Book 1: ExileChapter 1 - Awakening on Far Shores
The trilateral-limbed muddy-green looking aliens looked over the strange, iron and onyx object that had become unburied. It must have been during a mudslide from the last rains in the lush jungle of ferns and mosses. This had been known as a cursed place since anyone had remembered. It was even explained to the people from the stars.
They had just marked it on a map to check with their flying rafts. Such an interesting crater had probably been made by a meteorite over a thousand years ago in their minds.
But these unhuman siblings were not afraid of the warnings. Hopped up high on Mekoha, they felt invincible. They started to work with their pry bars at the edges with their three arms each. After seven long hours, with water starting to drip back down the washout, one of them hit something.
With a thundering boom of lightning, the huge, metal cask broke open just a flood of icy water roared down the gully. The two Medusans had only a moment to scramble for high land as the water hit, washing away everything. A pale hand was only visible for just a second.
Five miles later that hand caught a low hanging fern-like moss. Blue-green eyes stared into the wet gloom. "What a stench," she muttered. Someone had finally freed her? She dragged along the bottom of the spongy mass to higher ground, then set out to find a bit of shelter. But for the night she was cold and dreary in the lee of a land she did not recognize. She cataloged what she had, which was just the clothing on her back.
Dawn brought another cloudy day to her eyes, but something about the light did not look right. She was also seeing strange creatures that she was sure never existed on Earth. That caused her to frown as she skulked along the short mosses with a grace that even the local Medusans failed to note.
The bedraggled blonde headed to the nearest ridge to get a better view. At the top of the crest, she could just make out a few rough villages that reminded her vaguely of Native Americans due to the number of tents. It appears that the physics of tent building were fairly universal, as the wigwam-looking mounds gave off little trails of dark smoke.
She frowned at the furthest village across the flat valley on a low hill. There was a spire of metal with devices attached to it that she did not recognize. But they did not fit that location at all. Villages usually meant civilization of some sort and was better than just staying here. She started to snake through the peat moss and low ferns.
There were many more strange aliens in between her and that village, digging in the moss with a bronze-tipped pick-hoe of some sort, looking for edible insects and hiding creatures. The village probably only held up to five hundred, with a good portion much smaller in stature. The mosses had thinned out a little as children went about chores in stacking and chopping one of the many and varied types .
"Property of Manticore LTD.? In English? You have got to be kidding me," she murmured to herself. Walking out at an amble from behind one of the mounds that was one of their homes, she casually approached the antennae. And that's exactly what it was.
"Whatcha?" one of the Medusans asked.
"Just looking, if you don't mind. Ah, an emergency access hatch." It took her a few minutes to figure out how to get the panel to open (you had to hold the 'open' edge for three seconds and then it would slide.)
Unfortunately, she didn't look like she could do much other than cycle it on and off without some electronic tools that were more advanced than she had ever seen.
With an impish grin, she started to turn it on and off in a cyclic pattern.
Brian Jameston was a bit aggravated. Someone must be pulling a prank on him. Though slipping in a programmed timer on one of his relays up near the Mossyback Ridge was just petty. It was really little more than a transmitting weatherstation, but he had been sent by Mary to deal with the outage.
His battered old aircar landed in a field outside the Duqweig tribe. Strangely, he was not beset by the younger Medusans looking to see the 'alien' stranger to their world. His sturdy boot got some traction on the muddy moss plain and he saw something that sent a chill up his spine.
A young girl, probably no more than twelve or thirteen was wrestling with a native. Brian's hand dropped to his stunner, only to see the girl slap aside the trilaterlly symmetrical alien's nearest two arms, kick out the ankle of the nearest leg and send the Medusan sprawling.
"Fight good, you," the Medusan said as it struggled back to his feet.
The girl had a wide grin. "No hard feelings?" she asked in an archaic form of English.
Brian frowned at that. She sounded like she was speaking from an old holovid. He coughed, loudly, and caught a few of the natives attention.
"Brian? Girl... shewrpta your tower of metal," the tribal chief Oomptra called out.
"She was probably just trying to get my attention. There was an emergency transmitter in there, you know." The crusty old handyman said with a scowl at the girl. "Where are your parents? And what the heck are you doing so far out in the wilds here?"
"I didn't see how to mess with anything other than the on/off switch," the girl admitted as she tried to futilely tried to wipe some mud off her cheeks. "I'm afraid I have no idea where my family is. Or even where I'm at."
"Well, come over to my aircar and we'll call over to the NPA and start to figure this out." This girl was going to be a headache, Brian decided. The Native Protection Agency was going to have conniptions over this.
The office Sheila was sitting in was obviously prefabbed, yet much more advanced than anything she had ever seen as it was perfectly comfortable inside with only a trace of odor. The computer screens were clear glass panels that rolled out of their base while a soft voice of a computer talked to Brian's boss at the trading compound, Mary Tailor.
She was a severe, older woman with gray hair wearing comfortable denim work clothes. It was obvious that this trade was for natives, as the most advanced thing she saw was some sort of plow or shovels.
"So how did you get to the outback of Medusa?" Mary asked with a flat frown.
"Medusa?" the younger girl asked.
"Yes, the planet Medusa. A protectorate of the Star Kingdom of Manticore. Someone has been criminally lax in losing you. I'm afraid that an official investigation is going to have to happen," the older woman said as she entered in information into her keypad.
"So you can get me back to Earth? And do you happen to have the date handy?" she asked curiously.
"From Old Earth itself? I'm surprised... And the date is 1900 P.D.," Mary replied as she considered the matter, trying to pull up her records.
"P.D.?" Sheila thought for a second. "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that calender."
"I thought Earth used the Post Disporia calender?" A quick query on Mary's terminal and she had the conversion. "I guess its 4002 A.D."
"Two thousand years?" Sheila blurted out in shock. A shock that was just too great, as her eyes rolled up into her head and she fainted dead away.
"So that's the situation. The girl claims to be from Old Earth, but I suspect that is probably not the case until proven. I think she's confused and perhaps mentally distressed, so I'd like to look at transferring her the nearest clinic. It's possible she's fallen into someones hands and abused, though I can't see any wounds." Mary Tailor explained all of this, then shrugged her shoulders.
"I can certainly understand. I'd like to try and avoid any potential political fallout from having a Sollie hurt on planet. I can only imagine that someone would try to use it to pry myself or our Captain Harrington out of the system." Dame Estelle Matsuko frowned as she considered things. "Treat her with every courtesy, but I agree that she should be interviewed by Barney. This could be a kidnapping escapee that just dropped in our lap."
"I hadn't considered that possibility. So I'll get her transferred down to Dauguaar. That's our clinic up on the Three Forks. It's the closest clinic and from there it's not much more of a hop to the Enclaves if we need to move her again. Let me call Dauguaar Medical and I'll start the paperwork."
"Sounds like a plan, Mary. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Have a good day," the commissioner for Medusa said before signing off.
Mary sighed at the Manticorian crest on the screen, then stood up to walk to the little emergency medical bay where Terrance was treating the young headache.
"Hello, Mrs. Tailor. Sorry for fainting there, that was rather shocking." The young girl Sheila looked very distraught over her situation.
"We're going to be transferring you to Dauguaar Medical. It's only about a half an hour flight. Terrance, can you ask Brian to run her there? We could use the supplies Demetri said he was going to lay out for the medical bay," Mary explained to the two.
"Sure. Come on, Sheila. You can follow me," the part time medic said. He led her outside and to the aircar garage where Brian was currently up to his elbows working on an engine. "Hey!"
Brian looked up, his cool gray eyes taking in the girl. "I guess I got picked to take little miss princess someplace." He wiped some purple lubricant off his hands.
Sheila scowled at him, but refrained from inflaming his opinion.
Chapter 2 - Medical Translation
Sheila guessed it was a nice enough clinic, she just did not like the insinuation that she was 'insane' for thinking she had been stuck in stasis for the last two thousand years. Everyone seemed to think she was soft in the head, which was almost driving her to throw the first tantrum since she had been six years old.
Currently she was laying in a bed with little sensors attached to her head reading up on 'current' events, which was actually an electronic download of several history books worth of Anti Disporia knowledge. Doctor Eliza Blaine, her attending physician, had been in a few times, but had found no wounds or other trauma that could explain her story... other than she was lying.
Dr. Blaine was surveying her elevated brainwave activity. As far as he could tell, she should be nearly suffering a seizure of some sort, but she was perfectly content, just reading her books at a fairly fast, if not quite super-fast speed.
Suddenly, there was the sound of shouts and calls for the doctor.
Sheila stuck her head out to look down the hall, seeing one of the Medusans being laid out on stretcher and moved to a bed. It appeared he was in very bad shape and babbling.
"Mekoha poisoning?" one of the nurses called out.
"Yes, looks like it is pretty advanced. Anyone make out what he is saying?" Blaine asked even as they started to tie the native down. "Someone get a translator, ASAP."
"He's talking about how the infidels will be blasted-destroyed from the holy lands thanks to the... uh... protectors-haven that has brought them the holy enlightenment and weapons." Sheila listened for a little bit. "Now he's asking for his wife-mate. Now he's starting to go over the first part again, saying that a priest has promised them unlimited Mekoha if they help drive the monsters from the southern city-states."
"I thought you were from Earth?" one of the medics asked in stupefaction.
"I was stuck in that outback area, so I picked up a bit of their language. I have a very profound gift for languages," she replied blandly. It was usually better to downplay her supernatural gifts and they really did not need to know she could learn a language in just minutes of talking to someone. Reading and writing it took the normal amount of time, but she was still able to pick up whole languages in just weeks even then. "Hmm. He's talking about how the foriegn stinger-monsters will be killed by the time of Trajuden."
One of the doctors had pulled out his traveling pouch, frowning as he pulled out several items. "Ball bearings?"
"Looks more like a rifle shot for a musket, actually." Sheila took one lead ball and sniffed it. "Black powder. I thought the natives were at bronze-level technology?"
"I think we need to bring in the NPA in now," Blaine said carefully. "Keep writing down what he is saying."
Sheila shrugged. This was the most excitement she had since she had woken up in this time. Hopefully this was not everything to it.
Barney Isvarian was not terribly thrilled, but the information was possibly too critical. Finding out the Medusans had hundreds of these high powered, rifled muskets was enough to give him nightmares, especially after the disaster of the attack on the Mekoha lab. He rubbed at his too weary eyes fitfully.
His assistant opened the door to his crowded office and called out, "Sheila Henderson to see you."
"Thanks, Clyde. Appreciate that. Miss Henderson... I'd heard about you, of course. Young girls usually don't just show up out into the wilderness like that. Baroness Medusa personally informed me of your situation. Luckily, we should be able to get you back to Earth in just a few weeks." He shrugged at her questioning look. "We're just trying to find a reputable Solarian League or Manticorian freighter. But what I need to ask you about is what you supposedly got out of the Medusan. Because that's got the potential for real problems."
"It sounds like an attack on the off-world enclaves. I think someone miss-translated Manticore to them as a stinger-monster, because they don't have any profound understanding of human mythology." Sheila had to grin at that one. She herself had faced off against monster that most people only dreamed existed.
"That actually makes sense. So you speak their language? That's supposed to be hard to do," he noted. And shouldn't be possible without books from Manticore.
"I'm a bit of a hobbyist linguist. I speak about six languages fairly well. And they understood some English," she explained.
"That would make it easier. And with only two weeks... I have got to talk to the baroness. Would you mind hanging out in Clyde's office?"
Sheila stood up and walked back out, reading a news article on a portable pad.
It was only twenty minutes later and Barney came back out. "All right, come on with me. We've got to talk to the baroness... then we shall see about verifying your story a little closer."
The young hero shrugged and followed him out.
"This is neat! And you called this a pinnace? And it uses gravity stress-bands to pull the ship along while an inertial sump dampens the force of the acceleration?" Sheila chattered along about a day later.
"You are acting like you've never been in space before," Barney said as he rolled his eyes. He never enjoyed space travel himself. And she had to have gotten to Medusa by a shuttle or pinnace just like this.
"I haven't. So this is entirely new to me." She had her nose pressed up against the window as a massive space ship was being approached. "Is that Fearless?" It looked like a spindle with with rectangular 'hammer-head' at each end.
"Right. While they don't have a intelligence specialist, they want to go over everything while I discuss our plans to deal with with this attack." Barney was really glad that the Navy was here, as there extra marines were going to be very, very handy when it came to any heavy fighting.
He watched her closely out of the corner of his eyes as they landed in the aft docking bay and they were sealed together. "Careful with the switch to gravity at the red warning signs," the NPA leader said as he landed softly on the deck plat outside the hatch of the pinnace.
She landed easily, though it looked a little awkward. Sheila had never been more thankful for her supernatural agility. "You can't see outside much, can you?" she noted as she looked around.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Isvarian. And this is the young lady who has scrambled things up a little?" a furry contralto asked. Honor Harrington studied the young-looking girl even as she felt Nimitz, her tree-cat companion tense up and then dug his claws into her shoulder pad.
Something was upsetting Nimitz very severely, but he was not radiating anger or of danger... but rather wariness.
"Sheila Henderson, ma'am." The young girl's blue-green eyes were studying the creature on her shoulder rather intently. "I seem to have upset him?"
"We still don't really understand his race' tele-empathetic abilities, other than to know they actually exist. I'm going to have you go over the information you gleaned from the dying Medusan with my XO Lt. Commander McKeon while I discuss some matters with Mr. Isvarian." With a small gesture, she had the NPA administrator follow her along.
"Miss Henderson, if you could accompany me?" the tall man in the officer's uniform asked.
Sheila sighed, as it looked like she was going to be undergoing yet another 'debriefing' which was a polite, non-violent interrogation in all but name. Mentally, she grinned. It appeared that she was falling into a fateful event.
She was not very happy to discover that she was confined to the ship and her quarters. It appeared that she was at least slightly suspected of being in collusion with the insurgency happening on the planet.
"So what do you think of our guest, Alistair?" Honor asked her XO in her office.
"She seems to just be a bright young girl that has fallen into the thick of it. Her medical records confirm that she has not had the prolong treatment and shows no signs of plastic surgery. In fact, she's just been inoculated against all the current batch of bugs," he replied. "I could not get her to trip up on her story outside of normal statistics."
"Did she seem to be unhappy about being confined to quarters tonight?" the younger, though more senior, officer asked in her calm way.
"Not unduly. I guess she understood our concern that she could be a ringer. So our marines are set up to drop at a moment's notice to help the NPA stamp out this 'uprising'?" Alistair asked curiously.
"Yes. They are going to be sending out an aircar to overfly the region the Medusan was from, to see if they can spot any encampments out there. I'm still a bit worried about Sirius, though. We should be in position to get a hard sensor reading on her nodes in about an hour," the captain admitted. Damn Pavel Young for his complacency in just signing off on the paperwork without actually boarding the freighter. With that, she sent off her second in command, as he had his own duties.
An hour later, they had more questions than answers, as it was apparent that Sirius was nothing of a standard freighter, but most likely some sort of Q-Ship with hot nodes. The next day passed quite intensely as the marines were ready to drop at a moment's notice and hot bunked on the three pinnaces.
Both of the officers had momentarily forgotten about their guest when the flag went up. The natives were out of control and swarming towards the city-states to the far south; armed to the teeth with rifled muskets. The marines were launched rapidly while Sirius took off post-haste in an 'emergency' state. Honor then 'accidentally' damaged the Havenite's courier by blowing their impellers with her suicidally close brush and then took off in pursuit of the ship.
The Fearless took off after the enemy ship to force them to stand down. Down in her 'guest' quarters, Sheila frowned as the battlestations alarms were blaring. Waiting until they had faded, she tried to com anyone. It was over fifteen minutes later that she finally got a response from Ensign Prescott Tremaine. The young officer actually only looked a few years older than herself. "Miss Henderson? I'm coming in." The young officer entered, carrying a suitcase of equipment. He was wearing a fairly form-fitting spacesuit that she had learned was called a skinsuit.
Sheila was sitting on her bunk, trying to look very unthreatening. "I heard the battlestations alarm, and I felt some sort of vibration in the deck. Are we under way?"
"Yes, miss. And the captain wishes to apologize profusely, as she did not mean to leave you aboard a ship that is now going to enter battle. We should have moved you to a shuttle, but it slipped Lt. Commander McKeon's mind and now it is quite impossible. The shuttles just don't have the range of a ship or pinnace. I've been sent down here to make sure you understand how to use this vacuum suit. It's not as good as a skinsuit, but we'll have to make do." He shrugged in apology again.
Learning how to work it (and its plumbing connections) was a painful and embarrassing experience, but she was soon wearing the bulky outfit.
"Once again, ma'am, I do apologize. We'll try to end this peacefully, but Sirius is not responding to our hails except to 'flee' at top speed. So this may get more than a bit rough." With that, Prescott saluted and then left to go to his other duties.
Sheila frowned and then went to re-read the emergency manual on her spacesuit.
The ship rumbled from something shook the ship. Sheila tried to ignore it, until minutes later everything seemed to heave and the wall away from the doorway suddenly deformed as something fractured and slammed into it. She was slamming her helmet down, even as the room decompressed.
Red warning lights flared on the spacesuit's heads up display, showing that she was losing pressure. That was easy to see, as blood was spraying out a wound on her hip. The emergency tape for fixing her suit was in her hands and clumsily (for her, anyways) taping it closed.
The occasional shaking of the ship as more and more hits piled up. Fearless shook as it fought an overwhelming battle against a much tougher foe, as the Sirius actually had the firepower of a battlecruiser, if not the tough design of one. Gravity finally failed before someone checked the occupancy of her quarters.
The skinsuited petty officer flashed a light across the room, to see someone in an emergency spacesuit. "Hello?" he called out on the emergency frequency.
"I take it the fighting is over, one way or the other?" the girl's voice responded. "I'm not sure how much air my suit is good for, as I had to patch a hit on my leg."
"Oh, damn. You're the Sollie that the captain brought aboard? Why didn't the have you leave with a shuttle? Come on, I'll tell Chief Wilson that you're wounded."
"It's not too bad and I taped up the damaged part, but I think I missed a small cut somewhere." Sheila followed along behind him, passing work crews headed to another damage station. It was quite disconcerting to travel in zero-g in a barely lit environment, but her acute senses and sense of space stood her in good standing.
"Chief! I found our guest. She's wounded and needs to be checked out, as she took a hit and had to seal her suit."
Muretta Wilson looked up as the words filtered through her tired and fogged up brain. "Montoya is still in surgery, but we've got the sickbay pressurized and gravity back on there to about half a G."
"I'll escort her up," the enlisted sailor declared.
The travel up three levels and into a gravity area did not take long. A temporary air lock had been set up. Once they were inside, he took off as the cries of the wounded filled the cramped bay. Sheila unsealed her helmet and breathed the heavier, brackish air. "Thanks, Penton."
"God speed, ma'am." He was gone back to throw himself into his work.
"I told them to handle the walking wounded. Why aren't you in your skin suit?" the surgeon said as his assitant looked up.
"I don't have one, as I'm a civilian, sir," she called back. "I'm not badly hurt. I can at least help with first aid."
Montoya blinked and then realized where he had seen her before. She was the child that they had brought aboard with the sketchy background and supposed information on the native uprising that had been engineered. "Are you sure? We should probably check you out-" he started to say.
"Don't worry about me. I'm actually a lot tougher than I appear." She gave him an impish grin. She frowned as she looked over the nearest wounded. Without her owl necklace though, she would not be healing anyone.
Montoya was surprised two hours later as she helped keep two of his most wounded from bleeding out. She seemed to be able to hear their labored heart and detected where the emergency stitching had failed.
Two days later, when they were finally able to limp back close enough to Medusa to signal the Manticorian Home Fleet for much needed assistance. Captain Honor Harrington was putting together a side party with one very odd young girl in attendance. Her treecat was sitting on her shoulder, watching the scion in incredible intensity.
"Admiral Sir Thomas Caparelli arriving," the bosun called out as the hatch opened. The electronic bugle sounded out as the stout admiral flipped to the gravity landing with long.
"Captain Harrington, it's good to see you. It seems you set off a landmine in front of everyone this time. And for good reason," the stout, yet tall man said as he saluted. "This is Lt. Commander Fortes with the Office of Naval Intelligence. He's here to take your young charge off your hands."
"Thank you, admiral. Lt. Commander, as a personal request I would ask that you treat Miss Henderson quite kindly, as she has helped save at least four of my crew. We owe her a profound apology for getting her hurt in a situation she should never have been involved in." Honor's furry contralto conveyed nothing but her sincerity.
"I'll see what I can do. From what I have heard, she helped uncover this operation." Fortest was a shorter man, thin almost to a sickly level for pale blonde hair.
Surgeon Lt. Montoya stepped up and saluted. "I'd like to offer my personal thanks to her, too. She really chipped in for a civilian."
"I'll see to it," Caparelli promised. "Miss Henderson, if you would accompany Commander Fortes?"
That helped get her released and sent to Manticore with only a minimun of fuss.
Chapter 3 - Integration
Landing, Planet Manticore.
Sheila was lugging a small suitcase behind her to her temporary lodgings in a fairly spartan motel almost three hundred stories up in the contra-gravity tower. The gigantic buildings were a bit of a shock as they were over a thousand meters wide and almost two kilometers tall, but she understood the need. The room was actually fairly large and comfortable, but did not have a real window. She was just opening her suitcase when there was a chime at the door.
She went over, checking the little security camera, frowning when she saw a Solarian League naval captain with long, dark hair in a pony tail. "Hello?" she asked as she keyed open the door. "Oh."
"Yes, 'oh.' You certainly kicked over a hornets nest, didn't you?" the woman said with a small smile.
"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage," Sheila said carefully.
"That's right, you were taken hostage before you got very fully involved in the Second Titan's War. I'm your older sister, Britannia. I've been directed to explain that you can not return to Earth. Part of the deal that Sly Lokison dealt to the Pantheons was that you were to never return to Earth... upon pain of death... for his help in binding the Greater Titans again."
Sheila was thinking very fast and furiously. "So Loki's son has learned of a prophecy that has me in the starring role of killing him?"
"Quick on the uptake. That's what we surmise, but we had thought you dead or imprisoned someplace where no human or god could find you. Which appears to be a backwater planet with its own, non-human gods," Britannia explained with a tight smile.
"So, will Earth formally declare that I've been exiled upon pain of death? And what of my school records? I'd rather not have to entirely do my education over," Sheila asked. High school had been a torture at nine years old. "Can I at least get enough backing to get into the school of my choice on Manticore?"
"That's all been handled, just as we expected you to demand. The least we can do in this case. I'm sure it will bring up more questions, but that really isn't my problem." With that, the Goddess of Britain disappeared in between one eye blink and another.
"Dammit, mother. Couldn't you have informed me in person? Or did you even survive the last war?" With that, Sheila flung herself on her back to lay on the large bed, next to her suitcase. She needed a plan.
She got back up and quickly and efficiently emptied her suitcase of the bare essentials of clothing and hygiene. Then she turned to the work desk, familiarizing herself with the computer systems. "Holotank on. Search, historical documentaries concerning Earth and Anti-Disporia four hundred years to present." Behind her, the holo tank system turned on, starting to play the current version of the History Channel.
That was where she was three hours later when her door chimed again. "Holo tank pause," she called out, heading to the door. "Baroness Medusa! This is a surprise."
The noble nodded her head at Sheila quick curtsey. "I'm back her conferring with her Majesty about the Medusan situation. As you are still under my guardianship until tomorrow morning, I thought I'd drop by on my way home to see how you are doing?"
"I'm fine, milady. I've just received some distressing news from Earth. It appears I may have to seek asylum here, so I'm looking at educational options for a very young and out of work college graduate with incredibly aged skills." She shrugged and then led her over to the small chairs.
"The timing on that is impossible. Earth should just be hearing about the Medusa incident," Estelle said after a long moment. Earth was about ten days in hyperspace... both ways. The Basilisk incident had just happened only eleven days ago.
"They must have used a seer. I've been exiled from Earth upon pain of death. Though it looks like they were nice enough to send my transcript records from the University of Illinois and Berkeley. So at least I'll have my bachelors. I probably will need to bone up on modern technology and techniques. I'm pretty sure my medical degree is completely out of date. At least the mathematics on my engineering degree-"
The noble coughed slightly. "I thought you were only twelve?"
"About twelve and a half." Sheila gave the older woman a considering look. "I graduated from the University of Illinois about six month ago (to me) with a degree in mathematics, engineering and internal medicine. I never had the opportunity to intern. I was also working on my political science and history degrees."
"I take it that was not very normal for someone your age," the baroness mused. A child genius with that sort of ability would make headlines anywhere. Of course, it could be totally untrue.
"No, I was a bit of a prodigy and my family pushed me very hard to excel. A normal schooling would be counter productive to me, I believe."
"Interesting. I expect to hear interesting things from you. I had better head off."
Sheila showed her to the door, then went right back to her studying.
The haggard public servant hit the caller button on the motel room door. It was opened promptly by the young girl he had come here to see. "Sheila Henderson? I'm Martin Bradwick, from the consul of foreign services for the Queen."
"Mr. Bradwick, please come in," she replied brightly and politely. She gestured him over to the small desk with two uncomfortable looking chairs.
"If you could explain this paperwork that we received from the Solarian League concerning yourself. We're not even sure how they knew of your situation, much less sent such exacting paperwork." Martin took a deep breath. "In fact, they seem to state preposterious impossibilities."
"Let me guess... that I was born hundreds of years before even the first slowship left Earth or even cryogenics were invented. That I was emancipated with a full college education, then a litany of strange inquiries dealing with exploding cars and houses?" Sheila asked with an arched eyebrow. "And that I am somehow Persona Non Grata on Earth and possibly even the Solarian League?"
The civil servant blinked as he took it all in. "In slightly stronger terms. They stated that you have been exiled upon pain of death, with the signature of the standing President of the United Nations of Earth." He noted her tightening the muscles in her jaw and her neck.
"Yes, that's what I was told of last night. It appears a deal was cut and I was the price for a peace for my family," Sheila said in an short manner, her strange accent causing it to be hard to understand her. "Will Manticore accept me as a political exile?"
"Yes. My superior has no problem with that. I'm not sure we'll honor the emancipation. We may have to have you take a competency test and attend a hearing. Then we can look at some options to get you situation and into school." Martin leaned back as his dark eyes studied her even more closely.
"I have some ideas, but I'll need to see about getting my high school equivalency. I'm not sure I want to get back into college, so I may look at alternate post-schooling options. I have a lot of time to catch up on," she mused as she seemed to sink into the uncomfortable chair.
"I've set up a doctor's visit. He'll probably have you undergo the second generation prolog treatment. You are barely young enough for that and it's standard to all Manticorian citizens." Martin stood up and slicked back his slightly curly hair into a damp mat on his head. "So I suppose I'll be seeing you tomorrow. Here's a credit chit for food."
"Thank you," she replied.
Sheila was very happy to be out of her room. The transport system seemed very logical and she had planned her trip accordingly. Ten minutes later she was exiting the six-axis elevator that had taken her down to the ground level. It was only a short walk to a massive and fairly forbidding building that stated itself as Roger High School.
The polished stone walls had large banners dedicated to a dance that was upcoming. The office had large rows of windows that showed the lines inside for the staff to see out into the main foyer.
"Can I help you?" a middle-aged man behind a counter said.
"Yes, I have an appointment to take the General Equivalency?" the young girl explained with a query.
"Well, you are the only one we're testing right now. So Ursas will accompany you. The test should take about eight hours," the office worker explained.
Lou Ursas then took her down a hall to a locked door and into a testing room with twenty computer stations. After about ten minutes of instructions (which he noted she followed very closely) he left her to it. He sat at the overseer desk in the corner to maintain his supervision. He had barely sat down when he frowned at the speed which with she was inputting the information on the mathematics test. He checked the rooms sensors, but did not detect any signals. Cheating with a portable computer was very easy to do sometimes, which meant that they had to watch for it closely. With a shrug, he activated the recorders.
Thirty minutes later he frowned as she started her English comprehension course. That went even faster. After that she was into mechanical and electronic engineering, which she slightly slowed down. By this time, Lou had already flagged for assistance in monitoring. By the end, even the Dean of the school was keeping abreast of what was occurring in Test Room 3.
Five hours later, Lou was looking at her records. They were not quite perfect, but they were better than he had seen of students that had dropped out and needed the Equivalency to get a job. He stood up as she finished. "I'm quite impressed, that's a fairly good score."
"I'm sure I didn't know at least six percent of the questions," she grumbled. "But I only had a few days to bone up on a basic education."
"A few... days?" Lou asked curiously.
She shrugged. "You've got my com code to send my results?"
"That's correct. Let me see you out," the school officer said, escorting her to the main entrance. "Well, I guess I won't be seeing you in the fall for school then."
"Thanks," she replied with a grin. She sent a glance over at the military recruitment office as she ambled towards the doors. Turning, she hit the admittance bell when she saw a few officers at their desks. "Hello."
"Ah, a junior? Come on in and we can explain how you can see the galaxy," the short, broad man behind the desk. "Sgt. Klein at your service."
"I actually graduated from high school about two years ago," she said with a shrug, specifically not mentioning her age.
"Really? Third generation prolong, I take it? Well, anyways what are you interested in?" the sergeant asked.
"The navy actually. My mother was in the military back on Earth, so I kind of feel obligated to follow in her steps a bit. Can I look over the requirements for entering the service? My paperwork for my asylum should be processing soon and I'd like to get in as quickly as possible." At his questioning look, she continued as she sat on the edge of his desk. "I've been exiled from my planet of birth, so I'm looking for a post education option in my life."
"Well, the basic Navy requirement isn't too high. You have to have at least a degree to enter the officer program. What sort of education do you have?" Signing up an officer, even for another branch, would net him a good bonus. So Alvin Klein was quite happy.
"I've got several bachelors degrees. Political Science, Internal Medicine, History and Mathematical Engineering," she explained carefully.
Klein whistled at that. "Well, let's get started on your paperwork."
Waiting rooms had not really changed in the several thousand years, Sheila discovered. She slouched in the fairly comfortable leather-feeling couch while listening to a newshead on a holo tank that was complaining about the Manticorian Navy's actions that had led to the destruction of the Sirius. Sheila snorted at his commentary. If he had been there, he would not be nearly as forgiving in her opinion.
"Sheila? The doctor will see you," a voice called out, directing her to a door.
A small floating droid led her down to an examination room to start a battery of tests by the medical assistants and two doctors.
"I thought your medical file said you had been immunized at Medusa?" Dr. Roberts asked, frowning a bit which made her face look cute.
"I was." Sheila considered that. She had never thought about being immune to immunization, though conversely it made sense as most Scions were immune to 'mortal' diseases. "My immune system is really efficient," she said evasively.
"Well, we can't give you a second dose of those for two more months, but we really need to get your Prolong treatment set up." The doctor looked up to give her a quick smile. "It's a general out patient procedure, we'll just need to have a check up in a few months to see how the process worked out."
"Of course." Would her immunity to normal diseases affect this treatment, Sheila wondered to herself even as several injections were administered.
The rest was just paperwork, filling in the spaces and crossing the T's and dotting the I's. Once she was finished she took the elevator down to the ground level and started jogging back the three miles from the clinic she had been referred to. As she moved through the light foot traffice, she tried to gauge her own body. She pushed back the bitter thought of the Prolong treatment failing and herself aging just like any other normal person.
Her jaw clenched as she considered that, then pushed her worries back. She was not fully mortal, after all. The daughter of Athena Parthenos and her will could do amazing things. She tried to force her body to accept the new 3rd generation treatment. The ichor within her body pulsed and pounded as she felt the slight burn of exertion; the black and infinite colored blood of her divine spark flared.
And it responded, though it would take her over a decade to realize her youthful folly, as her aging just stopped.
Martin Bradwick was perplexed about this case. Like he had told Sheila a week ago, Manticore was more than happy to accept her request for asylum. He just had no idea what the bright, young twelve year old girl lost in time had done to deserve such treatment from Old Earth. He hit the buzzer on the hotel room door. Normally he would just phone over, but he had official paperwork that had to be witnessed.
"Mr. Bradwick! A pleasure to see you again," the girl said with a stunning smile. "Come on in, of course." Somehow she made the fairly generic slacks and T-shirt that she was still forced to wear look reasonably good.
"Well, I have good news for you, as it appears your requests are mostly being granted. I'm not sure how I feel about your emancipation, but your testing showed a fairly high degree of adult thinking. Your equivalency testing scores were frankly amazing. If there had not been direct, physical oversight on your testing, their would have been calls to have you retested. The scores weren't perfect, but they were much higher than expected." Bradwick frowned as he pulled up a last list. "Now this is quite odd. You want to join the Navy?"
"That's correct. From what I can see, I should be capable of it. I'm emancipated and physically in the same bracket as most of the prospective students," Sheila explained. That had been a lucky break, as there had been a legal precedent set up for 3rd generation prolong recipients who were physically at her stage of physical development. It was actually illegal to refuse entry to someone based on their physical-appearing age. And her ability to do the actual entry-level athletics was incredibly simple for her.
"I think you are going to be the youngest student in decades, but that's going to be for the review board. Though I'm wondering how you got Lord Hudson to sign off promoting you for the officers course," the civil servant said as he slid over a pad for her to 'sign' across the small motel table. He had to grin as he saw her start to go through the legal papers, paging through the information at a rapid pace. "That actually has some of the Admiralty looking at your paperwork very closely."
"Well, I've always been a bit of a prodigy," she said absently. "Hmm. This says if I can pass the basic physicals of boot camp, I can gain a late entry to Saganami. I think I'd like to do that."
"Well, then... I guess I'll get an aircar taxi rented so you can get there." Bradwick shook his head as the pure, blinding speed that she had broken through red tape at multiple levels.
"Um, sure." They shook on it and he checked over the paperwork. "I see you are planning on becoming a full citizen. Well, I hope you are able to succeed, Miss Henderson."
"I will, Mr. Bradwick. That's a promise."
Chapter 4 - Academy Beginnings
Sheila stepped out of the automated taxi, wincing at the cost she had incurred as she looked around the pre-dawn campus. They were fairly spartan, even as she took in the massive central tower. That seemed to be something of a norm, to build as tall as possible. Of course, you could fit an awful lot of people in a building that was a thousand feet square and over two thousand feet tall (even if slightly hollow). And with the addition of aircar garages at convenient levels, the problem of too many elevators was slightly curtailed. The fact that they were like the Star Trek lifts that could slip around each other probably helped immensely.
She walked across the grass quad to the visitors entrance, interrupting to petty officers behind the counter as they talked about a 3D drama. The young woman smiled at her. "Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm trying to be admitted. I guess they have a physical assessment test this morning for people going through boot camp and I'm willing to attempt it to get into Saganami as quickly as possible," Sheila explained.
"And the rest of your luggage?" the petty officer asked concisely as she brought up the records. "Ah, there you are Sheila. Let me send a message to the training officer and I'll have a remote show you the way. His name is Chief Oslo."
"This is everything I own. I'm a bit of a political exile so I don't have anything else," Sheila noted as a very small drone floated up.
"Then you are set. Be back here so we can have you go through some aptitude tests and placement."
Sheila nodded and started to trot off. Best to get there quickly. The drone led her at a rapid pace, adjusting to her speed. Sheila just made it to the barracks where her trainer was just exiting.
"Well, at least you can run," the mahogany-skinned, thickly muscled man chief petty officer called out. His head was quite shaved and almost shiny. "Leave your luggage with the warden." He did not appear to be happy to see her.
Sheila caught up to the group of teen-looking midshipmens, falling into place. They hit a storehouse which outfitted them all with backpacks and she was given a uniform to change into right there, which totally mortified her. She had read up on the service and that it was fully co-ed with little nudity taboos given credence.
"All right, you slugs. You are going on a thirty kilometer hike up to Farton Hill. At that point, those of you that have not quit, you will be do a battery of physical tests until you puke. Do you understand me?" CPO Oslo shouted. "Now move out."
He led the way up the hill, jogging easily at the front of the fifty candidates.
After ten kilometers, he was unsurprised when an overweight kid wanted a break. He jogged back to the worried and panting Hispanic kid. "If you stop, you wash out and get to do basic training over. Do you understand, maggot?" Oslo shouted.
"Yes, sir!" he replied.
After another two kilometers the kid dropped off, admitting defeat much to Oslo's disdain. Three more dropped out after the twenty kilometer mark. His dark brown eyes studied the girl at the very far back wearing a slightly too loose outfit. Sheila was barely sweating and was scanning the area more like a trained solider than a candidate for a naval academy.
At the top of the hill, all of the candidates were breathing heavily except for Sheila. Oslo trotted up to her. "You, miss, will be the first through the obstacle course."
"If you wouldn't mind telling me the course really quick, sir. I would not want to fail because I did not understand the path, sir!" she shouted right back.
"Well, son of a bitch. You actually got a brain and some guts, girl. Very well, this course is U-shaped and passes the sensor building down about a kilometer and then ends right over there," he said, pointing towards two metal posts about two hundred feet away. "On your mark, get set... go!"
As obstacle courses went, this was fairly standard. You had to crawl under wire, then climb a wall, slosh through a muddy pond on the far side, navigate a rope bridge, swinging bars and then trot through fake tires (which Sheila assumed was because rubber tires were not actually used these days) in staggered patterns.
Oslo's expression was comical from where he was sending his fifth officer candidate to begin the course. But she was now in the hands of a older and even more tough looking petty officer with the name Savaro at the end of the course.
"Drop and give me a hundred pushups," Savaro shouted at the end of the line. She nodded appreciatively as the girl moved out of the end course and started her push-ups with no problem. She nodded again as the girl called them out. "All right, a hundred sit-ups." After that, she had Sheila stand at attention. "Well, you actually are something. You pass the physical. In fact, you might have set a record."
Sheila frowned at that as she had held back a bit there. She moved to sit in the shade as about three-quarters of the class passed.
Oslo and Savaro rounded everyone up, doling out very small praise. "You all finally passed. The only one here that I'm actually impressed with is our newest midshipwoman, who broke the top record by five seconds. You from a high gravity world, Henderson?"
"No, sir. I'm from Earth." She was at stiff attention, though had not allowed her knees to lock.
"Earth? Well, I guess that does rule that out," Oslo said with a smirk. "You are all released to grab some grub. Make sure to pass off your pack to the quartermaster."
They all shouted, "Yes, sir!" and then headed over to wait for a hover ATV.
"Savaro? I'm supposed to head back to processing for some aptitude testing. Should I head out to do that now?" she asked curiously.
"I'll let Oslo know."
Sheila dragged herself to her new spartan quarters in the evening; a room she was sharing with a short, dark-haired girl that only looked just a year or two older than her. "Hello," she called out as she greeted her new roomie. "I'm Sheila."
"Daria Golds," the other girl called out. "I see they decided to inflict another roomie on me." She did not appear very pleased with the change in her situation. "I'm in first form, just started two months ago."
"I just started today, so I'm behind the curve. But I'm not one for wasting time," she replied impishly. "I have the right bunk?" She keyed in her personal code and slid in her locker.
"You passed the basic physical?" Daria asked her curiously.
"I'm a runner, so that marathon really wasn't too tough for me," the blonde explained easily. She smoothed her simple black midshipwoman's uniform and then slipped off the black beret.
"Well, that would make it easier. The hill is really designed to grind you down."
Sheila gave her a considering look. "That's a Landing accent, correct?"
"Right. I can't place your own accent though." And that intrigued the girl, obviously.
"Ah, I'm from Old Earth. And just out of stasis, so my accent is very old," she replied airily. "So what officer track are you looking at?"
"Probably engineering. And you?" Daria asked politely.
"I believe I can pull off the tactical track." In fact, Sheila was pretty sure she could actually succeed at any of them, but for her plans she could not be shackled to a station repairing ships for 30 years.
"That's a fast way to get killed in the war everyone knows is coming," the other girl snorted as she went back to her reading on a portable pad.
"I thought they said a war was unlikely?" Sheila pulled out her own reading and picked up where she had been working on the military code.
"The People's Republic has been expanding in this direction for decades. With them having grabbed San Martinos, they've bumped against us a bit. And the wormhole junction is a unique resource that could help their money problems." The dark-haired girl shrugged without looking up.
"Yeah, I've just started updating myself with hyperdimensional math. The wormhole junction looks like a very interesting exploration of theory into real life." That was what she was currently reading at this point.
Honor Harrington stepped out of the gravlift and to the ATC Commandant's floor. Admiral Raoul Courvosier's personal assistant let her in immediately.
"Admiral Courvosier, I'm glad I could get down here as quickly as possible. I'm afraid Hephaestusis going to just pile on the bad news about the Fearless, but I want to be there in person when they do." Honor shook hands with her old teacher.
"It's sad when they do, but I've heard rumors that if they do, there will be another Fearless fairly fast," the small, balding man said with a small, sad smile. "I actually wanted to talk to you in person about someone you advocated even as you handed her over to the Office of Naval Intelligence for a debriefing."
"Sheila Henderson? As far as I could tell, she just happened to be a civilian ended up in the thick of that mess." Honor frowned as she sat down in the leather chair across from the admiral's desk. The stunning vista of Jason's Bay could be seen far below. "Actually, I think Baroness Medusa mentioned something that she was seeking asylum, but that was a few weeks ago." And why would a commandant of Saganami be curious?
"The reason, which I can see you are so curious about, is that Miss Henderson gained her asylum and entered Saganami in what is probably the greatest failure of red tape outside of martial law," Raoul said with an impish grin.
"A late entry? I suppose that is possible during the fitness portion. Not everyone passes that in the first month," Honor noted aloud. "So she is she going through the boot camp portion to enter the academy?"
"No, she passed that on the first day, breaking the old men's record by five seconds. So the marine detachment is a trifle upset that she wants to be a vacuum head. Not that he would use that term with myself."
"That's... impressive. I take it you want to watch her closely?" The young captain was quite intrigued indeed.
"Yes, and to get your insight onto her character. From everything I've heard from her teachers and fellow students, she has a mind like a trap and is amazingly perceptive. Well, I guess you don't have a lot to add, so how about an invitation to the officer's dining room?" The cherubic admiral stood up and gestured to the door.
"I'd be delighted, admiral!" It would be nice to reconnect with her mentor.
Sheila followed the taller students ahead of her. It had finally leaked out to the rest of the midshipmen just how young Sheila actually was. There had been a few hazing attempts that had ended badly... for the bullies in question. According to the other first years students, she must have eyes in the back of her head. None of the bruised and battered bullies believed her when she said she was from Old Earth either, thinking she must be from a heavy gravity world somewhere.
The entrance into the Introduction to Multi-Dimensional Mathematics class was fairly loud. Most of the students were older, but there were a few seventeen year olds that were playfully shoving up against each other. There was an actual window view of the rolling hills as the sun was rising. She headed up to the front where the teacher was pulling up his class notes on his station. "Mr. Borgea? I was wondering if I could get some hints on a project I'm working on?"
"What sort of project?" the balding man asked.
"I was looking to try my hand at mapping out the wormhole junction using the original survey information and only using the techniques pioneered on the previous wormholes," she explained as she showed her display pad. "I'm trying to avoid reading how the team did it, but I think I'm reaching a road block."
"There must be something wrong, you have two too many termini," Borgea noted as he scritched his short, groomed beard.
"I think that parts right, but I don't have detailed enough information to refine with my calculations. I asked Ramius Fulton about the possiblity of other terminus points and he said it was possible, if unlikely that we could define them at this point," Sheila noted as she mentioned one of the Fourth Term students that would be shortly shipping out on his Middie cruise.
"Let me take a look at your original data then," the teacher asked. As he pulled up the information, he frowned. "This doesn't look right. The gravity stress fracture information is far too crude. And you got that information... Oh, I see. This is the preliminary survey from the 15th century. You need to get the Warshiwinski reading from the 16th century just before the first wormhole to Beowulf was discovered." Borgea had the information set up and sent to her. "You seem to have some interesting thoughts on the math, so I'd like to see what you get finally."
"It'll be a week until I can get some time on a main-frame to run the calculations, but this information should allow for a lot greater detail. I think it will show at least one more wormhole, though a second one could just be an echo (so to speak) of the bad data."
"Perfect. Take your seat, I do have a class to run." He grinned at the girl.
The rest of the class was dreadfully dull, as Sheila finished the astrogation chart and course within ten minutes. That left her the rest of the period to work on her project. The bell rang and she headed to one of her physical education classes. This semester, she was going to be in the fencing course.
After a quick change, she ended up in the line facing their teacher with all of the midshipmen. Out of the corner of her left eye, she saw one of the upper years (who was almost thirty years old) that she vaguely remembered was named Fredrick Grant of Gryphon. She hid a frown, as it appeared that in the last two days he had gained six inches (which he was trying to hide with slouching) and his muscles were much more heavily defined.
And that indicated to her a magical change. Probably ichor from either a Jotun, a Norse giant, or from a Norse god. Unhappily, she considered the fact that either one would likely want her dead. So this was likely to end in bloodshed.
The instructor was splitting the students up by skill brackets, where Sheila was ending up in the third top brackets already. "Sheila and... fine, Fredrick."
They both took their positions with the fencing sabers that were the standard swords. Sheila sighed as she saw the cruel gleam. "This not going to end well."
That seemed to surprise Fredrick, but he really did not care that much. He lashed out with his brutish strength, only to be surprised when she met his blade with a clatter, though did not fully match his size and strength.
The clash of swords in a loud, staccato beat filled the air as Fredrick did his level best to try and kill the much smaller and younger looking girl, a sneer on his face the entire time. Daria noted her roomie being beaten back, fighting defensively and pushed out of the painted ring on the pad without even a pause. In fact, the entire class was distracted by the very epic looking sword fight that was rapping non-stop across the mats.
"Sheila! You are out of your ring! Point and match goes to Fredrick." When their fight did not stop, the instructor started to get mad. "Stop that this instant! The match is over." He stomped over to step in the way.
Sheila tried to skirt away, but Fredrick's teeth were bared in a rictus of pure rage. With a sweep of his inhumanly muscled arms, he decapitated the offending instructor instantly with his dulled practice saber. A spray of blood coated the two nearest midshipman.
That caused several of the midshipmen to scream even as the assistant instructor started to move up to intercede.
Something had to be done. Sheila suddenly shouted out, "Someone get a Marine with a stunner! And evacuate the gym!" without a single pause as they continued to fight. She suddenly went on the offensive, slashing out to the little effect she was able to inflict. Cuts appeared on his practice garb, but it only caused light welts to appear on his supernaturally tough skin.
There was a quick stampede of the midshipmen, while the assistant instructor hit an alarm on her portable computer pad on her wrist while moving to a weapons locker. She was just opening it when she was speared from behind by a saber, thrown by the red-headed brute. Fredrick started to dash over, only to be passed by the much faster girl in a blur.
Sheila grabbed a stunner, flicked the selector to max and then leveled it at the charging berserker. The weapon hummed ominously as she zapped him three times in rapid succession. He was just raising his fist to attack when she shot him twice more, sending him sliding across the floor and then into the wall unconscious. With that, Sheila tossed the slightly smoking weapon to the ground.
"What sort... of monster... is he? One of those shots... should have take him out," Marilyn gasped out as she held her hand to her chest wound.
"He had been made into a minor Jotun. Which means my enemies have decided they want me dead." Sheila was frowning and did not even realize she had spoken aloud. She then turned to render first aid, as Marilyn was bleeding out.
Chapter 5 - Getting Noticed
All of Saganami was depressed for over three weeks. Fredrick Grant was being charged with murder and attempted murder, though Sheila had a suspicion that the charges probably would only stick due to the eye witnesses. Not that the fire-giantling cared, as he had fallen under the sway of Sly Lokison.
Sheila had answered any question put to her as truthfully as possible. The Judge Advocate was a bit unpleased that she insisted she did not know exactly why, but she assumed it dealt with her natural family and their enemies... even after two thousand years. If it had not been for her astounding academic record while at Saganami, they probably would have recommended that she be discharged.
So she and Darla were quite surprised when they were both rousted out of bed ten minutes before their wakeup call at 5:20am.
"This is Lt. Commander Deitrich Hansel with the Office of Navel Intelligence. Open up in the name of the Queen!" came the shout at the door.
Sheila was over and answering the door, saluting as sharply as her fogged up brain could muster. Daria had thumped to the floor between their beds in a tangle of her blanket even as several men invaded their room.
"Midshipwomen Henderson and Golds, you will dress yourself and prepare for a debriefing. You are to touch nothing in this room other than your clothes," Hansel barked out. His tanned skin made him look like weathered leather, with a shock of dark hair under his beret.
Out in the hallway Rear Admiral Courvosier looked ready to chew nails.
"Dammit, Sheila, what the hell did you do this time?" Daria groused half awake as she started to scramble into her day uniform.
"I doubt that Commander Hansel wants us to chit-chat, Midshipwoman Golds," Sheila replied muzzily.
"Midshipwoman Henderson is quite correct. You will only respond if spoken to, is that understood?" Hansel barked out, his cold blue eyes studying them very intently.
Courvosier coughed slightly behind him as his men took every single electronic device out of the room.
With a repressed sigh, the commander continued in a more moderate tone. "To put your mind at ease, you two have done nothing wrong, but this is a matter of most pressing secrecy. Vice Admiral Patrick will be asking you some questions and as long as you answer them promptly and truthfully, everything should turn out perfectly fine."
They found themselves in a locked and marine-guarded conference room with no windows, awaiting the very high ranking officer in the form of one Vice Admiral Adam Patrick, Second Lord of the Admiralty. He doffed his beret and looked at the two of them. "Midshipwoman Daria Golds, you are free to leave as soon as you sign a writ that lets you know about what matters you will never discuss with anyone of lesser rank than captain of the list." He slid the data pad over so that Daria could view the information. "You will however have to speak to the Commandant about an empty package with drug residue."
Daria gulped and saluted. "Yes, sir." She started to read her papers very quickly. It was confusing to her, telling that she would not discuss matters of Sheila's homework. "Ma'am, I couldn't even understand some of her homework."
"It doesn't matter. Do not discuss it even obliquely or I'll have you in front of a military tribunal for a court martial so fast you'll think you got whiplash." Patrick's brown eyes were very unfriendly.
"Yes, sir!" Daria quickly scribbled her signature.
"You are free to go to your first class. Do not go back to your room before lunch." The vice admiral then turned to Sheila as Daria almost scampered out the door. "And now for my true headache. First your application raised all sorts of red flags, then the attempted murder and now... you discover something so immense that it could affect Manticore in a truly profound way. Midshipwomen should not be bringing themselves to the attention of the Lords of the Admiralty."
"The new wormhole junctions I discovered? I would think think that the monetary value for trade would be- No, this has to do with the upcoming war with the People's Republic. Manticore does not have the resources to blockade the additional 'Beta' wormhole termini. I hadn't even considered that aspect, just the fact that transit times were going to be reduced within one hundred light years and that last long distance termini out on the western periphery of the Solarian League." Sheila was now rapidly thinking things over.
"Exactly. Her Majesty has been in meetings this morning with the Lord of the Admiralty. I can't see any way that we can not try to take advantage of this. But that's only true if it is a secret. Who else have you told of your project?" Patrick asked in a hard, flinty tone. His gray hair added a certain gravity to the situation.
"I did not make it a secret but only Midshipwoman Golds and Mr. Borgea have actually seen the papers." Sheila was going through her memories. "And his teaching assistant for some help in interpreting the old surveys that I used for my thesis."
The admiral nodded finally. "And the computer you used for the data crunching?"
"Oh, I used the tactical computer system over a week during their night shift. I wasn't under any rush and I had to use the free resources. I can't think that anyone would be able to figure out what my jobs were from those logs, but you should be able to check the logs to see if anyone accessed it."
"Very well, midshipwoman. You are also going to fall under the Official Secrets Act. Though I dare say you are probably going to be dragged from your classroom to teach some professors a little bit about how you figured out how to do all that with old inaccurate data." Givens stood up and accepted the salute from the midshipwoman, sending her on her way.
Queen Elizabeth III sat in her waiting room for her prime minister to appear. They had some very important matters that had developed abruptly. She was only here with one person at this time in the private sitting room of the Queen Chancellery, fitted with blue decor that was so common of the Blue Hall.
Allen Summervale, the rake-thin Duke of Cromarty, was admitted by her marine detachment. He bowed deeply, "Your majesty."
"Oh, posh. This is a bit informal, Allen." She directed him to sit on the couch near her for close seating. "Allen, you know Mitchell Anderson, the Judge Advocate General in charge of that murder that happened in Saganami?"
Allen shook hands with the thin man in an expensive suit. "A dreadful thing. I heard he killed an instructor with a training sword."
"And we might have to drop all charges against him," Mitchell said with a sour frown. "You would think forty eye witnesses and three cameras recording would be enough to nail him..."
"I think I hear a 'but' coming," Allen said as he settled down in the plush couch.
"Yes, indeed. I actually had forensic looking into how hard it would be to decapitate a human with a training sword. It doesn't even seem possible. Cut his neck, yes. But actually remove a head? Supposedly impossible. The other midshipwoman actually defeated him by shooting him five times with the stunner set to its most strong setting. Actually burned it out."
The prime minister frowned at that. "I thought the highest settings could cause heart attacks if multiple shots like that were used.
"He was only out for an hour and almost escaped before an armored marine broke his arm," the prosecutor explained.
"My word, that does sound terrifying. But chopping of a head with that sword must have been possible, he did it after all." Allen looked a bit confuse, an unusual look for the soft-seeming politician.
"It's not humanly possible, Allen," the queen explained. "And neither was what the young midshipwoman he was fighting did either."
"May I show him, your majesty?" Mitchell stood up and went to a concealed holo tank emitter. He inserted a data pad and activated the unit.
The scene of the students arriving in the gym to start their sparring with blunted sabers showed, quickly focusing in on the brutish looking highlander starting to flail at the smaller and much slighter girl. The murder of the instructor was almost incidental to his attack on Sheila.
"As you can see, he had managed to get himself paired up with Henderson and then proceeded to do his best to kill her," Mitchell explained. The scene shifted to a top angle down view, showing the students fleeing while the assistant instructor hit the alarm and opened a weapon locker. Allen winced as he saw the saber being thrown and impaling her with surprising force. He had only taken a few steps when the younger girl zipped past him to grab the stunner from the locker and shot him in the face five times in very rapid succession.
"Why did you speed up that part?" the chief politician of the Star Kingdom of Manticore asked.
"We didn't. That's the raw footage, only altered to come from different angles. According to one visual effect specialist, he figures that she was going nearly 90 clicks there," the prosecutor explained carefully.
"So it had to be altered?" Allen asked as he frowned, his pudgy face in deep consideration.
"We don't know. It actually matches the story that Henderson, three other midshipmen who saw it and what the cameras show. It just should be impossible," Mitchell said as he shrugged helplessly.
"While it might be a miscarriage of justice, I'm still not certain why this is so important," Allen noted.
"Thank you, Mitchell. I'm afraid I'll have to continue this briefing without you. Give me a com later," Elizabeth called out. She waited for him to be escorted out by a marine in dress uniform before continuing. "The reason it is so important, Allen, is that the midshipwoman that was nearly killed is the one that discovered the additional wormhole junctions. The ones that might help us respond to attacks in half the time or less than before their discovery."
"Which, if I remember, was noted as an impossible leap forward in multi-dimensional mathematics," Allen said as he frowned. He had been kept abreast of the development by his First Lord of Admiralty, Janeck.
"She's shown a remarkable ability and seems to sincerely be applying for citizenship, but so many things about her do not make sense." Elizabeth shook her head, her tight, black kinky hair shining in the light like her mahogany skin. "I've asked her to be brought here, as she has very much intrigued me." She started to absently pet her treecat Ariel.
The com buzzer sounded. "A Miss Henderson to see you, you majesty," her personal assistant called out through the link.
"Send her in," Elizabeth said in an amused tone.
Sheila stepped in, then tilted her head slightly as she took in the two powerful politicians. Without hardly a pause, she advanced to the queen, saluted and then bowed deeply. "Your majesty summoned me?"
"Yes, we were wondering about the impossibilities shown here. Could you explain them?" the queen asked formally as she pointed at the frozen image of the end of her fight.
"His strength? And my speed, I suppose." Sheila considered that for a long moment. "They are impossible for normal mortals, your majesty. While I do not rub my special abilities in the face of everyone I meet, I will also not hide them. My lineage contains the blood of the gods of Olympus."
That was not what either one were expecting to hear. Genetic engineering, exotic cybernetics, super-powers... the blood of gods was not in their top ten list of possibilities. "Are you trying to say that you are some demigoddess?" Elizabeth asked querulously.
"My mother is... was Athena Parthenos, Goddess of Wisdom and War. While I guess you could call me a demigoddess, its not quite accurate. I only have fallen into the the journey of heroes so far," the young blonde was saying when they appeared.
Three women flickered into existence in the center of the room. They all were of more than average height somehow seemed more real... more there.
The first woman was of imperious demeanor, carrying a large shield emblazoned with the famed Old Earth England's Union Jack's colors. Upon her head sat a roman helm and she carried a spear, that seemed to fit her robes. At her right-side stood another woman in white robes, carrying a torch that seemed to sear away any imperfection in understanding. Upon her brow sat a spiked crown of gold. Last was a more simple looking woman of incredible beauty wearing the basic garb of a French peasant from over twenty centuries in the past. Their pure sense of presence was overwhelming.
"Britannia?" Sheila asked in shock.
"Youngest sister, well met. We stand in place of our mother, to bring these gifts. Sly Lokison's attack has spread far and wide, setting your path upon great hardship... and legend. For you have gained the enmity of a god, so does your ichor sing," Britannia declared in a clear voice that seemed carry further than possible.
Elizabeth, Allen and Ariel all were stunned by their sudden appearance. Sheila watched them warily.
"We come bearing gifts, youngest daughter of Athena and dear sister," the goddess in peasant's garb. "From myself, Mariana of the Ideals and The Revolution, I bear your a pendant that will allow you to once again heal and wage war. Let your wisdom guide you. Avez-mes bénédictions."
"My gift to thee, Sheila, is from our grandfather. He always hated that his dearest daughter was forced to sacrifice you to save this mortal realm. And then when she fell... his anger was wroth. So unto thee, I give you one of Mighty Zeus's lightning bolts. Carry it always and may it strike down thine foes," the woman carrying the torch of liberty declared as she held out a crackling bolt of lightning.
"And lastly, I carry something not for you, but your queen," Britannia called out. "For her, a sword of legend was reforged in Avalon. Elizabeth, Queen of Manticore, carry Excaliber with honor and may your own legend carry across all humanity." The Spirit of Britain handed the sword reverently to the queen with care.
The dark-skinned queen took the celtic-looking broadsword in shock.
As suddenly as they had appeared, they vanished. Leaving only a sword, an amulet and a bolt of coruscating lightning in Sheila's hands.
"So..." the girl said softly.
"I think I need a brandy. How about you, Allen?" Elizabeth asked her minister in a whimsical tone.
"Parched. Might have to drink the whole bottle. Does that always happen, young lady?" Allen's keen eye and insight noticed that the girl's appearance had slightly changed. Nothing that he could define, but she seemed more fully there. "I'm afraid you're still a little young, if I remember."
"No, that was actually my first time. And yes, I'm still considered a bit too young for alcohol. Let me serve you. On the rocks?" she asked as she somehow hid the bolt of lightning in her pocket
The queen held her treecat closely, trying to absorb the immensity of what had just happened. "Yes, please."
At the prime minister's nod, Sheila quickly filled their tumblers with expensive amber liquid and then took a glass of juice herself.
"Well, I will instruct the prosecution to continue the trial. You would be willing to be called to witness and prove your abilities if needed?" the dark-skinned woman said as she slowly caressed the sheathed weapon on her lap.
"Of course, your majesty." Sheila noted that the treecat's eyes were very intent upon her.
"Well, then the other matter is merely that I am granting you our royal thanks. You work upon the wormhole junction, while of great secrecy, may well decide the war. And may add greatly to my kingdom's wealth. I would grant a boon of five million Manticorian dollars for your works." The brandy was soothing her nerves even as it burned down her throat.
The young scion frowned slightly. "Not to sound churlish, but could I perhaps... negotiate, your majesty?"
"Please, call me Elizabeth in private. You are, in your own way, from as lofty a position as my own birth. Ask and I will see," the woman said with laughing dark brown eyes.
Allen leaned forward. He wanted to see what the young demigoddess asked.
"You know the old proverb about give a man a fish and he eats for a day-"
"-and teach him to fish and he eats for life? I think I see where this is going," Elizabeth said with a small grin as she petted Ariel, who luxuriated in her own way the stress away.
"Perhaps I could be given a very small percentage of transit fees as a holding? One-fourth of a percent would be less initially, but would eventually catch up to that monetary award. That will certainly give me enough to live on for a very long time," Sheila said with a grin.
"I can't say that is too much. It is a small amount. And... this gives me a reason. You applied to be a citizen of Manticore?" Elizabeth accepted Sheila's quizzical nod as verification. "Very well." The queen stood, setting her Treecat down upon the couch. "Kneel before me, Sheila."
"Your majesty?" she asked even as she knelt.
"Do you solemnly swear to uphold the laws of the land and swear your loyalty to me as vassal?"
"I do, your majesty," Sheila said, trying to hide her discomfort of her 'citizen' background.
With a tap on each shoulder, Elizabeth continued. "Then arise, Baroness Sheila of the Lynx Terminal. Thou art a peer of the realm. I expect to hear of legendary deeds in mine service."
The prime minister bowed and then clapped heartily. "Welcome to the peerage, dame." And a cunning move by the queen to cement her loyalty.
Chapter 6 - Continuing Eduction and Trials of Publicity
The naval academy was abuzz for several weeks as they adjusted to the newly ennobled girl. Sheila, for the most part just tried to downplay her new noble title without insulting her peers. It was nearly Christmas when Sheila stepped into stepped into her shared dorm only to pick up a subtle new scent as she saw her room mate reading a bookpad casually.
"Oh, Daria. You know they are going to bounce you if you get caught doing drugs again," she said sadly as she dumped her bag and com unit on her bed.
"Are you accusing me of something?" the older girl snapped out aggressively. Her dark hair was flat to her head, as a sheen of sweat covered her even in the cool room.
"No, I'm just stating a fact. You know it is unbeffiting an officer. And they are watching you closely." Sheila knelt down next to her bed and put her hand on her roomies' shoulder.
"I-I-I... just can't help it. The work... it just keeps crushing me down. I don't do it until I get back to our room at night," the older teen said, her eyes were tearing up.
"If it's going to be too much now, it's going to be worse later," the demigoddess noted. "You need to get a hold of it before it takes control. This is going to probably make you feel like crap." Sheila touched her shoulder, purging her of the drug and instantly giving her a feeling like she had just crashed. "Let's destroy whatever stash you have and then go speak to the commandant. I know you can do this." She gave a small nudge of her legend, lending supernatural weight to her words.
Numbly, Daria nodded as she suddenly felt she could do this.
They found a bag with only a small residue, incinerating it on one of the open air balconies and then headed to the one of the late night officers. Commadent Courvosier of the ATC was still up, working on his grading in his office.
Sheila left Daria at his door and then headed back to their quarters. She would be surprised if Daria was there in the morning, though hopefully it would only be temporary. Quietly walking around the corner, she stopped as she saw two people kneeling near her doorway quite late in the evening.
"Are you sure she's there?"
"Yes, I'm sure you blockhead. This is guaranteed. A cool easy ten million and we are set for life." The voice was quite smug.
Sheila stepped back around the corner and quickly headed over to where one of the chief petty officers was in his office, then slowed down as she realized he was probably in on this. He was conspicuously absent from his office at the end of the floor. Picking up the phone, she casually called the non-emergency Military Police line.
"Sergeant Hadderson speaking," the crisp voice on the far side said.
"Sgt. Hadderson, this is Midshipwoman Lady Sheila Henderson. I have two people attaching a device to my doorway. From the comments that I overheard, they are talking about being paid millions of dollars for a 'job'. I'm afraid they are trying to kill me and it is only luck that I was away."
"Baroness Sheila!" There was a shuffle as if keys were being pressed on the far side. "The master sergeant said this may happen again. I will have a rapid response team there in five minutes. Stay put."
Six minutes later, the midshipman and enlisted officer were arrested even as a hazard team was contacted to ascertain what they had been pumping into her room. It was only later that she found out it was a noxious chemical mix that would have asphyxiated them both within moments. It actually sickened a dozen other midshipmen in the adjoining room, even with the climate controls sealing her room off.
It appeared Sly Lokison had struck again.
This just cemented in people's minds that Sheila was someone different and especially someone that was wanted dead. Her mates in her dormitory were decidedly jumpy and one young son of a Earl actually tried to have her removed as a threat to the service. Nothing came of that, as the queen had stepped in.
Her instructors were quite happy, as her scores had only improved. She had been bumped up to Second Form tactics with Raoul Coursevier where she was starting tear through the course at an accelerated pace. She had switched from fencing to soccer for her second semester, a member of the junior team that very quickly was overcoming the older and bigger teams.
But today was a special day as she exited the pinnace they had taken up for basic zero-g training. Her fellow trainees were patting her on the back. "Good luck!" Jeff form Third Form called out.
"It's just the ceremony and paperwork. I've already sworn loyalty to the queen directly," she protested. "I don't need luck."
She checked in her skinsuit and then quickly showered and changed into her best fitting uniform. The train took her into Landing to the old Port Authority building where she joined an ecletic group of fifty people that were all swearing their loyalty to their new country. They were just starting when a stir was arising at the doorway.
Smartly accoutered marines in full dress uniform led a figure that was familiar to everyone within the kingdom.
"Please all rise for her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth III," the baliff blared out quick.
Sheila snapped to attention and saluted as crisply any any officer.
Elizabeth gave her a small wink as she passed and then moved to personally oversee the searing in of all of her new citizens. The ceremony took only a grand total of ten minutes, each new citizen signing their paperwork in front of a witness.
"Now that is interesting, Baroness Sheila. You decided to change your last name?" the queen asked quietly as she handed in her paperwork.
"Yes, your majesty. I felt it was appropriate at this juncture," the scion noted just as softly. "And very much like two of my sisters."
Elizabeth nodded as she did realize the meaning. The rest of the papers were signed and notarized as most of the recipients were quite thrilled that the queen was there. Sheila expected that something else was up.
After the ceremony, one of her marines walked up in the middle of the room. "This way, Baroness Sheila." He led her outside and to a heavy, armored air car parked in the parking garage. The limo, black and sleek, had the queen carefully being cleaned up from her public appearance by an attendant.
"Sheila! Sit down. I'm afraid I'm going to be kidnapping you a bit this afternoon. There's an event you just must come to. And it looks like someone flubbed getting you the invitation." The Winton's dark eyes studied the young girl. "Well, and it did give me an excuse to crash that for an impromptu photo-op."
"You are dazzling us, your majesty," Sheila said with a grin.
"None of that. In private, it is just Elizabeth."
The young blonde sat in the seat across from her as the limo took off to go across town. "Is this the announcement of the new wormhole junction?"
"Yes, indeed. It's a major event at the House of Lords. I want you and a few other academics there as we announce the new transit to the Talbot cluster," she said with a happy grin. "The Solarian League will be salivating over the shortcuts this offers to ship products from the core to two edges of the periphery."
The limo was already landing in the old part of Landing, where all the original governmental building were located. "Farnie? You have that robe for our youngest peer, don't you?"
"What exactly am I being roped into?" Sheila asked in a worried matter as the aide handed her a box.
"Oh, I'm just getting you seated her in the House of Nobles. While you won't be expected to vote on matters while away on service, it is expected that you will sit in when you are free of other duties." The queen led her down the side passages secured by her royal marines and security forces, entering into a hallway that led to the cloakroom.
Sheila found herself suddenly bedecked in the robes and brought into the main room, full of rows of nobles.
Baron High Ridge frowned as he saw a young woman (obviously a prolong recipient) enter on the trail of the queen. They took to the stand, Elizabeth at the front. With a short conference to the magister, she stood up to the podium.
"Ladies and gentlemen, peers all. I come before you with news of import and glad tidings. First, let me officially welcome the newest Peer of the Realm, Baroness Lynx; Midshipwoman Sheila Parthenos Manticoria. Does anyone wish to promote her for inclusion into the House of Lords?"
Her cousin of the regent of Gold Peak rose her hand, hiding most of her confusion. Elizabeth had been most unforthcoming about the manner and need to elevate this Peer.
The queen looked around, then nodded. "And are their any dissenters to seating her to this august body?"
None of the nobles actually knew who she was, so demurred coming against her in general principle.
"Then welcome. Baroness, a short acceptance speech and then I must bring up the matters of import," Elizabeth said while hiding a smile.
Sheila plastered a smile on her face that was none too convincing. "Ladies and gentlemen of this august body, I thank you for your welcome. This is a quite unexpected surprise this day, proving that our queen is a lady who gets what she wishes," she said, emoting long suffering that caused a ripple of surprised laughter across the peers. Standing taller, she drew her presence about her as if it were a weapon. "This is a great honor and duty that has been bequeathed by her upon me. I hope that I can live up to those duties while entering the navy. Please guide me by your example as I take my time to study how to best help this body deliberate and lead the people of Manticore into a new age."
Such simplicity in an acceptance speech was quite unusual, but her heart was truly into it and tugged on the hearts of most of the nobles. Even those that were cold and cruel noted the way the greater masses lapped it up.
Baron High Ridge and Earl North Hollow both suddenly wondered who this girl was and what threats she posed. For they hid no illusions from themselves that this was a shot from the queen into the heart of the body.
The queen moved back up to the podium. Her dark, Winton features stood her in good stead. "Thank you, baroness. I did have a slightly ulterior motive for her to be here this day, as part of our body. For it was her discoveries while studying hyper-dimensional math at Saganami that make my second announcement possible this day."
Now each noble (and indeed, much of the population that had tuned in at the speed of rumor) was listening quite closely.
"This day, we announce the discovery and mapping of the sixth wormhole junction. Already scouted out by our navy, it leads to the periphery of the Solarian League. Indeed, according to my advisers that this bodes well for our economy, as even more ships will travel through our ports to the Talbot Cluster. This news heralds great opportunities for our merchanters."
High Ridge and North Hollow both froze at that announcement. How had she managed to hide this bombshell?
"Thank you, Baroness Sheila."
That caused several of the visiting mathematician professors to start whispering among themselves even as the rest of the Peers rose to their feet, clapping wildly.
Sheila would be horribly disappointed to find out her blushing features were plastered across hundreds of planets within just a few short weeks.
Chapter 7 - Graduating Experiences
Sheila landed the twenty-five meter cutter just a year later, so softly that no one felt the landing gear take up the stress. "Sensors show good contact on all landing points," she called out to her co-pilot.
"Shutting down thrusters one through six," he called back.
"I confirm shutdown," she continued her checklist.
Soon they were filing out to the humid tarmac of high density ceracrete of Kreskin Airbase. The scathing trainer gave the First Form midshipmen a good yelling at and then she went on to critique their nearly perfect landing in an exacting manner.
They were changed into their uniform and riding the tram over to the main campus from the air-base when Sheila recognized a mop of black hair. "Daria!"
The other midshipwoman looked over at her in surprise. "Sheila?"
"Good to see you back. Everything A-Okay?" The young scion flitted up to sit next to the thinner girl.
"Actually, yes. Got my head screwed on a bit tighter and back in my first year. The instructors have been really supportive," her old room mate said with a grin.
"I'm headed to my first Third Form Tactics class. Courvosier is a real task-master. Going to have hardly any time to even rest. Which I think he is doing on purpose," Sheila complained in good nature.
"Third form? I though you started just over a year ago?" Daria complained right back in the same good natured tone.
"It keeps me active," she replied with a sunny smile. "I think I'm going to miss the first half of my soccer game though."
"So you are the secret of the Junior Squad? I've heard that a lot of Fourth Termers are complaining they lost a lot of money on their bets. I'm back in advanced engineering, of course. Some of the new equipment is really sweet."
They talked a bit of shop, where Daria discovered that Sheila still did not have a room mate, as no one was willing to sit that close to the 'Jinx' for the strange events that kept happening. Daria thought Sheila was totally fluffing up the story about magical ninja.
The tram arrived and Sheila trotted off quickly to get to the ATC, filing in to sit with the rest of her class.
Rear Admiral Raoul Courvosier looked over at all of the young students. "I think we can get started," the small, slightly-plump looking officer called out. "I've flagged one half of you as red team, the other half as gold. We'll be going over basic merchant protection and interdiction." Which was Janeck's none to subtle reminder that he still felt the Navy's role was to defend Manticore's merchant fleet.
Sheila and her group quickly filled into the three simulators that were near matches for light cruisers. They were to be 'supposed pirates' who were everyone realized were modeled on the People's Republic forces.
One of the admiral's staff lieutenants walked up. "Sheila Manticoria, you are 'captain' of the third aggressor ship."
An older midshipman looked over at the very young looking girl. Her age was common knowledge by know. "Isn't she a bit young?" he called out in a scathing tone.
"If she keeps up her grades during her Third Form, she'll probably be put in charge of the task force. As it is, because even with her best scores, she still just joined us here," the officer called back.
"Lt. Sommers, may I choose where to assign people?" she called carefully.
The burly older officer just shrugged.
Three hours later, her opponents were thinking she was a witch, as her 'cruiser' had appeared on a converging vector at maximum stealth while the other two raiders were just entering range towing a drone that was pretending to be her. As commerce raiders, destroying the merchant caravan had been perfectly legal, if not quite in their orders. Her cruiser had actually taken them out coldly in laser range even as she had fired perfect up the kilt shots that blew out the after-impellers of two of the 'enemy' ships.
Raoul would be studying that set up for days to see how she had figured out what she did. He actually learned a little bit more about wedge-sensor interference out of it.
Nine months later, he was still trying to figure out how she managed her tricks. She was literally top in almost every class, with a grade point average that really had to be seen to be believed. He studied her and the ninety-five hundred graduating classmates as they let the the main commandant's words flow over them. The recording of the last fight of the very first Nike and its Captain Saganami played out to its grim finale.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Edward Saganami's tradition lives on! Repair to your new duty stations in honor," Commandant Romanii called out, his voice not even cracking due to his age. He would be retiring now, incredibly aged in comparison to his young graduates.
The new, provisional officers whooped as soon as they were outside.
Sheila caught up to some of her other Fourth Form Middies. "So, Bastion, have you heard where you are heading yet? All I've got is orders to take myself up on the next shuttle to Hephaestus."
"Nope. Though I'm headed to there, too. So we're probably one of the ships that is preparing to leave," the older man said, though he looked only a year older than she did. He was actually twenty-three years old.
The trip to her empty dorm to get her grav-trunk was quick and smooth. She had been packed her for a while. She sent some last minute instructions to her investor and she made her way to the Kreskin Air Field. Sheila let her mind drift just slightly as she remembered the hours of piloting the shuttles and even the one time she got to fly the old-style air fighters, the Javelins.
Finally her pad beeped at her to let her know she should start boarding now as the shuttle was filling. Being the most junior of officers, she was right behind highest enlisted ranks, fitting comfortably up near the front one-quarter.
The flight up to orbit was relatively boring, even as the super-massive space station grew through the view ports. The wedge was cut and the thrusters took over, guiding them to a standard shuttle port. Soon she was bunked in a spare room for the night, as it had been a rather busy day or so, what with graduating.
The next morning she checked her comp to verify her orders. It appeared she was going to be assigned to a destroyer named Anglicus under the orders of Lt. Commander Brenda Harmon. The little destroyer looked quite dwarfed by the battlecruiser undergoing a refit next to it.
The two sentries at the hatch had seen her (of course) and called out, "Identify yourself!" the left one said.
"Midshipwoman Manticoria reporting for duty. I understand that I am to present myself to the captain?" she asked politely as she handed over her identity card for inspection.
The marine nodded as he checked the card perfunctionally. "That's correct. Captain Harmon is expecting you."
It only took about ten minutes to drop her grav-trunk in the cramped midshipman quarters and then with only a bit of assistance from an enlisted, was headed up to the bridge. She nodded to the marine stationed at the door and then stepped up to the captain's station. Saluting smartly, she called out, "Midshipwoman Manticoria reporting for duty, captain."
"At ease, midshipwoman." Brenda Harmon was an older woman, showing a hint of gray hair and the fact that she was likely a first generation prolong recipient. "You will be one of Angelicus's two snotties this voyage. Lt. Fillius will be your OCTO as he's my head of ATC. I'll make sure that he works you hard."
"Yes, ma'am!" she replied promptly and with vigor.
Harmon nodded. "You'll be pleased to note that we are being deployed into the Talbot cluster to show the flag. We'll be working hard, visiting several systems. That is all. Dismissed." There was just a hint of humor in her voice.
Sheila saluted again and then walked out the door of the bridge, the hatch sealing behind her. With a puff of air, she set herself back down to Snottie Row. She really wondered if she were doing this for the right reasons. Or if she was doing this as a form of self punishment for failing everyone and everything back on Earth.
Missiles shot towards the helpless Angelicus as two enemy light cruiser came at them, splitting up to bracket them. Nothing they did seemed to deter them after they had popped up at almost energy range. Their icons on the holotank glared a baleful red spitting rapid fire missiles.
"Course change up five degrees, starboard ten degrees. Prepare for a secondary course correction," Sheila called out from the tactical control console. Everyone was suited up with helmets racked up next to them.
Captain Harmon was watching the training exercise closely. In the two months that he had put the two new Midshipwoman through their paces, she had realized that their instructors at Saganami had somehow understated both of their capabilities. Angela Howard had a record of fine tactical and engineering through her courses, but had blossomed spectacularly since coming aboard. The red-headed midshipwoman was currently in the hot seat of the sailing master and was breezing through the rapid and confusing course changes that the blonde midshipwoman was sending the nimble little destroyer through.
"Yaw clockwise fifteen degrees while bow down ten, come about to port thirty degrees. Full emergency power," Sheila called out as more missiles streaked out to them.
Lt. Dougal looked over at his captain in confusion, as somehow the computers had decided that Anglicus had again survived the heavy odds as the impellar wedge deftly blocked the bracket of six missiles from the first bogie, then adjusted and blocked all but one from the second. Even then, the computer declared that the laser head scored a light hit losing one point defense cluster and missile launcher.
The jaunty little destroyer was pouring on every bit of speed it could even as it fired its pair of chasers to keep the two light cruisers honest. Their combined point-defense took out the anemic response, but Sheila finally had gotten the little destroyer across the hyperlimit fully charged and at the bare limit of sublight speed at .3 c.
"Execute Escape One, Almo," she called out to one of the petty officers.
"Confirming, Escape One." Almo Ferdinand said as he timed the hyperspace jump.
At that, the simulation ended, much to the relief of the crew that had been desperately fighting their 'ship' for over three hours.
"Congratulations. Very few people ever manage to pull off an escape under such heavy fire," the captain call out. "Stand down from combat stations. Everyone take a quick lunch and then we'll undergo a briefing in the conference room." She leaned over to her XO. "So, any idea how you grade an always-lose fight when they win it?"
"Well, it looks like point-defense crews were a little slow to begin with, but otherwise I'm seriously thinking we have a serious chance for the Queen's Cup in the next Fleet Exercise," Martin Dougal said with a quick grin that he made sure none of their juniors could see.
"Now that, my friend, is a matter of counting your eggs before they've hatched," Brenda said primly. She shook her head as she shifted her thoughts to another matter. "We are coming up on Murdoch and should be only about ten hours behind to get to Tillerman."
Martin frowned for a second, his craggy good looks looking slightly rough-hewn for a moment. "Captain, I don't know if it's my imagination..."
"But you thought you picked up something odd from our last stop at Montana? I did too, Marty. I swear they were testing the water on some sort of big political alliance. Which doesn't make a bit of sense. We definitely haven't put any hydrogen into that fire out here," Brenda said with a shrug. Manticore had been building a stronger alliance all across the frontier where they shared borders with the People's Republic.
"Actually, I think they might be considering a protectorate. From what I've heard, these folks think they are staring down a pulsar of the Office of Frontier Security." Martin saw her expression turn grim at that. It was not that uncommon for the OFS to do all but conquer in the name of the Solarian League.
"You think they see us as a better option? That won't fly in the House of Lords, Marty. The Progressives, Liberals and the Conservative Association would all have a coronary at the thought of Queen Elizabeth adopting whole planetary systems into the kingdom. Even if they wanted to be absorbed." Brenda shook her head, he tight curls of graying hair hardly even moving.
"Heck, even if they beg and plead. The only reason I could see anything flying is if we were allowed to recruit for our armed forces."
"Now that is an actual thought, my exec." Captain Harmon actually had a little foreign services experience, so she might actually get someone to notice that little kernel of an idea. She would have to put it in the out-going queue to their Lords of Admiralty.
"So what do you think happened to the Forbearance?" Marty said to change the direction of the conversation.
"The same thing that I said last time. Just bad luck that they picked up a harmonic in their Alpha Node that burned three of them out. Tornado is going to be working on fixing them at Tillerman for at least another six weeks. You can ask her captain directly, but his honorable lordly sort will likely punch you for your sass. Then you would have to spend the entire trip back in the brig as his crew will back up his story, while I will be quite forced to keep quiet by his evil lackeys." The grin on Brenda's face was quite sly. Of course, that meant that Tornado would not be available to repair any ships that returned to Montana where it was supposed to be 'based' at.
"You still owe him that much beer, captain?" her XO asked plaintively.
"I'll have to plead ignorance about what you are insinuating, Marty."
Which was all the answer he needed.
Chapter 8 - A Missed Attack
Sheila pulled her head out of an access hatch the number two graser control room. "Light her up, Yvonne," she called out.
The rating nodded as she started to bring up the communication system that slaved the laser under the control of the bridges computers. "Looks all clear here," the Hispanic crewman called out.
"Match, can you go walk up and down the access-way again. I think we pulled out the last motion sensor connection, but you never know." Sheila had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. Some enterprising crewman far back in Anglicus's past had set up motion sensors to warn of an officer's approach by flickering the lights in the weapon mount. Unfortunately, it set of some magnetic harmonics that occasionally tripped the weapon mount into local only control.
Match nodded and trotted off. Ten minutes later, he ran back in just in front of Lt. (JG) Andy Fillius, her Officer Canidate Training Officer. The older looking man had an amused eye on 'Match' as he stepped in to see them finish installing the cover panel. "So any luck with that?" he asked. It was an old, mean trick to force a Snottie to try and fix the old weapon mount. No one had succeeded in sixty years.
"Yes, sir. It appears someone put in an unauthorized motion sensor hooked up to the light switch in the weapon mount. It was causing an occasional glitch that would set the controls to local-only," Sheila said as she saluted. "I think we've got most of them disconnected. It'll probably take an engineering crew to find the actual sensors in the hallway though."
Andy blinked slowly, then squelched the desire to snicker. "So, some ratings had set it up to play hooky at times? Now it makes sense how this compartment was always at ready during exercises. Very well, Midshipwoman Manticoria, I think you should probably change your uniform and then report to the bridge. The captain's away party should be coming back within the hour."
"Yes, sir." Sheila headed to the Snotties' Row. A quick shower and then she slipped into the black and gold duty uniform. She showed up half an hour early to take her assigned slot.
Lt. Fillius was sitting at the captain's station, looking alert. "Very good, Midshipwoman. I'll be glad when the captain is back. She made an awfully big hole in our officer's roster when she took her side party down to the capital of Murdoch." In fact, they were at minimum regs for officers.
Murdoch was a singularly forgettable world, only colonized fifty years ago. With a low population and fairly low tech base, it was a curiosity at best. Though the captain seemed to think she might get some good information out of them. The local shipping firm out of Rembrandt did drop in every year or two to see how they were doing. And had just dropped in a month ago.
"I'm sure he did it to just see how we would do under pressure, sir," she called back in humor.
That got the older looking man to laugh for a second. "And the XO wants to do a full dress rehearsal welcome to surprise the captain. So he's got just about everyone else except Ensign Hardin in engineer and us up here on the bridge down in the boatbay." He looked over at her considering things for a long moment. "In fact, do you think you can manage to not have a disaster up here? I think I'll sneak off down to the landing party." He had requested that Ensign Therrian pick him up some local distilled liquors and wanted to talk to him privately as soon as possible.
"If you are sure, sir." Leaving a Midshipwoman in charge of the bridge, even when parked in orbit seemed very uncautious. Not that she could mess things up too badly before an officer returned.
"I'm sure. Midshipwoman Manticoria, you have the watch," Fillius called out. He gave a lazy salute as he walked over to the hatch in the cramped bridge.
"I have the watch," she replied formally as she saluted. She turned over to her fellow Midshipwoman. "Miss Howard, do we have a plot on the captain's pinnace?" The enlisted crewmen were giving off a subtle vibe of dissatisfaction at the officer leaving. Sheila had realized that the eighty year old lieutenant did have a marked lax attitude when he did not have an officer looking over his own shoulder. He did his duty, of course, but taking off like this was unfortunately quite common. That was probably why he still did not have a command after forty T-Years of service.
"Yes, ma'am. They are due to take off in five minutes."
Sheila sat attentively while keeping aware of the entire bridge. The pinnace made a leisurely flight and had then docked safely. The young Midshipwoman relaxed slightly. The captain was back on the ship and should be resuming his duties. Which would mean she could get back to reading some of the medical manuals that Surgeon Lieutenant Helen Khars which she had been putting off for a few weeks. The actual advances in medicine were amazing-
The ship shuddered slightly even as angry damage codes appeared in red on the damage control screens. It only took a single glance for her super-acute eyes to see that something bad had happened in the boat bay. "Sound battlestations. Damage control crews to Boatbay One," she called out. When no one responded due to their shock, she repeated, "Sound battlestation. Damage control to Boatbay One."
Alarms started to whoop as crewmen scrambled to their combat duty stations. On the bridge they all quickly rotated through as they changed into their skin suits.
"Sheila, it appears that the captain's pinnace blew up just after it docked. It's really bad down there. They are reporting heavy casualties," Chief Petty Officer Armando Phillipe called out from the damage control station.
"I need more concise information. How is damage control doing with containing the damage?" she called back.
"Ensign Hardin is in charge down there-" Armando called out, only to cut himself off as new damage control codes flickered to life. "One of the hydrogen feeds from bunker one just lit up."
"I want all hydrogen feeds to Boatbay One cut off," she called back. "Angela, head on down there to meet up with one of the officers." The other midshipwoman headed off at a fast trot.
A com chime sounded at the captain's chair. "Midshipwoman Manticoria, officer of the watch," she called out.
"Sheila? What the hell are you doing? Where's Lt. Fillius?" Lt. SG Hellen Khars demanded.
"Lt. Fillius had removed himself to be at the landing party, ma'am," the scion replied quickly. "How bad is it, lieutenant?"
"We're suited up and trying to recover bodies. When the pinnace went up, it ripped the docking collar right off and it looks like the entire landing party was lost," the doctor replied. "The secondary explosion I think caught DC Ten and Five."
Sheila was rapidly figuring out who was where. "Are you sure? Damage Control Ten had Ensign Hardin-"
"Yes, I'm sure. Khars out," she snapped from the other line and disconnected.
The young girl's face was quite ashen. She hoped someone down there survived, as this was turning into a nightmare.
It was ten hours later and the news had turned progressively worse. Lt. Killiard Hardin had been found to be barely alive, but was struggling for her life due to severe burns and cuts in sick bay along with ten members of the crew. Seventy-eight officers and crew had been killed. Including the captain, the XO and the entire side party. The highest ranked marine left onboard was a corporal. Which was actually better than the navy side, as there was not one officer left alive and unscathed that was not a surgeon, which were by law not line officers and could not assume command of the ship.
Sheila sat at the front of the conference room trying to desperately not fidgit. "You've done a very excellent job. Lt. Hardin needs more serious medical attention though?"
Khars nodded. "She really needs to be put back together at a dirt-side hospital. It's going to be touch and go for at least a week, but if she survives the night, I expect she'll survive."
"And that brings us up to our next issue, which is what are we going to do?" Midshipwoman Angela Howard asked. Her pale, freckled face stuck out in sharp contrast to her copper-red hair.
"Exactly," CPO Armando Phillipe said.
"We are going to cut our deployment short and head back to Montana where one of Admiral Garret's ships in the division should be dropping in shortly. It is the nodal location for the southern deployment. I am going to have to lean on you fellows in the enlisted ranks, as I think this has to be the most abject loss of command ever. A midshipwoman should not find herself in command of ship," Sheila noted aloud.
"I'm not sure I feel comfortable with that," Armando said carefully.
"Well, staying here for over three month is not going to happen. Lives are on the line and we are all quite capable of running along home," Sheila declared in a cool tone.
Armando looked at her in aghast as his knuckles tightened on the edge of the conference table. "You are going to take us to Montana?"
"Unless you have a better idea?" she asked tartly.
"Lt. Kahrs is senior in rank," the dusky skinned petty officer noted.
"As a surgeon, I can not hold a command of a ship of any sort. The regulations are very specific. In fact, during my training they used a similar example of a ship that lost all but one midshipman. Sheila is in charge unless I find her to be medically unfit," Helen Khars said slowly. "As the only two surviving officers of any capacity, she's in charge. I think you graduated higher than Angela?"
"She graduated number one in our class," the red-haired midshipwoman noted quickly. No way did she want to get saddled with a whole ship.
"Which means you just became my exec and will get to stand a few watches here, Angela. Mr. Phillipe, you are going to be needed. Angela, I need to get an update about how soon we should be able to set off. The sooner the better. I'd hate to find out we missed connecting with another ship by a few days," Sheila explained. "Mr. Phillipe, I'm going to shift you down to engineering to ride herd over them and damage control."
"Yes, ma'am." His tone clearly stated that he thought this was insanity.
"If you have any reservations, please state them now. If you find you can not in good conscience be under my command, I will relieve you and find someone else willing to get to work," she snapped out. "Is that understood?"
He just nodded.
"I require a verbal confirmation for the record, Mr. Phillipe." Her eyes were cold chips of blue-green eyes.
"Yes, ma'am. I do not wish to state any reservations at this point." His hard muscles in his jaw showed his anger at being forced to say that.
"Then let's be about it."
Chapter 9 - Sticking To Your Guns
It had been a nerve-wracking six days back to Montana at a leisurely .45c in the hyperspace in the Eta Band. While propulsion was not damaged in any means, Sheila had no desire to strain herself or her crew. As a precaution and to get people's minds off the horrible disaster, she had been conducting some minor drills. In fact, she had all the crew go to action stations as they prepared to drop out of hyperspace at the edge of the Montana system.
"How are we coming along, Miss Howard?" she asked her other fellow midshipwoman.
"We are exactly five minutes out and preparing to revert to real space," she called back nervously. This was the first time she had ever taken a ship through hyperspace on her own, though really she was just overseeing it properly as the petty officers did most of the work.
The greens and purples that they saw outside the viewport were terribly strange. Sheila had actually spent a bit of time on their voyage out thinking about the Warshinki gravity sensors. They could probably be improved, but she was adamant about not being only a technologist and engineer. While she could do a great deal of good in that position, it would unlikely to generate the type of Legend she was striving for.
"Verify battlestations, please. Once we show clear in normal space, we will clear from action," she called out as she clenched her fist as she had gone over what had likely happened to the boat bay. Sly Lokison would die at her hand.
The countdown continued. Sheila had set up the course. They were actually dropping out just out from the hyperlimit at a leisurely .10 c, just in case someone was slightly off. Bouncing off the hyperlimit was a very fatal mistake that a ship only made once.
The reversion was a smooth downslope transition through the Delta wall, then the Beta wall and finally into real space while keeping an easy ten percent of the speed of light.
"Contacts," a startled petty officer at the tactical console. "It looks like a freighter and something about destroyer sized. Maybe a bit smaller. Correction, status change. The freighter is squawking a code seventeen."
"They are about to be boarded by pirates?" Sheila blurted out. She seriously wanted to punch fate in the face right now. Live in interesting times indeed.
"Orders, captain?" Angela called out.
Sheila almost froze there. For a long second, she was unsure of what to do exactly. Then she stepped past her hesitation. "Signal Bogie One and Two to heave to for inspection. Load one of the standard nukes and ready to fire a warning shot. Prepare to go to full power on my mark. He'll probably try to evade long enough to charge up his hyperdrive and duck across the hyperlimit." Her eyes had already noted that they were just inside the limit and he was heading directly into the system at .12 c. "All hands, battlestations. I repeat, all hands clear for action. This is not a drill."
"They look a bit stunned to see us here, they haven't quite responded yet," Angela called out from the helm.
"He's accelerating. Looks like he's trying to run," PO 2c Almo Ferdinand called out. The bogie leaped forward to his full four-hundred and fifty gravites acceleration. He made a panicked reaction and was running into the gravity well.
"Give them one final warning. If they don't respond in one minute, fire the warning shot. Maximum power, helm," Sheila called out in a bit of excitement. She was almost vibrating due to the action.
"Missile launch! Two missiles detected," Angela cried out, her voice rising in pitch.
"Point defense Alpha, bring us about fifteen degrees port and interpose the wedge. Miss Howard, you are authorized to respond in force," Sheila called out just like the book required.
Anglicus's tubes cycled, loading full laser warheads in twenty-five seconds as Sheila frantically updated her targeting solution. Counter-missiles swatted one of the missiles and a laser cluster got the other one.
"The freighter is taking off," Almo called out. CiC had added the name to the first contact; Pretty Cowgirl and showed it taking off at a leisurely two hundred gravities.
There was usually only one reason for a freighter to take off after being ordered to heave to by a warship. "Politely tell them again to heave to for an inspection, Almo. Let them know that we don't look kindly on anyone leaving us holding the bag."
The lithe destroyer slid sideways and then belched five missiles back at the pirate, using the quickly canned orders Sheila had cobbled up. The pirate picked off three missiles with their point defense, but the last two savaged their aft. Missiles that were quit capable of destroying their whole ship blew out half of their alpha nodes. Their inertial dampners packed up due to a glitch that was magnified by the damage, instantly killing the crew as they were suddenly subjected to a full 250 gravities of force. Emergency cut offs cut the wedge just twenty seconds later as five more missiles were headed towards them.
"Kill the missiles and plot a course for the derelict," the blonde called out as she read the sensors very closely. "Looks like we caused their inertial compensator to fail. Miss Howard, set up a leisurely intercept and ask Pretty Cowgirl to accompany us. We'll tow the pirate into Montana's orbit."
That caused everyone on the crew to wince as they imagined the death and destruction on the ship. Five flashes of light signaled the acceptance of the orders to self destruct and the freighter acquiesced (in a fairly surly tone) as Sheila realized she had just won her first live fire battle.
Sheila then turned to one of the enlisted ratings. "Please convey my desire to meet with Corporal Forveaux after he's gotten an inspection party together. He'll have to use the Captain's Cutter from Boat Bay Bravo. Expect the merchant ship to not cooperate. Probably proscribed cargo."
Bryant Melvarri was sweating a bit as he greeted the Mantie marines at the airlock hatch of the Pretty Cowgirl. He hoped the captain of that destroyer was actually just peeved because he tried to run and wouldn't look too closely at their manifest and passenger list.
With a hiss, the lightly armored door opened to his paling face. Marines in armor tended to do that. "Uh, welcome. Sorry about any hassles. You really saved our bacon." His bosses in the Jessyk Combine were going to be very unhappy with him, even if this was one of his first jobs that he had heard other ships did.
"You're very welcome. Unfortunately, I am going to have to ask that you stand by for an inspection. If I could see your manifest and passenger list?" Cp. Forveaux said as he tried to sound casual.
An hour later, Billy F0rveaux was really thinking that this was a bust when his heads up display got a group-tactic target highlighted a humanoid heat source down the hall behind what was the galley. Casually dropping his hand to the butt of his pulser, he gestured towards the galley. "Let's finish up with the galley then."
"If you insist. I don't think it's that clean, but we don't have anything to hide," the captain said, plastering the sickly smile back on his face.
Forveaux took two quick steps past the galley and slammed open a closed hatch. "I thought you introduced us to everyone in your crew?" he called out, anger starting to taint his voice. Two of his privates had pulled their weapons to cover them.
"Well, she's not really crew. An unruly child of one of the crew," Bryant started say, almost blubbering now. "Isn't that right, Jeanne?"
"Right. She a... cousin," his first mate interjected quickly. Her dark hair and skin showed the lie of that, as the girl in the closet had pale skin and dirty-blonde hair. Even under the dirt and tears she was obviously incredibly pretty.
"So you tied her up and threw her in the storage closet? With a gag?" Forveaux leaned down and carefully removed the gag. "Show me your tongue, girl.
Fearful green eyes looked at him, then she stuck out her tongue to show her barcode.
Bryant closed his eyes, as there was no way he was getting out of this now. He was utterly ruined.
"Terrance, why don't you escort this scum and his crew to the shuttle so we can brig him properly for slave-trading," the corporeal said in an almost snarl. "Girl, you're going to be all right. I promise you that."
"A single slave?" Sheila asked as she started pondering her new headache.
"Yeah, her name is Michi. They aren't really saying a whole lot, but I get the feeling that this isn't their normal operation, but more of an unsavory side-line. Since they were headed to Montana, maybe a private purchase?" Forveaux sort of asked as he looked at the young girl in uniform in front of him. His beefy six foot two inches loomed over her, even as he wished his dark hair was not sweat-slicked down from being in armor for over two hours.
The young girl cringed at his angered words. "You aren't going to send me back, are you?" she asked in a very small voice. She was an inch shorter than Sheila, with longer, ragged blonde hair.
"We won't let them harm you any more, dear," Sheila said with a careful smile. "Rupert? Could you make Michi here is comfortable somewhere?" As soon as the ex-slave was gone, she turned to Billy Forveaux and Angela Howard again. "So, how about we go about making sure that a slave buyer squeals and lets us know who his contacts are?"
Angela looked at her worriedly. "Are you sure? I mean, we're sitting on a disaster here and you want to add to the mess?"
"We have a bit of time and we're basically quite safe. I'm going to go visit our slaver and see if I can try to rattle some information out."
Billy Forveaux just nodded. "I wouldn't mind catching that bastard. I didn't say anything while Michi was here, but she was a body slave. And unfortunately knew exactly what was going to happen to her when she got to Montana."
Sheila's expression turned very grave. "Thank you, corporal. That will be all for now. Get some rack time before we make our move."
Sheila was standing across the conference table to the seated and shackled Captain Bryant Melvarri. "Captain, it seems that I am at an impasse. Due to your distasteful actions, you have landed me in this situation where I need to find out about your buyer and contacts. I can not offer nor broker any deals, but I would be able to speak on behalf to the court... If you can find it within your heart to help me take down the scum that preyed on your weakness to transport a helpless girl into the hands of an evil man." Her blue-green eyes seemed to gleam as her ichor sang within her blood, lending strength to her words even as she attempted to extol a valorous outlook upon him. "Are you willing to make up for your misdeeds in some slight way, Bryant Melvarri? To keep other girls like Michi safe from evil predators that want to use their bodies for their depraved sexual desires?"
The Solarian merchant captain could not believe himself. It sounded sappy, stupid... and like a punch in his gut. He was a ruined man and was likely going to go to prison for a very, very long time. An ugly thought of revenge flitted through his head, but it was his desire for doing the right thing that somehow won over. "Damned if I know why, miss, but I'll do it."
He then started to explain the planned drop off of the slave to the slip of a girl. Sheila analyzed everything and was setting up a plan. They had to catch the slave buyer red-handed, so that played into her into her thoughts.
An hour later, she was back in the Captain's ready room, explaining the plan to Angela. The red-head did not look pleased. "So you are going to take the Pretty Cowgirl in to Montana and actually go through with the transfer?"
"The evidence will be totally overwhelming by that point. The Montana security forces should be able to hammer him flat and get him to squeal his contacts," Sheila explained.
"But using yourself as the 'slave' during the transfer... That's insane!" the twenty-year old Midshipwoman exclaimed.
"It really should be quite safe. And I'm the only one that looks close enough to match the young slave, after all. So I'll play the part so that Mr. Burton can be exposed for the evil person he is and he can spend his last years in a prison on Montana."
"If you insist. The LAC from Montana should be arriving within three hours. I suppose it really is up to them if they want you to go on with your insane plan."
In fact, Captain Chersey was quite shocked at the idea, but had to admit that nailing a slave buyer with unimpeachable evidence was too good to pass up.
So the merchant ship Pretty Cowgirl finally drifted into port. Captain Melvarri was once again on his bridge, licking his dry lips as he answered the com channel. "Ah, good. I understand the weather in the north has been balmy?"
"But the weather is always clear in space," the emaciated and very old looking man said on his personal screen. "So I take it you have my package?"
"That is correct. You are going to be coming up in a private shuttle, per the plan?" Melvarri asked slowly.
"Of course I am. I might be dying, but I'm not stupid yet," the old man snapped. "This girl better be all I was promised. And don't think to even double cross me."
"Of course not." And he was not. Not really, he thought to himself. When the channel was cut, he looked over the the ranking officer... who looked all of thirteen or so. "Well, it looks like he bought it. You've got your marines down in the mess, right?"
"With Chersey's own men with some stunners ready. Time for me to go play my part," Sheila said as she quickly walked out of the bridge. Minutes later, she was letting herself be tied up in fake bindings. The rags she was wearing stank and looked like they had been worn for weeks (which they had, as they were actually Michi's clothes.) In Sheila's head, she was going over and over, getting into her 'part' as the slave girl. Her features shifted subtlety, making her almost perfectly match the slave as her godly ichor followed her subconscious wish.
Thirty minutes later, Mark Hampton stepped aboard the Pretty Cowgirl. At his back were two thugs that seemed interchangeable. Billy felt a small tingle of fear up his back at the left one, who had flat and very cold brown eyes.
"About time. Where is Melvarri?" Hampton asked in a nasty tone. His pale, wrinkled skin looked unhealthy as age spots of the eighty year old man stood out against it.
"He, uh, had to take a com. Something about the inspector. I usually work down in the holds, sorry." The marine felt his hackles rise as the cold-faced thug gave him a once over.
"Well, he better show up before I get my girl. Come on," the cranky old man said.
Billy led them down the corridor to the mess hall, where Sheila currently looked like she was tied up to a chair. The lights were dimmed a bit, hiding that button cameras were set up to record the transfer.
"There she is. Kind of a cutie for a slave," Billy adlibbed horribly. That had to be on record.
"For the kind of money that Mesa asks, she better damn well be," the old man groused. He walked up and held her face up to his view by her jaw. "You're supposed to be damned well trained. Well, Kevin, grab her and we'll go."
That was when Kevin pulled out a pistol and shot Billy straight in the chest with a pulsar. "We've been had, boss."
Captain Chersey slammed open the door, pointing his own pistol. "Lay down your arms. You are all under arrest! This is your last warning!" he shouted. He barely ducked behind a counter as the thugs reacted with lethal intensity.
The thug Kevin Erstwhile had a horrible smile on his face as he killed one of the soldiers from Montana. The Scrag was quite willing to kill everyone here and then blow up the ship. After all, that was what Hampton had paid Mesa for him. And he relished killing.
That was when Sheila just moved. She slammed a single open palm against the old man's sternum in a stunning move that separated all of his rib's cartilage and robbed him of his breath before he could even land on the ground.
His merely normal thug suddenly blew up into meaty chunks as a Manticorian marine in full armor stepped into the doorway. "Surrender! You can't escape!" he shouted.
Kevin ducked behind a freezer locker, firing desperately to no effect at the marines. If he could get a hostage, maybe he could get dirtside and escape. That was when the freezer he was hiding behind suddenly slammed into his face.
"Manticoria! Get out of the way!" Private Marci Lomi called out.
She was too fast though, getting into hand to hand with the superhumanly genetically altered thug.
The battered thug sneered at the slip of girl. There was his hostage-
He screamed in agony as she kicked his knee and broke it even as her arms blurred in a set of punches that shattered his ribs.
"Stay down!" Oh gods, he killed Billy. His death was entirely her fault for trying to set up this sting.
The thug crashed into a cupboard and the then slid to the ground. As soon as he quit moving, the young Scion was rushing over to the fallen marine.
"Damn- that- hurts," the downed marine said as his hands went up to the smoking hole in his chest. His fingers were coated in blood and burnt flecks of flesh. It appeared his armor had not saved him. "Crap-"
He was alive. She could still save him. "LIVE!" she shouted, thrusting out her hand towards him, uncaring of the bystanders.
And something palpable answered her plea, as her ichor roared to life within her body as it channeled through the Amulet of Mercy and War. Legend coalesced and mended his life threatening injuries to merely bruises and third degree burns. Dangerous, but no longer dying.
"I saved him!" she called out with tears in her eyes as she feel to her knees next to the fallen corporal.
Private Lomi and all of the other men and women just looked her in shock as she had saved Billy somehow.
Sheila then whirled on the mewling form of the broken man on the floor. Picking him up with one hand, she looked him eye to eyes as she wrapped the presence of War Itself upon herself. "What you know of the slavers had better be worth it," she warned him, causing him to lose control of his bowels. "So when the nice officers of the law ask, I suggest you talk. And quickly."
"Miss Manticoria, you need to let him go. You can't hurt him," Marci Lomi said desperately.
"I was just explaining myself to him. I had no intention of hurting him any more," she replied calmly even as she gently set him back down. "Captain Chersey, I believe these prisoners are yours."
"Yes, ma'am." And maybe after a while, he would actually understand what actually happened there.
Chapter 10 - The Final Rescue
"Captain Manticoria," Angela said across the channel from the other ship that she was now in charge of, "I've got an ugly situation developing with a few of the companies that are expecting their cargo on the Pretty Cowgirl."
"I was afraid of that. You read them the regulations pertaining to impounded ships that are caught with illegal cargo?" Sheila frowned as she saw the other Midshipwoman nod helplessly. "Well, refer them to me as the commanding officer. I've been reading up on interstellar law as it pertains to these sort of issues."
"Thanks, Sheila. I had no idea what to do. Maybe I should read up on those laws, too," Angela replied looking visibly relieved.
"Manticoria out," she replied.
It only took them an hour for her first request to filter up from the planet. Well, request was a bit mild. It was a demand for his priority cargo to be released or else.
Sheila had switched her her best uniform, then took the call in the captain's ready room right off the bridge. "Mr. Meyers?" she asked the portly man in a classical cowboy outfit sitting behind a desk.
"Yes, who are you? I asked to speak to the captain of the Anglicus," the heavy-set man asked. His bolo tie was keeping his collar tight around his flabby neck.
"Due to an unfortunate incident, I currently am the ranking officer of the her majesty's Ship Anglicus," Sheila stated politely. "I understand you are looking for the best and most expedient way to get your cargo released from impound?"
"What I want, girl, is that you will release my power generators so that I can get the South Billings power grid in place. I've already lodged a formal protest over your high handed actions that are keeping Pretty Cowgirl from delivering my cargo!" he almost shouted.
"Ships that are caught carrying slaves are in almost all situations impounded. We could look at releasing your cargo after the merchant insurer agrees to pay the salvage fees to her majesty's government per the stellar accord of Frentue of 1562. That is why there are insurance clauses."
"Slaves? What slaves? Pretty Cowgirl drops in to Montana twice a year with the most boring cargoes," Morton Meyers shouted, his face starting to turn a red from his anger.
"It appears Captain Malvarri had ended up in a bit of a financial pickle and took on the slave to try and make up for a late mortgage payment. That, along with the testimony of the boarding marines, will be brought before a Montanan judge. We take the Chernwell Convention very seriously." Sheila had yet to raise her voice. "I would be more than happy to negotiate a fair price to the insurer so they can release your cargo as quickly as possible."
"It's a firm out of Spindle, so it's going to take months to get a response," Meyers stated in a cold fury.
"Which is unfortunate that it will take so long, but as soon as we are able, we'll look at getting that released, sir."
His answer was to only to cut the connection, leaving her staring at the Montana planetary sigil. Her shoulders slumped a bit and then she sighed. Now on to her next call. She routed the next call to the planetary police and defense force. They seemed to be quite based on the old Texas Rangers or frontier sheriffs.
"Miss Midshipwoman Manticoria?" the polite cowboy on the far side asked wit his drawling tone.
"Chief Marshall Hollands? Good to meet you, sir. I'm sure you want to get our testimony about the incident at the edge of your system. The pirates that we took out are, unfortunately, all dead. But there ship is mostly intact. Per regulations, it is now considered Manticorian property, but I'll be frank," she started off with, "it's really not worth a whole lot to our navy. But it occurs to me that it would increase your local forces by more than fifty percent in tonnage. This is all really tentative, but I think that her majesty's government might be willing to sell it at a fair price. We might even be able to haggle some repair work from one of the fleet repair ships." HMS Tornado should be back on station in a month or so, which was still Montana as far as Sheila had heard.
"That seems awfully kind, miss. Beg my pardon, but it seems like a bit too much to be true. That sort of deals cut us to the quick here in Montana in the past," Hollands replied as his large mustache bristled.
"Well, like I said, it's really not worth a whole lot to our navy. But one of the things that Manticore has found that if we're willing to fund a little bit of local stability, it ends up being one less place we have to worry about sending our merchant ships," she countered. "And a good trade usually ends up with both parties coming out for the best." She gave him a truly darling smile, dimples and all.
"Montana probably doesn't have the funds to buy even a poor warship like that, but it does sound a little more reasonable when you describe it that way."
"I can't speak for her majesty's representatives, but it might be possible to negotiate a mutually agreeable loan so that you can get some use out of the ship. If you like, I can at least forward our conversation to my superiors so that they can open a more broad conversation."
"I think we can do that, miss. Hollands out." The sturdy, but not fat, policeman looked over across his desk to the man sitting there.
"We'd like to look at transferring the evidence and testimony against Captain Malvarri and his crew over to you for prosecution. The young girl we rescued did ask us for asylum, which I'm sure her majesty's government would be more than happy to provide. Is there anything else, Chief Marshall Hollands?"
"No thanks, miss." Hollands cut the communication, then turned to his boss. "Well, Wilbur, what do you think?"
"I think she's hit a hornet's nest with a short stick. I've got Meyer's on my hiney like an unwanted boil wanting us to 'take back' his cargo while the planetary senate is all up in arms about a battle that happened in our system and we didn't even know about it," President Wilbur Peers said in a frustrated tone. "The problem is, she's got all her ducks in a row so I'm sounding like an idiot trying to defend myself. They ever clear up what that 'incident' was that left a Midshipwoman in charge of one of their war ships?"
"We got a peek at her ship's starboard side and she's got a big, gaping hole where we think one of her landing bays used to be. Could have been that the officers got themselves all killed." The policeman shrugged. "I've talked to a few of them setting up that call and they all claim she's done a decent job. They are just going to sit in orbit a bit waiting for relief to arrive."
"Can't rightly blame them for that. They probably lost a lot of good people."
Sheila had started rotating crew down to the planet in a week (sans any pay, unfortunately. She was quite locked out of the purser's programs and did not want to get into trouble by trying to crack the security) by the time the first relief ship arrived. It was a light cruiser named Aphrodite, under a very shocked captain when he found out why Anglicus was 'back' here at Montana instead of continuing her patrol.
Captain Harris Marston was looking at the damage to the rear flank of the destroyer, shaking his head as his pinnace approached. "They lost almost eighty people?"
"Yes, sir. And they caught a pirate on their return to Montana, then confiscated the merchant ship that was being attacked due to them being slavers. Then proceeded to help the local law enforcement capture the slave buyer and wring his contacts from him. I don't think old Anglicus has been that busy in fifty years," Lt. Commander Amanda Brenson noted.
The honorable Lt. SG Lady Michelle Henke listened quietly as her two superiors spoke. She was going to be bumped up from assistant tactical officer to be the tactical officer of the damage ship. This might actually boost her promotion up a year so that she could be an executive officer on another ship soon.
"I can't believe that they didn't have any riots over there. A midshipwoman in charge of a ship? Sounds like something out of a bad holo drama," Harris said with a rueful shake of his beaded head. There was only a little gray in its deep brown. He cut quite a dashing look of a navy officer. "I guess she passed her trial by fire anyways, eh Mike?"
"As you say, sir. Even when she was sent to Silesia she managed to miss most actions," the cousin to the queen noted as she was prompted.
"I guess this is the 1 % sheer howling terror that happens instead of 95 % boredom," Harris noted.
The pinnace turned to the very cramped secondary boat bay, docking smothly and effeciently. Just outside the hatch that showed the gravity warning labels, a midshipwoman and five marines all saluted. "Commanding officer of the Aphrodite arriving," she called out in a young, but very strong voice as the bugle ended.
"Permission to come aboard?" Harris asked.
"Of course, sir! Welcome aboard Anglicus! Permission to ask for relief?" Sheila called out.
"You are relieved, Midshipwoman. If we could take ourselves to a conference room, we can see about getting this little issue resolved." He smiled at her very apparent relief.
Marjorie Sylvester leaned back in her seat as she looked out over the snowswept mountains under the primary of the Asgard system. The room seemed to suddenly warm up, causing her to look over to see a quite startling figure sitting across from her. She sighed and spun her executive style chair back around
"What? No warm welcome from yer dear old dad?" the Aesir with hair and a beard of fire asked in a faux-wounded tone.
"Father, I thought you had decided that I was a total loss and worthless." Her dark eyes hid a quite deep anger at his presence.
"No, I just said you had nothing extraordinary that would propel you to godliness. And I was right. Here you are, sixty years later and still quite, quite mortal. Luckily, papa has a plan," the son of Loki explained as he pulled out a cigarette, lit it on his beard and started to puff it up.
"So who angered you enough to sic one of your many byblows onto?" she asked archly. Her faded red hair was starting to show gray hairs.
"A really old pest of one of Athena's brood. She didn't have the decency to stay lost forever," he replied testily as he played with the smoke, forming it into a little girl that was then eaten by a smoke dragon. "And she's starting to make a name for herself. I heard from one of my ears in Olympus that she's recently ascended to demigoddess."
"Oh? And how old is she?" Marjorie asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Almost fourteen, I think."
"Fourteen T-Years?" She blinked at his nod of acknowledgment. "Well, I think she deserves to be taken down a peg or ten then." All of her simmering anger was now directed at her new enemy.
And if it happened to get her further along towards godhood...
...then all the better.
Epilogue the Second: Mesa
It was a dimly lit office that they were meeting in, Albrecht Detweiler looked over at his closest adviser. "So, Joan, what do you think we should do about the Manties moving closer to our neighborhood?"
Joan Kubrick played with the ends of her dark chestnut hair in a move designed to show how calm she was of the situation. "I would not bother doing anything at this point. Our new fleet is still just barely in the design stages and the Manticorians are about to find themselves in a large war that we calculate they will likely lose."
The true leader of Mesa, Manpower and Mesan Alignment narrowed his eyes. "Considering how broken Haven really is, that might be a bit premature."
"Possibly, sir. But we need Haven almost falling apart after they've dealt with Manticore so they will fall to rebellion. Our plans, all in all, are proceeding along. Even if Manticore wins, they will be almost destitute. In fact, we can probably manufacture something out here in the Talbot Cluster just after they've won their Pyrrhic victory. Then the Solarian League can crush them quite easily and they'll both be finally out of our hair." That really was an enchanting idea, she had to think to herself.
"What about this new hyper-dimensional mathematics that Manticore has been touting? That really came out of nowhere," Albrecht noted as his dark eyes studied the public face of Manpower Ltd.
"I can't see how it could. I mean, it might be useful eventually with our own wormhole that we've discovered. But we really don't have the resource to exploit it at this point. I do wonder why Manticore is sitting on the thesis papers. That's a bit unlike them."
"Very well, Joan, we'll let them be. I would like some preliminary work to be set up in case we need to sic the Office of Frontier Security on Manticore." That would be a terribly brief war, of course.
Until the Solarian League fell and was replaced by something much, much better.