“And neither side has attempted communication, correct?” The She-Cat was asking.
She was the high-value cargo. Anyone that looked at her could see that. Although she wore the white-spandex common to Sol’s professional, evolved life, she’d covered it with a gown-like cloak that hung just above the floor and trailed the air wherever she went. Gold threads fastened it near the neck-line. Tassels and other fine filaments adorned its fringes and seams. She looked more like an Empress than an ambassador of the Solsian people.
For the sake of everyone, Niala bore the Ambassador with a stiff, upper lip to put even Lina’s to shame.
“Good. Excellent,” she said, spinning amid the central control room. “There’s to be no communication from this station without my explicit orders or attendance. Both the Federation and the HAA have ordered that the ISC make no further attempts to explore this system. This order has been relayed to Captain Ingstrom and the proper system-base as well. Until I am up to speed, and better understand this new world, I must also insist your prisoners not know of my arrival.”
Niala bowed slightly, “As you wish, Ambassador.”
“Excellent,” she said with a regal spin, cloak twirling after her. “Now, bring me the Wolf.”
Niala squirmed, bowed again. “Yes, Ambassador.”
She hurried from the control room, passing Captain Melchondo and his crew. Simon and Lina watched Niala’s profile rush past the Galley. A certain stiffness to her usual-grace outright disturbed Lina. Then again, Niala also looked like someone was brooming her along, cartoon-style.
“She doesn’t look happy.”
Simon joked over a steaming, foil-packet of food. “Maybe someone just told her the zoo’s making a comeback.” Lina glared. He shrugged, “Can’t be helped. If she’s doing what I think, this won’t go well.”
“You don’t think–“
Their thoughts aligned. “I know. If the ambassador’s half aware as she should be, she’ll know he’s involved. There’s no way he’s getting out without some confrontation.”
Lina sipped her room-temp coffee, “Suppose he leaves before that.” Simon shook his head. Only Lina’s eyes were visible behind her mug. “And why not?”
He choked down whatever some sadistic bastard had labeled “mashed potatoes,” and explained, “I know Snow well enough. If he truly believes some kind of conspiracy’s going on in his ranks, he’ll stay here until the Anti-Humanist threat’s removed.”
She was catching on more quickly now. “You mean to learn more when they attack again…”
Something about the word “attack” slipped from her with such casualness it forced a pause.
Simon grimaced, again knowing her thoughts. “It’s frightening, I know, but we know they’re coming. And we know they’re largely incompetent–“
“We do?” She said, brows rising.
“History dictates as much.” Lina’s still-erect brows begged further explanation. “Anti-Humanists have never been more than a ragged band of criminals masquerading as revolutionaries. Simple fact is, short of some divine intervention like the Zelphod, they’ve neither the political nor material clout to actually do anything more than we’ve already seen.”
“That’s specious,” Lina argued in the most proper, English tone. “And dangerous. Underestimating an enemy can never end well.”
“They only think they’re enemies,” he asserted. “Truth is, they’re being used. Accurate grievances or not, by degrees or wholly, their beliefs are simply a convenient point of leverage; the proverbial strings tied to their backs.”
“That’s rather insightful,” she said, thinking on it. He nodded, in part to shift the awful taste of food from his tongue to his cheek, though the gesture was nonetheless genuine. Lina sighed, “So, whether or not they’re right, their tendency toward militant extremism makes them, what? Like confused children?”
“More or less.”
“Incompetent,” Simon corrected. He shuddered at an especially grainy aftertaste. “A Solsian epidemic.”
“Perhaps our new friends will lack that charming trait.”
Simon grimaced, “We can only hope.”
Simon’s hope, of course, was another short-sighted aspect of his species. It was not truly his fault. For, as has been said, making an ass of one’s self appears a Universal epidemic. It was however, nonetheless short-sighted.
Ah, well; C’est la vie. Ha’ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana. So it goes.
Down the hall, “c’est la vie,” would’ve only further angered to an already furious Wolf.
Niala stood at the far-side of the open airlock that separated the cabin and cargo sections of Snow’s shuttle. She’d entered the airlock easily enough, pressurized to the station as it was. Where she stood now, and her hesitation therein, was more or less for courtesy’s sake.
Snow slumped in his pilot’s chair, his Kingly-ardor damped. Why, Niala wasn’t sure, but she sensed it wasn’t good. Niala had never wanted to humiliate Snow as she’d done. On the contrary, she needed him in power on Ganymede. She needed his reputation to remain. For herself and for the millions affected if it faltered. If Snow’s power-base fractured, it meant civil-war on Ganymede. Possibly through-out Sol. Especially now, they couldn’t happen.
Unfortunately, forced to choose between the mission and his pride, the mission came first. Perhaps she’d overreacted. She certainly knew of better ways to handle things, but none so succinct. First and foremost, she’d needed to know why he was there; to help or hinder her.
For now, his power-base was unaware of that confrontation. Questions would arise when the Anti-Humanist prisoners eventually reached their destination. Those questions would reveal the truth. Between interrogations, informants, and outright prison gossip, further questions would tap Snow’s true intentions, his strength. That was bad. His obvious dejection was bad. The particulars of his dejection were moot. What mattered was, for as lawless and anarchic as Ganymede claimed to be, Snow ran it. That could change easily if he weren’t careful now.
One, well-placed rumor could add to another, atop an already-growing pile from his frequent absences, forming a king-killer. It was obvious some subset of his power-base hoped to stir trouble, were asking questions that could lead exactly where all of Sol didn’t want.
“If you hovered anymore I’d tell the bot to switch bodies with you,” Snow grumbled.
“Rearden’s indisposed. Thought I’d fill in.”
“Come in, Niala,” he said unceremoniously. “Sit down. Lingering helps no-one.”
She blew a sigh and sank into the co-pilot’s seat. They were silent long enough for Niala to mirror the Wolf’s stare. The blackness of space was pin-pointed by lights, as if someone had hung a black cloth over a universe of a light, then poked holes to tease of its existence.
“Ganymede will survive, whatever you choose.”
“That’s no solace, Domess,” he said, his insult’s sting even less than usual. “They leverage my own intelligence against mob mentality. I have my issues with Sol. With its politics.”
“This much I know,” she reminded.
“Everyone knows it. My people. Your people. Their people.”
He sighed again, almost shrinking into a singularity in his seat. His face wrinkled with the snow-gray that lent him his name, but bled into something deeper, whiter. Niala was suddenly aware of how old they’d become.
No-one was quite certain the average age of Evolved species. Too many unknowns made for too much uncertainty presently. First-gen Contact survivors had been forced through their evolution cycle mid-life, cutting their lifespan to fractions. The very stress of undergoing such radical mutation made it a wonder they’d survived at all. It undoubtedly affected them more than anyone realized.
Since then, near-constant fighting had dominated Solsian life. Whether for the HAA, the Federation, or planetary gangs, unnatural deaths abounded. Any estimates for life expectancy were too skewed for certainty. Given the two were second-generation Evolved– or rather, first born Evolved, neither Niala nor Snow had any idea how long they might live. That uncertainty made it impossible to plan anything too long-term.
For a King, or someone masquerading as one (however virtuously,) it required drawing on the only known historical examples of such. Given Snow was a Wolf, largely detested Humans, he wasn’t willing to emulate their historical monarchs. That reality left him entirely in the dark.
He reiterated for effect. “Everyone knows my politics. And yet, they exploit them erroneously. They seek to use group-idiocy against the intelligence of my position: I do not care for Humans. I do not care for most things. I live, and rule, by a rigid code of honor. That code also dictates I refuse to waste time and lives waging foolish wars over meaningless viewpoints.
“Yet I must respond somehow. In spite of their idiocy. In spite of my wizened position– that I’m not stupid enough to believe Solsian Civil-war is a plausible answer. In spite of it all, I must meet them head-on. But how? Their tactics are as guaranteed to succeed as I am to fail at making them understand my position. How am I combat that without stooping to their level? Without compromising my honor? My integrity?”
A long, thoughtful silence passed.
Niala did her best to reassure him, “Simply? Do not. Combat them with the methods of a King– their King: Rationality, reminders that their world thrives as a result of his efforts. With reminders, above all, that many enemies threaten he and his subjects, some in ways indirect and insidious.”
He thought long on it in silence, then he gave her a lone look. “I was not going to say it, but … it is good to see you again, Niala.”
She managed a small smile, “Always a pleasure to entertain the King.” He barked a sudden laugh. Her face reset into stiff reality, “Unfortunately, matters of state require our attendance.”
“To hell with that shit-boxer.”
“You wanna’ keep your Merc contracts with the Feds, you need to speak to her,” Niala quipped back. One of Snow’s eyes narrowed on her. “There’re how many systems in the galaxy? Why else would you have been here?” His face hardened. She reassured him. Again. “My silence is assured. Hers is not.”
He rose, grumbling, “Flea-bag shit-boxer.”
Niala followed him with the cartoonish, brooming stiffness. Snow’s profile preceded hers past the Galley in a whisk of movement. Lina and Simon exchanged a tense glance over fresh, steaming coffee, hesitated, then scrambled to spectate. The feeling was mutual; “I have to see this.”
“Alpha-Wolf Snow,” the Ambassador said, empirically.
“Ambassador Mataan,” Snow said, oozing a generous lather of repugnance.
“I’d have thought you’d fled the moment taking responsibility for your actions was required,” Mataan said with equal distaste.
He growled, “And I’d have thought the universe would collapse attempting to bow appropriately to your whims, but here we are.”
“Ambassador,” Niala began gently. “Snow,” she said caustically. “Please, we’ve matters to attend.”
“You have my report,” Snow said to Mataan, ignoring Niala. “Either take me at my word, or don’t. I don’t care.”
“And how’m I to know it’s accurate?” She asked, knowing her implication.
He bared his teeth, “Because I wrote it.”
Mataan was too pleased to have affected him. “Yet your intentions may be questionable.”
Snow looked ready to explode. Niala was almost certain she’d have to repeat their earlier spat. Instead, he stiffened as she had and his voice smoothed out, “As are yours, Madame Ambassador. I wonder how the Alliance would feel if they learned your youngest daughter was currently on holiday on Ganymede, meeting with anti-Humanist sympathizers. Or if they learned of her sister’s… schoolgirl indiscretions.”
Mataan’s face hardened. Her eyes became icy knives, ready to cut Snow’s throat, but knowing they couldn’t.
“I would suggest, Ambassador, not to shit where you eat and instead use the box.”
He swiveled with the smuggest of grins, catching Niala’s glare as he left. At a word, the room emptied, leaving the Ambassador to herself. Niala left, seeing Snow far ahead. Lina and Simon stared, open-mouthed, at what he’d gotten away with.
Niala muttered under her breath as she passed, “Real mature, Snow.”