Authors: Shawn Jones
“Just you and Captain Jones, sir. I posted the two men I had with me as sentries outside Verne’s quarters when I went in. Once I saw what was inside, I locked it down and notified the captain.”
“Okay. Thank you, Jeff. Carry out my orders. I will have Jones assign someone else to take your spot in this little coup. And we are going to have to talk about that as well. But it can wait for now. For the time being, your only job is to protect Kim. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir. I will comm you when I am done. Pence out.”
When Cort rejoined the group, Kim was showing the dignitaries how the gravity plates would be used to modify the gravity in various areas to make them more hospitable to flora and fauna from planets with greater mass. Tapping Jade Jones on the shoulder, the pair fell behind the main group. While they waited for the others to get far enough ahead to ensure privacy, they talked about the stockade construction. Finally Cort said, “Captain, please erase all items from your flexpad related to what Pence found in the Prime Minister’s quarters.”
“Yes, sir.” After following his instructions, she asked him about what Pence had found.
“I don’t know exactly, Captain. And I don’t want to know. I asked Jeff to destroy everything. The only thing he won’t destroy immediately is Verne’s diary. He’s going to go over it and see if he can find anything else out. I would appreciate it if you would keep this matter to yourself. It’s private, unrelated to the other issues we are facing, and the public knowledge would only serve to hurt Kim. I don’t even want her to find out about it, okay?”
“Of course, sir. About those other issues. Doctor Black alluded to one of them earlier. The
was attacked by the crystal in three systems. It was not serious, thanks to the onboard resonators, but we did have to replace some graphene plates and vaporize the affected ones. I think it was overkill but I was not about to risk the ship to save a little graphene.”
“Well done. Make sure the other species get those onboard resonators too.”
“Theirs will have to be modified. Ours use the coilgun magnetics to generate the resonance. They do not have them, but I am sure our people can come up with something.”
“Tell me about this coup you had planned, JJ," Cort didn’t mince words. “Tell me about
“That is more complicated, sir. Mike Rage contacted me and told me about a conversation he had with Rand Sike. I am not sure what led to that chat, but they were clearly concerned enough that they started maneuvering people strategically. The intention was never to overthrow the government, sir. I promise you that. We just wanted to make sure the government didn’t stop Dar Sike. Our intention was to protect the pack. To protect the Addisons, sir.” JJ wasn’t sure how Cort would take the last sentence. She wasn’t an Addison after all, by blood or marriage.
“Why did you side with them, JJ?”
“I did not sir. I sided with you.”
“Okay, why did you side with me then?”
“My grandfather worked his entire life to protect our family. My father did the same. From the time I first learned about you rescuing Rand, I knew you were like them. And now you have taken on that responsibility for the entire Collaboration, so you are going to need help.”
“Thank you, JJ.” Cort touched her arm and said, “I need to rejoin the others. Please contact Rand and Mike to let them know what is going on. Dar Sike needs to know too.”
“Sir, you know what has to happen, right?”
“Nope. That won’t ever happen, JJ. I lack the diplomacy necessary. I think that job is going to fall to Dar,” Cort chuckled, “But don’t tell him I said that.”
“Just how many secrets do you want me to keep, sir?” JJ asked with a smile on her face.
“All of them, Captain. Every last one.”
When Cort rejoined the others, Kim was wrapping up the tour. She had intended it to be just for Bazal, but after what happened with Verne, the others ended up joining them, if only because they weren’t sure what else to do. Bazal turned in his tank when Cort approached. “Cortland, I trust everything is well now.”
“Yes, Bazal. Thank you. Everything is well. Obviously we have some internal issues to resolve, but they will not affect our treaties.
Why do I always feel like you know so much more than you let on, Bazal?
“Ah. I am sure you will find the answers you seek, General,” Bazal replied.
Cort didn’t have time to contemplate the cephalopod’s response before Speral approached. As usual, she was almost nude. Kim’s engineers had developed a chest pack for her that housed a small tank. Inside the tank was a compressed gas mixture which, through nasal tubes, allowed Speral to breathe indefinitely in a human-friendly atmosphere. Originally, Speral wanted to mount the tank vertically between her breasts, so Cort let Kim explain to her why that was a bad idea around human males. Cort had been gentle enough not to comment on Speral’s extreme blush, and in the end, the small cylinder of gas was worn across her chest, almost like a support device. It still made the men take a second glance, but at least they didn’t have quite as much fodder for their imaginations.
“Cort Addison, are you now the leader of your government?” Speral asked.
“No. Well, yes. temporarily I am. But only in the sense that the military is still entirely under my control. After I wrap things up here, I will be meeting with representatives from Earth and the Ares Federation to determine how best to prevent this from happening again.”
“Cort Addison, would it not be better to just assume command?”
“No Speral. Not for humans, and not for me.”
“Cort Addison, who better to lead humans than you who protect them?”
“Speral, humans aren’t like your people. We recognize the need for a powerful military, but will not submit to one. Even if I wanted to rule our people, which I don’t, they would feel oppressed. No matter how well or wisely I ruled and no matter how much our species prospered. No, humanity will never be subservient. That is also why we will never be a peaceful people. We will always strive for peace, but we will always be capable or war. It is a strength and a weakness.”
“Cort Addison, I understand. Your species is young. My own species was very warlike for many thousands of orbits. We have only adopted a truly peaceful nature since we were first contacted by Bazal’s people. It was their species which brought us into the Collaboration. Since then, we have been peaceful.”
“Just like that? You entered the Collaboration and became peaceful?”
“Cort Addison, no. We became peaceful before we entered the Collaboration. We became peaceful when we began trading with the Attans. Soon after they made contact with us.”
Cort turned to Bazal. “I see. Bazal, would you please stay here at Solitude for a few days? I know Kim, er, Kimberly would love to spend more time with you. As would I, once I have settled the internal issues our people are facing.”
“Of course, Cortland. I was hoping you would ask.” Turning to Kim he said, “Kimberly, do you think it would be possible to arrange for me to leave my tank and swim? It has been a very long time since I was able to swim freely.”
Kim smiled at the thought. “Certainly, Bazal. I can have a large cage lowered into the water to protect you from predators. Would you prefer fresh or salt water?”
“You need not trouble yourself, Kimberly. I do not need protection from your aquatic animals, and any water will suffice. I am capable of storing minerals internally, so the water’s makeup is not important.”
“Are you sure, Bazal? There are large carnivores in our waters.”
“I am sure, Kimberly. I will be safe. I only want to swim. For hours and hours, I want to swim.”
Cort watched the conversation, noting the calm in Kim’s voice. Calm she should not feel after what had happened less than an hour before.
Thank you, Bazal.
Bazal turned in his tank to look at Cort again.
You are beginning to understand, aren’t you Ares?
Yes, Bazal. Should I call you Belun?
Cort took Kim’s hand and the group continued on in silence. But he still thought to Bazal.
In our mythologies, if I am Ares, if I am the god of war, then you are my counterpart, aren’t you?
‘Peace’ then? I suppose that is appropriate. We are both necessary, Cortland. I learned that too late. Yes, we are both necessary. But I believe we are passing into a time of your realm, for mine has fallen. Our fate lies in war, it seems.
We have the same goal, Bazal. But neither of us can achieve it without the other. Should I speak to you before I speak with the human leaders?
They should not know at this point.
Who does know? Who knows your true nature?
Cort sensed a hesitancy in Bazal’s answer
. The council knows of my telepathy, but not its extent. The Collaborative Council. I believe Speral suspects more, though. She has proven her honor. I am not against her knowing. But I would prefer that they not know that which you now ken.
I will not share your attributes with anyone. That’s your place, Bazal. I am asking if I should know more about your nature and place in the Collaboration before I determine the course our species must now take.
You are wise to ask. But
you ask should be your answer, should it not?
As they turned the final corner back to the main compound, they exchanged farewells with those who were leaving. Finally, only Kim, Cort, Speral, and Bazal were left.
Yes, Bazal. I will delay the meeting with my people until you and I have spoken. It must be soon though.
I will not leave until then, Cortland. For now, Kimberly needs you as well. Be there for her. Afterward we can commune. Then you will be able to lead your people.
I don’t want to lead them, Bazal.
And I do not wish to be that which I am, Cortland. Would that I could exact my own vengeance, but that should be left to you, Ares. Some of us do not control our destiny. We are but mere puppets. That is the lot to which you and I are bound, Cortland. So long I have waited for you.
“You are preoccupied,” Kim said later in their quarters. “What is wrong?”
In reality, Cort was trying to wrap his mind around what had transpired with Bazal. He couldn’t talk to her about it, but there was plenty more for him to share. “I’m sorry, babe. There’s a lot going on. Now I’m in the middle of a power play by my own family. I didn’t want this.”
“I did not either. Why did Verne go off like that?”
Cort thought about what Jeff Pence had found. The man’s infatuation with Kim was horrific. “I think I misjudged him. I thought he could handle the authority. That’s why I pushed him for the job even though he and I didn’t get along. Maybe he saw it as a chance to rid himself of me, I dunno. He killed his wolf. I let it down too. I thought him having one would be good for him. I sacrificed her to keep the peace.”
To Cort, every word he had said was true. He reached down and scratched Zandra’s neck as she rested her chin on his lap. Her eyes lazily opened and took in the room before gently closing again. Kim covered Cort’s hand with her own and spoke, “Honey, that’s not your fault. Any more than what he said about me or JJ was.”
“How are you? Really, Kim. How are you?”
“It stung at first. I nearly broke down. Then you spoke to me. You had just killed Verne, and you were facing a military coup. Gods, I didn’t know what JJ was going to do until the Marines grabbed Verne. I wondered if she was going to order them grab you. They would have had to kill us both. All that and the new intel about the enemy. You had so much on your shoulders right then, and you were willing to set it aside just to be there for me. That gave me strength. If you could carry that load and still think of me, I was strong enough to not need you to. I can’t explain it better than that. You gave me strength with those few words.”