original work © 2011 by A. Dameron All rights reserved.
A single shuttle came up the crest of the hill overlooking the Homeworld Senate. The three floors of durasteel and concrete curved around a plaza, and its spires towered over the nearby river. The reflections cast dark reflections on the expansive windows. Thirty children gazed upon the dazzling view below, chattered to each other and pointed to the marble spires of the Senate.
“Do the Senators really live there, Miss Nina?” asked Dulcie. Her eyes widened in shock. “But it’s so big!”
Nina Cabral made her way to Dulcie’s side. The movement of the shuttle only enhanced her natural dancer’s grace. She bent and laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “That’s the seat of government for the entire Republic,” she reminded Dulcie.
Dulcie nodded, but she was still dumbfounded at the sheer size of the Senate. “Someday I want a house like that.”
Nina laughed. “Maybe you will.” She straightened and raised her hands for attention. The noise dwindled as the older students whispered, “Sssh! Quiet! The teacher’s speaking!” Their eyes snapped towards the front, hands in their laps. Nina looked over them with a smile. Even at this young age, her Morality and Ethics class was well behaved. She paused and nodded at the green-garbed officer who sat at the back of the shuttle. The officer nodded back in approval.
“As you can see, we’re getting close to the Republic Honor Memorial. Take a good look and tell me what’s the first thing that comes to your mind.” Nina glanced over her shoulder as the entry ramp drew nearer. The charter ascended with a gentle bump and the warning lights flashed.
“It’s…scary-looking,” said Tom. The hint of doubt in his voice brought snickers from the others, and he blushed.
Nina shook her head once, and the titters ceased. Her gaze touched each of the students, and they murmured their apologies. Again, the officer smiled his approval of her handling of the situation. “It can be intimidating from the outside, Tom, but wait until you see the inside.”
The school shuttle stopped just inside the entrance gate. “Republic Honor Memorial,” announced the shuttle driver. “There are our tour guides.” He opened the doors to allow two Academy cadets onto the shuttle. One of them looked up from his datapad and smiled.
Nina went forward. “That’s us. I’m Nina Cabral. You must be Mister Davis.”
The cadet hid his surprise under a bright smile. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, madam. I hope you and your students will enjoy our tour.” He turned towards the students. “Did you all see the Senate on the way up?”
“Yes!” Their enthusiastic shouts were deafening, and Davis winced and covered his ears. Nina exchanged bemused glances with the blonde lady sitting in the middle of the shuttle.
“Well, someday, we’ll have to give you a tour of that too. Today we’re going to visit the Honor Memorial. Make sure you’ve got your datapads and recorders because we’re going to ask you plenty of questions.” Davis nodded at his companion. “I’m Senior Cadet Andrew Davis and this is Senior Cadet Michael O’Brien. Follow closely so we won’t lose you. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir!” the children thundered.
Davis winced again. Cadet O’Brien gave Nina a wry look. Unlike his outgoing companion, O’Brien’s voice was soft and low. “You’ve got them pretty well trained, madam. Looks like we’re going to have a new batch of Academy cadets in a few years.”
Nina grinned. She always tried to maintain some sort of discipline, but the children’s enthusiasm came out in other ways. She made sure to channel it into proper Republic behavior: courtesy, obedience and respect to their elders. As long as they weren’t disruptive, it was fine with her.
“Let’s go,” Nina said.
The group clambered out of the shuttle. Davis and O’Brien led the way; Nina and Gracie brought up the rear. Visitors from all over the Homeworld wandered across the marble courtyard. A ten-foot fountain sprayed water in the air; other children played in the shallows. The fall breeze came through and spun the golden leaves off their boughs. Elderly citizens spotted the children and waved; the students dutifully waved back.
The greenshirted officer drew close to Nina. “Very impressive, Mistress Cabral,” he said in a quiet tone, “but aren’t the children a bit too loud?”
“The children must use some of that energy, Lieutenant Carlyle, or they will be unruly. Better for it to come out in harmless ways, don’t you agree?”
Carlyle did not respond. He hurried off the shuttle and onto the platform. Gracie glared at his back, but Nina only shook her head. Politico Officers always tried to ruin things. It was her job not to let Carlyle destroy their trip.
“Now, let’s get into line, children. Let’s show the cadets how well behaved we can be…”
The cadets led the school group through the security checkpoints. They were crammed with tourists and visitors, but the Security personnel swiftly got to their place in line. "Groups of five, please," called a sweet-faced, grandmotherly woman in gold. "Do we have any students with Triangles?"
There was an awkward silence, then a handful of children raised their hands. Silently, they fell out of line. The guard smiled and beckoned them to her. "Now, now, I won't eat you all. Come over here, and I'll make sure you're taken care of."
The tight knot of students shared a nervous giggle, but did as the guard asked. Nina gave them an encouraging smile as the guard checked their rucksacks. She also examined the emerald Triangle pin that each child wore on the collar of the school uniform.
Nina wore no such pin; only Colonials and Outworlders did so, to distinguish them from native Homeworlders. She didn't give the fact another thought, for it was for the Colonials' protection. Another guard extended a hand to Nina. “Your indenticard, madam,” he said. “Sorry for the extra security, but-“
“-It’s necessary. I know, Sergeant.” Nina sighed and handed him the card. He passed it into the slot and Nina watched the information scroll onto the screen.
Name: Nina Cabral. Age: 24. Profession: Morality and Ethics Teacher, McIntire Primary, McIntire Air Base. Parents: Eduardo Cabral and Mariela Quartez, deceased. Siblings: Three: Josephine Quartez Cabral. Senior Diplomat with Diplomatic Corps. Fernando Quartez Cabral, Security Consultant, Kaufman Limited. Iliana Quartez Cabral, Assistant Minister (Education Bureau)
A column of numbers followed it. The guard scrutinized it, then nodded. He swiped the card into his reader and another number appeared at the end of the column. Anyone who scanned her card could trace her whereabouts of the day. The guard handed the card back to her. “Info checks out okay, madam. Thanks.”
Nina pocketed the card without a single word. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the guard wave Lieutenant Carlyle through without hesitation.
The sunlight bounced off the white marble walls of the entrance chamber. Nina gazed at the elaborate designs on the friezes and the columns. Gracie pointed out the inscriptions on the walls, all taken from the Republic Charter, and the children noted them on their notepads. Large hi-vid screens occupied a prominent place in each corner of the room. They seemed out of place with the Memorial’s traditional appearance, but the screens flashed information about current events around the Republic. Nina frowned at the distraction, but her students’ eyes were glued to their tour guide.
“We’re now in the Entrance Forum,” announced Cadet Davis, as he smartly adjusted the white uniform hat under his arm. “Mistress Thompson’s class will follow Cadet O’Brien through the exhibits. I’ll take Mistress Cabral’s class. After the tour, we’ll meet in the Visitor’s Chamber for lunch and you’ll be able to visit the Gift Shop. All right?”
The children nodded and broke off into their assigned groups. Before she left, Gracie reached over and squeezed Nina’s wrist. “I’ll see you later,” she said with a wink. “Don’t let Carlyle get you down.”
Nina relaxed at her friend’s warmth. “Don’t worry. I’ve handled him before.” She ignored the Politico’s stony glare from the back of the Forum.
Davis cleared his throat and summoned up another smile. The children had to move up close to him to hear his voice over the chaos. “Take a look around you. Many of the Republic’s leaders have walked on this floor, from the most loyal soldiers to the Presidents themselves…”
Nina settled back to watch the young man conduct his tour. For the past four years, she had brought students to the Honor Memorial to learn about the Republic’s proud and noble history. Yet she never tired of the Memorial Tour, no matter which cadet conducted it. She smiled up at the image of the angel above the main entranceway. The statue’s inscription read “First in Peace, First in War. The Republic endures.”
"Now let’s walk through the entranceway, and we’re going to see how the Republic has kept its strength for more than a hundred years.” Davis extended his arm. “This way.”
The children followed in a huge mass. Nina felt Carlyle’s disapproving stare even as she reminded them, “Groups of two, please. We’ll all get in.”
The exhibits were mounted on pedestals, locked away by triple layers of Plexiglas and security fields. there were cries of, “Don’t step on my feet!” and “Watch where you’re going!” as they tried to walk in the dim light. Bright spotlights focused their attention on the museum pieces. Time frame and branch of military service neatly arranged all of the articles. Cadet Davis talked about how all Republic citizens, both civilian and military, made the Republic strong.
“My daddy helps a lot,” piped up Micah. “He makes stuff for the airplanes.”
Davis glanced at Nina in askance. Nina explained, “Her father is a contractor for the Flight Forces, Cadet Davis.”
He laughed and nodded at the earnest young girl. “In that case, your father does help us quite a bit.”
Dulcie and Patrick tiptoed at the steel railing. “Why can’t we touch the pieces, Cadet Davis?” asked Dulcie.
Davis’s smile was frozen. “Some of them are pretty old, Mistress Dulcie. We don’t want them to fall apart.” He quickly directed their attention to the military pilots’ exhibit. His gloved hand pointed at the names inscribed in gold.
“My daddy’s a pilot,” said Julia Greer. The brown-haired girl smiled up at Davis. “He’s with Task Force Thirteen.”
Davis whistled. “He’s in an important group, then. I’m sure you’re very proud of him.”
He addressed the rest of the students. “How many of you want to be pilots?” Many hands shot up. He chuckled and continued, “Well, you’d have to go through a lot of training. Not everyone makes it through, but the ones who do have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.”
He proceeded to describe some of that training. The class was riveted by his calm and steady tone. Davis made no attempt to deny the triumphs and the dangers, but he still made it sound easy. Nina heard the pride in the young man’s tone and raised her hand.
“You’re a pilot candidate, aren’t you, Mister Davis? I saw the gold wings on your uniform.”
He grinned and pointed to the wings on his collar. The children oohed and aahed. “I hope to add my name to the ones who served, madam. Every name on this exhibit carried out that tradition in all of Earth’s military campaigns. Maybe some of your students will be here someday too.”
The tour went on. True to his word, Cadet Davis asked plenty of questions about Republic history and ethics. Nina smiled with pride as her students gave a correct answer every time. She was content to let Davis run the tour and only had the rare comment or question.
Nina felt eyes watching her. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to find a pair of Security officers behind them. Their attention sent chills down her spine, and she fought to keep from trembling. Was she doing anything wrong? Did they notice the students’ unruliness in the Visitors’ Chamber? Did she forget some obscure detail in the Rules and Procedures vidbook? She told herself, I have done nothing wrong, and the children are the models of good behavior. There is nothing to worry about, Nina. Pretend you don’t see them, or you’ll alarm your students. Of course, it was easier said than done.
They came to a huge board depicting the various military campaigns in the Republic’s history, and the shadows followed them. This time, Cadet Davis gave her a questioning look. She glanced at the reflection of the Securitymen in his uniform visor and returned a slight nod. Davis continued his lecture as Nina helped her students work the touchpads. Every serviceperson’s record was listed, which included their campaigns and awards. A few of the children proudly pointed out the names of their illustrious ancestors.
Davis talked about the Confederation Wars that helped give birth to the Republic up to the Vidirian campaign in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Micah’s eyes glowed. “My great-grandpa fought in that! He said it helped us be what we are now!”
“You’re right. It was a turning point in Republic history.” Davis motioned the group forward. “We honor all of our servicemen and women, past and present.”
Julia Greer raised her hand. “Yes, Julia?” Nina said.
“I wanted to ask Cadet Davis if he’s ever seen any battles,” Julia replied. She dropped her eyes to her datapad. “I didn’t want to be rude.”
Lieutenant Carlyle’s head snapped up at the girl’s words. Nina saw the gesture and flashed a warning to the cadet. He gave her another small nod.
“A few small ones,” he said. “Nothing very interesting, Mistress Julia.” Davis turned towards the lightened corridor. “The next room is the Room of Infamy.”
Nina took a deep breath as he led the class past the marble wall. Etched in bronze were the names of all the known traitors to the Republic. The children were silent as they walked past. They knew what that monument meant; it was a warning to every citizen. None of the children wanted their names engraved on it. Many of those names were marked with the green Triangles. A Colonial name, an Outworlder name. The few Colonial students shuffled past with lowered eyes.
“Our next stop will be the Visitors Chamber, where you can rest and eat. I’ll answer any other questions you may have.” Davis glanced over his shoulder. “Let me warn you…the light’s bright outside, so be prepared.”
As the group crossed into the Visitors Chamber, Gracie’s class sat in the afternoon glare and munched on their sandwiches. Cadet O’Brien looked up from the small group gathered around him. “Cadet Davis is our flight expert,” he said. “Maybe you can ask him.” O’Brien grinned and said, “Andy, you’ve got a bunch of questions waiting for you over here.”
“I’m all ears.” He looked over at Nina and nodded, then joined O’Brien’s group. Nina gathered her group around her to assign lunch partners. Gracie came up to her when she was finished.
“The cadets are very informative,” Gracie said, nodding in O’Brien’s direction. He was talking with Lieutenant Carlyle. “I guess the Academy’s making sure their people know their stuff.”
“ It wouldn’t be good if they didn’t know their own history.” Nina squinted in the sunlight. The huge windows led directly to the shuttle ramp, and the New Fairfax shuttles arrived and departed according to schedule. The bright blue sky had no clouds, and was clear. The perfect day for a school trip.
“Mistress Cabral? May we have a word with you, please?”
Nina frowned as she turned from the window. One of the Security guards stood directly behind her; next to him was a female Politico. Nina’s heart froze at the sight of the green-clothed woman. Why did the Political Office want to speak with her?
“Of course. Mistress Thompson, will you watch my students, please?”
“Yes, Miss Cabral,” Grace answered in a formal tone.
They retreated to a corner of the Visitors’ Chamber. The Security Officer smiled and reassured her, “I’m Sergeant Palmer. This is Captain Vanderman. You aren’t in any trouble, madam, but we’d like to make sure you and your students are safe. With your permission, we’d like to keep you under observation.”
“Under observation?” Nina repeated. “But–“
The Politico-Vanderman- put a friendly hand on her arm. “Forgive us, but we have your well-being in the highest concern. You're the niece of Enrique Quartez. We won’t interfere, unless we absolutely have to do so.”
Nina swallowed her irritation; the Politico always seemed sincere in their dealings, but it didn’t mean she enjoyed dealing with them. She remembered her Uncle Enrique’s wise words: “They may be an evil, but they’re an necessary evil, in this day and age. Someday you will understand.”
“Very well, if you must.” She nodded at them and turned to return to her class, with the two unwelcome guests trailing after her. Gracie raised an eyebrow, but Nina said, “They will be riding our shuttle with us, Mistress Thompson. Please advise the children.”
A shrill squeal bounced off the walls of the Visitors’ Chamber. The students winced and clapped their hands over their ears, and a wave of chaos broke among the visitors. The vid-screens blinked, then the image of a woman slowly appeared. The blue-and-white Earth Republic Eagle hovered behind her, bisected by the thunderbolt of Republic News Broadcasting. A track at the bottom of the screen relayed her report in other Homeworld languages.
“We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to inform our citizens on developments on the Colonial front. We are pleased to announce that the revolt on Enki Colony is over!”
Cheers broke out in the Visitor’s Chamber. Elderly women waved handkerchiefs in the air, while men shouted and pumped their fists in the air. The students hugged each other and danced in joy, and even Lieutenant Carlyle cracked a smile at the other Politico. Carlyle’s brief flicker of happiness vanished as she shook her head.
“Is there a problem, Captain Vanderman?” he asked.
Vanderman drew Carlyle aside and whispered to him. In the chaos, no one noticed a shadow pass over Carlyle’s face, except for Nina. Nina caught his glance at her, then at the students, and he finally nodded. Something was going on, and it concerned her. Her unease blossomed into panic, but for the children’s sake, she composed her face as the reporter continued her report.
“Our brave Security forces rescued Republic citizens held hostage by the Enki, and Task Forces Eleven and Thirteen defended key installations from traitorous insurgents. We have the most recent footage from the front, courtesy of Public Affairs. Please keep in mind that some of our images may be disturbing, but we strive to bring the truth to you, our citizens. If you wish to not see them, you may change your vidscreen now.”
Nina thought the request somewhat ridiculous; the Memorial staff would not switch vid-screens, even if their visitors requested it. In fact, every person she knew would watch the footage. She prided herself on showing her students the truth, even when it was difficult.
“Miss Nina,” whispered a tiny voice.
She opened her arms to a child wearing the Colonial Triangles. The girl buried her face within Nina’s shoulder, and two other Colonial students attached themselves to Nina’s waist. Gracie also offered comfort to the older children who did not want to watch the report.
The highlights filled the screens: an Enki docking station fired upon a battleship without provocation, in turn destroyed by several missiles. Enki warriors herded unarmed civilians into prison camps. A ragtag group of Republic fighter planes faced a heavily shielded installation, and prepared to sacrifice their lives on a bombing run. As the audience watched, the shield wavered and collapsed, and the planes aborted their mission, sparing the people inside the building at the last possible second. Ground troops released the hostages and took them into careful custody. A female sergeant wrapped a young child in a blanket and carried the boy to the staging area in her arms.
A roar of excitement and approval washed over the crowd. Nina smiled at Cadet Davis and Cadet O’Brien, and Cadet Davis gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up. The woman reappeared on the screen with a brilliant smile. “Please stay tuned to Republic News Broadcasting for the latest on the Enki surrender. I’m Nancy Leedson for RNB. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program. Thank you.”
The Memorial visitors broke out into excited chatter at the news, including the children. Gracie seized on the opportunity to discuss the broadcast with them. Her students and Nina’s clustered next to each other, chatting and comparing notes.
Two people walked past the school group. The first one, a dark-haired woman, sat on anearby bench. She said something humorous and started to rub her ankles; the words were not Standard English. Her companion glanced around the Visitors Chamber and his lips curved into a grim smile slow as he saw the Politico standing next to the children.
“May we go into the gift shop, Mistress Nina?”
Julia’s voice startled her. “Of course you may, Julia, but please make it quick. Lieutenant Carlyle, will you please accompany Julia’s group to the Gift Shop? ”
“Of course. Come along, children, we’ll be going in a little while.” The girl gave Nina a strange look, but she skipped into the shop with her friends in tow. Carlyle scrambled to catch up with them.
Sergeant Palmer at the door spotted the Outworlder couple at the door. He made a move for his communicator, but the guard at the door made a gesture that said, “I’ll handle this.”. The woman pulled a thick bundle of papers and flimsies from her purse as the guard approached them.
“You don’t need to be nervous,” she reassured him in a heavy accent. “Here...this explains who we are and why we are here. We Colonials must be on our good behavior, shouldn’t we?”
The easygoing charm took the soldier off guard. The shock passed across his face for a brief moment, then he returned the smile. “Well, thank you for anticipating my question, madam. We just want to make sure everyone’s protected, that’s all.”
The woman nodded. “Of course, sir, that’s quite understandable, considering the news about this Colonial rebellion. I assure you, there is nothing to fear. We are impressed by your Memorial. It symbolizes everything the Republic stands for, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed it does, madam. We’re all proud of it.”
She turned and stared directly at Nina. Her eyes were bright yellow and there was a dark mulberry-colored tattoo lining her jaw. Their gazes locked for a long moment, then the Colonial’s harsh smile softened a little. The woman turned back towards the guard as he thumbed through the papers.
“So proud that you share it with your young ones,” she said. The comment was directed to the guard, but Nina realized it was meant for her ears. “How many of their names will adorn these walls, I wonder?”
The guard grunted and ignored the comment, but Sergeant Palmer murmured orders over his lapel microphone. Captain Vanderman stepped between Nina and the Outworlder. The Politico’s eyes flashed a challenge: You will not harm this woman or the children. Nina revised her previous opinion about the Politico as Vanderman’s hand tightened on the pistol on her belt.
The woman’s companion slipped away. and disappeared into the Gift Shop. Nina's throat tightened in fear. She turned to Gracie, but the other teacher only nodded. “I’ll round up the students,” Gracie said. Without another word, she went on her way.
Carlyle and O’Brien had finished their conversation, and O’Brien waved Nina to his side. His quiet tone was laced with concern. “Sergeant Palmer says the classes should be returning to McIntire. Your shuttle is parked outside and waiting. It’s been a pleasure conducting your tours, Mistress Cabral. They’ve been the most behaved students we’ve had.”
“Thank you, Mister O’Brien.”
Davis closed up his discussion as neatly as he could. “I’m going to turn you over to your teacher now. You’ve been a very courteous and polite group. Thank you for your attention, and have a good trip back to McIntire. Thank you, Mistress Cabral.”
Nina covered her unease with her usual cheery voice. “Let’s give Cadet Davis a round of applause.” The applause was deafening as the sound bounced off the Chamber walls. Nina motioned the children to their feet just as Gracie came up with her group. They clutched their packages and raced to rejoin their partners. The whispering spread from child to child.
“Someone inside fainted,” Julia told her. “They’re getting help.”
Nina swallowed hard. That's what they told them. She gave a quick head count. “Are we all here?”
“All here,” confirmed Gracie. Her smile seemed odd on her face, but for the children’s sakes, she played the part as well. “Let’s go out in a single file line out to the shuttle.”
Sergeant Palmer brought Nina to the head of the line. “Let her go through, she’s clean. Mistress Cabral, please come with me—“
”Not until my students are safe,” she objected. “I have an obligation to them and to their parents.”
Palmer gazed at her for a minute, then gave her a brusque nod. “All right. Help us get them onto the shuttle, but afterwards—“
Nina watched as the children the students endured the security ritual again. They climbed aboard the shuttle, and Gracie distracted the students with a short review session, awarding bonus points for quick responses. The students waved their hands eagerly in the air as they consulted their datapads.
Most of them. Julia Greer’s attention was still riveted back to the Memorial’s shuttle exit. “What about you, Mistress Cabral? Aren’t you going with us?” She clutched onto Nina’s dress so tightly that the fabric wrinkled.
“I’ll be just fine, Julia,” Nina reassured her with a smile. “We’ll meet at the school, all right?”
Gracie glanced back at Nina. “Carlyle said to go on without him. He wants to make sure everything’s okay.”
“Take care of the children, Gracie–“
Muffled shouts exploded from the Gift Shop, followed by the whine of automatic lasers. The glastic windows shattered, sending fragments all over the courtyard. The orderly crowd dissolved into a roaring stampede as people ran for their lives. Security tried to stem the tidal wave, but were swept away.
The duracrete walls of the Honor Memorial shook as tremor after tremor slammed into it. Nina couldn’t see what was going on in the gift shop, but heard the chaos. Vanderman threw her own body over Nina’s and screamed into her comlink, “Get the children away from the Memorial! Head towards Safety Zone Two. We’ll protect Mistress Cabral.”
The shuttle sped away, closely followed by several Security skimmers. Vanderman pulled Nina to her feet. “Come on! Come on!” the Politico yelled. “This way.”
Nina glanced over her shoulder and saw the yellow-eyed Outworlder. The woman had a beatific smile upon her face as she raised some kind of weapon and aimed it at them. Her mouth moved, but Nina couldn’t understand the words. All Nina could do was to brace herself for the impact.
Sergeant Palmer tackled the woman just as the weapon went off, and she was buried under a pile of gold Security uniforms as Palmer’s unit joined in the fight. Vanderman’s body jerked once, then collapsed. Nina screamed as the Politico’s body went limp next to her. She didn’t have to look at Vanderman’s face to know the Politico was dead.
“Mistress Cabral, Mistress Cabral!” Hands dragged her back to her feet and pushed her towards a waiting hovercar. Then the screams and shouts faded far behind them, and she resisted the urge to look back. All she could think about was the close call; her students were safe, and that was all that mattered.