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At dawn, the Enterprise shuttle crafts landed. The Queen waited with Ra, Adrianna and her archivist to greet the crew in the cool morning dark. She could smell breakfast cooking behind them.
“Good morning.” The Queen stepped forward as the last of the crew jumped from the second shuttle. They arranged themselves in military formation—very proper—but their faces shone with anticipation and some curiosity about the monarch. A few whispers passed back and forth.
“If you’ll follow my aide, Adrianna, she will take care of your needs and wishes. So many volunteers asked to serve as your guides, we had a difficult time choosing. But, I think you all will be well escorted. Be welcome to Callinda, everyone.”
Adrianna took charge, ushering the crew up the Avenue and matching them with their guides. As the Enterprise people passed Mara, they nodded, or curtsied, or bowed, each with a quiet word of greeting. The Queen received them all, wishing each a happy day. Finally, only the Captain and a beautiful, though serious, young woman remained.
“Captain Archer,” she smiled, reaching for his hand. “This must be your First Officer.”
“Queen Marapura,” the Captain said formally, “Sub-Commander T’Pol.”
She took in T’Pol’s upswept eyebrows and delicately pointed ear tips. A thrill rushed through her, but she held her regal demeanor. She placed her hands over her heart and bowed. “Be welcome, Sub-Commander.”
The striking woman returned the greeting. “Your Majesty.”
“May I present your guide today.” Mara gestured to the sober, mid-aged man behind her. He stepped forward, his dark features shining in the nightlights’ glow.
“This is Dr. Mendelsohn Mbutu, my First of Archives.”
Mendelsohn dipped his head in a brief bow. “I am honored,” his deep baritone rumbled.
T’Pol regarded him frankly. “Dr. Mbutu.”
“Her Majesty briefed me on the amazing similarities between the cultures of Earth and Callinda,” Mendelsohn said. “I have some thoughts on how to explore this mystery.”
“Good.” T’Pol glanced at Archer, then the Queen. “If you’ll excuse us.”
Mara felt an odd combination of curiosity and dread as she watched the pair move up the Avenue. She already knew the world had changed forever with the arrival of the Enterprise, but she feared more changes were still coming.
Rearranging her expression, she started to turn back to the Captain when Ra caught her attention. Cool and constant, he stood to one side, watching her. She hesitated as Ra almost never looked directly at her. He watched the people around her, or the roof line, or the temperament of a crowd. His gaze never stopped moving. So, the unwavering scrutiny unnerved her. She stood a little straighter and matched his challenge. Ra’s head dipped minutely in an acknowledging nod.
“We’re only going to Holyoak for the day, right?” Archer circled around the Queen’s pile of luggage.
“This is light!” she said, throwing off her uneasiness. “I may have to change costumes for each function, and you know the itinerary.”
Archer tossed one bag after another into the pod. “You make it sound like play-acting.”
“It is play-acting.”
She saw he wore a thick shirt under his jumpsuit. It would be late winter in Holyoak and, by all reports, bitter cold. His careful preparation made her smile and like him even more.
“I call these my Paper Doll Trips,” Mara continued. “I smile, and wave, and wear pretty clothes.”
Archer helped her into the shuttle, waited for Ra to climb in, then secured the door. Bent over in the low space, he slid past her to the pilot’s seat.
“And this time of year, I never know what to pack. The weather is so unpredictable.” She realized she was talking too much, but the words kept tumbling out on top of each other. “Did you bring a warm coat?”
Archer swiveled around from the controls, smiling. “This is a good ship, Mara. You’re perfectly safe.”
He reached behind her head and pulled over a network of straps, glancing back at Ra.
“Oh, I know I’m safe. I don’t have a single worry.”
He looked up under his heavy brow and fastened the safety harness into clasps at her sides. “Good.”
Nerves, she thought, pinching her lips closed.
Archer swung back into his seat at the controls. Soon the craft lifted from the air pad and arced into the graying sky. Mara’s stomach lurched as they soared straight up, slipped through the atmosphere, and flattened out their trajectory. Through the front window, she saw the velvety dark, stars, and the smooth curve of Callinda below them. Mara’s throat caught at the sight. She did feel amazingly safe in the strange little ship, thousands of kilometers above her home. It’s him, she thought, watching his agile hands on the control board. I feel safe with him.
“What made you want to be a starship captain?” she asked him.
He looked over his shoulder. “My dad. Who taught you to be a queen?”
“My dad.” She answered his smile. “How old were you when you lost yours?”
His eyebrows pinched. “How did you…”
“I was sixteen,” she said. “I can see the signs.”
“Twelve,” Jonathan told her. “He got sick.”
He turned back to the control panel. “My dad had a vision about exploring deep space. His dream became my dream.”
Mara fingered the hem of her sleeve. “My father saw himself as a steward, not a ruler. He taught me how to listen and how to garden. I think those are my best qualities as a queen.”
Jonathan faced her again, his expression gentle. “We have a lot in common.”
“Do you miss him?”
Over Holyoak, the Captain maneuvered the pod back into the atmosphere. As they passed over rivers and fields, the control panel peeped.
“We have company,” Archer said flatly, peering through the front window. “Two aircraft approaching”
“An honor guard?”
As the jets pulled alongside the shuttle, Mara saw the pilots salute the Captain. Archer put two fingers to his brow.
“Are their radios broken?” he asked tersely.
“Maybe they don’t know the frequency.”
“I told them.” He looked back at her. “I told them yesterday.”
Mara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “And so it begins.”
Like all Kerner Kelly’s receptions, the breakfast buffet honoring Captain Archer bulged with politicos and clamored with cross talk, arguments and gossip. As Mara squeezed between knots of attendees, she saw Kelly holding forth near the buffet table. A barrel-chested man just beginning to turn soft, he knew how to use his physical assets. Throwing his arms wide and projecting his strong baritone voice, he dominated the conversation. Not an easy task since he stood with the North’s Home Guard General, Ang Chan, and his Staff Father, Jakaya Brown. Three powerful men. Three powerful voices.
“Majesty,” an amused voice said beside her.
Mara turned to find Dharma Singh, Head of the Chan Line, nibbling a speared cube of melon. Dharma’s dark, almond-shaped eyes glittered.
“I’m surprised to find you wandering about,” she said, “what with so much puffery and plumage filling the room.”
Mara smiled to herself. “Everyone wants to make a good impression on Captain Archer,” she said tactfully.
“Mmm, yes.” Dharma’s eyebrow arched. “And what an impression they’ve made.”
She nodded at the buffet table where Archer stood pinned by the three men. He kept trying to take a bite of biscuit, but each time he raised it to his mouth, Kelly tapped his arm to emphasize his point. The biscuit bobbed up and down.
“Oh, dear,” Mara muttered.
As the debate grew louder, others crowded close. Mara recognized several Northern governors, a Radiant Court judge, and members of Congress who added their opinions.
“What exactly are they going on about?” she asked, unable to hear clearly.
“What don’t they go on about?” another voice replied. Dharma’s twin sister, Lillette, stood on the other side of the Queen. Though shorter and more voluptuous than her willowy sister, Lillette shared her sharp gaze and clear political perception. As Head of the Yee Line, Lillette created with her sister a pool of calm reason in an often-turbulent government.
Mara inched forward with her two friends as the debate infected the entire hall and pulled everyone toward the source.
“Mr. President, forgive me,” Jakaya Brown said, “but our economy could never survive without the South’s subsidies.”
“Independence is imperative,” Kelly fired back.
“But, why?” one of the governors in the closing circle demanded.
Mara closed her eyes and took a calming breath. This tired old squabble? This is how they honor Jonathan?
“Captain Archer,” Kelly boomed. “You’ve encountered many alien beings. Is not freedom a universal desire?”
The room settled. Jonathan looked at the plate of cold food in his hand.
“Actually, Mr. President,” he said, “no.”
He looked up at the expectant faces around him. “Most civilizations still fight for food and shelter. The desire to survive seems more universal to me.”
“Well, of course,” General Chan chuckled, a compact man with a deadly smile. “But, once those basic needs are met…”
“Freedom is a tricky word,” Archer said quietly. “I’ve heard slaves and dictators use it. I’ve seen it bury refugees and justify genocide. It’s not a word I’d throw around lightly.”
Dharma leaned close to Mara. “I like this Captain Archer,” she said.
The Queen excused herself, and wound in closer. She was furious. Freedom! As if taking the trade subsidies South Callinda offered enslaved the North somehow. Ridiculous! Pompous posturing! Her grandfather used to say something about a gift horse, but in her fury she couldn’t recall it.
As she stepped through the press of people, they quieted in her wake. Some had forgotten the Queen was there in the heat of the discussion, and she felt their embarrassment press against her back. Mara took her time, touching a shoulder in order to move forward, holding her head high. She noticed Jonathan watching her approach, a slight smile lifting his lips. When President Kelly noticed her on the edge of the inner circle, his red face turned scarlet.
“Your Majesty,” he said smoothly, “how sporting of you to join our discussion.”
“As you say, Mr. President, this is your discussion. Whether the North continues to accept our small gifts is up to the northern people. I have nothing to say in the matter.”
She smiled regally and slipped her hand into the crook of Jonathan’s arm. “If you’ll excuse us, Captain Archer promised to meet with a small group of dignitaries.” She dipped her head at the three men. “General Chan. Mr. Brown.”
She quickly guided Archer out of the circle, the crowd parting for them easily this time.
“Dignitaries?” Jonathan whispered as they threaded toward the back of the room.
“You said yourself that Kerner’s children were more interesting than he was,” she whispered back. “Ah, here they are.”
Three grinning teenagers waited for them. Archer laid a hand on the oldest boy’s shoulder.
They’re nearly the same height, Mara noticed, amazed. Gerhard’s a man, now.
“I guess we do have time to see that collection of yours,” Jonathan told him. “Bows and arrows, you said?”
“Yes, sir.” The slim young man opened the reception hall door quietly. “I have one quiver over three hundred years old.”
Behind them, the conversation resumed. Ra appeared as he always did, a solid presence in a dark suit. He closed the door silently behind them.
Gerhard and his brother flanked the Captain as they started up the hall. “Tell us again about the Klingons,” Jackson asked.
“And the kidnapped princess.” Dulcinea clutched the Queen’s hand. “Was she strange? Was she beautiful?”
Archer threw up his hands. “Wait a minute. One story at a time!” He laughed and glanced over Jackson’s head at Mara. “But until your dad comes for me, I’m all yours.”
The parade passed through Holyoak’s government and financial districts. People lined the streets in heavy winter clothes, their breath punctuating the frigid air in white puffs. Groups of school children shivered with their teachers in order to wave at the Man from the Stars.
Tall buildings along Market Street funneled the wind and drove it straight at the lead car. Sitting on the back of the topless vehicle, Mara pulled her wool hat farther over her ears and tried to bury her face in her coat’s collar. The car set a slow pace for the rest of the parade. Ra jogged alongside her, mindless of the cold. His Northern counterpart, Gregor Petrovich, loped next to President Kelly on the other side of the car. A marching band toodled in front of them. Mara pitied the brass players.
She leaned into Jonathan’s shoulder, the fabric of his parka crackling. “I’m…freezing,” she stuttered.
Archer turned to President Kelly. “Did you bring blankets?”
For the first time since the parade started, Kelly seemed concerned. “Your Majesty, are you all right?”
“A parade seems very impractical in this weather, Kerner.” Her lips were so stiff, she could barely shape the words. “Think about all these people standing in the cold—the children.”
Only Archer’s prominent nose showed from the hollow of his hood. “Cancel the Public Address,” he said, sniffing. “No one in their right mind would come.”
“But we have outdoor Public Addresses all year long,” Kelly argued, and then added, “You should have learned about the cold in space.”
Oh, no, Mara thought. She turned away and waved at the crowd, her eyes streaming.
Jonathan said, “My experience with extreme cold and heat is to dress properly and limit exposure. I’m limiting our exposure.”
“It’s too late to cancel,” Kelly said sternly.
“Then you’ll have the balcony all to yourself.” The steel in Jonathan’s voice matched the President’s.
“No. This is not negotiable.”
“All right! All right! The parade ends at the next corner. We will return to the Residence. No Public Address.”
Jonathan stared straight ahead.
Mara leaned over the Captain to grasp Kelly’s hand. She could barely see. “Thank you, Kerner.”
“My pleasure, Majesty,” he growled.
The Queen plopped down on the bed in her usual room at the President’s Residence. She held her long coat around her as her teeth continued to chatter. She wondered if she’d ever be warm again.
Maybe a hot bath, she thought.
As she set the tub and regulated the water to HOT, the Queen tried to review the morning objectively. Mara sat on the edge of the tub, pouring in salts to sooth and warm her.
When Kerner’s planes escorted the shuttle to the airstrip in radio silence, she had started to worry. President Kelly might be thoughtless, tactless and regularly embarrassing to his supporters, but he never put her in danger. He never insulted her or allowed others to insult her. Mara learned at an early age to never take insults personally, but even she felt pummeled by the day’s events.
Something’s wrong here, she thought. More than Kerner’s hurt feelings over Captain Archer contacting South Callinda first.
Hanging her coat on the bathroom door, she peeled out of her clothes and eased into the hot bath. Wheat-blonde hair piled on her head, she leaned back and let out a grateful moan. Her body tingled and itched from being so cold for so long. The salts worked into her stiff fingers and toes, unknotted her muscles.
Stiff. That’s how Jonathan walked away from the convertible once he helped her out. He disappeared inside the Residence as she and Kelly walked up the steps.
“I’m sorry Marapura,” Kelly confessed. “I only wanted people to see him.”
“I know, Kerner.” At that point Mara could no longer smile. “Everything’s fine—don’t worry.”
He wanted the public to see Captain Archer with him, like he wanted to garner Jonathan’s support at breakfast. His leverage must be incredibly weak now. Poor Kerner.
She sighed. Somehow, she needed to salvage this trip. Jonathan didn’t seem like the kind of man to hold a grudge, and he displayed competent diplomatic skills, but if Kerner acted out much more she might have an intergalactic incident on her hands.
Suddenly, a sharp knock sounded out on the suite door. Annoyed, she climbed out of the tub and grabbed her robe. The knocking came again, pounding, actually.
“Yes,” she snapped through the thick door. “What is it?”
“It’s Captain Archer, Majesty,” Jonathan said formally. “I need to see you in private.”
“I’m not dressed.” She fumbled with her robe, tying it tight, then cracked the door open. Archer glowered at her. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“In private,” he said.
“Give me fifteen minutes. I’ll meet you in the sitting room at the end of the hall.”
In fifteen minutes, the Queen hurried through the sitting room doors. She had changed quickly into a long, blood-red dress and warm boots. Her hair hung loose, forgotten. Jonathan stood with his back to her, a blue silhouette in front of the windows. He held his clenched hands behind his back.
“What is it?” she asked, closing the doors behind her.
“I just found out that when we go to White Water this afternoon, we’re supposed to give a Public Address.” He turned to her, eyes blazing. “Outside.”
“Kerner,” Mara whispered, covering her face with her hands.
“I’m ready to go back to Mandalay if you are,” he said.
“Wait,” she begged, going to him. Mara gripped his arm. “I can take care of this. I can.”
“At this point, I’m not interested.” Archer pulled away from her and stalked across the room. “I came here as a courtesy, but I won’t put up with Kelly’s behavior.”
Carefully, she went to him and clasped his hand. “I don’t want to embarrass him. Please, let me take care of this.”
Archer watched her. Mara went on.
“Remember our deal? This is me, pulling you back from the cliff’s edge.”
Jonathan continued to watch her, his face stony. Then, he nodded, taking in and letting out a deep breath.
“Okay,” he said, still nodding, still breathing. “Okay.”
Anger rolled off him in waves, realigning the set of his shoulders, the fierceness of his face. She heard cracks and moans as he rolled his head on his neck.
“Better?” she asked.
“Better,” he told her.
She squeezed the hand she still held. “Can you get through the next few hours without exploding?”
He smiled crookedly. “We’ll see.”
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Click here to read Chapter 4.