Chapter 7—A Long Day
◊ ◊ ◊
A knock sounded at the Queen’s office door. She jumped up from the desk, her hand flailing out to the Prime Minister, who stood behind her at the window.
“Easy,” Collier Cabot said. “It can’t be them. Jasper hasn’t called.”
“I’m just…so…so undone by all of this.”
Cabot’s easy smile answered her. “What is it your father used to tell us? ‘Paths are made one pebble at a time?’”
The knock came again.
Mara returned to her seat. “Enter,” she called.
Adrianna opened the door, then stopped when she saw the Prime Minister. “Forgive me,” she said, sudden color blooming above her collar. “I thought you were alone, Majesty. I’m sorry.” She started to back out.
“That’s all right, Adrianna.” Cabot waved her discomfort away. “I might as well help Mendelsohn.” He marched around the desk. “Setting up in the Conference Room, isn’t he?”
“But, Colli…” Mara protested.
“One pebble,” Cabot reminded her. “At a time.”
When the door closed behind him, Adrianna took a step into the room, then seemed to think twice and stepped back. Her sweet face pinched with effort. Finally, she said, “Something’s very wrong.”
“Why do you say that, dear?” Mara asked mildly.
“Last night, while we waited for you and the Captain, Trip got worried.” The young woman started across the rug. “He called up to the ship. They told him you were with Mendelsohn and T’Pol. Now Mendelsohn is setting up the Conference Room without Robby and won’t even look at us when we ask questions.”
She reached the edge of the desk and touched it tentatively with her fingers. “And the shuttles are late. Very late.” She paused and studied the Queen. “Should I dismiss the guides for today?”
Mara heard the larger question behind the girl’s words. She arranged her face into the gentlest expression she could muster.
“Yes, I think that would be wise.”
Alarm shivered through the First Aide. “When Trip left last night, he looked at me as if he’d never come back. Are they coming back?”
“Not like before.” Mara rounded the desk. “Do you trust me, dear?”
“Of course, Majesty.”
“Do you feel a connection with Trip?”
“Very much so.”
“Hold onto those two truths, dear, and all will be well.”
Before Adrianna could respond, the Queen’s telephone buzzed. “Captain Archer and Sub-Commander T’Pol are in flight, Ma’am,” Jasper said.
“Yes,” Mara said quietly. She kissed Adrianna’s cheek, then went to find the Prime Minister.
“The diplomatic corps wants to establish formal relations by sending an ambassador,” the Captain said.
“What? What was that?” President Kelly’s voice crackled out of the tele-link on the conference table.
Mendelsohn adjusted the controls. “How is that, sir? Better?”
“Yes, better,” Kelly replied. “Did you say ‘ambassador’, Captain?”
“Yes,” Archer glanced across the table at Mara. “And some of the family members wish to come with him.”
The Prime Minister folded his hands on the table. “Who?”
T’Pol consulted an electronic padd. “Washington Brown, father of Jefferson Brown; Alonzo Juarez, brother of Jorge Juarez; and Lydia Gibson Abercrombe, sister of Reginald Gibson. Several more.”
T’Pol looked up. The Callindans stared at her. The tele-link clattered as if the President had dropped his receiver.
“Of course they can come,” Mara said shakily. “Kerner?”
“Yes…Jefferson Brown’s father?” He barked a laugh. “Fantastic.”
Cabot cleared his throat. “How long will it take them to get here?”
“Approximately two months,” T’Pol said.
“Well, that gives us a little time to prepare.” He wiped a hand over his face. “We need some kind of strategy, some plan for informing the public.”
“Yes,” Kelly said. “News like this could cause global panic.”
“We’ve been authorized to stay,” Archer said, “if you think that will help.”
“A great help.” Mara managed a smile. “If we present this together, we show everyone there’s nothing to fear.”
“Instead of aliens, you will become long-lost cousins,” Kelly added, “with answers to many old questions: Where did we come from? Who are The Fifteen?”
“I hope so,” Archer said. He unfastened a padded carry-bag and pulled out a device with a view screen and control board. “This is a Starfleet communications link—an interface. T’Pol can set it up in the communications room, if you want it. You’ll be able to contact Earth, or the diplomatic envoy, or Enterprise.” He held the Queen’s gaze.
“Excellent,” Cabot said. “Obviously, you and your crew can’t stay here indefinitely. And we will have so many questions.”
“Hummph,” Kelly grunted. “Once again the South takes control.”
Archer smiled. “I have one for you, too, Mr. President.”
The Prime Minister leaned back in his chair. “I’m thinking a global vid address might be our best course of action—Captain Archer, Queen Marapura and President Kelly standing together, presenting the facts together.”
“I can easily create a presentation with the materials we have,” Mendelsohn said.
“Good,” Kelly’s voice boomed. “Let’s worry the details.”
They worked long into the day, crafting the speech, notifying the news organizations of the pending address, sending out a call for the continental ministries, congresses and governors to gather at their respective Assembly Houses the following day. T’Pol helped Mendelsohn digitize documents and photographs into a smooth visual backdrop for the speech. As evening darkened the windows, they found their lists checked and rechecked.
“Ensign Mayweather will pick you up within the hour, Mr. President” Archer said.
“Very good.” Kelly replied. “I will see you all soon.”
As the tele-link broke off, Mara looked around at the mess of dirty dishes pushed to one end of the table, the tumble of Federation memo padds, and wads of crumpled paper. Mendelsohn’s hound-dog features sagged even more than usual as he locked the display unit.
“With your leave, Majesty,” he said.
Mara caught his hand. “I know what a burden this is for you. One more night of discretion, then you can relax.”
The librarian’s droopy eyes widened. “Relax my guard, yes, but the Archives will be very busy in the days to come.” He smiled, transforming his face. “I can’t wait. Good night, Ma’am.”
He nodded to the others and loped his long-legged way out the door.
“Yes,” the Prime Minister mused as the door shut. “Definitely time to get out of this room, my friends.”
“What should I tell Yvette?” Mara sighed, holding a note Adrianna had slipped her during lunch.
“Yvette.” Jonathan frowned as he leaned back in his chair. “The governor of New Hope, right?”
“Yes, and my cousin.”
“She invited us to dinner?”
“Very innocent. Very gracious.”
“Who? Vettie?” Cabot chuckled. He got up from the table and groaned as he stretched his back. “If I know our governor, she’s aware of this meeting and the names of everyone in the room. Your cousin is gracious, Majesty, but far from innocent.”
Mara waved the note. “She sent this right after we called the government Fathers and Mothers about tomorrow’s meeting. ‘A light supper after your long day,’ it says.”
Collier rolled down his shirtsleeves and slipped into his jacket. “She’ll press for information.”
“But, she’ll also stop if I tell her to, especially if Thoth is there.” She looked at Archer. ”Another cousin.”
The Prime Minister considered his Queen. Mara looked up into the tired face of an old friend.
“Thoth is exactly what you and Captain Archer need tonight,” he said, “someone to take your minds off tomorrow.”
“You’re not coming?” Mara asked. “The invitation includes you, too.”
“After today…” He glanced around the table. “…I feel a great need to be with Willa and the children. You go.” He tied the closures on his brief case. “Drink Vettie’s fine wine. Laugh.”
“Actually, that sounds pretty good,” Archer said.
“Stay the night,” Cabot added. “I’m sure you can take your pick of the Palace guest rooms.”
Mara blinked. “Of course.”
Archer stared at the pile of memo padds and began to pack them carefully into a carry bag. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” he said slowly.
“Stay if you like, Captain,” T’Pol told him blandly. She took the carry bag from him. “When Ensign Mayweather returns with President Kelly, I shall go back to the ship and prepare the second interface. Is there anything you will need for tomorrow when I return?”
Archer squinted at her thoughtfully, then glanced at the Queen. Rubbing the back of his neck, he said, “I’ll let you know.”
“No, no!” the governor of New Hope laughed. Jewels in her long earrings sparkled as she threw back her head. Autumn-brown hair tumbled from her shoulders.
Jonathan laughed along with her. “Tell it to me again. I’ll get it this time.”
Yvette adjusted her seat at the dining table and picked up a fork. “My father, Mara’s father, and Thoth’s mother.” She scored three marks in the table cloth. “Two brothers and a sister.”
“Don’t forget Aunt Babette,” Thoth added.
“And you have two brothers and a sister,” Archer said to the Governor. Then, he stopped and looked at Thoth.
The big man grinned. “We both do.”
“But, Babette had five children,” Yvette amended.
“Wait, wait,” Jonathan pleaded as everyone guffawed.
“Stop, Yvette,” Mara laughed, unable to catch her breath. “Oh, stop!”
Yvette spread her hands innocently. “Well, he asked about the family.”
“And you forget half of us with each telling,” Thoth scolded.
Yvette shrugged at Archer. “We’re convoluted.” She patted his arm sympathetically. “I’ll draw you a picture sometime.” Another round of laughter.
“It’s too bad the Prime Minister couldn’t join us.” Yvette sipped her wine. “Colli’s family is much more entertaining than ours. Did he have more work to do for tomorrow? Is that why he couldn’t come?”
Benjamin Gibson cleared his throat meaningfully. Mara glanced across the table to the governor of Azland. His dark brows arched sternly.
“Leave it, Vettie,” he warned. “Let Mara enjoy this fine sea bass without your constant nipping.”
“A shame,” she sighed. “Two of the architects of tomorrow’s mystery meeting here at my table, and I’m forbidden to even pose a question?”
Thoth, Governor Gibson, Yvette’s husband Adam, Captain Archer and the Queen all looked at her. “Yes,” they said in unison.
Adam poured more wine into his wife’s goblet. “You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow like everyone else.”
“Well, what’s the point of being the Queen’s cousin, then?”
Thoth lifted his glass. “Better wine.”
“Whatever tomorrow brings,” Benjamin said, “your visit has already changed the world, Captain.”
Mara saw how he scrutinized Jonathan, his eyes alert and unforgiving. It made her hands fidget in her lap to watch her first and only beau size-up the man who had…who she… Her hands twisted.
Jonathan presented an unreadable expression. “It is a shock to find out you’re not alone in the Universe. It was a shock for Earth when the Vulcans landed, but we adapted.” He speared a bite of fish and chewed, studying Benjamin as closely as the governor studied him. Mara’s palms started to itch.
“We won’t be able to take ourselves so seriously anymore,” Yvette said. “I, for one, find that a great relief.”
“And your people are so like us,” Thoth added. “What a pleasant way to be introduced to the galactic community.”
Archer smiled tightly. “One shock at a time,” he said.
“Tell us more about yourself, Jonathan,” Yvette said. “The newspaper articles were so impersonal. Tell us about your family.”
Jonathan’s face softened. “After my father died, my mom moved back to upstate New York—an eastern seaboard area, lots of small towns and farms. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen her.”
“Your brothers and sisters?” Benjamin offered.
Jonathan shook his head as he ate. “Only child.”
“Your wife and children?” Thoth prodded tentatively.
Again, Archer shook his head. “Never married.”
He glanced around the table, his smile fading at their stunned expressions.
Thoth leaned forward. “You never married?”
“No, but that’s not unusual in Star Fleet.”
“How do you stand the loneliness?” Thoth asked. “What gives your life substance? What anchors you?”
Mara laid a gentle hand on her cousin’s arm. “We’re not exactly the same, Earth and Callinda. We can’t be, dear.”
“The Queen has never married,” Jonathan said quietly. “The world seems to accept that. Surely, there are others.”
“Of course,” Benjamin said. “But the choice to remain alone is unusual.” He smiled softly at Mara. “A calling, perhaps.”
“Exactly,” Archer said. “Starfleet officers are away from home for long periods of time. It would be hard to keep a family together under those conditions.”
Yvette and Adam looked at each other and laughed.
“Hard?” Adam asked.
“I was home ten weeks last year,” Yvette said.
“Of course I wish she was home more.” Adam shrugged. “But our life is our life. When you love someone,” he took Yvette’s hand, “you don’t let little things like time and distance matter.”
“Couldn’t your families travel with you?” Thoth asked.
Archer shook his head. “Even if Starfleet allowed it, I never would.”
Mara leaned toward him. “Why?”
He sipped his wine and set the goblet down carefully. “We had no idea how dangerous the Universe really is. The Vulcans tried to warn us, but we didn’t believe them. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve encountered friendly species. We’ve seen phenomena that would take your breath away. But I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been shot at or nearly blinked out of existence.
“I chose this life,” he said to Mara. “So did my crew. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. But, I’d never ask my family to choose it. And honestly, I don’t know if I could do my job if I had to worry about their safety.”
“Nonsense,” Yvette said. “Life is dangerous, Jonathan. If we thought as you do, we’d never let our children out of the house. You do everything you can to keep your crew safe, yes?”
Archer blinked at her.
“Your family would expect no more, no less.”
“Perhaps,” Mara said, “we must agree to disagree on this issue. We’re all talking about how important our loved ones are to us.” Her gaze traveled around the table, lingered on Jonathan’s tight face. “That’s what matters.”
“Quite right,” Thoth concluded. He thumped his goblet. “Adam, my man, more wine.”
As Mara tuned the guitar, Jonathan sprawled out on the bed. He adjusted the Starfleet interface, open and recording on a pillow.
“We should really try to get some sleep,” she said.
“Soon.” He angled the screen. “One more song.”
She leaned against a bedpost, her bare legs stretched out toward him, her hair falling over one shoulder. He settled into the mess of linens, his head propped on a hand, his face expectant.
“One more.” She couldn’t refuse him.
Moody, mysterious, the introduction started slowly.
When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
You showed me your love in the light of the stars.
Cast your eyes on the Ocean
Cast your soul to the Sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me.
She looked up from the guitar as his hand wrapped around her foot. His eyes had changed color again, pale gray now in the soft light. The pinch between his brows she’d come to know made him look puzzled or contemplative, but Mara thought there might be something else there.
I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars
Cast your eyes…
A lump gathered under her breastbone. Singing for Jonathan was never a good idea, but she seemed to keep doing it. Songs stripped away all her careful posturing, said things she had no intention of saying. Singing was too naked.
When the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and the fire
Cast your eyes on the Ocean
Cast your soul to the Sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me.
Though we share this humble path alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh, give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars.
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly cares.
Cast your eyes…
Jonathan sat up carefully as Mara strummed the last chord. She heard him attend to the interface, snap it shut and set it on the floor. He pulled the guitar from her hands. She looked up into his eyes, dark again, and watched a war wage across his features. She touched his high cheeks, the heavy brow, the serious mouth. He seemed intent on stopping her scrutiny, and kissed her hard. Far away, on the back of a chair, his communicator chirped.
“No,” he breathed, irritated. But, he untangled from her and rose from the bed.
“Archer,” he barked into the device.
She could hear a tinny voice murmuring, but not the words. He spun and stared at her. “What?”
The panic and despair in that one word sent a shiver down Mara’s back. Unconsciously, she pulled the sheets close. The tinny voice returned.
“Yes,” he said, starting to gather his clothes. “Right away.”
Mara rose and went to him.
“Earth’s been attacked,” he said. “Millions dead. We’ve been recalled.”
“What are you saying?”
“We have to get back to Earth now. Right now.” He pulled on his uniform and zipped it. “They’re sending a shuttle for me.”
“Get dressed.” He sat in the chair to put on his shoes.
Mara scrambled around the room, pulling on clothes, her mind spinning. They hurried out of the Queen’s suite, down through the silent corridors of the Palace, to the Avenue. By the time they reached the air pad, they could hear the shuttle approaching.
“I’m sorry,” Jonathan said, clutching her shoulders.
Mara swallowed tears and panic. She grabbed up fistfuls of his uniform. “Come back to me,” she demanded.
He kissed her once more, and ran for the shuttle.
◊ ◊ ◊
Click here to read Chapter 8.