Authors: Thomas DePrima
"But I never announced my destination was Earth."
"Somebody must have leaked it then," Eliza said, grinning. "Admiral, your audience awaits."
"I think we'll need a squad of Marines first," Jenetta said jokingly.
"Oh come on," Christa said, "this is a Space Command base and these people are members of the SC family. They aren't going to attack you. Besides, El and I are here to run interference for you if you need it. Just ratchet up the speech writing center of your brain and make them feel delighted they came out in the cold weather to greet you."
Jenetta smiled. "The speech writing center of my brain, eh? Okay, but you'd better stay in here with Cayla and Tayna. My girls might get confused by all the shouting."
"Don't worry," Eliza said. "You couldn't get us out there on a bet. Go placate your fans."
A cheer went up as the shuttle hatch opened. A squad of Marines had arrived and was keeping people back from the shuttle. The base's senior officers came to attention near the bottom of the ramp and saluted as Jenetta stepped out of the ship. She wondered if her wait in the holding queue above Earth was to give the command time to organize. Jenetta returned their salute and then waved to the crowd, causing the cheering to grow louder. Standing at the top of the ramp, she waited until the uproar started to die down a little and then raised her hands for silence.
"Good evening. This is my first trip home in twelve years and it's so nice to see I haven't been forgotten." She received the laughter she was hoping for and paused while it persisted. "A lot has happened since my last visit and I'm happy to inform you that everyone who works in space, or travels through it, is far safer today than at any other time in the past twelve years." Another cheer went up and Jenetta again paused and waited until the din subsided.
"But freedom is never free and many of our Marines and Space Command personnel have, as always, paid for it with their blood, and sometimes with their lives. Despite my best efforts to keep our people safe during our encounters with the enemy, I've lost far too many comrades. I'm overjoyed that peace is finally on the horizon. We've kicked the Raiders so hard they've dropped out of sight. And the Milori will never again threaten any of their peaceful neighbors in this galaxy." Jenetta had to pause again as another cheer went up.
"The task ahead of us now is to take control of the newly annexed territory and make it as peaceful as this Region has become. I'll need your help and support but, together we can do it. There's not a doubt in my mind about that. I promise you I'll continue to devote every fiber of my being to protecting you, your families, and your loved ones. Thank you for coming out tonight to welcome me home and God bless you all."
Another thunderous cheer arose on the pad. Jenetta took a few seconds to scan the faces in the crowd and then slowly walked down the ramp. The base commander and his senior staff officially greeted her as she stepped onto the base. After the introductions were over, Jenetta moved towards a crowd still being restrained by the Marines. The Marines moved aside as she motioned them to part and people pressed in around her to shake her hand or simply just touch her. At five-foot, eleven-inches, she was taller than most of the women in the crowd and most of the men as well. She worked the crowd like a politician running for office as she smiled widely and glad-handed her admirers. Slowly the shuttle pad area began to clear. Jenetta's five-foot-one-inch-tall mother was finally able to reach her daughter.
"Hi, Momma," Jenetta said as they embraced.
Tears were streaming down her mother's face and she was too choked up to say anything. The tender scene seemed to embarrass some of the remaining people in the crowd and they quieted down considerably.
"Where are Christa and Eliza?" her mother was finally able to ask.
"They're still inside the shuttle with my pets. We felt it was better they stay there for now. Once the crowd thins a little more, they'll come out."
Annette Carver finally relaxed her grip on her daughter and stood back. "I'm forgetting my friends, dear." Turning, she gestured towards several women behind her. "This is Dorothy Nelson. Her daughter Beverly was in your command when you were at Stewart. She's on board the Lima. This is Linda Reilly. Her son is on the cruiser Plantaganet. He was also in your command when you were at Stewart. And this is Diana Michelle. Her son Jonathon is on the Pholus, one of the battleships that have been sent to your fleet in Region Two. He's a Lieutenant."
Jenetta smiled and nodded at each of the women as they were introduced. "I'm pleased to meet you, ladies. While I don't believe I've met your children personally, I'm sure every one is a credit to his or her ship. If I happen to be aboard any of their ships in the future, I'll be sure to look them up."
The three women stepped closer, all trying to talk at once. Jenetta smiled and tried to listen to the three conversations as the women talked about their progeny and how proud the children were to be part of Jenetta's command.
The crowd had thinned considerably by then, but a lot of people had remained behind and didn't leave until they got close to Jenetta and had an opportunity to tell her about their children, spouses, or other relatives who were serving, or had served, in her commands. There were even a couple of people who waited around to thank Jenetta for her kind vidMail after their spouse or child had died in battle with the Milori. She again offered her condolences and spent some time explaining the circumstances of the deaths once she learned to which ship they'd been posted.
Finally, the shuttle pad was almost empty except for a few stragglers and the platoon of Marines. Christa and Eliza emerged from the shuttle with Cayla and Tanya, who immediately bounded to Jenetta's side. Jenetta looked on as her mother embraced each of the daughters she had never met in person. The people who still remained in the area had moved back a couple of steps when the large black cats emerged from the small ship. Jenetta used a handheld remote to close and lock the shuttle hatch while her mother and sisters began to move towards the pad's entranceway. A driverless vehicle waited outside the blast walls to take them to the house. A squad of Marines followed along in two vehicles to serve as a protection detail while she was there.
The house had changed little since Jenetta's last trip home. Her sisters knew it as well as she did because she had grown up there. Jenetta's cats immediately recognized her faint scent in the house despite the years that had passed since her last visit and treated the home as their own. They began exploring as soon as they entered the house.
One of the few differences was the wall of photos in the dining room. The gallery now included images of Christa and Eliza as lieutenants, the medal ceremony where Jenetta received her first Medal of Honor, the images taken of the three girls when they were on Nordakia, and the ceremony on Stewart where Admiral Jenetta Carver had pinned captain's bars on her brother Billy. There was also a shot of Jenetta with the four gold stars that showed her rank to be that of a senior Admiral. It replaced the earlier image of her as a Lieutenant Commander that had been on the wall when she was last home.
"Where did you get that image, Momma?" Jenetta asked. "I don't remember posing for a picture like that since I was last promoted."
"A friend of mine had her son alter a picture of you with two stars. He's a computer whiz. Kind of like you when you were young."
Looking at the image very closely, Jenetta said, "He's good. Now that I look at it carefully, I can see a little fuzziness around the edges of the stars, but it's barely noticeable."
"My favorite picture is the one of you girls together on Nordakia. You look like princesses in your long gowns, hair extending almost to the floor. With your cats at your feet, it really adds a look of royalty to the picture."
"As an Azula on Nordakia, Jen
royalty now, Momma," Christa said. "All members of the family Caver are recognized as noble born. You're the Azula Mum on the province of Gavistee on Obotymot."
"The Azula Mum?"
"Of course," Jenetta said. "I guess I didn't explain it as thoroughly as I should have when I told you about it. If you'd like to take a trip, you can live at the family palace for as long as you wish. There's a staff of twenty-five there with no one to serve. You'll have the run of the estate. I understand the weather is improving each year as more of the dust kicked into the upper atmosphere by the meteor clears. My chamberlain hopes to resume limited agricultural production in a few years."
"Would I have to dress in one of those long gowns if I go there?"
"Not anymore," Christa said. "The clothing requirements have changed for the better. We're glad you like the image, but we all hope we never have to dress like that again. You have no idea how uncomfortable those gowns were."
Annette smiled. "You girls never could stand to wear anything feminine."
"It wasn't that it was feminine," Eliza said. "The palace dressmakers had made the gowns too small and we had to wear corsets just to squeeze into them. We're not fat, so compressing the muscle around our midsections was almost unbearable."
"You'd never know it from looking at the picture. You all look so relaxed and comfortable. And I still can't believe you're all here together. This was the best gift you could give me."
Jenetta didn't mention it might be another six years before she would be home again. She didn't want to diminish her mother's joy at having them home, even if it was for just a short time.
~ March 24
, 2282 ~
Over the next week, the four women spent most of their time together. Jenetta explained about the cloning process and the initial emotions she had had to work through when she learned she had been cloned. Christa and Eliza talked about their efforts to separate their lives from Jenetta's past and establish a new identity for themselves. After that, all three women took turns telling Mom about the things they had experienced since Jenetta had last been on Earth.
Jenetta had hoped to meet Richie's wife during her first trip home since the marriage, but her sister-in-law Marisa was off-planet visiting her own parents at the Sebastian colony.
On the morning Jenetta was to report to the Admiralty Board, Christa and Eliza made plans to go shopping with Mom. Jenetta had always avoided shopping trips when she was young and they knew a day at the Mall with her daughters would delight Annette. Two of the female Marines from the protection detail would accompany them since many people would assume that either Christa or Eliza was Jenetta, or because some people might want to get a close-up look at clones. The Marines would do their best to protect anyone who got too close to the women.
* * *
Jenetta used her shuttle to fly alone to the Space Command Headquarters Base in Nebraska. She had debated whether to bring the cats and then decided to take them along. They had almost become a part of her identity after all and they always had a certain calming effect on over zealous newsies and curious civilians.
As she climbed the wide stone steps to the impressive Admiralty building, she rehearsed in her mind what she was going to say. Lt. Commander Ashraf was waiting for her in the rotunda, just inside the entrance doors.
"Good morning, Admiral."
"Good morning, Lori."
"Have you been enjoying your time at home, ma'am?"
"Very much, thank you. My mother is beside herself with joy that we've come for the visit I've been promising for so long. Our assignments kept taking us further and further out. I'm happy to have finally made it. This is only my second trip home in twenty-five years. The last time was when we brought the Song home for repairs after the Battle for Higgins. How's your family?"
"It's wonderful seeing them all again. It's been as long since my last visit— twelve years— as it has been for you. When you turned command of the Song over to Captain Yung, we were sent to the sectors near Dixon for patrol duties. We moved into the former Frontier Zone when the borders were expanded. At least my brothers and sisters are all on Earth, so my folks have some comfort there."
"A life in space is tough on family life, romances, and friendships. Hopefully, the new speed improvement will help everyone cope just a little better. Instead of taking three months to get here from Higgins, the trip is only four days."
The few minutes of peace they had enjoyed were interrupted by newsies as they converged on Jenetta from all sides. Her cats kept them at a respectable distance as Jenetta repeated that she had no statements to make right now, but the more obnoxious newsies continued to shout questions at her until she reached the Board's outer chamber. Correspondents weren't permitted into the chambers, except by special invitation.
A clerk greeted Jenetta and her aide and asked them to have a seat until the Board was ready to convene. They sat in silence as Jenetta again slipped into meditation about the meeting.
At 0945, the clerk invited Jenetta and her aide to enter the meeting hall but added that pets weren't permitted.
Jenetta looked at the two cats and said, "Cayla, Tayna, wait out here for me."
The two cats had stood when she did, but now sank back down to prone positions. They watched intently, the flicking ends of their tails their only movement as she walked to the doors and disappeared into the meeting hall. The clerk walked nervously back to his desk— nervous because the attention of the cats had shifted to him once Jenetta was out of sight. They seemed to understand he was responsible for separating them from their mistress.