CAUTION... CAUTION... CAUTION... CAUTION... CAUTION...
This story is of an erotic nature.
I wouldn't dream of telling you what you can or can't read but if the law, in your part of the world, says you must not read this sort of fiction then please go read something that they'll let you.
Don't break the laws, change them.
CAUTION... CAUTION... CAUTION... CAUTION... CAUTION...
A Story in The Swarm Cycle Universe
by Duke of Ramus
A Piece of my Imagination
The Swarm Cycle
The Swarm Cycle is a collection of stories manufactured around a concept introduced by the Thinking Horndog positing an alien invasion and Earth's reaction. The intent is for this to be a multi-author universe similar to the wildly popular Naked In School stories. If you're a budding author of erotica or sci-fi and see something here that strikes your fancy, pop over to the Author's Page for more info on what's going on here and how to submit a story for this collection. The rest of you are probably here to read, so...
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the authorís imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental
© 2007 Duke of Ramus.
All rights reserved.
The Swarm Cycle Universe
Copyright © 2007 The Thinking Horndog
I'd like to thank Mulligan for his assistance in turning this into a better story than my initial effort, any errors remaining are of course mine.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, if I could just have your attention for a moment."
The comment, said so casually by the big man at the door took the small crowd who were attending some sort of party in the computer store, totally by surprise. All of them turned and stared at the door and the man standing in it, behind him was the telltale grey nothingness that signified an interdiction field.
"An extraction!" gasped a slim blond woman near the front of the crowd.
The man nodded in acknowledgement, "That's right Ma'am, I'm Jacque Martinne and I'm a Sergeant in the Confederacy Space Marines, my colleagues and I are here to pick up five volunteers for service with the Confederacy and then we'll leave you to go about your business."
Off to the Sergeant's right two more men with similar physiques were depositing a small device on the floor. These it appeared were the colleagues he'd just casually mentioned.
The manager of the computer store moved forward with a grin on his face as the AI reported to Jacque that the man, Adrian Smallhurst, had a CAP score of six point seven and was one of the people they were here to collect.
"Sergeant, I believe that I'm one of the people that you are here to collect," said Adrian reaching the doorway.
"I believe you are, Sir," said Jacque before turning his attention to the crowd and raising his voice. "Could Brian Brestwork, Peter Johnson, William Vorster and Melanie Easterman also make themselves known, please," he called clearly.
As the crowd began to mill around Adrian chatted away, "We're just having a party to celebrate obtaining the HP franchise," he said. "These people," he waved his arm at the crowd, "are the store staff and their families and a few of the local people we do business with."
"Is that so?" commented Jacque listening with half an ear as he watched the people milling around before him. Recent events, whilst worrying, hadn't stopped the extractions, they'd just made the people involved a little more nervous and, fortunately, Jacque wasn't working in Texas.
"Well mostly so," said Adrian, "there are a few others who were in the shop when we started the celebration and we didn't bother throwing them out so they just joined in," the manager concluded happily.
A man and a woman finally managed to push through the buzzing crowd and grinning happily moved towards the Marines, Jacque nodded in greeting as off to one side a buzz announced the activation of the transporter terminus.
The yell that came from somewhere near the back of the crowd froze everyone in place.
The first bang of a handgun going off started the panic. Jacque felt the hammer blow in his left shoulder that told the former policeman that he'd been hit. Only his enlarged physique and the immediate action of the body's nannites enabled him to respond calmly to the situation.
He grabbed Adrian with his free hand and flung him towards the transporter terminus. "Move!" he yelled, before swinging the same arm back towards the crowd.
The two volunteers who'd made it through the crowd looked startled but when the store manager was flung towards the terminus they charged after him. A small group of onlookers followed, hoping that this was their chance to get away, the Marines manning the gate let them go, the ship's crew could sort them out later.
The frantic buzzing that came with the operation of the Marines' stingers announced their introduction into the conflict. People started to run in all directions as bodies began dropping.
The sharp cracks of the attackers' handguns went from the steady controlled beat to a rapid rhythm as panic set in. Innocent bystanders began to drop and Jacque made the decision to withdraw.
"Pull back," he sub-vocalised and the two Marines by the terminus stepped through it one after the other. Jacque turned towards the gate and spotted three assailants break cover and raise their weapons. Throwing caution to the wind he took two more paces and threw himself for the gate, remembering to tell the AI to terminate the nexus as he flashed through it.
Sergeant Martinne hit the ship's deck with an undignified and painful grunt and rolled onto his back. Around him the Fleet Auxiliary crew had corralled the people who'd made it through and despite the noise they were making had them fairly well under control.
On the deck beside the Marine was the body of a man, the back of his head neatly penetrated by a round from one of the handguns. Jacque, who'd seen more than his fair share of gunshot wounds, was glad that the remains of the face were away from him. He closed his eyes for a moment and then was forced to open them as the gate controller addressed him.
"Anymore coming through?"
"I hope not," said Jacque, "I closed the gate." He glanced around and noted the mobile medical stations being used.
"How many are injured?" he asked.
The controller glanced at the body, "Apart from him it's just a few sprains and bruises," he shrugged. "They came through so fast that they just landed on top of each other, there wasn't a lot we could do about it."
The man noticed the wound on the Sergeants' shoulder for the first time, "We'd better get you seen to," he said before looking at the ceiling like so many did when they spoke to the AI.
A mobile medical station made it's way over to the still prone Sergeant and began its diagnosis, as it clicked and whirred a bunch of Marines entered the receiving area. In the lead was the Regimental commander, Colonel Craporetti followed by the Battalion Commander Lt. Colonel O'Neill and then a whole crowd of hangers on including the relevant Sergeant Majors.
Jacque let out a groan and it had nothing to do with the pain he was feeling.
"Just stay there, Sergeant," said the Colonel as Jacque started to move.
"OK, tell me what happened?" asked the Colonel as his group spread around the injured Marine, most of them carefully avoiding the body and the pool of blood around it.
"We were doing a pickup at a computer shop, Sir. They," he waved his uninjured arm at the crowd of people who'd now fallen silent, "were having some sort of party which had drawn together five volunteers. We stepped through the door and put up the field and made the initial announcements. We'd just started to separate the volunteers from the crowd when someone yelled and shots were fired."
He glanced at the medibot next to him, "I was hit at the very beginning, Sir, and as we were only carrying stingers and no armour I decided to pull back."
"How many did you lose?"
"I couldn't say for sure, Sir." Jacque glanced at the body beside him, "One for sure and possibly another couple that we weren't able to grab before we legged it."
"Several, Sir, all at the pickup site," said the Sergeant. "Who ever it was down there were firing pretty randomly at the end and we weren't in a position to be hit anymore."
The Colonel nodded and then turned to one of the officers accompanying him. "Tell Task Force Earth Headquarters that we will be shifting pickups to Europe until they can give us better Intel on the hotspots down there."
The Colonel then switched his gaze to the Battalion Commander, "Tom, get all of your people back up here and we'll move over to Spain and start there."
"Sir," replied The Lt. Colonel before turning to his own people.
"You take care, Sergeant," said the Colonel with feeling before he turned away and led his entourage off to their next meeting.
Jacque slumped back; glad that someone was looking after his Marines but his relief was tinged with regret for the people who wouldn't have a chance now.
"All right ladies and gentlemen, if I can have your attention."
The Colonel called the meeting to order and the small number of officers present obediently settled down. Present were two of the Regiments' four Battalion commanders, the American Tom O'Neill and the Norwegian Erik Misfjord Lid along with their respective S2's, Captain Helen Carter and Captain Walter Langmann who, as it happened, where both from Australia. Alongside the Colonel were his Executive officer, Sally Gunner and his S2 John Maggor.
Colonel Craporetti looked around the room and then jumped straight to the point, "Shit is happening down there and I don't like how it is affecting our people, so what do we do about it?"
John Maggor had been briefed on the situation and was ready for the question, which took most of the others by surprise in its bluntness.
"At the moment, Sir, there are only really two workable options. Continue to make pickups, but do it in sufficient force that we do not have problems or, the second option, move to an area where those problems are not occurring," he said.
"Which is pretty much what I have done but that doesn't make it right," said the Colonel.
"Sir, unless TF Earth will authorise us to use lethal weapons and body armour we will continue to take casualties if we pick up from the United States, especially those states that have large numbers of weapons in the hands of individuals" stated John categorically.
"He's right Sir," added Tom O'Neill, "We just don't have enough eyes down there to spot everything that is going on and when several of the locals are carrying guns it's just too damned dangerous to carry on."
Around the table the heads were all nodding in agreement.
"Do you think we can come up with something like what Captain McPherson did at that fairground?" asked the Colonel.
"Probably," said Sally, "though any pickup of that scale would be just as fraught with danger if we did it in the States."
"True," said John, "but if we could set it up so that the people down there did a security check for us before we went in we could do the pickup with impunity."
"If we did something that size would we have the lift capacity?" asked Tom O'Neill.
"Not on this tub, that's for sure," said Sally.
"But the Boudicca should be here in a couple of months and her sister ships will be following along behind her," said the Colonel talking about the latest class of colony transports.
"She would definitely be big enough," said Sally.
"So all we need to do is drop down on a county fair and lift the whole fox hunting set," said John.
"I don't know about that group," said the Colonel as he wrinkled his nose.
"True," replied John, "though they're not really that bad, but it would be nice to do a big pickup in England and drop it on a new colony."
"Why?" asked Tom with a grin, "getting fed up of hamburgers."
"Well, it would be nice to have proper fish and chips," said John, "but on a more practical basis we need to look for a place where people congregate, preferably without weapons and Britain is relatively weapon free."
"And without religious fanatics!" interjected Erik joining the conversation for the first time.
"You've had problems with them?" asked Helen Carter from her place next to Tom O'Neill.
Erik nodded, "The last couple of pickups we've made were in Denmark. The local clergy had convinced their flocks that we were in league with the devil. They couldn't stop the volunteers from coming with us but for eight volunteers we only had six concubines available."
"That wasn't good," muttered Walter next to his boss.
"Bugger," said Helen, "did you have any spares available?"
"Fortunately yes, but I don't want to have to go through that process again," concluded the Lt. Colonel.
"So, short term," said Colonel Craporetti, "we need to switch to areas that have low incidences of gun ownership and preferably in areas that are free from religious bigots." He paused for a moment before saying," We'll stick with Southern Europe for now." He turned to John and Sally, "Long term I want the two of you to get together and see what we can set up in the way of a mass extraction."
As the Colonel stood, signifying the end of the meeting Sally turned to John, "You know, we can't approach the politicians down there, don't you?"
John nodded but looked puzzled.
"How about the Royal family, are they accessible?" she asked.
"I suppose they could be, but how would that help," said John.
Sally grinned, "Well, everything around them is checked for weapons and you are a former Silver Stick."
John, before his extraction, had been a member of the British Army and had risen to command of the Household Cavalry regiment, the regiment that combined the former Life Guards with the Blues and Royals. This was the regiment that provided the mounted escort for State Occasions and was closely associated with the Monarch. One of the most unusual, if public, roles that the commander of the regiment had was the position of Silver Stick-in Waiting, a secondary position to the Gold Stick-in-Waiting as a personal bodyguard to the Sovereign, the position had become ceremonial but it did afford access to the Monarch.
"And there is usually a crowd around for State occasions," said John as he began to think along those lines.
The light grey corvette appeared to hang motionless over the deep blue planet, though in reality it was travelling just fast enough to maintain a geo-synchronous orbit over the planetary equator. It had been surveying this planet for a week and the system as a whole for the past twenty-two days and its mission was drawing to a close.
As on many corvettes belonging to the Confederacy the crew was looking for new planets for the human race to occupy before the oncoming Sa'arm invasion reached their green and pleasant home planet. To date over a hundred planets had been identified, catalogued and presented as potential homes for the colonists.
On the bridge of the York Castle, Lieutenant John Hollingberry stretched as he stood up from his position bent over the sensor array controls and announced, "Captain, the AI has concluded its analysis and we've got the results."
"And what does the AI conclude?" enquired the Captain looking up from his own tasks.
"It's a good'un, Captain, just like the spectrometry results predicted," answered the science officer enthusiastically, confirming the result they'd all been expecting following the initial approach.
Captain William Bungard switched screens and regarded the data that his science officer had transferred across to his display and pondered for a moment. The system they were looking at was that of a main sequence G1V star which, apart from being a tad hotter, fell within the temperature and size variables for a common yellow dwarf star which description fitted the Earth's own star exactly.
Eight planets surrounded the star they were surveying. They presented a varied selection without having anything that was truly outstanding. The third planet out had been the target of most of their survey efforts, though a couple of the satellites around VI had received a fair amount of interest as well.
III, the third planet of the system had an orbit with a slightly larger radius than that of Earth around its parent and that orbit was closer to circular than Earth's which, according to the AI, removed the excessive seasonal variation that Earth had suffered from. With a total mass and an atmosphere that turned out to be a very close copy of the human race's native planet this one was prime real estate for the Diaspora.
In total landmass it was on a par with Earth though its appearance was totally different. Because of the large amount of water present, this planet really did seem to be blue when viewed from space, even allowing for the white polar ice caps. Scattered throughout those deep blue oceans, in no real discernible pattern, were twenty islands, each approximately equal in size if not shape to Australia.
Captain Bungard looked over the data one more time and nodded as he made a decision, 'this is the one' he thought to himself.
"OK John, log the details." Bill Bungard looked up at the main screen and its image of the planet below, "append the log to show that the third planet is called Albion," he said exercising his right to name planets, " and tag the sixth as Avalon." Convention had it that the system was named after the most populous planet, " Which makes this the Albionat system and log that it's available for colonisation," he declared.
"Your Majesty, Lieutenant Colonel Maggor of the Confederacy Space Marines." The chamberlain made his announcement and stepped back from the door. The Lt. Colonel he'd announced stepped into the presence of his former Queen and bowed, "Your Majesty, thank you for seeing me at such short notice."
"Come in Colonel," said the smiling Queen, "I remember how you were always nice to me when I wanted to play with your baton as a young girl and I was curious as to how you'd fared since leaving the planet." She'd noticed the bow, as a sign of respect, rather than the salute her Grandmother used to receive from the man as the head of the Armed Forces.
"I wouldn't say it was all good, Ma'am," replied John Maggor as he moved closer to the Queen. "Some of the things happening out there in the colonies are not pleasant, but I'm getting by, as are most of us."
'The colonies,' thought the young Queen, 'not the war - interesting.' She indicated the seat next to her desk and once the soldier was seated she asked, "So what can I do for you, John?" She chuckled when the Marine looked surprised at her question.
"John, you're an officer in the Confederacy Marine Corps! You have immeasurably more power at your command than I do so it must be something I can do that you can't," she said. "So again, what is it you want of me?"
"Ma'am, I'm sure that your Government has been keeping you informed as to what is happening in regards to volunteer extraction, and that you know how precarious the situation is becoming." The Queen received, on a daily basis, a full update on what her Government was doing as well as a security, foreign and home front briefing. Beatrice, like Elizabeth before her, had taken on a prodigious workload when she became Queen and had no intention of letting standards fall. The Government information, when added to her own press offices' interpretation on any situation meant she was one of the best informed people on the planet.
The Queen simply nodded in confirmation.
"Well we were looking at doing a large scale extraction but to do this we would need a lot of volunteers and, uhmm..." John Maggor found himself blushing, "concubines to be in the same place at the same time. Preferably in a weapon free environment," explained the former Silver Stick.
The Queen proved she wasn't stupid, "And wherever I go there is a full security sweep before hand so you and your people would be safe if the extraction happened somewhere around me."
"That was one point, Ma'am. The other was a more personal point and that was that I felt we needed to get a British based planet established out in the colonies. Otherwise our culture would be swamped by the large numbers of Americans and Chinese, who'd already been extracted, even more than it has been already," he finished wistfully.
"Do you think that is wise?" asked the Queen, "Wouldn't it be better to mix everyone in together."
"In theory you're right Ma'am, but as usual human behaviour and in this case lack of forethought by the Darjee have set up a situation were whoever is in charge can do pretty much as they like." John looked the young Queen in the eye, "If you can't imagine how bad that is then I'd suggest that you see what you can find out about the colonies in Reck and P'yong, but Ma'am, I'd warn you that it isn't pleasant reading."
"And you think we can do better?" she asked.
"I'm not sure about better but I doubt if it would be any worse, Ma'am." John paused knowing that he was about to step outside his briefing, "and Ma'am, if a member of the Royal family could be persuaded to volunteer I can ensure that they would be running the new colony."
The Queen frowned, looked the Colonel in the eye and then got a far away look in her own eye. The silence dragged on as the Queen thought and the Colonel became nervous, worrying that he'd gone to far.
"Would a garden party, here at the palace, be a suitable location for one of your extractions?" asked the young Queen suddenly breaking the silence.
The Colonel glanced out of the window at the manicured lawns of Buckingham Palace and then back to the Queen, "That would present an excellent opportunity, Ma'am."
The Queen nodded, "Very well then, let's see what we can agree on."
'Why', thought the dejected young Prince as he listened to another boring history lecture, 'do I have to study this ancient history when the planet will be invaded in five or six years and probably be nothing but a memory in twenty!'
The tutor droned on, "Throughout this period of time most important decisions concerning the Country and its government were made by the reigning King or Queen, often assisted by a small group of advisers that went by the name of the Privy Council. However, before the decisions made by the Monarch could became law, they had to be ratified by Parliament."
"Then, as now, Parliament consisted of two houses, the Lords and the Commons. At that time the House of Lords was made up of about sixty Dukes, Earls, Barons and Bishops and it was unusual for members of the Upper House to criticise the Monarch's policies. It had been shown by past events that if they did criticise the policies they were in danger of being stripped of their titles, lands and often their lives."
Alongside the Prince sat the equally bored Princess who looked at the tutor and dreamed idly of having him hung, drawn and quartered. She barely managing to keep a grin off her face at the image the thought provoked.
Oblivious, or more likely indifferent, to his Royal charges' ambivalence, the learned gentleman continued to talk. "The members of the House of Commons were much more independent than the members sitting in the House of Lords as they were generally elected by the people who lived in the area they represented. You need to keep in mind that unlike today most of the people didn't have the vote and so the constituents who voted would only be a low percentage of the population but they would be the most affluent."
Wandering backwards and forwards across the Palace library the tutor kept up his steady drone. "Throughout the Tudor period the number of sessions of Parliament held varied greatly. Henry VIII, it appears, was in favour of holding regular Parliaments especially when he was in conflict with the Pope in Rome. He made much of the success he had in getting legislation passed in Parliament, claiming that it showed he enjoyed the popular support of the English people."
"The conflict that ensued when he didn't leave a son as heir led to many splits in the political make up of the land, especially when the step-sisters Elizabeth and Mary, fought over the crown."
Prince Andrew shuffled slightly, which attracted the attention of, but failed to stop the tutor. "When Mary the First, who became known as Bloody Mary, became Queen of England she tried very hard to ensure that she had a House of Commons that supported her Catholic religion and would act as a counter-weight to the Lords. She did this by sending out instructions to the sheriffs - who organised the elections - giving details of who she expected to get selected to sit in the Lower House. It did little good in the long term as following her death she was succeeded by Elizabeth the First, who set about rescinding all of the changes in favour of Papism."
"One thing that needs to be remembered is that no Law could be added to the statute books without the Royal seal of approval, just as it is, in theory, today," said the tutor. "The major difference was that in the Tudor period we are discussing this prerogative was used and in some cases used to excess, for example Elizabeth I did it on no less than thirty-six occasions. The last time that Royal Assent was refused to be granted to an Act was in Seventeen hundred and Seven by Queen Anne," he smiled gently, "which I'm sure you realise was well after the Tudor period."
Off to one side of the room a door opened and a man entered, looked around briefly and moved to one side. The tutor ground to a halt at this interruption and then looked slightly perturbed as the children's mother entered the room. "Thank you," she said to the tutor, "I need to speak to the children, you may continue the lessons after luncheon." The tutor bowed and departed without another word, glad that he had done nothing to earn the Royal displeasure.
As the door closed behind the departing tutor the Queen crossed to her children and looked at them thoughtfully. They stared back a little confused, their mother had never appeared in the middle of a lesson before.
"I know that this is going to seem strange to you but I want you to pay particular attention to what you're being taught now," she waved an arm at the computer generated display of the Tudor timeline. "I want you to learn how they ran the country and think about how it could be applied in this day and age."
The young Princess burst out, "Kings and Queens don't run countries like that any more!" she declared.
The Queen nodded her agreement at the comment and then added one of her own, "No, not here on Earth they don't, but things could turn out to be very different elsewhere." She was staring straight at her son when she stated that clarification and then flicked her eyes to the sky to give him a hint.
Andrew felt his brain start to churn, 'If they didn't have Royal prerogatives here then where could they have them?'
"So, the Prime Minister isn't going to be attending, Jim?"
"'Fraid not Philip, plausible deniability and all that, you know," said the Home Secretary James Hunt, who understood full well the Prime Minister's position. He was actually surprised that Philip Matlock, the Foreign Secretary had even asked the question. 'Philip was probably worried about his reputation' thought the Home Secretary, especially if something untoward happens here today.
Finally the secure door closed and Cabinet Office Briefing Room A was secure. COBRA was the term used both formally and informally, to describe the room in which the senior Civil Contingencies Committee met. The briefing room was one of several in the Whitehall complex that was used to host such meetings and as such was fitted out with all manner of communications equipment. Room A had taken on a mystique all of its own, whilst in reality, it was just one of the many meeting rooms that the government could have used to house the various ad-hoc committees that were put together to deal with any crisis.
Past examples of the room's use have included the Committee chaired by Tony Blair on the seventh of July, when the Prime Minister had flown in especially to deal with the terrorist atrocities on the London transport system. A less dramatic but eventually much more costly example was the committee chaired by Margaret Beckett, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which dealt with the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak.
The Home Secretary as the senior cabinet minister present would chair this meeting. James Hunt took the chair at the head of the table and looked around at who else were present for what promised to be a difficult meeting.
Next to him was Philip Matlock, the Foreign Secretary and former member of the Conservative Party. He was believed to be on the right wing of the party but had held out against the war in Iraq and would have nothing to do with the Earth First party that seemed, to many, to be his natural home.
The last man on that flank of the table was Alan Tittle, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the senior serving officer in the country who, at this moment in time, was also one of the most hard pressed policemen in the country.
Opposite them sat the black gang as they were affectionately known. Samuel L. Johnson, who used his name's similarity to an actor's with glee, was the Director of Special Forces and he worked hand in glove with the man sat next to him. Colin Chapman, who was Head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the umbrella board for all of Britain's security organisations and the man with his finger on the pulse of Britain's dark underbelly.
At the far end of the table sat Caroline Trusow, Duchess of Cheshire, who was present as the representative of the Palace, an unusual addition to the Cobra committee but given the subject matter an essential element.
James coughed to attract everyone's attention and then called the meeting to order.
"You've all received a copy of the report that Colin and his sources have put together?" he asked and waited until everyone had confirmed receipt, "and the corresponding document from Philip and his Foreign Office people?" which received another round of confirmation.
"Then a quick summary should be sufficient," said James.
"As we are all aware the Confederacy has been making pickups both officially and unofficially for the last five years. It is generally held that because of the inherent belief within the Confederacy that each individual should surrender his, her or its own life if need be for the well being of the group as a whole, that they have, through the AIs, forced us to adopt the current extraction criteria." He flipped over a page of his notes and continued. "It is generally believed by those who have had the greatest dealings with them that the AIs would be unable to change the opinions of the Confederacy, and the Darjee in particular, and thus would be unable to change those criteria in anything approaching a reasonable timescale. Especially when you consider that the Sa'arm are due to arrive here in the next five years."
The Home Secretary leant back in his chair, "These facts, which have been presented to the Earth First party in particular, haven't prevented a steadily worsening of attitudes towards the Confederacy in general and the extraction process in particular. This change in attitude has been most prevalent in the so called Southern States of America where, it is reported, Confederacy Marines have actually been shot at by the 'rednecks' while performing an extraction." He grinned and added, "which is one thing that Alan hasn't had to deal with so far, fortunately."
This was greeted by a couple of chuckles; most of them forced, it has to be said.
"However this attitude has been matched by one in the Confederacy which has effectively stopped extractions in a third of the continental USA." He glanced up from his notes; "This of course can be seen as a good thing as far as we are concerned as it means that more extractions are likely to be happening here in Britain."
He glanced back at his notes, "Now the bad news," he said. "The Confederacy and, it must be admitted, the humans who were involved in the early discussions, have ignored the need for some sort of leadership in the new colonies. The idea of appointing a planetary governor and leaving it to them has, at best, been just about tolerable. There are high points, Demeter springs to mind, but when compared to the disasters that were Reck and P'yong it fades into insignificance."
James looked up again and was met by five intense gazes; so far he'd said nothing new as far as they were concerned.
"We are here to come up with an option for the future, an option that we will do everything in our power to implement, an option that may influence the future of the human race in space. We are to decide how a planet will be governed."
"That's easy," interjected Philip Matlock, "make it a democracy. Just implement, on a smaller scale, what we have here."
"Unfortunately, Philip, that has already been rejected," said James holding up a hand to stop any protest. "We agree that it would be the best option, especially in the long term but as things stand at the moment we cannot simply extract politicians per se. Whoever goes will be a volunteer in his or her own right first and will have to deal with all the responsibilities that go with that role. Politics will be a poor and distant secondary role for the foreseeable future."
"I take it that, if democracy is out of the window, some alternative has already been put forward for consideration?" asked the miffed Foreign Secretary whose own CAP score of a lowly six point five was a secret he guarded closely.
"There have been..." began James.
"Actually Her Majesty has a suggestion to make," intervened the Duchess of Cheshire from where she sat at the end of the table, "It would be of interest to see what you gentlemen think of her proposal." The sudden announcement was greeted with a moment's silence and then all eyes swung to face her, bright with interest.
"Pray tell us," said Philip, as he settled down to listen, as interested as everyone else there.
The chamberlain stood to one side as the distinguished looking gentleman bowed. "Your Majesty," he said from just inside the doorway.
"Come in, Prime Minister, come in!" replied the equally elegant young lady formally as she rose from behind her desk to greet her guest.
The man stepped forward and waited as the doors behind him closed before continuing, "I have the results of the Capacity, Aptitude and Potential tests our children undertook, Ma'am."
Her Majesty Queen Beatrice the First, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland looked at the Prime Minister and smiled nervously, "Well, don't keep me waiting George," she said, "How did they do?"
The Prime Minister had become a friend to the young Queen since they'd started plotting together and without consulting anything he said, "Prince Andrew scored an impressive seven point nine, Ma'am and Princess Elizabeth achieved seven point seven."
"And how did your Steven fare?" enquired the Queen.
The father couldn't contain his pride at his son's achievement and it showed when he replied, "He dropped right into the gap between your children Ma'am, he scored an excellent seven point eight."
"So all three of the children are can volunteer," said the Queen, her relief obvious to the Prime Minister. He'd been working under the same strain as his Monarch and had shown his own relief by cheering out loud when he'd initially received the results, albeit in private.
"Yes Ma'am, they can," the widower confirmed his eyes alight with passion.
The Queen looked her First Minister in the eye and asked the question she'd been asking him regularly for the last six weeks, "George, do you still think we are doing the right thing here?" She didn't really have any doubts but she just wanted the reassurance that she wasn't doing this for herself.
George Brown was committed to the democratic principles of the country. The principles and practices that had allowed him to become the leader of his party and stay there for several years before winning the last national election and so become the leader of his country. Now he sighed before answering his Monarch. "Ma'am, I haven't tried to hide my feelings from you concerning this matter and I'm sure you are aware that my feelings haven't changed significantly in that time," he declared carefully. "If we, that is, any of us, had been given a say in how the colonies were to be created, how they were to be organised and run in the first place then I'd have been against what you and I are doing now."
The Prime Minister let his shoulders drop, "I'm still not convinced that what we are trying to do will actually work but, like you and many others, I feel that it is the best that the AIs are going to allow us to get away with. Given that and the circumstances as they are now I believe we have to try." He blinked before adding, "That we need to 'get away' with something is evident from the reports we've both seen concerning the colonies on Reck and P'yong and the behaviour of the governors of those blighted colonies. If something more stable isn't achieved by one means or another we will become our own worst enemies out there in space."
The Queen, her own fears neatly encapsulated by the older man's convoluted speech, nodded her understanding.
"Then we continue as we are," she concluded.
The evacuation of Earth, even the limited one originally planned by the Confederacy, was in a mess.
The loudly expressed concept of extracting a representative proportion of the human population had gone out of the window very early in the Diaspora project. The way the Confederacy had limited selection had effectively removed whole segments of the Earth's population from the future gene pool. Much of the Middle East had been struck off the extraction list because of the corruption endemic in their way of life, especially amongst the leadership. Those rejects had been joined on the 'to be ignored list' by large parts of Africa, the Far East and Latin America because of the supposedly low academic and technological standards inherent in their countries. Many of the more humane leaders, along with the affected Governments, had pointed out to the AIs and the Darjee who'd made the decision that lack of education was one of the things that was easy to remedy but they and their protests had been ignored.
The extraction list and its various sub-lists had become public knowledge, actually published by the Darjee, who still didn't understand Earth politics, and its release had led to conflicts all over Earth. These conflicts had, in many cases, ignored old rivalries and thereby cemented new alliances against the perceived winners in the race to the stars. Major losers had been places like Taiwan, Israel and Turkey, all of which had effectively ceased to exist as nations.
The army of the People's Republic had invaded the island of Taiwan when it became clear to anti-Confederacy elements within the hierarchy of the Peoples Republic that they were being bypassed in favour of the capitalistic renegades in Taiwan. Extraction, it was declared, was the 'Peoples' right and if one couldn't go then none should. Many Western groups would take up this mantra at a later date.
At the boundary between Asia and Europe the remnant of the Ottoman Empire that had become Turkey was ripped asunder by a combination of internal pressures created by the rift between the country's large Muslim population and its military. These pressures were exacerbated by the extensive terrorist attacks by Kurds from the PKK based in Iraq. People in the rest of the world, who had problems of their own, generally ignored this collapse, though Greece did recapture Cyprus in the confusion.
Israel attempted to eject all of the Arabs, predominantly the Palestinians, from within its borders. This ethnic cleansing included the various areas of the border states, which it still occupied. With nothing to lose the states of Syria and Lebanon launched an attack on Israel. Egypt found itself propelled into the war by its population, which was in near revolt at the government's initial reluctance to support their Arab brethren. Genuine support from other Muslim states flooded in, and along with the obvious countries like Libya and Iran support came from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Israel found itself in danger of being swamped.
Whilst in previous wars it had been able to defeat the Arab world by mobilising it's military machine, it had always done so with the covert and often overt backing of the United States. This time America had too many problems of its own both at home and overseas to effectively support its allies like Turkey and Israel. The United Nations Security Council didn't even issue a condemnation of the attacks on the Jewish homeland though many felt it would have been a pointless exercise if they had.
The Jewish nation did not go quietly, with the Israeli Defence Force throwing its tanks against the oncoming swarms in suicidal blocking efforts to gain time for its civilians. On the coast frantic efforts by both civilian sailors and the small Navy element allowed almost a third of the Jewish and Israeli Christian populations to escape, which left the final act of the short vicious war to the IDF Air Force.
With a third of their major cities already in Arab hands and no sign that the World was going to stop this war of extermination the Knesset concluded that the 'red line' had been crossed and gave the fatal order. Strike missions took off from the airbases at Hatzerim, Ramat David and Tel Nof. Each strike consisted of four F16I 'Sufa' attack aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. Their targets were Damascus, Cairo, Amman and, controversially, Mecca. An all out surge by the remaining elements of the IDF Air Force masked these flights until it was too late to do anything about them.
NORAD alerted the rest of the world to the unfolding events in the Middle East but by then it was too late - Jews and Muslims around the world were no longer listening to anyone else; theirs was a war of annihilation.
In England the small and scattered Jewish population found itself being hunted down by Muslims everywhere. What had been a tolerant society went rabid as Muslims of all racial backgrounds went looking for revenge against the people who had destroyed their Holy of Holies. And in this jihad mistakes were made. Christians became caught up in the crossfire, Hindus were taken out by Jews, and in one final act of destruction the Royal Family suffered a catastrophic attack.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second and the majority of her closest family members were taken out in a well-planned attack, by terrorist bombs, at the Queens' residence at Balmoral Castle. One of the major problems for the British at all levels was identifying the perpetrators of this atrocity, rumours as always pointed in many directions but, with no one claiming actual responsibility, the identity of the bombers was still a mystery.
By chance the daughter of the Queen's second son, the relatively young Princess Beatrice, had been late arriving and so unexpectedly found herself the Queen of a divided, warring nation.
The new Queen stepped forward and, along with the staunch support of all of the mainstream political parties, rallied the country. The shock of a minority's action against the establishment effectively stopped the war in England. No one was prepared to act against the groundswell of support for the new Queen and her appeal for calm in the land.
The last year had been a traumatic and life-changing experience for the Princess who'd never expected to ascend the throne. Her driving ambition had become the survival of Britain and its varied people. She had become indifferent to the rest of the planet, an attitude which spread throughout her Government and then to the nation as a whole. The Government, utilising all of its resources, began working to preserve all the things that were quintessentially British.
This policy was now coming to a head as the Prime Minister's visit and announcement confirmed that all of the key elements for it were now in place.
The Confederacy and its early human accomplices, in their naivety, had failed to provide any form of government or leadership for the new colonies. Queen Beatrice fully intended to rectify that oversight, not in person, as regardless of her own personal CAP score she had to remain to lead her nation, but through the actions of her children and the children of her elected leaders.
"Captain Williams, are your people ready to go?" asked the Marine Lt. Colonel in his clipped British accent.
"Yes Colonel, they are," replied the extraction team commander.
"Do they understand and accept what we are planning to do down there?" continued the Colonel.
"Yes Colonel, they do," confirmed the Captain.
The Colonel raised an eyebrow forcing the Captain to expand his brief comment.
"Colonel, the only non-British members of my team are both from down under, a Kiwi and an Aussie, and they've already asked for permission to pass information about what we are doing here on to their former senior officers. After the mission is completed of course." The Captain met the Colonel's gaze full on, "and all of us were at P'yong when that mess had to be cleared up," he said as though that answered any possible doubts the senior officer could have had.
His reference to the atrocities that had occurred on the colony world of P'yong caused the Colonel to wince as he remembered the reports he'd read.
P'yong had been one of the earliest colonies that the Darjee had established and its mainly Chinese population had been place under the Governorship of Deng Zemin. He, despite his high CAP score and his previous employment of running a manufacturing plant, had turned out to be a sexual predator with delusions of Roman grandeur. The combat units from P'yong had been ferocious in combat, as failure had meant ending up in the Governor's games when they returned to the planet, which were just another painful way of dying disguised as entertainment.
The Darjee's refusal to intervene, citing the Confederacy rules on planetary autonomy, had pushed many humans away from the idealistic beliefs of the Confederacy. These ideals were fine in a colony were everyone worked for the common good and no one would abuse power, a rare thing amongst humans. The changes were reflected in an adoption of a more pragmatic frame of mind.
The Colonel nodded his understanding, "Very well Captain, good luck! You may begin your extraction."
"Thank you, Colonel," said the Captain before nodding to his First Sergeant, who'd been doing his best to ignore what was going on around him and still be available if his boss needed him.
The composite company that Captain Wainright was leading was a clear indication that the Darjee were no longer running the show. As with all extraction teams it was a composite unit, but where the troops were normally drawn from a random selection of units, this one had been put together with care. They had been drawn from former members of the British military, predominantly the elite units. And had all proven themselves to be loyal to their commanders rather than the Confederacy. The only members of the team who weren't British had been drafted in at the last minute following injuries to original team members, and had come at the express recommendation of Captain Wainright.
The extraction team commenced boarding the four Panther assault shuttles allocated to this mission. That they were using shuttles rather than the simple transporter network gave some indication that this was a larger than normal mission. When the departing shuttles rendezvoused with four of the A20 Super Warthog ground attack craft the full scale of the operation became apparent to everyone who could see it.
As the support fighters joined the formation Captain Wainright consulted with the Earth Force AI and got the all clear to begin the insertion. He glanced at the pilot and nodded, "The mission is Go!"
Following the official announcement that contact had been made with aliens, or more specifically the Confederacy, things on Earth had begun to change. The threat posed by the Sa'arm and the requirements for humans to combat this threat had moved many nations onto a militaristic footing. The purpose of CAP testing and the lower age, fourteen, for volunteering had forced changes on most societies.
In Great Britain legal change was a process that took time and a great deal of debate with a lot of it heated and rather bigoted in nature. The impact on existing legislation took several years to unravel; lowering the age at which drinking, sexual consent and voting could occur led to several other acts needing amendment.
In the end it was decided that a new act was required to enable these sweeping changes. The new legislation was styled the 'Age Restrictions (Confederacy) (Amendments) Act' and the drafting process began. It was whilst this process was going on that the attack on Israel took place and the subsequent events left its mark on this Act, though most people wouldn't have noticed.
The British Secret Intelligence Service, like most similar Agencies around the world, had been cut out of the loop by the combination of the Darjee and the military. This enflamed the already established suspicion and distrust between the intelligence community and the military and led the various Secret Services to seriously investigate events involving the Confederacy, its policies and its actions. When the Agencies had been cleansed, as the military liked to phrase the wholesale removal of key personnel, the SIS, CIA and their sister organisations were left with a basic institutional mistrust of the Confederacy and its motives.
When the newly crowned Queen Beatrice had summoned the new head of the Secret Intelligence Service to her and tasked him with finding anything that would be useful to her aims he'd set about it with a vengeance. He'd quickly set his people to digging up every anomaly, fabrication or change in procedure they could find.
When he'd made an interim report on the findings of the Service he had included the information that the concubine limits did not seem to be as set in stone as had first appeared. He also noted that, in some colonies, concubines were not the slaves that everyone had been led to believe.
One of the final pieces of information that he presented to Her Majesty and the Prime Minister turned out to have far reaching implications for their plans. The Director presented details of an extraction run by two Confederacy Marines, Cpl Rick Evans and Cpl Peter Taylor. During the extraction a case had been put forward by a volunteer, Mitchell Franke and his concubine, Michelle Rawlins, to allow the extraction of a non-related child, Tyler Gregory. To achieve this the legal guardianship of the child was transferred by its parents, David and Bettina Gregory, to the volunteer during the extraction. Both of the Marines present, in consultation with the AIs running the event concurred that this was acceptable.
This last revelation led to a section in the Act that ordained that the legal guardianship of all children under the age of fourteen in Great Britain would be vested in the Government. The Government would normally allow the biological parents to supervise their children but would be able to transfer this authority as it saw fit.
The explanation given, when the section was questioned, was that it saved time when dealing with those admittedly rare occasions when a child who's parents had been extracted found itself being left behind. Given the ongoing fight concerning the lowering of the age of consent and other similar matters the section was passed without further scrutiny.
One impact of the time taken for this Act to get through Parliament was the rise of the Earth First party within British politics. At the beginning it was in a very vocal minority but it was becoming more powerful and extreme as time wore on. Within three years it would become the second largest party in British politics, forcing an amalgamation of the former mainstream Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties to combat its growth and power.
The announcement of the Queens' garden party was greeted with mild interest by the nation's media. The Windsor monarchy had established a tradition of hosting garden parties three or four times a year and although the odd event had been missed they were deemed to be nothing special by those in the know.
This event took on added interest when it was intimated that it would be in honour of the Queen's two children Prince Andrew and Princess Elizabeth and would serve as their formal introduction into public life. In their honour the guest list would consist predominantly of people in their own age group and would be drawn from a cross section of the country's young people.
The only real voice of opposition came from some of the leadership of the Earth First party and even this became muted when it was revealed that the actual leader of the party, Donald Prendergast and his wife had already accepted an invitation to attend along with their two children.
The day of the event dawned clear and sunny and people started to arrive early. Security was high, which everyone understood given the way recent events had unfolded, but it did mean that the party was a little slow to get off the ground.
It was mid-afternoon before a chamberlain entered the Queen's quarters and announced, "Ma'am, all of the guests have arrived."
"Thank you, have the children been informed?"
"Yes Ma'am, they're in the Music Room awaiting your arrival."
"Is the Prime Minister with them?"
"He hadn't arrived when I left, Ma'am but I believe he was making his way there."
"Very well, tell them I'll be there shortly."
As the chamberlain left Queen Beatrice looked at her reflection in the mirror and tried to smile. She was one of the few who knew that if everything went according to plan then this would be the last she would be seeing of her children for a long time, if not forever. Which, she acknowledged, was a both a blessing and a worry that she had to deal with, especially when she considered that when this was finished most parents of the children present today were just going to receive the standard Confederacy notification that their children had been extracted. After a few moments of quiet contemplation the young Queen rose and made her way to her children and, despite other recent events, was certainly the hardest event she'd attended in her life.
"Her Majesty the Queen," announced the chamberlain as Beatrice passed by him and into the Music Room. Around the room people turned towards her and bowed or curtsied as appropriate.
Two young adults, as they were now termed, broke away from watching the people outside and crossed the room to their mother. As much as she'd have liked them to be in some sort of formal dress it just wasn't going to happen, even her own dress was much more revealing than anything a previous Queen would have been seen in. The Princess was, as far as her mother was concerned, as near to being naked as she could possibly get away with; that her daughter disagreed with her was a given. The Prince had followed fashion but not as slavishly as his younger sister and was dressed in figure hugging Lycra, which emphasised his fit, if young body.
A step or two behind them followed the Prime Minister escorting his own son, who was dressed in similar fashion to the Prince. That the two of them were fitter and more worldly-wise than any of their predecessors had been at the same age was a sad fact of life given the changes that had occurred. That her daughter knew more of sexual matters than she herself had known when she was first married still came as a surprise to the Queen, even if it was one of the changes that she supported wholeheartedly.
She smiled, "Shall we go and greet our guests?"
As was normal on state occasions her two children started to move behind her but she stopped them, "Oh no, this is your event." She grinned at the pair, "Off you go, this time we'll follow you." As the two young Royals stepped forward Beatrice offered her arm, "Shall we, Prime Minister?"
George Brown looked at his son and the Queen waved him forward, "Go on Steven, join them! You're part of this as well."
As soon as the two appeared the state trumpeters sounded a fanfare which attracted the attention of everyone in the garden. The Queen followed a moment later and waved off the rush of courtiers who normally surrounded her.
Princess Elizabeth looked back over her shoulder, as though seeking instructions and her mother smiled, "Go on, get out there and mingle."
The Princess nudged her brother and set off briskly towards the nearest group of people who looked to be her own age. Unnoticed by most people were the two men in casual clothes who followed the pair without seeming to be looking at them; in fact they appeared to be looking everywhere else.
The Queen glanced at her escort; "Shall we mingle?"
"Yes Ma'am," answered the widower, answering his sovereign's grin with an equal one of his own.
The party, though large by the standards of previous garden parties, fitted conveniently into the area nearest the palace, which made everyone's task easier. With forty-two acres to play with the Queen could have had the party almost anywhere but, as a rule, she tried to assist her staff in any way she could.
The two senior members of the entourage headed for their own peers, automatically steering clear of the younger, noisier elements. As they crossed the well tended lawn the Prime Minister asked quietly, "Have you any idea when it's going to happen?"
"No," replied the Queen, "and it's making me nervous too."
Across the garden Andrew was already in animated conversation with a group in Army uniform. The cadets from the local Combined Cadet Force unit were a little in awe of their future sovereign but his constant chatter and friendly chuckle were relaxing them. His sister was standing slightly behind him and listening interestedly, though she'd already decided that there was no one who interested her in this group.
"So Sarah are you a volunteer?" the Prince asked the good-looking redhead who's nametag revealed that she was Sarah Workington.
"Yes Sir," she replied, "I volunteered as soon as I got my CAP results."
The Prince scanned the rest of the group and noted peripherally that it contained more girls than boys, "Are you all volunteers?"
The senior cadet who's nametag identified him as Brian Small nodded before adding, "Our Captain said that we could send eight cadets to represent the unit and as there were eight of us who'd volunteered for Confederacy service we got the job." His grin as he explained how they'd ended up attending the garden party ensured that the prince knew that this wasn't considered a bad result.
"Well, have fun," said the Prince as he turned away, "and I'll see you all later."
"Come on Andy," said his sister beside him, "Let's go talk to those Scots."
Andrew looked in the direction his sister had indicated and saw a large group gathered together. As the two Royals approached they could see that although all of the groups members were wearing a kilt with a white shirt or blouse there appeared to be three distinct patterns of tartan, one with a red cast, another very dark and the final one was predominantly yellow. As the pair got close to the group three people detached themselves and moved forward so that they were the obvious points of contact.
"Hello," said Andrew and was a little surprised when the two men in the group gave a short bow and the girl an abbreviated curtsey.
"There's no need for that here," said Andrew sounding a little bit put out, "I thought everyone knew that."
"We do know, your Highness, but it was our decision to acknowledge your position if we got the opportunity," the speaker glanced around before adding, "It was something we all agreed upon."
Andrew looked at the man who'd spoken and was impressed. Many people had seen images of the augmented Marines but this man, who up close really did seem to be young, had the same sort of physique without any assistance. Andrew wasn't the only one who was impressed; his sister was as well.
"So tell me about the kilts you're wearing?" she said moving the conversation along. "I assume that you're all from different clans?"
The spokesman turned to the Princess and smiled, "That's right your highness, I'm John Stewart and this is the Stewart tartan," he said indicating his mainly red kilt.
"The lady is Wendy MacLeod," he continued indicated the girl with a casual wave of the arm, "and she's in the MacLeod Tartan." Andrew looked at the long legs that the girls' very short kilt was displaying and thought, 'she's only just 'in' that tartan', but he refrained from commenting out loud.
"And this gentleman is Graeme Campbell," said John Stewart indicating the shorter man in the darkest of tartans, "and he's in the Campbell tartan, which is sometimes called the Government tartan."
"The same one the Black Watch wear?" asked the princess.
"That's correct, your Highness," replied Graeme, favouring John Stewart with a slight scowl.
"Are you representing any formal organisation or is it chance that you're all together?" asked Prince Andrew.
Graeme Campbell returned his attention from the princess and answered, "We've been pulled together by the Highland Society for this event, your Highness."
Wendy looked a little shy as she added, "We'll be giving a demonstration of Highland dancing later this afternoon."
Andrew had visions of flashing legs and bouncing breasts as the girls pranced around and felt sudden urge to move on, before he embarrassed himself in front of the cute lass. "I look forward to it," and his sincerity was clear to all. "Come on, Sis, time to move on."
The three young Scots bowed and curtsied as the Royal couple moved away.
Across the garden the Queen had finally run into Donald Prendergast and his family and was doing her utmost to remain civil to one of the men in this world who she really detested. His wife, Wendy, was doing her utmost to ensure that her outspoken husband didn't do anything that was going to cause embarrassment to either of her children. The Prime Minister, who was still accompanying the Queen, was as hampered as his sovereign was in dealing with this man and had stepped back so as not to present a target for the man's barbs.
"Mrs. Prendergast, I'm so glad you're here," said Beatrice, "Aren't your children going to join in the festivities?" She asked looking at the two children who appeared to be hemmed in by their parents.
"We didn't want to risk any sort of..." tailed off Wendy Prendergast as she realised that she was just about to accuse her hostess of fermenting trouble for her family.
"Oh I assure you there won't be any of that sort of nonsense here," said the Queen, "Let them go and join in, I'm sure they'll find it more entertaining than listening to us 'old fogies' twittering on."
Taking the chance they'd been offered by their sovereign, Gail and John Prendergast didn't wait for their parents' permission but headed off to join the rest of the youngsters. After watching the two disappear into the throng the Queen locked eyes with the father and added rather cryptically, "I'm sure that we'll all do what's right when the time comes."
Before anything else could be said there was a loud roar and behind the noise came four Confederacy dropships plummeting towards the gardens at incredible speed. Around the grounds various people screamed in shock but the majority were just frozen in place as they watched the craft approach.
The grey wall of an interdiction field went up, totally enclosing the Palace Gardens and the four assault shuttles that had taken up station just inside the outer limits of the impressive gardens. From the hovering shuttles stepped the first of the Marines who descended swiftly to the ground, the tractor beams of the dropships depositing the troops quickly and precisely around the gathered guests.
The two young Royals were grabbed and unceremoniously bundled up by their minders and literally dragged towards the Music room and the relative safety of the confines of the Palace. The Queen spotting the commotion around them moved as quickly as she could towards the Palace, accompanied by her own security detachment who'd nervously drawn their own weapons.
"Wait!" called the monarch, amazingly stopping the couples' security detail in its tracks. "That is the Confederacy," she said, "and they are not going to be attacking us! So let us deal with this calmly and sensibly," she added when she finally caught the small group up. Around her the four men who'd been accompanying her positioned themselves and prepared for the worst while hoping that their sovereign was right in her assessment.
The Marines edged around the entire gardens, effectively surrounding the occupants, and once that was done two Marines strode towards the Royal party, one with an officer's markings and the other a senior NCO. They kept their hands in view and made no aggressive moves as they approached and then came to a halt just short of the protective cordon.
"Your Majesty," announced the officer, "I'm Captain Wainright of the Confederacy Space Marines and as I'm sure you are aware I'm here to carry out an extraction for the new colony being established on the planet Albion."
"Captain," acknowledged the Queen, "I assume you have a procedure you need to follow to gather the volunteers for this new colony."
"Yes Ma'am, we have," confirmed the Captain. "It would help if you could restrain the various members of your security detail," he glanced at the two men who were protecting the Royal children. "I was in the Regiment and know how messy it could get if they're not stood down."
The Queen followed his gaze; "Gentlemen, the Prince and Princess have volunteered for service with the Confederacy, that is their decision and one I wholeheartedly agree with. Please step aside so that the Captain can proceed as he is required to do."
The two members of the Special Air Service Regiment - which had taken over the Royal protection duties from the police following the attack which had killed so many members of the Royal family - looked from their Queen to the Marine Captain. Both men silently promised retribution if any thing went astray, an unspoken promise that the Marine Captain accepted stoically, before the bodyguards moved back a couple of paces.
Around the garden people were watching the drama unfold on the patio, many of them still a little confused at what they had been caught up in. The thoughts foremost in most minds were 'Is this a normal extraction?' 'Is this a kidnapping?' and much more prevalent, 'Can I get selected?"
"Thank you, Ma'am," said the Captain acknowledging the Queen's assistance before he turned to address the crowd.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," boomed his amplified voice, "this is an extraction of volunteers for service in the Confederacy." He nodded to the senior NCO who'd accompanied him to the Queen; he in turn relayed an instruction to the surrounding Marines.
"If you look around you will see several people holding up large purple banners," and around the periphery of the garden eight Marines unfurled the described banners. "Would those who've volunteered for service please make your way to the nearest banner. At the same time would those who haven't volunteered please move to the centre of the garden."
It took a moment but slowly people started to move around. The Captain stepped back and Her Majesty moved forward to his side.
"How many volunteers are there?" she asked. They'd aimed to get a full one thousand but there were always absentees from these events for one reason or another.
"The AIs are telling us there are nine hundred and seventy-eight, Ma'am, plus several that have high enough CAP scores that haven't volunteered," Captain Wainright said pointedly, as he watched the remainder of the people mill around.
"How long is this going to take?" Beatrice asked.
The Captain sighed, "Longer than I really like Ma'am," he said, "but you know why this has to be done in one hit, don't you?"
"Yes," she said looking at her children. "Shouldn't they be heading for one of the registration points?" she asked suddenly.
"That's all right Ma'am, my First Sergeant has got it in hand," said the Captain indicating the Marine who'd accompanied him earlier. The Marine had just finished looking at the CAP ID cards of the Royal children and that of Steven Brown, who'd joined them. He pointed back towards the Captain and Steven headed in that direction and the Marine turned his attention back to the Queen's children.
It took nearly thirty minutes to get an accurate count of who was there and what their status was. The final figures were nine hundred and seventy-eight volunteers of whom seven hundred and ninety-two were under sixteen. There were another seventeen with CAP scores high enough but whom hadn't registered as volunteers for whatever reason. That left, in round numbers, six thousand who could put themselves forward as concubines and another six thousand under the age of fourteen who could not do so.
Roger Wainright looked at his former sovereign and decided to make a suggestion. "Ma'am, I'd suggest that you go inside if you're even a little squeamish," he said. "What's going to happen next often gets a little extreme and..."
Beatrice looked the Marine firmly in the eye, "Captain, I know what's coming and I'm prepared for it. If I don't stay and watch how can I, in all honesty, go on television and tell the country that what occurred here was not only necessary but that it was carried out correctly."
Captain Wainright found himself nodding in understanding, "In that case I'd better get started," he said stepping away from the Queen.
His amplified voice boomed over the garden, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we now come to the selection process that I'm sure you all have heard of. Well this time there have been a few changes to the procedure and I'm going to run through them now. This applies only to the potential concubines so could they and those who are under fourteen please pay attention."
He looked over the crowd and felt the weight of their expectations pressing on him. "First of all we need to achieve a degree of separation so when I tell you to move I want all of the children," he paused for a moment then emphasised, "that's anyone under the age of fourteen." Another pause, "to move over to the areas by the blue banners and sit down. At the same time I want all of those who are mothers already and who wish to be considered for evacuation to move into a group over here, under the yellow banners." As he spoke four large banners, two of them yellow and two of them blue, were unfurled by his Marines. The Captain finished with, "Will all other people remain where they are presently situated, sit if it will be more comfortable."
He waited for a few moments as people looked around and the banners settled down so they could be clearly seen.
"So will the children and the mothers who wish to be considered for evacuation move to their designated positions now!" As the noise began to rise he barked, "Quickly and quietly, if you please!"
It took a while but the crowd split into three distinct groups and revealed an interesting fact concerning the makeup of the original guest list. Rather than being split equally, the six thousand potential extractees consisted of a mere eighteen hundred men. The group of women who'd already borne children numbered one thousand, four hundred and seventy, or about seventy-five percent of the women present over the age of sixteen.
After the groups segregated there was still a small cluster of people off to one side who had no interest in being extracted. They had gravitated towards Donald Prendergast and his wife who were holding court in a fairly subdued manner under the watchful eye of a couple of the Marines and at least two of the Queen's protection detail. The main group, believing that they knew what was coming had started to split into males and females.
"Right," announced the Marine Captain getting everyone's attention again, "Now we come to the first significant change in the normal procedure. When you're told to do so, I want the volunteers," he pointed at them, "to cross to the group of mothers," his arm swung across to the women clustered around the yellow banners, "and each of you are to pick one of the mothers to accompany you when you leave. This selection will not count against the limit you're allowed, so if you have a CAP score of six point five you will still be able to pick another two concubines to accompany you after this selection."
He paused for a moment to allow his instruction to be absorbed and the muttering to subside, "OK volunteers, move."
He didn't get the stampede he'd half expected but the volunteers did cross fairly quickly to the mothers' group. He let things proceed for ten minutes and then let everyone know that they had five minutes left to make a decision or he'd move on to the next phase and they'd have to do without. This seemed to cause a bit more frantic activity and a bit of clothing removal that had been noticeable by its absence before he called time.
"Quiet everyone!" he bellowed and waited for silence to descend.
"Volunteers, move back to your starting points and take your selections with you." He waited until they'd started to move and then added, "Will the mothers who wish to be extracted and haven't been selected at this time please rejoin the main group of those willing to be extracted."
Donald Prendergast and his wife left the group they were with and started to move towards the Queen, their two children watched their progress from the edge of their group but remained where they were. The security detachment started to close ranks but when Beatrice spotted their movement and looked over, she thought for a moment and waved them back allowing the leader of the Earth First party to approach her.
The Captain's voice boomed out once more, "Volunteers! The Marines who are with you will now confirm the rules that apply for this extraction. They will then guide you through the process of picking your concubines. Please pay attention to what they say and let's not hang around." He was silent for a moment, then barked, "Proceed!"
That was the signal to start the normal extraction process.
Donald Prendergast got to within six feet of the Queen and stopped, he looked at her and said accusingly, "You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"
The Queen drew herself up, "No!" she declared, "Not for definite I didn't. I simply set up a situation that would look attractive and hoped that the Confederacy would take advantage of the opportunity I'd presented."
Donald looked unconvinced but he had another matter to resolve, "Why have they made changes to the procedure?" he asked.
"You'll have to ask the Captain here about that," said the Queen, carefully side-stepping the final bomb that had been planted.
"This is wrong, you know," said Donald, waving his arm limply to encompass the whole garden. "You should be stopping this sort of thing, not encouraging it," he declared, starting to build up a head of steam.
"Mr Prendergast," said the Queen raising her voice so the people who were watching could hear clearly, "I've seen the evidence of what is coming as have you and anyone else who's being paying attention to what is going on also knows what is coming. The facts clearly demonstrate that it is physically impossible to do what you want and evacuate everyone," she paused for effect, "I, for one, don't believe that condemning the whole race to death is a very sensible option, now is it?"
The Queen paused again and took a deep breath. "As much as I don't want to lose my children," she waved her arm to encompass the garden "this is the best option for everyone. If you can't accept that," she said, "then I feel sorry for you."
Beside her the Prime Minister, who'd joined them almost unnoticed added, "Several of us could be out there," he said indicating the garden, "but feel it is better to stay here and help in any way we can." He looked at the leader of the opposition and added, "Maybe you should give that fact a little bit of thought, Donald."
Mrs Prendergast suddenly blurted out, "Your Majesty!"
The Queen switched her attention to the slim woman who looked dazed that she'd interrupted but pressed ahead with her question, "What is your CAP score, Ma'am?"
"Eight point one," replied the Queen quietly.
"I'm needed here," said the Queen looking across the lawn, "but," she emphasised, "my children will be safe."
Wendy looked around and her face suddenly showed that she'd resolved a conflict within herself. "Donald, John is going to volunteer," she said forcefully, "and he's taking his sister with him."
Donald looked at his wife as though she'd been taken over by aliens, "Over my dead body, he is," he growled.
One of the security detail muttered, "Don't tempt me," but the protagonists ignored him.
"Donald, I know you want to save everyone but it's not going to be possible," Wendy said, looking at her irate husband with pity. "Deep down you have to know that as well as I do," she said.
She stepped forward and placed a hand gently on his arm, "If we don't make them go now, we may not get another chance and I don't want to watch them die," she finished, tears slowly running down her face.
"But I want to save you as well," said Donald pulling his wife into his arms oblivious to those around him.
"The children are more important Donald," she sobbed, "Please, please let them go."
Donald lost as soon as he looked into his wife's eyes, "OK, they can go," he said to her, "I just wish there was a way you could go to."
"Donald," said the Prime Minister softly, "You'd better go and explain to your boy what's happening." When his opponent looked up he continued, "I'll square it away with the Marines why you have to do that."
"Ma'am, if you'll excuse me," the defeated man started to leave.
"Wendy," called the Queen, "before you go, can I have a word?"
"Good afternoon, I'm First Sergeant Adam Crossfield, formerly of the Special Boat Service and now a member of the Confederacy Space Marines," he looked at the 'children' before him impassively, "I've been tasked with taking the two of you through the extraction process and ensuring that everything goes smoothly. I am also to answer any questions you may have as well as provide any guidance that I feel is relevant."
The senior Marine NCO addressed the Royal children as though he was giving a lecture, a lecture that he'd done hundreds of times before. Then he grinned and all the formality drained away, "Which basically means that I follow you around and offer what advice I can. You are free to take that advice, or ignore it, as you make your own decisions." He carefully studied the two 'children' as he still thought of anyone under the age of eighteen and found himself nodding, these two had remained calm through everything and were even now just regarding him with interest.
"I have to ask the two of you if you've given this any thought, you know, have you made any prior arrangements I should know about?" he asked.
"No arrangements First, we haven't had much chance to do anything in that line. But I can assure you, the two of us have given this matter a lot of thought," replied the Prince, "an awful lot of thought." The Princess contented herself with a shake of the head, denying any preconceived involvements.
Adam Crossfield caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned towards it reflexively. Five very distinguished looking ladies, all of them slightly more conservatively dressed than was the current fashion were approaching the Royal couple.
The first woman to reach them nodded a formal acknowledgement to the Marine and then turned her attention to the Royal children, "Your Highness," she said addressing the Prince directly, "your mother instructs that you are to pick one of us to be the 'mother' that accompanies you." She glanced at the Princess before going on, "then your sister will do the same from the four that are left." Without further comment the woman stepped back so that she was in line with the remaining four women.
First Sergeant Crossfield looked on; he'd been briefed on the changes to the extraction procedure and the reasons that went with them. The fact that someone had gone to the trouble of providing a suitable 'mother' for each of the Royal children didn't really come as a surprise. However, the fact that the Royal children were being offered a choice did surprise him a little, he'd sort of figured that what was going to happen to them had been totally pre-ordained.
He stepped forward and addressed the two youngsters quietly, "It may not have been made clear to you but you need to know that you will be going to be in a position that carries some authority on the new colony world," he said. "Both of you need to keep that in mind when you are making decisions, especially you Andrew," he said and then took a half pace back and waited to see what would happen.
Elizabeth looked stunned by the Marines words but couldn't shake her gaze from the five women. After what seemed like hours she glanced at the crowds around the garden and then turned to her brother and smiled weakly. "This is where it all begins, isn't it Andrew, all those things we've spoken about for the last couple of months, the hints that mother dropped, the extra lessons, it all comes down to this?"
Andrew glanced across the paved area that separated him from his mother and saw she was standing with the Prime Minister and Donald Prendergast. It surprised him that she wasn't watching to make sure that he did the right thing after everything she'd put him through recently. Slowly it dawned on him that his mother had done all that she could for him, and what his sister had said was indeed true.
From here on in he was the ONE in charge and the wellbeing of anyone he selected was all down to him. If his mother was right with her hints it would probably be more than just the half-a-dozen people he picked now. The fact that he had his own private escort through the extraction process, who was dropping none-to-subtle hints already, seemed to confirm that belief.
"Yes Sis, it is," he replied,his voice carrying the realisation of his new responsibilities clearly.
Swallowing he squared his shoulders and turned back to the women who were waiting patiently for his decision. He looked along the line and realised that the woman who'd been their spokesman was in fact his own nanny from when he he'd been growing up. That he hadn't recognised her said a little about his state of mind and how she'd changed her appearance for this event. When Elizabeth saw the look on her brother's face she took a half step back, the look he wore now was not the young boy who'd escorted her out into the garden but that of a young, and serious man who had a job to do.
"Ladies," said Andrew calling their attention to him, "If you would be so kind as to remove all of your clothing, we will get this sorted."
"Your Highness?" gasped his former nanny.
"Emily, I know that you're going with us primarily to look after any children we have," said Andrew, "but all of you are still young enough, with the help of the Confederacy and its medical science if need be, to bear children of your own. Therefore I wish to inspect what is on offer should I decide to partake of it." He stood there, his hands clasped behind his back and waited, his expression implying that the sooner they got on with it the sooner he could move on to more important things.
Elizabeth hissed and then spoke so that only Andrew and Adam could hear, "Andrew, what do you think you are doing? I don't want to see them naked!"
Without turning his head the Prince replied, "Liz, I'm fifteen years old and if this goes the way it's supposed to I'm going to be running at least a household." He looked at the First Sergeant pointedly and added, "and probably something much more." He glanced back over his shoulder at his sister for a moment before returning his gaze to the older women, "If my own household won't do as I say then why should anyone else who is forced to have me as their leader?"
Elizabeth glanced across at the Marine when he muttered, "True," and opened her mouth to say something but Andrew had continued speaking, "And remember, Sis, doing what you're told will apply to you just as much as it does to everyone else if I'm put in a position over you."
The look Adam Crossfield gave the young girl quelled any thoughts of rebellion, a rebellion that was based more on sibling rivalry than considered thought. Their mother had been running them through all the possible scenarios for the past couple of months and Elizabeth knew that what her brother was saying was correct, its just that until now it had never really been real. She glanced from her brother to the Marine next to her and then over to her mother and made an assumption. "Andrew is going to be in charge, isn't he?" she asked the Marine quietly.
Adam smiled at the young girl and gave a nod, confirming her suspicions.
In front of the Prince the distinguished looking women had started to shed their clothing, albeit reluctantly in most cases. When the Queen had discreetly approached each of them individually a couple of months ago it had been to sound them out about acting as nannies to the Royal household in a new colony. Each of them had accepted that job for whatever reason and now they found that the job description had just undergone a rather radical change if the Prince was to be believed and looking at him who could have any doubts.
The spokeswoman for the ladies was forty-eight year old Lady Fitzwarren, Emily to her friends, and the widow of the Earl of Fitzwarren. Her husband had been killed in the same atrocity that had decimated the Royal family, and her eldest son had inherited the title. One of her three sons had already been extracted and her daughter, Margaret, was in the garden, no doubt being picked up even as her mother slowly stripped off her clothes. She'd been a part time nurse to both of the Royal children and had hoped that they would have taken her for old times sake. Now she wasn't so sure she wanted to go.
Next to her, and shedding clothes with gay abandon, was Lady Sonia Brightlow. Sonia was the trophy wife of Sir Frederick Brightlow, a multi-millionaire investment banker. As far as his thirty-two year old wife was concerned he was a doddering old fart and had started to become a bit of a letch. As Sonia was also the daughter of one of the Queen's Aides she had been able to wangle a job as a Lady in Waiting to mostly keep her free her from her husband's attentions.
On the left of the line as Andrew looked at them was Lady Jessica Fowler, who simply dropped her dress and stood there proudly in her lace underwear and high heels. Just looking at her you would be hard pressed to guess that she was forty-seven years old and had given birth to three boys, all of whom had now flown the nest. Recently divorced from her husband, who'd moved on to a younger woman, she'd joined the Queen's entourage because of her interests in horse riding and three day eventing in particular. She saw this as an excellent opportunity to continue to live, something she had no objections against doing.
To Emily Fitzwarren's left was Gail Meadowlark who, it was noted, was much slower at removing her clothes than the other women in the group. She shyly tried to hide her rotund figure from view for as long as possible and did little to push herself forward. Gail was also the only woman in the collection who didn't have a noble title of her own, being a professional midwife by trade. At forty-three she was in the middle of the age range for the group.
On the right as Andrew looked at them the Lady Zara Glover was scowling at all around her as she stripped off her clothes. The thirty-eight year old had always felt that she'd been press-ganged into this position by the Queen and the attitude of the Prince was simply confirming her assumption. That she was stripping her clothes off silently said a great deal about her will to survive if not her intelligence. Pretty beyond doubt she was considered by many of the palace insiders to be the archetypal dumb blond, an opinion that Andrew had heard expressed a few times.
As the last of the ladies removed her final piece of clothing Steven Brown rejoined the two Royals. A little bashfully he explained, "I was told by your mother that I had to join you." He glanced at the Marine, "Your Captain told me, that I was to tell you, that I was to be treated in the same way as Prince Andrew and Princess Elizabeth," Steven shrugged, "Whatever that means."
Adam Crossfield got that far away look that most people had when they were communicating via the AIs. He frowned for a moment before returning his attention to Steven. "OK son, You've got to pick one of these women to go with you." The Marine flicked an arm casually in the direction of the Prince, "He's got first pick of these ladies to accompany him. Then the Princess and finally you can have your pick. After that we go out there," he said waving at the garden, "and see what we can find to fill out the rest of your households."
The Marine fell silent and Elizabeth and Steven turned their attention back to the Prince and the mature, naked women before him. Andrew hadn't allowed his gaze to drift from the scene though he had paid attention to Steven's arrival and the subsequent conversation.
"Ladies if you'll take it in turns to turn around for me," requested the Prince, shifting his gaze to his right.
Zara, on the right of the line, took the hint and was the first person the Prince watched spin round. As she moved she muttered, just loud enough for everyone to hear, "Just like a bloody cattle market." She was actually facing away from the Prince when she finished her outburst and didn't see his face cloud over; she'd just killed any chance she'd had with the young man.
"Thank you," said the Prince politely when she'd finished and then turned his attention to Gail. The plump woman was bright red, her blush extending down to her nipples; she forced her hands to her side and turned quickly. Everything swayed as she turned causing her more embarrassment though she noted that no one actually laughed.
The Prince nodded before moving his gaze to Emily. The older woman looked stony faced but did as the Prince had requested, tuning to present her mature body for the young man. Sonia was turning almost before Andrew was looking at her; jiggling and wiggling was the best way to describe the moves she made as she turned. A bright grin was plastered to her face when she finished her performance, sure in her own mind that the Prince would take her - after all, just look at the competition.
Jessica was the picture of poise and elegance as she calmly waited until the Prince was giving her his undivided attention and then turned around slowly allowing sufficient time for the young Royal to get a good view without going overboard or creating any other distractions.
"Thank you ladies, if you'll just wait there a moment," said the Prince before turning to his sister and the Prime Minister's son.
"I'm going to take the last one," said Andrew, "the one at the left hand end of the line," he indicated Lady Jessica Fowler. "I'd suggest that you ignore the young one next to her and the stupid blond at this end of the line," he flicked his fingers towards Sonia and Zara and gave a wry grin. "I think that pair would be more trouble than they're worth," he concluded.
Adam, in the background, found he was agreeing with the young man's assessment of the women he'd just watched perform.
Elizabeth gave the women a quick glance, "If it's all right with you, Steven, I'll take the fat one," she said, picking out Gail Meadowlark, "she shouldn't give me any trouble."
Andrew felt his eyebrows rise and just managed to refrain from chastising his sister for her statement, fortunately her words hadn't carried to the woman in question. He switched his gaze to Steven; "Do you have any problems with taking an older woman, Steven? Lady Emily Fitzwarren was my nanny, that's her in the middle of that group.
Steven ran his eyes along the group again, he'd heard the blonde's comment and agreed with Andrew but the young one looked interesting. When he caught her eye she looked him up and down and her lip curled in distaste, it was enough. "No," Steven replied to the Prince's question, "no problem at all."
"Good," said the Prince, "then shall we collect our ladies and let Mr Crossfield guide us on to the next stage," he concluded with a smile.
The only woman who gave any indication that she wasn't happy with the decision that the three youngsters had made was Sonia Brightlow and the small party ignored her as it made its way down onto the lawn.
Donald Prendergast crossed the short distance to his children like a man going to his own execution. Intellectually he knew that his wife was almost certainly correct in that this was the only chance his children had of getting off the planet and surviving. That he would lose his position as head of the Earth First party didn't really matter anymore. He'd already had his doubts but now the party was becoming something that he didn't want to be associated with so these events could turn out to be a blessing in disguise - it just didn't feel like it as he crossed the garden. What mattered was that he had to convince his son John that this was a good idea - in fact the only idea - and then say goodbye to his children.
John Prendergast was only fifteen years old, but that was only a measure of his age, in nearly all other things he was well advanced. He was big for his age and excelled at all the sports he tried, he led his class in most academic pursuits and was more than capable of holding his own in a fight or a debate.
His CAP score had been held down by his belief that his father, and his views, should at least be given credence. Even so he'd scored high enough to be eligible to volunteer to his father's apparent disgust. The test had only been taken because it was compulsory and the school he'd been attending didn't request explicit permission from the students' parents before submitting them for examination.
That his views had changed in the past twelve months was a secret that he'd hidden from his parents, and especially his father, to the best of his ability. He understood were his father was coming from, as did most people, but unlike many he didn't cling to the idea that what was considered fair was also right. John had taken the time and had dug into the figures that both sides of the political divide had thrown around with gay abandon. What he found was that the Earth First party had been, at best, looking at the figures through rose tinted glasses - or - as he'd come to believe, they were deliberately lying to serve their own ends.
When this garden party had been turned into an extraction he'd been very tempted to run off and volunteer but his own sense of responsibility to his parents had held him back. Now his father was returning from confronting the Queen and the look of total defeat on his face gave an indication of how well that had gone. John had a sudden moment of inspiration and guessed that he would be leaving with the evacuees. Inside he felt elated at his chance but that was tempered with the understanding that he would be leaving his family behind.
Donald gathered both his children in his arms and hugged them before stepping back a little and beginning, almost formally, "John."
Before he could get any further John decided to spare his father further embarrassment and said, "I know, Dad."
When his father stared at him in shock John continued, "I'm going with them, aren't I?"
Donald could only nod in answer.
"Is there anything else?" the boy asked his father, who was now sweating.
Swallowing Donald nodded, "Gail..."
"You want me to take Gail?"
Again Donald could only nod in response.
"Does that mean..." John petered out, realising that he couldn't ask his father if he meant him to have sex with his own sister. Glancing at his older sister he was stunned when she shyly nodded her understanding of what he'd been going to ask, and more importantly, her agreement to the act.
Blushing furiously John stuttered, "How do I, uhmm, volunteer?"
Donald, with silent tears running down his face stepped forward and gathered both of his children in for a final hug before pointing back the way he'd come from, "Go to the Marine with the Queen," he said, "he's going to sort everything out."
Letting his arms fall to his side Donald stepped back and watched as John held out his hand to his sister and slowly, glancing back often, led her away - to continue living if nothing else.
When the two young Prendergasts reached the Queen their mother was stood there frozen with her mouth hanging open. The two children looked at her and worried, what had been going on here?
"Mom," squeaked Gail as she rushed to her mother.
The Queen looked at the boy who was regarding her suspiciously and tried to hide a grin. "She'll be alright," she said, "I just gave her an option she hadn't thought of. I think it came as a bit of a shock."
John stood and puzzled over the comment for a moment before looking around quickly and then made a couple of, possibly rash, assumptions. He looked back to his Sovereign with a calculating gleam in his eye and stated clearly, "You told her she could go with me as my 'mother'," he said waving an arm towards the group containing the two Royal children and the three naked women who were trailing them.
"Clever," said the Queen, "that's just what I told her." She then stared hard at the young boy, "So what do you think?" she asked.
Around him there was silence but John didn't notice, his mind was racing, could he do this to his father? Earlier conversations sprang to mind; his father's driving ambition had been to save his wife and children. Was this the chance he'd been searching for?
John glanced towards his father and then pointed to his mother. Even at that distance John could tell that his father was confused, he pointed to his own chest and then to the skies. It took a moment but understanding dawned on Donald's face and then he was nodding frantically and yelling what appeared to be YES, repeatedly, at the top of his voice.
John nodded back and moved across to his mother, "Come on mom, we've got to get out of here, Dad says so."
Adam Crossfield consulted with the AI and was actually impressed though he didn't say anything about it. "Just to confirm," he said, "all three of you have CAP scores in the sevens which means that you get to choose four concubines as well as the mother figures you've already picked."
He glanced at Elizabeth and added, "I'm sure you've heard this many times before but it does no harm to repeat it, Princess Elizabeth you have the hardest decision to make. Personally, and this is based on experience, I'd suggest that you pick a man and three women; they along with your 'mother' will provide a stable household into which you can introduce your children. Having the extra woman might mean that you could get away with a second man but that is entirely up to you."
He gathered the two boys in by eye and continued, "In any case I wouldn't be swayed by appearance, that can be changed in anyway you like." He glanced back at Gail, who was close by, when he said this and then pointedly looked at Elizabeth who dropped her eyes in shame under his scrutiny. "Medically speaking there isn't a lot that can't be sorted and as long as the body isn't too old it will still be able to produce babies."
"Remember," Adam added seriously, "you know what's coming and how it's going to effect the young kids, so I'd try to avoid having a family of fourteen-year-old girls. That really would be a recipe for disaster and something you really want to avoid."
The three naked 'mothers' trailed the group, half listening to what was being said and half-watching what was going on around them. The embarrassment of their own nakedness had started to fade into the background as more and more people around them began stripping off and performing in an attempt to attract one of the sponsors.
Andrew smiled as he passed by the group of cadets he'd been speaking to earlier, it looked like they'd been working as a group, or maybe a pack of wolves, and had rounded up what appeared to be a healthy selection of concubines.
As the small group continued to move through the mass in the garden they witnessed many things that had probably never been seen in the Royal gardens before.
Elizabeth gave Andrew a nudge and drew his attention to where the Scots had clustered together. They had formed up in a ring, in almost a defensive posture and were glaring at anyone who came close. Andrew stared for a while and his pace slowed, finally he glanced to the Marine by his side and asked, "Can you find out how many of the Highland Society members who were invited to the party had high enough CAP scores to volunteer?"
Andrew had developed a bad feeling about what he was seeing and contemplated having to do something about it. Alongside the Prince Adam he consulted the AI and then frowned just like the Prince, "Only three of them, Sir," he answered, not noting his change of address.
Andrew nodded briefly then squared his shoulders and headed straight for the group, his own party following in his wake. As he approached the outer ring it parted to allow him access to the centre where he observed half a dozen cowed people being restrained by an equal number of boys. The remainder of the Highland Society party had been used to create the unfriendly cordon he'd already penetrated. Behind him Andrew could hear the Marine muttering but didn't allow himself to be distracted by the noise.
Spotting John Stewart sprawled on the grass he crossed to him and noted incidentally that the blood from his nose was nearly the same colour as the tartan he wore. "Hello John, had a bit of an accident did we?" asked the Prince, glancing around.
"Something like that Your Highness," said the prone Scot glaring at the two boys who stood behind him in the Campbell tartan. Alongside him Graeme Campbell, who was displaying similar injuries to the member of the Stewart clan grunted, "Some accident!"
"Oh well, that's beside the point," said the Prince, who got strained looks from the two Scots on the floor. "My sister and I are being extracted and we were looking for someone to accompany us and I was wondering if Wendy was available?"
Off to one side a girl's voice called, "Yes, Sir!"
Then there was a slap and another voice hissed, "Shut up you stupid bitch."
Looking in the direction the voice came from Andrew could see a girl on the floor holding her face and another girl stood over her glaring at the Prince. Andrew walked slowly over to the prone girl, "Wendy?" he asked. The girl lifted her tear-streaked face to the Prince, "Do you wish to come with me?"
"Yes, Sir," said the girl, glancing fearfully at the girl stood over her.
"She's not going," said the girl, stepping forward. "You're not taking any of our people to be your slaves," she hissed, taking another step forward. There was a noise like sizzling bacon and the girl slumped to the floor.
Adam Crossfield raised his voice and called out, "Does anyone else need to feel the stinger or is she the only idiot in this group?"
Around him several people took steps forward and then dropped in the same boneless fashion, the same sizzling noise coming from the half a dozen Marines that had appeared around the group, summoned by the call from their First Sergeant.
"Anyone who wishes to be considered for extraction please step this way," said Adam, "The rest of you just sit down," he finished menacingly. He paused, waiting for a response from the group, when no one moved he added, "before I put you down," and started to lift his arm, which got people moving in a hurry.
Graeme and John scrambled to their feet and crossed to where Andrew was helping a shocked and battered Wendy to her feet. "Thank you, Your Highness," gushed John when he got there.
"Not a problem," said Andrew, never taking his eyes from Wendy. When she finally made eye contact with the young Prince he said, "I was serious in my offer, I am being extracted and would like you to be my concubine."
Wendy nodded and when Andrew held out his arms she stepped into them willingly.
Elizabeth looked at the two boys, "Knowing my luck you two are going to have high enough CAP scores to volunteer," she said.
"I have, said Graeme eyeing the pretty Princess, "unfortunately."
"Not me," declared John Stewart, "I only managed five point nine."
Elizabeth beamed, "Then how would you feel about accompanying me as one of my concubines?"
"I'd be delighted, Your Highness," said the big Scot with a toothy grin.
Adam looked to the skies; you can call it what you like but it looked like puppy love to him.
Shaking off the Wendy-effect Andrew got serious, "OK," he called, "let's get this over with. I need to find another three women to go with me." He glanced around, "And you two need to get a move on as well."
Adam muttered, "Thank God for that," as he watched the Prince get the group motivated. He'd been worried that they were falling behind and that he was going to have to get involved in speeding things up.
Andrew looked around trying to get a feel for where he could possibly find a concubine in the madhouse that used to be a garden. All around him he could see young women frolicking, most of them already naked, as they attempted to catch a volunteer's eye. More than one of the young men had lost his virginity in the middle of the lawn and Andrew didn't particularly want to be one of them.
Spotting the marquees that had been assembled to house the refreshment areas he nodded to the Marine and headed off in that direction. Wendy hung on to his arm and the naked, but smiling, Jessica followed on behind.
Elizabeth grabbed John Stewart and tugged, "Come on, we've got to stick with him," she said trailing after her brother. Behind her Steven gave a shrug and then held out his hand to a subdued Emily and smiled shyly, "I know we haven't been introduced," he said, "but I'm Steven."
Emily blushed again, as the young man looked her up and down, reminding her that she was naked. "P P Pleased to meet you," she stammered before grasping the outstretched hand and allowing him to lead her after the Royal couple. As they walked Emily commented, "You know, this is so impersonal."
Steven glanced from side to side, "True, and probably not the best way to do things but with the numbers involved a true courtship isn't really practical."
Emily found herself smiling at the young man, "And you'd like that, would you, a true courtship?" she asked.
Steven grinned at the woman who was just old enough to be his grandmother, "Why of course Milady," he said, giving her an abbreviated bow without breaking step.
"Oh we are going to get on so well," beamed Emily, forgetting for a moment the stress she'd been under. "I've always had a soft spot for a romantic." Steven blushed as the older woman beamed at him.
The walk to the marquees didn't take long and the group entered into relative peace and quiet. Much to his surprise Andrew found a fairly substantial group of people who had been watching the proceedings through the open flaps of the tent and had retreated inside at his groups' approach.
Puzzled, Andrew asked, "Aren't you interested in getting picked?" as he looked around.
An older woman dressed in a maid's uniform stepped forward. "Your highness, we were just hired to serve, we're not part of the party," she said by way of an explanation.
Andrew turned to the Marine and raised an eyebrow.
"Not our doing," the Marine replied to the implied question, "As far as we're concerned everyone present at an extraction is either a volunteer, a potential concubine or and idiot."
Andrew turned back to the woman, "Well, you heard it from the man," he said, "If any of you are interested in leaving then I suggest that you get out there and try your luck."
"Thank you, Your Highness," said the spokeswoman, then after giving him a quick curtsy she dashed for the door before anyone could say anything to stop or slow her down. Behind her the rest of the catering crew looked as though they wanted to get going after her.
"One moment," called the Prince, holding up a hand to keep people in place. "I need a couple more concubines and so do my friends here, so if you are interested in joining us then please stay, otherwise feel free to leave."
The majority of the catering people felt they had a better chance with the greater numbers outside and left without a backwards glance. There were about a dozen women and a couple of men left behind.
Andrew looked them over carefully, whomever he picked would be coming from this group, he had no intention of going back outside. They were a pretty average bunch, he thought, a couple of the younger girls could have been described as pretty but there was no one there that truly stood out. Then he remembered - looks didn't count - it was attitude that was important.
He turned to Elizabeth and Steven, "Pick a side," he said waving an arm around, "then we'll divide them up and see how things go."
Elizabeth nodded and moved off to the near side accompanied by John, Steven shrugged and still holding hands with Emily moved to the far side. Once they were in place Andrew turned back to the audience, "OK everyone," he said attracting their attention. "Each of us here can take at least three more people with us when we go, so if you really want to leave the Earth come and convince one of us to take you with us."
Adam looked on from just inside the tent's entrance and grinned, this was more like it he thought as he watched the people scramble to get closer to the three youngsters. He stood there with Jessica and Gail and prepared for the fun and games.
The two men made a beeline for the Princess but she told them straight that she'd got the one she wanted and they turned away. The older of the two departed immediately but the younger man crossed over to Steven, just in case. Emily was standing behind her young man and watching as women younger than herself attempted to entice him with their charms and she had to admit, even if only to herself, there were a lot of charms on display. She spotted the young man as he approached and decided to put in a word for him, if nothing else it would reduce the numbers she was competing with. In the end Steven ended up picking Alan, the young man, a young waitress by the name of Angela and two older women, Wendy and Nancy.
Elizabeth hadn't released her grip on John since she'd entered the tent and had looked positively scared at times but the young man, who despite giving the impression of being a free spirit, proved to be very sensible and managed to guide his chosen one's choices. Elizabeth ended up with another three females, twenty-two year old Heather, thirty-nine year old Jenny and forty-four year old Tracy.
Andrew looked at the crowd heading for him and glanced back over his shoulder, he noted that his 'mother' had sensibly stayed back with the Marine but that Wendy was in a sort of a no mans land, half way between the door and his position. He beckoned her forward and then turned to meet the rush.
"Ladies," he called, "get naked, if you're not nude then go and see one of the others."
It slowed them all down but only two went off else where. The five who remained began frantically removing clothes, which wasn't that difficult as the uniform they wore was more like an erotic French Maid's outfit than a sensible serving uniform. Their uniform was another victim of the cultural changes that had occurred since the Sa'arm incursion had been announced.
The women ranged in age from about his own age up to the early fifties, he guessed. All bar one would be described as overweight to some degree but he reminded himself, looks don't matter. The youngest was also the fittest, which seem about right. Andrew pointed at her and barked, "Get on your knees and crawl here," and pointed at a spot in front of him.
She complied immediately but the oldest woman got a funny look on her face and stepped back, bending to retrieve her uniform.
Andrew pointed at the next woman, "Now you."
He then did the same to each woman until he had them all lined up on their knees in front of him. Fighting down a blush he fished his prick out of his trousers and walked up to the youngest woman.
"Suck," was all he said and her head came forward and a warm mouth engulfed the young man's cock for the first time. He shut his eyes in pleasure but retained enough control to stop her after a minute or so before calling on her to stop. He moved down the line and based his decision on a single minute's sucking in each case.
He tucked himself back in and then nearly came in his pants as Wendy whispered in his ear; "Don't I get a chance?"
"No!" he squeaked and then turned back to the kneeling women. Pausing to regain his composure he looked along the line and then moved over to the third one in, "I'm sorry," he said, "but I won't be taking you."
He stepped back as the woman's head dropped and tears started, he gestured to the remaining women to rise and join him as he quietly moved back to the Marine. When they checked he'd picked Sandra, the eighteen year old, Margaret who was thirty-five and forty-one year old Kerry.
The Royal party, which now contained nearly twenty people headed towards the transporter terminus as Adam reported that they'd finished their selection process.
The cattle call, as most of the Marines referred to the final stages of any pickup, took a couple of hours to finish. In the end all nine hundred and seventy-eight volunteers had made their selections, as had the three people who had scored high enough and who now suddenly decided that volunteering was actually a good idea.
Of the six thousand people who had been eligible to go as concubines, less than fifteen hundred had not been picked up by a volunteer and nearly all of those who were being left behind were male. Or to look at it from the opposite point of view, nearly a thousand volunteers were taking four and a half thousand people with them to safety.
Those were the numbers until phase three of the extraction was activated, a phase that had never been used before.
"Your Majesty," called Captain Wainright from the edge of the lawn.
"Yes, Captain?" answered the young Queen.
"If you'd be so kind as to step up onto the patio and remain there, I'd like to finish this off," said the Captain.
"Why that particular spot, Captain?" asked the Queen suspiciously looking at the patio.
"Because Ma'am, I have had wall screen generators set up along the edge of the patio and I would like you to be behind them when I make the announcement."
The Prime Minister stepped up close to Beatrice, "Just do as he asks, Your Majesty," said the Prime Minister, "the last thing that we need now is any sort of disorder." He glanced over the gardens where more than fifty bodies were laid out, having been stunned by the Marines during the selection process.
The Queen, seeing sense, moved to the designated position and stood waiting for the Marine to move on. The shimmering of the wall shields could hardly be discerned in the failing sunlight of the summer's afternoon and didn't obstruct her view of proceedings one iota.
The Captain stepped forward and activated his voice amplifier. "All right everyone, we've nearly finished," he announced, "If I can have your attention for just a minute I'll talk you through the final stages of the extraction."
He waited until there was almost silence and began, "Each volunteer and his concubines will form a line in front of the transporter terminals that have been established next to the purple banners - the same ones you used earlier. Please move into position now."
Apparent bedlam ensued for ten minutes as people crossed the garden to get back to their original gate, the odd concubine got misplaced and had to be collected by a Marine and delivered to his or her sponsor. All the Captain could think was thank God for the AIs for keeping track of this lot! Without their help it would have been even more of a nightmare than it actually was.
Taking a deep breath the Captain called for attention and then announced formally, "The Government of Great Britain has passed legislation and the Confederacy is now invoking it, the 'Age Restrictions (Confederacy) (Amendments) Act'.. The Confederacy has decreed this act as active and that all children currently present will be extracted to the colonies for their safety. To facilitate this process each volunteer has been allocated an extra 'mother' and will take a group of children with them when they leave."
He looked around and then said, "This will happen now," he offered up a silent prayer and bellowed, "Begin!"
Earlier in the day the "children" (those under fourteen) had been collected together and moved off to one side to keep them out of harm's way whilst the adults went about their business. During the afternoon, as concubines were picked, various children had been claimed by their genetic parents and moved over to the 'new families' groups that were being established.
Now that the final extraction was approaching the remaining children, which of the original six thousand now came down to some two and a half thousand were being herded towards the different transporter terminals. Each stream had been split into small groups of two or three children each, in all cases efforts had been made to keep siblings together. The eldest child in each group was asked to keep the group together and in most cases this worked very well.
At the transporter terminus each small group of children was mated with its 'new parents' and the whole group stepped into the terminus together, disappearing from Earth forever. No party was being given time to contemplate what was happening, which was probably a good thing.
As the Queen and Prime Minister stood side by side on the patio and watched the new colonists disappearing Beatrice spoke quietly, "This is the end of your career you know?"
"I know Ma'am, but I've had enough of politics anyway," he said. "Whoever takes over the job from me, and it won't be Donald now, will have to make a decision similar to mine at some stage. I just hope that he has the courage to do the right thing when he's asked."
The two continued to watch in silence for a few more minutes before the Prime Minister asked, "What about the Royal Family, will it survive what's coming?"
"Probably," said Beatrice, "We've still got a lot of sympathy with the people and," she looked across to the Minister, "people actually believe us when we tell them things."
"True," agreed George Brown. "Politicians are the bogeymen," he said. "People think we've lied to them so often that we're incapable of telling the truth. Mainly it's just spin, but if you spin things enough they don't look like the original anymore. The Gulf war started it and it's just got worse since."
"Humm," murmured the Queen noncommittally.
"Oh it's true, Ma'am. I spoke to Tony about it when I came to power."
The Queen gave the Prime Minister her undivided attention.
"Tony was so convinced that Saddam had to go that he kept having the Security Services re-write their memo. In the end, whilst there was nothing factually wrong with what was said, it was so out of context that it became a meaningless document." The Prime Minister shrugged, "But it served Tony's purpose in that it convinced Parliament of the need to go to war. It was only later, when the lack of preparation and planning meant the damned occupation and insurgency dragged on for years that people began to question the whole escapade."
"And you think this will follow a similar path?"
"Not really," replied the Prime Minister, "with the Sa'arm getting closer and soon a full scale war going on this will quickly get swamped by other events, especially if we give the press some sort of lead." Then he added, "That's for everyone but the parents whose children we are effectively kidnapping," he said sadly.
"I wish there was some way we could get them all away but we only have limited resources," said the Queen, returning her gaze to the steadily dwindling lines of volunteers, concubines and children.
"The one thing I hope, and I've asked the people who are organising Albion to see if it can be achieved quickly, is to establish communications between them and us. " George Brown looked back over the gardens; "Being able to speak to the children and see that they are safe will ease a lot of the pain for the parents."
The two adults continued to watch as the queues for the transporters shrank until, at the end four remaining volunteers, Prince Andrew, Princess Elizabeth, Steven Brown and John Prendergast all turned and waved goodbye to the people clustered on the patio before stepping into the transporter field.
On the patio the Prime Minister said, "I wish Stephanie had been here to see this," referring to his deceased wife.
"I know what you mean," replied the Queen, her eyes filled with tears as she watched her only son, the spitting image of her murdered husband, leave the planet of his birth.
When Prince Andrew and the now not-so-small group accompanying him stepped from the transporter terminus into the receiving hold of the colony ship Boudicca they were nearly deafened by the racket. The Marines and Fleet Auxiliary crew were losing the battle to maintain control and tempers were fraying as a result.
Andrew looked at the Captain who'd appeared just behind him and shouted, "Is it normally like this?"
The Captain shook his head and guessed that it was because of the number of children. On a normal pickup the adults were bought aboard and settled down before the children they wanted were recovered. These children arrived into a settled environment with at least one of their own parents.
This was a total contrast, the average age of the volunteers was under eighteen and the children had been dragged up here at the same time. A lot of those children had neither of their parents with them and many of the volunteers they'd been assigned had no experience in looking after upset children. The military running the show were in exactly the same situation.
Andrew spotted his 'mother' and headed straight for her, dragging the rest of the party with him. "I know it's terribly remiss of me but I don't know your name?" said Andrew.
"Jessica, Your Highness," replied the naked woman.
"Jessica, for now just call me Andrew," said the Prince. "More importantly, have you got any suggestions of how we can calm this situation down?" he asked waving an arm to encompass the hold.
Jessica pointed to the small group with her and Andrew noted that it was his new family. Each of them was holding hands, and the youngsters were being comforted by the older members. "Get the families to hold hands, and sit down," Jessica said, "It's much harder to cause trouble when you can't rush around."
Andrew glanced at the Captain who shrugged, "We've tried but no one is listening."
Elizabeth piped up; "Play a fanfare, that always gets attention."
"Sounds reasonable," said Andrew, "Then follow it up with an announcement."
"I'll try it," said the Captain not sounding at all hopeful.
The sudden blast of a Royal fanfare stunned everyone, even those few who'd been expecting it. The announcement for everyone to sit and for 'family' members to hold hands was so loud that no one thought of disobeying. Even the Royal couple, who'd come up with the idea, found themselves sitting on the cold hard deck.
Captain Wainright was amazed at the response but didn't hang around to let things start again. He hopped up on a podium in the centre of the hold and started the standard speech that was given to all colonists.
Things went slowly, mainly due to the large numbers being processed, but they did hit on the odd hiccup as they went along. The medical testing was going to take days but as the average age was so low there didn't appear to be the excessive numbers of heart complaints and diabetes type problems that the extraction teams normally had to deal with.
One thing the Marines hadn't allowed for was the number of under fourteen-year olds that still to be picked up. Someone higher up had assumed that any adult present at the garden party would be there to escort their children and this assumption turned out to be wrong, badly wrong in fact.
All of the catering staff, the entertainment groups and security people present had been going about their normal working lives and following the extraction they had children they wanted to bring along with them. It turned out that even the parents who had been there with children often had younger children, who'd been left in the care of grandparents or friends, so that an older child could attend what was being billed as the party of a lifetime.
The Boudicca was soon full to overflowing, and something needed to be done about it, urgently, before lives were lost.
The answer was the Braemar, sister ship of the Boudicca and a ship that was conveniently in orbit waiting it's turn to do an extraction and colony run. Captain Wainright and Prince Andrew were fortunate in that they didn't get involved in the shenanigans that got the ship passed across to what was a purely British adventure but it was managed somehow. Favours were granted that would, no doubt, have to be repaid at some later stage.
Over the next three days the eligible children who were still on Earth were picked up and reunited with the parent who claimed them. The colonists were also split into two groups, with the second group being transferred across to the Braemar. Then, oblivious to the fuss being kicked up on their planet of origin the two ships started the long journey to Albion side by side.
The Right Honourable Member for Bromhurst stood between the rows of green leather seats and called clearly. "Mr Speaker, it is only fair that the Prime Minister, who after all, was present during the abduction of the Nations' children, should be given a chance to put his side of the story to the House." Around him the backbenchers were yelling their support in a most undignified manner.
The implication, inherent in the statement, to the effect that the Prime Minister was in some way responsible for the events that had occurred at Buckingham Palace was not missed by the man himself. The Prime Minister rose and gripped the sides of the despatch box amid the roar from his own back benchers. Both sides of the house were trying to drown each other out, calls of "shame," and "here, here," could be heard amidst the general hullabaloo - Party politics at its very best. The Speaker of the House called for 'Order' and the Prime Minister waited for relative calm to be restored.
As he waited the Prime Minister mused on the one saving grace so far and that was that Donald Prendergast had stayed out of the battle and probably, judging from events, had been doing his best to rein in his party. How much longer those two states would be true was open to debate. Donald's' position as head of the opposition party was under severe pressure for allowing his wife and children to leave with the young Royals.
The tabloid press had been having a field day over the numbers of children who'd been taken without consulting their parents. The broadsheets were attempting to give a more informed opinion but as a whole the press was behaving like a rabid pack running wild. The fact that, after careful reflection, most of the families involved had come out in favour of the event was being ignored, with only the statements of a minority of the parents, those who were complaining, appearing in print - usually under glaring banner headlines proclaiming 'Child Abuse' and 'Kidnapping'.
"Mr Speaker," the Prime Minister's opening words completely silencing the House. "As my learned friend so clearly stated, I was present when the Confederacy carried out an extraction of volunteers at the Queen's garden party and I can say categorically that force, as has been reported by various tabloids, was not used to remove our children."
The subtle reminder that his own son had left was missed by most of the members present, "The Act, which this assembly passed, was followed to the letter and gave those present no option but to comply with the lawful procedure being enacted. That members of the security forces, the police and the judiciary, who were present at the event, concur with this statement is in the public domain. Whilst the action may not have been the purpose of, or even within the spirit of, the legislation that we passed, it was within the letter of that Act."
The Prime Minister paused and looked around, the silence becoming almost frightening, "This fact is something that everyone in this House, and that other place, is going to have to live with!"
This created an uproar; so much so that the Speaker was forced to suspend the session, which may well have been George Brown's plan. Quietly the Prime Minister left the room, wondering how much longer he would be able to hold his position, a task he was heartily sick of doing...
The White House press briefing was slightly less fraught, but not by much.
"Mr President, do you expect an attempt to be made to put through legislation similar to the British 'Age Restrictions Act' during the next session?"
The President felt all eyes in the room swing towards him. 'Why, oh why, had the British done it so blatantly', he thought. 'If they'd kept it to a few at a time it would have never been noticed and I could have got the same provisions onto our statute books.'
"You need to put that question to the Senators and Congressmen, not me. I have no plans to put forward anything similar at this time."
"Mr President, do you believe that what the British have done is wrong?"
"Wrong! No I wouldn't go that far," said the President, "I might find it distasteful but I can understand the thinking behind it. Whether it is the best solution is hard to say." He glanced around the room and saw many sceptical looks, "How many times have we heard tales of desperate parents handing over their infants to strangers to get them safely off of sinking ships?" He looked down for a moment, "To the British Government this is simply a formal version of women and children first, especially children first," he emphasised. "I for one am not prepared to condemn that mentality even if I personally find the method they used to implement it a little excessive."
The room looked at him in silence, then the reporter from MSN asked, "Mr President, has there been any word from the Confederacy on when extractions will begin again in Texas?"
The President sighed, as if he didn't have enough problems of his own...
John was beginning to feel the pressure, nothing overt, but all around him people were having SEX and he was living in a pod with his mother and sister. Sara Thyme, the twenty-nine year old he'd picked as his second concubine was also there but the whole atmosphere in the pod was inhibiting.
Steven, in the next pod over, had already broken his duck and seemed to be coping reasonably well with the situation. True, he didn't have his mother and sister along but he seemed to be settling into the new lifestyle successfully. At least Wendy, his mother, was fulfilling the mother role she'd been bought for and was taking care of the three kids he'd inherited, which was a Godsend.
John wasn't sure what he was going to do but he needed to do something. Rather than sit in the pod and mope he decided to see what Steven was up to.
Half an hour later he was letting Steven know how he felt.
"Come on John, it can't be that bad?"
"No, you try thinking of sex when your mother is watching you like a hawk and your sister is the intended target." He looked down, "I just don't think that it's going to work, but if it does the consequences aren't worth thinking about."
"What about those Civil Service people we've been told about?" asked Steven.
"They're not set up yet," John smiled sardonically, "It appears that they didn't think they'd be needed this early in the extraction."
"You know," said Steven, "they're only concubines, you could always swap them."
"I know, but I don't know if I can give my sister away," bleated John.
"Well, let's face it John, the choice is give her away or fuck her!" said Steven, "which one would be easier."
"I think my mother would be unhappy if I gave Gail away," said John.
"And how would she feel if you bent her over and gave her one?"
"I'd probably end up dead," said John.
"So the better option is to give her away," said Steven.
He thought for a moment and then said "I'll tell you what, I'll take her and you can have one of mine in return. If things get too frantic we can swap them back but if you can cope it'll be a good solution to your problem."
John's eyes lit up, "It would wouldn't it, but how do I sell it to Mom and Gail?"
"You don't sell it," said Steven, "You go in there and give orders. I'll come along and we'll do the exchange there and then. By the time they recover from the shock I'll be back here with Gail and you'll only have to deal with your mother."
John pondered but couldn't come up with a better plan. "So which of your concubines do I get in exchange?" he asked.
"Ladies," bellowed Steven, "come in here."
The four women in the pod came running from all directions.
"Line up against that wall," said Steven pointing and the women did as he ordered. When they'd stopped moving Steven stood and walked to the first woman in the line. "This is Emily, she's the mother in this group," he moved forward and continued speaking, "this is Angela, this is Wendy and finally this is Nancy."
Introductions complete, Steven returned to his seat.
"I'd rather you didn't pick Emily," he said, "but other than that the choice is yours."
"Two Wendy's would be confusing," said John and then fell into the trap of picking what he saw, "I'll take Angela if that's alright."
Steven was more than happy with John's choice. Angela was the youngest woman in the pod but she was so much younger than the others that she hadn't really fit in. It hadn't caused any problems yet but the gap was there and Steven was happy to swap her. He hoped that Gail, who was only sixteen, would be seen as a child and so would be more acceptable to the rest of the women in his group.
Steven stood once more and pointed at Angela, "Get rid of the clothes."
As Angela, looking confused, did as she was ordered John asked, "How do you do that, just give the orders?"
"It's hard," admitted Steven quietly, "It's a combination of being forceful and being rude. In normal conversation I still use please and thank you but if I want something doing I drop those and just say what I want." He grinned at the younger boy, "I still get it wrong when I'm dealing with Emily but as she was the one that told me how to do it she makes allowances for my mistakes."
John was still looking thoughtful as he followed Steven and the naked Angela out of the pod. His own pod opened to his voice and he led the way into the living area. Taking a deep breath, and remembering how Steven had performed, he yelled, "Get in here, now!" and then stood there looking nervous.
Sara was the first in and John just pointed to a convenient blank wall. As she moved to it Gail and Wendy came into the room.
"What do you want?" asked Wendy.
"Just stand against that wall," said John pointing to where Sara was stood, "you too Gail."
The two women slowly moved to the indicated positions, giving John a strange look as they did so.
Swallowing hard John began, "I'm not happy with the way things have been working out and have decided to make some changes." He pointed at his sister, "You Gail will be going with Steven, and Angela," he shifted his finger, "will be joining us."
Gail just burst into tears, beside her Wendy went white. "She's not, you're not just giving..."
"Be quiet! Now!" shouted John.
The room went silent, more in surprise than in obedience to the instruction.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself John continued, "Mom, this isn't working," he said waving his arm around, "and keeping us all together isn't going to help. It'll be better for everyone if Gail goes next door and, as I'm in charge here, that is what is going to happen." The last was said in a very firm voice.
Steven gently pushed Angela forward, "Gail," he said calmly, "come here."
Gail looked at her mother, who just stood there ashen faced, and then at her brother, who was looking more determined than she'd ever seen him before. Then she looked at the young man who just spoken. Slowly, as though walking through treacle, she moved to his side.
Steven looked at Wendy, "You may come and visit your daughter, but not for a week, and she'll be steering clear of you for the same time." He didn't wait for an answer but turned and walked towards the exit, "Come on Gail," he ordered and the sixteen-year-old, with tears streaming down her face, left her mother and brother for the unknown.
Andrew, followed by his household, entered the booth and after a quick look around he found a seat and settled down. The booth was one of the many temporary structures that had been set up to facilitate the indoctrination process for the new colonists. A simple plastic panel acted as a separator from the similar booths on either side and the privacy generator kept any noise out and ensured that whatever happened in the booth stayed there.
As Andrew took his seat a holographic image was generated in the centre of the room.
"This is Albion, third planet of the system and the site of your colony," intoned the AI. "As this planet is completely benign the amount of support available will be minimal at first. The pods you currently occupy along with a basic replicator, medical station and transporter technology will be all that is available for at least one local year."
Jessica looked across at Andrew and noted that he didn't look happy at what he was hearing and said, "Did you know about this?"
Andrew shrugged; it actually was the first he'd heard of it.
The AI continued, "The survey team suggested the following locations as suitable sites for townships, each of them offering a good mix of water, power and crop raising soils."
"Stop!" demanded Andrew, "Why would we need crop raising areas if we have replicators?"
The AI could almost be heard sniffing before it replied. "The replicators work best when the source material is close to the finished product. For foodstuffs it has been found that implementing a basic Soya, alfalfa and corn rotation pattern provides the best mix of raw materials and can reduce power consumption and time requirements by up to fifty percent. This, as I'm sure you can see, results in either an increase in quantity and variety of food stocks or more time for other replication tasks."
"So we become an agricultural planet with the major aim of increasing our population," Andrew said and then asked, "What about the military, won't they be taking volunteers and resources away from us?"
"No, recruitment from this colony has been put on hold for a minimum of three years, it is hoped that this moratorium can be held for up to five years, though that is dependant on the military situation," replied the AI.
Andrew looked at the hologram that was slowly rotating before him and saw that the island were marked with small red lights, the proposed townships. "How many townships are being established?"
"That figure has yet to be decided," declared the AI.
Andrew slumped back in his chair, "Continue the briefing, please," he said.
The AI did as requested, "As with all colonies the volunteers will be responsible for the behaviour of their concubines. In this particular case those concubines will be used to work the fields until sufficient robotic support capabilities have been replicated. At which time it is envisaged that additional new townships will be established to increase living space and to increase the number of concubines that can be devoted to breeding purposes."
Wendy looked across to Andrew and held up her hand.
"Pause," said Andrew and the AI stopped. "Yes Wendy?"
"Will we be given a choice as to which role we perform?" she asked.
Before Andrew could say anything the AI answered, "The volunteer will decide which task each of his concubines are to perform, failure to comply on the part of the concubine will result in it being rejected or recycled."
Jessica looked shocked and Wendy went wide-eyed at that comment, "Recycled?" she gasped.
Andrew was frowning as he listened to the AI, "Yes, recycled through the replicators as raw material."
All of the women were looking at the young man, waiting for him to say something. Shrugging he told the AI to continue the briefing.
"At this time it is not envisaged that there will be any additional colonists bought to this system for at least a local year, at which time the additional resources should be available to support them." The holograph zoomed out, showing a representation of the spiral arm, "The Sa'arm incursion is not anticipated arriving in this system in anything under twenty-five years and it is hoped that they will never get here. Therefore system defence is not considered a priority."
Andrew, still frowning, asked, "So the plan is to dump us here, as we are, for at least a year and than come back and see how we are doing?"
"Not exactly," replied the AI, "though it may seem like that to the colonists who are on the planet."
Silence greeted the stark reply as each person came to grips with the thought of being abandoned so far from home.
"I'm the Governor?"
"That's right, Andrew and don't sound so surprised."
Andrew didn't look convinced, "But surely there's someone out there better qualified to run a new colony?"
"Probably," said the Captain, "but you've got the job and unless you specifically give it up, or the Confederacy council orders your removal, it's yours until you retire or," he added with a grin, "you die."
"Yeah, life sucks," said Roger Wainright looking at the former Prince. "So now that we've got that out of the way what are you going to do?"
"What do you mean, do?" asked the confused young man.
"Do! You know, prepare your people for the new colony, get things organised, establish priorities and all that sort of thing," said the Marine.
Andrew slumped down and looked as though he wanted to cry.
Roger grinned when the young man wasn't looking, he wasn't too worried, and most of what needed doing happened automatically when a colony was established. The AIs had a standard procedure in place now for indoctrinating colonists and ensuring that they were healthy and, in the case of concubines, generally obedient. What Andrew needed to think about, and the whole purpose of this conversation, was the medium-to-long-term future of his new colony.
"Andrew, Albion is being set up as a breeder colony. Its overriding aim is to produce warm bodies." The Marine held up his hand to forestall the protest that the former Prince was about to make, "Yes I know that's callous but, in case you hadn't noticed, we're in a war of extermination. Survival is the aim of the game, which means, as a race, we have to get out there and spread ourselves. Which in its turn means breeding." The Marine paused and took a sip of the drink he'd been holding.
"The initial rush was for fighting troops, and if it was left up to the Generals, everyone who leaves Earth would be given a rifle and sent to fight but that would be the quickest way to lose," said Roger. "We need to get big enough to stop the Sa'arm on our own," he shook his head to stop Andrew interrupting, "Yes I know we are part of the Confederacy but the rest of them don't fight!"
Andrew looked shocked.
Roger chuckled, "If you think about it, the other members of the Confederacy have remained firmly in the background. The Darjee are the only race that humans have been reported to be in regular contact with and it's only their technology we've been receiving. The propaganda war has been going very well, but that is all it is, propaganda. Once you get out here you learn the truth and the truth is that this war is down to us."
"Let me see if I've got this right," said Andrew, sitting back and thinking, "I'm the Governor of this colony and I'm going to have minimal support from the Confederacy because they are either fighting or don't associate with Humans at all. In addition I have to get this place organised, using whatever means I like, and nobody will care as long as they work and the population is growing?"
"Pretty much," said the Marine becoming serious.
"Any form of government I like is acceptable?" asked the former Prince.
"Any," replied the Marine. "Most of the colonies, up to now, have stuck with direct rule by the Governor."
"But they're all military colonies, aren't they?"
The Marine nodded.
"Centred around one or two townships?"
"And the people will all be used to military discipline with a proper chain of command in place," Andrew steepled his fingers and suddenly appeared much older than his actual age. "Mom said I needed to pay attention in my history lessons," he mussed, "I can see why now."
"AI," Andrew called, "bring up the map of Albion with the suggested township locations on it."
The hologram reappeared in the air in front of the former prince.
"How many family groups are there and what is the suggested minimum for a township?" Andrew asked, watching the globe rotate slowly before him.
"There are nine hundred and eighty-one volunteers with their concubines and dependants split between the two vessels," replied the AI. "The earliest colonies were established using the one hundred pod Aurora class colony ships and this was believed to be the ideal size for starting a township."
A small blemish on the rotating globe caught the young man's eye, "Stop the animation please," he called before standing and moving closer. "Can you enlarge this section?" he asked waving his hand at an area of blue between three of the continents.
The blurring motion as the AI adjusted the scale caused him to step back. Across the room Captain Wainright looked on, amazed at how the young man had switched his focus.
The image now displayed showed a small - well, relatively small - island positioned roughly equidistant from three of the bigger island continents. On its northern edge was one of the red dots that indicated a suitable site for a township. Stroking his chin, as he looked Andrew thought on his options without saying a word. He stood like that for several minutes before, "Keep the small island centred and zoom out until all of the adjacent continents are in view."
The image twitched slightly to centre the island and then it was as if the camera rose and more of the globe came into view. When the third continent was fully displayed the image froze.
Andrew did a quick count and came up with a number in the high teens, he scanned the distribution and it looked about equal across the continents. "That should do," he muttered before raising his voice, "Divide each of the continents on display into three roughly equal parts, using natural features as the boundaries if possible and indicate the best township site in each of these new zones." Andrew continued to ruminate on his options as the map grew thin red lines and then nine of the dots began to blink.
"Add the next best township site on each continent and flash that one in green," said Andrew and watched as another dot changed appearance.
He turned to the Marine and asked, "Captain, is there anyway of seeing if any of the volunteers are heads of companies or something similar?"
"I'm not sure," said Roger before shifting emphasis in his voice, "AI?"
"We have their former employment on record," replied the disembodied voice, "There are three chairmen, two managing directors, two chief financial officers and a chief information officer listed."
"Humm... That gives me eight," Andrew said to himself, "where can I find another one..."
Roger Wainright watched the young man but said nothing; he didn't want to influence any decisions, though he could think of one group that probably existed amongst the volunteers. The young man's next question proved that he'd thought of that same group.
"Are there any ex-general's, or the Air Force or Navy equivalents in the volunteers?"
"There is one retired Admiral, one Brigadier and an Air Commodore," replied the AI.
"Bingo," said Andrew. "Have any of the continents been named yet?"
"No, none of the land masses on Albion have been given labels."
"Right! This one here," he said pointing to the continent North of the small island, "is Saint David." His hand swung to the right and down, "this one will be Saint Andrew and the third one will be Saint Patrick." He returned his finger to the small island situated between the larger continents, "and this island will be known as Saint George."
Roger found himself nodding, recognising the patron saints of the home nations.
Andrew smiled at the Marine, "Well, that's got the place named, all I have to do now is Govern it."
Andrew and Roger had a break for refreshments before Andrew called on the AI again, "Please have my sister, Steven Brown and John Prendergast come here, will you."
Roger looked at the Prince, "The Earth First leaders' son?"
"That's right," said Andrew, "I don't know much about him but the chances are he'll have different ideas and beliefs to me." He shrugged, "It wouldn't be a good idea to have all the people close to me with the same mindset, not in the long run."
After a short pause Andrew switched gears completely. "These two ships we're on have a total of two thousand pods between them, don't they?" he asked.
"Err... Yes," said Roger a little thrown by the sudden change in subject.
"Do I get all of them?" Andrew asked.
The Marine Captain made the decision on the spot, "Yes," he declared, he'd live with any flak over the decision when it came.
Nodding, Andrew turned back to the map and studied it while he waited for the people he'd summoned to arrive.
His sister's arrival broke him away from his thoughts and then the two young men arrived together, fortunately before his sister could start giving him a hard time about his abrupt summons.
"OK everyone," said the Prince, "grab a seat and get ready for a couple of shocks." Andrew dropped back into his seat and observed the others. The looks he was given at that announcement nearly caused him to smile but he waited until everyone was seated before continuing.
"This," he said waving at the projected image, "is going to be our new home."
The raised eyebrows and muttered comments of 'we know' had him raising his own eyebrows but he ploughed on. "Now for the first of the scary bits, I'm the Governor!"
He waited for a response and was a little disappointed when there wasn't much of one.
"OK," he said, "If that wasn't enough to scare you try this, you are each going to be running one of these continents," he waved at the three landmasses with their outlined areas.
That, for Andrew, produced a much more satisfying result.
"Are you mad?" asked Steven.
His sister chimed in with, "Where did you come up with such a stupid idea?"
The young Prendergast just sat there with his mouth wide open clearly shocked.
Off to the side Roger had to wonder at the idea of using such young people to rule what would become vast continents but he held his peace and waited to see where the surprising young man was going with this.
"I would say it's simple," said Andrew, "but it's not and I don't want to give you the idea that this will be easy, because that would be a lie too." He waved at the Northern continent, "This is Saint David and you Elizabeth will be ruling it as the Duchess of Saint David. Likewise Saint Andrew for you Steven and Saint Patrick for John where you will both be Dukes. I will be here on Saint George." His hand had swept around the displayed map as he spoke.
"Each of these areas," he said indicating the way the continent had been divided, "is going to be a Province and they will be ruled by a Marquis or Marchioness. I've already got nine people lined up to run them, though they haven't been told of their good fortune yet."
Andrew looked around; "They will be the people who will be doing the real work because they will have a township to run at the same time as overseeing the development of their province. You three will establish small communities where the green lights are flashing and watch what is going on around you."
"Why not just have three townships per continent and make us a Marquis, surely that would be easier?" asked Steven staring at the map.
"You're possibly right, in the short term," said Andrew, "but when the second wave of colonists arrive in a year or two your towns will grow to full size and other towns will be established on the continent. By then you will have seen how the experienced people run their towns and will be ready to do the same with your own."
He looked at the three of them and saw doubt in their eyes, "This way also ensures that there is someone who isn't bogged down in running the day-to-day operations and who can act as an independent judge if anything untoward occurs."
John frowned as he looked at the map and then stared at Andrew, "And you'll just be on this small island?" he asked, clearly thinking that it was strange that he got a continent and the Prince somewhere smaller.
"Yes," said Andrew and took a deep breath, "but I'll also be your King."
The five people in the room stared at the map and tried to assimilate what Andrew had been saying.
John was the first to recover, "I take it that you've got a full nobility sketched out?"
"After a fashion," replied Andrew. "I know what jobs will get what title but I haven't got a list of people to put in those slots."
"So what do you envisage?" said John still looking at the map.
"Eventually everyone of these continents will be populated," said Andrew after getting the globe to begin rotating again. "Each of them will be run by a Duke. All of the Dukes, or Duchesses," he said with a smile to his sister, "will be on my advisory council."
"Each of the continents will be split into provinces, which will be ruled by Marquis and those people will make up each Duke's advisory council." Andrew looked away from the map, "Each of the provinces will be split into counties and they'll be under the direction of a Count. The counties will then be split down into smaller areas which, at the moment, I'm thinking of calling Manors and these will be looked after by a Baron."
Andrew had the hologram cleared away, "That is as far as it goes at the moment, beneath the Barons will be the rest of the volunteers, call them vassals for now. The concubines will be the serfs, really just property, as they are now."
Steven started, paused, then began again. "Don't they have any say in things?"
"The concubines, No," said Andrew, "And the vassals won't have a lot of input for a long time. I reckon a hundred years or so from now the vassals will get to form a Parliament and we can go to a two-tier system of government, similar to home. But that's a long way off and until we get there we will have absolute power."
"But absolute power corrupts absolutely," declared Steven with authority.
"And that is the one real problem I can see with this system," said Andrew. "Not so much now, as I think we are all going to be to busy expanding our colony. But further down the line, when expansion slows then it could become a problem and, I hope, that by then we will have been transformed into some sort of democracy."
"Why not just go for a democracy now?" asked John.
"Because a democracy wouldn't work," said Elizabeth, answering for her brother. "A democracy is all very well when you can take time to make decisions and everyone, not just the powerful, can be involved. But like a committee it isn't very good when decisive leadership is called for." She smiled at Steven, "In a way that was one of the problems with how things were run at home, the politicians were trying to be decisive but they had become separated from the people."
"Uhmm," said Steven and then thought better of whatever he was going to say and changed the subject. "So how are we going to settle Albion?" he asked looking at Andrew.
"Each of you will be getting roughly three hundred family groups, to be divided into three townships of about ninety groups and a thirty group town for yourselves. The remainder of the family groups will be with me on Saint George."
Andrew thought for a moment and then continued, "Before we get to Albion you'll need to get together with your Marquis or Marchionesses and decide where you intend to develop next because we will be putting empty pods into those locations to assist. After that things will have to be done the old fashioned way using wood and stone."
"Who are you going to make into a Marquis?"
"I don't know their names, Sis," said Andrew, "and I'm going to allocate them on a random basis so there can be no suggestion of bias on my part."
"When?" asked John.
"We'll get together tomorrow and call them in and inform them of the good news." Andrew grinned, "and I hope they take it as well as you three have."
"As though we had any choice," said Steven.
Which bought chuckles from everyone.
The following morning the Duke's Council, as Andrew insisted on referring to it, met again.
"Has anyone had any major thoughts on what we discussed yesterday?" he asked as everyone settled into their chairs.
"You mean other than that you are mad?" asked Steven.
Andrew grinned, "Yeah, other than that."
"Not really," said Steven, "I guess I'm waiting to see how this pans out before I get too excited at the prospects of being a Duke."
"Me too," said John. "I keep thinking that we're just a bunch of kids playing at being grown ups and then, when I remember how the rules had changed and that I am one of the grown ups, it's a sobering thought."
"That it is," agreed Andrew and after a pause he asked, "So is everyone happy to continue as we are for now?"
On receiving three affirmatives he had the AI summon the people it had identified the day before.
"What's going to happen now," said Andrew, "is that as the people come in they will be invited to sit. Where they sit determines which of you they will belong to."
"So that's why we're set on the three sides of this table with all the extra chairs," said Elizabeth.
Her brother grinned at her and nodded.
They didn't have to wait long before the first man arrived. He stuck his head through the entrance and saw the youngsters sitting there and frowned.
"Excuse me," he said, "Can you tell me what's going on here?"
"I'll do that in a moment, sir," said Andrew, "We're just waiting for a few more people to arrive so if you could just take a seat."
The man looked puzzled but moved forward and sat down on Steven's side of the table. The procedure was repeated as each person arrived until the nine selectees were seated. When the ninth person had entered the room Captain Wainright appeared and stood at rest by the exit, he looked for all the world as though he was there to ensure that no one left.
Andrew looked at the nine older people around the table, several of whom were becoming agitated, and attempted to smile. "Good Morning," he began. "For those of you who don't recognise me I'm Andrew, formerly the Prince of England and now the appointed Governor of Albion."
When at least two of the newcomers tried to speak Andrew held up his hand. "Please," he said, "let me finish what I have to say and then we will have time for your questions."
He waited until everyone had settled down again before continuing.
"How they decided I was to hold that position I can't say but as the Captain and the AI will confirm it's now my job. As such I've had to decide how the planet is going to be run and who is going to be doing what when we get there." He managed to smile, "Which brings us round to your part in my nefarious plan."
"AI, the map please," he called and a hemispherical slice of Albion appeared on the table. "To make it simple to see where people fit in I am granting titles and positions of authority. These three landmasses are where we will be settling, each of them is to be ruled by a Duke or Duchess." Andrew looked up from the map and indicated his sister, "The Duchess of Saint David will be ruling this continent which turned yellow, the colour of a daffodil. The Duke of Saint Andrew," he said indicating Steven, "will rule this continent," which turned purple, matching the flower of the thistle. "The third continent will be looked after by the Duke of Saint Patrick," and it duly turned the green of the shamrock."
"Wait!" he snapped as one of the men started to rise. "You really don't want to leave before you hear your part in this plan."
The man sank back into his chair, subdued by the manner in which the former Prince spoke.
"Each of you will be looking after a Province, that's the area outlined in red, and will have the title of Marquis. Marquis of what will be up to you, but you will make up the advisory body for your respective Duke or Duchess." He looked around the table and saw a mixture of interest, confusion and disbelief. "And you," he said indicating the only woman in the newcomers, "will have the title of Marchioness."
The woman looked up for a moment and then glanced back at the map, "I take it I'll be expected to take one of these Provinces?" she asked pointing to the continent of Saint Patrick after glancing at John alongside her.
"That's right," replied Andrew.
She glanced back at the map and almost as if she couldn't believe what she was doing, she ran her finger around the coastline of the nearest Province to her.
From a little further down that side of the table a slender man gave a short cough, "If we are running these Provinces, what will we be commanding?"
Andrew smiled to himself, surely this was the Admiral.
"You'll initially be setting up and looking after a township of about ninety family groups," he said. "As time goes by you will supervise the establishment of a full infrastructure for your Province, with Counties, other towns and villages as required."
"And these will all have their own Marquis?" questioned a swarthy looking man from the end of the table.
"No," said Andrew. "Each Province will have a Marquis, yourselves. The Counties you establish will be the responsibility of a Count and under them will be Barons, who are looking after Manors."
"That's pretty medieval," commented the swarthy man.
"That's right," said Andrew, "And until we are established and the planet is populated it's going to stay that way."
The woman looked up and asked, curiously, "Why aren't there any Earls in your scheme?"
Andrew smiled, "Because there isn't a female equivalent to an Earl," he said. "The title normally used by a woman in that position back on Earth is Countess and I felt that, as that's the same title a woman who is a Count would use, it would belittle the position of a female Earl. So I ignored that rank completely. I was considering just using the single title for both sexes but found I couldn't think of a Lady as a Duke or a Count, so I dropped the one title that didn't fit."
Almost without realising it the people around the table had accepted the plan that Andrew put forward, no one suspected that the nannites they'd all received during their medical examinations had anything to do with it. The group settled down to discuss and amend the plan and fill in the details as they went along as if the whole thing had been their own idea.
The first thing that Andrew had them do was introduce themselves, which caused a bit of surprise.
"You don't know who we are?" asked the man whom Andrew had labelled the Admiral.
"No," said Andrew, "I asked the AI for people who had experience running various organisations, businesses, the military and that sort of thing, and you nine came out on top. When you entered the room you sat where you wanted, which decreed what continent you'd be on." Andrew looked around, "It may not have been the most scientific way of doing things, but given that we arrive at Albion in three weeks time and we will have to be ready for that event I had to do something now. I was always told that it is better to do something than sit around dithering and decide what to do too late. At least this way there will be people on hand," he waved his arm to indicate the people at the table, "to deal with any problems that arise."
"Then we better make those introductions," said the man rising to his feet. "My name is Lawrence Ramage and I was an Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy," he sat down.
The woman who was sat on the same side of the table stood, "I'm Sybil Marlin," she said, "I was the chairperson of, Oh it doesn't matter now, call it a fashion business."
As she sat the third newcomer on that side of the table stood, "My name is David Zayas, I was a chief financial officer of, well, let's just say that it was a pretty big corporation not that that fact, as Sybil just pointed out, makes much difference anymore."
He sat down quickly and before anyone else could rise Andrew looked at John, "John, they don't know you."
"Oh yes," said John getting to his feet, "My name is John Prendergast, I er... urm..."
"And you're the person I've made Duke of Saint Patrick," said Andrew. He looked around the table, "I know the people I've put in as Dukes don't have the experience that you do but they are my choices and are willing to learn from all of you."
He allowed his eyes to do a lap of the table before calling, "Steven."
"I'm Steven Brown, son of George Brown and have been titled the Duke of Saint Andrew."
As he sat the swarthy man stood, "My name is Ellis Durst, I was a chairman of a manufacturing company."
The plump man next to him rose to his feet, "Cuthbert Buell," he said, "Former Managing Director." He dropped back down and the third man, who Andrew had noted on arrival because of a severe limp simply waved and said, "I'm Jonas Swinney, I was the Chief Geek at a computer firm. Forgive me not rising but I broke a leg a week ago and it's going to take another couple of days before I get full use of it back."
Andrew nodded his appreciation and then turned to his sister and raised an eyebrow.
"I'm Elizabeth Windsor, Duchess of Saint David," she said and sat.
The youngest looking man in the group stood, "I'm Martin Cundiff, I held the position of Managing Director at a fairly large construction company."
Alongside the young man was sat a well dressed gentleman how rose to his feet with ease and said, "Allen Graber at your service, I was a chairman of a financial company." He sat down and looked to his neighbour.
"I'm Gabriel Treece," he said, "and like David, I was a chief financial officer." Finished he sat down and looked around.
At the head of the table Andrew smiled, "Welcome to the Grand Council," he said, "now all we have to do is get a planet organised in less than three weeks." He looked around the table; "Shall we begin?"
"I'm not sure if it's the right thing to do," said John, "but I want to get as many of the families who are Irish and bring them to Saint Patrick."
"You want to set up a New Ireland?" asked Sybil, "Are you Irish?"
"No to both," said John, "but I thought it would be a good way to get a bit of community spirit going and that could be useful when things get tough."
The former Admiral looked thoughtful, "And if we give each Province an Irish name it would reinforce that perception."
"It would," agreed John.
"What about the troubles?" asked David.
"From the little I know that was based on something that happened hundreds of years ago and had become irrelevant - just an excuse if you like for thugs to run riot and demand money," said John. "The last thirty years or so it had been about civil rights, and well, they're totally different out here so if we can avoid allowing religion to have any say in policies I think we can safely ignore the past."
Sybil was nodding and Lawrence agreed, "I've seen more trouble caused by religion than anything else."
David looked a little miffed, "I'm Jewish and I intend to stay so," he declared.
"And so you should," said John, "My dad said that religion was great for the individual but terrible for the nation. I think that is how we should look at things, your beliefs are your business and no one else's."
"So no state church, no blasphemy, no race relations act?" asked Sybil.
"Definitely no state church, so blasphemy is a non-starter. Race relations will only be an issue if racists are allowed to push their views and I don't think Andrew or the Confederacy will allow that." He looked around the small group, "I don't know about you three but I always felt that if you talked at length about something that could become a problem it tended to happen, whereas if you just kept an eye out for it, generally, it didn't occur."
David looked sceptical but Sybil and Lawrence seemed to agree.
"Anyway," said John, "what are you going to call yourselves?"
Across the room Steven was putting forward a similar idea to John's, an idea that he had discussed with his friend the evening before.
"Scotland in Space!" blurted out Jonas.
"Well I think it's a good idea," said Ellis.
"You would," said Cuthbert, "You're a Jock."
"True, but I'd be willing to adopt you as fellow countrymen so I can't be all bad," replied a smiling Ellis.
"Maybe not," replied Cuthbert, "but what makes you think I'd want that?"
"Why not? You'd even get a kilt," said Ellis.
"Calm down," said Steven with a grin, "I had no intention of making kilts compulsory, I mean, have you seen my legs." He was happy that all of them seemed to be getting on so well and hoped that things would continue this way. "What do you think is going to be the biggest problem we'll have?"
It was Jonas who answered first, "People and jobs," he said. "Even with the numbers we've got we are going to be short of bodies. There are an awful lot of kids on these ships and they are going to take looking after which, in turn, reduces the number of people we are going to have able to put in the fields. And that is where the second problem will be. The people we've got with us are not from an agricultural background, they're office and factory workers with no experience of farm work. If we're not careful we will end up like Vietnam after the war and be sending soft people out into a harsh environment where all they will do is suffer. All that does is breed discontent, which I'd think, is something we want to avoid."
"Definitely, but what can we do about it?" asked Steven.
Jonas answered the question. "Obviously get more people, but where the jobs are concerned I think we'll need to be very careful. Explain what is happening and why - I know the AIs have already told us but I believe we need to keep repeating the story. Then do everything we can to mitigate the workload. Spread it around - automate as much as possible - only perform in the hardest areas for short periods- offer incentives and rewards to people who work well," he said. "And then do anything else that we can think of that will lower the physical and mental shock to the people who find themselves in the fields."
"We'll need to ensure that people don't feel isolated," said Steven. "We talked of towns but it sounds like scattered villages would be better. That will probably cause problems with resource allocations and that in turn could lead to the people in the backend of nowhere feeling that we aren't thinking of them."
"Communications are going to be key," said Ellis, "We need to get our message across to the people and, more importantly, have a way for them to get their points back to us. Separation, with so few people available, could kill the whole project."
"Killing the project is not just the financial disaster that it would have been back on Earth," said Cuthbert, "it's fatal, it leaves people dead and is not an option."
Steven suddenly began to feel pressure. Up until now it had been an interesting game. All of a sudden it was real and he was the one at the top who had to make it work. "Then we'd better make sure that the project succeeds, hadn't we?" he said, looking around the group.
Elizabeth looked at the three older men with her and smiled sweetly, "My brother has named our continent Saint David and I know that those two," she waved an arm at Steven and John, "are planning to grab all the Scots and Irish to populate their Dukedoms. Should we do the same with the Welsh?"
"I doubt if it would be practical," said the youngest of the men.
"Why's that, Martin?"
"Well," he replied, "in the first place, there aren't as many Welsh as there are Scots and Irish. And secondly I doubt if your brother would have room for all the English on Saint George."
"True," commented Allen, "So we'd end up with a mixed bag anyway. If you throw in all the other ethnic groups there are likely to be on these ships I think we'd be in trouble if we tried to go down that route."
"So we go for everyone that the other three don't want?" asked Elizabeth.
"That's right," said Allen.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your homeless," paraphrased Gabriel. "Well it worked for the Yanks after a fashion so it should work for us."
"Just so long as we avoid the segregation and ghetto's they had," said Martin.
"So no Chinatown's, or Harlem's," said Allen.
"Nor Knightsbridge and the Gorbels," added Elizabeth then after a quick look around she said. "Right what do we want that those two," she nodded in the direction of the other groups, "are unlikely to think of?"
"Being a bit competitive, aren't we?" asked Allen, with a smile.
"Dead right," said Elizabeth. "We are here to succeed and the best way to drive the whole colony forward is to make it as competitive as possible. Communism is fine in theory but if you want rapid grow, both in terms of people and resources, then good old competition is the way to go."
"In that case," said Gabriel, "the others are likely to be looking towards agriculture, as that is what the AI talked about in the initial briefings on Albion."
"Yes?" said Elizabeth.
"So let's concentrate on whatever technology is available," said Gabriel. "Do enough farming to get by but put most of our resources into grabbing and developing the sort of high tech. Stuff that will be useful in ten, twenty years time."
"You know," said Allen, "that's not a bad idea. I'm sure that we can do enough to get by without throwing ourselves into the farming thing wholesale and if that's so, then we could develop the tools that will allow us to move onwards." He grinned again, " and then we can be filling the whole planet whilst they play catch up."
Elizabeth smiled; she was going to win, especially as the 'boys' didn't even know they were in a race.
"So how are we going to go about this?"
"Hopefully I've managed to get the AI to do most of the work," replied Andrew. "Then it will be down to you and your people to get things organised however you want them."
Elizabeth looked at her brother and didn't know whether to scowl or laugh. This whole set up was almost a joke, except that their own, and everyone else's, lives depended on how things went and that thought was starting to feel very heavy.
"I take it, that that means you've decided to go with the 'boy's' idea of splitting the Scots and Irish off?" she asked.
"And anyone else who has a surname that will fit in with either of those groups," agreed Andrew.
"What about you, are you using nationality as a deciding factor?"
"No," said Andrew, "I'm going for any volunteer who's had military experience and if that doesn't provide sufficient bodies I'll look at the concubines the volunteers have already picked. If they are ex-military then they'll be coming with me too"
"What are you thinking?" asked Elizabeth, frowning at her brother.
"My first thought was Sparta," he replied with a grin, "but then I remembered all the homosexual shenanigans that went on and decided against that, I like girls too much."
"Come on, Andy, be serious," she said raising her voice.
"Really," he said seriously, "what I'm doing is getting all the warriors in one place."
"Why?" she asked?
"For two reasons," he said. "The first is to reduce the likelihood that you three will try to depose me violently..."
"Hold on, Sis. I never said you would, I said it was to reduce the likelihood and before you kick off I don't expect that thought to occur for many years, if it ever does. More importantly it will put together the beginnings of a small fighting force just in case they are needed."
The two siblings paused for breath and were joined by the Dukes of Saint Patrick and Saint Andrew. Steven grinned before performing a short bow, "Your Majesty, I hope we find you well this morn?"
Andrew chuckled before taking a swing at Steven, "Pack it in will you, this is serious."
"OK," said Steven looking about.
The hold was filling with people as the volunteers, including those from the other ship, arrived to hear their fate.
Captain Wainright, who was over by one of the entrances, nodded to one of the grey uniformed crewmen and crossed the hold to the four youngsters.
"Everyone's here," he said, "Shall we begin?"
Andrew nodded and the Marine turned back to the crowd.
"Good Morning," he announced his voice amplified sufficiently so that everyone could hear him. "What's going to happen here is that we are going to be splitting you up into the different settlements that will be being established on the planet. You will get a chance to meet the leaders of your settlements and will also be introduced to the, admittedly limited, technology that will be put at your disposal."
Captain Wainright indicated three banners, the saltier cross of Saint Andrew, the golden harp of Saint Patrick and the red dragon of Saint David that had been hung from the walls of the hold. "When the AI informs you which of the Dukedoms you're assigned to I want you to make your way to the respective flag." He paused for a moment before concluding, "Those the AI doesn't name will gather together here before the stage."
As he fell silent the AI took over. Next to Andrew John asked, "Why did he make the announcement, rather than you?"
"Because, technically, the Marines are still in charge until we land on the planet and, at this moment, I doubt if most of the people would actually listen to me."
John frowned but didn't continue the discussion before Captain Wainright joined them.
"I think you need to get over to your flags," was all he said and he found himself standing next to Andrew alone.
"Well, they can take a hint," he said before turning his attention to the younger man. "It looks like you're going to get enough people for your village and without too much in the way of conflict of interest with the other Dukedoms."
Andrew looked the big Marine up and down and decided to ask a question that had been bugging him ever since he'd been made leader of the colony.
"Captain," he asked almost diffidently, "how is it that everyone has accepted my leadership so easily?"
Roger Wainright looked at the young man and was again reminded of just how fast on the uptake that the young man appeared to be. It had taken himself six months before he'd asked the same question of his superiors. "It's all part of the treatment we're given on pick-up," he said. "The initial nannite injection includes one that has been dubbed the 'respect' nannite. What it does is it influences the person to 'respect' those who are placed in a position of authority. It doesn't make them obey, just view your opinions in a favourable light. The thing to remember here is that as long as your orders, requests, whatever, sound reasonable the person will be inclined to go along. If they don't comply with those ideals then the person's own feelings will guide them."
"Isn't that a bit dangerous for troops?" asked Andrew.
"In some circumstances it could be," answered the Marine, "so the nannite is flushed from our troops bodies after they've completed training."
"And for the rest of us?" asked Andrew frowning.
"It's going to be there forever," said the Captain, "or so I've been led to believe."
"Uhmm," was Andrew's only comment on that revelation as he turned his attention back to the people milling around the hold but he was wondering what other 'surprises' had been slipped into his blood stream without his knowledge.
"I'm Brigadier Nobel Khanna formally of the Indian Army," explained the swarthy Asian to Andrew. "I was attending the garden party in your honour with a contingent of children from the Indian Embassy. When the extraction occurred I came along with the rest."
"Are there any more members of the Indian military with you?" asked Andrew.
"Not that I am aware of, your Majesty," replied the Indian.
"Well Brigadier," said Andrew, "according to the AI you are the ranking officer attached to Saint George. So for your sins you are now the head of the Army and will be responsible for organising, training and equipping the force." Andrew smiled, "But before you get too excited, this," he waved his arm at the small group of people clustered near the stage, "is the entire force you'll be working with. At least for now."
The Brigadier looked around and couldn't help himself, "I hope you haven't got anything too strenuous in mind."
Andrew chuckled, "Not until we've all gone through the augmentation process, I haven't and in all seriousness I hope you are never needed to fight. The forecast is that the Sa'arm won't reach Albion for at least thirty years, and that's only if the human race doesn't do anything about it in the mean time. The more likely estimate is that it is going to be something like a minimum of a hundred years, if Earth behaves as is expected, before they can get here, and by then the Confederacy should be putting major dents in their expansion plans."
"So you want us to be a training team in case of trouble and, I assume, to enforce your authority if the need arises?" the Brigadier asked suspiciously.
"That's pretty much it," said Andrew, "though I doubt if anyone will have time to ferment a revolt. We'll all be too busy surviving to worry about any sort of power games."
Andrew glanced around and took in the diversity of his small group. With the majority of the continental populations being boosted to the required level by the use of ethnically white Anglo-Saxons, Andrew had inherited the remainder. It was a mixture of Chinese, West Indians and Asians from India and Pakistan along with a sprinkling of odd hangers-on.
He grinned at the Brigadier and added the comment, "Though you may end up acting as a policeman when the Inter-Continental games are held."
"You're planning that far ahead, already?" asked Nobel Khanna in surprise.
"What I want to do," replied Andrew seriously, "is bring all the good parts of the old Commonwealth here and, if possible, get rid of the bad parts. That means I fully intend to have a Commonwealth Games at some stage, but it may not be for a while."
"But a Commonwealth has to be more than just the home nations, doesn't it?"
"It does," said Andrew and then changed the subject. "The AI tells me that the tall gentleman at the end of the line is Air Commodore Wright-Philips. I'd suggest that you use him as your assistant and see what you can come up with, but remember, your priority, at least initially, has to be the establishment of your own home."
"Yes, your Majesty," replied the Brigadier as he walked towards the tall figure at the end of the line, his mind thinking of the young woman he'd picked up to accompany him.
"You know what would be really helpful?" asked Allen. "Not necessarily immediately, but fairly soon after we get Saint David established."
"What?" asked Martin taking the bait.
"Ships!" declared Allen.
"Ships, Why?" asked Martin. "We'll have a transporter net to get around."
Allen rolled his eyes, "Not for use on the planet," he said before fixing Martin with one of his grins, "Think about it. We are going to be stuck out here on the edge of the galaxy for at least a year before anyone gets around to coming for a visit, and that's a minimum, not a maximum. If we have a problem - of any sort - we are going to have wait at least that long before someone can bring help."
Allen switched his attention to Elizabeth. "Now I know we could yell for help on the sub-space communicator but if we had some means of transport, and the way I'm looking at it any old bag of bolts would do, we will be in a position to get our own help." He smiled, "And we would be free to do anything else we liked with the ship once we've got her."
"Such as?" queried Elizabeth, though her own mind generated a few quick ideas.
"Obvious things spring to mind like getting extra people, especially if we find we need some specialists in agriculture or what-have--you," said Allen. "If we have to wait for one of the big colony ships to make the run it might be too late, and we couldn't guarantee that they had the specialists we needed on board."
"Then there are the other possibilities, like perhaps technology, or seeds, or weed killer," he said which got a chuckle. "And another option, which I hope we never need, is weapons. Earth may not have a large supply of the sort of things that the Marines would use but there are some others that could do serious damage to a dickhead if the need arose. Unfortunately we won't have the capacity, unless we stop producing food stuffs, to do it ourselves for some time," Allen lost his grin as he finished.
Then Gabriel broke the growing silence by commenting, "And less obviously but possibly a whole lot more interesting is the fact that we could go and visit the various member races of the Confederacy and see what we could find there."
Martin looked from Allen to Gabriel and back again before his own brain spat out a thought, "I wonder what it would take to manufacture our own ships?"
Elizabeth looked from one Marquis to the next and thought hard before starting handing out tasks.
"Right," she said, "time to re-write the plan of action again," before turning to Allen. "Allen, see what you can get from both of these ships before we arrive, if we can find a use for it I want it, strip the ships bare if they'll let you get away with it."
She turned to the youngest man, "Martin, I want you to look at the idea of ship-building, working on the theory that ships for local travel, in-system I believe it's called, are essential and that interstellar stuff would be a Godsend. See if you can get them to send us stuff from the Confederacy, obsolete, jury-rigged, whatever."
Finally she turned to Gabriel, "You've got the short straw, Gabs, I want you to sort out all of our people, not just your own township but this pair's as well and the people that are going to my small town."
Gabriel rolled his eyes but grinned when he looked back at the Duchess.
"And I'm going to be having a word with a Marine I know and, if I can wangle it, the Captain of this ship."
She glanced around at her group and gave them a feral grin, "Time to win people, lets roll," she stated and headed for the door.
"You wanted to see us, Sir?" asked the first Marine from the hatchway.
Captain Wainright looked up from the holographic image he was studying with Andrew.
"Yes I did. Come in and grab a seat," he said waving towards the seats on the opposite side of the display.
The two Marines settled into their seats and glanced towards Andrew who was regarding them in turn. The Captain nodded to Andrew who licked his lips and began speaking.
"Actually, I was the one that wanted to speak to you. The Captain, when I explained what I intended to discuss with you was willing to go along with me."
He watched the two men who had both focused their attention on him.
"Captain Wainright has informed me that you, as I understand it, are going to tell your former commanders about what you've been part of here?"
"That's right," said the blond, the Aussie, by his accent.
"Is that a problem?" asked the man with the darker hair.
"Not really," said Andrew, "I just thought I'd put forward a proposal that you might want to consider when you tell them."
"And what's that?" asked the Aussie still sounding belligerent.
"First of all," said Andrew, "I need to know how you feel about the monarchy. Are you in favour of a King or Queen, or do you like the idea of a Republic?"
"I'm a monarchist," said the New Zealander, "just like my dad," he concluded with a grin.
"I'll be honest," said the Aussie, "I was leaning towards Australia becoming a Republic but not to the extent that I was prepared to go around causing trouble to get it." He looked the former Prince in the eye, "In reality, I guess, it would have given Australia it's own figurehead but I don't suppose that it's that important anymore."
"So you wouldn't have a problem bringing Australians to a place that was ruled by a King?" asked the young man.
Andrew watched as the Aussie Marine put two and two together.
"You?" he asked.
"That's right," replied Andrew.
"Why would I want to bring them here?" asked the Aussie in return.
"This place would be established, after a fashion, which would make things easier for those who you bought," said Andrew. "I don't know how much trouble it was to find a planet and then get things in place to bring us here but I can't imagine it was easy. If you want your own planet then you'd need to go through all of that. However if they come here, to one of the empty continents, then it will just be another colonisation run." Andrew looked up, "and that would appear to be no big deal."
"So you're proposing an easier extraction and the price is having you as a King?" asked the Aussie.
"Pretty much," said Andrew. "It has the advantage that we gain a greater population from a more diverse background which has to be good for the race but it's the ease of expansion that I favour and," he grinned, "you nearly speak English so communications shouldn't be to difficult."
It was the New Zealander who spoke next. "Would we be lumped in with his lot?"
"Not unless the people who came felt it would be the way to go," said Andrew. "There are twenty 'islands' on Albion, each of them about the size of Australia, so there is plenty of space to begin with. I plan to open up the planet to the other member nations of the Commonwealth with a few provisos, most of which Confederacy technology will be able to do away with in time."
"What are those provisos?" asked the Aussie.
"Loyalty to the Crown," said Andrew, "hence the question of your feelings towards the monarchy. The ability to speak English," he held up his hand to stop an interruption, "I know the Confederacy can fit us all with translators but having to speak and think in English forces a certain mind set onto people. Nothing overt but it does give a common reference for everyone."
"Anything else?" asked the Kiwi.
"Not at this stage," replied Andrew.
"Who else are you thinking of approaching?"
"At the moment, no one," said Andrew. "Unfortunately I don't have access to anyone else but I plan on approaching the Canadians, who I'm sure will be glad to get away from the Yanks and the South Africans. Before you ask," he said, "that includes 'all' of the different racial groups - though I think the Afrikaans will want to go with the Dutch if they can manage it."
"I also intend to grab as many from the Caribbean as I can manage though I'm planning on sticking them on one island for now, I suppose it depends on how many others I get, especially from the sub-continent." Andrew shrugged, "If I could I would work my way through every country in the Commonwealth and allocate them space here on Albion. That way we'd save as much as possible of the heritage of our planet but I have to work with what I can get and you two, I hope, are the start of it."
The two Marines sat silently for a couple of minutes, glancing about and then returning to their own thoughts. Finally the Kiwi broke the silence, "You know, back in my normal unit, my boss is a Canadian," he declared.
Andrew let out a sigh, "Thank you," was all he said.
Andrew, Elizabeth, Steven and John gazed at the screen displaying their new home and contemplated the past month.
It had been a very busy period for the four of them. What with learning the character of their people and the idiosyncrasies of the homes they were going to. Add in the problems with finding the pros and cons of their new bodies and generally absorbing the fact that they were no longer on or of Earth and you got an idea of what they'd gone through.
"So Sis," asked Andrew, "did you get what you wanted from the two Captains?"
"Eventually," replied Elizabeth, "Well, after a fashion," she admitted.
Andrew raised his eyebrow and his sister continued. "They've agreed to provide at least two ships that can be used to carry people and resources but they won't be colony ships. So we won't be getting anymore pods to house new colonists in." Elizabeth frowned, "They won't be providing crews for the ships either, though Captain Fairburn did agree to give the volunteers of my choice a quick course in ship handling when we had the ships available."
Andrew looked worried.
"Don't fret brother of mine," said Elizabeth with a smile. "The AIs run the ship and can act as training instructors for any crew members appointed. Captain Fairburn told me that if the ships are in orbit here the AIs can keep them there and the crews will be proficient, if not experienced, in a couple of months. His people will just provide that final polish that will keep everyone happy."
"What about you two," asked Andrew, "are you happy with the way things are set?"
"I'd like more time?" said John.
"Wouldn't we all," said Steven, "but, even allowing for that, I'm about as ready as I can be without actually being there." He looked around, "I guess that's true for all of us," he said. "Until we're actually down there everything is just an exercise in imagination. The real work starts once we land!"
"That's true," said Andrew, "I suppose I'm like everyone, I've got a list this long," he said holding his hand out at shoulder height, "of things I'd like but I don't know if that's real or just wishful thinking."
"Well we'll find out pretty soon," said Elizabeth.
The four fell silent as a tremor slid through the ship and all apparent motion around the planet came to a halt. The silence was broken as the AI announced:
"Attention! Attention! Welcome to Albion."
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