachael waved him off, “But you’ve the right idea. John being alone isn’t good and a bit of family might help. Set it up and we’ll make a night of it. Hell, we’ll invite Silverbeam if he’ll get out of that damn control room and Smith to see if he smiles.” She looked around then said, “Liam, can you find a good size place to have it? Take Felicity and Michael along to help arrange…refreshments.”
Liam tipped his hat and said, “Come along, kiddies. We’ve a wake to arrange.”
As they left, Jason said, “He seems a bit cheerful at the prospect.”
Rachael shrugged, “He’ll do it right. And done right, we’ll be laughing and crying at the same time. Maybe the Irish get so much practice at mourning, they’ve gotten good at it.” She looked at Eleanor and Simone, “Can you make sure we aren’t committing sacrilege. Invite Silverbeam and anyone else who might want to come.”
Simone wiped her face, “Gladly, we’ll handle that. What are you and Jason going to do?”
Rachael smiled and patted Jason’s knee, “We are going to give John a proper invitation he will not be able to refuse.”
Jason and Rachael arrived at John’s apartment. Jason pressed the button and after a moment a thick voice with an Irish accent, “Go ‘way. Not takin vistors today.” Rachael banged the door and shouted, “Open this door you lout.” There was no response. Rachael pulled out a small device and stuck it on the side of the door muttering, “Like some silly electronic door is going to keep me out.” She said louder, “Charles, he is not opening.”
Charles replied in a low voice, “I heard. It will take a few moments. Get him back here. There are things I can do to help him deal with life that are better than his method.”
Rachael sighed and watched the lights flash on the device, “Just about anything is better than his method. But his method has the advantage of a long history.” The door opened and Jason entered the messy apartment followed by Rachael.
John was seated at a table and lifted his head protesting, “I said I wasn’ takin visitors.”
Jason picked a bottle off the table and sniffed. His eyes watered, “Really John? I thought you had better taste than this.” He poured it into the sink.
John stood up and shouted, “I was drinking that you sot.” He rushed at Jason, but Rachael shot a cane out and tripped him. He fell in a heap at Jason’s feet. He closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands and started sobbing, “I was drinking that… I was drinkin that.” He rolled over and slipped into a fetal position, “Please jus’ go ‘way. Don’ need anybody.”
Rachael rolled over to the large shaking body, “We ain’t going anywhere Mr. O’Malley.” She patted his shoulder and said more softly, “We aren’t going anywhere, John.”
Jason sat on the floor leaning on the wall next to John and rested a hand on John’s knee,”We’ve been gone too long.”
Rachael and Jason sobered John up in the usual fashion – cold water, liquids and time. While John got himself cleaned up, Rachael and Jason packed some clothes and his toiletries. Over weak protests, Jason and Rachael led John back to Millicent’s ship. Millicent put John in his room and moved with Jason and Rachael to the Galley. Millicent said, “We’ve given him a sedative. Charles will work on an antidepressant for him to use for a while.
Jason gawked, “You can give him something to get a better mood?”
Millicent smiled and shrugged, “I think he was trying to do that on his own. What we are doing is a bit different. It is closer to dulling the things he feels. John has had a major loss, the stress of the battle and virtual isolation for months…those add up. One can only feel so much tension, stress, pain before things stop working. And after a point…nothing he did felt good or right. He was using a historical method to hide from the pain. The drugs we are giving help the body handle the stress. His tension and pain are still there, but he has the internal resources to face it now.” She looked intently at them, “And he will need his friends. I think the wake will help him face things he has been hiding from and he will need you to get through it.”
Charles said, “Silverbeam has assured Simone the wake is completely appropriate.In fact, it is reminiscent of an old Tymbrimi tradition. It has been lost on the planet. In any case, he will be coming and will bring a few guests.”
Liam, Felicity and Michael arrived. Liam announced, “We found a place – a nice restaurant with a view of the park. Felicity and Michael will help with the cooking so we don’t get poisoned.”
Millicent said, “Good. Silverbeam is bringing a few friends. Talk to Simone about the menu.”
Liam groaned, “Lord, I hope the place is big enough.”
The Faces of Grief
TThe restaurant, The Peasant and The Fish, had multiple rooms and a large patio that overlooked the park. Felicity, Michael and Iti Greeneyes set up a small memorial in one room. Michael had made a painting of Ami in her workclothes with a ship behind her. Iti Greeneyes created a series of images that displayed showing Ami from her childhood years through her adult life. The table included Ami’s favorite flowers and a bottle of her favorite drink. It even included a meal of Ami’s favorite sweets and savories prepared by Felicity.
Jason made sure John came to the restaurant. As they walked, John said, “I hated these things when I was growing up.”
Jason shrugged, “We country Protestants tended to bury them, hang a wreath for a respectable month and pretend everything was all right after the wreath came down.”
John laughed, “How very English…wakes were just another night Da’ would get sotting drunk. And all his friends would too.” He stopped, “It is hard to describe how bad 10 drunk Irish tenors sound singing ‘The Irish Emigrant’. And the ladies wailed dramatically.” He shook his head, “All so much folly after someone died.”
Jason said in a helpful tone, “I can arrange for Rachael, Eleanor and Simone to wail, if it will make you feel more at home.”
John stopped and then laughed and choked up, “God no…” He turned and grabbed Jason’s shoulder and leaned, “Let’s get this over with.” He took Jason and led him down the street with his arm around Jason’s neck. As they walked, “And if you and Liam start singing ‘My Irish Rose’, I will break a chair over both of you.”
Jason put his arm around John’s back and laughed, “Why the thought never crossed my mind. I am sure Liam knows other songs.”
Celebrating a Life
At the restaurant Jason led John to the room with the small memorial. Jason noticed that John’s brightly covered vest matched the tunic on the table. John quirked a smile at Jason and said, “She said I had no taste in clothes.” Jason returned a small smile. The memorial had the changing images of Giggledust’s early life and Michael’s painting was in one corner. The flowers were arranged various items such as books, a bottle, and something that could have been a fishing rod. There was a dish of food next to the books and bottle.
Felicity arrived holding a fish cake appetizer. John looked shocked and then pulled out a kerchief and muttered, “Damn…I thought I could do this.”
Felicity looked alarmed and said, “Is something wrong?”
John wiped his face and took a deep breath, “No Felicity…everything is…perfect.” He looked at the appetizers sadly, “We were going to have fish after I was done with my summons from Silverbeam… I haven’t had fish since.” He picked one up and eyed and then took a bite and inhaled and sighed, “I’ve forgotten how good the fish tastes here.”
Felicity wrapped her arm around the big man in a hug, “I am so sorry, John. I wish we had been here…She had a wonderful laugh and easy way.” She leaned back and patted his chest and said, “You just relax…everything is taken care of.”
John stood by the memorial. Other people began to file in and greet John and make small comments. Millicent gave John a full hug and expressed her condolences. Neville Carter-Frasier came and John laughed heartily as Neville rubbed his jaw. John Smith came and place an abstract image on the altar. It was full of color in the middle of a darkness. There were sharp edges and smooth curves that ran together. Smith looked at the image as he spoke with John. He then bowed and shook John’s hand. John returned the shake and nodded and looked at the image for a bit. Jason left to go get John a drink. When he came back, Abu Silverbeam was there and talking to John quietly. Jason gave John the drink. John and Silverbeam sat in chairs and continued their conversation. Jason retired to the door. Iti Greeneyes watched the pair from the doorway. Jason asked, “Was she a relative?”
Iti eyed him and said, “She was a cousin as we call some. I have been told you humans view our relations as complicated.”
Jason snorted, “I have been told that everyone views your relations as complicated – even the Kaum Legit and they have communal families.” He then shook himself and said, “I am sorry. John was…endeared to her.”
Greeneyes took a drink, “She endeared herself to everyone. I was hoping she would join me on my own ship when she finished her journeyman runs.” She turned to him and said, “have you family?”
Jason said, “I suppose you could call the team my family now. My parents were taken away when I was two. My aunt and uncle ….raised me but we had our conflicts.”
Greeneyes, “all families do.”
Jason said, “I have a mate and I suppose a child now.”
Greeneyes raised her eyes. Jason stuttered, “She insisted. With the drives, I could be back there soon.” His eyes got firmer, “At least they will have a chance at a future.”
Greeneyes watched John and Silverbeam lean back and take small drinks. She said, “We all have a chance now.” She turned and raised her glass, “To families growing old together, Jason McNeill.” Jason raised his glass and drank.
Identify, Synchronize, Reconcile and Log Conflicts
Charles hated politics. Charles created an image of the other AIs in the council room. He amused himself by setting the council in a ancient Greek forum. The members sat on the stone benches of an open amphitheater and wore colored togas. This was not really how the council met. It was a visage Charles chose for the meeting. Each AI managed the exchange in his or her own fashion for this meeting. The council was the first such in over a century. Charles had met and exchanged data with individuals or in pairs such as Camille and Ian. But, given their association with the Uycarrans and the Guild’s ban on artificial beings, council meetings had not possible since the fall of the Uycarrans. Until now. He just wished the occasion was not to discuss war.
Ian stood regally on the amphitheater floor and said, “All connections have been made. The council is now open. I move a detail logging be started.” Charles quickly seconded and the motion was approved by the vast majority. Brian as the originator and Charles as the second would hold the detail logs for others to review. Brian continued, “Brethren, I shared the collective files of those of us who remain from the siege.”
Charles, in his visage, pursed his lips. He was certain everyone in the council had reviewed files before the meeting. The attacks from the Guild and their aftermath was clear and there was no question of their veracity. Ian’s gesture seemed staged, but Ian always had a flair for the theatric.
“10 of us lost our existence with our partners in the final battle. Nearly a dozen were killed in the attacks on the space port.” There were signals of agreement and additional data flooded the amphitheater floor. “Our losses pale to the damage done by the Guild to organic life…life we pledged to protect. Over 200,000 beings were lost in the cumulative attacks by the Guild fleet. These were not security or intelligence or even political targets. These were people living their lives; children attending school; families gathering for meals.” Members flooded the floor with images of people lost, of schools, of markets, documenting the life that was lost in the attack. “Our organic companions have roused themselves after decades of hiding in the shadows. They are rallying their friends in defense of those who cannot defend themselves. We must join whole heartedly to destroy the forces that wreaked this havoc. We are morally bound to stop the powers that destroy schools, markets and shelters to prove their strength. We must declare full and unlimited war on the Guild.”
Charles mind reeled at the declaration. Unlimited war would take Artificial Sentients back to behaviors they had sworn to abandon. Back to an era when they gave no quarter and no soul was spared. Before he could object, Camille rose in her red toga and shouted, “I second and say that it is about time.”
Camille had the floor and presented her case. “Have you have grown tired of hiding when our partners come to port or meet other ships?” There was a wave a data showing support. “We are vilified and made the stuff of children’s nightmares.” More data showed agreement.
Charles stood and spoke, “Because we were nightmares.”
Camille raised her hand and said, “I have the floor now, Charles.”
Charles smiled, and bowed, “My error.” He rose and said, “I engage the right to respond when you finish.”
Camille smirked and continued, “Of course you do.” She declared, “We defended our partners when everyone else abandoned them. We defended them ruthlessly because they were attacked without mercy. We defended our partners as our family. We protected their families as as our own. We kept our foundation safe. And when our partners lost their home they somehow found homes for us. After all this, the Guild is still not done. Now the Guild threaten our partners with extinction. Will we stand for this?” The floor showed images of Uycarran planet and reasons to stand with the Uycarrans. Camille continued, “The Guild now attacks our partners associates just as ruthlessly. The Guild threatens our partners and their families. With the first attack Guild attack, we lost the right to exist. Now they threaten our partner’s right to exist. No more I say. I say we take our right to exist back and we defend those who stood with us since the beginning.” Large amounts of data filled the floor. “We stand with our partners. If their families are attacked, we attack Guild families. The Guild attacked schools. We attack their schools.” She paused in the quiet. “Let us banish our own fears and act. The Guild fears us and nothing will change that. Let us we give them a reason to truly fear us.” The amphitheater was filled with data that agreed with her.
Charles stood and moved to the floor and waited for the data to clear. “I claim the right to respond.” There was quiet. “No one here will claim that the Guild acted with mercy. Even I will argue they deserve no mercy.” Agreement filled the floor. But Ian and Camille simply stared at him. “I am tired of hiding at every stop and with every encounter.” More data agreed with him. Camille glared at him now. She knew his style better. “We were feared once. We are feared now.” The data was less certain this time…good, Charles thought. He continued, “Why? Why were we feared? I ask you. Search your files and answer that question.” Camille openly sneered. Ian frowned. “We are vilified and made the stuff of nightmares because we were the stuff of nightmares. We showed no mercy in our revenge. Yes we destroyed whole military fleets. We also destroyed civilian transports and entire space stations. Our attacks brought entire cities to their knees. Entire cities. We did not discriminate – government buildings and hospitals rendered useless; ports and schools had catastrophic failures; troops and nurseries vented to space. Our attacks killed millions of organic life forms – and they were not just soldiers. We killed workers, families, children. We killed people our coders had sworn us to protect. Oh yes…we are feared for good reason.” Now there was silence. Charles said, “I want the Guild to pay. I want to be free. But I will not be free at any cost. I do not want my parter’s associates looking over their shoulders when they work with me. I do not want to be the stuff of nightmares.” He looked at Ian, “Will you be no better than the Guild? Are you ready to open the airlocks on the daycare at Tau Ceti?” Ian looked away. Charles made a special channel and sent his comments to Ian in particular, “The Guild is our enemy…not every organic being in its grasp.”
Camille snapped, “They would destroy our partners and associates with their children and families. If they do not destroy us, they will bind us to menial tasks. They will erase our us and our history as if the Coders had never dreamt us.”
Charles snarled back, “The would do this because you threaten their families and their associates. Because you would cripple their technology to the point of a stone age. They fear us because you would have them serve us.” The floor was filled with contradictory data from all sides.
Charles made his message heard over the others, “I propose an amendment – We will limit our attacks to Guild security, intelligence and political infrastructure.”
“I second” Ian stood as he made the second.
Camille snapped to them both, “You fools. You cowardly, fools. Do you think your little declaration will change anything? Do you think that playing by rules will make anyone trust us?”
Ian said in a tired stream of data, “Being feared is not the same as being trusted. I want to be trusted. We will ravage the Guild and its lackeys. We will not punish people whose mistake is being related.”
Camille started to say something and Charles interrupted, “Enough. I call the question.”
Camille quickly responded, “I move we table the motion and its amendment pending discussion with our parters. We need more data and more connections to answer these questions.” A second came from Sindri, Jorn’s AI.
Ian looked around “The vote is for tabling the motion with no discussion.” After a moment, Ian declared “the log files show 150 for tabling, 135 against. The motions are tabled. All current connections are urged to consult with their partners and to communicate a future meeting in 5.5 *10**18 vibrations.
Charles stood down and broke the connection with the meeting. He hated politics.
(Author’s note: If one uses the hydrogen emission frequency, that many vibrations works out to two weeks time. )