(This short story takes place in the Star Saga, a few years before Starforgers)
A PROMISING ALLIANCE
by Ken McConnell
I opened the ornate glass doors and went out on the wooden porch for some fresh air. Inside, my fellow senators were doing their best to close ranks and push me out of their inner circle. I was tired of it and I needed to recharge myself with the fantastic views of the forest that overlooked the capital city of Soban. The estate belonged to the esteemed Senator Hoque from the planet Drexel. He was a pompous ass, but his property was just gorgeous. The house reminded me of my parent’s home on Prahran. Secluded, yet close enough to the city to get there without delay if needed.
I felt the cool, afternoon breeze through my forest green evening gown. Standing at the wooden railing, I closed my eyes and just listened to the wind rushing through the pine needles. Slowly I felt my nerve return and my blood pressure lower.
“Nice evening tonight, madam senator,” the man said.
I had not even heard him approach. I opened my eyes and slowly turned my head to him. I was too relaxed to even hazard a guess who he was. Though he did look somewhat familiar to me. He wore the ornate black and silver uniform of an admiral in the Starforce. His gray hair was slicked back over his ears and his tanned face wore an easy smile.
“Pardon me admiral,” I trailed off, expecting him to inform me who he was.
“Vis Ganner, at your service madam.”
He was handsome and polite, a good combination for a man in uniform. I could smell his cologne in the breeze, masculine without being pretentious.
“Good evening admiral. I just had to get out of there before I screamed,” I said, motioning to the dining room hall.
He glanced at me briefly with his gray eyes as he grabbed onto the wooden railing and surveyed the tree canopy. “I know what you mean. I sometimes wonder why I bother to come to these events. Nobody seems to want to listen to my pleas for a unified fleet.”
That’s where I had seen his face before. On the floor of the senate during the military hearings for establishing a united Federation Fleet. If memory served, he was leading a delegation of admirals and generals who were trying to raise money to fund a true, interstellar Feet.
“It would appear that we have something in common then admiral. I can’t seem to get my esteemed colleagues to admit the border planets into the Federation as full members. This congress is a tough nut to crack.”
Ganner nodded and looked at me thoughtfully. “You’re from Prahran, right?”
“Yes. Have you ever been there?” I asked.
He bent down with his arms on the railing. “Yes. Once when I was a junior officer, we made planet fall on Prahran. I went out bar hopping with my friends and got ridiculously drunk. What was that ale they make in Rhehan? Bresters? No it was Brennars. That stuff was nearly the death of me.”
I laughed out loud in a polite manner. “It was the death of our marriage for my ex-husband. He drank himself into a divorce.”
Ganner looked at me for a moment before saying anything. “Doesn’t your husband command the Stellar Rangers on Prahran?”
“Ex-husband, yes. They’re all a bunch of drunken old men,” I said with just a tinge of regret in my voice.
Ganner stood up and faced me. “My wife left me for a younger man who drank too much. I guess we have another thing in common, senator.”
I smiled at him and he grinned in return. There was a brief moment of uncomfortable silence as the only sound was the rustling pine needles. We were up about fifty feet into the tree line at the edge of the steep valley.
“For what it’s worth, I support your reasons for admitting the border worlds into the Federation. I’ve traveled all around the Federation and I know how vulnerable we are to a determined aggressor. The Fleet only has a handful of ships and each ship rarely patrols the border worlds. If you ask me, we should have a dozen or more ships and they should all be on the border. We ‘re just asking to be surprised in the worst possible way.
“But this Federation would rather serve its own self interests than prepare for something that nobody wants to happen. The larger governments get the slower they move. That sad fact has gotten many worlds into trouble in the past and near as I can tell, it will happen to the Federation in the same fashion.”
I was studying Ganner as he spoke and noticed that he looked about my age, late fifties maybe early sixties. His skin was wrinkled in the good way that only happens for men and it was scared with spots and discoloration of a life spent in exotic locations.
“Having served in government my entire life, I can’t argue with that. I used to wonder how I was ever going to legislate my own territory much less my own world. To be sure, the higher I climbed the political latter, the longer it took to get things done.”
I set my hands on the railing and looked into the darkening sky. The first bright stars of night were winking on above the treetops. One of them was Drexel, the home of the second of the three Federation planets and the home world of Senator Hoque.
“The Federation is always visible in the night sky. I’ve always liked that refrain. Think about how true it would be if we had six more worlds in the Federation?” I said.
Ganner looked skyward for a moment and then returned his gaze to the sunset. It was as if he had spent his life staring at the cold, white light of the stars and preferred to take in the warm colors of a simple sunset.
“There are some worlds where the Federation is not visible. There are some beings who have never heard of the Federation and who probably never will. Some of them are suffering under inhuman conditions that the Federation would be appalled at.”
I looked at him and studied his physique. He was tall and had strong arms and a solid chest. His waist was not thin, but had nothing extra where most men grew outward with age. His black uniform followed his form but did not cling to it like a formal dress clings to a woman’s shape. A silver waist sash was tied in an effortless knot by his own hands no doubt. Polished brass buttons ran along the front of his coat. He let out a deep sigh and turned to face me. I pretended not to be so entranced by him.
“Do you really believe there are evil empires out there who will eventually try to attack our Federation? I always thought that was myth and nonsense,” I said.
“Let’s just say that I believe there are more things in this universe than either you or I can imagine.”
He pushed off the railing and offered his arm to me as we walked along the wooden planks of the porch. I could smell his cologne again being this close to him. It was comforting and familiar.
“I know several traders and lawmen who have been to the far borders of known space and they each can tell stories of technically superior civilizations that they have encountered in the inky depths of space. Some of them are just crazy old space rats, but the fact that every one of them admit to seeing such things in their travels tells me that there must be something to the stories.
“I personally have never seen any evidence to support claims of evil, marauding beings who devour whole planets to extend their twisted ways. But common sense tells me that sooner or later, we will run across such races and the odds are pretty high that they will be more technologically advanced than us. That is why I’m struggling to grow the stellar fleet into a true star force. With ships that can tunnel through space and protect not just the Core Federation worlds but all human and non-human worlds.”
Listening to him talk I was reminded of how similar our struggles were and I was struck by an idea that had lingered in my head months before, the idea of an expanded Federation and how that could open up known space for future exploration.
“One of the primary reasons I’m trying to win entry into the Federation for my home world and many others is to make the Federation stronger by diversifying its member planets. There are goods and services that border worlds can offer that the Federation could take advantage of and in the process would make the Federation stronger.
“Not to mention the expanded tax base that would allow the Federation to be able to afford your interstellar warships that could in return protect all the members of the Federation. It’s a win-win situation in so many ways it makes me cry into my pillow some nights when I realize the possibilities.”
He looked down at me suspiciously and said, “My dear senator, I find the idea that you would be crying into your pillow over such things very hard to believe.”
He was right; it was just a figure of speech.
“You are correct admiral, I don’t have such loose emotions. But I’m very concerned for the future of this political body and I think the two of us have enough in common to join our forces. What do you say to such an alliance, sir?”
Ganner nodded his head thoughtfully as we walked. Then he noticed an elderly gentleman sitting in a chair looking out at the sunset. We stopped before the man and Ganner let go of my arm to crouch beside the man’s chair.
“Admiral Xander, it’s me, Vis Ganner. Do you recall who I am, sir?”
The elderly man was wrinkled with age. He looked at Ganner with tiny slits for eyes. His frail hand trembled as it touched Ganner’s face. A thin smile grew on the gentleman’s pale white face.
“Admiral Ganner, so good to see you again, my son.”
“Its good to see you too, sir,” Ganner looked up at me and then back to his elderly friend.
“I have someone for you to meet. This is Senator Gail Constantine from Prahran.”
I bent over and offered my hand to the man. He took my hand into his own warm grasp and lightly squeezed it.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Senator Constantine, forgive me for not standing.”
“That’s quite alright admiral, I’m charmed to make your acquaintance.”
Ganner pulled up a wicker chair for me to sit in and then fetched one for himself. A silicant butler came by with drinks and Ganner handed me one and took one for him. The butler offered the elderly admiral a drink and he waved it off.
“I’m afraid I have a weakened constitution these days. I’ll leave the consumption of alcohol for you younger folks,” Xander said, his voice cracking with age.
“Admiral, we were just discussing the expansion of the Federation. The good senator is trying to get Prahran and a few other Outer Rim worlds admitted to the Federation proper.”
Xander looked at me with knowing eyes. Eyes that had seen more of the galaxy than any other human, or so it seemed.
“Yes, that is a worthy cause my dear. There’s always strength in numbers.”
Ganner took a sip of his wine. “Didn’t you travel extensively in deep space beyond the border worlds admiral?”
Xander nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, yes indeed. I have been further into the black than any living man has been. I have seen many wondrous things out there. Space is far grander than most people will ever know.”
“Tell us about your encounters with the Blue-skins?” Ganner prompted.
Xander’s face clouded over like a sudden summer squall. He looked away from us, his hands resting on the blanket at his lap. He closed his eyes and began to speak. It was as if he were watching his memories play out on a stage behind his eye lids.
“We encountered terrible creatures on our voyage beyond Al-Shatar. Wicked cruelty exerted on other sentient beings. Power the likes of which we had never seen. The kind of power that forges empires and causes the unprepared to fall like grass to the spinning mower blades.”
I was somewhat skeptical. The man was clearly moved by his experience, but I got the distinct impression that I was being played to. Like this was some kind of a set-up between Ganner and Xander. I waited for him to continue out of courtesy.
“We lost ten men on a planet that our probes and sensors told us did not exist. All of them were hacked to death with swords by the soldiers of the red warships. I had never seen such savage brutality before in my life and I pray that I will never witness it again. Our crewmen were not expecting a fight and were caught unaware of their impending fate. Those of us who survived escaped to orbit where our ship lay bathed in the jade colored gasses of a ringed planet.
“Al-Shatar is not a green star, but it sits engulfed in the greenish gases of the nebula from which it was born. Several planets formed in the region and Shatar Beta was a small moon with a totally alien geography. Seas of ocean methane and mushroom like plants that poisoned the thin air and corroded our metal suits. Life flourished on its surface, but not the kind of life that we know and love. It was eerie and beautiful at the same time.
“We wanted to stay on the surface and take more scientific measurements, but we were attacked without warning and soon found ourselves on the run for our very lives.”
Xander sat there silent for a few minutes his eyes slowly opened and took in the whistling pines. Ganner looked at me as if the show were over.
“What did you find out about these Blue-skins as you call them?” I asked.
Xander shook his head. “They were more like us than we cared for. Humanoids, with faces like brutes and pale blue skin that made them look like corpses. Where they came from, we suspect the deep inky void beyond Al-Shatar.”
A white clad silicant appeared behind Xander’s wheel chair and grasped the handles.
Ganner reached out and touched Xander’s knee and said, “Your nurse is here to take you back inside. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.”
“You are most welcome. It was a pleasure to meet you senator. I hope I have not given you nightmares with my crazy old space tales?”
I smiled and said, “Thank you for sharing admiral, the pleasure was mine.”
We stood up as the admiral was whisked away by the nurse. Ganner had a somewhat sheepish look on his face as we started to walk back to where we first met.
“That was quite a show, admiral. I rather suspect that our meeting was not at all by mere chance?” I said.
His head fell down as he confessed. “Forgive me senator, I was just trying to impress upon you the dangers that lie beyond our safe, little lagoon of the Federation. Admiral Xander was my first commanding officer and he agreed to come out today and help me. I’m not beyond a little theater, if it helps me make my point.”
I winked at him and he smiled and said, “You and I are more alike than we first thought, admiral.”
My aide, Sumi-Ness found us and came to my side to whisper in my ear.
“Madam Senator, I have news about your daughter.”
“Its okay, you can speak aloud, I have no secrets from the good admiral.”
She looked at me seriously as she always did when the news was bad. I started to second guess what I had just told her.
“Madam, your daughter has been given her first Ranger Company. It is on the Outer Rim world of Ocherva,” Sumi-ness said.
My heart sank and I must of looked ashen faced. Ocherva was the farthest border world from the Federation and the closest to Al-Shatar. How could her father have allowed it? I thought about sending a dispatch to Joh and demanding he send her somewhere else. He had to listen to her, she was still Devon’s mother and the senior senator from Prahran.
Then I realized that perhaps it would work to my advantage if I placed her silicant caregiver on the planet to be with her. Thirty-seven was due for an upgrade and Ocherva was where the minerals found in the upgrade chips were mined. I could have him adjusted and then use him as a sentry to keep watch over Devon and warn us of any danger he noticed from Al-Shatar and beyond. I was certain Devon would hate me for sending her android, but what was she going to do, send him back? Space shipping was much too expensive for her Ranger pay.
“Senator, I’m sure your daughter will be just fine, Ocherva is remote, but of absolutely no importance to the Federation or anyone else for that matter. Hardly the place to encounter an invading army from deep space. There would be nothing for them to capture there,” Ganner said, trying his best to reassure me.
“Oh I know that admiral, I just don’t like seeing my little girl stationed so far away from me. You understand I’m sure, being a parent yourself.”
“That I do, senator. That I do.”
“Sumi-Ness, please book Thirty-seven transport to Ocherva. Have him prepare a travel bag with Devon’s things. I’ll be along after the meetings today to help him pack.”
Sumi-Ness nodded and glided away with a curious look on her pretty, flawless face.
“Admiral, are you involved at all with the tunnel space starships now under development?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Yes I am. The S.S. Sokol is just finishing space trials and there are plans for at least a half dozen more ships. Provided we get the congress to fund them. The president is not a very enthusiastic supporter of spending Federation funds on defense.”
I agreed, but I was also on the defense budget committee and had some pull with the president. I stopped and touched Ganner on his forearm.
“Admiral, let me see what I can do to get you some money for your ships. I may have some pull with the president and besides, he owes me a favor or two.”
Ganner looked at me suspiciously. “Madam Senator, I appreciate anything you can do for me, but I don’t want you to burn any bridges on my behalf.
I laughed and said, “Oh no, its not like that at all. The president and I have never been on the best of terms, but I have been one of his few bipartisan supporters in the Senate. He owes me one.”
Ganner seemed to relax again. He grasped my hand with both of his and we separated. “It’s been a great pleasure meeting you Senator Constantine. I look forward to working with you.”
“Please, call me Gail. I do sometimes tire of all the formalities.”
Ganner smiled warmly again with a glint in his gray eyes that promised something more than friendship. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part.
“All right Gail. Please, call me Vis.”
“Vis, I do hope you will join me for dinner soon. I believe this is the start of a very promising alliance.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
He brought the back of my hand up and kissed it gently. Oh my. I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. I hoped he didn’t notice my school girl blush as I turned away from him and returned to the conference. My mood was decidedly improved.