tagSci-Fi & FantasyEvery Man's Fantasy Ch. 21

Every Man's Fantasy Ch. 21

byErinaceous©

Author's note:

At the end of chapter 19, Robyn Bradford, the pilot of the Petticoat Crew took off from Samothea with Madam Gloria, Ezra, Yael and Freya, plus Annela in suspended animation in the escape pod.


1 Preparing for the Conference

Throughout the journey from Samothea to Celetaris, Gloria held Ezra's hand for security.

Normally a strong-minded and secure woman, the shocking strangeness of the space-flight unusually discommoded her. Even after emerging from the orbiting hyperspace beacon near Celetaris, during the slow and smooth descent to the planet's surface, Gloria forgot to let go of him.

Yael and Freya stared out of the port-holes in awed silence, as a giant blue, green and white globe moved slowly toward them, expanding as it approached.

Ezra let the girls undo their harnesses temporarily, so they could see better out of the port-holes. They were weightless in space now, so the slightest movement lifted them out of their seats, a sensation they loved. Gloria remained firmly strapped in.

Two hours later, Robyn gave her passengers the order to put their harnesses back on, preparatory to the sharp and bumpy deceleration through the atmosphere, during which the girls yelped for joy and Gloria gripped Ezra's arm with both hands.

Robyn Bradford landed the shuttlecraft safely at Ocean City astroport a mere ten hours after leaving Samothea.

It was dusk and the lights in the astroport beamed yellow cones onto the tarmac as the CSS Petticoat taxied into the disembarkation station, giving a last sighing nod as the brakes engaged. Steam condensed on the cooling air-frame and dripped onto the ground from the wings and rocket-motors.

The decontamination process began when hoses in the roof began to spray the craft down. When they finished, a plastic-lined corridor with concertina folds automatically pressed against the passenger-bay door and sealed itself.

Robyn pressed the button to open the door. She remained on-board, staying in quarantine so she could head back to Samothea as soon as possible.

Ezra led the way through the plastic corridor to a hygiene station manned by two nurses in full protective clothing, including full face-masks.

"Don't worry, girls," he said. "It's for our protection, not theirs."

"We're not worried," Yael said cheerfully.

"Can we do it again, please, Daddy?" Freya asked. "I liked the bumpy bits best!"

"Not for now, Sweetie."

In the medical room, the nurses took pin-prick blood samples and mouth swabs. Two minutes later, the testing machines gave verdicts on their immune systems, showing that there were no diseases on Celetaris that would endanger the visitors. None the less, they advised a shot against colds. Ezra agreed and went first. A nurse sprayed inoculants up his nose.

He sneezed and wiped his eyes with a tissue.

The others submitted to the same painless treatment.

"It tastes funny, Daddy," Freya complained.

"Yes, Sweetie. It'll pass."

At last a nurse signalled that the hygiene centre door could be released.

Danielle and Roger waited outside, heading a small welcoming committee from the Samothea Project Team, a half-dozen staff-members available at short notice.

The sealed door of the hygiene station opened with a relaxing hiss and there was Ezra, about five years older, thinner, bearded, but smiling with amazing relief and gratitude at his beloved sister and rescuer. If Danielle thought she would keep her composure, she was quickly disillusioned. Happy tears flowed down her cheeks even before she'd skipped a few steps and leapt into her brother's arms, who held her tightly.

There was too much pent-up emotion to say what they felt, but the way Ezra held his sister and kissed her demonstrated most eloquently how much he missed her. They hugged in the entrance until Yael tapped Ezra on the shoulder.

"Ezra, you're blocking the doorway and we want to meet everyone."

He found his voice at last.

"Danielle, thank you for saving me. Thank you for everything!"

"I missed you, Ezra. I'm glad you're back."

"This is Yael," he said, "a friend of mine. Yael, this is my sister, Danielle."

"Hello, Yael," Danielle said, all tears and smiles. "Welcome to Celetaris."

Ezra felt a tug on his trousers. He picked Freya up.

"And this is Freya, my oldest daughter. Freya, meet your aunt Danielle."

Gloria was last out of the hygiene centre. Despite all the amazing sights she'd witnessed - the inside of a space-craft, travelling through hyperspace, viewing a planet from thousands of miles away and flying over a city with a million artificial lights - yet she blinked in wonder at the amazing sight of an astroport with jet-cars, hover-buses, aeroplanes and space-ships arriving and leaving.

Hundreds of people milled about on the astroport concourse and transportation platforms, with night turned to day by flaring electric lights. But it was the noise that most shocked her. The distant roar of space-ships taking off under rocket power; the rumble of aeroplanes taxiing to and from their berths; the whoosh of levitating ground-cars and hover-buses; and, above all, the croaking loudspeakers announcing arrivals and departures.

Gloria struggled not to be overwhelmed by all the noise and confusion; but Yael and Freya seemed to absorb it all with no problem. The journey that had so thrilled and delighted the girls had jolted and shaken Gloria, frightening her in a way she hadn't expected, knocking her confidence. Ezra noticed Gloria hesitate and returned to guide her forward.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present Madam Gloria, Prefect of Samothea," he said formally.

The title was impressive and reminded Gloria of her status. The respectful welcome from the Samothea Project Team helped restore her dignity. Gloria smiled graciously at Danielle and her team and strode forward to meet them.

Because the CSS Petticoat hadn't been expected back so soon (it came back quickly due to Doctor Jane Bradford's concerns about Annela), so there were no news reporters nor a public audience, which was a mercy. Introductions could be made quietly and without a fanfare, hopefully lessening the culture-shock.

As the visitors from Samothea were meeting the Project Team, medical orderlies entered the hold of the shuttle and attached levitating blocks to Annela's pod. They steered the pod into a ground transport.

When he saw Annela's pod being moved, Ezra said to his sister:

"Danielle, where are they taking Annela? Should we go with them?"

"They're taking her to the medical centre at the Institute for Science," she explained. "We've arranged for doctors there to treat her. One of the doctors is a friend of mine - a friend of the Project - Cassie Leighton, the neurosurgeon."

Ezra nodded. He'd heard of her and felt reassured.

"She'll take good care of her, I promise. Come home with Roger and me for now."

"Thanks, Danielle. ... Sweetheart," he said to his daughter, "we're going with your aunt Danielle, but I promise you we'll pay a visit to your mother in hospital."

"Yes, Daddy. Robyn told me the doctors will make her better."

"They will, Sweetie."

At last the party left the landing-stage and made for the jet-car station.

As the jet-car levitated out of the astroport and flew over the city, Yael and Freya were glued to the windows, absorbing all the wonders of Celetaris. They cooed in awe at the soaring sky-scrapers of Ocean City. Hover-cars wove their way through the air. Moving walkways criss-crossed the streets, connecting buildings at every level, carrying thousands of people. Adverts on the shop-fronts blazed out. The night-time Ocean City was the most exciting place the girls had ever seen.

The jet-car soon reached its cruising height and turned away from the city, the thrust pushing its passengers into the backs of their seats. They flew over the dark-blue central ocean toward Arts City, one-hundred miles away. Below them, boats sat in the harbour with twinkling lights or skimmed across the surface, leaving trails on the water.

Turning before it reached Arts City, a mass of twinkling lights to the right, the jet-car flew across a large dark and empty park toward the Celetaris Institute for Science. It landed outside Danielle and Roger's apartment building on the campus grounds.

There was as much for the visitors from Samothea to wonder at in a modern apartment, full of labour-saving devices, lights, computers, books and video screens, as anything they had seen on the space-flight or the jet-car journey. Although it was night-time, it was dry and warm, which they had been told about but had not properly expected.

The three Samotheans stood in the living room, too wary to move or touch anything, until Roger invited Gloria to the large picture window with its vista over the Science Park. He showed her the science tower (the Vortex) to the right and the faculty and administration tower (the Needle) on the far left, both lit up and shining in the black night. Not so prominent, though lighted by a ring of blue, was the mushroom dome of the conference centre. Before it were the white rectangles of the medical centre, where Annela's pod was headed.

"Dinner will be in ten minutes, everyone," Danielle announced, having been at her computer, arranging its delivery. "Make yourselves at home."

Yael asked Danielle:

"What are our chores?"

"Chores?" Danielle wondered, breaking her own rule about not repeating what other people said.

"Yes, what work do you want Freya and me to do? We're good at most things."

"I don't have any chores for you. The housework is done automatically and there's no cooking to do. You can help me lay the table, if you want."

They wanted. They copied what Danielle did. Freya had to kneel on the chairs to reach. It wasn't enough work but they were happy to be able to do something.

Dinner arrived just as they finished and, after dinner, the girls insisted on doing more chores.

"We can wash up," Yael offered. "In the Forest Camp, we normally leave the platters out in the night-rain but they wash the plates and cups in the Cloner Hall. Can we do that for you?"

"Help me clear the table and load the dishwasher."

Even that chore wasn't enough. The girls were used to a couple of hours of work every day.

Danielle had an idea.

"The bathroom needs cleaning," she pretended. "If I show you what to do, will you clean it for me, please?"

The girls were delighted to oblige. Danielle gave them some soap, sponges, cloths and a bucket.

"Clean everything you can reach!" she said and left them to it.

It was quiet for ten minutes.

Gloria and Roger were getting on well, discussing the history of Samothea. Tomorrow, Gloria would begin her preparations for the up-coming conference, of which Roger had appointed himself official historian, taking a break from filming his latest video book.

Danielle and Ezra relaxed on the settee, sitting companionably together, re-establishing the sibling bond by which they could speak in half-sentences yet completely understand each other. There was a lot to catch up on in the last five years.

"I'm sorry Mum and Dad can't be here," Danielle said, "but Dad's on a job at the moment. I sent them a message as soon as I got Robyn's signal, five hours ago."

"It's all right, Sis," Ezra said. "They'll get here when they can."

He put his arm around her and she snuggled close, holding him around the chest, kicking her shoes off to put her feet up on the couch and fold her knees up.

"I'm glad you're back," she said, kissing his cheek.

"Thank you for rescuing me," he said, kissing her forehead. "I'll never get tired of saying that."

Giggles and laughter gradually emanated from the bathroom but Danielle didn't stir. More laughter, raucous laughter and eventually screams followed. Still Danielle waited, hugging her brother. Another fifteen minutes went by and, finally, the laughter stopped. It was ominously quiet in the bathroom. Now Danielle reluctantly got up to investigate.

The floor, part of the ceiling, two of the walls and the girls themselves were dripping wet. They'd smothered everything in soap, including each other, and then used the shower to spray the whole room. Soaked to the skin, they were wiping everything down. Danielle surveyed the room. Chrome bars, the sink, toilet and the glass shower-screen gleamed like diamonds. The girls smiled happily. Honour was satisfied: they had helped!

"Why, thank you, girls," Danielle said brightly, going to fetch towels.

She put their clothes in the washing machine and, while they were naked, took their measurements. Danielle used the flat's computer to order a selection of clothes to be delivered the next day. Meanwhile, she lent Yael a pair of blue silk pyjamas. Yael had never felt such luxurious material. With her hair combed straight after a hot hair blast, she looked fabulous. Danielle wrapped Freya in a towelling bathrobe with a hood, which the girl loved. Snug and warm, Freya climbed onto Ezra's lap and lay in a bundle until she fell asleep.

Yael meanwhile asked permission to examine Danielle and Roger's library, declaring that the Cloners didn't have half as many books as they had in just one room of their flat. She happily flicked through Roger's large academic history books and Danielle's even more obscure physics text-books, full of mysterious equations and peculiar diagrams, until it was bedtime.

Gloria was given the large spare bedroom. They would engage a hotel room for her tomorrow, so she could have some privacy. Yael and Freya shared the small spare bedroom (which had taken Danielle an hour to prepare, putting the clothes, bags and shoes that smothered the bed into storage boxes). Ezra made do with the futon-couch in the living room.

After the excitement of the day, it wasn't difficult to sleep, despite the next day beginning one of the most awesome eras in the history of the women of Samothea and the lives of Ezra and his family.

******

After breakfast next morning, Danielle let the girls wash up while Roger took Gloria to meet Paul Kessler, lawyer for the Samothea Project (and husband of the neurosurgeon, Cassie Leighton), to discuss the program for the Conference.

Ezra borrowed a computer tab and sent brief messages to his parents and friends, checked his bank account, wrote to the insurance company about his ship, ordered some new clothes (and a couple of special secret packages), then he played with his daughter until she was exhausted from laughing.

After which, he locked himself in the spare bedroom and devoted himself diligently to answering a backlog of five years' correspondence.

Danielle also stayed at home, waiting in for the clothes she ordered last night and working on her computer. Soon she forgot everything else.

******

Roger introduced Gloria to Paul Kessler in Paul's office in The Needle, on the south side of the Science Park. As she sat in the rich leather seats, Gloria was charmed by the Samothea Project lawyer. She had never seen a movie, but she now knew what the term 'movie-star looks' meant. She tried not to stare so obviously at him; then she laughed at herself and settled down to work.

The Conference wasn't due to start for three weeks, so Gloria had more time than expected to acclimatise to life on Celetaris. She would surely adjust quickly to the climate because it was a warm spring with occasional showers; but adjustment to Celetaran society, whose population was ten-thousand times greater than that of Samothea, might take longer.

As Paul began to explain the legal issues, Roger passed Gloria a yellow legal pad and an old-fashioned ink pen for her to work on. She also carried a stack of rough bark pages that she brought from Samothea.

"The central issue," Paul said, "is the status of the colony of Samothea, which is determined by three things. One is the original contract with Outworld Ventures, the settler company. This contract determined who could settle on Samothea and what property they owned. Our opinion is that the contract lapsed during the time that Samothea was cut off from the rest of the Anglosphere."

Gloria made a note on her yellow pad.

"Second is the Planetary Homesteading Act, which (under certain circumstances) can extend the period during which the Settler Company has an exclusive interest in its colony."

Gloria made another note and riffled through her stack of bark-paper, quickly finding the sheet she wanted.

"And, third is whatever agreements the present owners of Samothea decide to make with the settler company or any other legal party."

"So it's your opinion that us women of Samothea own our planet because the legal ownership of the settler company lapsed after seventy-five years?" Gloria asked.

"Yes, except that the law was changed some time ago so that the original company had one-hundred years of uncontested ownership. As the foundation of Samothea was nearly one-hundred and five years ago, then (unless I have made a mistake or ignored a salient fact), I believe the planet is yours."

Gloria seemed happy with this conclusion. She crossed out a line on the rough bark paper and added a note.

"We have no up-to-date law-book," she explained, "so I compiled all the relevant laws I could find from our other books: Memories of Earth, the Story of Samothea and the Laws and Constitution of Samothea. Incidentally, why was the period of original ownership changed from seventy-five years to one-hundred years?"

Roger could answer this in detail, having made a close study of colonial history. He told Gloria the story of New Exeter-Marazonia and the consequent changes to the Planetary Homesteading Act after the failure of Alexander Marazon's tyranny. Now a settler company owned a legal monopoly of trade for one-hundred years after the foundation of a colony.

"The Planetary Homesteading Act was also changed," he continued, "so that the settler company's ownership might be extended another fifty years if the colony agrees (as New Exeter has agreed, under Mayor Grandley); or if it is so adjudicated by the courts because an agent of the settler company reports first-hand that the colony is unsustainable or failing."

"Such an agent must be sent within the first hundred years of the colony," Roger finished; "so we're in the clear, I believe."

"I assume you want to have amicable relations with Outworld Ventures," Paul said. "They are a rich company with many good contacts in the galaxy and can be useful to you. I also assume that Outworld Ventures would want to help their old colony as much as possible, maybe in exchange for a favourable trading status."

"But if Outworld Ventures declined to be amicable, what could they do?" Gloria wondered.

"They could make a claim in the courts for ownership of Samothea. If they won, even if they had no monopoly of trade, they could sell all the unowned land on the planet, both on your continent and on the other continents, including mining rights and fishing rights, filling your planet up with undesirable colonists or polluting industries."

Gloria looked shocked. Roger protested on her behalf:

"But, Paul, you just said the period of legal ownership has lapsed!"

"Some clever lawyer might find a loophole."

"What loophole?"

"I don't know. Relativistic time-travel or some science-fiction rubbish. In an ideal world, we could rely on impartial judges. In the real world, however, especially in an Earth court, with the handsome prize of Samothea dangling before the greedy eyes of politicians, judges might find it difficult to be impartial."

"I understand that," said Gloria; "so would money be the settler company's only motivation in claiming ownership of our planet?"

"For the settler company, it would be money; but for the Earth politicians who are currently stoking trouble for us and may be putting pressure on Outworld Ventures, the motivation is political. Earth wants to control everything, so she can move out some of her teeming nine-billions of population."

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