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Jasper scrambled out from under the Queen’s desk, splices of cable and power cords in his hands. “If we’d just had more time,” he muttered.
“That seems to be our new motto,” Mara grumbled back, tapping the interface keyboard. “It’s all anyone has said to me all week. There!”
A small telltale lit up on the frame of the screen. Jasper bent over the Queen’s shoulder, tapping in instructions and puzzling over the device’s response.
Robinson Dinh appeared in the open doorway. “They’re here.”
Mara rose from her chair, waving Robby in. “Sit here,” she told Jasper. “Keep working.”
She looked up to see the Prime Minister and General Jones passing Robby through the door. Behind them, Mendelsohn spoke quietly to Congress Mother Delilah Mbutu.
“Good morning, everyone.” Mara forced a brightness she didn’t feel and ushered them through the room.
Robby shut the door and paused to speak to Jasper. Both of them seemed too tight, too serious.
So many balls to juggle, she thought, turning back to her guests. So many balls you’ve left us, Jonathan.
“Let’s stand together for a moment, shall we?” she said.
Without hesitation, they arranged themselves around the small coffee table and reached out to clasp hands.
“As we breathe together,” Mara said, “let’s offer our thanks for the day and for each other.”
She looked into each dear face, faces of friends and colleagues, leaders of Callinda, people she had known all her life. Mother Mbutu’s full mouth lifted in a quiet smile. Mendelsohn let out a deep sigh.
Mara continued, “Let us ask for wisdom and right action borne of Clear Mind.”
On her right, General Jones’ powerful grip swallowed her hand. On her left, Robby’s hand floated in hers. Mara closed her eyes and felt the heat and intensity of their circle. With each breath in and out, the heat became more tempered. Whatever fears and worries each person held, each surrendered them to the leveling calm of Clear Mind. With each breath, they chose to trust more in the possibility of Right Outcome.
Mara opened her eyes to Collier’s peaceful face, caught for a moment without irony or worry, and felt a pang of regret about how recent events had aged him. His eyes fluttered open and when he met the Queen’s gaze, a wry smile formed. Mara’s regret melted. Colli was always Colli no matter the disaster.
“Let’s start with the good news, shall we?” The Prime Minister angled off to the sideboard and its coffee urn.
Congress Mother Mbutu sat with a sigh. “The Department of Education agreed unanimously to include Earth and lineage history into the curriculum.” She smiled at Mendelsohn. “Your presentation to them was quite effective.” To the others she said, “How is that for good news? What about media management?”
“Those who acted as Guides to the Enterprise crew have been briefed,” Robby said. “The news organizations begin their interviews this afternoon.”
“They’ve reprinted Archer’s speeches.” Cabot returned with a tray of coffee service. “The vids of him are our best defense against panic.” He smiled at Mara. “Heroic and sincere, a rare combination.”
“What about the crisis lines, Mendelsohn?” Mara poured the coffee, neatly sliding over the Prime Minister’s comment.
The archivist fished a report out of his old satchel. “The information crisis lines are up and running in all ten southern provinces and three out of the five northern ones.”
“What’s the problem there?” General Jones asked.
“Storms at Land’s End and on the Northeast coast have taken out New Dublin’s communications. They’re working on it. But, the delay in Notre Dam?” He scratched his head. “I had difficulty finding an archivist to supervise the line, and then the one who finally volunteered only attended half the training sessions. I don’t think she’s very motivated.”
“Nnn,” Congress Mother muttered. “Notre Dam’s governor is one of Kerner Kelly’s anti-South supporters. The province may not be receptive to any help coming from us.”
Cabot sipped his coffee. “I’ve read some editorials in The New Québécois tying those sentiments with anti-Earth rhetoric.”
“It’s a poor province,” Delilah replied. “Dissatisfaction overflows.”
“Are people using the crisis lines?” Mara asked, pulling them back on topic. “What has been the response?”
“Overwhelming, Majesty,” Mendelsohn said. “The volume of calls far exceeded our projections. Telecommunication Service installed additional hubs in River Run, Tanzania, Hien Ha, Vladim and White Water. Most calls are requests for Line genealogies and contact information for relatives of the Fifteen living on Earth. Others want information about Earth itself. Of course, many callers are simply in distress. We have a monk available at each center twenty-seven hours a day, but I’ve asked Lama Ki if we can have more until this initial panic subsides.”
“If it subsides,” the General said. “I understand Kelly’s Staff Father addressed the Northern Congress this morning. He asked questions we can’t easily answer—What are the details of the Enterprise’s recall? What is the Earth Ambassador’s intent? Why didn’t North Callinda receive their Federation interface?”
“Oh, dear.” Mara folded her arms against a sudden chill. “He’s hinting at conspiracies that don’t exist.”
“Which can only inflame this new anti-Earth movement,” General Jones finished.
“Or, by stating the questions openly, he may put out the fire before it really starts.” The Congress Mother shrugged. “It depends on how these questions are answered.”
“It’s not Jakaya Brown’s place to address Congress,” Robinson said. “Why would President Kelly allow it?”
“Jakaya has always been more than Kelly’s Staff Father,” the Prime Minister replied. “He’s the architect of Kelly’s policy, his most trusted advisor.”
“Yes, but why let Brown be the mouthpiece for this inquiry?” Delilah wondered. “Kelly’s the one who needs to appear thoughtful and in control.”
“Perhaps, he’s positioning Jakaya for a new leadership role,” the Prime Minister suggested.
“It doesn’t sound like Kerner,” Mara said quietly. “He’s not that subtle.”
“No,” Robby agreed. “It sounds more like Jakaya. I’ve dealt with him enough to know that if there’s an advantage to be found in a situation, he’ll use it.”
“Whatever the reason,” Delilah said, “Brown’s address may require a response from your office, Majesty. I’m starting to hear grumblings among our own congress members. How much influence will Earth have in Callindan matters? Will we be expected to follow Earth law now?”
“If we could only get the interface working, we could ask them directly,” Mara said. “But, let’s draft something today. Robby, Mendelsohn, I’ll need your help when we’re done here.”
“Of course, Majesty,” they said.
The Prime Minister set down his coffee cup and turned to General Jones. “You have people in place in Holyoak,” he stated rather than asked.
“Yes, Prime Minister.”
“I want a daily briefing from now on.”
Jones scowled. “Very good, sir.”
Cabot continued. “And you’ll be coordinating with President Kelly’s office, won’t you, Mr. Dinh?”
Robby’s eyebrows rose.
“Your relationship with the President’s Staff Father could be very helpful.”
“I’ll make sure it is, sir.”
“Good man,” Cabot smiled.
“Do we have any other balls in the air?” Mara took in each sober face. “Then, let’s get on with the work of juggling these, shall we?”
The small group unwound from the meeting—cups clattered to the coffee table, papers shuffled. Delilah drew Mendelsohn to her side as she headed for the door. General Jones and the Prime Minister exchanged a few quiet words as they followed. Instead of escorting the others, as was his usual custom, Robby remained with the Queen.
“Adrianna gave me her resignation this morning,” he said quietly.
Mara stared. “She said nothing to me.”
Dinh’s eyebrows arched high over the black frames of his glasses. “When I pressed her, she said she needed to go home. She said her heart was broken.”
“Guide sickness? Adrianna?” Mara pressed her fingertips to the growing headache at her temple. “Commander Tucker impressed her more than I thought.”
“Apparently. Briank is also suffering…silently, which worries me more.”
“Oh, Robby,” Mara sighed. “Were none of us immune?”
Dinh’s brows pinched as he watched his Queen. “This isn’t the time to train new staff. Marissa will do well as your First, and I’ll redistribute her work among the others. Adrianna will be back, Majesty. She is devoted to you, as are we all.”
Mara turned to her Staff Father. He had been so young when he came to the palace as an aide to her father. She remembered his eyes, wide open with awe and joy, and his easy laughter. Such a long time ago.
“I need your counsel, Robby, more than ever.”
He smiled. “No balls dropped. I think that will be our new motto, yes?”
“Majesty!” Jasper called from the other side of the room. “I found Captain Archer.”
The interface showed Jonathan’s head and shoulders. Stiff and formal, he scowled at the recorder. “Hoshi can’t tell me why you’re not receiving this in real time. She thinks there might be something wrong with the interface I left. If you ever get this message, I’m downloading some instructions for Jasper to try.”
He paused, looked down, then looked back into the recorder. “I don’t know who’s watching this message, but it’s for the Queen and it’s personal. Please take this to her now.”
He paused again and leaned forward. “Mara? I wish I could see your face. I’m sorry about the way we had to leave. I’m sorry we left such a mess for your people to deal with.”
Archer looked off to one side, his mouth working. “We’re all in shock here. Every time I talk to Admiral Forest, the number of estimated dead on Earth goes up. Three million, four million, no one really knows for sure yet. The probe that did this crashed, but the pieces were recovered. And the body of the alien pilot. Our Vulcan advisors can’t identify the species, and the technology is like nothing they’ve ever seen.
“It will take us several weeks to get back home. What I’m hoping is that Enterprise will be ordered to find the people responsible.” His jaws clenched.
“I’ve been in contact with the ambassador assigned to Callinda, Jason Running Bear. I briefed him on the situation there and the confusion we left behind. He’ll try to reach you through the interface, if we can figure out what’s wrong with it.”
He took a deep breath, let it out, and rearranged his face into something softer. “Before I left, you asked me to write you a poem.” He shook his head, a small, embarrassed smile touching his lips. “Here it is. Don’t expect too much.”
Looking into the recorder, his hazel eyes caught the light from his desk, turning them pale.I part the veil of stars
I swim between time and space
To find you.
I cut my mind in two
I bleed on hands and knees
To know you.
We dance in grass and snow
We crush the ancient walls
To become us.
Leaving, the stars collide; space/time runs out.
Leaving, half-minded, the bleeding never stops.
I dream of rain that cannot touch me
I dream of trees that cannot ease me
To bear the pain
To keep the pain.
Archer paused, his expression thoughtful, not quite embarrassed. Then he took a deep breath and sat back. “I hope you get this,” he said softly. “Send me a letter back if you do.”
His hand reached out, and the screen went dark.
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Click here to read Chapter 9.