Chapter 11—An Odd Feeling
Dr. Deborah Jones scowled. But, then, she always scowled.
“Your blood pressure is too high,” she stated, dark hands planted on slim hips. “Any spotting?”
Mara shook her head. In the silence, she heard Marissa’s infectious laughter, a thin twinkle as it floated into the infirmary from across the hall. Mara wanted to be there, not here bracing for another lecture.
The doctor’s black eyes narrowed. “You say you and the Prime Minister will be touring the continent for two weeks?”
“Maybe three.” Mara sat up on the exam table, straightening the robe around her. “He thought it would be the best way to announce my pregnancy. We can meet with each governor and gauge public reaction.” She smiled a little. “The Prime Minister calls it our “Pre-emptive Tour.”
“I see.” Jones turned and scribbled notes at the waist-high shelf behind her. Neat black braids cupped the base of her head. Her long, cocoa neck curved like a swan’s.
Mara waited, frowned. “Are we done? May I go?”
“He is correct,” Jones said, still writing. “People will be more sympathetic if they see you in person.”
She turned, folding long arms across a thin chest. “So, I will go with you.”
“I cannot order you to rest. I cannot command you to delegate the serious matters you face. But, my duty is to care for you, and now your child. I will go with you.”
“Deborah…” Mara started, then she narrowed her own eyes. “We leave tomorrow morning.”
“I know.” She turned back to her notes. “Get dressed, Majesty. We are done.”
The Queen hesitated outside the infirmary door. She needed to finish her speech for tomorrow. There were calls to be made before she left. Marissa probably had a list of things for her to attend to. And she should let Ra know Deborah was coming with them now. But, she lingered in the hallway, listening to Ra’s voice boom from the Security office.
Such a nice timbre, she thought absently. I wonder if he sings…
She felt fuzzy-headed and a little nauseous. Normal, Deborah had said. She pressed her hand against her still-flat abdomen.
“Normal,” Mara muttered, starting down the hallway.
She stopped outside the Archives, fascinated by Mendelsohn’s piles and stacks all over the floor like mushrooms in a forest. She could hear him rustling in the back of the office, out of sight in the underbrush.
Mendelsohn seemed to thrive on the extra work required of him. Normally taciturn and deliberate, he dashed through the halls now, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the next knot to unravel.
Some people love a challenge.
Her mind turned toward Jonathan, and immediately saw him striding down a tight hallway. As if following him from behind, she saw the stiff set of his shoulders in the blue jumpsuit, the quick, irritated pace. She had never seen the inside of the Enterprise, but she recognized it at once—the corridor a flattened cylinder with a metal grate for a floor, other hallways branching off at regular intervals. She could hear Jonathan’s boots rattling the grate as he walked.
Jasper came out of the Communications Room and ran into her.
“Majesty!” he cried, catching her as she stumbled. “I didn’t see you there!”
She blinked at him. The vision of Jonathan popped, but she could still smell the fish that had been frying in the Mess.
“Mess?” she whispered in wonder.
“Pardon, Ma’am?” Jasper looked horrified.
“Nothing, dear.” Mara patted his hand. “I was daydreaming—not watching where I was going.” She gently pulled his fingers loose.
“It’s just… your condition… if I hurt you… “ he stammered.
“Goodness, Jasper, I won’t break.” She gave him a little shove. “Go on. Back to work.”
She smiled as she continued down the east wing. It had been such a relief to tell her staff about the baby. They had been so supportive… mostly.
She paused in the doorway to the First Aide’s office, empty at the moment. It was still exactly as Adrianna had left it—her crystal vases full of flowers from the garden, the scent of her special tea blend spicing the air. Mara moved to the desk covered with Marissa’s projects and spread her hands on it.
“Do you need something, Ma’am?” Robinson Dinh peered in from the hallway. “Marissa is discussing travel details with Ra, I believe…”
Mara picked up a framed picture, a group shot from Adrianna’s farewell party. Adrianna held Marissa close, tears in both their eyes.
“Has anyone heard from her?”
Dinh stepped into the room. “Apparently, she didn’t return to her family home in River Run like she planned. She must have decided to travel instead.”
“Travel? Is that what it takes to heal a broken heart?”
Dinh cocked his head like a bird listening for worm-sounds in the ground. Finally he said, “No, but sometimes distraction helps.”
Mara touched her fingertip to the smiling, tearful face. “I hope she’s not alone. I hope she’s letting her friends share her burden.”
“Some people don’t share their troubles easily.” Dinh came to her side. “It doesn’t even occur to them.”
Mara set the picture down carefully. “I’ll be in my office.” She could barely raise her voice above a whisper. “I think I’ll give Moira Kelly a call.”
Dinh studied her over his glasses. “Very good, Majesty.”
“And then, we’ll work on this trip.” She tried to smile. “The Tour of Distraction.”
Robby watched her, his face full of knowing. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Maybe it would be best if Jakaya Brown won the next election,” Briank said.
“Are you brainless?” Tamarla pushed him off the garden bench. “What a pile of horse pies!”
Lying in the cradle of the old willow tree, Mara listened with eyes closed and the mild April sun warming her face. It was stiff and puffy from crying over the phone to Moira. She rearranged herself as the aides bickered and asked the tree to take the rest of the megrims that lingered.
“You’re still Guide Sick, Briank,” she heard Tamarla declare. “Thoughts of Ensign Sato crowd out all sense.”
A thick silence followed. Then, Briank’s voice cut deep.
“Don’t speak of her.”
Mara opened her eyes. Briank stood apart, rigid and trembling with rage. Tamarla rose slowly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t…”
“Never.” Briank’s voice dropped into a dark threat. “Speak of her.”
Marissa moved between them. “Tamarla apologized,” she said calmly. “Can you accept?”
“Yes,” he said, looking away.
“We came to the garden to work while the Queen rested.” Marissa looked at Mara. “The Queen is no longer resting, and we aren’t working.”
“Tell me why Brown should win the election,” Mara said, sitting up.
Briank struggled to gather himself. Marissa returned to the bench. She grasped Tamarla’s wrist and pulled her down beside her. The good-natured aide looked miserable.
“The polls show people trust Brown,” Briank said finally. “If he became President, the moderates would be appeased and the radicals might be more willing to compromise on their demands.”
“They might support a conditional relationship with Earth if they felt the President was on their side.” Briank edged the rose bed, his long athletic legs pacing the emotion out of his body. “They might be more receptive to the historical records if they trusted the oversight committee.”
“You’re only talking about the anti-Earth faction,” Marissa said. “What about the anti-South movement?”
“For now, they’re linked,” Briank told her. “But, if the North’s opinion of Earth improves, all the suspicions about our involvement in some grand conspiracy will fade.”
“And they go back to arguing among themselves about economic independence,” Marissa finished.
“But, what if Earth does have an agenda?” Tamarla asked. “What if the Enterprise was sent here on purpose?”
“Captain Archer was as surprised by us as we were of him,” Marissa said. “I saw it in his face.”
Mara adjusted her back against the willow’s trunk. “He knew nothing about us, of that I’m sure. But that doesn’t mean someone didn’t know something about us. I asked Captain Archer about that in my last letter. He will investigate if he can, but officials on Earth are preoccupied with their own troubles. Besides, even if the Enterprise was sent here, it doesn’t mean Earth’s intentions are evil.”
She studied Briank. “You make a good case in support of Jakaya. If President Kelly can’t find a way to work with these factions, Brown might be more effective after all.”
“Majesty!” Tamarla cried. “Please say you’re not serious!”
Mara smiled. “Why?”
“Didn’t you read the literature we brought back from Holyoak?” Briank demanded of Tamarla. “Didn’t you read our reports?”
Clearly, his forgiveness had not fully formed. That, Mara thought, or something else.
“Of course I did.” She glared at him, then shrugged. “I just don’t trust him.”
“Neither does Robby,” Marissa added.
“Well,” the Queen sighed, “whether we trust him or not, we may end up working with him.” She lifted a hand toward Tamarla. “Would you mind?”
She hurried to help the Queen to her feet. “Are you feeling better, Ma’am?”
Mara slapped the dust from her trousers. “I feel odd,” she said finally. “Pregnant women are simply odd.”
She started them up the path toward the Palace. “Briank, you still have a sour face.”
“I apologize.” He avoided her eyes. “I have concerns.”
“About the baby,” Mara surmised. “Are these concerns a point of strategy or are they more personal?”
Briank walked in silence.
“I saw your reaction when I made the announcement,” she went on. “You were disappointed and angry. You still are.”
She glanced at the two young women walking beside her—Tamarla, who could barely contain her outrage toward Briank, and Marissa, who watched and listened closely.
“You three are my microcosm. What you think and feel, Callinda thinks and feels. Of course, people will be angry with me, disappointed and critical. But others will celebrate, like Tamarla, and others still will hold judgement, like Marissa, to see what comes next. I need all three of you to give me true perspective, and I need you to be honest with me, always.”
She stopped and turned to Briank. “Tell me what you need to say.”
“Majesty… “ Briank protested, backing away. “It… it really is none of my concern.”
“All right,” he said in a rush. “I think Archer’s actions are unconscionable and… and yes, I’m disappointed that you let him seduce you.”
Mara heard Tamarla gasp and mutter behind her. It would not be easy for those two to reconcile their differences this time. But, Briank’s confession seemed to drain the rest of his belligerence. His expression turned more worried than angry, more contrite than offended, as he waited for the Queen to respond.
“I can live with your disapproval, Briank. Can you?”
He took a breath and met her steady gaze. “It will pass, Ma’am,” he said quietly.
“Very well.” She tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. “We’ll speak no more about it, then. Tell me about the debates in the Northern Congress.”
Briank’s face worked. He cleared his throat. “Northern Oppositionists argued to turn away the diplomatic ship, but there wasn’t enough support to bring a vote.”
“Fortunately, our Congress still welcomes Sadat’s arrival,” Mara told them. “Lydia Abercrombe’s letter made an impression, I understand.”
“I cried when I saw her vid,” Tamarla confessed. “When she showed that old picture of The Fifteen in front of their ship, I got chills.”
“What else?” Mara prompted.
“I don’t know if this is important…” Marissa hesitated.
Mara pressed her hand against the young woman’s back.
“Well, my cousin is a clerk at the court house in Versailles.”
“I’m not familiar with that town. It’s Northern?”
“Yes, Ma’am, on the southern coast of Notre Dam.” Marissa tossed back her wild dark hair. “Versailles is a tiny village, really, hardly big enough for a court house. Parminder handles every document that comes through. She said she registered a new political party last week, something called The Alliance for Callinda.”
“Hmm. I don’t remember the last time a new party formed, but I can’t say I’m surprised—especially now and especially in Notre Dam. Still, send a memo to General Jones and the Prime Minister.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Marissa pinched her lips together to hide her pleasure.
She’s coming along, Mara thought. She resisted an impulse to smooth the tumble of dark hair from the girl’s face. I’m mothering everyone in reach! Briank’s tantrums, Marissa’s insecurities… Thank the All for Moira’s council. She said to expect this. And the moods. And the odd daydreams…
“Darling, you’ve been the world’s mother all your life, her friend had said. “You just have to narrow your focus a bit, now.”
How do I do that? she wondered, resting her hand against her belly.
A peculiar sound seeped into the Queen’s thoughts. She stopped, looked past the Avenue in front of them, and listened. Crowd noise, she thought and peered closer at the security fence that curved beyond the east wing. People milled there with bright signs and pickets.
“Tamarla,” she said levelly, “go find Ra and ask him to join us.”
“Yes, Majesty.” She sprinted across the Avenue to the east wing doors.
“Was a protest scheduled?”
“No, Majesty,” Marissa answered. “I’m sure the Home Guard will disperse them soon.”
“I make out at least twenty,” Briank said, shading his eyes, “maybe more.”
Ra slammed out of the east wing door, but when he saw the Queen waiting calmly with her aides, he slowed to a trot. Tamarla kept pace beside him. When they reached her, Mara gestured toward the crowd.
“Tell me about them.”
Ra towered over her, cool and calm as dark water. “They arrived ten minutes ago. Twenty-five adults. No permits. No weapons. I have two teams in containment formation. Home Guard is three minutes out.”
“I want to talk to them.”
Ra’s black eyes ran over the grounds, the gate, the crowd. “One moment, Majesty.”
He spoke briefly into the microphone attached to his earpiece. Within moments, more Royal Guard ran across the walkway on top of the old iron fence. The protestor’s chanting trailed off. Francisco and Naveen, the team’s marksman, loped across the lawn to them. They buttoned their dark suit coats and nodded crisply to the Queen, then fell in with Ra.
As she strode across the trim lawn, curiosity and irritation churned a sour mix in her stomach. How calculated is this “impromptu” demonstration? Who are these people? How dare they trample the forsythia! The last thought seemed so small and petty, Mara barked out a sharp, embarrassed laugh. Her aides glanced at her nervously. Ra and his men watched the crowd.
When the Queen neared, the demonstrators lowered their placards. Ra and Francisco stood between her and the bars of the gate. Naveen watched from the side. Several more Guards strolled out of the Palace and placed themselves on the perimeter of the protestors.
“Blessings,” Mara said, bowing.
Shocked by her arrival, the group bowed back. Some stopped themselves and scowled instead.
“I can’t hear you or see your signs from the Palace,” she said. “I thought we might talk about your concerns.”
“Save Callinda!” one woman shouted.
“Save Her from what, dear?”
“From world domination by the humans.”
Mara folded her hands. “Why would Earth wish to dominate us? We have nothing they need. You must have heard Ambassador Running Bear say Earth’s only desire is to reacquaint us with our human family.”
“Propaganda!” a man shouted.
“If so, what a strange lie to spread. Why would he do that?”
“To discredit The Fifteen.”
“What does Earth care about The Fifteen?” Mara said gently. “They were just colonists, one ship of many who left Earth to start a new life elsewhere. Earth doesn’t care what we think of our ancestors.
“Besides, nothing can ever discredit The Fifteen. If anything, the new information about them makes The Fifteen more dear. Now we know where they came from, how they got to Callinda. Now we know for certain that the fifteen Lines truly come from them. The new information only asks us to let go of patchy myth and embrace The Fifteen’s humanity—and our own.”
When there was no interruption, Mara continued, “How many of you saw or met one of the Enterprise visitors?”
Several hands rose.
“Didn’t they seem like your brother or sister—laughing, playing, gossiping, shopping? Didn’t they feel like one of us?”
The protestors looked at each other and at the Queen.
A young man stepped up to the gate. Ra gestured him back, and he obeyed at once. “Majesty,” he said, “it’s so confusing. We hear about how dangerous and powerful Earth is—we only want to protect Callinda.”
Mara tried to step closer, but Francisco blocked her.
“Do you think I’m a fool or a dupe?” she asked.
The young man licked his lips. “I would never describe you that way, Majesty.”
“Do you believe I would give my life to protect Callinda?”
Many in the group nodded or muttered agreement. The young man said, “Yes, Majesty, I do.”
“Then you should know that I am carrying Captain Archer’s child.”
Silence answered her. The Queen twined between Ra and Francisco to stand closer to the man. She wrapped her hands around the gate bars and looked into the faces of the crowd—confused faces, surprised faces, frightened faces. And here and there, she saw some delighted faces.
“Come inside,” she said. “Have tea with me. I’ll answer all your questions.”
“This letter is for Queen Marapura of Callinda.” A clear-eyed woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair gazed from the interface screen. She had a strong, intelligent face with a pucker of concern between her brows. “This is a private, personal message.”
She paused, giving anyone who might be other than the Queen an opportunity to be embarrassed. And then she smiled, which changed her face from handsome to beautiful.
“Marapura,” she said, leaning in, “I’m Mary Archer, Jonathan’s mother. I just finished talking to him. The Enterprise is still a few weeks away, but he wanted to tell me… He didn’t know if he’d have time once he got home…”
Her hand reached out. “He told me about the baby. He told me about Callinda. Goodness, he talked and talked…”
She swallowed and pulled back from the screen, folding one slim hand over the other. “He’s sure Starfleet will send him after whoever attacked us. But, no one knows who that is or where they came from. No one knows why. Jon said that with so little information, it could take a long time to track these people down.”
She smiled a little. “If you know my son at all, you know how seriously he takes his responsibilities. His father used to call him The Little Engine That Could. Do you know that book on Callinda? It’s about never giving up. Starfleet would be wise to send Jonathan after those people, because he won’t stop until he finds them.”
Mary Archer lifted her chin, her eyes glimmering with a mother’s pride and a mother’s fear.
“But, he’s worried about you, dear. He said that even though you’re the Queen, and surrounded by assistants and advisors, you really have no one—no parents, no siblings or friends nearby. No one close to help you when the baby comes. He knows you both will be taken care of, but he can’t stand to think of you so alone. Especially if he can’t get back to you.”
She leaned forward and grasped her interface screen with both hands. “You’re not alone, Mara. Your baby has a grandmother who already loves it. I will find a way to come to Callinda. I’m not sure how or when—traffic is such a mess now—but I’ll get there.”
She let go of the screen. “If you want me to.” She chewed the inside of her mouth as if wrestling with a weighty decision.
“Jonathan doesn’t confide in me,” she said, finally. “He doesn’t tell me his personal business. His letters are cheerful and trivial. I never hear about the dangers, the worries—at least not from him. Admiral Forest is an old friend, and he tells me what he can. I spend a lot of time waiting between his calls.
“But, this time Jon let me see his worry. He needed me to see it. So, I thought, maybe, you and I should wait together for Admiral Forest’s calls this time.”
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Click here to read Chapter 12.