Another semi-anticipated break. Even with Thanksgiving here in FUSA, I was still six half-days straight at DayJob. At least for Turkey Day, Daughter #1 was home for two days from college. She’s stressing about the last classes in her senior year. Then, Saturday afternoon, I had a slice of apple pie. Since no one had got sick over the last 48 hours, I had some odd reaction to it which presented just like food poisoning, so found myself wrapped around the toilet all night. Some pharmacists I work with suggested it might be “sucrase-isomaltase deficiency”; normally congenital, people who have been on a low carb diet for a long time – such as me – can develop a very bad reaction to refined sugar. If that means no more sweets, I’m fine with that. We’ll see what happens.
Speaking of happening, this picks up right where the last installment left off, with Ed on his way and Colour trying to come up to speed to the new situation. Aurie tries to get all “humans are beneath my concern now” and Colour calls her on it. It made me think of the old Windows XP meme: “Task Failed Successfully.”
“The Crown Prince?” Colour blinked a little, still not awake.
“One of them. Now that he’s married, he’s nice.”
“And,” the logy human took a few steps to pour herself a little water into a glass, “he’s leaving? And leaving you in charge? Alone?”
“Not alone, silly!” Aurelia said, standing and hugging her. “I have you! Now go back to bed and we’ll talk in the morning, okay?”
“Yes, yes,” Colour said, drinking her water and plodding back to her room.
“Because we have a lot to talk about,” the Regent whispered to the now empty room. It was not yet midnight and the last files beckoned. Stifling a sigh, she reseated herself at the desk.
“Did you sleep at all?” Jansen asked the next morning, having found the room opposite hers empty at oh-five-hundred, wandering back to the first floor after a wonderfully hot, steamy shower. Hartmann was behind her desk.
“Yepper. Got up at four, though. A lot to do. Coffee?” She pointed to the ceramic pitcher on the table’s edge.
“Real coffee? That’s a once-a-year treat for my people,” Colour said, pouring some into a mug and savoring the aroma. “May I sit?”
“Sure. That couch is more comfortable and I don’t want you to feel like a client of mine,” Aurie said with a wave to her left.
“What’s today’s agenda?” the older woman asked after taking a few sips and reveling in the taste.
“Me doing paperwork, real and virtual, until just before nine,” the princess began, leaning back for a moment and picking up her mug. “There will be a marshaling of some legionaries for me to give a speech about how I’m just holding the fort until the Empress gets back. I have her permission to say that she’s taking a side trip after Japan… Don’t look surprised, friend! She promised years ago to lead our people off-world and the story will be she wants to see the lands on Mars for herself.”
“Will, ah, your people believe that?” Colour asked.
“No reason for them not to,” she replied, pouring more coffee. “And it might even be true.”
She watched her friend open her mouth, close it, and stare at her mug.
“Yes. You’ll be on the platform with me, just as I said,” Aurelia smiled like a mischievous girl. “Everyone will want to know who you are. So close to the Regent! We’ll leak later in the day you are my friend and advisor.”
“And my nationality?” Jansen asked, standing to get more to drink.
“If anyone asks, we’ll tell them,” Aurie shrugged. “Unless you object?”
“I… don’t want to cause trouble. Friend.” Aurelia wondered if her hand shook from the caffeine or about to be an international figure.
“You cannot be trouble to me.” Aurelia tilted her head right. “If you think I am using you, you don’t have to do this.”
“I think,” the older woman said, returning to the couch, “that this is some amazing dream I’ll wake up from in just a few minutes.”
“After you click your ruby slippers together?” Aurelia laughed.
“And,” Colour took another drink. Hands no longer shaking. “What about the rest of the day?”
“A fifty-ish mile drive north and a little east to the Arnold Engineering Center,” Hartmann replied, setting her mug aside to her right. “That’s where we design and build our newest spaceships. I want to personally make sure that if something happens to my aunt and cousin we can mount a rescue mission in hours, not days.”
“Oh.” It was obvious from the human’s face she had not the first idea about interplanetary travel.
“Unless something holds us up, we’ll be back here, late,” Aurelia kept on, not making an issue of her friend’s confusion. “Tomorrow we’ll be back on the train, MAGLEV, to Savannah, for reasons. After that? I have some ideas but must keep my options open.”
“May I ask a question?” Colour ventured.
“In private? You may do whatever you like. Well, don’t be lewd!” Another laugh.
“That,” her human friend shook her head at the demi’s mind-reading, “was where I was going…”
“Lewd!” Aurie cried.
“…was, have you heard from Jimmy Burns? He intimated he was going to be in pretty hot water once who you are came out in the open.”
“We are very aware of the Canadian situation,” the Regent said in a toneless voice, dropping into third person. “both in general and Montreal and Nova Scotia in particular. The archbishop in the former has been questioned by security forces. Mister Burns is under house arrest.”
“Arrest! But… aren’t you going to help him?” she cried.
“Our responsibilities far outweigh our feelings for a human,” the Regent blinked, her eyes golden fire. “Politics, the preservation of the imperium is our sole mission.”
Jansen stood with a scowl and slammed her empty mug onto Hartmann’s table.
“You can read me like a book, I know,” she growled, “but I’ve been with you for a month, every moment of every day. You are worried, really worried about Jimmy. And lying to yourself won’t make it better!”
A few steps had her to the door.
“And lying to me hurts all of us,” she said before slamming it shut behind her.
After thirty seconds, Regent Princess Aurelia Hartmann spoke in a quiet voice.
“I have failed my first task.”