Chapter 1: Dinner and a Proposal
"It was a dark and stormy night," Rachel said, her voice echoing across the open space.
"What are you doing?" Quinn asked, stepping out into the small outdoor amphitheater in their Chichen Itza base.
"You won’t tell me how your visit with the Queen went, so I’m writing my own version," Rachel said. "It’s very dramatic, if I say so myself."
"It wasn’t anything very exciting," Quinn said, stopping in front of her. "She just wanted to thank me for saving the Ambassador’s daughter."
"It was our Clan’s first meeting with Earth royalty," Rachel said, shaking her head. "It was exciting."
"There isn’t a lot of Earth royalty for us to meet," Quinn said. "At least not any relevant to our plans. Most of them are just figureheads or run small countries that have no global influence."
"It’s good PR," Rachel said. "When we visit Japan, our first stop will be to see their emperor."
"They still have an emperor?" Quinn said.
"Quinn!" Rachel said.
"Sorry," Quinn said, winking at her. "Of course we’ll drop in and say hello when we’re there. Wouldn’t miss it."
"Good," Rachel said. "Now, go away unless you want to tell me what really happened."
"Fran and Shelby invited us to dinner tonight," Quinn said. "I’ll tell you then so I don’t have to repeat myself."
"You better," Rachel said. "Did they ask us to bring anything?"
"Just you," Quinn said, backing towards the main exit. "The four of us."
"No Brit or Santana?" Rachel asked, following her out into the square.
"Brittany is taking Santana dancing. Some new club she’s discovered in Perth," Quinn said.
"Good for her!" Rachel said. "Santana’s been working hard on plans for her base down there and needs a break."
"We don’t have permission to build there yet," Quinn reminded her. "It’s not like the Yucatan, where we can claim prior ownership. Australia is a sovereign land. They aren’t just going to give it to us."
"It’ll work out. Brit is good at convincing people," Rachel said. "What should I wear tonight?"
"It’s just us, so whatever you want," Quinn said.
"Okay," Rachel said. "Come on, you can help me pick it." Grabbing her hand, Rachel dragged a surprised Quinn across the square and past the hall housing their private quarters.
"Aren’t all your clothes at your fathers?" Quinn asked, easily keeping pace.
"Yes, that’s why we need to hurry," Rachel said. "The shuttle to Cancun leaves in a couple minutes."
"They’ll wait for us," Quinn said. "We are in charge."
"Not the point," Rachel said. "They shouldn’t have to. They’re our people, not just random minions we picked up in some space bar. They deserve respect and consideration. We shouldn’t be making their jobs harder."
"I know they aren’t minions," Quinn said, when they stopped at the ground shuttle waiting patiently for them in the main courtyard.
"Uh, huh," Rachel muttered.
"You don’t feel like minions, do you?" Quinn asked the others waiting as she followed Rachel onto the shuttle.
"Sometimes," Jayna, one of Blue Team’s techs, said, her short blue streaked, blonde hair waving as she spoke. "Whenever one of the team really bangs up their suit and wants it fixed in a hurry, even though we have to get parts from the fleet. Then we’re very miniony."
"See!" Rachel said triumphantly. "You need to do something about that."
"No, ma’am," Jayna said. "It’s just traditional pilot/tech relations. It’s always been like that. They forget they're wearing our suits. But they know better than to take us for granted. Without our suits, they’re just using primitive boring weapons that anyone can use. Like rocks. And anyone can do that. No offense intended, Lady Q."
"None taken," Quinn said. "We can’t upset their routine, Rachel."
"Well, I don’t think it’s right," Rachel mumbled. "There will be songs written!" She was quiet for the rest of the trip to Cancun, occasionally humming something under her breath.
"Thanks for caring, Lady M," Jayna said, towering over Rachel, before she stepped out of the shuttle, when it stopped in Cancun’s entertainment district. "We do appreciate it. But we can’t all be hotshot pilots like Lady Q. Someone has to clean up after them."
"Definitely," Rachel said with a laugh, poking Quinn. "They’d be hopeless without us."
"I’m not messy," Quinn said, frowning.
"Keep telling yourself that," Rachel said, sitting back in her seat for the rest of the trip to the beach.
"You don’t need to wear anything fancy," Quinn repeated, leaning against Rachel’s bedroom door and watching her dig through her closet. "I’m not."
"That isn’t fancy?" Rachel said, turning around to glare at her. "Everyone on the shuttle, even the driver, was drooling."
"Even you?" Quinn asked, curious.
"I’m immune to your dazzling beauty powers," Rachel said smugly. "Though I didn’t know you owned anything like that. Who picked it out for you?"
"I can’t pick out my own clothes?" Quinn said, frowning.
"You do seem to handle selecting casual and formal clothes well," Rachel said, "but clothes to drive them crazy with your sexiness? Nope. You obviously had help."
"Okay," Quinn said. "Brittany might have suggested this dress."
"For tonight?" Rachel tilted her head to get a better look.
"We were supposed to go dancing when we were in London last week," Quinn said. "But something came up. I kept the dress."
"It does look good on you, but I’m not sure I have anything that really matches," Rachel said, pouting.
"How about that?" Quinn asked, stepping around Rachel. Reaching into her closet, she pulled out a shimmering dress.
"Seems a bit too revealing for a family dinner," Rachel said, trying to take it from her.
"It’s adjustable," Quinn said, gripping the dress and causing it to darken. "Just need to change the setting from seduction to normal."
"How’d you do that?" Rachel said. "I didn’t know it could do that! That must have been what Brit meant when she gave it to me. I thought she was just kidding about it being for all occasions."
"She has a wicked sense of humor," Quinn said. "Sometimes it’s hard to tell if she is serious."
"Definitely," Rachel said, rummaging through a dresser drawer. "Don’t go anywhere." Taking the dress from Quinn, she slipped into the bathroom.
"What shoes do you want?" Quinn said, over the sound of the shower. Getting only a low mumble back, she opened the door slightly. "What did you say?"
"The sandals I had on earlier will be fine," Rachel said, sticking her head through the shower’s water shield.
"How do I adjust this?" Rachel shouted, standing in front of her mirror. "I can’t wear it like this. It’s almost invisible! You can see everything under it. That’s not appropriate for dinner."
Blushing, Quinn stepped completely into the bathroom and stood next to her. "It’s controlled by your mind," she said. Reaching over, she touched the neckline of the dress. "Just put your hand there, and visualize how you want it to look."
"Not quite what I want," Rachel muttered as she followed Quinn’s directions and the dress turned into a solid impenetrable black sheath. "Looks like I’m going to a funeral for someone I don’t like." She gripped the collar again and frowned in concentration. The dress returned to its earlier state, silvery in a soft see through material, before shifting again. No longer see through, it draped across Rachel’s body in soft waves. "That’s better, though I think next time I’ll wear something else and keep this for special occasions. Might need to experiment a bit."
"It looks good that way," Quinn said, fingering the material.
"Not too much showing?" Rachel asked.
"Nope," Quinn said. "Perfect for family."
"Good," Rachel said. "I think I do need to get a dress like yours for dancing."
"Okay," Quinn said. "We don’t go out that much, not like Brit and Santana."
"They’re in a relationship," Rachel said. "They do all sorts of couples things like dates. We’re just friends. But we can still do things together, if you want."
"Of course," Quinn said. "We have lots of fun doing things together."
"Good," Rachel said, peering at her in the mirror. "But first, let's get going. Don’t want to be late for dinner."
"Definitely," Quinn said. "We’d never hear the end of it."
"Right," Rachel said, putting the final touches of makeup on her face.
"There’s nothing to be nervous about," Quinn said, watching Rachel. "It’s just dinner."
"With just us," Rachel said. "Not my Dads, not Brittany and Santana, not even your mother."
"My mother is spending some time with her mother," Quinn said. "She hasn’t seen her in years."
"What about you?" Rachel asked. "When was the last time you saw your grandmother?"
"It’s been a while," Quinn said. "I think I was ten the last time we all went to see her."
"We should do that," Rachel said.
"Go see your grandmother, silly," Rachel said. "She lives in a small town, right? It’d be like going back to Lima, but without all the badness."
"No," Quinn said firmly. "We’re not going to Hooterville. It makes Lima seem sane."
"You were ten," Rachel said. "I bet it's different than you remember it."
"No," Quinn said. "If you want to meet my Grandmother Douglas, we can bring her down here, or visit her when she’s in her apartment in the city."
"City? Which city?" Rachel asked.
"The one with Broadway, of course," Quinn said. "You’d like her. Her family was Hungarian royalty."
"You never mentioned that," Rachel said. "So, you’re royalty yourself? How did that work when you met the Queen?"
"I think my grandmother met the Queen before she was the queen," Quinn said, "but the Queen wouldn’t know that, since she thinks we’re aliens, remember? So it never came up."
"Oh, right," Rachel said. "Does that mean we can’t go see your grandmother since she’d think we were aliens?"
"She’s a bit… different," Quinn said. "I don’t think she would care."
"Let’s go see her!" Rachel said, turning around.
"I think you’ve stalled enough," Quinn said, turning her back. "They aren’t going to bite."
"You noticed?" Rachel asked. "What if they have bad news?"
"What kind of bad news could they have?" Quinn asked.
"I don’t know, but it could be something that they didn’t want anyone else to know," Rachel said.
"Maybe they’re getting married," Quinn said. "To each other."
"Don’t even kid about that," Rachel said. "That would be horrible."
"It’d be weird," Quinn said, "but I’m not seeing the horrible in it. They’re great friends. They go everywhere together. If they were a couple we’d say they were dating."
"But what about us?" Rachel said. "What would that do to us?"
"We’d still be friends," Quinn said. "Why would that change?"
"Friends, right," Rachel said, an expression on her face Quinn couldn’t quite place. "Okay let’s get this over with. You first."
Quinn held out her hand. Taking it, Rachel followed her down the path to dinner.
“Come in,” Fran said, excitedly answering the door. “Dinner should be ready in a few minutes,” she added, guiding them into the small dining room.
“How are you,” Rachel asked. “We haven’t seen either of you all month.”
“We’re doing well,” Shelby said, entering the room and placing a large dish on the table.
“That’s mostly our doing,” Quinn reminded her. “They’ve been here, we’re the ones who’ve been traveling.”
“I’m just being polite, Quinn,” Rachel said. “I think you spend too much time with your troopers. They think being polite means not knocking over the punch at a party.”
“That is important,” Fran said, giggling. “Seeing her hard core soldiers cry because the booze was spilled can be disturbing.”
“Ha, ha!” Quinn said, pulling out a chair for Rachel to sit in. “Don’t expect to be invited to any more parties, sis.”
“Quinn’s troopers are very well behaved,” Rachel said, winking at Quinn. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a rude one. We had a nice chat with one of the suit techs on the way here, though I don’t recall ever meeting the tech who keeps yours in order,” she said, frowning up at Quinn as she pushed in Rachel’s chair.
“You haven’t?” Quinn gave her a surprised look. “Master Tech Jantel is my suit tech.”
“Oh, then I take it back,” Rachel aid. “I’ll have to thank her for keeping you alive the next time I see her.”
“I keep me alive, Rach,” Quinn said, pouting.
“I assume it’s a joint effort,” Shelby said, putting down one last dish and taking her seat across from Fran. “Your Tech keeps your tools in excellent condition, and you use them like the trained warrior you are.”
“Thank you,” Quinn said, blushing. “This smells wonderful.” She took the dish handed to her by Fran.
“Santana’s cousin has been teaching us some wonderful local dishes,” Shelby said. “I think they turned out very well.”
“The local cuisine offers some interesting variations on the original Clan dishes,” Rachel said, nodding as she spooned a small portion onto her plate. “They didn’t have access to the proteins we have in the fleet, and had to find other things to replace them, but a lot of it is good none the less.”
“What are the two of you doing with your free time?” Quinn asked. “It’ll be another six months before we allow the borders to be completely opened.”
“As much fun as lounging on the beach or exploring the ruins you haven’t ‘rehabilitated’ yet is, we’ve been working with several of the local colleges,” Fran said. "Your friend Artie, the AI? We’re working with her and Lady Shadow to put together a unified educational system that meets Clan standards."
"This does include music, right?" Rachel asked. "I’m sure Brittany wouldn’t forget the importance of music and dance in our culture."
"Of course," Shelby said.
"It’s fascinating," Fran said. "Getting the public and private schools together to agree on teaching techniques."
"There have been some culture clashes," Shelby told them. "The private schools were all controlled by the Church, so they expected us to leave them alone. Most of the public schools were barely funded. Getting them to work together has been an interesting challenge."
"Aren’t we paying for all education now?" Quinn asked, looking at Rachel. "So we don’t need private schools?"
"Yes, eventually," she said. "But it’s a complex problem. We can’t just throw the old system out."
"Did you solve the teacher problem? Weren’t a lot of the upper level professors out of the country when we took over?" Quinn asked.
"You didn’t read Brittany’s report on that, did you," Rachel said.
"Might have been busy," Quinn admitted.
"Hanging out with royalty," Rachel said. "And you still owe me a report on that for the archives. So give."
"Yes! My little sister meets the queen while we’re all here slaving away building her brave new world," Fran said, giving her a stern look. "So, details!"
"How did it happen in the first place?" Shelby asked. "I understand the four of you are meeting world leaders to get them behind your plans, but the Queen of England doesn’t have that kind of political power does she?"
"Her support will be helpful," Rachel said.
"Umm… it wasn’t anything special," Quinn said.
"The Queen obviously thought so," Rachel said. "It happened early in our whole takeover," she told them. "One of the local drug cartels wasn’t too happy that we outlawed their products and made it impossible for them to sell them here."
"All they had to do was lay low until we opened up the borders and then they could have gotten away," Quinn said. "We weren’t really looking for them. But they wanted to keep their power over our lands and people, spread their drugs, and we couldn’t allow that."
"How did the Queen get involved?" Shelby asked.
"One of the cartels didn’t get the message and invaded a hotel, taking hostages," Quinn said. "We rescued the hostages."
"And Brittany bought the hotel," Rachel said, as an aside. "She likes doing that."
"One of the hostages was the British Ambassador’s daughter," Quinn said. "And the Ambassador is related to the Queen. So, she appreciated our actions. But really, we were just doing what needed to be done."
"Does Grandma Douglas know you’re alive?" Fran asked.
"Not that I know of," Quinn said, "but Mother is visiting her right now, so I could be wrong. Why?"
"She’s a friend of the Queen," Fran said.
"Quinn mentioned that," Rachel said. "That could be a useful connection."
"Not now," Quinn said. "Maybe some day, when we get outed."
"Some day, people will discover we’re really from Ohio," Rachel said. "Brittany has this huge plan for when it happens."
"Ah," Shelby said. "So, it’ll all work out then."
"A Brittany plan? It can’t fail. Might get messy but failure isn’t an option," Rachel said. "But I want to hear more about this meeting with the Queen."
"Me too!" Fran said.
Quinn frowned. "It won’t be that easy when people find out we aren’t who they think we are," she said. "Brittany plans usually work but they do require some effort."
"And when does Brittany predict this will happen?" Rachel asked, although she already knew the answer.
"We have five years," Quinn said. "That’s how long she thinks she can keep a lid on where we come from."
"And by then, it won’t matter if we’re originally from Ohio or Las Vegas," Rachel said. "Now, back to the Queen. How’d that go?"
"It was a private audience," Quinn said. "Her security detail was a bit nervous about the meeting. So, we wore formal uniforms without the ceremonial weapons."
"You took your whole team to London," Rachel reminded her. "Did she thank all of them?"
"They were presented to her later, yes," Quinn said. "They weren’t impressed but they were polite and answered her questions."
"Good, good," Rachel said. "I’ll talk with them later."
"She’s a nice lady," Quinn said, blushing. "Very intelligent. We talked for a little bit. She wants to meet the rest of the Council when we open formal relations with her government. She might send one of her grandsons down here to observe training maneuvers."
"Ah…" said Fran with a laugh, "that would be the blush of a Quinnie who was complimented. You never could resist talking with old ladies."
"And that’s it?" Rachel said. "No tours of palaces? No tour of the Tower?"
"I told you it wasn’t that exciting," Quinn said. "We flew in, stayed overnight at a hotel Brittany liked, met the Queen in the morning, and then headed back. No time to tour. Brittany had to leave to deal with an emergency with one of her people, so we didn’t go dancing. Which means I owe my team, because she promised them a chance to hit the clubs in London if they were on their best behavior."
"And we now own a hotel in London, don’t we," Rachel said.
"Maybe?" Quinn said. "It might be one of the ones owned by that luxury hotel chain we bought out here."
"The hotel chain she bought?" Rachel said.
"I’ve lost track of her growing real estate empire," Quinn said.
"You guys are hilarious," Fran said, shaking her head. "Meeting important people, buying property, planning for world domination. It’s like a junior telenova."
"We only do what’s necessary," Quinn said. "Security is easier if we own it. And we aren’t interested in world domination."
"Looks like it’s happening, no matter what your plans are," Fran said. "Not bad for a bunch of cheerleaders from Ohio."
"But that’s not really why we asked you to dinner," Shelby said, looking at Rachel as if sensing her protest at being called a cheerleader.
"I told you something was up!" Rachel said to Quinn. "You aren’t sick, are you?"
"No," Shelby said. "We’re not sick."
"Or pregnant, yet," Fran said. "We thought we’d tell both of you first." She held up her right hand.
"A ring? I thought you were kidding about them getting married," Rachel said, glaring at Quinn.
"I was," Quinn said. "Does Mother know?" she asked her sister. "About you two or getting married?"
"That we’re in a relationship? That’s why she’s visiting Grandma Douglas. She needed time to get used to the idea," Fran said.
"Was she upset?" Quinn asked.
"No. Just really surprised, and upset at the possible lack of grandchildren," Fran said.
"Children are still possible," Rachel said, eagerly. "I had a chat with Artie about it, since we’re a bit top heavy with female couples in the Clan. Clan medicine has all sorts of solutions to the childbearing problem. Though it’d be a bit weird if my little sister is Quinn’s niece."
"It’s a little early to talk about children," Shelby said.
"And we haven’t set a date for the ceremony yet," Fran added. "Though we’d like to have a traditional Clan commitment ceremony. We’ve been talking with Santana’s cousin, since she’s the Clan’s head priestess, about what it would take."
"Oh…" Rachel said. "I don’t recall anything about a commitment ceremony, other than a Fleet Captain can perform the ceremony to bind a couple together. I’ll have to look into it and talk with her myself."
"No rush," Fran said. "We’re not getting married tomorrow."
"Mother might be a bit upset about that," Quinn said. "Even if you think you have the grandchild issue solved."
"The 'How' appears solved, the 'Who', not so much," Fran said, "which is too soon to discuss now."
"We don’t have any new Clan babies yet," Rachel said. "But I bet yours will be so cute."
"They are actually cute together, right?" Rachel asked later that evening, as they walked along the moonlit beach. "If we ignore that one of them is my mother and the other your sister?"
"Cute? I guess," Quinn said, humming quietly to herself. "With the Clan age really is a relative thing. Both of them will be able to take advantage of Clan tech to live for centuries together if they want to. And after living in the time bubble while training and planning, we’re physically older than Fran."
"Right. Centuries of cohabitation. I wonder what that would be like," Rachel said. "Artie says most Clan pairings lasted for at least a century, if not for life, but they didn’t expect to always be in each other’s pockets like we’re used to with Earth marriages."
"Having that much time must change things. Would you want to live with me for over a century?" Quinn asked, curious.
"That’s different," Rachel said. "We have a lot longer than they do. You do realize we’ll outlive them, right? And their great grandchildren?"
"Trying not to think about that, it’s too far away," Quinn said. "But I don’t want to be by myself the whole time either. I want what Brittany and Santana have," she said wistfully. "They know they’ll be together the rest of their lives."
"How do they know that?" Rachel asked, stopping. "We’re all still so young. If we survive the next decade, this war that’s coming, we’ll have over a millennia of time for relationships."
"Because," Quinn said.
"That’s not good enough," Rachel said. "How do you know they’re right?"
"Do you really want to know their secret?" Quinn asked her, taking her hand and tugging on it to get her moving again. "You can't tell anyone that I told you. You can’t let anyone know what I’m telling you. Do you still want to know?"
"Yes!" Rachel said.
"Brittany comes from a different clan, remember?"
"She’s ours now," Rachel said. "Where she comes from doesn’t matter."
"But it does," Quinn said. "It matters a lot. Her people are special, even among the Clans."
"She’s amazing, yes. What we’re doing wouldn’t be possible without her," Rachel said. "But how special, really? How much is her people and how much is just her Brittany-ness?"
"Her people believe in reincarnation, and soulmates," Quinn said. "And she says they have undeniable proof that both exist."
"Reincarnation as in having past lives?"
"Yes," Quinn said. "And their soulmates are what we think of also. People with an extraordinary connection, as if two halves of the same being who cannot exist without the other."
"Okay," Rachel said. "Does that mean the two of them are soulmates?"
"Brittany believes they are. Her people have some kind of mystical test to show that."
"Do we believe in magic then?" Rachel asked. "I know we’ve encountered psychics such as Mother, but magic?"
"She didn’t show me how it worked," Quinn admitted. "She didn’t expect me to believe her. But she does. And that’s all that matters to her."
"And her people believe soulmates are for life?"
"For forever," Quinn said. "Through reincarnation anyway."
"Oh," Rachel said. "Lucky them, I guess. We do think they are lucky, right?"
"Mostly," Quinn said, hesitantly. "She’s so sure of herself and their relationship. I’m not certain I could handle the idea that somewhere out there the only person who can make me happy is waiting for me to find them. What if I’ve already walked past them? What if we never meet?"
"I’ll always be here for you," Rachel said. "You can’t get rid of me that easy."
"And, if you find your own soulmate? Then what?" Quinn asked. Stopping, she turned towards the ocean. Rachel wrapped her arms around her in an attempt to comfort her.
"I’m still your friend. They’ll have to share. But how do we know that we have soulmates? Maybe only Brittany’s people do? Or maybe only they can know for sure who they are." Rachel twisted around until they were facing each other. "Soulmates, reincarnated soulmates is great for them. Santana needs that kind of sureness. But I’m not giving up my friend, you."
They turned towards the ocean and stared at it for several minutes.
"But I want that kind of forever," Quinn said, once more moving down the beach, Rachel at her side. "I thought all of this had burned the romantic right out of me but hearing Brittany talk about soulmates and how much Santana needs her and how they fit together and all of that, and I envy them. I feel like Alice who grew too tall and then small again."
"You’d make a wonderful Alice," Rachel told her. "And I think you would actually catch that rabbit."
"And wring it’s neck," Quinn said. "Following him almost got her killed."
"Love is possible, soulmates or not," Rachel said. "Look at your sister and my mother. Do you doubt that they love each other?"
"No," Quinn said. "They aren’t some sappy, Hollywood love story love. They’re the real thing."
"And, if they are soulmates, they’ll never know. Or even question the possibility. I can see why what Brittany and Santana have together is meant to be a secret," Rachel murmured. "The knowledge that such a possibility exists but that you might not have it with your chosen partner would be devastating."
"It’s bad enough knowing such things exist when you don’t have a partner," Quinn said. "How can you commit to a relationship under such conditions?"
"Some times you just have to take a leap without looking at what is below," Rachel said.
"I’m not comfortable with that idea," Quinn said. "It can be a long way down without a suit to stop you."
"So what do you need from me then," Rachel asked her. "I’ve already said I’ll always be with you, soulmates or not."
"I’m not asking you to marry me," Quinn said. "That’s not what it’s really about. That would be too cruel for both of us. But I’ve come to realize over the last year that I don’t want to lose you, I want you in my life for as long as possible. Your friendship gives me a balance I thought I’d lost."
"That’s simple enough for me," Rachel said. "The Clans do have the concept of a platonic bond between friends. It doesn’t prevent other relationships from occurring between bonded friends and others. But it’s recognized by the Clans for what it is. Acknowledgment of a commitment."
"Would you really do that with me?" Quinn asked.
"Good thing that isn’t a marriage proposal," Rachel said. "I could really be offended."
"Okay," Quinn said. Turning around in a circle, she spotted a large rock glowing in the moonlight. "Come over here."
"What did you have in mind?"
Quinn brushed the sand off of the rock, revealing a smooth surface. Nodding to herself, she turned Rachel so she was facing away from the rock, placed her hands on Rachel’s hips and lifted her up on the rock.
"Wow!" Rachel said, squirming to make herself comfortable. "You’re awfully strong there, Lady Hands. And very Handsie with my person."
"Hush," Quinn said. "I’m not sure how one of these is supposed to go," she said, "but Rachel?"
"Yes," Rachel said, a small but growing smile on her face.
"Would you be my friend for the rest of our lives? Through arguments and disagreements? Beyond future lovers and any children we might have? Would you do me that honor? To fill that place in my head and heart reserved just for you?"
"I take it back," Rachel said. "That’s the most romantic declaration of friendship I’ve ever gotten. Of course. I’d be honored to have that role in your life."
"What do you think, Artie?" Quinn said to the air. "Does that count? Do you think that’ll work?"
"It’s longer than normally used in such situations," Artie said in their ears. "But extremely heartfelt for a commitment of friendship."
"Good," Quinn said, "because I meant every word of it."
"And I accept the responsibility of friendship," Rachel said. "And, as your friend, I think this calls for a little celebration. I’ve got a small bottle of Antaran wine in my room, if you’d join me."
"I’d be delighted," Quinn said. "Where’d you get the wine?"
"Well, strictly speaking it’s from a small vineyard in California owned by some science fiction author," Rachel said. "But Artie, Glee Artie, thought we’d find it amusing."
"I don’t believe there’s a real Antaran wine," Quinn said. "But that won’t stop me from joining you to sample it."
"Good, because he said it wasn’t something to drink by oneself, and I gave the other bottle to Santana and Brittany," Rachel said, poking her. "Which just leaves you."
"Well, that will require investigation," Quinn said. "Shall we?" Reach over, she carefully lifted Rachel off the rock and back on the sandy ground.
"I’m really proud to be your friend," Rachel said, grabbing Quinn’s hand, and turning them back towards her fathers hut. "And not because of your scrumptious beauty in the moonlight. Because you are excellent friend material."
"Are you sure you haven’t been sampling the wine already?" Quinn asked, with a small laugh.
"What gave you that idea?" Rachel said. "All I’ve had to drink tonight is that champagne with your sister and my mother to celebrate their engagement."
"You really don’t have a problem with that?" Quinn asked.
"Well, since we’re not going to become related in ways that would prevent us from being friends, or anything else, I don’t see why there would be a problem. The Clan has broadened my outlook on family relationships tremendously."
Chapter 2: Who Ya Gonna Call?
The Black Hats try to defeat our girls again. But things end not with a bang but a whimper.
Disclaimer Update: Ghostbusters are/were owned by Sony, Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray.
I'm just borrowing a small brick building.
No ghosts or ghostbusters were harmed in the making of this fic.
"What is going on?" Rachel asked, preparing to address her second audience of the day. "Not liking this radio silence lockdown," she added, waving at her bodyguards in the wings. "No one can tap into our comms anyway."
"Lady Shadow's orders," Lady Black said. "And only a fool disobeys her orders."
"I've known her since I was ten," Rachel said, pouting. "A little slack would be welcome."
"But I'm not a fool," Lady Black said, "so we're following her orders."
"And doing what?" Rachel asked, waving at the muttering audience.
"What you came here to do. Build bridges and make friends," Lady Black said, without hesitation.
Sighing, Rachel stepped out onto the stage and headed towards the podium, currently occupied by their host, a well known celebrity historian.
"Lady Memory, may I present the faculty of the United Nations University School of History and Cultural Affairs. They are here to hear about your efforts to preserve the cultural artifacts of the Mayan peoples of the Yucatan."
"I'll need a stool, I think," she said, the podium barely reaching the top of her head, to laughter from the audience. She turned towards her bodyguards and waved the nearest over. Jazz bounded over, and stopped next to the podium. Reaching over, she held a hand up level with Rachel's head and the podium.
"Definitely, boss," she said over the local comm. She waved off the host and placed a small disc behind the podium, which grew large enough for a person to stand on. "Step here so we can adjust it."
Rachel nodded, and stepping on the disc waited until she was at a comfortable height. "Good, now we can see each other," she said to the audience, to more laughter. "It is okay if I begin? If you will excuse the occasional language difficulty. Our translators occasionally have difficulty with your language."
"Your words are being translated in real time?" the host said. "That's amazing!"
Rachel shrugged. She did not like using the translators but Brittany had insisted that it would be too easy for people to pinpoint her origin if they heard her speak English, and they weren't ready for that revelation yet. "It works better with some languages than others."
"Perhaps a little background to start? Yes?" she said, after waiting for the audience to settle down. "You must understand, that for us, the Mayan peoples are not an exotic ancient civilization. They are stranded members of our people who were in need of rescue. They also had an important job to do. So, we have come to restore them to their family, our clan, and to finish the job they set out to do. As such, our treatment of their 'cultural heritage' may seem a bit strange to you."
Sending a silent command to the small 3D project they'd brought with them, she displayed the first slide. "This is what the central part of the city of Chichen Itza looked like when we arrived. As you can see, it looked like a well preserved ruin with more recent structures surrounding it, though we were later informed by the locals that they still used it for their ceremonies." She gestured at the image, causing it to rotate, giving them several different views.
"Will you be making this available for study?" a short woman asked, speaking from the back. "We have been unable to convince the Mexican Antiquities office to let us create such detailed views of the city."
"Unfortunately, we will not be allowing such things either," Rachel said. She changed to the next slide, showing a view of the current site, white stones gleaming in the morning sun. "We have renovated Chichen Itza for our use." The audience gasped, and there were angry mutterings. "I did not think you would appreciate our efforts at, urban renewal I believe you call it."
"You have erased hundreds of years of Mayan history," an angry voice shouted.
"No, we have restored an abandoned city to its original purpose, with a few modern conveniences," Rachel said, correcting them.
"What gave you the right to destroy it?"
"It is our land, that gave us the right," Rachel said. "Our people built it. We have merely made it livable again."
"What did the Mayans say about this destruction?"
"Cleaning up their temples and chasing away the tourists so they can pray to their gods and goddesses in peace? Opening up our infirmaries to them and improving their living conditions? They are very happy with us."
"And the loss of their history?"
"Nothing was lost except moss on old rocks," Rachel said. "Before we renovated any of the old Mayan cities, and no, this wasn't the only one," she added, "We recorded them in archival detail for future study."
"What does that mean?" the angry voice asked. Rachel changed the projector to another view, the main temple from below, showing detailed reproductions of the carvings on the base of the temple.
"This," she said, "can be recreated using our virtual reality technology. Features of the city hidden by centuries of growth can be seen as if new. From all angles."
"Will this be made available for study?" the host asked. "Though you've probably put thousands of Mayan archeologists out of work so I'm not sure who will want to use them."
"Yes, all of our archival recordings of these cities will be made available," Rachel said. "Once you have the technology to use them. We may have renovated a few structures but there is a large amount of unknown history of the area that we are interested in uncovering."
"Why did you not wait before beginning your 'renovations'," another audience member asked. "We have procedures for handling world cultural sites."
"And we should wait for your governments and committees to tell us what we can do with our own lands?" Rachel shook her head. "I can understand your concern," she said. "I am the historian of the Dragon Clan, its Memory. It is my responsibility to preserve our history for future generations and to provide a framework for understanding it. Such actions as this are not taken lightly. But it was our decision to make."
"Will you make this recording technology available for other projects," a grizzled haired old man said, standing to address her.
"Yes, we hope to," Rachel said. "We are currently in the early stages of a pilot project to apply our recording techniques to several historical sites outside of our enclave. If it is successful we will make the equipment and tech available to appropriate parties."
"Q, you have got to see this," Santana said, breaking into Gold Team's comm channel during a post training exercise debrief.
"What, S," Quinn said, keeping her tone even, knowing that Santana wouldn't interrupt them unless is was important.
"Our friendly Black Hats have decided to go for the big leagues," she said. "Switch to Fleet channel Alpha Zed."
"Excuse me ladies, something's come up," Quinn said, "we'll continue this later." A chorus of 'yes ma'am's' briefly echoed in her ears before she switched her suit comm to Alpha Zed, which was showing CNN.
"What are they doing?" Quinn asked, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
"They've taken over the old Ghostbusters firehouse in New York and have taken everyone inside hostage," Santana said.
"Have they said what they want?"
"They want us to surrender all of our tech to them and leave," Brittany said, her voice coming through on a different channel. "Or they'll kill all of the hostages."
"Not happening," Quinn said.
"Nope," Santana said. "Not thrilled with losing so many hostages to those bastards if it comes to that but the planet comes first."
"Where's Rachel?" Quinn asked, suddenly aware of her absence from the discussion.
"She's actually speaking to a UN group at a conference near there," Brittany said. "They've miscalculated if they think that'll force our hand."
"With a little help, I assume," Quinn said, not having to guess to know that Brittany was more than a few steps ahead of their local nemesis.
"Of course," Brittany said, giggling. "They aren't getting near Rach again if I can help it."
"Where's she now?" Quinn asked.
"In a meeting," Brittany said. "I'm on my way to get her now."
"That firehouse is an old tourist trap," Santana said. "Are there any important hostages there that we know of?"
"They're all important, San, you know that," Brittany said. "It was a celebrity party of some sort. Somebody's birthday or something. Rachel was invited but couldn't go. I haven't gotten the names of the attendees yet."
"Celebrities? Crap," Santana muttered. "We don't need that kind of publicity if we let them get killed."
"What's the plan?" Quinn asked. "We didn't just buy another building, did we?"
"Not that one," Brittany said.
"We needed to clear the area around the firehouse," Brittany said. "So we're negotiating with the insurance companies for all the structures on that block. We'll cover their losses for anything we destroy."
"Okay, and what happens to them afterward," Santana said. "Just curious."
"A small park with underground offices and shops," Brittany said. "It's a brilliant idea. We'll have the firehouse in the middle for our NY embassy and that park surrounding it."
"I thought we didn't just buy it," Quinn said in a neutral voice.
"We've owned it for a while," Brittany said innocently. "I didn't tell you guys?"
"Um, no?" Santana said. "I thought we weren't buying any unnecessary property?"
"A well placed location for our embassy in NY is necessary," Brittany said. "But this one wasn't intentional. It was part of that holding company we bought out. They owned those building in Cancun, a couple hotels, one in San Francisco, that one in London, and that old firehouse. No one knows we actual own all that property."
"If you can't beat them, buy them?" Quinn said.
"Exactly," Brittany said.
"And this plan? That sounds like a bit of urban renewal?" Santana said. "What are our plans, exactly."
"The buildings have to go," Brittany said. "Everyone should be out of them in two hours. Then we bubble them and use some of your heavy lifters to move them somewhere else."
"So, the people using these building can come back later and get their possessions?"
"Well, they'll have to go down to the docks were we'll put the bubbled buildings, and we'll need to have several safety crews to help them, since the buildings won't be in the greatest shape afterward, but essentially, yes."
"So, once the area is clear, then what?" Quinn asked, already signaling two of her teams to prepare for an emergency urban environment mission.
"The old firehouse is too fragile to move like that with people in it," Brittany said. "So, we surround it once the area is cleared, and negotiate."
"I thought we weren't negotiating with them?" Santana said.
"Not their way," Brittany said. "We need to find their main base. This should help, assuming they contact it during the raid. We have the whole place wired already. Nothing comes in or out of that building without us knowing it."
"You've actually been planning this for a while, haven't you," Quinn said.
"Not this exact location, no," Brittany said. "But I've been expecting them to pull some grand gesture out of their pointy hats for a while. As soon as I heard about this my rapid response team was in the air headed their way."
"And that's why we love you, babe," Santana said. "Keep up the good work."
"What's my role in this?" Quinn asked. "Do you even need any troopers?"
"Definitely," Brittany said. "You're our presence on the ground, like always, except this time you need to be very visible. The Black Hats and everyone else needs to know we're through playing games."
"We never play games," Quinn said, protesting. "The job's too dangerous to play around."
"They don't know that," Brittany said. "They see our people, all those sexy, wonderful women, and can't take us seriously. It's time to start changing that. They need to see us as powerful, sexy, wonderful women."
"You're the boss," Santana said. "I've passed on your orders to the heavy lifter crews."
"Great!" Brittany said. "They need to make it look effortless, like they do that kind of work every day."
"You already know where their main base is, don't you," Quinn said. "You haven't requested any troops for taking that out."
"Nope, it's going to be all stealthy. While you are dealing with the New York situation, my teams are going to sneak up behind them and slit their throats. Figuratively speaking. And I need to go," she said. "Later ladies!"
"She's even more dangerous that she seems," Quinn said. "We're luck she's on our side."
"She makes dangerous sexy," Santana said, amusement clear in her voice. "And you need to get your pretty white ass and your teams in the air."
"Yes, bossy Lady," Quinn said. "Some of us can multi-task. They're all ready, waiting for pick-up. I'm joining them now."
"Don't get yourself killed, Q, those Black Hats might still have some Tiger clan tech."
"Not planning to, just make sure your gang does their job."
"They're pros," Santana said. "They'll be there."
"Rachel," Brittany whispered over their private comm, "you are doing a great job but we need to clear everyone out. The Black Hats are up to something. Santana and Quinn are inbound and your little party is right on the edge of the action zone." As she finished saying that, she stepped onto the stage, followed by Rachel's body guards.
"Ladies, and gentlemen, Lady M needs to cut this short," Brittany said. "A terrorist situation is in progress two blocks away and we need to evacuate this building."
"Two blocks? How dangerous is it?" the host asked.
"A terrorist group has taken a number of people hostage at the old firehouse two blocks over and are threatening to release a nerve gas if their demands are not met," she said. "Any more than that is classified by your government."
"Oh. Where can we go?" the host said.
"Your city is evacuating everyone in a ten block radius of there," Brittany said. "Once the situation is taken care of you can return, but you need to go now," she said. "Lady M is our responsibility. There are buses waiting for the rest of you out front. Those nice gentlemen in the uniforms will help you." She waved at the policemen standing at the back.
"What's really going on?" Rachel asked once they were off the stage and back with Lady Black and the others. "Nerve gas? Really?"
"A Black Hat terrorist op? It's a possibility," Brittany said, smirking. "It is definitely going to be too dangerous for sight seers around here in a few minutes. So we need to get you to safety."
"What's the plan?" Rachel asked.
"A bit of urban renewal," Brittany said, leading the way out the back door.
"Is that thing licensed for urban driving?" Lady Black asked, seeing the small shuttled parked in the street.
The shields usually hide it so it doesn't matter," Brittany said, "but we don't have time to deal with the mess if the crazy drivers around here keep running into it."
As they approached the shuttle, the doors slid open. "We'll take you to Santana on Fleet," she said, "and you can catch a ride home from there."
"Where are you going?" Rachel asked, taking a seat in the shuttle.
"While Quinn is distracting our little friends, I have something to take care of," Brittany said.
"I never get to do anything fun," Rachel said, pouting.
"Looked like you were having fun a few minutes ago," Lady Black said. "I thought they'd all die from heart attacks when you showed them the new Chichen Itza."
"Useless busybodies," Rachel said, making a face. "Think they can tell us what to do with our own historical relics. Thousands of irreplaceable artifacts are destroyed every day while they talk about it. At least we preserved everything in our archives before making changes."
"They seemed impressed by that," Lady Black said. "Especially the 3D view."
"Smoke and mirrors," Brittany said. "The real thing wasn't as impressive. And remember your first experience in the learning pods? Most of them won't be able to use them for a while. The tech isn't there yet."
"So, what are you doing?" Rachel asked.
"We've finally tracked down where the Black Hats come from," Brittany said. "Time to squash them into unrecognizable bits."
"All of them?"
"Just the ones in charge," Brittany said. "We'll let the minions go for now. They aren't totally harmless but without their organization they're just speed bumps we'll smooth over later."
"Details for the records later?"
"Of course," Brittany said. "Don't I always?"
"Impressive," Quinn said, watching the heavy lifters as they removed the bubbled buildings.
"Always," Santana said over her comm. "Am I ever not?"
"Your surprise party skills could use some work," Quinn said.
"One time! One time she wasn't surprised!" Santana said. "I think that's allowed."
"Maybe," Quinn said, snorting.
"And when are you going to get your act together and do something about Shorty?" Santana asked.
"We did the friends commitment thing," Quinn said.
"I can't believe you fell for that," Santana said, laughing. "I bet she made that up just for you, right Artie?"
"Bonded friendship has a long history in the Clans, usually in cases where other options aren't available," Artie said. "Lady Rachel's desire for such a bond is puzzling in this case. The profiles of Lady Q and Lady Rachel clearly show a high level of compatibility at a number of different levels."
"It's the Q who's the problem here, Artie," Santana said.
"I'm not a problem," Quinn said, grumbling. "I'm doing it the only way I can."
"Well, you're doing it wrong," Santana said. "If Brit and I followed your plan, we'd be shaking hands, not kissing."
"You've got that whole soul bond thing going on also," Quinn said.
"And if you asked nicely, Brittany would do a 'reading' for the two of you and you'd know for sure."
"No," Quinn said. "If it's supposed to happen it will, and not because of some mystical sign."
"It works for me," Santana said. She paused for a minute before continuing. "And it looks like the field is cleared. It's all yours."
"Good. This is being recorded, right?"
"Ours, theirs, and half a dozen newsies have cameras pointed this way. Better make it look good."
"We always make it look good," Quinn said, switching over to her combat channels. "Gold and Green Teams, this is Gold Team Leader. The plan is a go."
"Aye, Gold Leader," echoed back from the Green Team leader. "Plan is a go."
All around the firehouse, several dozen brightly colored armored figures suddenly appeared standing in the rubble fields of the just removed buildings. Just as suddenly, a large silver dome appeared around the old brick building, shrinking until it covered the firehouse, almost like a second skin.
"Area contained," Green Team Leader announced. "Flooding with suppressant now."
"Could have used that a few times when we first took over," Santana said over their private channel. "Why the Confederation doesn't allow using gas unless it was developed locally makes no sense."
"Definitely one of those confusing AI decisions," Quinn said. "It's based on the Hats' favorite knockout gas but we had to get a sample first."
"Preparing to enter the structure," Green Team Leader announced. "Entrance cleared," she announced a minute later as armored figures disappeared from and reappeared at the main doors of the firehouse. "Going in."
A brief flash of light followed, as members of Green and Gold teams entered the building. Watching the action streaming from Green and Gold suit cams, Quinn was relieved that there appeared to be very little damage to the building. "Status of the hostages"? she asked.
"Unknown," Green Team Leader reported. "Correction, Green Four is reporting a number of unconscious hostages in a basement storage area. They appear to have been dosed with the nerve toxin."
"Acknowledged. And Black Hats?"
"No resistance," Green Team Leader said. "We appear to have caught them by surprise."
"That doesn't seem likely," Santana said over the private channel.
"No, it doesn't," Quinn said. "They know what our tech is like, even if they can't duplicate it. Pin, you and Gold have the hostages," she told her XO. "Green, check for boobytraps. And Lady Air, we need those special scanners your techs like to brag about."
"On their way," Santana said. "You need to clear the building."
"Pin, what is the status of the hostages?"
"They've all been evacuated and accounted for," her XO said.
"No ringers?" Quinn asked.
"All there, and all have been id'ed Boss, though they are all still out." Pin said. "The med team is checking them now."
"And the Hats?"
"In custody," Green Team Leader said.
"Excellent," Quinn said. "Everyone out of the building so Lady Air's techs can do their thing."
"Yes, ma'am," the others all responded.
"Looks like there's a secret escape tunnel in the basement," Santana said, when her scanner techs finished. "Just watch out for the booby trap. It's got enough plastique attached to it to blow down the block."
"I think we can handle a trap," Quinn said. "And the only thing left is the firehouse."
"Brit has big plans for that," Santana said. "Don't put too many holes in it."
"We'll be gentle," Quinn said. "I won't be surprised if she ends up owning the whole planet before we're done."
"As long as she keeps us supplied with good coffee, I'm all for it," Santana said.
"Lady Shadow, we're approaching the drop zone now," the shuttle pilot said.
"Great, May. Once we're on the ground go to the landing zone, we'll meet you there."
"Yes, Lady Shadow."
"Ready?" Brittany asked her team, all nine of them wearing their special covert ops battle suits.
"Ready," they all responded, before pulling down their helmets.
"We want them alive, if possible," she told them, "so no unnecessary shooting unless it's unavoidable." She grinned as they signaled agreement. The jump lights came on and the hatch opened. Stepping to the hatch, Brittany stepped out into the still air above their target, hovering for several seconds before dropping silently to the ground below.
It wasn't a true drop, as Quinn's troopers saw it. In stealth mode her teams rarely dropped from higher than one hundred meters, below the targeting range of most anti-personnel systems they encountered. With the Black Hats potentially using Tiger Clan tech, they had even less room for maneuvering than normal, the tech pushing them below twenty meters intercept range.
"Lady S, we're not detecting any anti-personnel systems in the area."
"Keep scanning," Brittany said. "They wouldn't be dumb enough to leave themselves wide open. And we know they were using standard evasion codes when we found them last week."
"Ah, there they are," Jena said. "They're using an old oscillating technique the Tiger Clans perfected during the Mountain Planet wars."
"I see," Brittany murmured. "But how did they figure that out? Be careful, if they're using that they might have some other surprises waiting for us."
"Yes, ma'am," Jena said. "Detecting signs of Tiger ground suppression tech to the west."
"Black Team, investigate," Brittany said. "Purple Team with me." Approaching the only entrance they'd detected, Brittany and Purple Team silently surrounded the low building. Following well established procedures, two members of Purple Team, their booby trap specialists Toni and Finn, scanned the door, placing deep sensors around it.
"Anything?" Brittany said.
"The entrance is mined," Toni said. "Sonics and explosives out to one kilometer. Our suits are suppressing the mine triggers but anyone else approaching would have been shredded before they reached the door."
"They're relying too much on the Tiger Tech," Brittany said. "They must not know we sold it to the Tigers."
"They know enough about it to use it," Finn said. "This is a standard Tiger outpost configuration."
"Ah," Brittany said. "Either they found some Tigers in deep freeze or they found a Tiger training manual."
"Bets?" Finn said.
"On a sure thing?" Toni said. "They must have defrosted some lower caste Tiger tech."
"Black Team? What did you find?" Brittany asked over the combat channel.
"A couple low grade Tiger mechs and tac guns," Black Team Leader reported. "They didn't see us coming."
"More Tiger tech," Brittany said. "They must have found a cache at some point."
"Through Boss," Toni said.
"All outside communication blocked," Jena reported. "We now have complete control over their systems."
"That was fast," Brittany said. "More Tiger tech?"
"A very primitive Tiger AI built to our specs," Jena said. "I asked nicely, and it turned everything it had over to us. It's reporting thirty armed guards, and ten others who may be armed. Now entering all known id's and facility maps into our tac systems."
"Helpful," Brittany said. "Shall we? Ladies?" she said, calling up her assault team. "The guards are expendable. If they shoot, shoot back. I want everyone else alive. Standard takedown. Don't let anyone near anything that looks like a self destruct button."
The assault team blew out the door, throwing smoke and stun grenades into the entrance before going in themselves. Brittany and the rest of Purple Team followed.
"They aren't surrendering," Purple Leader reported. "Stunning non-combatants."
"Right behind you," Brittany said. "Secure the communications room, we'll take the boardroom."
"Boss, we have incoming," Jana said. "Seven Black Hat fire teams sixteen kilometers out."
"White Leader, you have your orders," Brittany said. "Proceed with caution."
"They're all ours Boss," White Team Leader said. "Executing Operation Coverup."
"Let's get to the bottom of this," Brittany said. "Time to de-hat them."
She stopped in front of a large wooden door. "I think we'll skip the knocking," she said, kicking it open with relish and stepping through.
"Well, this is a surprise," Brittany said, seeing the room's occupants. "Hey guys," she said over the private Council comm channel. "Guess what I have."
"Snakes on a plane?" Santana asked. "You know you can't hide from me when you're using my equipment."
"Not hiding," Brittany said, "just avoiding distractions. Now, do you want to know what I've found?"
"Don't keep us in suspense," Rachel said.
"We appear to have the Black Hat leadership council in our hands," Brittany said, "and even I'm surprised at who some of them are."
"Spit it out," Santana said. "Rach is about to pee her pants in excitement."
"I am not!" Rachel protested.
"Rachel! Santana! Let her finish so we can get back to other things," Quinn said.
"It's like a Who's Who of Evil Masterminds who failed the Evil Overlords list."
"Names, babe," Santana said. "Or turn your video on so we can see them."
"From left to right," Brittany said, shaking her head, "we have Will Schuester, Jesse St. James, three guys I do't recognize, Sandy Ryerson, some woman who looks vaguely familiar from You Tube, and some others."
"Schyster is one of them?" Santana said. "Why am I not surprised?"
"There's no way he's a good enough actor to fool me," Rachel said. "You're bringing them back here for interrogation, right?"
"In my favorite little time warp," Brittany said. "But I think we'll keep them on ice until they get there," she said.
"Good," Quinn said. "Any more surprises or can I go back to clearing out the firehouse?"
"You're free," Brittany said. "Go finish. Have fun."
"Not a lot to have fun with," Quinn grumbled. "There was no real fight. The Black Hats escaped into the sewers and we're chasing them down now."
"Eww... " Rachel said. "Make sure you clean up when you get back."
"The transports have decon units," Santana said. "You don't think I'd let them in any of my ships covered in post combat crap, do you?"
"It washes off," Quinn said.
"It doesn't need to wash off if your suits aren't coved in it when you get in my transports," Santana said.
"Ladies! Save it for later!" Brittany said, interrupting them in mid argument. "Kill them or bring them back. I don't care, just don't let them get away."
"Yes, Boss. Yes Brit," they said to giggles from Rachel, before disconnecting from the channel
"Let's save the reveal for when we're all there," she said. "I want to see their faces when they realize who they've been fighting."
"I need to check their comm records," Brittany said. "This might not be all of them. It was really too easy."
"So they might not be the ones in charge of the Black Hats?"
"Possibly," Brittany said. "They might have dumped their duds and gone deeper under. We'll know soon. And Rachel?"
"Don't try to mediate between San and Q this time. They really need to work it out themselves."
"I learned my lesson the last time," Rachel said. "UST needs to be dealt with, pronto, by the parties involved."
"You aren't upset about that?" Brittany said.
"Quinn's a friend," Rachel said, not sounding too convincing. "How she deals with Santana isn't my business, as long as it doesn't hurt her. But you must not be too happy with them."
"They'll do it once or twice and get it out of their systems," Brittany said. "It's not personal. It's just part of their whole Alpha female thing. Sex is just another thing between them. No worries. And I'll get chocolates and flowers out of San each time because she'll feel uber guilty. So I don't mind."
"Quinn gets sulky when she feels guilty about something," Rachel said. "No guilt treats."
"She'll figure it out eventually," Brittany said. "How'd dinner with Fran and your mom go last month? Did them getting engaged inspire Quinn?"
"Not the kind of inspiring I was hoping for," Rachel said, "but we can talk later. I'm sure this is distracting you. Santana will kill me if she finds out."
"No distraction, Rach. We're just loading them up and bubbling the whole base so we can take it apart later."
"I'll leave you to it," Rachel said. "Need to get back to my office."
"Gotcha," Brittany said. "Go!"
"Everyone out?" Brittany asked, watching as Black Team rejoined them outside of the bubble perimeter.
"All accounted for," Jena said. "All the Hats are on their way to Fleet holding, everything else to be bubbled and sent to the High-Sec evidence labs out past the asteroid belts."
"Good! Bubble when ready," Brittany said.
"There must be an ambush down here," Quinn told her XO, as they slipped past the disabled explosives at the tunnel entrance. "No other reason for them to come down here."
"It's their natural habitat," Santana whispered in her ear. "With the rats and other vermin."
"Not helping," Quinn said, when her team burst into giggles, making it clear that Santana hadn't used their private channel for her comment.
"I call them as I see them, Q," Santana said. "You know, this whole sewer thing doesn't show up on my ship scanners, and that takes some doing."
"Is that even possible?" Quinn asked, leading her team deeper into the tunnel. "Your scanners could find a flea on a coconut in the Pacific, from Pluto."
"Special shielding," Santana said. "We've run into it with these people before."
"So, do whatever you did last time to get around it," Quinn said, coming to a halt at a large circular hatch in the side of the tunnel. It was covered with writing in an unrecognizable language. "We have some kind of artifact. Doesn't look like it's Clan."
"You think I haven't already tried that?" Santana grumped. "Brit's wiz kids are stumped too."
"And Brit?" Quinn asked.
"She's busy with our guests."
"Sorry," Quinn muttered. "Artie do you recognize this?" She brightened her external lights and aimed them at the hatch. "Might be a clue."
"Apologies, Lady Q, but my records do not contain anything resembling the writing on that object."
"Quinn?" Rachel said, joining them on the comm channel.
"Yes, Rachel?" Quinn said.
"I have an idea, but you aren't going to like it."
"I'm already not liking this," Quinn said.
"I think we need to wake up Mother," Rachel said. "That looks like some of the writing on that stasis pod we found her in."
"Pirates? They've gotten their hands on Red Pirate tech? Shouldn't ours be better?" Quinn asked. "They're going to escape!"
"Not better, different," Rachel said. "There must have been a reason the Red Pirates kept getting away from the Clans."
"Good idea, Berry Fine," Santana said. "Cool your jets, Q. Give the wiz kids a minute or two to adjust the sensors. No need to wake Mother, Dear Mother just yet."
"This is a standard crypto-lock," Pin said. "We just need a key."
"Or we can cut through it," Quinn said. "Where's Janey?"
"Up top," Pin said. "She'll be here in five."
"Pin, make sure you get a good recording of that hatch," Quinn said. "I'm sure Rachel will want to show it to Mother eventually."
"If you don't mind, Quinn," Rachel said. "Pin, a full spectrum scan, please, and not just the hatch. Get at least two meters around it."
"Yes ma'am," Pin said. "Scan complete," she said several minutes later.
"Got it yet, Santana?" Quinn asked.
"Just about," Santana said. "Shorty was right this time. The tunnel is lined with the same material that stasis pod was lined with. It absorbs our default scanner beams."
"As soon as Lady Air tells us what's on the other side, we're going through," Quinn said to her troopers. "Expect them to fight this time."
"Got it," Santana announced. "They've got some interesting tech on the other side of that wall. Sending scans now."
"How are they using that?" Quinn said. "Or is it just for show?"
"Just be careful, Quinn," Rachel said over their private channel. "I don't want to be the one to explain to your sister and your mother that you got yourself killed by obsolete pirate tech."
"If it was modern tech, you wouldn't mind?" Quinn asked, amused.
"Stop the flirting and take care of them, Q," Santana said.
"Hey! This is a private channel," Rachel said.
"It's the middle of a combat situation," Santana said. "Quinn doesn't have any private comm channels from me right now."
"Well, that's not fair," Rachel said.
"It's war!" Santana shouted. "Nothing about war is ever fair."
"Chill out Sue Patton," Quinn said. "She gets your point."
"Patton was a wuss," Santana said. "Now get your anime covered ass moving. The natives are getting restless. Any minute now you're going to be invaded by cameras and badges."
"On it," Quinn said. "Ladies, standard formation. They've got real tech so be careful, but they're probably more dangerous to themselves than to us."
"Aye, Lady Q," her team said.
"Janey, open that hatch," Quinn said.
Following her orders, Janey, her red lined hard suit gleaming in the lights from the other suits, began placing small spheres along the edges of the hatch. As soon as she was done, she waved everyone back down the tunnel. "Ready to blast," she broadcast over the combat channels. "All clear?"
"All clear," replied Quinn's XO. Followed by a large thump that shook the entire tunnel.
"Think you used enough?" Quinn asked.
"Just enough," Janey said, pointing at the remains of the hatch and the large mech on the other side with half the hatch embedded in its front armor.
"That had to hurt," Santana said.
"Get off my video," Quinn said, before jumping through the hatch, weapons ready. The rest of her team quickly followed behind.
"Gee, thanks Santana," Rachel complained. "Now she's turned it off."
"Nah," Santana said. "She just locked us out of her helmet cam. Besides, that wouldn't stop Brit anyway."
"That's good for you but I can't do my job if you all start blocking your comms," Rachel said.
"Nobody blocks Brit from their comms," Santana said. "She can get you whatever you want, whenever you want."
"I shouldn't have to sneak around to get that kind of thing," Rachel said.
"You aren't missing much right now," Santana said. "Just the usual mess Q and her gang make when they go against lame ass pirates and drug dealers."
The sounds reaching Rachel seemed to bear Santana out. There was the whine of high powered weapons discharging, and swearing from Quinn when a shot got too close, and the sounds of things falling over. In the background, she could hear Quinn's troopers following her example.
"I'd like to see what's happening," Rachel said.
"Won't that ruin your stories and heroic songs, if you see the real thing?" Santana asked. "Fantasy and reality don't mix together very well."
"Not at all," Rachel said. "I do get to see them eventually. It's just the flavor is gone. Instead of getting that 'right there' tang to them. If you know what I mean?"
"Like the difference between real life and life in the pods," Santana said. "Things are brighter out here in the real world."
"Exactly," Rachel said. "Though it's hard to explain to someone who's never been in the pods, there is a difference."
"We'll have to get Brit to work on her," Santana said. "She's the only one who can convince Quinn to give anyone live access to her video."
Quinn could hear Rachel and Santana talking in the background but she was too busy dealing with the Black Hats and their mashup of Red Pirate and Tiger Clan tech to respond to them. It wasn't that the Black Hats were very tough, compared to her troopers they were like little kids playing cowboys and Indians. But the tech they were using could still damage the armor she and her troopers were wearing. One lucky shot could still seriously wound or kill them.
So, in a messy battlefield like this, especially like this, there wasn't any real time to deal with people who were just watching.
And, it was really the only time her troopers were able to use their tools in real combat. A simulation was still a simulation, not matter how realistic.
Looking around at the sudden silence, her suit scanners showed all of the Hats down, some in multiple pieces. A couple of her troopers had damaged armor but nothing life threatening or crippling. "Good job ladies," she said. "Any survivors?"
"Three," said Pin. "The rest are KIA's."
"Wrap them up for the Shadows," Quinn said. "And someone escort the Fleet scanner techs down here to record everything."
"On it, Boss," Janey said, skipping out of the hatch.
"My techs don't need babysitters, Q," Santana said. "Their enviro suits can handle anything you've got down there."
"It's not the environment I'm concerned about, Santana," Quinn said. "This is still a hot site. Your scanners are good but the ones your techs use work better in close quarters."
"I know how the equipment works, Q. I designed some of it myself, just for you," Santana said.
"You did?" Rachel said. "You never said anything about that."
"Does it matter?" Santana said. "We all do that kind of thing. Q designed the hard suits her troopers wear, and Brit designed her team's stealth suits based on those."
"But that's amazing," Rachel said. 'This isn't a video game. It takes real knowledge to apply our Clan tech to new situations. You deserve some recognition for that."
"Watch it Q. She'll write some epic poem about how the Hand of the Clan outfitted all of her fingers in armor she built herself. Or some nonsense like that," Santana said.
"Where are your scanners?" Quinn asked, ignoring Santana's jibe.
"Their EV suits aren't overpowered jock straps like those things your troopers wear," Santana said. "Give them time to get there. It's not like anything is still alive down there. It's hot enough to fry Arcturian blue spider eggs."
"Ew," Rachel said. "Why would you do that?"
"The Tigers consider them a delicacy," Santana said.
"Well, we aren't going to find any here," Rachel said.
"You never know," Santana said. "My scanners are showing all sorts of possible Tiger tech down there. Could be some stasis pods full of all sorts of things."
"Quinn! Don't go opening any stasis pods!" Rachel said.
"Why would I do that?" Quinn asked. "It's standing orders to leave that kind of thing in the hands of Brit's teams. They know all the tricks to opening things that don't want to be opened."
"And she's told you that your troopers aren't allowed to blow things up once the fighting stops," Santana said.
"Well, yes, that too," Quinn said. "But that only happened once. And it wasn't something important anyway."
"How do you know?" Rachel asked.
"She laughed when she saw it," Quinn said. "Okay, everybody on the other side of the hatch. Unless you want to get scanned."
"No way Boss," Pin said. "My tech would never let me hear the end of it if I let my suit get fried by a scan."
"What a bunch of superstitious hot shots," one of the techs muttered, passing them just inside the hatch.
"Jeffers, easy on the arrogance," Santana said over the general channel.
"Yes, Lady Air, no bruising the feelings of the poor little troopers," Jeffers said.
"You've got a live one there," Quinn said, laughing.
"I'm sure you can always use another suit tech," Santana said. "She's earned a transfer to a less exciting post."
"Pass," Quinn said.
"I'll take her," Rachel said.
"What are you going to do with a grumpy tech?" Quinn asked.
"I'll think of something," Rachel said. "As soon as she's done here, send her to my office."
"Your headache," Santana said. "You heard her, Jeffers. Report to the Memory's office when you're done here. And clean up first!"
"Yes, ma'am," Jeffers said, turning to glare at Lady Q before following her fellow tech out into the cavern.
"Ma'am, need us to soften her up a bit before she leaves?" Janey asked.
"No," Quinn said. "I'm sure Lady M can handle a cranky Fleet tech."
"Yes, ma'am," Janey said, clearly disappointed.
Chapter 3: Meet the Press
Disclaimer Update: Andy Sachs/Devil Wears Prada? Not mine. Not even close.
Word Count: 3,565
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Rachel said, peeking out at the crowded room. "We can just release a statement. You don't need to face them."
"We just destroyed two blocks of their city," Quinn said. "I think we owe them a personal explanation."
"Why can't Brittany or I do it?" Rachel asked. "I'm the Clan Ambassador, and Brit is always seen near me. No one will think anything of it if we face them. And shouldn't you go clean up first? You look a little toxic."
"No," Quinn said, frowning and looking down at herself. "My responsibility. My plan."
"She'll be more impressive, more believable, looking like that," Lady Black said, shaking her head. "And she's already gone through decon, so she's perfectly safe, if a bit smelly."
"Hey!" Quinn protested, trying to remove a mark from her shoulder.
"I noticed you aren't asking me to do this," Santana said, over their com. "Should I be hurt?"
"San, we want to make a good impression here," Brittany said. "Someone would ask a question to make you angry and you'd get nasty. Quinn is the best choice for this."
"Okay, so she's got that nordic blonde thing going for her. She smiles and they fall all over themselves to believe her. But I get the next one," Santana said, huffing.
"If it involves the fleet, yes," Brittany said. "Until then, babe, we keep you in reserve, like our secret weapon."
Listening to Brittany over the comm, Rachel giggled. "She's got Santana right where she wants her," she said in a low voice to Quinn.
"Brittany has all of you right were she wants you," Lady Black said, shaking her head in amusement.
"Do you see any of us objecting?" Rachel said. "Even Sophia follows her lead. She's the power in the room."
"And don't you forget it," Brittany said over their private comm. "I see all and hear all."
"Ready?" Lady Black asked Quinn, not having heard Brittany's comment. "I'll go first, introduce you and wave you out. You can handle this. Piece of cake."
Quinn nodded, motioning for her to go.
The press started shouting as soon as they spotted Lady Black nearing the podium, flanked by two of Quinn's troopers, who stepped several paces to either side of the podium when she stopped.
"Is the fighting over? Who won?"
"Are the hostages okay?"
"Who were the hostages? Where are they now?"
"Who was it?"
"Why did you have this fight in the middle of the city?"
"Where are the other buildings?"
"Where's the Mayor?"
"Ladies and gentlemen, If you could hold your questions for a minute? Thanks." She waited for them to quiet down. "Thank you. At 2PM yesterday, we were informed by the Mayor's Office of a hostage situation at the old Hook and Ladder 8 firehouse in Tribeca that involved our Clan. With permission from the city, and your state and federal agencies, we came up with a plan to contain the situation and resolved the issue. None of the hostages were injured in the rescue."
"That's the old GhostBuster's headquarters," a loud voice shouted. "Did you call them for advice?"
"The current owners of the building provided useful information," Lady Black said. "My understanding is that the Ghostbusters have not owned the building for a number of years."
"Does the government of Mexico have anything to say about their involvement?"
"As you should be aware by now," Lady Black said, "the government of Mexico has no involvement with the independent Dragon Clan enclave on the Yucatan peninsula. The United Nations and most planetary governments have recognized the Clan's claims to this territory."
"The who?" a reporter asked. "Are they the aliens that annexed the Mayan homelands during the Mayan non-apocalypse of 2012?"
"A representative of the Dragon Clan ruling Council is here and will speak with you shortly," Lady Black said. Turning, she nodded towards Quinn who approached the podium. "May I present the Lady of the Hands."
In a corner of her helmet display, Quinn could see the stage from the back of the press room. She had to smirk at the impression she was having on the normally jaded reporters and news crews. "Do we have any bios of these people?" she asked Brittany. "Any reporters I should focus on?"
"Working on it," Brittany said. "You just smile and do your thing. Oh, Good. That one who asked about the 2012 non-apocalypse? She's up for a Pulitzer this year. Watch out for her questions. The rest of them are just regular stringers and second tier nobodies. They'll just recut whatever you say for the big cheeses to react to later."
"Got it," Quinn said. "Focus on the bohemian looking one, ignore the rest."
"That's not what she said," Rachel said. "And she probably has a girlfriend already, so no flirting."
"Her Pulitzer nom is for something she wrote about recovering from losing her wife," Brittany said, softly. "Be nice to her."
"And no flirting," Rachel repeated. "Or making her cry."
"I don't flirt," Quinn said. "And I won't make her cry. I can be nice."
"It's good you believe that," Santana said, in a low voice.
"Here we go," Quinn said, before popping open her helmet and shaking her hair to remove the sweaty helmet hair look, though she didn't really need it after decon.
"You had questions for me concerning the recent hostage situation?" Quinn said, exaggerating the slight Clan accent they all had when they spoke through the translator. She pointed at the reporter Brittany had singled out. "You may ask."
"Yes! Andy Sachs, New York Mirror," the woman said. "Why did the Mayor's office call you? The City has a trained police force to deal with hostage situations."
"The terrorists indicated they wouldn't deal with anyone else," Quinn said. "They specifically asked for us to come here."
"Called you?" Andy corrected. "Why? Why not the city government?"
"We have encountered these terrorists several times in the past and apparently impressed them," Quinn said. "If you recall the hijacked cruiser last spring?"
"That was you?" Sachs said. "None of the rescued passengers could remember what happened."
"This group of terrorists prefers to render their hostages unconscious," Quinn said. "They prefer to not have witnesses."
"Are they in custody?" another reporter asked. "And where?"
"The hostages have been taken to one of your hospitals after the antidote was administered. Your Mayor's office has details of their condition. The surviving terrorists are currently being interrogated by our security forces," Quinn said.
"Why haven't you turned them over to the police?" Sachs asked.
"That is currently being discussed," Quinn said. "There appears to be some disagreement as to their future."
"Their crimes occurred in this country," another reporter said. "What gives you the right to detain them?"
"You wish us to let them go?" Quinn asked. "They are terrorists. They threatened to release a poisonous gas on your city that would have killed thousands."
"How do we know that's what they were planning, we only have your word for that," the reporter said.
"They are currently unavailable for interviews," Quinn said. "If you wish to speak with them you need to contact your Homeland authorities."
"They claimed that when they took the hostages," Sachs said, turning to the other reporter. "Why did they ask for you to surrender all of your technology to them?" she asked Quinn.
"I am not sure you are aware of our history with this planet, so pardon the history lesson," Quinn said. "The people you call Mayans are descendants of an ancient band of our people who came to this planet to set up a base. They were responsible for policing this part of the galaxy for the Pan Galactic Confederation. We came here to find out what happened to them when they disappeared while setting up their base. We're finishing what they started. Once it is ready we will be using this system as our headquarters in this quadrant.
"Yeah, we've heard that story," the reporter said. "But you haven't provided any proof. For all we know you are just alien invaders with a semi believable story."
"We do not require your belief or permission to do our job," Quinn said, pausing a moment to let that sink in before continuing. "The terrorists appear to have found several caches of old Dragon Clan equipment from the original base and would prefer to be the only possessors of this tech, keeping your planet a primitive backwater under their control. This would also make you unfit for joining the Confederation at some point in the future."
"And you have other plans?" Sachs asked. "For this planet? What about the Prime Directive?"
"That is from one of your entertainment shows, yes?" Quinn asked. "Some of my troopers are big fans, though they haven't convinced our leadership council that attending one of these Trek Cons would be good public relations. There was some concern that real aliens would disrupt such meetings."
"Yes," Sachs said, speaking above the laughter of the other reporters. "If they go, I'd like to go with them," she said excitedly. "If they all look like you there will be some interesting reactions."
"Look like me?" Quinn frowned. "I am not sure what you mean. Although the Confederation does not have this 'Prime Directive' that you speak of, we will not be releasing all of our technology immediately. It could destroy your societies or cause wars. That the Confederation does frown on. We will be working over the next few years to gradually integrate it into your society. We are already discussing this with your governments. You should begin seeing the results of those discussions this next year."
"Oh!" Sachs said. "And these terrorists who have found some of your technology are dangerous?"
"Yes," Quinn said. "They don't appear to understand how much of it works. It is almost all more dangerous to them than us. This gas they planned to release would have hurt everyone except us. Due to our slightly different biology, we are immune to it."
"So, basically, the Mayor let you handle this because you are the local space cops and you are immune to the poison the terrorists were using."
"Yes," Quinn said. "You could call us 'cops' except our 'beat' covers a large galactic area, not just this planet. But we don't work just in space."
"What does your title mean?" one of the TV reporters asked. "Lady of the Hands? Whose Hands?"
"I am a member of the Dragon Clan ruling Council," Quinn said. "I am their Hands. All ground action is the purview of my troopers. The closest equivalent in your country are your Marines."
"So, space Marines? Do you recruit from locals?" an older grey haired reporter asked.
"At this point we are not recruiting, no," Quinn said. "At some point in the future we may."
"What do you look for?" he asked. At her confused look, he asked "What are your qualifications for recruits?"
"Due to certain aspects of our current technology, there is a very limited pool of your people who would succeed as Clan troopers. But I am not prepared to disclose that at this time."
"But you have real space ships," another reporter said. "We saw them this morning over the city. They weren't special effects or hallucinations. You must need crews for those? We have astronauts who have been waiting for years to get into space. Surely they are qualified?"
"I am not authorized to speak for our Fleet and their plans for expansion," Quinn said. "My role is more limited than that."
"But I can," a familiar loud voice said. A hologram of Santana appeared next to Quinn.
Quinn groaned. Brittany had obviously lost that argument. Saying a quick prayer to the Clan's guardian spirits, she said, "May I present the Commander of our Fleet, the Lady Air. She apparently has decided to join us from her flagship."
"Love you too, Lady H," Santana said. "Hey media people," she said, looking around. "They were right, you're kinda cute, Sachs. If I weren't already involved…"
"Your culture allows same-sex relationships," Sachs asked, "Lady Air?"
"Are there other kinds?" Santana said, smirking. "Oh, sorry, a disclaimer. Our Ambassador wants me to say that we, as a people, have no preferences and that our ruling Council, including myself, and the Ice Babe here, are not examples of our entire society, but this isn't the place for an in depth cultural interchange. You'll have to attend one of her lectures or read one of her books for that."
"So you aren't gay?" the TV reporter asked.
"That's your word for happy, right?" Santana said. "I like my job ordering the minions around. My girl make me happy, and I get to fly spaceships with big guns. And space battles. Of course I'm happy."
"Is Lady Hands your girlfriend?" a different reporter asked.
"I do have a thing for tall blondes, but no," Santana said, smirking. "My girl is busy elsewhere dealing with more of those terrorists. And she prefers to not be photographed, so she wouldn't be here anyway. And Hands here is spoken for, though she doesn't know it yet."
"You speak our language in an interesting way," Sachs said.
"You like it? The best translators the Fleet can build," Santana said. "Otherwise I'd sound formal like Handy here."
"That isn't your real voice?" Sachs asked. "I have a friend who sounds like that."
"I'm an alien," Santana said, winking. "What do you think?"
"Are you done?" Quinn said to her.
"Never answered the question," Santana said. "But we can skip that."
"Lady Air? Could you answer the question?" the old reporter said. "What does your typical recruit look like?"
"We have all sorts in the Fleet, but we have the same minimum requirements as Hands."
"You really want to know?" Santana looked at Quinn, who shook her head. "All of our tech requires some Clan blood to operate fully, so if you aren't one of the couple million members of the Mayan diaspora, as one of your Mayan experts puts it, you aren't piloting one of my ships or wearing one of H's fancy hard suits. And right now, we aren't equipped to handle the testosterone gang."
"No men?" Sachs blurted out.
"Nope," Santana said. "Our little rescue fleet contains no men."
"Isn't that sexist?" Another reporter asked.
"I'm not sure what you mean," Santana said. "In the Clan, jobs go to those who do them best. Women are best at war and all the things needed to wage war like faster reflexes. Men of the Clan are best at other things. We didn't bring any of them with us on this little trip because we don't need those other things they are good at. And since you have a planet full of billions of them, we won't have to go get any."
"No men?" the TV reporter repeated as if she hadn't heard the question. "You are all women?"
"Last time I checked," Santana said. "Though apparently there are men among the Mayans. Yeah, I was surprised at that also. Apparently, in some societies, men are required if you want children."
"I think you've said enough, Lady Air," Lady Black said, approaching the podium. "She has a great sense of humor, right Lady Hands?" she said, after Santana's hologram was gone.
"Yes, a wonderful joker," Quinn said, shaking her head. "Any more questions?"
"No men," Sachs said again. "Why not?"
"As Lady Air said, we were in a hurry to get here," Quinn said. "Our travel window was very limited. We came with the bare minimum of forces needed to secure the sector. If we had been the invasion force several of you have accused us of, we would have brought a colonizing team with us, and those are ninety percent male."
"So, not all of your people are gay or in relationships with members of the same sex?"
"Of course not," Quinn said. "I believe the proportion of Clan with the sexual identity you are referring to who came on this mission is higher than is the norm for your planet, but we do have a full spectrum of Clan on what your people call the Kinsey scale."
"Yes, they can now sleep at night," Santana's voice whispered across their private comm channel. "No scary alien lesbians attempting to take over their planet."
"Thank you for coming. Any more questions can be sent to our embassy," Lady Black said.
"Where, exactly, is that?" Sachs asked. "You aren't in the phone book."
"The Dragon Clan currently does not have a physical presence in this city," Lady Black said. "That shall be remedied shortly. Until then, all correspondence should be addressed to the Clan Ambassador in Cancun."
"What was that?" Quinn asked once they were in their shuttle, away from prying eyes. "Santana?"
"You looked like you could use some comic relief," Santana said. "No need to get titchy."
"I thought we weren't going to tell them the whole 'no men' thing yet? Or tell them about the genetic issue with our tech?" Quinn said.
"No worries, Quinn," Brittany said. "We needed to say something once we said our terrorists were using some of our tech so we had to handle them. It would have leaked from somewhere if we hadn't been up front about it."
"And the 'everyone's a lesbian' revelation?"
"But we're not," Rachel said. "You know that. And neither of you actually said that. Eventually we're going to have to let the girls loose. No relationships with natives is a policy we can't keep up much longer. Someone's going to be curious and want to experiment. They're all adults."
"That isn't the issue," Quinn said. "A lot of countries won't deal with us now that they know we don't have any men in charge. Santana just made things harder."
"They wouldn't have worked with us before," Brittany said. "The Black Hats aren't the only ones with misogynist leaders. Or leaders who won't listen to a bunch of little women. That's why we're working with some governments and not others. And if they don't fall in line eventually, they won't have access to our full tech."
"I agree," Rachel said. "I've been to dozens of meetings and the people I need to reach the most, the ones who stand to gain the most because their country is still banging rocks together? They won't even look at me. They expect the Ambassador to be a man, not some short, Jewish looking woman."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Quinn asked her.
"And what could you do?" Rachel said. "Unless you want to conquer the whole planet, we work with what we have. Speaking of which, where are we building our embassy?"
"The old Ghostbusters office looks good to me," Brittany said. "We might want to move it back from the road but there's plenty of room to do that now."
"And I'm sure this was totally an accident?" Rachel said. "That the whole block was cleared?"
"A Shadow never gives away her secrets," Brittany said with a giggle.
"How long will it take?" Quinn asked.
"Using our nano-tech? The same nano-tech we used to rebuild our Yucatan city bases and anything you destroy? A day or two. Or maybe a week. Depends on how we plan to do it."
"What about that tunnel?" Rachel asked. "Do we need to fill it in?"
"It definitely should be filled in," Brittany said. "It's a security hazard."
"And all those buildings we moved? What happens to them?" Quinn asked.
"As soon as all personal possessions are removed, we recycle them. We already have a plan approved by the local planning board."
"That was quick," Rachel said. "What'd that cost us?"
"A little bit of urban renewal," Brittany said. "We agreed to turn a block of abandoned warehouses near the firehouse into an office and apartment complex to replace what we destroyed."
"A little early to be that ambitious," Quinn said.
"Sometimes you have to make important people happy to move things forward," Brittany said. "And this gives us a solid base to work from. It's way better than the hotel we were originally going to use for our embassy."
"And it's the old Ghostbusters building," Santana said. "Don't tell me you don't want to keep it. I remember a certain cheerleader who had a poster on their wall of a certain geek when they were twelve."
"Really?" Rachel said. "So it wasn't just anime? You were a Ghostbusters fangirl? Have you ever met any of them?"
"Possibly," Quinn said, blushing.
"Will they recognize you?" Rachel asked. "I've always wanted to meet them."
"Quick, Brit, don't go near them, it's contagious," Santana said.
"There was an incident in my grandmother's apartment building when I was ten," Quinn said. "I was visiting her at the time."
"So, they won't recognize you," Rachel said, nodding. "Good."
"What are you up to?" Quinn asked.
"Oh, nothing," she said, smiling before turning around.
"Brit?" Quinn asked quietly. "What's she up to?"
"Can't say," Brittany said, leaning into Santana.
"Santana?" Quinn asked.
"Don't know, don't care, wouldn't tell you if I did," Santana said, smirking.
Groaning, Quinn closed her eyes and waited for the trip to end.
Chapter 4: Not a Space Taxi
Author's Note: Andy Sachs and assorted others from The Devil Wears Prada will return in Chapter 10.
Word Count: 3,313
Looking at the others as they settled into their preferred seats in their private meeting room aboard Santana's flagship, Rachel sighed. "We have a request," she said. "Someone just realized that we have spaceships and spaceflight."
"This is news? How do they think we got here? Walked?" Santana said. "Every time one of my shuttles flies by that creaky old space station some weapons satellite points its missiles at it."
"Which government has weaponized satellites?" Quinn asked, eyes widening. "Why haven't you mentioned this before?"
"There are at least ten," Brittany said quickly. "And we took control of them before we landed the first time. They weren't working anyway. So we were doing them a favor when we upgraded them, not that they noticed the changes."
"So, why do they target my shuttles?" Santana asked. "What if one of them accidentally went off and hit a shuttle."
"Like I said, they are actually under our control. If they tried to fire those missiles at one of our ships, nothing would have happened. And even if they did, they wouldn't damage anything through your shields. And they track everything crossing their orbit," Brittany said. "Whatever they see is fed into your combat data systems." She pulled up a monitoring program on the room's view screen. "See?"
"Oh," Santana said. "I thought that was coming from some of your secret satellites."
"No need for that, when we can jack into our sensors hidden in those," Brittany said, winking at her girlfriend. "Much more efficient."
"Sneaky," Rachel said, nodding. "But back to the issue. Now that they've remembered we have space ships, probably because someone opened their big mouth last week at that press conference, we've gotten a request from NASA."
"What do those old antiques want?" Santana said. "We aren't running a shuttle service for their toys. No need for them to explore anymore. We've got the franchise for exploiting this solar system all sewed up."
"It's a good will gesture," Rachel said. "They've lost radio contact with the International Space Station."
"So, they want us to take over some bodybags?" Santana said. "That thing is about as safe as a go-kart on the autobahn. We can do that."
"No," Rachel said, wide eyed in shock at her callousness, "the astronauts are still alive, as far as they know. They just need replacement radios."
"We should probably take some with us just in case," Santana said, grimacing. "Where do we get the radios? And don't they have backups? Those engineers at NASA are paranoid about that kind of thing. Their backups have backups."
"They didn't say," Rachel said. "I think these are their backup radios that need to be replaced."
"It could be a trap," Quinn said. "I'm going with you."
"I didn't say I was going," Santana said. "I've got better things to do, and I have people trained for rescue missions that could use the practice."
"I'm still going," Quinn said firmly.
"If you just want to check it out, I'm sure we can arrange an official visit," Brittany said. "It hasn't changed in years. Not since you toured their assembly plant in grade school. NASA has a very tight budget now-a-days."
"Brit!" Quinn said. "Aren't I allowed any secrets?"
"From my girl?" Santana chortled, "I don't get to keep any secrets, so why should you?"
"Do we have room in our budget to help them out?" Rachel said.
"It's gonna cost them," Santana said, rubbing her hands together gleefully. "We aren't a charity."
"It's called a 'Good Will' gesture," Rachel said again, glaring at her.
"NASA isn't the only group that noticed we have space flight," Brittany said, interrupting them. "Word on the Hill is that they won't have a budget soon. All the money will be reallocated for military uses."
"Short sighted," Quinn said, shaking her head.
"Very," Brittany said, "But they won't listen to aliens. They just see a way to not spend money on things they don't think they'll need."
"So, when they lose most of their budget do we hire them?" Quinn asked. "Trained engineers?"
"I might have a plan already in place," Brittany said. "I've been discussing the possibilities with the American president and his advisors. It wouldn't be that simple to integrate them into our operation," she said, "but I think we can use a bunch of smart people, if they don't mind working with a bunch of girls. So don't offend them!"
"Wasn't planning to," Quinn said. "You can tell them we'll do it. Did they say where to get this radio?"
"They said a mission specialist needs to install it," Rachel said, looking at Santana. "But nothing about the pickup location."
"I'm definitely not going on this bus trip," Santana said. "Not if you want me to be nice to them. And they don't get to touch anything in the shuttle, no matter how smart they think they are."
"I'll tell them that," Rachel said. "What else do we need to talk about?"
"Guys, we need to deal with the Black Hats. We can't keep them on ice forever," Brittany said.
"Why not?" Santana said. "The Schuester a permanent popsicle? Couldn't happen to a better person."
"And if they're just the fall guys for someone else?" Brittany asked, leaning forward.
"You don't think they were really in charge, do you," Santana said, slouching back in her chair. "What proof do you have?"
"We've just finished going through everything we found in their base and that secret hideout under the firehouse. It looks like they were in charge but there are anomalies. All of their communications were monitored from another location we haven't been able to locate yet. I think there's another group who've gone to ground, the real leaders. If we don't root them out soon they'll start recruiting and could pop up again at the worst time possible."
"Okay," Santana said. "As soon as the Q gets back from her mercy mission, we'll thaw them out and you can get out the thumbscrews."
"I don't use thumbscrews anymore," Brittany said. "Those are nasty and hard to clean."
"It's just an expression, babe," Santana said. Brittany winked at her.
"I can't believe he has anything to do with the Black Hats," Rachel said. "He just doesn't seem the type."
"Evil overlord?" Santana said. "He's got the hair."
"He doesn't even ping as a trusted minion," Rachel said. "And he never set off any of Coach's alarms."
"That is true," Quinn said. "Coach was just as surprised as us."
"Is she going to be participating in the interrogation?" Rachel asked
"She doesn't think he's worth the effort," Quinn said. "Or that we'll learn anything new from them."
"She's probably right," Santana said, "but we do need to find out why he was there. Minion, patsy, or evil overlord. Ryerson and St. James? I can smell their guilt from here."
"We'll need to fumigate afterward," Brittany said, giggling. "Or toss the interrogation room into the sun."
"Fumigation should be enough," Quinn said. "If that's it we should get going. The sooner we deal with NASA the sooner we can finish up with the floppy Black Hats."
"I thought you weren't going," Quinn asked, finding Santana in the pilot seat of the long range shuttle being prepared for the trip to the space station.
"I don't trust them to not scratch the paint or kill my techs," Santana said, "so I'm driving. Just make sure everyone is in an EV suit that fits. That hard suit you're wearing might be a bit of overkill for a tourist stop."
"It takes up just as much room as an EV suit," Quinn said. "And is tougher."
"Your kink," Santana said with a shrug. "If you don't want to wear something more comfortable, that's your call."
"Were's the pickup?" Quinn asked.
"They've cleared a place for us near their module assembly building. Rachel convinced them to give us landing clearance," Santana said. "If she wasn't our Memory, I'd scoop her up for the Fleet. That woman gets things done."
"You've got all of those Rachel engineers," Quinn said, "don't be greedy. And isn't that one of your engineers in the back?"
"Chief? The one chatting up your bodyguards?" Santana said. "She insisted. Doesn't think anyone NASA is going to send up knows what they are doing."
"She does know mission specialists spend years becoming qualified? And most of the mission specialists are also qualified test pilots?"
"But they aren't Clan certified," Santana said. "And she might have heard we might be absorbing NASA at some point."
"So, she's on a recruiting trip? We don't even know if this mission specialist can qualify on our tech," Quinn said.
"Have to start somewhere," Santana said. "Artie's already scanned all of the NASA facilities. They've got a twenty percent Dragon Clan heritage potential, and a one percent Tiger Clan potential. Brit's kids are narrowing that down to find the real numbers. In their free time, of course, since we don't own them yet."
"Jumping the gun a bit?" Quinn said. Santana shrugged and pointed at the empty co-pilot seat.
"Go strap yourself down, and tell my co-pilot to stop trying to get in your guards panties and get back up here."
"Yes, Lady Air Bitch, ma'am," Quinn said, giving her a faux salute. Stepping towards the back, she found her guards chatting with the other occupants, Santana's Chief and the Chief's assistant. "Ladies."
"Yes, ma'am," they all said, coming to attention.
Looking at her guards, the Chief, and her assistant, "Strap in, and you, Chief, your presence has been requested by our pilot," Quinn said.
"Yes, Lady Q, going now," Chief said, hurrying off, her assistant following.
"We were just chatting," Pin said, waving towards the cockpit. "No harm done."
"No distractions," Quinn told them. "We have no idea what's going on up there. Plenty of time for whatever you were doing when we get back."
"Yes, Boss," they both said, grinning, before sitting down across from Quinn.
"Here's Artie's most recent scans of the space station," Quinn said, sending the info packets to their suits. "NASA appears to be correct that the crew is still alive, but there doesn't seem to be any equipment damage she can find, so be careful."
"You think it's a trap?" Pin asked.
"Unknown," Quinn said. "If it is, it isn't NASA."
"Okay, peanuts, next stop Houston," Santana said on the public comm channel, "for cargo and passenger pick-up."
"That's a large radio," Santana said, watching two techs wheeling the equipment across the tarmac to the shuttle.
"It's more than just a radio," the mission specialist, Wren Yamoto, said. "The module includes backups for all station electronics. The radio and backup telemetry failed, so it was decided to replace the whole thing."
"And you get to plug it in?" Santana asked the small woman.
"And dismantle the old one for spare parts," she said.
"We'll need to get you into one of our EV suits for the trip up," the Chief said. "We don't have fittings for all those hoses on your suit. Haven't seen a suit with that much hardware since history class in grade school. Good thing we have one that should fit."
"Chief," Quinn said from her position watching the loading. "A little sensitivity. They do a dangerous job with the tech they have."
"Sorry, Lady Q," Chief said. At the curious look from the mission specialist, she added, "Lady Q was reminding us about a couple things."
"Make sure that thing is secure in the back," Santana said, watching the Chief and her assistant guiding it up the ramp. "As soon as all the paperwork is filled out, we can leave."
"Lady Q doesn't look too happy," Pin said, watching her discuss something with a uniformed bureaucrat.
"That's our Pentagon liaison," Wren said. "He wanted to send one of the Air Force specialists with us, but someone called Lady M said there wasn't room or time to get a larger shuttle."
"It's a long walk back," Santana said. "We like you so you can hitch a ride back with us. Some military agent we didn't approve? They can find their own way home."
"The Boss doesn't really mean that," said the Chief.
"Don't presume to speak for me, Chief, " Santana said, "not unless you want to be scrubbing launch tubes on Pluto."
"You have a base on Pluto?" Wren asked. "All of our in system optics and radio telescopes have been acting up since you showed up."
"Ah… that might be because of our ship's drives, or other equipment," the Chief said. "You have to adjust your equipment to accommodate the interference."
"Or it might be intentional," Pin said. "Lady Air doesn't like anyone snooping on her fleet."
"Speaking out of school, Pin?" Santana said on a com channel only Quinn and her guards used. "I might have an opening for staff security at the Pluto research center."
"Though that's just scuttlebutt. You'd have to talk with the Shadows about such security measures, I'm just a regular trooper," Pin said to the NASA employee.
"Good save," Santana said.
"The Shadows?" Wren asked.
"They're like your CIA, NSA, and Secret Service wrapped up in one neat little package," Santana said, joining them as they watched the Chief secure the equipment. "They probably know more about you now than your or your government does."
"I'm just a mission specialist," Wren said. "Nothing exciting or interesting about me."
"Not according to Lady Shadow," Santana said. "Let's see… what did she find in the ten pips you've been standing here. Hmm… you're a member of the diaspora. A Mayan priestess escaped from a Spanish merchant passing through the Philippine islands. Or so she claimed in her memoirs, though how she ended up in Tokyo she never said. What else? Oh, this is a good one. You missed out at being first in your class at Annapolis by five points. They gave you a choice between NASA or Naval intelligence, and you picked NASA, even though they only had a mission specialist spot open. You really want to go into space. And you resigned your commission a month ago after an argument with a recruiter from some three letter agency. And you write hard core science fiction under an assumed name. Lady Shadow just optioned them for her video production company. They must be good."
"She's that good?" Wren asked the Chief, who'd just rejoined them after securing the package.
"Yes," the Chief said. "The only way to keep Lady Shadow from finding something out is to not do it. Rumor has it, her girlfriend has surprised her once since they met."
"Twice," Santana said, correcting her. "I've surprised her twice since she was five. If I manage to surprise her a third time she'll marry me. And you didn't hear that from me," she said to the three women staring at her in shock.
"It's not a rumor if you spread it yourself, Fleet," Quinn said, joining them. "Paperwork's all done. We stick around until Yamoto is happy with the repairs, and then bring her home. So, we're ready when you are."
"Okay, everyone on board and strap down," Santana said, turning around and going back into the shuttle. "And someone kill that signal coming from our package so we can leave."
"Signal?" Wren said. "It should be inert until I plug it into the ISS. There shouldn't be any signals coming from it."
"Chief?" Quinn said.
"Got it Lady Q," the Chief said, slipping out of her seat. Pulling a small gadget out of her outer EV pocket, she twisted it and aimed the resulting light at the large package.
"Sonic screwdriver?" Wren asked. "Doctor Who isn't a real person, is he?"
"Nah," the Chief said. "Not all of us are Trekkies. Squeezing all of my favorite diag tools into it was an interesting exercise."
"Stop trying to impress the natives, Chief, and clear my shuttle for lift," Santana said.
"One of those modules is a fake," the Chief said. "Someone doesn't like you. Looks like it'll burn out everything it's attached to when you plug it in. And, it might also explode."
"Turn it off," Santana said. "And get it out of there, in one piece if possible," she added. "The Shadows will want to take a look at it."
"Gonna need more than this to take it apart," the Chief said, waving her probe. "Putting it in stasis. You can lift now."
"We can't take it to the ISS," Wren said. "It will destroy it."
"Not yet," Santana said. "Lady M is informing your government of the problem. Guess you'll get to see more of us than we planned."
"San?" Quinn said. "What's the plan?"
"Flag is behind the moon. We'll go there, Chief and Yamoto can fix the package, and we'll sic B and her gang on whomever tried to give us a bad hair day."
"Good. We don't need these kinds of games," Quinn said. "Brit?"
"Already on the ground at Kennedy," she said, her voice echoing in the small shuttle. "Someone in NASA has to be involved for it to be booby trapped. We'll take care of this end."
"Ouch," Quinn said. "I think we just made a down payment on some rocket scientists."
"You're taking over NASA?" Wren asked. "Can you do that?"
"Just the civilian part. We've been working on an outsourcing agreement with your president. But it wasn't supposed to take affect until your Congress dropped all funding for NASA. Which we were predicting for two years from now. So we're jumping the gun a bit here," Santana said. "It'll probably take a year or two for anything major to happen other than we start paying NASA's bills. And start taking an inventory. And your Congress has to agree but I don't think they'll object to more money to spend on pork."
"So I don't get to use my recruitment speech?" the Chief said, disappointed. "It was a really good one."
"She hasn't said she's sticking around when Fleet takes them over," Pin said. "But I'm sure she'll think about it, right?"
"Yes, I'll think about it," Wren said, "but can we get this fixed first?"
"Next stop, Fleet Flag, ladies," Santana said. "Hang on."
With a subtle whine, the shuttle rose from the tarmac and disappeared into the sky.
Brittany waited until the shuttle was out of sight before telling her pilot to decloak. "Let's go rattle a few cages," she said. "Not liking people who try to blow up my people. How do I look? Vader Evil or Khan evil?"
"Vader would run away if he saw you dressed like that," her assistant said. "Khan would have just laughed."
"Excellent. As soon as they get the call from the Pres, we'll make our appearance."
"Yes, ma'am," she said. "Black and Purple teams are waiting for your signal."
"The President is holding an emergency session with Congress," Rachel said on the private Council channel. "He's given us authority to find out who tried to kill everyone on the space station. It'll take a couple days to convince them to turn the whole thing over to us."
"Good enough for now," Brittany said. "My best tech is waiting for them on the Flag."
"Got it," Rachel said. "It's all yours."
"And lock everything down," Brit told her techs, "No comms in or out of this place until we're done."
"Yes, Lady Shadow," they said.
"Purple, the exits are all yours. Black, let's make this look good," Brittany said. Her comm beeped as the shuttles containing Black and Purple teams decloaked. Stepping to the hatch, she stood in plain sight as it opened.
As she stepped onto the tarmac, surrounded by Black team, a sweating, red faced bureaucrat came hurrying out to meet her.
Chapter 5: A Small Matter of Interrogation
A brief pause in the action while our ladies break out the thumbscrews.
Reminder/FYI: Alien AI Artie, not Gleek Artie.
Word Count: 4,091
"Which one are you going to start with?" Quinn asked Brittany, looking at the dozen haggard faces on the screen.
"And how are you doing it?" Rachel asked. She'd never observed Brittany's interrogation techniques before, but knowing several of the detainees she couldn't stay away. "How did you convince the US authorities to let us handle this?"
"We had to compromise. Coach will be observing," Brittany said. "We don't want them revealing any secrets, and they didn't want us to break any of their rules for handling prisoners."
"Hah!" Santana said. "As if they have the moral high ground."
"No," Coach said from the door. "War is never a clean business. But they need to give the appearance of following the rules. We will be starting with that one," she said, pointing at the sole woman. "Failed Broadway star, Cassandra July. And then Hair Gel. Those two are not truly involved with your Black Hats. Ryerson and St. James most likely recruited them without telling them what they were really being recruited for."
"You know something, Coach?" Quinn asked.
"They are amateurs," she said. "They held their little recruiting meeting in my old office, and didn't bother to check for recording devices."
"That would do it," Santana said, smirking.
"What about the other four?"
"They have the look of guilty men I have encountered in the past," she said. "They will lead us to other cells."
"What do you use?" Rachel asked. "We don't use real torture, do we?" She looked at the others.
"We are not amateurs," Coach said disdainfully. "Physical coercion may be briefly satisfying but the intel generated is rarely trustworthy."
"And we said we wouldn't," Brittany said. "We're still the good guys. She doesn't know us, so I'll take her myself," she added. "But first a little chemical enhancement." Following those words, a green mist filled the room containing Cassandra July.
"What did you just do?" Rachel asked. "Some kind of truth gas?"
"Those don't work very well," Brittany said. "Better than torture but real truth drugs tend to scrambled memories. Permanently."
"That's not good," Rachel said.
"Nope. We want answers but we don't want to cause possible brain damage," Brittany said. "That's a mild hallucinogen that will make them talkative and encourage them to answer our questions."
"Oh," Rachel said.
"Shall we Coach?"
"Lead on Lady Shadow," Coach said. "Let's see how well you remember my techniques."
"Photographic memory, Coach," Brittany said as they left the room. "I remember everything you've ever done or said to us."
"Excellent," Coach said.
"And there go some scary women," Rachel said, once they were out of the room. The others nodded. "Has she told either of you what she did to the people who tried to blow up the space station?"
"Not yet," Quinn said. "Other than they weren't Black Hats."
"She let me listen in," Rachel said, shivering. "They didn't have a chance."
"Looks like they're starting," Santana said. "Brit looks hot in that, in a scary dominatrix kind of way."
"Definitely," Rachel said, nodding. "She does sexy intimidation well."
"As long as you remember she's mine," Santana said. "Okay to look, not okay to touch."
"Never going to forget," Rachel said, blushing.
"Good answer," Santana said, patting her on the shoulder.
Brittany entered the small, cold, windowless room. Following her, Coach Sylvester took up a guard position in front of the door. A small frightened looking woman, Cassandra July sat in a metal chair, her wrists shackled to its arms.
"Where am I?" she asked, shivering. "I want my lawyer."
"You haven't been arrested," Brittany said. "And prisoners in our custody are not allowed anything called a lawyer." Coach bent down and whispered in her ear. "Oh? A personal advocate? We don't allow those at this stage in an investigation either."
"Where am I?" she asked again. "I didn't do anything wrong."
"You were in the company of known terrorists," Brittany said. "What do you have to say in your defense?"
"She's guilty," Coach said. "She smells of failure like the rest."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Cassandra said. "It was a meeting of investors for a summer stock theater. We weren't doing anything illegal."
"A meeting in an abandoned ranch in the middle of Minnesota? Hundreds of miles from the nearest town?" Brittany shook her head. "Summer stock? Is that some kind of Earth entertainment?" She pointed at a bare wall and snapped her fingers. An image of one of the mechs her teams had disabled at the Black Hat base appeared there. "Does this summer stock involve war machines like this?"
"I don't know what that is," Cassandra said. "I've never seen anything like that."
"How did you get to this meeting in this unusual location?" Brittany asked.
"We flew in the day before," Cassandra said, shivering. "Could you turn up the heat? Please?"
"What of these men, who are they?" Brittany asked, ignoring her request. "Are they also investors?" Pictures of the others appeared on the wall.
"That's Will Schuester," she said, pointing with a shaking finger. "He was planning to invest in the theater. That one there is Jesse St. James. He's the producer, though he seems a little young. The others? I was never given their names."
"What else can you tell us," Brittany asked.
"Nothing," she said, shaking. "This was my chance to get back on stage. Can I have a drink?"
"We do not serve beverages to prisoners," Brittany said.
"I need something," Cassandra said. "Anything. I'll tell you whatever you want."
"I think she's telling the truth," Rachel said. "She has no idea about our Black Hats, unless they are really investing in summer theater."
"Unlikely," Quinn said. "What's your analysis, Artie?"
"She is telling the truth. She believes she was being asked to invest in a summer theater program. She is also suffering from what appears to be an addiction to a strong drug."
"She's an alcoholic," Rachel said. "If this is her," she said, holding up her tablet to show a newspaper clipping.
"Huh," Santana said. "This must be just the warm-up. Brit and Coach are too good to miss that kind of thing."
"Nope, no missing of that little issue," Brittany said, rejoining them right then. "She was desperate to get back on Broadway, so she believed everything they told her. Very sad."
"What do we do with her?" Rachel asked. "Let her go?"
"No," Quinn said.
"Why not?" Rachel asked.
"Just a feeling," Quinn said. "Not sure what we can do with her, other than some kind of detoxification program. But we're keeping her."
"Do our docs even know how to treat that kind of addiction?" Rachel asked. "We don't seem to have any problems with that."
"The genetic anomalies that can lead to addiction to certain chemicals were removed from all of your descendants," Artie said.
"Really? And what about us?" Quinn asked.
"Not all addictions can be cured with gene therapy," Artie said. "Cassandra July's problems are also emotional in nature, not only genetic."
"Didn't think so," Quinn said.
"Where's Coach," Santana asked.
"She wanted a minute alone with Mr. Schue," Brittany said. "She promised not to break him, too much."
"Can we at least watch?" Santana said. "And can we get some popcorn?"
"Sure, but no interfering with her conversation," Brittany said. The screen in the room switched to a view of Coach standing in front of Will Schuester. "And no popcorn, San. This isn't entertainment."
"I'm sure I'll find it entertaining," Santana said, pouting.
"Hush!" Rachel said, waving at her. "I don't want to miss this."
Sue Sylvester closed the door behind her. Pausing for a moment, she took in the sight of a gaunt Will Schuester with only small satisfaction. She wasn't sure how he'd ended up associating with the Black Hats and their minions but she was willing to assume karma had a small part in his downfall. He hadn't noticed her entrance, staring down blankly at his hands.
"Well, well, what have we here?" she said, keeping her face blank at his visible surprise. "This is an unexpected surprise."
"Why am I not surprised?" Will said. "Can we stop this practical joke now?"
"This is no joke," Sue said. "You were in the company of known terrorists, and I suspect you knew exactly what they were up to."
"Building a summer theater camp?" Will said. "Sandy Ryerson was building a summer camp for theater and glee kids and was looking for investors. There were no terrorists."
"If you believe that, you are a bigger fool than I thought," Sue said. "Why would a summer camp ask you to invest? And who would trust a sleazy waste like Ryerson anywhere near children?"
"He taught at McKinley for years," Will said.
"And he was fired for inappropriate behavior. How you did not see that?" Sue said, shaking her head. "I'm actually not surprised."
"Why am I really here? Wherever here is?" Will asked.
"The terrorists you were associating with were taken into custody," Sue said. "It's your turn to be asked questions by your hosts."
"Why are you here, Sue?" he asked, glaring at her. He tugged futilely at his manacles.
"As the local representative of the US government, it is my job to make sure you are treated fairly," Sue said. "So far, they're being sickeningly nice. Disgusting. Makes me want to vomit."
"Where's my lawyer?" Will asked. "I'm entitled to one."
"One of your other so called investors asked the same question. You have not been arrested and are not in custody of the US government."
"Which means?" Will asked, continuing to tug at his manacled wrists.
"You don't get a lawyer, Schue," Santana said from the door. Entering behind Coach, she stopped for a moment and stared him down before taking up a position against the opposite wall.
"Santana? What are you doing here?"
"She's here to judge you," Quinn said, following her into the room. "We all are." Rachel and Brittany joined them. Coach stepped back, leaning against the door that had closed behind them.
"Girls? Boy am I glad to see you!" he said. "Explain to Coach Sylvester that I'm innocent of whatever she thinks I did."
"Can't," Santana said. "You were working with terrorists we've been chasing."
"Doesn't look good, Mr. Schue," Brittany said. "The evidence says you were conspiring against us. And we don't take too kindly to that kind of thing."
"Against you?" Will said, surprised. "You're cheerleaders, some of Sue's Cheerios, and Rachel Berry."
"See, Berry, he didn't forget you," Santana said. "Seems to have forgotten who the rest of us are, but we were just bodies he needed to make his Gleek numbers."
"I'm sure he was upset when we disappeared," Quinn said. "I bet he even put up plaques in the Chorus room with our names on them, right next to Rachel's."
"You want plaques? I can do that after you help me get out of these," Will said, though he clearly wasn't sure why they would have anything to do with his current condition.
"Those people you were hanging out with are not very nice," Brittany said. "Just for that, you should be spanked like a naughty puppy."
"They're the Board of Directors for a summer theater camp," Will said. "They aren't terrorists."
"How do you know that?" Quinn asked him. "Who told you that?"
"Sandy Ryerson," Will said. "He's their theater director."
"They let him near children? I'm not sure I'd want any children of mine attending this summer camp, Mr. Schue," Rachel said. "And why was Jesse St. James at your little investors meeting?"
"I'm not sure," Will said. "I think he's one of the teachers."
"Well, I'm sure he is talented enough for that, as long as he sticks to ten year olds," Rachel said.
"Good one, Berry," Santana said. "You're on a roll today."
"I'm always on a roll," Rachel said, correcting her.
"What do you think ladies," Sue said. "What's your verdict?"
"Why are you asking them?" Will said. "Where's my lawyer?"
"She's asking us because you're our prisoner," Santana said. "Your little friends have been a serious pain in the ass for way too long. If you're innocent? We'll let you go, eventually. I'm sure your current Glee kids won't miss you."
"He quit," Brittany said.
"Again?" Rachel said. "Don't you have a responsibility to your Glee club? How will they do without you?"
"Probably a lot better," Quinn said. "I bet your mother could find them a good adviser, one who isn't trying to relive his glory days."
"Guys, that's just mean," Brittany said, straightening up. "He may be replaceable, but he does try. And it really wasn't his choice this time. One of the Gleek parents complained about his behavior, and lack of subject knowledge, and threatened to tell the state."
"Not surprised," Sue said, glaring at him. "Too much touchy feely teaching methods leads to anarchy."
"Are we done?" Santana asked. "Chief J and Yamato should be done now with that little bomb problem. Some of us have a space station to catch."
"One last question and then we're done here," Brittany said. "Mr. Schue? How did you hear about this summer theater job? You and Mr. Ryerson were never friends."
"Principle Figgins told me about it when I handed in my resignation," he said. "Why?"
"No particular reason. I was just curious," she said. "Someone will be by to take you to a slightly more comfortable room later."
"When can I go home?" he asked.
"Not today," Quinn said. Nodding at the others, she left the room, followed by Coach.
"Tough room," he said, grimacing.
"She's not a fan of your behavior," Rachel said. "She takes responsibility for the people under her very seriously."
"And we are out of here," Santana said, grabbing Brittany's hand and pulling her out of the room.
"I'm curious," Rachel said, stepping closer. "What was your angle? And who dragged July into this mess?"
"My angle?" he said. "And who's July?"
"You really are as clueless as you seemed in high school, aren't you?" Rachel shook her head. "We probably won't talk again," she said. "I suspect Brittany will want to keep you in cold storage for a long, long time."
"Cold storage?" he shivered at her emotionless, cold voice.
"It's like the Matrix," Rachel said. "You'll have a wonderful time." Sighing, she left him alone.
"Way to go, Berry," Santana said over their private comm. "'You'll have a wonderful time.' So, are we all in agreement? He's just a patsy but the safest place for him is in the pods?"
"Until we can think of some use for him," Brittany said. "He can be the star of his own show or something. Whatever Rach wants."
"I'll need to think about it," Rachel said. "Nothing punitive. Something that will hopefully improve his outlook on life. What about the others?"
"St. James is all yours," Brittany said. "He's the arrogant type. He'll want to give you the Evil Overlord speech. The other four and Ryerson? They're already in deep storage. Artie's recorded their memories and my kids will be going over them with a fine toothed comb for clues about the missing Black Hats. St. James gets the same treatment once you finish with him."
"Why didn't Artie just record the others instead of us interrogating them?"
"She did," Brittany said. "That's how I know they were innocent. What I still don't know was why the Black Hats or St. James picked them. If it's in their memories? Then no mystery."
"Oh," Rachel said. "So, I have to talk to Jesse by myself?"
"No," Quinn said. "You don't have to talk with him at all. Lady Black will keep you company if you do. She's not Brittany level intimidating but she's got enough of it to scare the truth out of him, if there is any. And the rest of us have a date in low earth orbit."
"Please be careful," Rachel said, grabbing Quinn's hand. "I don't want to have to find replacements. All of you are irreplaceable," she added, letting go.
"I'll keep them out of trouble," Brittany said.
"You're going too?"
"Need to follow up on some info I pried loose on my little trip to NASA," Brittany said. "And this is where you get off," she said. "Lady B will be back in a couple hours and you can go make St. James miserable then. It'll be fun."
"If you say so," Rachel said, leaning against her office door as she watched the others continue down the corridor.
"Ready?" Lady Black asked her as they stood outside of the holding cell.
"No," Rachel said. "But I will be. Give me a minute, please." She started pacing up and down the corridor, humming to herself a song she hadn't sung in a long time. After running through the song ten times, she stopped in front of the door, shook herself, and announced "Now I'm ready."
"I'll go in first," she told Rachel, slipping in front of her.
"Okay," Rachel said, slightly deflating. "If you think it's best."
Nodding, Lady Black reached forward and placed her palm on the door lock. As soon as it was completely open, she entered the small cell. Jesse St. James was calmly sitting in the holding chair, acting as if he was manacled and unmovable every day.
"Mr. St. James," she said.
"I don't believe we've been introduced, but I'm willing to overlook such social niceties for such beautiful company," he said, smirking.
Rachel snorted loudly, and entered the room, the door shutting behind her.
"Jesse, don't ever change," she said. "The loss of your staggering wit to the world would be a tragedy."
"Rachel Berry, as I live and breath," he said, raising an eyebrow. "What brings you to this little corner of the gulag? At least I'm assuming I'm some sort of political prisoner, though I don't recall participating in a revolution."
"I believe you are currently classified by the United States as a terrorist," Lady Black said.
"So, there's some waterboarding in my future?" he said. "I'm surprised you are participating in this Rachel. Doesn't seem your tree hugging style. So, you've been working with the CIA since you disappeared in high school? I'm surprised they let you break cover to come see me."
"Maybe I should introduce you," Lady Black said. "Just so there are no questions."
"If it'll avoid the inevitable confusion," Rachel said, sighing.
"Mr. St. James, may I introduce you to the Ambassador, and Lady Memory, of the Council of the Dragon Clan, of the Pan-Galactic Federation."
"Ah," he said, grimacing, his expression changing. "So, not the CIA."
"Or any similar agencies of any terrestrial governments," Rachel said. "Though I believe the Lady Black attended several of their interrogation schools."
"Including one run by the CIA," Lady Black said.
"I'm not leaving here alive, am I," he said. "I told them they were strictly amateur hour, but, you know how Evil Overlord types are. They think they're living in a Bond movie. I'd appreciate it if you would tell my parents that I had good intentions."
"Well, luckily for you, we are the good guys, even if your masters don't think so," Rachel said.
"So, no waterboarding? Or thumbscrews?"
"No need," Rachel said. "Our superior alien tech, and it really is superior, allows us to record memories."
"Then why are you here? Shouldn't you be overrunning some poor country with your lesbian fembots?" he asked.
"I won't tell Quinn that you called her troopers fembots," Rachel said. "We might end up scraping you off the walls if I did."
"Scary and Blonde is here also? I bet that means the other two runaways are also," he said. "I can't believe your alien masters put the four of you in change of anything."
"We don't have 'masters'," Rachel told him. "But yes, Santana and Brittany are doing things even you couldn't imagine."
"I can imagine quite a bit," he said, leering.
"Get your mind out of the gutter!" Rachel said, in a disgusted tone.
"You know me so well," he said. "So. Memories recorded. Haven't tossed me out an airlock yet, though your friend here has that look in her eyes, so it'll happen any minute. Why?"
"Memories are recordings," Rachel said. "You might have noticed my title? I have a lot of experience analyzing peoples memories. Only our Shadows have more."
"Our secret police," Rachel said. "But as I was saying, digging through your memories? Not a big deal. But what it doesn't tell me is why. Why would you work for people who believe they are superior and will do anything to prevent the people of this planet from joining the rest of the Galaxy?"
"Is that how they sold this to you?" Jesse said. "For the betterment of mankind? It's all lies."
"My reasons, and the reasons of the others don't concern you," Rachel said.
"You know, I heard about your whole Mayan schtick, though I'll admit to being surprised that you're involved, and that is a clever bit of misdirection for aliens planning on global domination, but your Mayans aren't the only ones who came to this planet and set up their own little kingdom."
"Really? Who?" Rachel asked.
"You already have what's up in my head, why ask?"
"I'd like to hear you say it," Rachel said.
"If I must," he said. "I wouldn't want to deprive you of this last chance to hear my trained voice."
"Or we could go find that airlock," Lady Black said. "Unlike Lady M, I have no fondness for your presence. If I believe you are a threat to her, you will be finding out what living in a vacuum is like. Or not, as the case may be."
"Now that's what I was expecting, if I was ever captured," he said. "Threats. But don't worry, the Red Pirates and their descendants are a scruffy inbred lot. Even your friend Brittany could take them."
"The Red Pirates tend to underestimate their foes," Rachel said. "I won't take it too badly. Just be glad you were important enough to not be one of their gun toting minions. Quinn's 'fembots' tend to shoot first when people wave guns at them."
"I suppose," he said. "Now what? Do I have time to make a grand dramatic exit?"
"Sorry, no," Lady Black said, shooting him with a small dart gun she'd been hiding.
Watching him slump over, Rachel pouted. "But what if I wanted to make a dramatic exit?" she said.
"I'm not stopping you, Lady M," Lady Black said, waving towards the cell door.
"It's no fun when they're unconscious," Rachel said, still pouting. "So what are you doing with him. Cold storage?"
"Not my call," Lady Black said. "He's banal, not evil, so I suspect he'll get the same deal as your Mr. Schuester, a few years in the pods."
"You know they don't work completely on non-Clan, right?" Rachel said. "They get the experience but not the long term benefits the rest of us do."
"Do you really want them to?"
"No," Rachel said. "Which might be petty of me. But, no."
"Can I escort you anywhere?" she asked Rachel.
"I think I'll go to my office and catch up on some work while we wait for them to get back from the space station," Rachel said. "You're welcome to join me for dinner."
"My team is here this week and would enjoy your company, if you don't mind a crowd," Lady Black said.
"Sure. That sounds much better than eating by myself," Rachel said.
"I'll come get you in an hour?" she said.
"Yes, please," Rachel said, waving her off and heading in the opposite direction.
"Yes, Lady M?"
"Have we found any real evidence of a Red Pirate settlement?" Rachel asked. "Are they really behind the Black Hats?"
"Nothing definitive," Artie said. "But Lady Shadow and her team continue to search for any signs."
"You can't just do a scan, like you did to find all of the Clan descendants?"
"No. What little is known about them indicates they were members of several unrelated Pirate bands," Artie said. "Our primary search point is their unique technology, of which very little survives."
"Okay. Just an idea. I'm sure Brittany and the others have already thought of that," Rachel said, stopping in front of her office. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Lady Memory."
Chapter 6: On Station
A trip to the ISS, with a side order of sabotage.
Reminder: OC's by the truckful.
Note: The New Horizons trip to Pluto wasn't a success in this universe, unlike in the real world.
Chapter Word Count: 4,846
"Buckle it up people," Santana said, activating the shuttle console. "Next stop, that little rusting vacation spot in the sky some call a space station."
"Is she always like this?" Yamoto asked the Chief, buckling herself in.
"As long as I've known her," the Chief said. "All of the Council of Nine have their little quirks like that. If they weren't slightly crazy we'd think something was wrong."
"We wear our crazy with pride," Brittany said, leaning over and inserting herself into their conversation.
"Lady Shadow," the Chief said nervously. "How are you doing?"
"She's right, you know," Brittany said to Yamoto. "The Dragon Clan Council? We're all slightly crazy, though the others won't admit it. The whole process of turning an ordinary person into a 'demi-god Council member' usually results in a skewed outlook. Occupational hazard."
"Demi-god?" Yamoto asked.
"It's the best description of the end result that I can come up with," Brittany said. "We aren't regular mortals anymore. We'll live a lot longer than normal, even for Clan. Our reflexes and senses are tuned to the limits our genetics can handle. It's like that old movie. We've been turned up to eleven."
"Oh," Yamoto said. "So, you aren't superhuman, but superior human?"
"In some ways, though strictly speaking we aren't fully human anymore, if we ever were," Brittany said.
"If you stick around, you'll probably meet their families," the Chief said. "And when you do, you'll understand what Lady Shadow means. There's just something more about them, and not just the sexy hotness they have."
"I'm just me," Brittany said, winking. "I haven't changed much. The one who changed the most when she joined the Council was Lady Q."
"She's scary, but in a hot chick with super powers kind of way," the Chief said, leaning back into her seat.
"Lady Q has always been scary," Brittany said. "And hot. But pre-Council Lady Q was more Cordelia than Buffy."
"Ah," Yamoto said, nodding at the pop culture references.
"Approaching the station," Santana's voice said from the front. "Seal up those EV suits and hang on."
"We'll go first," Quinn said, indicating her bodyguards, "then Lady Shadow once we give the all clear. Everyone else, please wait until she gives the okay. That means you!" she tossed to Santana across their private comm channel. "No heroics. Let B do her job."
"Bossy," Santana said, her amusement clear, even over the comm. "Just the way I like you."
"San, we're not alone," Brittany said, also on their private comm. "Turn it down a notch."
"They're expecting company," Santana told the others, pretending she hadn't heard Brittany's order, "but not us. So be careful. Docking now."
With a thump even their shields couldn't completely hide, the shuttle attached itself to the outer airlock. "All lights are green," she said. "All yours, Q. Don't get B killed."
Waving at her, Quinn checked the readings on all of the EV suits and her bodyguard's hard suits for anomalies before activating the hatch. With a slight pop, air rushed through the hatch into the small chamber. Stepping into the air lock, she gestured for Pin to join her, leaving Pen waiting with Brittany.
In a direct confrontation, no matter how fancy Brittany's hard suit was, the hard suits that Quinn and her troopers wore could take much more punishment. And though she would never say so out loud, she considered herself expendable. If something happened to her, she'd trained each of her team leaders to the point where they could take her place. But if something happened to one of the others, their plans would implode.
"Hope they know we're coming, Boss," Pin said, as they waited for the airlock to cycle. "And not one of their low tech junk heaps."
"The station wasn't built for combat," Quinn said. "Any weapons would be jury-rigged. Like that." She pointed at the astronauts waiting for them on the other side of the now opening airlock. One was distinctly military in bearing, his close cropped hair sprinkled with grey. The two men carried what looked like long tubes with a tank on one end.
"Who are you," the older astronaut said, not allowing them to enter the station.
"We are here with your equipment replacements," Quinn said. "Your NASA requested that we deliver them."
"They got our message?" the younger astronaut said.
"We were not told of any message," Quinn said, "just that you needed several important communication components replaced."
"Jeeze," Santana said over the comm. "I bet they need something we didn't bring."
"Not surprised," Brittany chimed in. "Somebody in NASA was definitely playing games."
"Spares are always welcome," the old man said, "but that's not our problem. You might as well come in and we can straighten this out."
"We have others who wish to enter also," Quinn said. "Mission Specialist Yamoto is here with the replacement equipment. And several of our techs would like to observe."
"Four others," Quinn said.
"Plenty of room," the younger astronaut said. "If they're short like you. And, I think we'll need Yamoto to translate," he said in a low voice to the other man. "I'm sure our tech looks like rocks and flint knives to them."
Quinn grimaced but told Brittany and Jayne to come through and Yamoto and the Chief to come but leave the package on the shuttle. "They shall be here shortly."
"Introductions, Yamoto?" the old man said, once they were all in the station's largest common area and everyone had retracted their helmets.
"Yes , sir," she said. "On the shuttle, listening in, though she has not desire to join us, is the commander of the Dragon Clan fleet, Lady Air."
"Fleet? We've seen a couple small craft like that shuttle, and there's something large out by the moon, but we haven't seen anything resembling a fleet."
"It's there," Yamoto said. "The craft on the other side of the moon is Lady Air's flagship. Everything else is either cloaked so our equipment can't see it or too far away."
"So, you've been given a tour then," one of the other astronauts said.
"A quick one, there was a problem with the equipment package that needed to be taken care of."
"What kind of problem?"
"Someone intended to use it to sabotage your station," Brittany said.
"And you are?"
"She's Fleet intelligence," Yamoto said, "Lady Shadow. The lady that Jensen can't take his eyes off of is Lady Q, Fleet ground forces commander. The other two ladies dressed in similar suits are her bodyguards, so you might want to stop staring."
"Not much call for that up here," Jensen said. "We're all friendly. That just leaves one person. And you are?"
"She's Chief Fleet Engineer," Yamoto said.
"Quite a high powered group here," the old man said. "What's the occasion?"
"You said the problem is not the comm gear?" Yamoto said, "What exactly is keeping you from communicating with the ground? Why do they think your radio is out?"
"We've been using lasers to send messages," one of them said. "One of the spy satellites out there is set up to relay. We gave them detailed information about the problem. But we haven't gotten any responses back recently."
"They neglected to tell ground control anything other than your radio was out," Yamoto said.
"Which satellite," Brittany asked, pulling out her suit tablet. Tapping quickly, she generated a 3D image of the planet with small dots surrounding it and the space station glowing. "Where?"
The astronauts recovered quickly from their surprise at the device. The one who'd mentioned the lasers pointed at a section of the model. "Here."
Brittany expanded that section of the model. They went through this process for several minutes until the exact satellite was singled out.
"That's the one. We were told to use its relay in an emergency."
"Ah, that explains it," Brittany said. "The ground station controlling that satellite was shut down recently."
"It wouldn't happen to be one belonging to our friendly neighborhood pirates would it?" Quinn asked.
"That would be them," Brittany said. "They were also partially responsible for the problems with the package."
"Only partially? They must be slipping," Santana said to Quinn and Brittany over their private channel.
"Pirates?" the old man said. "Space pirates? Intercepting our communications with NASA?"
"Mostly descendants of pirates," Quinn said. "But yes, real space pirates, though they haven't had true spaceflight capability in a very long time. They've been a problem since we arrived in-system."
"They don't look like anime space pirates, do they?" one of the astronauts asked.
"No…" Quinn said. "Why?"
"Well, your armor looks like it came right out of a cartoon," she said. "I was wondering if we were all hallucinating."
"Ha!" Santana said. "Somebody finally called you on that."
"We may have taken design cues from several cartoons," Quinn said reluctantly. "Our original armor was deemed too close to something from one of your horror movies. But this armor is just as capable and better suited to your environment."
"Ah…" the astronaut said.
"So they're the ones who tried to blow us up?" Yamoto said.
"With a little help from a mole in your NASA's cleaning crew," Brittany said. "Don't worry, we took care of them. We just need to fix whatever damage they've already caused."
"If you can fix whatever is wrong, we'd be grateful," the old astronaut said. "Preferably without blowing anything up.
"All part of the service," Brittany said. "Explosion free problem solutions."
"They're buying NASA," Yamoto said. "The civilian branch."
"Just waiting for your Congress to approve it," Brittany said. "Might be a while."
"So, you're putting us out of our jobs? That's why you're here?"
"Not exactly," Brittany said. "We don't really have the personnel to spare to take over. All of our people are already busy. But we agreed to take over managing the civilian parts of it and upgrade it to our standards and technology, though that might take a few years to complete. And right now it mostly means we'll be paying your salaries. Think of it as a kind of outsourcing. Your government is outsourcing NASA to us."
"That's not how it usually goes," one of the astronauts said. "But we're still employed? And will get to learn your technology?"
"That is the plan, though we won't make you do it."
"What about the other countries involved in this space station," the old man said. "The Russians, Chinese, Japanese, the English, and Indians?"
"Nothing changes with respect to them. At least not at this point," Brittany said.
"So, you're here on an inspection tour to see what you actually bought?" Jensen said. "Why don't we give you the fifty cent tour and you can see our problem."
"It's still your station," Brittany said. "We'll just be paying for NASA's share."
"Does this mean no more dangerous Russian rocket rides to get here?" the female astronaut said. "From what I hear, your shuttles are a lot faster and safer."
"Any of our employees who want to ride on the old chemical rockets are welcome to continue to do so," Brittany said. "But if this goes through, we'd rather not have you risking your lives in that fashion."
"Yeah," Pin said. "There are lots more exciting ways to risk it all than that. Some people like to jump out of shuttles in low orbit for fun. Some of us like sun sailing."
"And some of us are itching to spend the next year on Pluto," Quinn said. "I hear Lady Air has an opening in Security."
"You have a base on Pluto?" Jensen asked. "I've always wanted to see it up close. 'New Horizons' disappeared before it could get close enough to pick out details."
"There you go, Boss, someone who actually wants to go to Pluto," Pin said. "They can have my spot."
"But they don't have your unique ability to put your foot in your mouth while wearing your hard suit," Quinn said. "We wouldn't want our team on Pluto to miss out."
"Gee, thanks Boss," Pin said, before stopping in response to a glare from Quinn.
"This is the problem," Jensen said, stopping in front of a small door. "We have no idea what's causing it and we haven't been able to get past it to use the radios."
Looking over his shoulder, Brittany and Quinn could see a faint golden glow blocking access to the communications panel. "Any idea?" Quinn asked.
"If you attempt to cross it, it'll knock you unconscious. Unless your suits can shield you from it?"
"What do you think, Chief?" Brittany said. "Look familiar?"
"Looks like the shield used on that Red Pirate stasis pod," she said. "How is it being powered?" the Chief turned to Jensen. "Any suspicious power problems? That shield requires more energy than this station uses."
"No," he said. "In fact, we usually have low power issues when we cross over into the Moon's shadow and that hasn't happened recently."
"Okay. So it's plugged into your power grid but it's generating a surplus," Brittany said. "Typical Red Pirate shoddy construction. There must be a generator here somewhere. Just need to find it."
"Can we keep it?" Jensen said. "We can alway use more power."
"Not my station," Brittany said. "We'll want a scan of it, of course, But the physical object? As long as it isn't dangerous, you can keep it, if the committee that governs the station, which we aren't on yet, okays it."
"But first we need to turn it off," the Chief said. "Probably booby trapped, like that equipment package they gave us to bring here."
"If it's booby trapped, we don't want it," the old astronaut said. "We don't need the extra problems."
"Don't worry, Colonel," Yamoto said. "We've fixed it. The Chief here tested all of the components in the package to make sure they didn't do anything extra."
"If you have such awesome technology, why are we here?" an until now silent astronaut asked, in a heavy accent. "Why you even want our Earth technology?"
"Because the world can't turn around in a day?" Brittany said. "Sure, we could start upgrading this station with all of our amazing, awesome, stupendous technology, but if we disappeared? What happens to it? And how long do you think it would take to bring your planet up to our level? Months? Years? Longer?"
"You're aliens, I'm sure you have some way to do it that won't take years," Jensen said.
"We could just ignore everyone outside our little enclave," Quinn said. "Or we can take a slow, steady phased approach. What is that Earth saying about teaching a man to fish?"
"But you have a plan?" the Colonel asked. "For all of us, not just this little escapade."
"Definitely," Brittany said. "It will take a while, several hundred years given our current estimates, but eventually Earth will have advanced to our current levels."
"Hundreds of years?" the antagonistic astronaut said. "None of us will be alive then."
"So, don't do it? You'd rather we went away and came back in several millennia after you've gotten there on your own?"
"Yes," he said. "We'll do better on our own."
"Your governments and smart people don't believe so. They want the tech boost we'll be giving you," Brittany said.
"And you're just going to give it away."
"Of course not," Brittany said. "It won't be a one-way street. Your society will have to grow to deserve the things we'll give it. Grow to be able to handle the things our technology allows us to do. Think of it as infrastructure. You need the mental and physical infrastructure for your society to handle the change."
"So, utopia is going to take years. All of the religious people will love that," he said.
"Let's not discuss religion," Quinn said, grimacing.
"Don't worry Boss, you're safe. They aren't going to be building any temples in your honor," Pin said, smirking.
"Temples?" the Colonel gave them a surprised look.
"What these two, and Lady Air, who's listening to us from the shuttle, and who knows who else, aren't saying, is that they are unique among the Clan," the Chief said. "They are the closest we have to goddesses. They're going to outlive all of us."
"Chief," Brittany said, "you know that's not true. We aren't gods and we aren't immortal. We just have good genes."
"The Cult of the Dragon doesn't agree," Chief said. "And there it is," she added pointing at a small red glowing object on the ceiling. "If we can take that out the shield will collapse. And if we can take that other one out here out first, it won't blow us all up." She pointed at another object, glowing green, also attached to the ceiling.
"Good catch," Brittany said. "Might have to steal you from Lady Air."
"I like what I do now," the Chief said. "But I'm sure someone will be willing to give me a raise to stay."
"I'm sure she will," Brittany said. "So, everybody out?"
"Yes, just in case. And everyone needs to button up their EV suits, or get back in the shuttle," the Chief said. "If it does self destruct it'll take this half of the station with it."
"Can we just leave it?" the Colonel said. "Or can you do something else?"
"We could put the whole station in stasis," the Chief said, "but that doesn't fix your problem. At some point it would still have to be removed and fixed. And a stasis field could set off the self destruct."
"Chief, if this kills you, you can be the one to explain to Lady Air why we let you do this," Brittany said. "Everybody seal your suits," she said. "How long will it take you to get ready?" she asked the four ISS astronauts.
"Ten minutes," Jensen said.
"Go," Quinn said. Surprised at the order, the four hurried out of the communication section.
"Take it easy on them, Boss," Pin said. "They aren't us. They aren't used to your bossiness, right Jayne?"
Quinn's other bodyguard, the normally quiet Jayne, just shrugged.
"San? You heard all that?" Brittany asked sub-vocally. "Think you can get us out of here fast if the self destruct is triggered?"
"If you can get here fast enough," Santana said. "But the Chief is off by a magnitude. If that self destruct goes off, Artie says it will take out the entire station, not just that corner of it. Fortunately, it'll take a few minutes if it's triggered so you should have time to get back here if you hustle."
"As soon as everyone is suited up, Chief will pull the trigger and we'll run for it," Brittany said.
"It'll work," the Chief said. "I'm good at what I do, that's why I'm Chief Fleet Engineer."
"Got a very Scotty vibe going there, Chief," Quinn said. "Though I'm not sure he ever claimed to have your level of competence."
"You're always welcome to find out how good I can be," she said, as she examined the outer sensor.
"You'd have to get past Lady M first," Pin said. "She's got first dibs on the Boss."
"No one has 'first dibs' on me," Quinn said, closing her helmet.
"It's no fun when I can't see your face," the Chief said. "I think the next version of your hard suits need to use transparent adamantium for the helmets. I've got some to play with."
"Not a chance," Brittany said, shaking her head as she watched. "The combat suits won't have transparent faceplates."
"But Lady Shadow, just think how useful it would be," the Chief said. "You could cut down on the number of comm channels needed if you could see the expression on someone's face."
"And whomever you were fighting could see also," Brittany said. "It's an advantage to be able to hide information from your foe."
"Yeah!" Pin said. "Some of us have too pretty faces. If they can see them they won't be frightened enough. Not gonna give up that edge."
"You are a strange people," Yamoto said. "This station could implode at any minute and you're discussing suit design."
"It's important," Pin said. "Most of us are way under two meters, even in our hard suits. We need any edge we can get."
"Are the old people ready?" Chief said. "Sorry, old Earth people," she corrected herself at a glare from Quinn. "Didn't mean you and Lady Shadow, Lady Q. You aren't old. Goddesses never get old."
"You're lucky we aren't goddesses," Quinn said. "Some of the old Earth goddesses had nasty tempers. They weren't mild mannered like ours."
"Speak for yourself," Brittany said. "A goddess needs to rant at least once a week about her incompetent minions and priestesses."
"How much did we pay for this?"
"The station," Quinn said.
"Why would you think we bought it?" Brittany said blandly.
"Because you like paying for things we might have to destroy," Quinn said.
"Where did you get the money to pay everyone's salaries when you take over?" Yamoto asked. "The Director has to beg for funding every year."
"We have several mining operations for bulk materials," Brittany said. "Anything we don't use we sell. Except for the gold. Dumping too much of that too quickly would destroy your economy. We also have started licensing some of our technology to a few companies who can make good use of them."
"Like what?" Yamoto asked.
"Well, next year a certain electronics company will come out with a tablet that will be a magnitude faster than anything currently available, and will have a battery that lasts a week instead of a day. One of their competitors will come out with a new laptop with the same battery tech. Just as an example."
"Improved safety equipment in your wheeled vehicles," Brittany said. "Things like that will make us enough money to run NASA. And start those improvements we talked about earlier."
"Well, that was exciting," the Chief said, "Not a scratch."
"Good job," Quinn said. "But the next time you feel like showing off? Let's not."
"Now what?" the Colonel asked. "You've fixed our little problem, and we now have spares for a few things."
"We've given them a tour, though they normally aren't that exciting," Jensen said.
"With your permission Colonel, we'd like to scan the entire station for any other signs of potential sabotage."
"What do we need to do?"
"Just give us permission, and Flag will do the scanning, now that we know what to look for."
"It's their flagship, sir," Yamoto said. "It's an interesting design."
"More anime designs?" Jensen asked excitedly. "What did you use this time?"
"No, that's Lady Q's thing," the Chief said. "Lady Air has completely different ideas about spaceship design."
"And when do we get to meet her?" he asked. "Is she really out in your shuttle?"
"Yes," Brittany said. "But she won't step foot on your station."
"Why?" the Colonel asked.
"Do you really need to see me?" Santana's voice echoed in the common room. "Would have thought you had enough alien women taking up space in there."
"How do we know you're Lady Air?"
"Not very trusting, are you," Santana said. "I like that. For all you know we're faking the whole thing. We could be pirates ourselves."
"We aren't," Brittany quickly said. "But she'd right. Skepticism is a healthy approach. Too many people are taking us at face value, just because they want aliens to come and impress them. And rescue them from a boring future."
"Which we are actually going to do," Santana said. "But you should have seen all those people sitting on broken down pyramids waiting for the apocalypse. It was like that alien invasion movie named after one of your national holidays."
"That's the one," Santana said. "A little unbelievable. For an invasion it was a little much. But, I can believe you'd have people standing on top of tall buildings and mountains waiting for the aliens to say hello. We say them during your so called Mayan apocalypse."
"So, you showing up on that day was just a coincidence?" the skeptical astronaut said.
"Are you serious? Of course it wasn't a coincidence," Santana said. "We picked that day intentionally. It was the perfect opening. All of the planetary defense forces were expecting to hear from all the crazies about aliens landing. So they weren't about to report anything they saw."
"I wondered about that," Yamoto said. "People were expecting something to happen on that day, and you gave it to them."
"It did take a lot of preparation," Quinn said. "Several years of getting everything in place."
"Things go so much more smoothly when you're prepared," Brittany said. "And, the scan is done."
"That was quick," the Colonel said. "Did you find anything?"
"A couple things I wasn't expecting," Brittany said. "You actually have other possible sabotage points, though they look long term. The soonest looks like it'll poison your water in approximately six months. And the furthest away would cause your maneuvering jets to fail."
"Yamoto, Looks like you aren't really the target," Santana said. "It wasn't completely personal. Someone really wants this installation to fail with those multiple points of failure lined up."
"Well, in some ways it was personal," Brittany said. "That spy recruiter she turned down was behind some of it. He didn't realize the Red Pirate faction was pushing his buttons."
"Oh," Yamoto said. "I really didn't want to be a spy. I spent too much time to become a mission specialist to waste it on that kind of thing. Even if the only reason I made it into space was because you gave me a lift."
"Not an issue," Brittany said. "I'm in the business and it really isn't for everyone, though assassinating someone who turns down a job offer seems a bit extreme."
"A couple of those agencies consider a job refusal to be a security risk," the Colonel said. "Though they don't usually bother with recruiting us. They usually have to beat off recruits for space based spying with a stick." At Brittany's raised eyebrow, he added "Used to be in the business myself, before NASA. Flying high altitude camera platforms and suborbital craft."
"We might need to talk at some point," she told him. "If you plan to stick with NASA after the change in management."
"I'll keep that in mind," he said. "How long will it take to clean up the problems you found?"
"Chief?" Brittany said, looking at the Chief who was discussing the report with Santana.
"Yes, Lady Shadow?"
"How long to fix things?"
"None of it's structural," the Chief said. "So, a month, assuming they have the spares to do it. Longer if they have to ship them up."
"And if we supply the parts?"
"A week," Santana said. "We can fabricate everything on Flag. And our warranty is better."
"We'll need to discuss this with Lady M," Brittany said. "She'll need to sell this to all the cheeses involved. The US Pres should be easiest. He'll listen to Sue. And Lady Q can use her influence with the Queen to get that gang to agree. Hardest are going to be the Russians and Chinese. They think the whole thing should be shut down and they'll put up their own space stations."
"They've been threatening to pull out and go their own way for years," Jensen said. "But the Russians need the money they get for providing a shuttle service. The Chinese haven't finished copying everything to be able to build their own yet. They're still researching it."
"And you let them just copy everything?" Quinn asked.
"Only the politicians complain about the Chinese," the other astronaut said. "They take our ideas, make them just that little bit better, and cheaper to reproduce and we buy it back."
"Ah," Quinn said. "I can see the benefits of that. I don't think they'll have much luck copying our tech. Most of it requires equipment and processes you don't have, and won't for several decades, if we give it to you."
"Do we need to vacate the station while the sabotage is corrected?"
"It would work best that way," Chief said. "But I suspect you'll want one of your crew involved in everything?"
"Yes," the Colonel said. "As much as you can."
"We'll make it part of the agreement," Brittany said. "If I were you I wouldn't trust anyone to make repairs if I couldn't supervise them."
"Paranoid Colonel vs Lady Shadow," Pin whispered to Quinn. "I bet he has a man crush on her before we're done."
"Not taking that bet," Quinn said. "Anyone who spends any time with her who doesn't end up impressed doesn't have a brain."
"Time to pack up, ladies," Santana said, interrupting. "Places to be. Yamoto, do you need a lift home?"
"Yes, Lady Air, thank you," Yamoto said.
Chapter 7: Threads
A quiet chapter in which the Council of Nine grows and Mother is discussed.
Warning: May contain fictional discussions of a religious nature. Not necessarily the opinions of the author.
Chapter Word Count: 5,947
"How's the space station refit going?" Santana asked the Chief, meeting her just outside Flag's upper galley.
"They'll be done in a few more days," she said. "Would've been faster for us to do it and not just give them the upgraded parts."
"It's a test," Santana reminded her. "If they can use our parts, they'll use our knowledge next time."
"We should just replace the whole thing," the Chief said, grumbling. "It's an antique. We have hundreds of plans for better designed orbital stations that size."
"And, some day we will," Santana said. "We definitely need a closer dry dock and orbital facilities. This is the first tiny step."
"You're thinking really long term," the Chief said, "Wouldn't it be faster to do that now?"
"It's my job to think ahead," Santana said, reaching for a plate. "That's the only way I can keep up with Lady Shadow."
Grabbing several sandwiches, the Chief put them on her tray. "Looks like they knew you were coming." She waved at the large plate of ribs now on Santana's own tray.
"You just need to know who to schmooze," Santana said with a smirk, guiding them to a corner table. "And, I'm in charge so they have to make my favorites."
"Mind if we join you?" Rachel asked, approaching their table. Not waiting for an answer, she sat down across from Santana, and her assistant next to the Chief.
"Shouldn't you be off talking some Earth politician's ears off?" Santana asked. "I still don't have my base in the Outback."
"We've just been to see Mother," Rachel said. "And I have a meeting with the Australian Prime Minister next month."
"How's the old broad doing?" Santana asked, licking sauce off her fingers. "Still on psychotics?"
"Better," Rachel said, grimacing at Santana's table manners. "I think the Council, the entire Council, needs to talk about her."
"Her also," Rachel said. "Artie said her confirmation as the Weaver should come through soon."
"Took them long enough," Santana grumbled. "We should probably tell her now."
"We haven't told her?" Rachel said, looking appalled.
"Nope," Santana said. "We asked her to play a bigger role as a spiritual leader for those who need it, but I don't think we ever mentioned to her that she would be elevated to the Council of Nine as part of that."
"Where is she?" Rachel asked.
"Not my turn to watch her," Santana said, picking up a rib. "Maybe your minion knows." She waved it at Rachel's assistant, Felicity.
"It's Tuesday," Felicity said, wiping barbecue sauce from her blouse with a frown. "She lectures at Yucatan University on Mayan and Clan religion in the afternoon."
"Appropriate," Santana said, nodding. "Does she have the comm implant now?"
"No," the Chief said, taking a bite from her sandwich. "It hasn't been authorized yet."
"She'll need the full treatment," Rachel said. 'Not just the implant."
"She won't like that," Santana said, frowning. "Artie?"
"Yes, Lady Air?"
"Let Lady Sophia know that we need to meet with her next week," Santana said. "It'll be a meeting with the entire Council, and Lady Sylvester if she's available."
"I still think Coach should be on the Council," Rachel said. "There must be some way."
"The Galactic Council recognizes her contributions to your success," Artie said, on their private channel. "But we cannot make her full Clan. She is an honorary member but that is not enough to elevate her to a Council position or give her full enhancements."
"I'm sure a plaque would make her happy," Rachel said with slight sarcasm. "But why not?"
"Although humans and some of the Clans can intermarry, human genetics are not compatible with Clan technology."
"But what about us?" Rachel said. "We have human DNA. And we're in charge."
"You had enough Clan DNA to override your human DNA," Artie said. "With the additional gene therapy you received, you are essentially full Clan. And your descendants have straight Clan DNA."
"It's an old argument, Rach," Santana said. "You know we would help out Coach if we could. But her DNA doesn't have anything to latch onto, if I understand it correctly."
"Well, it's not fair," Rachel said. "And she smirked when she heard my last epic about her. That's like winning a Tony."
"That was a good one," Santana said. "Though, having her go into battle with a troop of armed Cheerios against the forces of Dark Scheuster seemed a bit much."
"Brittany thought it was hilarious," Rachel said. "Quinn thought I went a bit overboard."
"Maybe a teensy tiny bit," Santana said, holding her thumb and forefingers less than an inch apart. "But everyone knew it was Coach."
"Artie, old Artie, said we should make a music video or cartoon from it," Rachel said.
"A cartoon about the adventures of Lady Sylvester?" Santana laughed. "I have to see Coach's face when you tell her."
"Okay," Rachel said. "When and where do you want to have the Council meeting?" "Council Meeting Chamber in Chichen Itza? Next week? That'll give everyone time to rearrange their schedules," Santana said.
"Okay, I'll check with the others," Rachel said.
"Or you could ask them now, since we all have comm implants," Santana said. "Unless you think some of us need extra convincing?"
"I can't see faces when we use the comms," Rachel said. "Some things just need that personal, in person touch."
"I don't disagree," Santana said. "But you're just asking them to a meeting. Chief, minion, you'll have to excuse us." Standing up she pulled Rachel to her feet.
Five minutes later, they were in Santana's office, just off the Flag bridge. "So, what's the real problem," Santana asked, handing Rachel a glass of her favorite Clan intoxicant. "We've been doing this for years with no problem and suddenly, you insist on face-to-face meetings?"
"Yes," Rachel said, cautiously sipping from her glass. "I don't think we talk enough."
"We, or you and Quinn?" Santana said. "Because Brit and I spend as much time together as we can. We have some meal together almost every day and overnight it as often as possible."
"That's great, for the two of you," Rachel said. "But I never see anyone in person."
"Nothing stopping you from doing the same with Quinn," Santana said. "Unless she's on maneuvers or some long training exercise, she spends more time in the enclave than you do."
"That's just because her main base is there," Rachel said. "All of her teams are based out of Chichen Itza."
"For now, yes," Santana said. "If you want her closer, and not just that whole friend thing you two agreed to, you're gonna have to put some effort into it."
"I can't make her spend time with me," Rachel said.
"Except when you insist on face to face meetings," Santana said. "Got it."
"You think I'm pathetic," Rachel said, gulping down half her drink.
"No, I think you make it more difficult than it has to be. But I promised I wouldn't interfere," Santana said.
"Brittany knows, doesn't she," Rachel said, sighing. "Right," she added in response to the look Santana gave her.
"So, let's get things moving," Santana said. "Your pathetic excuses for not hooking up with Q aside, we do need to discuss things. Mother, and my cousin."
"Yes," Rachel said, nodding in agreement, blushing at Santana' words.
"Artie? Please find my cousin Sophia," Santana said. "And tell her there's a special Council meeting next week in Chichen Itza and she's invited."
"Yes, Lady Air," Artie said. "She has already been informed per your previous request. She declined to attend."
"Tell her her presence is mandatory," Santana added. "And if she wants to find out why she has to show up."
"I'm sure she'll be pleased with the wording of the additional invitation," Artie said, dryly.
"Nah, she hates being ordered around. That's why she wasn't happy becoming the High Priestess," Santana said. "But, if you could ask the head Witch Woman of the Dragon Clan to also be there, that would help."
"Why does your mother need to be there?" Rachel asked.
"We're elevating the High Priestess of the Dragon Clan to the Council," Santana said. "They're going to have to find a new High Priestess."
"She can't be both?" Rachel asked.
"Nope. Not according to my mother," Santana said. "The High Priestess is subservient to the Gods on the Council, or some shit like that."
"We're not gods," Rachel said. "We don't even pretend to be."
"Doesn't matter," Santana said. "She can't do or be both."
"Hey Babe," Santana said, triggering her Brit comm channel. "Busy?"
"Hey, San and Rach," Brittany said, her voice filling the room. "What's up?"
"Got time next week for a discussion about Mother?" Santana said, waiting for Brittany to check the monitors she had on all of them. She knew Brittany didn't actually spy on all of them, just recording an hour long loop that helped her keep up with things.
"Of course," Brittany said. "Sigmund, her AI therapist, says she's doing good."
"Her AI has a name?" Rachel asked. "She never said."
"The baby AI's like Sigmund don't usually have names, unless we give them one," Brittany said. "So, you want a face to face meeting to discuss Mother?"
"It's a Q thing," Santana said.
"It's time," Rachel said. "We're starting to get rumblings from some of the world governments. They want to meet our religious leaders."
"You've been doing a great job with that," Brittany said.
"Well, I have a meeting with the Pope next month and I need the backup. Someone who can do the meet-n-greet with the Pope without looking foolish. And Sophia has a certain kind of presence."
"Ah," Brittany said. "You don't want to take Quinn? She did a good job with the Queen."
"I don't think it would be fair to her," Rachel said. "She still has hangups with the Christians from her childhood."
"I don't have hangups with the Christians," Quinn said, joining their discussion. "I'm just not a fan of the extreme version my father practices."
"Sorry," Rachel said. "I might have misunderstood."
"No, it's fine. So, we're bringing Sophia into the gang?" Quinn asked. "And you want to talk about Mother, once she's in?"
"Yes, thank you," Rachel said. "I think we need a different perspective, and Mother needs something more than what we can give her."
"Okay," Quinn said. "Unless there's an emergency I'll be there."
"Bring Coach," Santana said. "Even if she can't be on the Council, she tells it like it is."
"Of course," Quinn said. "And I've got to go."
"Me too," Brittany said. "Later Ladies," she said.
"Happy now?" Santana said, after Quinn and Brittany dropped off the channel. "Need me for anything else?"
"Not right now," Rachel said. "I'll leave you to your Fleet stuff."
"And very important stuff it is," Santana said, winking at her. "The Fleet isn't at full strength yet. Somebody has to get it there before we're knee deep in bugs and other evil critters."
Rachel nodded, before slipping out of Santana's office in search of her assistant.
"This is going to be a long meeting," Santana said, leaning against Brittany. "There's no snacks."
"Do you need them?" she asked. "I'm sure we can get you some traditional Council meeting snacks."
"Deep fried crickets and fire ants? I think I'll pass," Santana said with a grimace. "Every time I visit my grandmother she tries to get me to eat them. I'd rather eat asparagus."
"Candied asparagus isn't bad," Brittany said, giggling at the expression on Santana's face.
"Um, I'm sure it isn't," Santana said, gulping.
"Don't worry," Brittany said. "You don't have to try it. But Artie said we'll have cocoa, coffee and some of those spicy peanuts and deep fried plantains you like. No fire ants or other bugs."
"Good," Santana said. "I can't talk about serious things without serious snacks. And bugs aren't."
"Where's Quinn," Rachel said, rushing up to them. "She said she'd be here."
"Her shuttle is landing now," Brittany said after a moment. "Her Team was doing a show-n-tell for the Pentagon and they kept her late."
"They know we aren't selling them any hard suits, right?" Santana asked. "They wouldn't work for them anyway."
"They understand that," Brittany said, "but they want to know what our capabilities are."
"So they can beat us?" Santana asked. "Or so they can draw up one of their crazy war plans with us taking part?"
"War games," Brittany said. "You'd do the same thing. And you do."
"Of course," Santana said. "It's my job to know the capabilities of possible enemies or allies. And Quinn's. Did she get to blow things up?"
"Some old tanks," Brittany said. "And anti-tank missiles."
"Hope you got video," Santana said.
"Of course," Brittany said. "Always. From all of the suits."
"Even Q's?" Santana asked. "She still doesn't know she says those things out loud, does she."
"She know, she just doesn't care," Brittany said, giggling.
"Who told her?"
"I did," Rachel said, tired of being ignored. "But she hasn't stopped doing it."
"Why'd you tell her?" Santana asked.
"All of her battles are saved for future analysis by the Council historians. I thought she might not want them to hear her swearing. She said she didn't want her battle videos sanitized."
"And I still don't," Quinn said, joining them. "I'm not making some kind of movie for the public," she said. "Those battle recordings are the real me. If they really want to see me in action, they get the whole picture. Dumb mistakes, language, everything."
"That is refreshing, Lady Q," Sophia said, also joining them. "But, you realize it won't make them worship you any less. The people of the Dragon Cult, and your Clan, prize honesty and realness. They expect their gods and goddesses to be real. Not like those sanitized saints of the Christians. They don't even allow their god his imperfections."
"I'm not a goddess or a god," Quinn said, shaking her head in denial.
"You are one of the Nine," Sophia said.
"You know, Soph, there's a reason we asked you to attend this meeting," Santana said. "And my mother," she added, acknowledging her presence.
"It is not my right to question any of the Nine," Sophia said stiffly. "Even if one of them is my older cousin."
"Rub that right in," Santana said. "But I'm also prettier."
"San, you promised to be good," Brittany said, poking her.
"I'm always good," Santana said. "Very good."
"If we're all here, let's get this meeting started," Rachel said, hoping to avoid a fight between the cousins. "Sophia, that is your chair," she said, pointing at one of the nine Council chairs at the head of the table.
"That is one of the Nine," Sophia said, giving her a puzzled look.
"Yes, the chair of the Weaver," Rachel said. "Please sit in it."
"That is not appropriate," Sophia said. "I am the High Priestess of the Dragon Cult. I cannot sit there."
"You are the former High Priestess of the Dragon Cult," Santana's mother said, taking her hand and leading her around the table to the Weaver's Chair. "This is now your seat."
"Why?" Sophia asked, nervously sitting down and looking at the others.
"Why are you sitting there? Or why are you now a member of the Nine?" Rachel said.
"I am not worthy to be one of the Nine," Sophia said. "You have all trained and prepared for your places. I am just a priestess and historian."
"You are also a person who cares deeply about her people and their spiritual well being," Rachel said. "Someone we sorely need. Of the four of us, only Quinn really understands how much spiritual health is an important part of our people, but she cannot be the Weaver."
"I have become too cynical, and am too busy," Quinn said, nodding. "And I would argue that it would be a mistake for me to assume I could handle that role, even if I weren't the Hand."
"I do not know if I can accept this honor," Sophia said faintly. "We will not have a High Priestess for our people."
"The People shall be fine until a new High Priestess can be trained," Maribel said. "It is time another family took on this task. You and Santana are needed for other things."
"No buts, cousin," Santana said. "Once you have finished In-Doc, you'll be too busy to doubt yourself. And you'll know why we chose you."
"In-Doc?" Sophia asked.
"Santana's word, not ours," Rachel said. "It just means you will need to spend a little time learning about the role of the Weaver, beyond what tradition says. And, it's time you got a comm-link like the rest of us."
"And you'll need to get used to being addressed differently. You are now the Lady Weaver, or Lady W, as most of our people will call you. Some of the older ones, such as Santana and Quinn's officers will use Lady Sophia. Anything more familiar, outside of family and members of the Council, is purely up to you."
"Oh," Sophia said, looking a little overwhelmed.
"You have many things to discuss," Maribel said, "that I'm sure you don't need my presence for. Santana, don't forget you are expected for dinner tomorrow. Your father has not seen you since your disappearance. You cannot continue to avoid him. And Brittany, you also, if you are able."
"We'll be there, Mama Lopez," Brittany said.
"Good," Maribel said. "I will leave you to your Council business." Nodding to Sue Sylvester, and the others, she left the Council Meeting Chamber.
"And now down to business," Brittany said, taking over the meeting. "Sophia, Rachel needs someone to go with her to meet the Pope next month."
"And the Dali Lama," Rachel said. She turned to Sophia. "I need someone who can speak authoritatively about the Clans and our religion. These are men with a lot of influence, but they really have no experience with women of their authority level. My knowledge of our religion is historical and I wish them to take us seriously."
"Yes," Sophia said. "Their religions do not provide much positive leadership roles for women. We will have to be careful when dealing with them. What of the other religions? Very few have a single leader."
"We will have to approach them in whatever way you feel best. As you can see, your knowledge is desperately needed. We cannot afford to offend these people but we aren't subject to their beliefs or rules. We are not a new population for them to convert."
"The ones that are into converting, the evangelical ones, wouldn't have us anyway," Quinn said.
"And we don't want them in our enclave," Santana said. "They're likely to get shot by some angry native."
"Well, throwing those Mormons out might have been a bit much," Rachel said. "They aren't pushy like some."
"We had to make an example of someone," Santana said. "Our people don't need that kind of thing. People running around, trying to get them to join a different religion. Especially since our religion is a bit different. We don't exactly have churches or books written by men over several thousand years. It's more personal."
"What about Mother?" Rachel asked.
"What about her?"
"What is this Mother?" Sophia asked.
"Someone who needs a firm hand," Sue said, speaking up for the first time.
"Geez, Coach, we didn't need to know that," Santana said. "I know you've been talking with her but that's TMI."
"Sorry," Rachel said in a low voice to Sophia. "Your cousin tends to let her mouth speak before she thinks."
"I am well aware of that phenomena," Sophia said. "I find it reassuring that she has not changed so much to lose that."
"Mother is a difficult thing to explain," Rachel said. "She is an inactive member of the Council of Nine. There are issues."
"She's batshit crazy," Santana said. "Her mother was one of the original Nine who came here way back. Something happened to her mother and she went crazy. Betrayed the Council to the Red Pirates."
"Where is she?" Sophia asked. "She is still alive?"
"They put her in stasis. We have her stashed away," Brittany said. "She is slowly getting better, but all Mothers are crazy to some degree, so we don't know if she'll ever become stable enough to become active on the Council."
"You cannot replace her?" Sophia asked.
"Not according to Artie. The Pan-Galactic Counsel won't replace a crazy Mother, since they are supposed to be crazy, and it's one of their rules."
"That does not make any sense," Sophia said.
"That is what I told them," Sue said. "If they cannot cure her, they need to remove the weak link."
"A Mother is special," Rachel said. "They are almost never replaced."
"Why wasn't I aware of the importance of this Mother among the Nine?" Sophia asked.
"Good question," Santana said. "Probably because the Clan who survived wanted to forget the reason for their failure."
"They tried to replace their Mother," Rachel said. "We don't know why yet, but it was a disaster. She fought them and when they killed her, we believe, her daughter lost it. And now she is the only Mother we are likely to get."
"And she's crazy," Santana said.
"At least we know that already," Quinn said. "One of the mistakes of the original Nine is that they underestimated what a Mother was capable of if she thought they were endangering the entire Clan."
"So, she is literally the Mother of the Clan? Its protector?" Sophia asked.
"That's one way to put it," Rachel said. "But we cannot trust her right now. Her grief at what happened to her mother, and her own actions, is too overwhelming."
"But, she is getting better, slowly," Brittany said. "Some day she'll be ready."
"But she's not safe," Santana said. "Not yet."
"I would like to meet her," Sophia said. "This Mother."
"After In-Doc," Santana said. "She has slight psychic powers and you would be defenseless."
"If you believe this is necessary," Sophia said.
"Definitely," Rachel said. "Some people are immune to her influence but it would be best not to find out the hard way if you are not."
"When can this 'In-Doc' occur," Sophia asked. "And how long?"
"Whenever Lady Sophia is ready," Artie said. "A week of real time. A month of virtual time."
"Tomorrow," Sophia said. "I must make arrangements, talk to my mother. And what is this virtual time?"
"You haven't spent any time in the pods, have you," Rachel said. Sophia shook her head. "The learning pods are able to extend your awareness in time. In the normal world time goes as it normally does, while inside the learning pods things move faster. If you are Clan, not just your awareness speeds up but your body matches it. It's a virtual world but not."
"It's also where we will meet with Mother," Brittany said. "It allows us to keep her in a familiar environment while she recovers. And it's safer for us."
"We think one of the things that pushed her over the edge was the destruction of her home. Something she was unable to prevent," Rachel said.
"I am very curious to meet her," Sophia said. "What else did you wish to discuss while we are all together."
"Brit? Anything new about our Black Hats?" Quinn asked. "Any signs of them?"
"We've finished going through the memories of our captives," she said. "Mr. Schue may be annoying and a bit selfish, but he's definitely not one of them. They were getting close to our original identities and were hoping to use him as bait in some way."
"So they know who we are?" Rachel asked.
"No, they were just suspicious. And it was a dead end, because they hadn't sent any of their information to any other cells."
"And that Cassandra person? What did they plan to do with her?"
"To make things look real," Brittany said. "She was just a prop."
"That's horrible," Rachel said. "What are we going to do with her? And him?"
"He's a liability," Santana said. "Let's just freeze and forget."
"We can't do that," Rachel protested. "We still have to do something with all of the Black Hats we've collected over the last year. An innocent person doesn't belong with them."
"Innocent of plotting against us with the Black Hats," Brittany said. "He's not that great of a human being. Did you know he tricked Finn into joining Glee by pretending to find drugs in his locker?"
"What?" Rachel said, horrified.
"Yes," Sue said, nodding. "Have the whole thing on tape."
"Of course you do," Quinn said, sighing. "Why didn't you ever do anything about it? You could have easily gotten rid of him."
"Torturing him seemed like a better idea," Sue said. "And several of my papers on his behavior won awards."
"With large prizes I assume," Quinn said. "Why am I not surprised."
"Because we understand each other very well," Sue said. "You might have these dupes fooled but I recognize the evil genius of a young Sue Sylvester at work."
"Someday Coach, you need to show me what you're blackmailing the Ice Q there with. It must be a doozy," Santana said.
"She's not blackmailing me," Quinn said. "I'm clean."
"Then you must be blackmailing her," Santana said. "There's no way both of you are squeaky."
"They are, San," Brittany said. "If they have anything it's hidden so well even I can't find it."
"That in itself is extremely suspicious," Santana said.
"As amusing as this is, I'm sure we all have other things to do?" Quinn said. At reluctant nods from Rachel and Santana, she said, "Sophia, welcome to the Council. Don't let them scare you. In your area you have just as much authority as the rest of us do in ours. If you need anything, before you get your comm implant, you can contact us through Artie. After, you won't be able to shut us out, so enjoy your freedom while it lasts."
"Thank you, Lady Q," Sophia said.
"Just Q or Quinn in private," Quinn said, giving her a small smile. "You're one of us now." Nodding to the others, she left the chamber.
"Definitely let us know if you need anything," Rachel said. "And let us know when you want to see Mother, so you don't have to go alone." Nodding, she hurried out of the Council Chamber after Quinn.
"They really need to get a room," Santana said. "The UST is killing me."
"They are a couple?" Sophia asked.
"A couple of somethings," Santana grumbled. "One of these days I'm going to lock them in a closet and not let them out until they figure it out."
"No you won't," Brittany said.
"No I won't," Santana agreed. "But they are driving me crazy. Extreme measures may be called for."
"You have always been impatient," Sophia said. "I do not understand how you were chosen by our gods to lead the Clan Fleet."
"I thought the same thing," Brittany said.
"But for some reason she's a perfect fit for what it takes to run the Fleet," Brittany said. "Just like Quinn is the perfect fit for her role and Rachel was born to be the Clan Memory."
"And what of you?" Sophia asked her, curious.
"I have been training for this since I was five," Brittany said. "Not that we knew this would happen. And you, Weaver, you are uniquely suited to represent us to our gods. Which I know you believe in, even if this one," she poked Santana again, "is too much a skeptic to ever truly believe."
"So, you do not think a belief in our gods is a waste?" Sophia said.
"My birth clan is very much of the belief that there are higher powers out there. And that these powers have visited us, leaving undeniable proof. So, I would never tell you that. The gods and goddesses are real. The Christians may not see them the same way we do but they are out there."
"That's too heavy for me," Santana said. "We'll see you when you get back from 'In-Doc'," she said, "and then we can all go see Mother."
"So, just the five of us?" Rachel asked. "Will she be able to handle being around all of us without reacting badly?"
"It's the pods," Santana said. "Perfectly safe."
"All psychic abilities will be suppressed in the learning pods, Lady Memory," Artie said.
"Really? And why didn't the original Council meet in the pods? Wouldn't that have been a good idea if they were afraid of being influenced?"
"The suppression of psychic abilities is a recent improvement in the learning pods," Artie said. "It was not available then."
"They most likely would have refused to use it," Sophia said. "From what I have observed of their meetings, they were very arrogant. They thought they were infallible."
"And found out the hard way that there is no such thing?" Quinn said. "I suspect we will not have that problem."
"No," Artie said. "One of the traits the Galactic Counsel looked for when reviving the Dragon Clan was the ability of the Council of Nine to be objective. You all show signs of this."
"Coach never let us get big heads," Santana said. "She always says that you can't fix your mistakes if you don't believe you can make them."
"Perfection is an unachievable goal," Rachel said. "I learned that lesson long ago. It doesn't mean you shouldn't try, but it's about the journey."
"That was... almost profound," Santana said. "Didn't know you had it in you Shorty."
"Ladies," Brittany said, getting their attention, "you're only delaying the inevitable. Let's get going."
"Yes, Lady Shadow," Santana said, "at once. Let's lie down in the goop."
"Silly!" Brittany said, hugging Santana. "It's not goop."
"It's something goopy," Rachel said. "Goop is as good a name as any."
Removing their robes, the five women glanced at each other in their pod suits for a moment before, each picking a pod, they slid open the pod doors and climbed in.
"I hate this part," Rachel muttered as the goop filled her pod.
"It washes off," Quinn said, over her comm link. "And here we go."
Opening her eyes, Rachel found herself standing at the edge of a large clearing. At the other end was a large open building, reminiscent of something she had seen one year during a family vacation in Hawaii.
"Why don't we have houses like that?" Santana said, appearing next to her. "I bet there's plenty of room."
"No privacy, of any sort," Brittany said. "Anyone passing by would see right into your most private places."
"So?" Santana said. "Got nothing to hide."
"Really?" Brittany said. "Because we can get the plans if you really want an open layout like that."
"You'd have to put up a really high fence to keep out the peeping toms," Rachel said. "Definitely be traffic problem. And people with cameras."
"Okay, okay," Santana said. "Still want one but not at the beach with all the perverts watching."
"Plenty of places to put one where other people can't see it," Brittany said.
"Is she expecting us?" Sophia asked.
"Not exactly," Brittany said. "She knows she's having visitors today, but not who. Or why."
"And that would be her," Rachel said softly, as a woman stepped down from the wrap-around porch.
"She looks a bit like you, cuz," Santana said. "A little taller maybe."
"She would have been the equivalent of a princess," Rachel said. "I bet that runs true."
"How do you explain blondie here," Santana said, poking Quinn. "Not very many blonde Mayans, until now."
"No idea," Rachel said. "Her family is descended from European nobility on her mother's side, maybe it came from there?"
"Let's not bring my grandmother into this," Quinn said.
"We didn't mention your grandmother," Brittany said. "But I'm curious now. Maybe we should invite her down to Cancun?"
"No, just no," Quinn said. "Things are crazy enough as it is. We don't need to add her brand to the pile."
"This may require some investigation," Santana said, smirking.
While they talked, they reached the house and its occupant. She stared at them, a worried expression on her face.
"What brings the Council of Nine to me. Have you come to take me away from my peace," she asked them.
"No," Rachel said, speaking softly, as if to a frightened child. "We have a new member who wished to meet you."
"Why would one of the Nine wish to gaze upon a dishonored person such as myself," she asked. "I am not worthy of your concern."
"All are worthy of the concern of the Council," Sophia said, approaching her. Reaching out, she gently took her hand. "All of our people are no less than the Nine."
"Who are you?" Mother asked. "I recognize these others. The Memory bursting with images of the past; the Hand, death trailing in her wake; the Lady with the Sky in her eyes; She who lives in the Shadows. But you are not one I am familiar with. You reek of lightening and flowers as only the Weaver would."
"And you? Mother of us all?" Sophia said. "Living alone, away from your people. How do you stand their absence?"
"I am not fit to be Mother," she said, shaking. "Have they not told you the end I brought upon my people. How I punished them for something they could not understand? How I punished them all for the pain the Nine brought me? And the forgiveness they cannot give me?"
"Oh, Mother," Sophia whispered, pulling the shivering woman into her arms. "Forgiveness you must give yourself. They cannot forgive because it is not their place. They have come after to put the pieces back together but not to judge."
"I cannot face them," she whispered to Sophia.
"Come, we shall walk," Sophia said, shaking her head when the others started to follow.
"Not a side of her that I've ever seen," Santana said in a low voice as they watched the two women slowly walk away. "Where are they going?"
"There's a pond and a creek," Brittany said. "We'll wait for them here."
"Is Sophia safe with her?" Rachel asked.
"Yes," Quinn said. "I would not call her harmless, she is Mother after all, but she won't harm any of us."
"She seems sad, sadder than the last time I visited her," Rachel said. "Sigmund didn't say she was so fragile."
"Sigmund is an AI," Santana said. "Probably didn't notice."
"She won't be ready to be Mother any time soon," Quinn said. "Probably not until after we've dealt with the Enemy."
"That's good," Santana said. "No distractions."
"We need to keep her safe," Rachel said. "Do we have plans? Brit?"
"Working on it," Brittany said, sitting down on the grass, and pulling down a laughing Santana on top of her.
"I can see that," Rachel muttered, flopping down next to them. She patted the grass next to her. "Sit," she said to Quinn.
Quinn shook her head. "Let's take a walk," she said, holding out a hand.
"Finally," Santana said, watching Quinn and Rachel disappear into the trees. "What are they talking about?"
"I'm not listening or recording," Brittany said. "They need some privacy."
"Brit," Santana said, pouting. "That's just cruel!"
Chapter 8: Sales Pitch
In which our girls buy a spaceship. Or two. And some rocket scientists.
This would never happen in the real world. I hope. And the usual disclaimer about religion as depicted in this story - Not a reflection of the author's opinion.
Chapter Word Count: 2,965
Quinn sat in the uncomfortable wooden chair and listened while ten American senators grilled Rachel about their plans for NASA. If she could be anywhere else, she’d have gone, but Brittany had insisted that it was her turn to accompany Rachel to one of these hearings. Even if she didn’t say anything important.
"Why should we turn over our nation’s space agency to you, a bunch of alien women," the committee Chairman said, his voice seething with contempt.
"You don’t have to, and we aren’t asking you to just hand it over to us," Rachel said. "However, it is our understanding that you plan to shut it down because you don’t feel you need it anymore."
"NASA’s purpose is to explore space and with you aliens out there, their mission has been fulfilled," he said. "Its budget would be better used elsewhere for the American people."
"Doesn’t NASA stand for 'National Aeronautics and Space Administration'?" Rachel said. "I believe, in addition to space activities, they provide research on a number of useful non-space related activities to make your air vehicles safer?"
"Yes," one of the other senators said. "But if they aren’t going into space or sending out space probes, we have other federal agencies that can do what they do for less. We don’t need five different agencies doing the same thing, wasting taxpayer money."
"So, you plan to shut NASA down, and rely on us for spaceflight?" Quinn asked, raising an eyebrow in disbelief, speaking for the first time since being introduced an hour ago.
"Why not," a third senator, the only woman on the committee, said. "You can reliably put satellites in orbit without using expensive rockets and if I understand it correctly you already have several space stations, including research facilities on Pluto."
"Who’s going to pay us? We aren't a charity," Rachel said. "We also aren’t some kind of space taxi service. If your scientists want to use our space stations for their experiments it won’t be free."
"You have spaceships," the Chairman said. "Some big enough to carry large payloads."
"We do," Rachel said. "And they are already being used. They aren’t just sitting there waiting for passengers."
"You can spare them to do some of the science NASA is doing. And for less," he said.
"What about commercial spaceflight? Don’t you have private companies putting satellites in orbit, sending supplies to your space station and other things? Are we supposed to do for free what they do now?"
"Yes," a different senator said.
"What gives you the right to tell us how to use our equipment?" Quinn asked, frowning. "You aren’t our government. We aren’t citizens of your country. In fact, some of you think we shouldn’t be allowed in, though I’m not sure why you would think we would want to live here instead of our enclave."
"So, you want us to do the work of your NASA? You are going to shut down your space and aeronautical R & D?" Rachel quickly added. "What about the thousands of people, highly trained people, you plan to make unemployed. Do you mind if they find work elsewhere? After all, you are going to fire all of them."
"Who would they work for?" the Chairman asked.
"I hear the Russians and the Chinese are hiring. They have no plans to throw themselves on the mercy of a bunch of alien 'girls' just to save a few dollars," Quinn said. "They are willing to negotiate for a look at some of our tech. And not small amounts."
"They can’t do that!" one of the senators shouted.
"Why not? You just said you didn’t need them anymore," Rachel said. "Though I suspect your military must be having fits at the idea that all of the engineers building their rockets and designing fancy air vehicles will be working for their enemies."
"We never said that," the Chairman said.
"I must have misunderstood you then," Rachel said. "It sounded like you were planning to shut down NASA and throw all of those hard working people, registered voters, on the streets to starve. Or work for the Chinese or Russians or some other country that realizes what a bargain they are. Or, you could turn NASA over to us."
"You haven’t given us a good enough reason," the senator on the end said. "They won’t be doing anything we need anymore so we might as well fire them. And if your alien technology is so great, why do you want them?"
"That’s an excellent question," Rachel said. "Why do we want NASA when we already have better equipment, faster ways to travel, and already know the answers to questions they’ve only just started to ask? You could say that about any of our 'alien technology'," she said. "Why bother doing anything if we can solve all of those problems for you."
"So, you are offering us paradise? We just let you do whatever you want and we never have to do or think anything ever again?" the woman senator said.
"No! Never!" Rachel said. "We are not offering you anything. We have come here to your corner of the galaxy, and we are setting up several bases, and space stations, and yes, research stations, but we are not going to make this world a paradise for the lazy. We could just go into our enclave and ignore the rest of this world and its problems, and that is one of the alternatives we discussed. But, we looked at this world and its people and decided a little help was in order."
"So, you are just going to make our lives better? Some Star Trekian utopia? Do we have any say in this?" the Chairman said.
"Of course you do," Rachel said. "Pretend we aren't here. We aren’t here on some mission to improve your lives. We aren’t alien invaders promising cures for every disease you may have while secretly invading. We are here because this system is a crossroads. We’re building a galactic police station. And it’s to our benefit to spruce up the neighborhood and make the natives happy as we do it. Happy neighbors make better neighbors."
"And NASA?" he asked.
"Part of that 'sprucing up'," Rachel said. "Think of it as privatizing or outsourcing, if that helps. We take over, you still get the benefit of their expertise and we charge you less over time as we make improvements and as they learn how our technology works and integrate it into their work. And, due to the inevitable employee turnover, our technology slowly filters out into your industry and learning centers. It won’t be instant, it will take years, but it doesn’t provide the disruptive influence your philosophers and sociologists are afraid of."
"How can you be so sure it will be a positive experience?" asked another senator who’d been silent until then.
"Because it will? You’ll have to have faith in the process. And just think of how happy your voters will be. Their lives won’t change so fast they revolt. This year a faster computer. Next year a safer car. In ten years they’ll be taking trips to the moon and a decade after that you’ll be building cities on Venus and Mars. And it will feel normal. Not scary."
"We’re a Christian nation," another formerly silent senator said. "You're atheists. How can you expect us to work with godless aliens?"
"No. we’re not atheists," Rachel said. "I’m not sure where that idea comes from. But, we are also not followers of your Christ. How could we be? He is a native of your world. We also don’t worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster I’ve heard some talking about. You have some of the strangest beliefs." Faint giggles could be heard from the back of the room.
"What do you believe?" the senator asked.
"Myself? Or our people in general?"
"Let’s start with you," the senator said.
"I have simple beliefs," Rachel said. "Unlike some of our people, I don’t believe I’ve ever come into contact with the Eternal All but I know something is out there. There is definitely some guiding force in the universe."
"So, you’d be willing to be born again?" the senator asked.
"Once isn’t enough?" Rachel said, causing laughter from several parts of the chamber. "Some Clans do believe in reincarnation, but I suspect that isn’t what you mean."
"Would you be willing to claim Jesus as your Lord?"
"For what reason?" Rachel said. "He isn’t and isn’t likely to be."
"How can we work with you then?" he asked, glowering at her.
"Isn’t religious freedom one of the foundations of your country?" Rachel said. "Or did I misunderstand that also?"
"Yes," the Chairman said, glaring at the other senator. "It is against our laws to require such things as a condition of Federal contracts and has no place in this discussion."
"That’s good," Quinn said. "I am a warrior, and your Jesus might have an interesting philosophy about protecting the weak and feeding the poor but he isn’t a warrior’s god. The failure of your religious crusades clearly show that. And the god of your Bible? He shows a streak of cruelty that would dishonor a Clan warrior.
I do not think you will get any converts to that religion from our Clan. They prefer straight forward leaders and gods. Yours are too full of contradictions for us. But that is really not a discussion for one such as myself. Our Weaver is the one to have a religious discussion with. She is able to talk directly with our gods at those times when we need their advice."
"Where is this Weaver?"
"She is currently on retreat," Rachel said, "in preparation for an upcoming meeting with your Pope."
"We don't have a pope," the senator said, making a face.
"He leads your largest Christian religion, yes?" Rachel said. "I was amazed at the palace he lives in. Your religious leaders seem to be very rich. Are your gods rich also?"
"He was a carpenter," the senator said.
"Interesting," Rachel said. "But let’s get back to the important things. NASA? Are we getting it?"
"We have additional questions," the Chairman said. "Several things have been brought to our attention."
"Apparently, your clan has been buying property and companies all over the world. Why?"
"Is it wrong for us to buy things?" Rachel asked. "Your entire culture is based on the idea of exchanging things of value. I believe you call it capitalism?"
"Yes," one of the senators said.
"We try to deal fairly," she said. "In the beginning we found it easier to pay for things instead of just taking them. For example, it seemed less stressful for everyone if we paid all of the foreign companies in our territory for their property instead of just taking it as was our right."
"You can’t just take things," a senator protested.
"Our enclave is under our jurisdiction, our rules, our laws," Rachel said. "As such, yes we could have just taken everything. We don’t really have a concept of individual ownership in the Clans. The Clan owns, the people use, as we say. But to avoid the inevitable conflicts when some company with a presence in our territory complained, we decided to pay them what our research determined was a fair value."
"You are Marxists!" the senator who’d earlier asked the questions about religion said. "We aren’t selling NASA to a bunch of heathen Marxists!"
"Marxists? I’m not quite sure what you mean by that but it doesn’t sound very complimentary," Rachel said.
"I don’t believe your political-social terms really apply to us," Quinn added. "We’ve contributed several billions of your dollars to your economy since arriving. And we expect to contribute billions more over the next few years. But if you want us to spend it elsewhere I’m sure we can do that."
"Why did you buy the old Ghostbuster’s office?" yet another senator asked. "And the other buildings in a two block radius?"
"You have a popular saying 'if you broke it you bought it' and we’ve been trying to follow that," Rachel said.
"What does that mean?" he said.
"We are self insured, which is an odd concept for us, so if something is damaged by our actions, we pay for it. Terrorists take over a building, as happened in this case? Before we remove them, we come to an arrangement with the owners of the property. Sometimes they just ask us to repair any damage that occurs when the terrorists are removed, other times they sell it to us. Either way, we’re very upfront about such things. Which is more than most of your government agencies are."
"That doesn’t explain the hotel in London you currently own," the senator said, waving a piece of paper. "And the one in New York, and a dozen other places, according to this."
"That really wasn't our idea," Rachel said. "When we bought out several Cancun based hotel management companies, we ended up owning their other assets. In some ways it is very convenient to not have to pay for a hotel room. But we hadn’t intended to buy so much, or anything really."
"And you’re paying taxes on this property?"
"Those fees to your government? Of course," Rachel said "The Clans, as a semi-nomadic people understand the uses of such things. Bureaucrats are the same, no matter what planet you’re on. They all want their cut. Sometimes directly, like your taxes, sometimes under the table to grease the skids of commerce."
"Good," the Chairman said, nodding. "We can do business." Several other Senators murmured in agreement.
"Well, that was interesting," Rachel said, leaning back in her seat, exhausted after days of grilling by assorted Congressional committees. "Didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition. We just want to take over NASA, not join their multitude of churches or have our people converted."
"Politics and religion are very intertwined in our old homeland. You can’t have one without the other," Brittany said. "But the two of you did fairly well, considering the hostile panels you were facing."
"Not sure what they were getting at with all of the religious questions," Rachel said.
"Grandstanding," Quinn said. "To show their voters that they’ve faced the girl aliens in their heathen multitudes and won."
"Well, that’s a strange way of doing business," Rachel said. "Hopefully the upcoming meeting with the Pope will go better. He, at least, isn’t going to ask us to convert. He’s mostly just curious."
"You should have seen their reactions when you told them you’d been born once and that it was enough." Santana said.
"Did they really think we would fall for that?" Rachel said.
"Yes," Quinn said. "They are very narrow minded. They think we’ll convert because they want us to, just by saying the magic words."
"Must not be very magical," Rachel said. "They didn’t work."
"They should have offered magical beans," Santana said, smirking. "Those at least have some value. Unlike the words of a prophet who was killed by his own people."
"Not completely useless," Quinn said. "Just very old school old guy club."
"So, who’s next?" Santana said. "We’ve got the Queen on our side already. Do we have to meet with the Russians?"
"Not without bodyguards," Rachel said, shaking her head. "As nice as the Russians themselves are, their government can be quite scary. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to kidnap one of us."
"That would be a mistake," Quinn said. "One they would regret."
"Well, we can play nice for now. No one is trying to kidnap anyone," Brittany said. "And let’s keep it that way."
"Yes, Lady Shadow, ma’am," Rachel said, to giggles from the others.
"Who are we meeting with next then, after the Pope?" Quinn said. "The Dali Lama?"
"We actually met with him last week," Rachel said, "but he asked that we not tell anyone."
"Huh," Santana said. "How long before we find out if they are letting us have NASA?"
"They have to vote on it, and then make a recommendation to the whole Congress. Could take a few days, weeks or months."
"As long as they don’t shut it down before then," Santana said.
"If they do, it’ll be cheaper for us," Brittany said. "We can just hire the ones we want, and not everyone. But that isn’t going to happen. Worst case, they just say no."
"If you say so," Santana said. "My Chief is dying to grab the astronauts she worked with on the ISS. Doesn’t want anyone else offering them jobs."
"Well, that’s completely different," Quinn said. "The astronauts aren’t going to be unemployed for long."
"I like how we managed to not mention that we’re just buying up the whole place," Rachel said. "They fell for the 'you broke it, you bought it' idea."
"It’s true, sort of," Brittany said. "We aren’t just randomly buying buildings and land."
"I guess it could be worse," Rachel said. "If we started buying casinos they might actually get suspicious."
"Not sure what we would do with a casinos," Brittany said. "There are a couple in Cancun built for the tourists if you really want them."
"Not my idea of fun," Santana said. "If you need something exciting to do, asteroid mining can be fun, if a bit dangerous."
"I think I’ll stick with sky diving," Quinn said.
"I believe you promised to take me," Rachel said. "When can we go?"
"As soon as your pressure suit is ready," Quinn said. "Which won’t be until you find the time to be measured for it."
"I’ve been busy," Rachel said, pouting.
"If you want to do it you need to make the time," Quinn said. "And not rushing around."
Chapter 9: On the Beach
A former priestess meets a former sinner. And a blonde finds that sometimes things don't work as planned.
Extra chapter for the month - Catching up on some backlog.
Chapter Word Count: 5,101
Sophia sat on the beach, a little used patch of sand miles from the bustling beaches of Cancun, watching the waves move back and forth. It had been an exhausting two months, after becoming the Clan Weaver. Although she was no longer a priestess, she was still available to help her people spiritually. But now, it wasn’t just the older Mayans who were coming to her for advice and comfort. Now, the younger women of the clan, in their amazing multitudes, were seeking her out. It was a very enlightening experience.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" a soft voice asked. Turning in surprise, she found herself looking at an unfamiliar face, someone who was clearly not Clan.
"If you wish," she said. The woman, her dark blonde hair glistening in the afternoon sun, nodded in thanks and sat down next to her, gracefully folding herself onto the beach.
"This is a lovely beach," the woman said, running her fingers through the sand.
"What brings you here?" Sophia asked. "To this beach?"
"I can’t go home, so I’ve been wandering up and down the coast for the last few weeks. It’s very peaceful."
"Why cannot you go home?" Sophia asked. "I believe anyone who wishes can leave the Dragon lands now."
"I haven’t really wanted to ask, but I’m sure they’ll know," she said, pointing at two young women, dressed in the red uniform of the Clan peacekeepers. "I’m just glad they allow me the freedom to sit and talk with a pretty woman."
"I am curious," Sophia said. "If you do not mind, I shall ask them."
"Be my guest," the woman said, leaning back and watching the waves.
Sophia waved the two over.
"Yes, Lady Sophia?" the shorter one said.
"This woman is a prisoner?" Sophia asked her.
"That is not quite accurate," the taller said. "Cassandra July is being kept here for her own safety. The Lady Shadow is concerned that she might attract unwanted attention from certain quarters."
"And you cannot tell me what that might be," Sophia said.
"We are not authorized to share that information, though, as one of the Nine, you can override that authorization."
"No, I won’t interfere in your work," Sophia said. "Is she allowed to keep me company?"
"Yes, ma’am," the shorter one, clearly in charge, said. "If not she would have not been allowed on this beach or within several kilometers of yourself."
"Thank you for your time," Sophia said. "I believe we are fine like this."
"As you wish, Lady Sophia," she said, withdrawing with her companion out of sight.
"You are someone important, aren’t you?" Cassy said, blushing. "I should just go."
"We are all important in some way," Sophia said. "Your presence is welcome. Your escorts make it clear that you are important to someone."
"I am just a washed up old theater performer," Cassy said, staring down at her feet, "who was some place she shouldn’t have been."
"You are not old," Sophia said, gently squeezing her hand.
"If they even remember me, the lights of Broadway only know me as a fool who spoiled her one chance at fame," Cassy said, not looking up. "And my students are probably very glad to never see me again."
"I’m sure there are those who speak of you fondly, Cassandra," Sophia said. "What do you teach?"
"It’s Cassy," she said.
Sophia shook her head, speaking softly. "Cassandra, you shall always be. It is a name of honor."
"If I still have a job when I am allowed to go home, I teach dance to future stage performers," Cassy said, blushing.
"Dancing is a time honored tradition in the Clan, though I very rarely do more than the traditional dances," Sophia said.
"Dance serves many purposes," Cassy told her, rising gracefully to her feet and holding out a hand. "It’s a form of communication that uses the whole body."
Placing her hand in Cassandra’s, Sophia allowed herself to be pulled up to a standing position. "We don’t have music," she said.
"We have the music of the waves," Cassy said. "Anything else with this beach would feel wrong. This is a simple dance. Follow me." Closing her eyes, she seemed to listen for a moment and then she began to move. She seemed to almost float along the beach to an inner music only she could hear.
"I cannot follow you," Sophia said. "Your movement is an offering to the gods. My presence would taint your gift."
"No, don’t think of it like that," Cassy said, her movements slowing slightly, as she once more held out her hand. "If the gods are watching, all movement is a gift to them."
"Your gods must be close by," Sophia said.
"I am an artist," Cassy said. "Not always a good or happy one, but the gods who guide artists are always close by. Join me. Please?"
Saying a prayer to her own gods that they not laugh at her efforts, Sophia took her hand and tried to follow along. After a few stumbling steps, she found herself moving with Cassandra in a natural fashion.
"They are cute together," Brittany whispered, watching them on the view screen. "I think this will be good for both of them."
"How so?" said Rachel. "Sophia is already very grounded. She wouldn’t be our Weaver otherwise. Cassy July is a loose canon. There are YouTube channels devoted to her crazy behavior over the years. More than Sue has."
"She’s also sober for the first time in years. You know I wouldn’t have set her loose if she couldn’t handle it. Especially near Sophia."
"I’m still not sure why you didn’t want to stick her on ice like the others," Rachel said.
"Of all of them, she is the truly innocent party. There is no reason to keep her locked up," Brittany said. "It’s better to let her remain free. If we need her, we can easily find her."
"Mr. Schue wasn’t a Black Hat either," Rachel said.
"But his motives weren’t the purest," Brittany said. "They never have been. He was always more concerned about himself."
"Someone will miss him, eventually," Rachel said. "Doesn’t he have a wife?"
"Ex-wife," Brittany said. "She’s a little crazy. She faked being pregnant to get him to stay. It didn’t work out but it was a close call."
"That is a little crazy. Won’t she come looking for him if she is that clingy or misguided?" Rachel asked.
"She won’t be allowed in the enclave, if she ever shows up, which is unlikely. But he isn’t here anyway," Brittany said.
"How do you keep track of all these people and their attachments?" Rachel wondered.
"I’m naturally talented," Brittany said. "It’s not just my hair."
"We should leave them to their dance," Rachel said, sighing. "I’m not sure about the two of them but it is romantic. More romance than I’ve seen in a long time."
"Quinn will get there," Brittany said. "There’s a romantic under that hard suit just waiting to come out."
"It’s been ages since she knew that I’d like to be more than just a friend," Rachel said. "And still nothing. Maybe it’s time to move on?"
"Move on to what?" Brittany said. "You two are already soul mates. And you did that friendship commitment ceremony. And you talked when we saw Mother!"
"It wasn’t about us," Rachel said. "She wanted advice about something personal."
"Communicating means you’re moving forward," Brittany said. "It’s progress. Quinn never asks for advice like that."
"You may think that but until Quinn shows some real sign that she feels the same, I’m just treading water," Rachel said sadly. "I don’t need to see this right now." Getting up from her chair, Rachel left the room.
"Quinn, you need to speed things up," Brittany said to herself. "Screen off," she said, before leaving the room herself.
"And what did you do to earn Brit’s 'evil eye'," Santana asked Quinn, flopping down next to her in the Chichen Itza command center locker room, after watching her two favorite blondes spar. Normally, she would have enjoyed watching them going at each other, but there had been something almost vicious about Brittany’s moves.
"No idea," Quinn said, moving slower than normal. "But it must have been something big. This is going to hurt for days."
"Just be glad your pain threshold and healing factor has been ratcheted up," Santana said. "That beating she gave you would have hurt for months back when we were under Sue’s thumb."
"Do you know what set her off?" Quinn asked, wincing as she pulled her t-shirt over her head. "Should I be investing in a flower garden?"
"Quinn! Quinn! Where are you?" Rachel’s voice echoed in the room.
"Now what," Quinn muttered.
"What happened?" Rachel said, stopping in front of them. "You look horrible. Does it hurt?" she asked, poking a large bruise on Quinn’s shoulder.
"Ow!" Quinn said loudly. "Of course it hurts!"
"She’s more bruise than anything," Santana said. "I think I’ll leave you to her," she said. "Think I’ll go check on the other half."
"What happened," Rachel asked, watching Santana walk away, almost skipping. "She seemed happy about something."
"Brittany happened," Quinn said. "She was in a mood this afternoon and used me as her punching bag."
"Oh, Quinn, I’m so sorry," Rachel said.
"Do you know what’s wrong?" Quinn said, struggling to reach around and undo her bra clasp.
"Let me get that for you," Rachel said, closing her eyes and reaching out, trying to help.
"Watch what you’re doing!" Quinn said, dodging a poke in the eye.
"But you’ll be naked," Rachel said, eyes still closed.
"You’ve seen me naked before," Quinn said. "It’s just a bra."
"Yeah, but you were drunk or asleep," Rachel said. "This is different."
"Not seeing it," Quinn said, finally unhooking it and hunching forward to let it slip off her shoulders.
"Well I am," Rachel said, peeking between her fingers. "A little too much."
"Breasts, Rachel," Quinn said. "We both have them."
"Not like that," Rachel said, stepping back out of the way as Quinn stood up. "You’d make a goddess jealous."
Quinn looked down at her chest. "That would be an exaggeration," she said. "Or you need your eyes checked."
"Nope," Rachel said, blushing. "We’ll talk later. I need to go have a chat with someone."
"Okay," Quinn said, watching her hurrying out of the locker room. Shaking her head, she slowly headed towards the showers. Hopefully, Brittany had gotten whatever it was out of her system, because Quinn wasn’t sure she could take another round like that one any time soon.
Rachel found Brittany and Santana sitting at the top of one of the unrestored Chichen Itza temples. Santana had her arms wrapped around her girlfriend, who looked like she’d been crying. They were staring out into the jungle.
"What happened back there?" Rachel asked, sitting next to them. "Why does Quinn look like she just went fifty rounds with Rocky?"
"I thought it would help," Brittany said, sniffling. "You’d see her all beat up and take care of her. But I didn’t like it. I feel dirty. And you’re here, not with her, so it was pointless violence. I beat up one of my best friends for no reason!"
"Oh Brittany," Rachel said, wrapping her arms around both of them, the crying Brittany and a silent Santana. "You need to let her get there on her own."
"I thought she could use a little push," Brittany said, hiccuping. "But she probably has no idea, does she."
"No. She thinks you were just having a bad day and needed someone to take it out on."
"I would never do that to her," Brittany said.
"Brit, if you needed that, we would all let you vent on us," Santana said. "You know we would gladly do that for you. Even Shorty here."
"Yes," said Rachel. "Of course."
"Never," Brittany said. "I would never ask for that."
"But we would do it," Rachel said. "Without a thought. You’re our Brit and we would do anything for you."
"I don’t feel so good," Brittany said softly. "San? Can we go home now?"
"Of course," Santana said, pulling her away from Rachel. "We won’t be able to make it to dinner tonight," she said.
"Of course," Rachel said. "There’ll be other dinners other times." She stayed standing until she had the night air to herself, with the occasional rustling of the bushes in the light wind.
"Hey!" she said loudly, trying to get Quinn’s attention, spotting her walking along the edge of the city. Turning, Quinn started walking in her direction after spotting her high up on the pyramid.
"Where’d Brittany go?" Quinn asked, sitting down next to her.
"Santana took her home," Rachel said. "She was very tired. Apparently, someone gave her an unexpected workout this afternoon."
"What are your plans for tonight," Quinn asked idly, taking Rachel’s hand in her own, and ignoring Rachel’s hint.
"My dads, my mother and your sister are all at the new club on the beach," Rachel said. "So, my plans don’t actually exist tonight. I was going to have dinner with Brittany and Santana but something came up and they canceled so I made other plans."
"If you need someone to have dinner with, I’m free," Quinn said. "Though I’m not quite up for dancing at the moment."
"I’d love to have dinner with you," Rachel said. "There’s this new restaurant near the beach. Very exclusive. Just you, me and the chef and a guest."
"Who’s the chef?"
"Sophia was going to cook a traditional Mayan dinner," Rachel said.
"And the guest?"
"It’s a surprise," Rachel said.
"We’re not crashing a romantic evening between Sophia and a friend are we?" Quinn asked.
"Possibly," Rachel said, giggling, "though they might not realize it."
"So, this is something new?"
"Very," Rachel said. "We should get going so we aren’t late."
"Where is it?" Quinn asked.
"Sophia’s old house," Rachel said. "It’s just a short walk from here."
"Ah, that’s right," Quinn said. "She was headed here when we first met."
"You and Brittany," Rachel said. "I didn’t meet her until later. It must have been a huge surprise."
"Yes, they were coming to Chichen Itza for the annual sacrifice to the gods, and they get here, and meet what they thought were their gods. A surprise. It’d be like you going to Bethlehem and running into one of the three old wise men."
"Why would I be going to Bethlehem?" Quinn asked, puzzled.
"It was an analogy," Rachel said. "I have no idea why you’d be in Bethlehem. Maybe to fight some Crusaders?"
"They’d have no chance, their armor against one of our hard suits," Quinn said. "It’d be a slaughter."
"So, it’s a good thing you aren’t in Bethlehem," Rachel said, giggling.
"Especially a thousand years ago," Quinn said. "Two thousand years ago, it’d be Roman legionnaires. Those guys might have given us some trouble."
"Really?" Rachel said.
"Well, no," Quinn said. "Not a chance. But they were tougher than the Crusaders."
"Think any of the Clan ran into them?"
"Unlikely," Quinn said. "No matter what Artie and his ancient alien friends say. That would be too much of a coincidence. There might have been actual aliens running around back then but they certainly wouldn’t have helped the Romans or Egyptians with any of their building projects."
"No," Rachel said, nodding. "The Clan might have offered them some advice but build things for them? No."
"Welcome to my humble home," Sophia said, greeting them at the door to the low wooden structure and waving them in. Looking around, they found themselves in a large area below ground level.
"Oh my," Rachel said, sitting on a low wooden bench. "This is an interesting design. It must stay a lot cooler here."
"Yes," said Sophia. "It’s a traditional design for this climate."
"How well does it work during the heavy rains?" Quinn asked.
"Drainage is a very important part of the design," Sophia said. "Our people have been building houses this way for over a thousand years."
"Is the whole house set this low?" Rachel said. "Including your kitchen?"
"The kitchen is a little different than you might be used to," Sophia said. "There is a cooking pit out behind the house."
"A cookout every night? I could get used to that," Rachel said.
"Not if you had to do all of the cooking," Quinn said.
"No, you would get to do it," Rachel said, smirking. "I’m sure with all of your ancestral domestic skills there is the ability to cook over a fire."
"You’ll never know," Quinn said. "I prefer using a stove. Grilling over a real fire is for special occasions, not every day."
"See what I have to put up with?" Rachel told Sophia. "Some of our best chefs are Quinns, but the original won’t cook for me."
"I suspect you will find an incentive to encourage her," Sophia said.
"Rachel said a friend of yours would be joining us?" Quinn said. "A close friend? She didn’t know."
"Someone I met at our private beach," Sophia said. "I believe you already know her?"
"Oh! Her?" Rachel said. "She could really use a friend. How are the two of you getting along?"
"It is interesting," Sophia said, "how she seems so sure of her abilities but is afraid to share them."
"Well… what happened to her is often used as a cautionary tale for budding stage actors," Rachel said.
"Who are we talking about?" Quinn asked.
"Cassandra July," Rachel said. "She was given parole, you might remember."
"With two of Coach’s peace keepers following her around? Yes, I remember," Quinn said. "She’s been staying out of trouble. She hasn’t been bothering you, Sophia?"
"Not at all," Sophia said. "She wandered onto my beach and has returned several times. I find her interesting."
"She has an extreme form of stage fright, if Brittany’s information is accurate, and it usually is," Rachel said. "She had a meltdown on opening night of her first, and only, Broadway musical. She’s been unable to go on stage since, without freezing."
"She seemed slightly off when we interviewed her," Quinn said. "So, high pressure situations in front of an audience aren’t her thing?"
"No," Rachel said. "Oddly enough, if I had ever gone to college, instead of becoming who I am, it probably would have been her school and I would have taken one of her classes."
"Let’s not tell her that," Quinn said.
"Of course not," Rachel. "I just find it to be an interesting coincidence. When do you expect her to arrive?"
"She seems to have no real concept of the passage of time," Sophia said. "I spoke with the Clan medicine woman who’d been treating her and it seems to be a side effect of her alcoholism and the gas used to capture her and the others."
"Oh," Quinn said, frowning. "There shouldn’t have been any long term effects of that drug on ordinary humans."
"But she has a very small percentage of Clan blood," Rachel said. "Hopefully that can be fixed. An artist of her calibre must find it difficult to have problems keeping time. And don’t blame yourself, Quinn. There’s no way you could have known this would happen."
"She seems resigned to it," Sophia said. "We found her a good timepiece and that seems to help a little."
"But not if I don’t check it constantly," Cassy said, coming into the room from the kitchen. "And yes, I am finding it difficult to have my sense of timing not functioning correctly. I don’t know if I can go back to being a teacher if it continues."
"I’m sorry, Miss July," Quinn said.
"Why would it be your fault? Because you weren’t the one who decided to gas that meeting," she said. "And, if you had, would you have known that I’m one in a million who is affected by it?"
"They used it on my mother, and it took her weeks to recover," Quinn said.
"They used it on me, and I recovered quickly," Rachel said. "So you couldn’t have known. It affects those with Clan blood in different ways."
"You can’t blame yourself or anyone else," Cassy said. "I was there for my own reasons. They might have tricked me into being there but they didn’t force me."
"When is she going to be allowed to go home?" Sophia asked.
"It’s really up to Brittany," Quinn said. "Once she is satisfied that the Black Hats are no longer in play, I suspect."
"I would rather stay here," Cassy said. "The weather appears so much nicer. And I prefer the company to that of my students."
"I think you should talk with our educational consultants," Rachel said. "They’ve been putting together a new curriculum for the Clan children and the arts are a very important part of that."
"If you think it would be a good idea," Cassy said. "I’m not sure my methods would be welcome. I don’t believe in sparing feelings or going easy on my students."
"Neither do our consultants," Rachel said. "If you like, I can introduce you to them tomorrow. I have a lunch meeting with them."
"That would be appreciated," Cassy said. "That smells wonderful," she said, as Sophia brought out a large steaming dish from the kitchen.
"It is a traditional dish for large family gatherings" Sophia said.
"What’s it called?" Rachel asked.
"It actually has no 'name' as such," Sophia said. "It’s name in Mayan simply means 'dish served to honored family members and to welcome newcomers'."
"So, it’s a 'welcome to the neighborhood’ casserole," Quinn said. "It does smell wonderful."
"That was an interesting evening," Rachel said, as they walked back to the base. "What do you think of her?"
"Interesting," Quinn said. "But odd."
Quinn shrugged. "Are you going to introduce her to your mother?"
"I suspect they know each other already," Rachel said. "They both hit Broadway at the same time, and neither had much luck. Poor Cassy had a very public meltdown, and my mother couldn’t get any major roles after her first."
"Do you regret not making it to Broadway?" Quinn asked, stopping. "It was your dream for years."
"I don’t regret where I am now," Rachel said. "When I was ten, there was no way that I could have imagined my life now. I spend more time with powerful people, politicians, artists, scientists, and you guys, now, than I could have conceived of. If I want to talk to the president, I call him up. I’ve met with the Pope. I haven’t talked with the Queen of England yet, but the next time you see her I’m hiding in your suitcase."
"But that isn’t Broadway," Quinn said. "as much power as you have now, it’s not the same thing. Do you miss not having that opportunity?"
"No," Rachel said. "Not after seeing what it did to my mother and Cassy. It’s a cruel business. No matter how talented you might be, it can chew you up and spit you out, permanently damaged."
"Do you think she should have a place in our Clan?" Quinn asked. "You have the best perspective out of all of us. You know more about who we are as a people. Does she fit or even can she? Or should we throw her into the deep freeze with the others."
"She adds flavor," Rachel said. "The Clans have traditionally valued the quirky, outlandish, and crazy members. We’re all a bit too well adjusted I think. We might have a crazy Mother stashed away, living in a virtual world, but who else is there to give us that different perspective?"
"Each one of us on the Council brings a unique perspective," Quinn said. "But if you think she’s valuable I won’t argue, but I really don’t see it."
"No? Well then, think of it this way, she makes Sophia happy. She brings out something in Sophia, makes her more relatable," Rachel said.
"She does?" Quinn said. "I haven’t spent a lot of time with her to notice a difference."
"It’s there," Rachel said, grinning. "Their first meeting was a classic 'meet cute' moment."
"Does Sophia know that you’ve been spying on her?" Quinn asked, raising an eyebrow.
"We weren’t spying on her, exactly," Rachel said, grabbing Quinn’s hand and pulling her along. "Someone noticed a possible collision between Sophia and Cassy and asked Brittany what to do."
"Didn’t we decide July was harmless?" Quinn asked. "That whatever the reason she was at that meeting, she wasn’t a Black Hat? Unlike St. James."
"Yes, but Sophia is our new Weaver, so they were being extra cautious," Rachel said.
"Okay," Quinn said. "I can see that. But I think Sophia can take care of herself. She’s a master of Te Itza Quan."
"Would you want to do that again?" Rachel asked, several minutes later.
"Have dinner with Sophia and July? I don’t see why not," Quinn said. "July has that odd sense of humor but it seems to work with Sophia’s quietness. We might want to do the inviting next time."
"Of course," Rachel said. "And we need to make sure to include Sophia in our other group activities. I know we’ve been inviting her to our weekly dinner parties but we need to do more than that. She should feel like she’s part of the Council."
"Well, it’s too late to undo it," Quinn said. "It’s a lifelong position. She can’t be unCounciled."
"Of course not," Rachel said. "And the Galactic Council probably wouldn’t let us anyway. We don’t have the authority yet to make those kinds of decisions."
"When will we?"
"When we have the full Council," Rachel said. "Once we’re a full 9, we can determine our own membership. Of course, by that time it won’t matter."
Putting down her tablet, Rachel stared up at the ceiling in her small office.
"Yes, Lady Memory?"
"Are we going to need the remaining three members of the Council? And who would we pick?"
"For your plan to succeed?"
"Yes, our decade long plan to prepare this planet for war," Rachel said.
"Current estimation is no," Artie said. "But who you would pick for the remaining three is an interesting question."
"We’ve got Quinn, the Hand; Santana, the Breath/Lady Air; Brittany, the Shadow; me, the Memory; Sophia, the Weaver, our religious leader, and the Mother, our heart. We don’t have the Healer, the Teacher, or the Peace."
"The remaining members are primarily symbolic, though they do provide important aspects of the Council," Artie said. "But you already have those aspects filled, in part. The Teacher is being fulfilled by your mother, the Lady Shelby, and Lady Quinn’s sister. Lady Sylvester is acting as the Peace."
"So we don’t need the Teacher and the Peace because they are filling those roles, at least as far as we need them," Rachel said. "What about the Healer? Won’t we need someone before the Enemy appears? We will be fighting and our people will get injured."
"The Healer is not primarily a medical expert, although in the past the persons fulfilling that role on the Council often had a background in medicine. The Healer looked after the mental health of the Clan."
"Okay, but don’t we still need a healer? I know we have a number of trained medical personnel in the Fleet, but this seems to go beyond that," Rachel said.
"There are medicine women trained in dealing with the mind, not just the body, of the individual," Artie said. "But the health of the Clan itself is different. Much as the Weaver is more than a priestess and the Mother more than just the Clan protector and center."
"I understand that the Council of Nine is more than the sum of its parts, but I think I’m missing something here. It feels like you are making it all up on the spot," Rachel said, sighing.
"Each Clan handles their Council of Nine in a different way," Artie said. "For some, the Council members have concrete roles to play, much as you’ve done, while in others, such as the Tiger Clan, the Council of Nine was largely ceremonial. Clans with active Councils are healthier, the Galactic Council has determined."
"Well, at least we’re doing something right," Rachel said. "So, if we don't absolutely need a Healer, how will we know if someone is a good candidate. It’s not like with Sophia, where she was already headed that way."
"To use a phrase popular among your people, 'you’ll know it when you see it'," Artie said. "When you encounter the person destined to be the Healer, it will be obvious that that is who they are."
"Helpful," Rachel said, refraining from shouting. "So, it’ll happen when it happens."
"Yes," Artie said. "If you needed the Healer, as was shown with the Weaver, the best candidate would appear. The mechanism that causes this effect is not very well understood so I cannot tell you what to look for."
"Okay," Rachel said. "So, a new Healer will appear as if by magic."
"Yes," Artie said. "Or by some unknown scientific principle, if using the word 'magic' is a problem."
"I’m sure Santana would be jumping up and down if she knew you were calling something you don’t understand magic."
"We have come to an understanding of such things," Artie said.
"So, you ignore each other," Rachel said.
"I really can’t see her being a priestess," Rachel said.
"She could do it, if she had to," Brittany said, leaning against the door. Rachel jumped in surprise at her sudden appearance.
"I’ll have to take your word for it," Rachel said, after calming down. "I can’t see her being able to handle that kind of interaction with our people without you there."
"No," Brittany said. "You’re right about that. But we’ll never tell her, right Artie?"
"Yes, Lady Shadow," Artie said.
"And Rache? Don’t worry about our Healer," Brittany said. "The All will provide, as Artie said."
"You already know who that would be, don’t you," Rachel said. "Who?"
"Not telling," Brittany said, winking at her, before turning and leaving her office.
"Brittany!" Rachel yelled. "Do you know who she has in mind?" she asked Artie.
"I am unaware of such things," Artie said.
"Of course you aren’t," Rachel said, sighing and looking down at her tablet. She had plenty of other things to work out.
Chapter 10: The Museum Gang
In which our ladies go into the blackmarket art business and buy a newspaper.
Chapter Word Count: 4,039
Disclaimer Update: Cassidy and Caroline Priestly? Not mine. Andrea Sachs? Not mine either. They belong to whomever really owns The Devil Wears Prada
"What’s going on?" Santana said, entering the conference room. One of the screens was showing a large crowd surrounding their new facility in New York, the old firehouse and the park that had replaced the buildings they’d torn down rescuing the hostages. Some were waving signs and shouting.
"Someone leaked our plans," Quinn said, glaring at Rachel.
"Which plans, we have dozens," Santana asked. "And none should be causing riots right now."
"I had to give them something," Rachel said. "There are all those people who want to join our Clan or move to the enclave because they think our tech will solve all of their problems. It just wouldn’t work."
"Well, duh!" Santana said. "Billions of people, small plot of occupied land. So, what did you do?"
"I talked with Glee-Artie and Brittany. And he devoted a whole episode of his new show to the Mayan diaspora, guest hosted by Sophia. He also might have mentioned that we are investigating their return to the Clan. And now we have this." She waved at the screen.
"Huh," Santana said. "So, you now have a bunch of people claiming to be Mayan descendants who want to 'go home' ?"
"Yes," Rachel said.
"Did G-Artie mention in his little show that we can tell who is or isn't Clan?" Santana said.
"He might have mentioned a genetic factor," Rachel said.
"And you still got this?" Santana shook her head. "What happened when Artie scanned them to see if any of them qualify?"
"Zip, nada, none," Quinn said. "Apparently, anyone with real Clan blood is staying away from this. And it’s like this at our embassies in London and Paris."
"Brit must have a plan for dealing with this, right?" Santana asked.
"You don’t know?" Quinn said.
"I’m busy with the Fleet, getting it ready to expand beyond this system, just like you’re getting your teams ready to support us, and Rachel is doing her thing to get the world leaders ready. When would I have time to keep track of everything Brit is doing? I’m lucky if I see her some days. She makes us look like slackers."
"It’s be nice if our comm channels allowed video," Rachel said. "Then she could show us."
"They do," Santana said. "Just not from things in our heads. It wouldn’t fit."
"Yeah, let’s not go there," Quinn said, shaking her head. "Just talking and carrying on a dozen conversations at once is confusing. Add direct video comms and it’ll be impossible. It’s bad enough with the suit video."
"Guys, you needed me?" Brittany’s voice on their Council comm channel said.
"Riots, babe? All those crazies who want the Clan to solve all their problems?" Santana said. "What are we going to do with them?"
"All part of the plan," Brittany said. "We had to start this now, moving it up, instead of waiting a couple years. They need to get used to the idea that we aren’t here to start the singularity or some kind of alien paradise."
"Didn’t Shorty already do that when she got dragged in front of those Congressional committees and the UN?"
"Singularity?" Rachel asked.
"These are the same people who sat on top of pyramids all over the world back in 2012 hoping for aliens to take them away to some utopia," Brittany said. "They don’t exactly have a firm grip on reality."
"And, what, this is how you weed them out?" Quinn asked.
"Or get them therapy," Santana said, smirking.
"Singularity?" Rachel repeated. "What do you mean by that?"
"Sorry, Rach, that’s just one of those technobabble terms futurists like to use, and these people have latched onto," Brittany said. "They think that technology will advance to the point where everyone who’s worthy will ascend to some higher plane of existence and become something like gods."
"In other words, a tech nerd Rapture," Quinn said. "Why do they think we’re here to bring them that?"
"Crazy," Santana said. "Why else? They’re like those idiots in that movie with Will Smith. Let’s go stand on the tallest buildings, right underneath the evil alien spaceships. And zap! Like bugs."
"So, the plan?" Quinn asked.
"We tell them to 'take a number' and wait in line to see one of our 'Clan ancestry specialists'," Brittany said.
"Is that why you borrowed a bunch of my Quinns from Fleet?" Santana asked.
"Yup," Brittany said. "They’ve got Quinn’s face and attitude to spare. Very impressive, if you’ve never met the original. And confusing because they don’t look Mayan."
"Most of them are cooks," Santana said, frowning. "Who’s manning the galleys now?"
"I didn’t take all of them," Brittany said. "It was volunteer only, rotating. And half of them are quite happy where they are."
"The Quinns? Wouldn’t a bunch of Rachel’s have been better?" Quinn asked. "All that enthusiasm?"
"No," Santana said, "just no. All the Rachels are keeping the fleet working. They can’t be spared."
"How come we still refer to them as 'Quinns' and 'Rachels' ?" Rachel asked. "They aren’t us."
"It’s just a label," Quinn said. "A thousand years from now, all the Clan will remember about us is our legacy of Quinns and Rachels."
"Not true!" Rachel said, slapping the table. "The three of you will be remembered for more than that, if I have my way."
"And what about you, Sophia and Mother?" Brittany said.
"Sophia? The Weaver is only ever remembered if they screwed up some ceremony or prophecy. The Mother? If they screw up, the whole Clan is doomed and nothing matters. And me? I’m just the Memory. As long as everything I remember is accurate, that’s all that matters."
"Not true," Brittany said. "Your view of us is what makes a difference."
"If you say so," Rachel said. "I have to go do something about this," she said, waving at the screen. "Anyone want to go with me?"
"What do you plan to do?" Brittany asked. "Should we warn anyone?"
"Just the embassy staff, and the Quinns," Rachel said. "I think I’ll start in New York. Where are you right now?"
"Paris," Brittany said.
"We don’t need to own the Eiffel tower, babe, so no buying large rusty metal towers," Santana said.
"I saw this painting I liked in a little museum they call the Louvre," Brittany said. "But they wouldn’t take gold as a down payment."
"You didn’t!" Rachel said, laughing.
"No, but it was close," Brittany said. "I did a scan of the museum so we can have a virtual one in Cancun for the tourists."
"Do they know you did that?" Quinn said.
"Of course not," Brittany said.
"Of course not," Quinn muttered, shaking her head.
"I think it’s a great idea," Rachel said. "We should probably do that for every museum."
"On the planet?" Santana asked. "Thinking big there Shorty?"
"How much time would it take? Is it even possible?" Rachel said. "Artie? You’ve been able to scan for Clan descendants in a few days. And we scanned the temples in the enclave we renovated. How much longer would something like this take?"
"As your philosophers often say, with an infinite amount of time, anything is possible," Artie said. "This is not something that could be done that quickly. Biologic scans can be done quickly given the science equipment available. The temples were simple structures. Recording complex physical structures for later virtualization is an order of magnitude more resource intensive."
"Sounds like a no to me," Quinn said.
"Not quite, Lady Q," Artie said. "Lady Shadow, how long did it take to scan this Louvre?"
"We set up the equipment a week ago and scanned only at night," Brittany said. "So, approximately twenty hours to get the whole thing."
"Oh," Rachel said, pouting. "So it would take a while."
"It’s an excellent idea," Sophia said, joining them on the Council comm channel. "As part of your plan, you should be preserving the culture of this planet if you are not successful, or just in case the Enemy reaches the surface."
"Really?" Rachel said. "But who does it? And do we tell anyone?"
"If we tell, it’s going to cost us," Santana said. "Unless you want to own a lot of artwork, I think we should just start. It’ll be like that George Clooney movie about the art guys in World War II."
"We’ll need to institute a training program at the Academy," Rachel said. "And someone needs to be put in charge of it. But who?"
"If they are going to be doing this secretly, we’ll need some of that patented Shadow sneakiness," Santana said. "This is going to be a large operation - preserving the art of an entire planet. The Pan-Galactic Council must have some experience with this?"
"Not of an active civilization," Artie said. "This would be the first. We can provide equipment designs and advice but it would be up to you to provide the trained personnel."
"And we’re all busy with our own efforts," Rachel said. "How are we going to do this? We don’t have a lot of time. Clock’s ticking. Where do we get someone to run this kind of operation?"
"A celebrity who could get us into all those places? We rescued a bunch of them from that firehouse last year. Or someone else?"
"Let’s use Artie’s film crew to document this. The same ones we used for that documentary. They know us and our methods and they did a great job. And Tina and Mike Chang would be useful."
"Chang does have those Tong connections," Santana said. "We should really make use of them more."
"You want to invite gangsters into our little enterprise?" Quinn said. "Is that smart?"
"You can’t keep them out completely, babe," Santana said.
"So, no drugs, and human trafficking, or any of the really nasty things humans do to each other?" Quinn said. "They won’t like those restrictions."
"If they want to play they have to play by our rules," Brittany said. "There are plenty of other legal vices to keep them busy. And if they don’t they’re all yours."
"Okay," Quinn said, shaking her head. "Coach isn’t going to be happy." "Oh… I have a wicked idea," Rachel said, after they’d digested the Tong idea. "Remember that reporter? The one with all of those questions after the firehouse attack? Sachs. Let’s use her."
"Uh, Rachel? She comes with attachments of sorts," Brittany said. "High profile ones."
"How high profile?"
"Famous deceased wife," Brittany said. "I’m sure you all would recognize her, Miranda Priestly?"
"Really?" Rachel said.
"I recognize the name from somewhere," Quinn said. "Ran a magazine?"
"She was a power in the fashion industry for over a decade before her death," Brittany said. "You might have read her little magazine, 'Runway' ? They did an article on Coach and cheerleader fashion the year we disappeared."
"In that issue about the fetishization of teen fashions?"
"That would be it," Rachel said. "I remember that. I was disappointed that none of my favorite cheerleaders were in it for some reason."
"Rachel!" Quinn said, blushing.
"Coach refused," Santana said. "She was tough on us because cheerleading at that level is a sport, not some hyper sexualized peep show."
"Sounds like her," Rachel said. "So, what happened to this Miranda Priestly?"
"Huh," Brittany said, pausing to look it up. "Not much about it in the press. Plane disappeared coming back from a publishing conference in Tokyo. They never found any traces of it. Some terrorist group claimed to have information but wanted several million to pass it along."
"Maybe she’ll work for us if we can find it?" Rachel said. "Good will and all that."
"I don’t know," Brittany said. "Finding it is one thing. Using that to get her to work with us? That’s a trick the Black Hats would use. But go ahead and ask her."
"So, Operation Art Preservation is a go?" Santana said.
"Yes," Rachel said. "Who’s going to contact her?"
"I’ll take care of Glee-Artie," Brittany said. "We need to have a chat anyway about some other things."
"She’ll recognize me from that press conference," Quinn said. "I’ll take that."
"And me?" Rachel asked. "What should I be doing about this?"
"Make sure whomever gets this, that reporter or someone else, has support from your people. They will be doing something similar to the Council Memory, your role. They could benefit from your knowledge." Quinn shrugged. "Whatever works for your team."
"So, I need to allocate some of my people for this?" Rachel said. "They’ll need a small team of people."
"I wonder how much a New York newspaper would cost?" Brittany said.
"Wouldn’t there be rules against that?" Rachel said.
"The company that bought Artie’s production company could become a media empire," Brittany suggested. "And we make sure that the reporters and editorial content is independent. It’s not like they’re the New York Times. It’s a small daily progressive paper."
"If they can stay independent, I’m okay with it," Rachel said.
"No opinion," Santana said. "As long as they tell the truth about us and not that scaremongering crap the Wall Street Journal has been spewing."
"I do not understand the reluctance," Sophia said. "If it’s good for the Clan, and good for them I see no reason to object."
"You wanted to see me, Chief?" Andy said, standing in the door of her editor’s office.
"Sachs, you have guests in the South conference room," he said. "Whatever they want, we have the exclusive," he added, pointing.
"They?" Andy said.
"Go," he said. "Whatever they want they get."
Puzzled, Andy nodded and left his office, heading towards the large conference room. She couldn’t think what he meant. She’d been at the Mirror for almost a decade, excluding the months she’d spent in shock after Miranda’s disappearance. She had had a successful career since, even receiving a Pulitzer nomination for her memoirs of the year following Miranda’s disappearance as she and the girls adjusted to their loss. But she was no longer the aggressive star reporter she’d been. Losing Miranda had taken something out of her.
Approaching the conference room, she came up to a small crowd of her fellow reporters.
"What’s going on?" she asked.
"Aliens," Joel, the sports reporter whose desk was next to hers, said. "The hot ones."
"There’s only one kind of alien," Andy said, frowning at him. "What are they doing here?"
"The tall hot blonde ones," he said. "Not the short hot ones. They’re in the conference room."
Andy shook her head and slipped through the crowd of gawking reporters. Stopping in front of the conference room door she spoke to the two alien women standing guard. "Andy Sachs, someone asked to see me?"
"Miss Sachs," the one on the right said, her voice echoing slightly. "You are expected." The other opened the door and ushered her in, closing it behind them.
Entering the conference room, Andy looked around. Besides the guard who’d entered with her, there were two other people in the room, both also blondes. The one sitting down she recognized from the alien terrorist press conference a year ago. The press conference she’d gone to because no one else wanted to and she was curious.
Standing behind her, and pacing back and forth was another blonde dressed differently from the others. Where the other three aliens were dressed in military looking uniforms, the fourth was wearing something nondescript, almost as if in an attempt to remain unnoticed. If so, she was failing spectacularly, being another of what Joel had called a hot alien blonde.
"You wanted to see me?" Andy said to the alien sitting down. "I’m sorry, I don’t know how you should be addressed."
"Lady Hand," the other woman said. "I’m the Shadow. The others you don’t need to know right now."
"They work for me," Lady Hand said, frowning at the other silent alien. "And forget that I can hear them even if no one else can."
"Sorry boss," the other said, in a strangely accented voice. Andy wondered if that was their infamous translator or was really her voice.
"What can I do for you?" Andy asked. "I’m just a reporter."
"A well liked, well educated one," the Shadow said. "We would like to make use of your talents for a special project."
"You don’t have your own reporters?" Andy said. "I already have a job."
"You will still have a job," Lady Hand said. "Whether you work for us on this project or not."
"We are looking for someone to manage a complicated project for us," the Shadow said. "Part of this project would require working with a film crew to document it."
"What exactly is this project?" Andy asked. "I’m a writer, a reporter, not a manager. And I have family responsibilities."
"Your daughters are just completing high school, correct?"
"Yes…" Andy said, only slightly surprised they’d been researching her.
"This project may take several years to complete," Lady Hand said. "They would be offered a position with the crew. I believe you would call it an internship."
"Isn’t that a little shady?" Andy asked.
"No," Lady Hand said. "The need for this project in our long range plans was unexpected. We do not have enough trained personnel immediately available to fully staff it with our own people. The film crew is one we’ve worked with before. But we need others."
"Can you tell me what this project is?" Andy asked.
"Not until you agree to work on it," Lady Hand said.
"I can’t just leave my job here at the Mirror for several years," Andy said, shaking her head.
"We have come to an agreement with your editor, and the management of the paper," the Shadow said. "You will be given an inside look into our Clan and its operations while you work on this project, and report back to the Mirror."
"Think of it as going from your regular reporting to writing a weekly or monthly column," Lady Hand said. "Which you could turn into a book at a later point."
"And the real job you want me for? Will that be material for another book?" Andy asked, curious.
"Possibly," the Shadow said.
"I’ll need to think about this," Andy said. "If it requires traveling I won’t be able to do it until after the girls graduate."
"Of course," Lady Hand said. "We will give you seventy two hours to think about this offer."
"What can I tell my editor when he asks?" Andy said.
"The traveling with aliens lifestyle column idea? He has already approved that. The other? That is between you and us and not to be discussed with others."
"Okay," Andy said, reluctantly. "How do I let you know my decision?"
Lady Hand slid a small card across the table. "Call this number."
Nodding, Andy left the room and headed to her editor’s office. Knocking on his door, she waited for a moment before stomping in and sitting down in front of his desk.
"You really want me to do this?" she asked. "The paper can afford for me to be doing this instead of being out on the street covering the city?"
"You were a heck of a reporter when you started here," he said, frowning. "But we both know your focus has changed. You are a much better writer and journalist than a simple beat reporter. That Pulitzer nomination is proof of that. This will give you more room to grow. I expect you to pull another Pulitzer out of this assignment and make us proud."
"What about the paper? Do you really need another columnist?"
"The Editorial Board signed off on it," he said. "And our new majority owners requested you specifically."
"New owners? When did that happen?" Andy asked, surprised. "Why hasn’t that been announced?"
"It’s a private investment firm based in Cancun," he said dryly. "I’m sure you’ve heard of the place."
"Really? Really? We’ve been bought?" Andy said, aghast. "And the government didn’t object to a foreign investor, from another planet?"
"The Chinese own a number of newspapers in this country, and so does Rupert Murdoch," he said. "As long as we continue to report the truth, they will remain hands off."
"No buts," he said. "I had an interesting conversation with the President yesterday."
"The President? About aliens buying a New York newspaper? Why would he care?"
"He seemed impressed with them, especially the five young women who are running their organization."
"Mind controlled?" Andy said, sensing an angle.
"No," he said.
"How can you tell?" she asked.
"We have a mutual friend who is now working for them and she’s one of the few truly incorruptible persons out there. She vouched for them. And he thinks a critical eye on their activities from a connected source will only help everyone."
"That’s… amazing," Andy said. "Who else knows?"
"Only you, I, and the President know that the new Mirror owners have ties to the aliens."
"So, I can’t actually turn this down and still work here then," Andy said. "It’s actually coming from the owners."
"You can turn it down," he said, shaking his head. "No questions asked. That was one of the conditions. If you decide that this conflicts with your ideas on journalistic integrity we’ll find someone else."
"I really don’t know," Andy said. "This will require some traveling and I have the girls to think about."
"It’s up to you," he said. "Go home and think about it."
"Yes, boss," Andy said. Getting up, she left his office, deep in thought.
Andy slowly worked her way through the ingredients to one of Miranda’s favorite dishes, a light vegetable stew. It wasn’t complex but the action soothed her chaotic thoughts.
"You’re home early," Caroline said, entering the kitchen, followed by her twin.
"Needed some time to think about things," Andy said, continuing to chop vegetables.
"What kinds of things," Cassidy asked, going to the refrigerator and getting out a pitcher of orange juice, and pouring it into the glasses Caroline had gotten out.
"A job offer," Andy said.
"You love it at the Mirror," Caroline said.
"Yes, and it would still be for the Mirror, in part, but it would include traveling." Putting down her knife, she accepted a glass of juice.
"That sounds great, what would you be doing?" Cassidy asked.
"Reporting on the aliens, and writing columns," Andy said.
"So, you might get to go into space? They have real spaceships," Cassidy said excitedly.
"Totally ruined Star Trek for me," Caroline grumbled.
"I told them I couldn’t take it until you are both out of high school," Andy said.
"You met them? What are they like? Nobody at Dalton has seen them except on TV," Cassidy said.
"Tall," Andy said. "None of them was shorter than me. It’s like being around alien Swedish super models. You’ve actually seen one of them on TV."
"Who?" Caroline said.
"The one they call the Lady of the Hands," Andy said. "She gave that press conference after they rescued those celebrities from the terrorists in the old GhostBusters building."
"If you see them again, can we go?" Caroline asked. "If it’s at the Ghostbusters building?"
"Yeah," Cassidy said. "That whole area has been renovated. There are some very fancy shops there now. Some original clothes and fabrics. Mom would have loved it."
"I haven’t decided to take the job yet," Andy said. "They want to know in three days."
"Why not?" Caroline asked.
"It would affect both of you," Andy said. "They offered internships for both of you with a film crew that would be working on the same project. Including you felt like bribery."
"Isn’t that up to us?" Cassidy said. "I’d want to know details on this internship first. What is it exactly and which school sponsors it and do the credits transfer to another college?"
"They didn’t say," Andy said. "We’ll have to ask them when we meet them."
"So you’re going to do it?" Caroline asked.
"Possibly. Cass? Could you set the table," Andy asked.
"Yes, Mom," she said excitedly, giving Andy a hug. Andy watched, amused, as Cassidy danced around the table, putting down plates, glasses, and silverware as she passed.
Chapter 11: The Firehouse Gang
In which the ladies lay some of their cards out on the table.
Chapter Word Count: 5,253
Quick Note: (Has it really been 5 months since my last update?) One more chapter after this and we're done with this part of our adventure.
"So, she’s bringing Miranda Priestly’s daughters here today?" Rachel said, looking across the table. "And writing her first column about what happens when someone comes to us claiming Clan ancestry?"
"Yes," Quinn said. "They want to know more about the internships before she decides on the other, but she’ll do her first column on that, no matter what she decides. And if she agrees she’ll meet all of us."
"So, it’s not a coincidence that the whole Council, except Mother, is here today? And Tina and Mike Chang?" Rachel said, idly poking her tablet.
"Yes," Brittany said, smiling at her. "It’s a setup in some ways."
"What really happened to Miranda Priestly?" Rachel asked. "Did you find anything?"
"It’s still a mystery," Brittany said. "A private plane, with Miranda Priestly, her First Assistant, and several other Runway staff, disappeared returning from a conference. It’s as if it simply disappeared in mid air. One minute it was there, the next gone. And no transmissions from the black box."
"No debris?" Quinn asked, surprised. "That sounds like it exploded or disintegrated."
"Big ocean. Tiny bits of plane," Brittany said. "Not much chance of finding anything unless someone saw it happen."
"But you’re still looking into it?" Rachel asked.
"Yes," Brittany said. "Unless it was something unusual, we probably won’t find anything. So, no promises. But we’re still looking."
"So, no mentioning this to them?" Rachel asked.
"Nothing to report, so getting their hopes up would be cruel," Brittany said, nodding. "So, don’t bring it up."
"Yes, Lady Shadow," Rachel and Quinn said, at the same time. "We hear and obey."
"And don’t you forget it," Brittany said, giggling.
"Don’t give her any ideas," Santana said, glaring at them.
"San!" Brittany said. "You’re supposed to agree with them."
Sighing, Santana leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.
Andy, Caroline, and Cassidy stepped out of the taxi in front of the small open square.
"It really looks different," Andy said. "They’ve moved the firehouse back from the road. It used to open right onto the intersection. And look at the grass and trees!"
"And the crowds," Cassidy said, excitedly. "Lots of people."
"And signs," Caroline said. "Think we’ll be on TV?" She pointed at several TV camera crews.
"Hopefully not," Andy said. She headed towards the firehouse, Cassidy and Caroline as close behind as possible, holding each other’s hands. Reaching the edge of the crowd, she tried to push through, with little success. "Might miss our meeting," she said, frowning.
"Maybe they have transporters, like in Star Trek, and we can get them to beam us up," Cassidy said.
"Or maybe, I can call someone," Andy said, pulling out her phone.
"That works also," Caroline said, nodding sagely, listening to Andy talk with someone in the building.
Several minutes later, there was a disturbance at the front of the crowd. It was like a wave approaching them. When the wave reached them it was clear that it was several tall figures dressed in the now recognizable alien armor. Reaching Andy, Cassidy, and Caroline, the figures stopped, parting the crowd. Gesturing silently, they turned around and headed back to the firehouse, the three women between them. The door was opened by one of the tall blonde women Andy recognized from her earlier meeting at the paper.
"That’s so cool," Cassidy said, once they entered the firehouse. "They just parted in front of us."
"Your mother could do that," Andy said nostalgically.
"I’ve watched tapes of her in action," the tall blonde woman said. "She definitely had a certain something. A command presence, I believe your sociologists call it. It’s rarely seen in women."
"Women can’t be in charge?" Andy asked, bristling.
"Oh, they definitely can," the woman said. "But it’s cultural. That your mother was able to overcome that says a lot about her."
"Who are you?" Cassidy asked the woman.
"I’m known as The Shadow," she said, smirking. "If you’re a James Bond fan, you can think of me as our 'M' except younger."
"And hotter," a voice said, echoing in the entranceway.
"You’re just biased," she said in response. A shorter, dark haired woman joined them.
"You’re Lady Air," Andy said. "You command your fleet."
"Yes," the woman said. "If it flies in air or space, it’s mine."
"Don’t let Q hear you say that," said the blonde. "Her troopers fly in their hard suits."
"And she works for me," she said, "so I’m still in charge of everything."
"And she is standing right behind you," the blonde said.
"That’s such a cliche," Lady Air said, sighing. "She is, isn’t she."
"Yes," another blonde said, joining them. "And we’ve discussed this ownership issue before and will again."
"So, moving on?" Lady Air said, giving her a sideways look.
"Moving on," said the first blonde, who’d called herself The Shadow. "Ladies, why don’t you come with us."
"Is everyone who wants to take the qualification test going to be met by almost your entire ruling Council?" Andy said. "If so, it’s going to take you years to do this."
"Nah," Lady Air said. "We already have a general idea who qualifies and who doesn’t."
"And, everyone needs to get in here," a diminutive woman said, whom Andy recognized as another of the alien women, their Ambassador.
"And now for the boring exposition," Lady Air said, in a low voice. "It doesn’t kill, fortunately. But it comes close."
"Santana!" the short woman protested.
"Ladies!" Lady Hands said, stopping their argument in its tracks. "We’re here for a reason, and not your daily sniping contest."
"So, get on with it," Lady Air said, pulling out a chair and sitting down. Reaching over, she pulled The Shadow down onto her lap, who landed with a happy squeal.
"Can I start?" the new woman said.
"Go for it," Lady Air said.
"Introductions would be helpful, I believe," she said. "You are Andrea Sachs, reporter for the New York Mirror, hopefully on loan to us for an important project. Your companions are Caroline and Cassidy Priestly, your stepdaughters and the daughters of Miranda Priestly. Correct?"
"You know they are," Lady Air said, whispering something in the Shadow’s ear, causing her to giggle.
"The other women in the room, that would be us, are the active members of the Dragon Clan Council of Nine. The grumpy one over there is Lady Air, our Fleet commander," she said, pointing at them one at a time.
"On her lap, for some unknown reason, is our Shadow, commander of our intelligence division. Lady Q, the Hand of the Council, our troop commander, is next to them. The woman who looks like Lady Air but is a bit taller, is Lady Sophia, our Weaver, and I am Lady Rachel, the Clan Memory. Any questions before we continue?"
"What are the Weaver and Memory?" Cassidy asked.
"The Weaver is our spiritual leader," Lady Rachel said. "And the Memory is the Clan historian cultural preserver, more or less."
"You said 'active' members," Andy said, "and you only mentioned five of nine. Where are the others?"
"We did not come to this world with a full complement, of staff or others. The names of the remaining Nine would be translated as Mother, Healer, Teacher, and Peace. They are unavailable at this time," the Shadow said.
"Can you explain what they would do if they were available?" Andy asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
The Shadow shrugged, looking at the others. "The translation of their names into your language loses much of the meaning in our language, but I’ll try. The Mother is the protector of the people. The Healer is in charge of the morale and well being of the Clan. The Teacher prepares our children for the future. And the Peace? The one who maintains internal order. We have people fulfilling these roles but for one reason or another they are not qualified to be elevated to the Council."
"More answer than you expected to get?" Lady Air said. Andy nodded. "We won’t try to keep things from you, though we won’t share everything."
"Although we may look like you?" Lady Q said, leaning forward. "Never forget that our experiences and motivations are alien to yours."
"Right, aliens," Andy said. "Won’t forget. So, we’re here to go through the process. What happens next, after we enter the room."
"Really simple," Lady Rachel said. "As soon as you stepped through that door, you were scanned. Now we wait for the analysis and the results to be announced."
"But it’ll be a big deal for the people out there," the Shadow said, waving her arms dramatically. "A simple scan won’t be enough to satisfy them. But they won’t meet us, the Council. We have several highly trained personnel. They’ll be dressed in their best uniforms, and will walk the candidates through the process. We’ll ask for some form of valid ID, documented family tree or history, and a DNA sample."
"So, you’ll already know," Andy said. "Before they say a word.
"Yes," the Shadow said. "But if we just pointed a small device at you," she said, holding out a small object in her hand, "would that make you happy? No," Cassidy said. "I’d feel ripped off."
"Exactly," Lady Rachel said. "So we give them a little bit more."
"What do you do with the information?" Andy asked. "Why ask for a family tree, if you can answer the main question quickly?"
"I have been working for a number of years on a project," Lady Sophia said. "The Mayan Diaspora. I became interested in finding out what happened to those of my people who were taken away after the Spanish Conquistadors stole our lands. This information will help with my research."
"So, you aren’t an alien like the others?" Caroline asked.
"She is, but it’s a matter of degree," the Shadow said. "Lady Sophia can trace her family back to the original Clan explorers who merged with the Mayans. So, in that sense she is as much an alien as the rest of us."
"And our results?" Andy asked. "What does your gadget have to say about us?"
"Artie?" Lady Rachel said.
"Yes, Lady Memory," Artie said, her voice filling the room.
"What did you find out?"
"Lady Sachs has an unusual genetic map. She is not a Clan descendant from any of the thirteen Clans, but something else that we are not familiar with."
"Something else?" the Shadow said, looking at her, clearly puzzled.
"Yes," Artie said.
"Not other Clan?" she asked. "Or known Terran human?"
"Correct," Artie said.
"Continue investigating," she said.
"Of course," Artie said.
"What does that mean? And who is this Artie?" Andy said.
"Artie is our local representative of the Pan-Galactic Confederation. Very hands off. They make the rules we follow."
"Why hasn’t anything been said about them?" Andy asked. "You mentioned them at the press conference but I couldn’t find any details."
"Uh, we’ve been saying that we’re the local law enforcement, peacekeepers, for this sector of the galaxy," Lady Air said. "Doesn’t that imply that there’s some form of government above us?"
"Yes," Andy said. "But somehow, people seem to have been ignoring it."
"Strange how that happens," the Shadow said. "Which is not our doing," she added quickly. "But people, no matter how intelligent, seem to ignore the things they can’t see. And the Pan-Galactic Confederation is basically invisible. We said 'Hi! We’re the new neighborhood cops', and no one seems to have thought that through."
"I’m assuming you want people to know this, or you wouldn’t have brought this up now," Andy said. "Does that make Artie the Ambassador of this Pan-Galactic Confederation?"
"No," Artie said. "The Confederation is not a government body in a form you would recognize. The Dragon Clan is our designated representative body for this area. All communication to us goes through them."
"Why did you say Andy isn’t Terran?" Cassidy said. "Or your Clan?"
"Genetic fingerprint," the Shadow said. "Her’s doesn’t match any known Terran genetic map we have on file, at any level. Which should be impossible. But Artie likes mysteries so we’ll figure it out eventually. It’s possible her family line is just very rare."
"So, you need her family tree?" Caroline asked. "Like you would anyone else?"
"Yes," the Shadow said. "It might contain clues."
"I’ll have to talk with my mother," Andy said. "But that can wait. What about the girls?"
"We will need to see their family tree or known family history," Artie said, "but they do have traces of Clan genes, though not an expected one."
"Really?" the Shadow said. "Which one? Tiger Clan?"
"No, yours," Artie said.
"How is that possible?" Lady Rachel said. "She’s the only living member of her Clan on this planet."
"Apparently not," the Shadow said, smiling. "Any other info from the scan?"
"There is a ninety percent chance that their line is an earlier branch of yours," Artie said. "Querying Clan records now."
"But aren’t you all the same Clan?" Andy asked.
"I’m adopted," she said, bouncing excitedly. "The Dragon Clan rescued me when my parents died traveling in this area. Having relatives is awesome! And you can call me Brittany."
"Babe, you’re still a member of ours," Lady Air said.
"An extremely valued member," Lady Rachel added.
"But I’ve never had blood related cousins before," Brittany said. "This is so exciting. And another mystery for Artie’s people."
"There are no records of missing Clansmen from that Clan that match their genetic map. And no exact maps from known living clan," Artie said. "We will continue researching.
"Okay," Andy said. "So, does that mean Caroline and Cassidy qualify for membership in the Dragon Clan? We know I don’t."
"They are qualified to petition to join the Clan," Artie said. "However, that can take a number of years of your time. Their membership status in their original Clan must be clarified first. And then that Clan’s Council of Nine and an immediate Clan relative must agree to the transfer. Often that is refused unless there is a valid reason the Council accepts."
"So, basically, not now, maybe later," Andy said. "Or maybe never."
"Correct," Artie said.
"Not a huge," Cassidy said. "Interesting but it doesn’t change who we are now."
"Nope," Andy said. "Still my daughters. Still Miranda’s twins."
"You will have status as misplaced young Clan," Lady Q said, finally speaking. "That entitles you to certain forms of assistance from us. Basically, well treated, honored guests when you feel like visiting. As for being Lady Shadow’s cousins, that is up to her. She knows how her birth Clan treats family better than we do."
"What about the internships?" Cassidy asked. "Does any of this affect that? And can we tell anyone?"
"No," Lady Rachel said. "Having Clan blood will certainly help in some ways. Some of our technology only works completely with Clan descendants. And some information is Dragon Clan access only, but that would have been true even if you weren’t Clan at all. And I wouldn’t recommend telling anyone. Stick to the simple truth - you aren’t Dragon Clan. Too many complications otherwise."
"Do you expect to find other Clan like this?" Andy said. "Especially some other Clan?"
"We did an initial scan of the planetary population several years ago," Artie said. "It revealed the presence of Clan on this planet but it was not fine enough to determine which Clan. A detailed scan requires closer contact."
"So it is possible there are other groups of Clan settled here?" Andy asked.
"Possible but unlikely," Brittany said. "Unless they were in hiding from the Confederation, they would have come forth when we arrived."
"We have questions about the internships," Andy said, deciding to move on. "What schools are sponsoring them? How long will they last? When will they start?"
"The primary sponsor is our Clan School of Cultural History, though the credits will come from the Peninsula University of the Yucatan, which is affiliated with Columbia University. So, when the internship is over, in a year’s time, you can apply those credits to a degree program at either Peninsula or Columbia."
"That sounds good," Andy said. "But what is the internship, really?"
"Assistants for the film crew that you would be working with. Sometimes fetching coffee; sometimes helping with setting up the equipment. Learning how to use all of the equipment will also be part of this. This crew has experience teaching their craft to newcomers."
"When can we meet them?" Cassidy said.
"Two of them are here today to meet you," Lady Rachel said. "Lady Q can take you to them while we discuss several things with your mother." Cassidy and Caroline looked at Andy, silently asking for permission. She nodded, and they followed Lady Q out of the room.
"Have you thought about our offer?" Brittany said. "For both jobs?"
"Writing columns and traveling among your people? Yes," Andy said. "The other? I can’t commit to anything until I have some idea what you expect from me."
"Have you seen the movie 'Monument Men' or read the book?" Lady Rachel said.
"Yes..." Andy said, puzzled.
"We’d like you to be our George Clooney, sort of. But not exactly," she said.
"And before we jump into the whole story, let’s do a little thing the Fleet lawyers call a Non-Disclosure Agreement," Lady Air said.
"You have lawyers?" Andy said. "So, even aliens can’t escape them?"
"Actually, we don’t have them as such," Lady Rachel said, glaring at Lady Air. "But the Shadow here likes buying companies and property so we had to hire Earth lawyers to make sure we keep everything legal."
"Which costs more than the property we use them to buy," Lady Air said, poking Brittany again, causing her to giggle.
"It just makes things easier if our Q doesn’t have to worry about damaging property in the middle of a battle," Brittany said. "And we do benefit from it."
"What kinds of benefits?"
"We bought out a number of holding companies in Cancun, as part of consolidating our ownership of the enclave," Brittany said. "Several we ended up owning outright. So, we have full or partial ownership of small hotels in London, Paris, Moscow, and several other large population centers. Several we’ve turned into embassies."
"But Santana, our Lady Air, won’t let us buy a theme park," Lady Rachel said, pouting.
"We don’t need anything like that," she said. "Want some excitement, go asteroid mining or sun sailing. Those even include real death defying moments."
"Sun sailing," Andy said. "I keep forgetting you have real space flight. You seem so normal, when you don’t talk with accents."
"We’ll explain everything, if you sign the NDA our lawyers came up with," Santana said. "And here they are." A professionally dressed woman entered the room, carrying a folder that she then placed in front of Andy, before nodding at the Council and leaving the room.
"No men," Andy said idly, as she opened the folder. Inside were several documents, with colored marks next to place to sign. She started reading it carefully. It appeared to be standard NDA boilerplate, similar to things she’d encountered in the past.
"Not in the Clan that came here," Santana said. "Not the original and not our followup mission."
"We will eventually," Rachel said. "There are men known to be qualified as Clansmen through this effort to repatriate them but none have come forward yet. And the Mayan population in Mexico descended from our lost Clan certainly includes men."
"But none of the Dragon Clan leaders are men," Andy said. "Have none come forward to claim a place at the top? That’s an unusual situation, isn’t it?"
"Not yet," Santana said. "And there’s no way for them to try to take over if they did. The Dragon Clan was founded as a matriarchy. We don’t hate men but their role is not a leadership one. Dragon Clan men excel at nurturing tasks, like farming. But we don’t need anyone for that right now. The Mayan descendants in our enclave include plenty of farmers."
"Oh," Andy said. "How are you dealing with our patriarchy?"
"Carefully," Brittany said. "We have good relations with several world leaders who are men. Others are willing to work with us even if we make them uncomfortable. The benefits of access to our technology are too great to ignore."
"And the rest?"
Santana shrugged. "We’ll find something to get them to play along. We have no plans, as we’ve said before, to try to conquer the planet. Anyone wanting access to space using our tech will have to work with us as the local Galactic law, but we won’t force change on their cultures," Santana said, "That’s not why we are here. And our spiritual leader," she waved at Lady Sophia, "is not the evangelical kind."
"Spirituality does have a place in our lives," Lady Sophia said, "but our beliefs are not like yours. Some feel more of a connection to the Oneness than others. We do not have a history of forced belief and conquest. Cooperation among the clans is too important."
"What of the Mayan religion?" Andy asked. "It seems to have been a very traditional patriarchy."
"The Dragon Clan stranded on this planet joined with another culture in the Yucatan to become the Mayans," Lady Sophia said. "As a former Mayan High Priestess, I can say that your European anthropologists and archeologists misunderstood our religion. And with the coming of the Clan, we are attempting to clear up the confusion. But that will take time."
"Why are you here then," Andy asked, "now that I’ve signed these. And why do you need me?"
"It’s really simple," Brittany said. "The Dragon Clan originally came here, several millennia ago, to set up a branch office of Galactic Peacekeepers for this area of the Galaxy. If you looked on the Galactic map, it’s actually a fairly large area. But this was the only populated system so it was picked as the best location for a base. Something happened to those earlier Clansmen, that we’re only beginning to understand, and their mission was not completed."
"So, no one noticed, if it has taken this long for you to come back," Andy said.
"It was a small group, and the Confederation moves very slowly," Brittany said. "When they eventually decided to investigate, they contacted us when they couldn’t find anything other than small traces of the previous Clan."
"They have an incentive," Rachel said. "This time. The Confederation is huge. The Dragon Clan is one of thirteen Clans performing Peacekeeping duties. But an ancient enemy of the Confederation has been attacking other sectors, leaving this one undefended. So they brought us in."
"So, basically, you are the peacekeepers for this part of the Galaxy, and you are expecting a war to expand to this sector and you are getting ready for it," Andy said. "Correct?"
"Essentially," Rachel said. "But although we are larger than the previous Dragon Clan to settle here, we still aren’t large enough to handle a war. Or to police the entire sector. We are currently in a building phase. Several years from now we will be at full strength and be able to cover the entire sector."
"So, then what?
"Then, the projections from the Confederation give us five years before the ancient Enemy reaches this sector," Brittany said. "Five years to get the planet ready for that."
"So, what do you need me for?" Andy asked. "I don’t know anything about space war or peacekeeping."
"It was recently pointed out to us that, although we have someone devoted to preserving our own culture, the Clan Memory, if something happened to this planet due to actions of the enemy, your culture could be lost. If we had to evacuate this planet, assuming we even could, everything that makes the people of this planet who they are would potentially be lost to you."
"Why do you care? You’re aliens?" Andy asked.
"Some of us do have roots on this planet," Rachel said. "Which, is one reason why you signed those NDAs. That we have family here is not for public consumption."
"Some of us grew up in Ohio," Santana said. "We’d rather that no one finds that out, though it is impossible to keep it completely secret, so it will happen eventually."
"Ohio? You do know that I’m originally from Ohio?" Andy said. "Why is it a secret?"
"It will come out," Brittany said, "but we would rather control the message when it does."
"So, you’re aliens who grew up in Ohio, mostly," Andy said. "So you actually have some attachment to this planet."
"Correct," Rachel said. "And family. So, we aren’t going to abandon this planet to the enemy when they reach this sector."
"Like the Foreign Legion?"
"That’s one way to put it, though we didn’t run away from anything, we were recruited by the Pan-Galactic Confederation’s Advisory Council to - find out what happened to the original Clan sent here, finish setting up our Clan to police this sector, and prepare for a possible war."
"If this is the only populated system in the sector, why does it need peacekeepers?"
"Pirates, and others trying to exploit it," Rachel said.
"The way it works," Santana said, "is that the use and distribution of resources of a sector is up to the civilizations in that sector. Outsiders must go through them first to access the resources. For example, if there is a system that contains a valuable metal, and some of them do, someone from outside the sector cannot come here and start mining. They can purchase the ore from a local miner but they can’t extract it themselves.
But in a case like this, where the major civilization has not yet gone beyond their home system, and there’s no one to contact, someone needs to make sure no one removes those resources without permission."
"That sounds like an impossible task," Andy said.
"It is," Brittany said. "And we haven’t really begun. Our fleet has just started working its way through the sector, exploring systems and putting up monitoring systems. But even with our technology that will take time. Decades. Time we don’t have while we focus on preparing this system for war."
"It seems like you have it all under control," Andy said.
"As we were saying, we missed something in our plan," Rachel said. "Yes, we will be ready, on schedule, for the enemy, and if our plans work, so will this planet. But your culture? We need to protect it."
"What’s your plan for that?" Andy asked. "I’m assuming you have a plan?"
"Lady Shadow is our plan expert," Rachel said.
"It’s a simple plan," Brittany said. "I was in Paris several weeks ago and did this." She pulled out a small gadget and set it on the table and pushed a button. A large, 3D image of the Louvre appeared floating above it. "It’s how we preserved the old Mayan cities we renovated. A molecular level, 3D image. We send someone to every museum and historical site and record it."
"It won’t be the original," Rachel said. "But it will be saved."
"What about our books and literature?" Andy asked.
"Anything electronic will also be saved," Rachel said.
"The scans can be used to create holographic images," Brittany said. "Any book scanned can be read like the physical original. Any object scanned, except living flesh, can be revived as a hologram of the original."
"That’s really fancy," Andy said. "What do you want from me?"
"We need someone to run this effort to preserve your culture. We don’t currently have enough people for the needed preservation teams or time to manage it ourselves. We need you to be in charge of this effort."
"How would I do this?" Andy asked.
"We’ll provide funding, the necessary equipment, and eventually people for the teams," Brittany said. "And you would be working with the Memory’s office. But this must be a secret for now."
"Why wouldn’t you tell anyone?" Andy said, frowning.
"Well, for practical reasons," Rachel said. "If we asked permission to do this we would have to tell your planet why, and that could lead to society destroying riots. Or these museums would insist on being paid, adding days of negotiating for each museum. There’s only so much time to do this. It’ll be faster and more efficient if you just go and do it. It’s a failsafe. If nothing happens, no big deal."
"Okay," Andy said, nodding. "So, we go to each museum in secret and scan it?"
"Yes," Rachel said. "And historical sites like the pyramids, and Stonehenge."
"If all this work is not needed, what happens to all of the scans?" Andy asked. "Do you destroy them?"
"Artie? What happens when the Confederation scans a culture’s heritage like this?" Rachel asked.
"In the past, it was done after the culture was destroyed, by war or exterior forces. The culture wasn’t around to decide. It became part of the Galactic Museum collection. In this case, the decision would need to be made by the planet."
"That’ll be messy," Santana said. "But it’s a valid answer. You spend the next several years doing this. After we deal with the enemy, we make the scans available, to someone. By that time, the technology to view these scans in 3D should be common."
"The museums that are scanned, or the owners of the artworks will want some say in this. We could end up in court for the rest of our lives," Andy said.
"We’ll worry about the legalities later, when we have time," Santana said. "Do you want the job?"
"What about the column for the Mirror, and your camera crew. And Cassidy and Caroline? What about the internship?"
"The column is your cover," Brittany said. "The logistics will need some work. But you’ll be doing both. Working with the film crew as they document our presence, and collecting historical and cultural artifacts with the preservation teams you’ll manage."
"What do I get out of it?" Andy asked.
"The story of a lifetime? Once you’re done, we’ll want documentation, and you’ll be able to turn it into something publishable."
"Okay, I’ll do it," Andy said. She could feel something she’d thought lost forever coming back, excitement at an almost impossible challenge.
The Council reconvened back in Chichen Itza later that evening.
"Still think this is a good idea?" Santana asked the others. "If Sachs ever changes her mind we could be in a lot of trouble."
"Yes," Rachel said. "She isn’t going to do it for us but for the good of her people. So it will get done."
"As long as she doesn’t turn into a fanatic," Quinn added. "Too many of those running around already."
"Stretching the truth a bit there with our reasons for picking her," Santana said. "We’ve sent out a few probes but we haven’t even remotely begun to catalog this sector. And we could handle a dozen preservation teams with our current staffing."
"Doesn’t matter," Brittany said. "We already have the old Galactic scans. We’re just updating them. And putting someone like her, from this planet, in charge of the preservation will make things easier in the long run."
"You’re thinking too far ahead for me," Rachel said. "Your head is a scary place."
"We still love you, Rach," Brittany said, blowing her a kiss.
Chapter 12: Probing the Rift
Brittany discovers something.
Chapter Word Count: 3,009
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Found it," Brittany said excitedly, over the Council comm channel. "I know what happened to Miranda Priestly."
"There’s an inter-dimensional rift in the Pacific," Brittany said. "Unlike the Bermuda Triangle, this one is real. It was mapped by the Clan when they first came to this system. According to the records on the shuttle, Yucatan was picked as the site of the original planet-side base because of its position relative to that rift. They were able to study it from a safe distance."
"And you think Priestly’s craft flew into the rift?" Quinn said. "Any idea what that means?"
"Probes were sent into the rift and came out years later," Brittany said. "It appears to be moving at a different rate of time."
"What’s on the other side?" Rachel asked. "Do we know?"
"Now? Not yet," Brittany said. "We should have a probe ready today that should survive the trip into the rift. Back then? It looked like what was on their side. Ocean and forest."
"How many years before we find out?" Rachel said. "You said the original probes took years."
"Days, maybe," Brittany said. "My techs think they’ve figured out how to adjust for the dimensional time differences."
"How about our other related mysteries? The Lady’s Sachs and Priestly?" Quinn asked.
"Genetically, I still have two cousins," Brittany said, "but still no idea how that happened. There are no Clan records to explain them."
"Artie?" Rachel asked.
"The Wind Clan Memory has no explanation for their existence," Artie said. "There are no unaccounted for Clan members. Their presence has been requested at the next full Clans meeting."
"Not without their Andy," Rachel said firmly. "When is this meeting, and why haven’t you mentioned it before?"
"It occurs approximately every two hundred of your Terran years," Artie said. "The next one is in one hundred years."
"So, don’t worry about it because we might not survive the next ten?" Rachel said. "I assume they’ll want to see the entire Dragon Clan Council then also?"
"The High Council has not requested your presence yet, but it is to be expected," Artie said.
"Well, let’s survive the next decade first," Quinn said. "And how is Andy’s project going?"
"They’ve started scanning New York," Rachel said. "They should have that complete before the twins graduate from high school. And then they can go on the road."
"Our Andy is very clever," Brittany said. "She already has a better understanding of how to use the scanning equipment to get the most coverage than any of our people working with her. She’s managed to cut the scanning time in half and have two crews out there at a time."
"Fortunately, the learning pods worked on her and both girls," Quinn said. "She took to Clan self defense like she’d designed it herself. The twins aren’t quite as good but occasionally show flashes of Brittany level brilliance."
"it’s an interesting conundrum," Rachel said. "Are there others like them out there? Can we find them without frightening them away? How did they get there in the first place?"
"I don’t believe we will find any clues to Andy’s existence any time soon," Brittany said. "Her genetic line is just too well hidden. On the surface it looks like it could be Clan or human but a deeper analysis shows neither. The Clan markers are missing but it’s not human DNA."
"Well, that could mean anything," Rachel said. "Maybe she’s got pirate blood?"
"Artie?" Rachel asked into the dead silence that resulted from her comment. "Pirates?"
"The Red Pirates did not leave behind anything to help us," Artie said. "There are no known useful samples of their genetic markers available."
"Not even from the Black Hats?" Rachel asked. "Aren’t they descendants of Red Pirates?"
"All of the Black Hats we’ve captured have had completely human DNA," Britany said.
"It was a thought," Rachel said. "But we don’t really need proof to know that something sets her apart."
"We may never know what really happened," Santana said. "You can only grasp at so many straws before they melt."
"Where’d you get that saying?" Rachel said.
"I’ve been chatting with Andy’s mother," Santana said. "She’s full of strange sayings like that. It’s almost like being around Coach."
"There’s a reason for that," Quinn said. "She’s Coach’s younger step sister."
"No way!" Santana said. "Did you know this?" she asked Brittany.
"I knew she had a step-sister," Brittany said. "And a full sister who lived in a nursing home until she died. But, no, the history of that connection escaped me."
"Does Coach know about any of this?"
"She hasn’t said anything," Brittany said. "She does that 'Coach Knows Best' when the subject comes up."
"So, she knows but isn’t telling us," Quinn said.
"That’s Coach," Santana said.
"Chang, Cohen-Chang," Sue said, stepping into their office below the firehouse. "You have been treating my nieces well," she said.
"Nieces?" Tina said, gulping, before shooting a quick look at Mike.
"Yes, Lady Sylvester," he said, bowing deeply. "They are excellent students."
"Do not teach them any of your Tong tricks," she said, before turning around and leaving them.
"Sue Sylvester’s nieces?" Tina said. "How did you know? They don’t look anything like her. And Brittany didn’t say anything."
"I was given a complete workup on everyone on this team before we met," he said. "They are not her nieces by blood but by adoption."
"So, somehow Andy Sachs is related to Sue Sylvester?" Tina said. "She doesn’t have Sue’s patented craziness."
"No, but she is unique," Brittany said, slipping out of the shadows, her voice causing Tina to jump and squeak in surprise.
"Don’t do that!" Tina said, gasping. "I’m too young for a heart attack."
"You’ll be fine," Mike said. "Do they know of the connection to Coach? Or that Coach is working for you?"
"Unknown," Brittany said. "Their paths have not crossed as far as I can tell. And Andy hasn’t mentioned her. But she does share a spark of genius."
"You really don’t know?" Tina asked. "I thought you knew everything?"
"No one knows everything," Brittany said, winking at her. "I just try to stay reasonably well informed."
"Do you need anything from us today?" Mike said. "We’re ahead of schedule. But this explains a lot."
"The twins are Clan, though not Dragon clan," Brittany said. "But Andy is not Clan and she and Sue do not share any genetics. So, no it doesn’t."
"So, you were actually surprised by this," Tina said. "Good to know you aren’t perfect, Lady in the Shadows."
"You know I never claimed perfection," Brittany said. "I’m just very, very good at my job."
"Cousin," Cassidy said, entering the room. "What brings you here?"
"Your Aunt Sue was curious," Brittany said, winking at a shocked Tina. "She’s looking for Andy."
"She’s here? Isn’t she awesome?" Caroline said, from behind Cassidy. "Andy took us to one of her competitions years ago, but we didn’t have a chance to meet her. It was amazing what those cheerleaders could do."
"Sue Sylvester’s cheerleaders have always been amazing," Tina said, smirking at Brittany.
"You’ve seen them?" Caroline asked.
"Several of us here went to William McKinley High School when she was there," Tina said. "We’ve all had personal encounters with her."
"And the less said about that the better," Brittany said, shaking her head. "Have you seen your mother today?"
"She was testing out that new stealth suit your techs sent over yesterday," Cassidy said. "When do we get our own?"
"That isn’t my decision," Brittany said. "Putting you into danger is not a part of your internship. Besides, you would need to learn Clanspeach first. The stealth suits do not have room for full translators."
"Aunt Sue, how did you get in here?" Andy said, spotting her mysterious aunt in the practice room. "What are you doing in New York?"
"It looks natural on you," Sue said. "Not everyone can wear Dragon armor."
"They weren’t sure it would work," Andy said. "My genetics are different enough that there was some doubt."
"Your genetics are as they should be," Sue said. "I will discuss your situation with the Ladies of the Council, when the time is right."
"You know them?" Andy said.
"They are proof that my training methods work," Sue said.
"Coach," Brittany said, entering the room. "You promised to keep that a secret. We can’t afford to lose you to one of those high pressure Chinese martial arts schools."
"You know how I feel about those fu factories, Shadow," Sue said. "I would never leave you for one of those."
"You really know each other?" Andy asked, continuing her stretching routine.
"Lady Sylvester is in charge of our peacekeepers in the Enclave," Brittany said, "and our other planet side facilities."
"Your lesser half insists on her Fleet personnel keeping the peace in her space stations," Sue said. "But we are training for the eventual capitulation."
"You know it isn’t personal," Brittany said. "All of your peacekeepers are Q troops and those two, as much as I love them, are very territorial. Eventually, once those stations are complete, you’ll be able to expand to there."
"How long have you worked for them, Aunt Sue?" Andy asked, listening intently. "Mom hasn’t mentioned the job change."
"Your mother has no need to know," Sue said. "She would just worry."
"We’re keeping an eye on her," Brittany said. "We’ve known her since high school and would prefer she remain in one piece."
"You were one of her cheerleaders?" Andy said, remembering the comment made by one of them months before about growing up in Ohio. "She had alien cheerleaders?"
"Q was meant to be my successor," Sue said. "If she hadn’t discovered her alien roots and found a higher calling as a general."
"Lady Q is that 'Q'?" Andy said, looking at Brittany for confirmation. "Wow! I realized that the ladies of the Council must have been more than ordinary students when you said you’d actually grown up in Ohio, but there are legends about the athletic feats performed by 'Q' and her lieutenants before they disappeared. Even Cassidy and Caroline heard of them in Dalton. And that explains their disappearance, doesn’t it," Andy said, thinking out loud.
"I believe we did warn you that we had those NDAs for a reason," Brittany said.
"Yes," Andy said. "I can see why you would prefer to be the ones to release information about your past."
"How is the stealth suit working out?" Brittany asked, redirecting their conversation.
"Very good," Andy said. "It required a few minor tweaks but has performed flawlessly since."
"Sue, I need to get back to my team but if you want to meet your nieces, they are working with Tina and Mike right now," Brittany said. "I’m sure Andy can show you the way."
"They would love to meet you, Aunt Sue," Andy said.
"I shall be overjoyed to meet the junior Priestly’s," Sue said dryly.
"How is her training progressing?" Quinn asked.
"She was put through a complete training cycle for one of your troopers in the learning pods," Brittany said. "She’s now learning Shadow stealth methods so she can better utilize her new stealth suit."
"Why not complete Shadow training?" Rachel asked. "Wouldn’t that be more useful?"
"Coach recommended combat training, with minor Shadow stealth training," Brittany said. "She wouldn’t say why, other than it would be a better fit."
"What did Andy think when you told she needed this training?" Rachel asked. "She’s a reporter, not a soldier."
"I told her that before she could spend time with my troopers, she needed to understand what makes them tick. And the best way to start was to go through the same training," Quinn said. "Once we explained that the learning pods are a virtual environment, she was hooked. She isn’t learning at the same rate as one of my troopers but she’s picking it up faster than a Terran would, if they were able to make full use of the learning pods."
"Will she really be qualified to go with your troopers on missions?" Rachel asked.
"Yes," Quinn said. "As an observer. She doesn’t have the right mindset to engage an enemy in combat and we don’t have the time to give it to her."
"Curiosity seems to be her weakness," Brittany said. "Give her the opportunity to learn something new and she’s putty in your hands. Figuratively speaking."
"No idea yet what makes her special?"
"Not a clue," Brittany said. "Her genetic map is compatible with humans, like Clan but she isn’t either. It’s as if she comes from a parallel line of enhanced humans or Clan. Artie is excited about it."
"And the twins?" Rachel asked. "How are they doing?"
"Andy hasn’t agreed to let them take any full Clan training yet," Brittany said. "They are taking basic self defense as part of their internship, similar to what you originally took but not as intense."
"But other than that they’re just interns for Tina’s camera crew?"
"Yes," Brittany said. "Coach has her eye on them though. She wants them as part of her Peacekeepers when they finish college."
"Does Andy know?" Rachel asked.
"They’re Clan," Quinn said. "So they should be able to handle the training, if they really want to."
"They need to decide for themselves," Rachel said. "Whether we sponsor them or not. The only one of us who hasn’t expressed an interest in them is Santana."
"Really? What do you want them for?" Brittany asked her.
"If they have half your mental abilities, since they come from your Clan, they would make excellent Memories," Rachel said. "They don’t have the apparent interest in the arts most Memories have, but they see connections that normally takes a lot of training. And I know Quinn is almost drooling at the idea of what they could bring to her troopers."
"They have excellent reflexes, and spacial awareness, to say nothing of their ability to think ahead. As soon as Andy clears them, I plan to find out how well they handle our hard suits in the Pods."
"Santana actually does want them," Brittany said. "She thinks they would make excellent pilots."
"We have some Mary Sues," Quinn said, frowning.
"What?" Rachel asked.
"Exactly!" Brittany said. "They are almost too good to be true. It’s as if someone came along and maxed out their D-n-D character points."
"What’s a Mary Sue?" Rachel asked.
"In fiction," Quinn said, "it’s the perfect character, often representing the author. They solve problems no other character can. They are rich and perfect. Perfect looks. Perfect in all their abilities."
"So, you think Andy and the twins are too perfect?" Rachel asked. "Planted by someone?"
"It had occurred to me," Brittany said. "That Artie can’t place them is a concern. Andy’s genetic map is like the perfect merger of Clan and Human but is neither. The twins appear to be my cousins, but that’s impossible. There are no missing clan. Everyone is accounted for."
"Too perfect," Quinn said.
"Do they know this?" Rachel asked. "I’m assuming their memories were scanned in the learning pods?"
"There is nothing in their memory scans to indicate a cause for what you are terming 'Mary Sue-ness," Artie said. "If their memories are being manipulated it is by some being much more skilled at it than any known memory expert in the Confederation."
"How can you tell they aren’t?" Quinn asked.
"It leaves traces," Artie said. "A Memory Master, no matter how skilled, would still leave traces. If they were changed it’s at a level we cannot detect."
"So, a god?" Quinn said. "Or someone with god-like powers?"
"Unknown," said Artie. "The Confederation has occasionally encountered such beings but this resembles none of the signs of the known beings."
"So, what do we do?" Rachel asked. "It’s like having a time bomb and no idea when it will go off."
"We’ll keep an eye on them. Hopefully, whomever did this will reveal themselves," Brittany said. "But no reason to tell anyone else. It’s possible their talents are natural."
"What’s the excitement?" Rachel asked, rushing into the staff conference room aboard the flagship.
"We were able to retrieve a probe," Brittany said. "I thought you’d want to see it."
"I thought you decided none would be coming back any time soon? Isn’t it a dimensional time rift?" Rachel asked.
"Give her a chance to explain, Shorty," Santana said. Quinn nodded in agreement.
"It is and it isn’t," Brittany said. "The records from the original probes indicated a time warp element. I’ve been able to insert a probe in sync with the time field and pull it back out. It managed to record several hours of information before I did."
"And this is what it saw," Brittany said, pointing at the central view screen. "It followed a Clan emergency beacon to a small island several hundred miles from the portal."
"Do we know for sure this is her plane?" Quinn asked, "squinting at the plane-like shape buried in the sand on a beach, with only the wings and tail showing.
"It’s possibly the same model, but someone will have to take a closer look," Brittany said. "The probes didn’t have the right scanners to tell us more."
"How did a Clan beacon get on that plane?"" Santana said, frowning. "It couldn't have been us, or Artie."
"It’s an anachronism," Brittany said. "That beacon’s serial number doesn’t exist, but the model is one my Shadows use when going into hostile territory."
"Do we tell her?" Rachel asked. "She’s doing something important. She’ll want to go looking for her wife. This might set that effort back by years."
"It’s her choice," Quinn said. "We don’t interfere."
"Just checking," Rachel said, nodding.
"Full disclosure?" Brittany said. "Sophia?" She turned towards their fifth member, who’d been silently listening.
"It is the honorable thing to do," Sophia said. "Tell her everything."
"Agreed," said Santana.
"Agreed," the others echoed.
The next story in this series is a side story focusing on the Search for Miranda Priestly. Posting should begin some time before the end of the year (2016).