The Fate of Terra Ch. 16byIntrepid_Fate©
'The mercenary vessels are keeping pace with us, master,' Pandora informed Michael as the Intrepid and accompanying fleet left the solar system. He stood with Aurora and Marcus -all of them decked out in full regalia- in the newly-built hangar bay that housed the habitable destroyers. They were standing at the end of a long line of men and women in dress uniforms that were displayed before the Council's allotted destroyer.
Michael gave a slight nod and thought to her, 'Keep them in the middle of our formation. Most of their ships are lightly armored.' The two-hundred crew and over eighty dignitaries and staff of the newly formed Terran Federation stepped hesitantly down the ramp of their starship, walking between the sharp-looking ranks of men and women they'd be living and interacting with for the foreseeable future. They were startled when the brass and reed band began playing.
The captain of the destroyer and his staff (also wearing their finest uniforms) marched ahead of the procession up to Michael. The lieutenant commander that was trailing behind him scored points with the observing leaders of the Intrepid when she took the time to salute the flag adorning the bulkhead to the left of them. The pompous-looking captain of middling years, hair just starting to turn gray, stopped in front of the trio and waited as if he expected to be saluted --as if he thought he was of superior rank and it was 'his' ship he was boarding.
Michael automatically ignored the man, already filing him away as useless. When the Indian woman at his side about Aurora's age saluted them, the rest of their staff following suit, they returned the lieutenant commander's address. Captain Pearson... or Prentice... -Michael had already forgotten his name- oblivious to the others' actions, gave a sloppy salute in response and dropped his hand immediately, not waiting for a reaction.
He turned away, observing the impressive metal space that stretched to the limits of their vision with disdain. Finally, the other dignitaries arrived and, without a word, he began walking towards the hangar exit that led further into the ship. The commander shot them an apologetic look and hurried after him. Michael sighed and shook his head, turning to greet the rest of the passengers he would be hosting.
Kat watched it all from the shadows with a bored expression, having long ago decided that this ceremony was all a waste of time. A fond look crossed her face at her lover's determination to at least start this endeavor out on the proper footing. She knew it was only a matter of time before he threw the guidebook out the airlock and made his own path. She shivered as she thought, 'This is really it. We've left the solar system and are traveling into the unknown. Whatever the future brings, our deeds will be written in the stars.'
* * * * *
After the pomp and circumstance had been observed, Michael and Kat retired to their quarters. There, Dejah was snatched from the virtual reality game she'd been playing as the couple grabbed her and carried her to the bedroom. She squirmed and giggled as she was promptly stripped of the light shift she'd been wearing and wedged between them on the bed.
As they began to fondle her goods, deftly evading her half-hearted attempts to stave off their attacks, Michael informed her in a calm voice, "We're going to start having afternoon classes for all the officers where we'll bring out speakers from among the offworlders and they'll lecture about what it's like out here." Dejah nodded and moaned as Kat found a spot that drove her wild. Then he said, "Since you've lived among them for so long, you're the authority on the B'Amuf and will be asked to speak on them at least a few times during the voyage."
She froze, finding the idea of speaking in front of a crowd -a human crowd at that- terrifying. She'd never given a speech before and the notion of talking to so many at once was nerve-wracking. As Kat slipped a finger inside of her, she leaned in and whispered in her ear, "Don't worry about the speech portion itself. I can guarantee you everyone there will be captivated by your smoky, seductive growl you have for an accent no matter what comes out of that sexy mouth of yours. I just want you to be able to share your experience and answer questions."
Dejah blushed, but still felt like it was an impossible task. Michael leaned over and captured her lips, lightly brushing against them with his tongue. He leaned back, staring into her gleaming orbs of cobalt, and stated, "You don't have to do it if you don't want to. It's not really for our benefit. If we go in there ignorant of their customs and social structure, we'll likely kill a whole lot more of them as a result."
The Felician thought about that -really thought about it. Did she care if more of the B'Amuf died? They had enslaved her for most of her life. She knew that the ones they were invading weren't specifically responsible, but they had supported the institution that had taken her from her home. She sighed. Her new family had been teaching her about human morality.
She ignored the sanctimonious 'two wrongs don't make a right' crap and focused on the people she was thinking about condemning. Did they have a choice to do anything but to support the regime they were under? Had it even occurred to them to do something else with the way they'd been raised? Was there a difference between the race who'd ordered her people enslaved and the ones who'd ignored them as they were chained and led through the streets? Dejah grimaced and turned to Michael saying softly, "I'll think about it..."
Michael grinned down at her and tweaked one her nipples. "That's all I'll ever ask of you," he promised, leaning down to capture her other nipple in his mouth. She moaned in response and cradled his head against her, threading her fingers through his hair. Her panting turned into a steady purr as Kat dropped between her legs and began exploring her heated area with her delectable lips.
The lovely, exotic beauty whined and arched her back as Kat's tongue strummed her love button with a skill born of experience and talent. Michael gently pushed her down and trailed his fingers across the length of her navel. Her tail slapped the bed as her breath became labored and the feeling of pleasure she was experiencing overwhelmed her senses.
Her clit was suddenly engulfed in heat as a mouth clamped down over it and Kat's eyes danced with wicked intent as she pushed Dejah over the edge. Kat sucked eagerly at the delicious nectar that began to escape her folds, running her tongue along the girl's slit to collect every drop. The couple kept their shuddering captive pinned as her release ran its course.
When the aftershocks of her explosion had finally died down, her two lovers wordlessly switched position, Kat straddling her face and Michael positioning his hardened member at her sopping entrance. Her eyes grew wide as she realized they were in one of their moods and there was little chance of her getting any rest that night.
* * * * *
The next morning, Michael, Kat, Aurora, and Marcus went out to the coffeehouse on the O'Deck that Sophia ran. Marcus's face lit up as he saw her and the rest chuckled as he received a kiss from his girlfriend almost bashfully. They served a decent breakfast there and everyone dug in with fervor when it was delivered.
While Michael was enjoying his meal, a woman in her early thirties dressed in civilian attire approached the table hesitantly. Kat spared her the trouble of trying to get through to her occupied lover and acknowledged her directly. The woman blushed and stammered, "H- hi, um- I belong to a committee aboard the ship that has formed to address the needs of the larger civilian population."
"The community -mostly family members of the crew- lets us know about various issues that arise and we usually take our problems to Ms. Whitmore," she continued. Michael still hadn't come up for air yet and Aurora nodded at the speaker encouragingly. "W- well, while she has been helpful in most regards, there are some matters we haven't been able to get her to agree on."
"Such as?" Michael asked, looking up to meet her gaze.
She fidgeted nervously. "For instance," she started, "one of the ideas that came up in the last meeting was that some of the merchants onboard wanted to form a collective and set the prices of their goods, and also-"
He shook his head and told her "If you're referring to the shopkeepers for those stores we couldn't automate, they don't own the goods they sell, so no. If, however, you wanted to use your pay, or the families their stipend, to buy raw materials and then make something yourselves to sell, I see no reason you can't charge whatever you want."
That didn't seem to be the response she'd been looking for. As she opened her mouth to argue the reasoning behind this, Kat stopped her. "You're not going to be allowed to form a monopoly," she stated firmly. "Your food is free, as are basic essentials. The prices for things that don't make that list are set so that you can easily afford it with the stipend that's provided and the pay the crew receives."
Another man, this one much older stepped up next to the woman. "We should have the right to improve our standard of living!" he declared in a gruff voice. "What are you, a bunch of communists?"
Aurora frowned and said, "We're not trying to control you and you're allowed as much private property as you can fit in your stateroom, but if you're trying to get rich off of this venture you'll have to come up with the means to do so yourself."
Seeing they weren't getting anywhere, the woman who'd first approached them changed tack, "There are also a few people asking about the current financial situation. There doesn't seem to be a system in place for receiving better pay for more work or benefits not included in their recruitment packages."
Michael tilted his head and intoned, "You formed a committee to discuss wages..." He turned to Kat and questioned, "What the hell? How come no one told me the unions had made it aboard?"
Kat ignored him and told the woman, "You're paid by your station. There is a set raise every six months. Commanders and shift leaders are told to look for desired candidates for promotion. There is no way to dock your pay if you're not performing up to the standards we've set. If that happens to be the case, we'll find something else for you to do or get rid of you." Her voice dropped an octave. "And you won't like the accommodations we provide to send you back to Earth. As for benefits, I already covered financials and the health care is free across the board. What exactly are you looking for?"
The woman shivered and studiously ignored looking at Kat as she went on, "P- people are wondering about hazard pay. If you put us into danger we should be compensated. For instance, our contracts never stated we'd be living among hordes of alien monsters that cou-"
The scruffy man to her right interrupted her as Michael's eyes hardened, "And what about those aliens? What role are they going to play? Will you be replacing some of us with them?"
"It's just that," the woman continued, "we have no control where you take us. If we work through the middle of a battle, shouldn't those hours count as more in terms of payment?"
"No control," the old man echoed. "We should get a vote on what route we're taking; where we're going. It's unconstitutional that you can sit there and decide everything."
He felt a headache coming on when Marcus barked out, "Enough!"
Michael sighed and leaned back before stating in a quiet voice, "This isn't a democracy. You don't get a say in the running of this ship. Your input is appreciated, but by no means required. This was drilled into you during the recruitment process." As the woman looked at him stunned, the man made to argue only to be interrupted as Michael continued, "Hazard pay? This might classify as a floating metropolis, but it is first and foremost a warship. Most of the families your 'committee' represents are getting paid a stipend to do nothing. That will certainly not increase no matter where we go."
Finally realizing they weren't going to be satisfied no matter how they spun it, they walked off grumbling. Kat leaned against Michael and closed her eyes. Aurora looked at him and said, "This isn't something that will go away. Sometimes the hardliner approach isn't always what's best in these situations."
Kat murmured, "It will just take some time for people to adjust. No matter how much we prepared beforehand the real thing is bound to have an impact on them."
Michael chuckled and stroked Kat's hair. "I thought I did pretty well," he mused. "I didn't tell them that their position was superfluous with Pandora able to operate everything herself. I didn't tell them that the 'real' reason I established this empire," he squeezed Kat to him tighter, "was so my girls wouldn't feel so removed and isolated when we left Earth."
At Aurora's startled expression, he laughed and explained, "Oh they have their uses. The brains in R&D give the artificial intelligences new ways of looking at a problem. The dignitaries will --hopefully- be able to establish better relations than anything I would have been able to come up with. Troops, pilots, and crew all make our efforts more efficient. ...And the atmosphere they all create is certainly a pleasant environment to live in, but when you get down to it the machines are the driving force behind this whole enterprise. All that's needed is a mind present to direct their actions."
"A human mind," Aurora corrected. Michael's lips settled into an unnerving smile, but didn't answer.
* * * * *
The 1,000-seat amphitheater used for briefing officers was filled to the brim as Pillum, leader of the Malmorian refugees, described what they knew of the B'Amuf psychology and mindset. This was the first in a series of lectures on the subject. "There is no concept of 'wrongness' in their society," he was explaining in a nasally voice. "In their minds, might makes right. There is thus no moral outrage or burden of guilt when they decide to enslave entire races."
"And they need those slaves," the Malmorian continued, starting to pace across the stage. "With 98% of them living in urban areas, their immense population is totally reliant on others. Additionally, after so many centuries of tyranny they have lost the knowledge of how to farm, and even if they hadn't, their home worlds would be unable to support their massive numbers without considerable outside help."
A young lieutenant in the front piped up with, "What will happen when we liberate the subjugated worlds then?"
Pillum grimaced and his ears drooped. "Inevitably," he admitted, releasing a heavy sigh, "many will die. Oh, they'll try to work to save themselves... once they exhaust all other options, but most will be able unable to make the changes needed in time. It is quite likely that many will simply refuse to accept what happens and will descend into barbarism."
Silence descended on the room. There was a grim determination in the eyes of the officers present. They knew they were condemning the lives of billions with their actions. They remembered the words of their leader and knew that it would only get harder in the days to come. Their resolve hardened as they came to the realization that it was them or the B'Amuf.
* * * * *
A week into their voyage Michael was on the bridge, the entire crew held at battle stations. It was the first of three times they would be forced out of superluminal travel to alter course around something in their path. They reached their scheduled stop point and the field came down. The entire crew was stunned by the appearance of a red giant in front of them, the blinding image shown on their screens representing the best depictions their cameras were able to capture.
The star was immense, seeming to dominate over half the system it was in, gaseous jets shooting from the surface. They scanned their surroundings as best they could with the interference the celestial body was putting out. Finding nothing that could construe an enemy force, they began their six hour detour. After two hours of inactivity, Aurora lowered the danger condition from 'Imminent' to 'Cautionary' and called the crews for each department off of high alert status, also telling the emergency crews to stand down.
There was a collective sigh of relief as the bridge crew got back into the normal running of things. When Michael got up to leave, Pandora told him in his head, 'We have a problem, master.'
* * * * *
They stood before the entrance to the 'caves.' After Pandora had told them what had happened, Michael, Kat, Sun Mi, Marcus, and troop of armored security had gone down to the agricultural level and walked to the horticulture section that housed mushrooms. "The entire production stock is gone and the place needs to be fumigated to get rid of the harmful spores," Sun Mi told them.
"How did this happen?" Marcus asked. "I thought the compost was tested regularly and there were isolation protocols in place?"
Sun Mi grimaced and said, "It's looking like sabotage. The AIs are currently analyzing the toxin and it appears to have been engineered to attack the spawn and replicate itself quickly. Though, as soon as it became airborne, it was already too late."
"Do we know who did it?" Michael questioned in a deceptively calm voice. They used mushrooms as the main ingredient for their protein supplement for the algae products. They had enough in storage to last them until another harvest, but if they couldn't prevent this from happening again...
"It's very hard to determine who was responsible," Sun Mi answered, turning her head to the side. She sighed. "It's completely dark where the mushrooms are grown and we have no way of knowing how the spores were spread. We can guess they were on one of the techs' suits who came in to check them, but which one is impossible to tell since the suits are shared and go over one's clothes. It is also likely that it was someone not from this section who sprinkled the contagion on an innocent worker."
Kat shrugged and stated, "Start searching for those on the ship with the know-how to design something like this. We only decided on mushrooms less than a week before we left. It's almost certain they had to have been developed here." Seeing her lover's concern, she reached forth and massaged his shoulders. Lowering her voice to a whisper, she told him, "Don't be so serious. We'll find the saboteurs, and when we do... they will cease to be a problem. We won't be brought down by something like this."
Michael relaxed as he felt the tension in his body fade away. Turning to Marcus, he said, "I want increased security around the filtration plants. If they can create a toxin that multiplies this fast I don't want something similar getting into our air or water supply." Turning to Sun Mi, he continued, "I want sensors at the entrance to the caves that will scan for all foreign chemicals. Better yet, set them up at each section on these two levels. We also need to put in night vision cameras inside the caves."
Talking to them in general, knowing that Pandora would let the appropriate people know of his orders, he announced, "Increase the number of animals cloned and beans planted and start integrating them into our diets. It won't be nearly enough, but it'll help extend how much time we have before we need to start worrying." Kat simply rested against him, a small smile teasing her features as Marcus began barking orders and Sun Mi started talking into her comm.
* * * * *
That night, Michael and his girls were relaxing around the bath. Aurora was ranting about the destroyer captain the Council had sent along. "He doesn't respect my authority," she complained. "Not only did he insist on being involved in the planning of where we're going and the route we're taking around the red giant, he then second-guesses every decision that's made as if his input holds any value."