Authors: Annabel Wolfe
“Two,” Ran confirmed. “But Minoa seems to have a more widespread threat.”
The conference room was quiet for a moment, then Colonel Helm asked the logical question in his usual brusque way, “Who is the individual target, Governor?”
Ran looked his old friend in the eye. “I am.”
“I was afraid of that,” Ian muttered, tucking his communication device back in his pocket. “Leaders are being targeted then. That disturbs me.”
“You are telling
this?” Ran gave a mirthless laugh. “My son just became the Consort of Princess Jayla of Anasta. Surely the most powerful colonies are the most attractive to whoever is doing this.”
And it was
something he was going to point out to his wife, who worried over Marc already.
Anasta hadn’t yet responded to the warning, but with this new development on Mega 3, he hoped to get a message soon.
* * * *
They argued like children, Marc discovered to his amusement, and perhaps it was a good thing he’d spent so much time in the diplomatic corps. Jayla narrowed her eyes and stared at Damon, every inch the royal princess. “This meeting is very important.”
“You are telling
that?” Damon returned her scathing look with nothing more than a raised brow. “I am the one with my future riding on the open-minded grace of the Ruling Council. Grace, by the way, I am unconvinced exists.”
“At the least you could have worn the assigned tunic.”
“No. I am what I am, Jay,” Le Clerc said stubbornly. “Changing my clothes to the regimental diplomatic uniform isn’t going to fool anyone and may even lessen my credibility. They know what they are agreeing to. They expect to see
. The trappings are superfluous.”
“Do you always have to do everything the most difficult way?” She looked, adorably—in Marc’s opinion—irritated, a slight flush to her cheeks, her sleek pale hair tossed back and her green eyes disapproving. She was dressed to impress in a scarlet flowing tunic past her knees, the trim a pale gold color that exactly matched her shining hair. Marc, also, well-used to governmental formalities on all different kinds of planets, wore a full-dress Anasta official uniform that had been delivered to him just that morning. Damon, on the other hand, was casual in a loose white shirt and fitted dark pants, his boots not particularly new.
He looked considerably more comfortable, Marc had to acknowledge wryly, but then again, he wasn’t the new consort of Anasta either. The sacrifice was worth it, in his opinion. He could change later.
“Do you always have to insist on conformity?” Damon muttered, refusing to be cowed by her imperious criticism. “I’m a full-grown male and well past the time in my life when you could instruct me on what to wear. My clothes have nothing to do with the issues we face.”
“That sort of attitude is always what gets you in trouble,” Jayla pointed out.
Marc laughed, which won him a glare from both the participants in the quarrel. “I’d stay here and watch until the two of you came to blows, but—”
“My Lord Consort?” The interruption was in conjunction to the door lifting into the anteroom with no warning. “The Queen would like to see you at once.”
The new title was a little startling, but he could get used to it. Marc nodded, straightened his tunic, and sent both Jayla and Damon a swift glance. “It looks like we are about to have our audience. Try and behave for a few minutes if you find it possible.”
The anteroom seemed unusually full, but Marc wasn’t all that familiar yet with what was normal and wasn’t when it came to the court protocol on the planet, though he had naturally studied it as much as possible before his arrival. He entered first but paused to let Jayla precede him into the actual council room, and in that calculated moment, he turned to Damon. “This is as important to me as it is to you. Let me speak first and set it up. I am the diplomat to your revolutionary. We need each other. I’ll do my job first, and trust me, I’m good at it. Then it is up to you.”
“You’re going to need all your skill, Kartel.” Damon agreed with surprising acquiescence considering his resistance to compromise, his smile wry. “But I trust if anyone can convince them, you can.”
They went into the room together, a strategic move that he hadn’t planned but came naturally and proved effective, for both of them. The meeting area was spacious, with a curved ceiling to mimic the bowl-like atmosphere above the planet, the color a deep sapphire lightened by synthetic cosmic fires, simulated perfectly so it echoed the Anasta night sky. The Ruling Council sat at a polished semi-circular table of some kind of silver stone, most of them elders, a reflection of the colony’s monarchial mode of government. The queen was next to Raphael Le Clerc at the center of the arch, and neither seemed surprised by the united front, though when both Marc and Damon stopped on either side of Jayla, a few murmurs were exchanged.
A thin older male with a shock of white hair and a stately bearing rose. “Princess and my Lord Consort, welcome. Take your seats and let us begin.”
Two places had been reserved for them, Marc saw, to one side, on a small raised platform, and it was obvious, as only honorary members of the council, they were not given voice projectors, so it looked unlikely they were going to be allowed to participate in the debate over Damon’s appointment.
But for the moment, he had the floor and part of diplomacy was showmanship, after all, and this was his first appearance before the ruling body of the planet he now called home. Besides making a good impression, he had a vested interest in Damon Le Clerc’s success. Marc bowed swiftly and caught Jayla’s hand, bringing it theatrically to his lips. “I am honored to be here and enchanted in every other way possible as well.” He smiled at his wife, noting with amusement Jayla seemed both startled and wary.
Letting her fingers slide free, he addressed the council with the kind of informal yet effective speech he’d seen his father employ dozens of times. “I’ve come here in a time when our world and many others are going through changes, some of them bewildering, some frightening, but some optimistic. I am encouraged that free-thinkers with progressive ideals and sound working models for future growth and economic stability take chances to make their work known”—he smiled in deprecating acknowledgement that Damon’s methods were not popular—“even if perhaps we don’t agree with their tactics. How much better if we can control that brilliance to our own ends?”
All yours, Le Clerc
Marc led Jayla toward their seats, politely helping her into the chair. Her expression neutral, as he sat down next to her, she said so quietly even he almost didn’t catch it, “Will I be eternally thanking you for stepping in on his behalf?”
Marc watched in appreciation as she settled the scarlet fabric of her tunic around her slender legs. “I don’t know,” he answered with a low laugh, sitting next to her and resting his hands on the arms of the chair. “It depends on whether or not he behaves himself after his appointment.”
“Then I suppose my gratitude is doomed to be eternal,” she murmured, her profile clean aristocratic—chin lifted just slightly, lashes lowered, her expression serene. “I swear, I want to kick him half the time. Brilliance, as you call it, is not an indication of good sense.”
Her disgruntled tone made him twitch a smile. “But not necessarily mutually exclusive. Let’s see how he does, shall we?”
* * * *
His critics wore various expressions varying from skeptical to downright forbidding, but Damon had to give Kartel credit. If the situation could be presented in a light the old guard of the Anasta ruling body would consider, he’d just done it with a few facile words.
The point was taken. He couldn’t squander this moment. So he stood, hands clasped lightly behind his back, and met the gaze of the chosen spokesman, which would normally have been his father, who ran the meetings as a matter of course, but was instead a rigid former general in Anasta’s army who was one of his worst detractors.
Not an auspicious start.
“Le Clerc.” The general didn’t precisely sneer, but Damon had a feeling it was buried in there somewhere. No doubt, if his father had any say in it, to make sure the vote was completely uncontested was exactly why General Havov had been selected to moderate the voting on his appointment.
“General.” Damon executed a small bow. It cost him, because he didn’t do subservience well, but then again, Kartel and Jayla sat expectantly, watching him.
Marc, who had suddenly appeared when he needed it most and was an ally, and Jayla…well, he would die for Jayla, so disappointing her now was out of the question.
“The Council has received from the Queen a request for an appointment to an advisory position with voting privileges in the sectors of economics and political policy.” The elder’s expression was stony. “I agreed, to please the Queen, to take the vote to the table, my personal preferences aside.”
The general’s personal preferences were no secret, but then again, Damon had to concede his own opinions were usually out there for everyone, so he could hardly argue the candid disclosure. “I appreciate the fair consideration despite your misgivings.” That was as diplomatic as he ever got, considering he wanted to tell Havov to go fuck himself. Havov believed in military force to solve almost every problem and he was notoriously resistant to the idea of reform.
“Don’t thank me,” the general said in clipped tones. “Before I even hear what you have to say, my vote is no.”
Damon hoped Marc was taking notes because this was a perfect illustration of why he hated the strict regimental following of established rules. “That’s democratic of you.”
“Before your father, this was a pure monarchy. Don’t ask me for democratic forgiveness.”
Damon stood very still, not sure what to say. He’d known, of course, new liberal laws had come into practice since his father had come into power as Chief Advisor, but he hadn’t been aware really until this moment that he was resented for it. After a moment, he said with as much calm as possible, “A pure monarchy is archaic. No one person should shoulder the responsibility for so many. It isn’t fair either way.”
“We aren’t here to debate our judicial system or the way our colony is now governed.” Havov intoned the words. “We wish to know why we should consider a renegade that can’t even be reined in by his own parent as a member of the council.”
Damon could swear his father moved a restive fraction in his chair but his expression didn’t alter.
“My father,” he said in rebuttal, “is hardly responsible for controlling my actions, as I am a fully grown male. It is to your benefit—and that of Anasta—that he instilled in me an ability to think freely and make decisions based on my studies and conclusions, not the instructions of anyone else. That”—he swept the room with a slow, steady look—“is what I could bring to the council table. An independent opinion supported by my years of study and solid facts. I am a scientist and a scholar, not a politician.”
Havov made a derisive noise, which actually was probably a mistake on his part. Several of the council members looked at him in disapproval for his open bias.
“This is supposed to be a fair hearing,” the Queen said in a cool, commanding tone. She inclined her head. “Go on.”
Damon hoped his face didn’t reflect his inner misgivings over that possibility, but he was stubborn enough—and wanted this opportunity enough—that he kept on speaking. “Anasta’s scales need to be balanced better between our agrarian exports and industry. We think because we are rich we are immune. Not so. As other economies become strained we are vulnerable and we must anticipate the repercussions from failing planets. I can help us prepare.”
“Legislation could take years.”
The voice was his father’s. Damon didn’t look at him but faced the council. “We don’t have years. This is happening
“And you are our answer?” Havov’s voice was disparaging.
“Have you a better one?” Damon challenged. “What is your solution to the threat that looms over us, General?”
“If there is one,” the other male scoffed.