(TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

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(TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Voyager989 » 2011-07-20 08:04pm

(Note: This story was co-written with Big Steve)

Earth Orbit, Over the North American Seaboard
Earth, Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate HE-1
8 March 2181 AST

So, Sister Ambassador, ready to meet the Athenian-lovers?" Baroness Zillyah bat Devorah stirred from her reverie as the Taloran shuttle began its final descent to Washington of the Columbia District, looking over to the woman who had spoke, another woman in the midnight-black dress uniform of the Otreran armed forces, a smile spreading across her face. "First, Sister Resident, they are not, I think, Athenian lovers, despite the name - a woman is their President, after all, one whom the two of us are going to present our credentials to. Besides, Sister Kanta, we know very well every woman with us wants to be at the front right now rather than here... but yes, I think I am. I wish we'd had time to speak to the Ambassador of the Talorans before this meeting, but we are trying to emphasize our independence, and that means..."

"Sink or swim alone."

Craning her head back in response to the interjection, the ambassador-to-be spoke over the seat behind her, with "That's quite right, Sister Helene my dear, but we cannot forget where our true friends lie, and where Empress Sikala seeks to visit one day. Not in front of the Adeners, though, please. We are trying to keep up appearances." The woman behind her, a Seleukid by descent, blushed a bit, though the mild rebuke was softened by an indulgent smile by Zillyah to her maid and assistant.

Some shifting could be heard forward - the half-dozen soldiers who had been temporarily invalided out from the front, just as they had, and were to serve as their security, were readying the armour plates to slide under their jackets and taking out their honour daggers to strap on after landing. Beyond them, only a quartet of called-up militia, secretaries and technical specialists in civilian life, shared the shuttle as well. One, the head of the little group, a warrant officer named Yzebel called over; "My Lady, I... thought Earth would be more beautiful than this. This... land below us, it does not compare with Otrera herself, or even her daughters, and the sky is so... plain! This is humanity's homeworld? The Great Carina, the rings and the moons... I do not know if I will be able to sleep with the sky so dark..."

A soft laugh met that declaration, one that spread through the shuttle as it came in to land. "Well, that would be why Amazons were always a myth to these people. We'd left for somewhere nicer. All right, Sisters, let's be about it."

The pronouncement was met with the start of movement about their seats as the shuttle touched down, with restraints un-done as soon as the pilots signalled the all-clear. In a ritual familiar to any who rode a shuttle on a regular basis, the Otreran delegation then stood almost as one and started readying themselves to debark. Trièrarchos bat Devorah and Tetrarchès Kanta Narayan stood out wearing the family-owned long swords that were their right as noblewomen at their sides, with a two-cornered hat similar to one worn by admirals of Earth in ages past on Zillyah's head and a pinned-up brimmed hat perhaps recognisable by history buffs as being inspired by a musketeer on Kanta's. An... extremely colourful cockade in Empress Sikala's colours adorned the caps of the two officers, and the more tropical-helmet like headgear of the enlisted women, with the rest of the Otrerans also wearing long honour daggers at their belts, as was the right of any Otreran citizen.

They formed up in the aisle before the door, turning to each other to go over each other's appearance one last time and making final adjustments, patting pockets inside their jackets to ensure that documents were present as the secretaries took up their attaché cases.

Zillyah gave a nod with a soft smile to the Taloran crewer at the shuttle door, signalling her readiness to step out. The smile froze on her face as soon as she did, stepping down the airstairs and to the waiting cars and their reception. That, that was expected, but the cacophony of shouted questions and flurry of camera remotes teeming over the crowd of very aggressive, very loud reporters... that was not. With her smile frozen on her face and teeth gritted, the Otreran Jewess led her small embassy-to-be to the waiting reception from the Secretary of State's office and curtsied politely, with the rest of the Otrerans following suit to varying angles and times in some sort of obviously cultural nuance not present in the ADN.

The arrival of the Otreran embassy had led to some media response. Though hardly a circus, as would come from the arrival of a major head of state for a state visit, it was a sizable one, and would be unnerving for any not used to it. Reporters from IUNS, CBS, Fox Interstellar, the BBC, the CBC, and so many other major news sources from across the Multiverse shouted questions, hoping the strange women from a bizarre, unknown universe with a drastically-different history would react in some way.

The Otreran noblewoman's expression softened a fraction as she rose from her curtsy, and having managed at least a little frantic briefing on the way here, extended a white-gloved hand. "Madame Minister, a pleasure to meet you and stand upon a world my people had thought lost to humanity forever. I am Trièrarchos the Baroness Zillyah bat Devorah of Thasos, who shall be presenting myself to be the Ambassador of Her Imperial Majesty Empress Sikala Valeria to the Alliance of Democratic Nations, and if I may present Tetrarchès the Dame Kanta Narayan, who shall be presenting herself to be the Minister-Resident of the Otreran Government to the Alliance of Democratic Nations." The words were precise, calm, and the Otreran woman's eyes did not waver from the face of the woman before her, as the entire embassy seemed to completely ignore the torrent of questions, with the guards and assistants all staring ahead and Zillyah and Kanta meeting the eyes of the Alliance minister.

Minister Leora Yadin, herself a darker shade of bronze than the Baroness in her complexion, returned the curtsy as a matter of respect and protocol. "Your Ladyship, welcome to the capital of the Allied Nations. I am honored to receive this, your first embassy." She gestured toward the armored aircars that would convey them to the White House.

After the universal translator had finished, the Ambassador and Minister-to-be nodded to Yadin and stepped into motion towards the first aircar, with their attendants sorting themselves out to be in the following cars, along with their ADN counterparts. Just before she lowered herself into the air-car, the Baroness turned to the massed reporters and smiled, giving a half-wave as she did, even if the experience of presenting herself before such a voracious crowd of news-hounds left her spine stiff and her hands clammy under the white dress gloves, so uncouth compared to an Otreran reporter - not even the wild-fringe republicans were ever so rude! It was thus that after the door closed, both the Otrerans visibly relaxed and removed their caps, placing them on their laps and adjusting their swords to rest more comfortably before directing their attention once again to Ms. Yadin.

"I apologize if the experience has left you uncomfortable," she answered. "The press is intrigued by your arrival due to the issues that the Taloran contact with your people has raised in the IUCEC."

"I see." was the woman's short initial reply as she formulated her thoughts, then turning to the Mauryan woman beside her with a lifted eyebrow, which seemed to be a cue, as she began speaking. "The Otreran government wishes to take the formal position on the matter that; Not knowing of the treaties involved, or of even the idea of inter-universal travel, we cannot be blamed for any Taloran activities, and most importantly, that the Taloran Star Empire is currently our only ally in an war of existential proportions for our government, our way of life, and the freedom of our people, with a ceasing of contact or severe sanctions likely to result in the mass enslavement of our entire Empire. We are, however, not ignorant of the importance of public opinion in a democracy and are willing to speak with singular reporters once our embassy has been properly established and stabilised."

Having been appraised of the situation in the Otreran home universe, Yadin nodded. "The Alliance Government recognizes the emergency circumstances that the Otreran Empire finds itself in. Though the IUCEC will likely soon determine some form of permanent response to the issue, we wish to emphasize that we will not hold the situation against your nation, and if anything are willing to extend offers of support to protect yourselves. For here in the Alliance, the Foquet-Erzburger Act remains in full effect, and the Alliance considers the existence of slavery to be in of itself a potential casus belli, and all nations facing aggression by slavocratic states are considered eligible for economic and military assistance."

A pair of eyes flicked over to the senior of the two, who straightened a fraction in her seat and replied. "If the Alliance of Democratic Nations provides a formal statement of their position and clarifies their terms, one that satisfies this embassy, I shall forward it to Her Imperial Majesty for due consideration." It was a hedge, and an obvious one, but given what had slipped out about the nature and composition of the Otreran government, not an unexpected one.

The two Otreran diplomats shared a look after the Baroness finished, then looked back to the Foreign Minister, switching speakers again. "We do wish to extend our personal thanks to the Alliance Government for such an expression of support and wish these to be passed on. We of Otrera are un-used to the idea, we must confess, given our unique circumstances, though Arzkadokh has truly blessed us with Empress Sikala and this discovery of a wider world that does not hate us so."

"The Security Committee will be deliberating the Otreran Empire's needs at this week's meeting," Yadin promised. "We have also instructed Mr. Calishaw to refuse to support any resolution in the IUCEC that would cause a severing of the existing Taloran-Otreran connections, as such would be profoundly injurious to your empire when it has done nothing of offense to the IUCEC."

Watching the city go by around them, Yadin continued. "It is our hope to open our own relations with you soon enough, though... I fear the language barrier and cultural differences will be very hard to deal with."

The reply was encouraging, as the Otreran woman smiled and changed her posture to a more visibly welcoming one. "First, you have our profuse thanks for such promises. Second, while Greek may be the language of our Empire, it is not the only. Persian is surely acceptable, as is Sanskrit, and the tongue of Egypt as well. We are many things, and Greeks are but one of them. We are Celts, Scandians, Germans, Tais, women who hail from the south of the desert that bisects Africa, and of Patagonia as well and many more. We can surely find translators, and we ourselves are here to provide what information on our culture that we can." Settling back into the seat as the car flew, the Otreran woman presented an expression of perfectly relaxed confidence as she seemed to finally warm up to the conversation. "We would call ourselves an oasis of civilisation in an ocean of barbarism, though we have been warned you may have ideas strange to us on the matter."

"And likewise for us," Yadin replied carefully. "Do you know what to expect when we get to the White House?"

"I am given to understand that I will present my credentials after presenting myself and the Minister-Resident to Her Excellency, with us then having a short meeting, saluting the Alliance flag with a shallow curtsy on departure, thenreviewing the honour guard that is to be present at that time in addition. Details in our source were somewhat lacking, I confess." There was the tiniest fraction of a flush in her cheeks from Zillyah as she said that, hating having to draw attention to her people's ignorance of the wider Multiverse.

"We do, at least, have passports." came from Kanta unexpectedly, an interjection given with a tone that made the Baroness' lips quirk in a stifled smile.

"It is also customary for a newly arrived ambassador to release a press statement, written or verbal, concerning their sentiments toward the issues faced between our governments," Yadin answered. She allowed herself a friendly grin at remembering the whole passport issue with the Talorans nearly twenty years before. "Though you needn't divulge anything of a private or secretive nature."

"... Given our blank slate-board of relations, Madame Minister, what issues do our respective governments have with each other?" came the question from the more junior of the two, her eyebrow lifting in a query. "Certainly we can provide platitudes for the people about our desire for concord in our relations and a mutually beneficial relationship, but what is that the matter of governments?"

"I was remarking on general practice of all embassies, not simply what you would yourself have to do right now. Though i would believe remarking on the issues facing the IUCEC on the Taloran behavior in making contact with you, and on presenting your nation's need for support against your enemies, would be a good place to start. You are, after all, stating what your embassy's policy is intended to be."

"That... I believe we can do. Ah... if I may," There was a look of trepidation that flashed across Kanta's face as Zillyah tensed in her seat at her companion's tone. "Madame Minister, we are not the same in our responsibilities. You seem to be treating us as a singular unit. I am the Minister Resident of the Otreran Government, while Sister Zillyah is the Ambassador of Her Imperial Majesty. I suppose, you could call I the functional representative, responsible carrying out signed agreements and issuing visas and passports, while she is the diplomatic representative of Otrera... though one with my title does additionally take on her duties during an interregnum and regency period. My apologies, I wished to clarify the matter before meeting Her Excellency."

That drew a nod of understanding.

"Now, if we might move on to more pleasant things for the time, Madame Minister?" came from Zillyah as she leaned towards the window. "Tell us of this "Washington of the Columbia District" please..."
Last edited by Voyager989 on 2011-07-21 03:24am, edited 1 time in total.

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(TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky Chapter Two

Post by Voyager989 » 2011-07-20 08:07pm

Washington, District of Columbia
Earth, Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate HE-1
8 March 2181 AST

Almost 40 years after its vacancy was settled by the then-temporary choice of the old US capital for the seat of the Alliance government, the White House was a symbol of remnant controversy to some. Though many had come to accept that the Alliance government, settled into Washington, was going to remain, non-American member states still occasionally made noises about fulfilling the intentions of the original Government Placement Act, which called for a new Alliance Capital to be built upon an agreed-upon world that was "suitably neutral" toward all member nations. Some argued an entirely new capital should be built on Earth at least, rather than continuing to use a city associated with American power. But inertia and sunk costs typically prevailed over such; the ADN Government was settled into the city and its environment and its latinum-based dollars (having survived a brief Maxwell-Fyfe flirtation with floating during the deepest days of the recession) were better put to other expenses, such as the hunt for naquadah deposits, the integration of the new advanced technologies into the Alliance fleet in tandem with similar Taloran and British use, and funding the conflict with the Blakist insurgents and terrorists now wreaking havoc in the Inner Sphere.

The Otrerans could still clearly see there was much history here. But any curiosities they had were not paramount now. There would be time for tours later, as Yadin led them to the Oval Office. Ordinarily the President received ambassadors and such delegations in the conference rooms or living areas for more normative talks, but as this was a ceremonial visit - the official provision of credentials by the delegation and their acceptance by the host government - the Otrerans would be received in the Oval Office.

When they got there, gestured in by a dark-skinned young woman, they found the tanned Alexandria Verdes at her desk, wearing a very normal businesswoman's attire of dark jacket, white blouse with neck tie, and knee-length skirt of the same color as her jacket. An Allliance torch button on her lapel was her one "rank insignia", if it could be called that, but other than that she was dressed formally but not in any way distinctively. The Marine veteran, a neophyte politician in experience compared to the British statesman she'd beaten in the election, had only served in politics for 14 years as a Council Representative when nominated for the 2180 Presidential elections. Her mother, Jennifer, had been the second President, and to many was considered the mother of the Alliance. Her death in the 2150s, after her Presidency was cut short from terminal illness, had been a tragedy for Alexandria, but one she had survived. Now she stood here and appraised the newly-arrived Otrerans carefully, seeing fellow soldiers and officers as she did.

The gold buttons on their uniforms glittered as the small group stepped forward after the Head of State Protocol's introduction, Zillyah first, then Kanta, and then the other four several more steps behind them. Her cap was removed and currently held by her maid outside, as was Kanta's and those of the secretaries and technicians. The others stopped, and then Zillyah took the last six steps forward by herself. "Your Excellency, please allow me to present to you the credentials of Sikala Valeria, Her Imperial Majesty by the Grace of Arzadokh of the Empire of Otrera, High Queen of Herculea, Lady Protector and Defender of the Faith of Arzadokh and Her Heroine-Saints, Chosen of the Council of Duchesses and Ruler in trust of the vacant Seats and Thrones of Her Vassals." She held out in both hands her Letter of Credence with a neutral expression and waited a bit nervously, though she hid it well.

Alexandria knew full well who the Empress "Sikala Valeria" was. She took the credentials and reviewed the flowing script, in a language she did not know, quietly and solemnly as was proper for the situation. Terrible Tisara was the thought in her head. The exiled Taloran noble was known via intelligence reports and open Taloran sources; disgraced for extreme sexual deviancies with her lover Ysalha, a key figure in the contact with the Kobolian Humans of the Taloran home universe, and known for what analysts called clinical sadism.

"Might I present the Minister-Resident of the Otreran Government, Dame Kanta Narayan, as well as our diplomatic staff?" The Ambassador gestured to the group, who curtsied when the President's gaze swept over them, as the Ambassador politely waited for the formal acceptance of the credentials, and invitation to a short private meeting she had been given to expect.

"Minister." The President gave them an accepting nod and one by one accepted their curtsies. "Madame Ambassador, I accept your credentials and welcome you to Washington. Today is a historic day for your nation and for our own nations."

"I am honoured to be a part of it, Your Excellency, and I hope that we will stand together, to be a voice for the rule of law and freedom for everyone in the Multiverse who shares our common values, to stand shoulder to shoulder and go forward with great hope for the future in solidarity." Zillyah replied with a small smile, rather relieved inside that she'd made it this far without any of the dire scenarios coming true her mind had played out from the moment of her briefing on the Adeners.

One wonders how many common values we have was Alexandria's thought. "A formal state dinner is to be held this Friday - three days from now - to commemorate your arrival. However, I invite you to a personal dinner tonight, just for us, Madame Ambassador."

"Of course, Your Excellency, I would be honoured to accept, and thus I do." The newly minted ambassador curtsied for a moment, though inside... she was close to panic. A personal dinner!? Goddess have mercy, that is much longer than a quarter of an hour! She intends to make this a real diplomatic meeting! Darkness-spawn! I don't even have a dossier on her yet!

"My staff will give you the arrangements then, Madame Ambassador."

"Certainly, Your Excellency. Do I stand dismiss-" Her inexperience flew to the surface, as Zillyah responded just like the military woman was and blushed furiously.

With a bit of amusement, Alexandria gave a nod. "I have some other duties to attend to, and we have settled the requirements of ceremony and protocol, so I see no reason to detain you any longer. Please, go and settle in."

With murmured thanks, Zillyah backed out of the room with another curtsy, as did the rest of the Otrerans.
Last edited by Voyager989 on 2011-07-21 03:26am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Simon_Jester » 2011-07-20 08:12pm

Oh, I remember this timeline! Good to see something out of it.

[ponders on events; tries to remember things from his TGG readthrough last year]

[Volunteers to pitch in with support on proofreading/writing/plotting]
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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Kartr_Kana » 2011-07-20 11:47pm

This is very exciting! The first TGG story I am around to follow as it develops!! This one has my interest piqued as TGG usually does, especially as to who the Oteran's are and how Terrible Tisara became their ruler. Also what is this terrible war that threatens their entire existence? So many questions as to the background of these people, I hope you will have answers in future posts.

"Our Country won't go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won't be any AMERICA because some foreign soldier will invade us and take our women and breed a hardier race!"

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Tanner » 2011-07-21 04:44am

So are we going see resurgent of new TGG stories now?

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Simon_Jester » 2011-07-21 11:27am

Maybe a few. Other planned stories are still having some difficulties, as are a number of the TGG authors themselves, so it's difficult to say.
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(TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky Chapter Three

Post by Voyager989 » 2011-07-22 01:13am

Ambassador bat Devorah rose from the limousine that had conveyed her to the White House, wearing her finest dress, in the style of the ancient Minoans with a light shawl over it to guard against the evening chill of March in Washington. Her eyes looked skyward once again, and she marvelled once again that the night sky humanity had grown up under was so… dark. If not for the city lights, she was positive she'd not have been able to see her hand in front of her face. Three moons, the rings, the Great Carina, the blazing azure glow of our sun... how can people livelike this...? Setting questions of astronomy aside, she adjusted the sword belted to her hip, the old family makhaira, now hers after her mother's death in the initial Herculean/Roman attack. Taking a last look at herself in the polished finish of the aircar, noting the carefully oiled and perfumed rings of her hair were coming slightly out of place, she nudged them back where they belonged and adjusted her jewelled fillet before squaring her shoulders and turning to walk into this bit of at least somewhat comfortingly-familiar architecture.

She nodded politely to the servants she passed on the way, leaving her shawl in the coat room, all the while feeling the leaden lump of dread grow in her stomach as she went further into the building and simultaneously running through training cadences in her head in an attempt to keep herself calmly un-focused on what was about to happen. You're just meeting a woman who rules a power who could crush yours like an insect, does not like your patronesses, and are going to be talking to her via an unreliable universal translator protocol. What's the worst that could happen? Before she could tell her brain where to stuff that thought, she ran out of time, as her escort indicated she'd arrived.

The dining room was one of the "private" ones instead of the large state function dining rooms used for larger gatherings. Alexandria had only used it so far for dinners with leading Council Representatives and her cabinet; this was her first private dinner with a foreign functionary. She was, as was her custom, dressed plainly in a dinner jacket and knee-length one-piece dinner dress below it, green in color. Cosmetic makeup was applied only to basic standards, Alexandria not being a vain woman in how she appeared though understanding the need to appear the sociable woman when necessary. In truth she sometimes wished she was back in the barracks with her Marines - ambition and her sense of duty had led her to accepting these discomforts, of course.

"Greetings, Madame Ambassador," she said plainly, standing to greet the Ambassador. The table had only two chairs - Alexandria was a widow, her husband slain in the line of duty, and her children were all grown up - so the dinner would be a truly private one.

"Greetings, Your Excellency." Zillyah replied, curtsying to the Alliance president with a soft, diplomatic smile. "You have my thanks once more for the invitation - I confess I had not had the pleasure of dining with such august company even before I was mobilised for the war." As she rose, she extended a hand in the Alliance style, endeavouring to be as polite as possible before they got down to business.

Alexandria accepted the handshake and returned to the table. "It is a fairly simple dinner that I've arranged for us. My predecessor as President, Admiral Dale, once warned me that an unspoken cost to power is having to stomach 'intolerable meals', so I prefer to keep the dinners simple whenever I can." Taking a seat, she continued. "I, at times, honestly miss MREs and repli-meals in the field."

Zillyah sat after the President did, grimacing at the comment. "I do not think I will ever miss combat rations, not after Herculea... sealed-up in an armoured chariot for six weeks straight and a brevet tagma commander when I'd gone in with a lance. I... don't miss the food, Your Excellency, but I do wish they hadn't blasted half of me off and made the medics take me away from my sisters who are still there." The Otreran woman paused for a moment, considering what she'd said. "I don't think any good woman would think otherwise, however."

"I've led Marines in battle myself. It's not easy when wounds and injury get you pulled away from your troops."

Zillyah nodded solemnly at that "I think my Archdu-pardon, the Empress Consort feels the same way. This war has been... very hard for us. I lost my mother in the initial attack, the Navy... well, all I can say is thank Arzadokh for Lady Admiral Sylperia, or there would have been many more Otreran bodies in the cold of space, though I'm not sure anything could have saved the bloodshed once we hit the ground and... well." The Otreran ambassador folded her hands in her lap and visibly calmed. "This is not why we are having this dinner, two old naval infantry or not, though it is nice to find some normality in a very strange world. On the note of which, “How do you people see at night!? It's so dark!"

"Earth-dwellers adjust well enough," Alexandria answered. "And we make our own light where necessary. I suppose Otrera has a better view in their nighttime sky?"

"It almost isn't a night sky, Your Excellency." The ambassador visibly warmed to this subject in a hurry, lifting her arms to illustrate. "From my estate in the Altiplano, for instance, when the sun is clear and you look south, the rings, oh the most beautiful rings fill the sky and reflect the light of the sun even in darkness, except for the few hours when they are eclipsed. Then there are the moons, and a triple moonrise is a sight that I pray never to forget in my posting here, as if I could! Last, though, last... the Great Carina. The sky is always bright with the birthplace of the stars, for half the day you look and it seems to be everywhere, a suffuse glow during the day and then filling the sky with a nimbus of light in the dark... it's beautiful, and all our systems still have the glow of the Great Carina."

"Yes, I'm afraid that in comparison to such sights Earth's not very competitive."

"Ah, but you have Artemis' great temple at Ephesus, or Athena's at Athens, or those of Isis in Egypt, and lost cities of the Amazons. I hope to be able to visit and pray to the heroines of the Goddess in those ancient places during my posting, if I have time."

Alexandria looked at her very carefully. She was no expert on ancient structures, but she wondered.... "I hope you get the chance to, Ambassador. Even though our Earth, most Earths in fact, are more intact than yours... I'm afraid time and conflict still take their toll."

"Perhaps we can even help you, then?" Zillyah asked quietly with a quizzical look. "The Talorans mentioned something of our universe being outside the 'bell curve', as it were, of the development of humanity, with how long we have been among the stars. I believe they said that our knowledge was archaic even by their standards - I am given to understand we beat even they into space, once one synchronises the starting point of the year-count."

“I'm sure our historians and academia will be interested in whatever unique knowledge of ancient times you have to offer," was the response. "I fully expect your embassy will be dealing on occasion with the academia. Though I'm going to admit it's not a subject I follow."

"To us, well, it is a matter of our history - the idea of nations arising on these continents was shocking to us, with the Viceroyalty of Teotihuacán starting the colonisation of these lands. By your calendar, the first men were in space in our universe by the fourth century, after all." Zillyah finished, turning her head and and grinning as the first of the dishes of dinner started to arrive. "While we are not Talorans, I have found their custom of concentrating on the repast to be an agreeable one, so may we resume our conversation after we finish, perhaps over tea or coffee? I expect I shall find your foods most fascinating." And, the Otreran woman thought, it will give me time to prepare myself for the interrogation I still expect.

"Yes, we can put further discussion aside until after dinner." Alexandria said nothing further. She could see the Ambassador was a little anxious and figured it would be better to avoid any misspeaking before dinner.

It was some time later, after the table had been cleared and the two of them adjourned to a smaller room overlooking the South Lawn that the conversation would resume, with Ambassador bat Devorah sipping at some spiced tea she had requested, still dreading the conversation to come and trying not to let the coziness of the setting lull her into a false sense of ease.

The dinner haad been simple fare. Unlike Maxwelll-Fyfe, who had favored banquet-quality food even in private dinners, Alexandria had tended to comfort foods herself. Oven-roasted turkey for meat, stuffing, sides of macaroni and cheddar cheese and mashed potatoes and assorted cooked vegetables that made up a traditional "American" spread. It had been a good meal, with leftovers remaining as the two women retiired to one of the dens. The lights of Washington were visible outside the windows, no indications at all of the high-powered energy fields protecting the occupants from attack or transporter abduction.

"We are soldiers and officers, right?"

The question was not put delicately, though with a bluntness that was what one would expect from a woman of Alexandria's background.

"The dinner truly was wonderful, Your Excellency. It's not anything I have ever had the like of before. To I, all of that is Roman food, not that of our foremothers." Zillyah answered with first, not seeming to hear the question, before she raised her gaze to Alexandria's with a level expression, setting her tea down blindly. "To some methods of accounting, yes, that is correct. Certainly any would consider us officers, though they might quibble on the 'soldier' part of the statement... why do you ask?"

"I'm honestly not a diplomat by inclination. That's what I have my Foreign Minister for," Alexandria said. "As a legislator I was one of those who was more likely to eke out a compromise through sheer argument than seek a deal from the get go. So I don't have the patience to tiptoe around issues to avoid being too direct."

"So let me start by asking you a question. Just how much of me have you heard from your Taloran allies, not to mention your Taloran ruler and the advisors she brought over?"

"Well." Zillyah started out with a delay, as she looked down and picked up her teacup once more. "Of you, or of the Alliance? I know you are a combat commander who went into politics, red-blooded to the core without an ounce of noble blood in you, one who is unapologetic in your desire to stand up for the prestige of your people, who... Her Imperial Majesty wishes to not have as an enemy or think ill of her without cause, and one whom the Taloran Star Empire does not wish to be the cause of a back-sliding in relations, though if you ask any Otreran who knows the situation, she will expect you to clash more with the third Great Power, as, as alien as it may be to Alliance sensibilities, Talorans do have a prickly sense of freedom and liberty." The Otreran woman took a very long sip of tea then. "That is, of course, my personal read of the situation and you will have to forgive me, for while an Otreran mess is a place of far more intellectual discussion than a Taloran, I have been at the front for months before the Herks blasted my arm and a good chunk of one of my lungs straight to hell."

Alexandria tried not to grin too widely in reference to that "Third Great Power"; the Holy Roman Empire, which consistently refused to allow any IU technology in its domains for fear that the ADN would find ways to penetrate their space, and which even now was a source of tensions in both SRC-19 and CON-5. "I'm well aware of the apprehensions I cause the Talorans, Madame Ambassador. They saw Admiral Dale as a fellow agricultural patrician and Maxwell-Fyfe as a monarchist and statesman; I'm more of a 'populist' in their eyes than either of the men before me, and that makes them uncertain about me. They're afraid I'll sway with the passions of the moment to remain popular, and that I'll cause political crises and even wars by doing so. More directly, I have already made provisions for policies in CON-5 that the Taloran Empire isn't happy with. And I know they're not pleased with my intention to accept any renewed New Californian petition for Alliance membership. Even if they have no real stake in the issue, they know the Hispanics and their Habsburg backers do, and there will be a crisis with those empires when the time comes. Alexandria put down her own glass of soda, not being a tea drinker by inclination. "I don't value our good relations with the Taloran Empire any less than Dale or Fyfe did, Madame Ambassador. But the people of the Alliance are not simply going to remain passive spectators to the other Empires' expansionism, in CON-5 or elsewhere. And we're not going to let ourselves be scared out off accepting new members, or aiding friends, because Vienna or Valeria is opposed to it. If the Taloran Empire wants to hold our relations hostage because they don't want me backing the continued sovereignty of minor systems or the federalization of the former empire of New Plymouth, that's on them, not me."

"I expected you would say something like that... we are both women, Your Excellency, may I speak with you informally?" Zillyah asked with a tired air in her voice. "I am used to a life among sisters, and you are a free woman in your own right. I would request the privilege, though I am but an Ambassador of a relative speck of a power in the Multiverse, while knowing it irregular and an imposition on your prestige."

"I prefer speaking informally myself, Ambassador. Please feel free to do so."

"Then, Ms. Verdes - for I will not dare your personal name in these circumstances without you offering it first - we are aware of your desires. If you have the strength to do these things, then it is your right to do so." The Otreran woman shrugged and took another sip from her cooling beverage. "We have no power to prevent you from doing so, certainly, and the weak suffer what they must. My point is that... the Talorans, I think they sometimes see things as we. Both our peoples have faced the threat of being removed from the face of our universes. Only some of the Alliance has. It... inspires a sort of readiness to see threats, Ms. Verdes, sometimes that can cause one to react in a way that can cause friction with your goals. Your people, they are waxing stronger - Talorans worry of this thing. Their war plans when they faced you with the IU drive technology and none of their own... they assumed the worst of you, though I do not, and please do not let this leave this room, believe that the All-Highest shares these paranoid sentiments. We ourselves are from a harsh universe by your standards - while Herculea was one of the worst, there are not many versions of humanity that successfully crashed their entire galaxy back into the age of bronze and iron... and then proceeded to prepare to do it all over again. You do not have to think like a diplomat, Ms. Verdes - indeed, as I understand it, I have more training for my present role than a Taloran does when she is sent - but more... that the Taloran mindset is formed of a belief that the strong do what they will. If you tell us you are expanding into our universe, well, of course we will try and stop you, but we do not have the strength to do so. That weakness, that sense of vulnerability... that is what the Talorans fear you are trying to push them to, and you, really, only have to convince your sister-of-power that is not true in a way that she can use to convince her own."

Zillyah drank the rest of her tea greedily after that long speech, wheezing a bit and smiling. "Forgive me, but Otrerans tend to talk too much and are vulnerable to thinking of any woman as a potential sister Otreran. That is the situation as I see it, speaking from what I think is a similar national outlook on the Multiverse."

Alexandria listened to her speak. It struck a chord in parts. There was a rough correlation in the Alliance between advocacy of stronger military power and a universe's history of deadly conflict. And it further occurred to her that the Otrerans, even more than the Talorans, were from a mindset, a society, utterly alien to her and to the peoples of the Alliance. Though if we can induct alien nations once in the Federation into our midst, and make citizens of non-humans... then we should be able to bridge this gap too.

But there was another element to Ziliyah's words that did raise Alexandria's pique, so to speak. "Thank you for your candor, Ambassador. I can see the point made. My own advisors, and former ambassadors to the Taloran Empire, have made the same. And I have tried to make my point clear that I wish no harm to them. But I oppose the idea that the weak must suffer. The entire purpose of the Alliance, to me and to many trillions of my fellow citizens, is to protect those that are weaker from any stronger nation that would oppress and abuse them. And we object to the idea that simply being stronger is a good enough reason to do what we want. We fight wars to protect nations, not to conquer them."

"But that is the very definition of my point, Ms. Verdes." The Otreran woman looked more than a little confused. "You are the stronger, and thus you make your will known and enforce it upon your lessers. It is the way of things. Would, for instance, your nation refrain from intervening in the more restive Habsburg or Taloran systems if you overmatched them, as the Athenians did he Melians? The reasons for your actions do not truly matter. You are strong, your opponents are weak, either they must give way or be crushed. If we had slipped but a bit further, we would have been crushed underfoot, and now Herculea is returned to the fold of the Empire against the will of their unlamented leaders now that their strength has failed."

Alexandria had to admit that Ziliyah's point was there. She herself wondered if the Allied Nations could turn down the Human nations from VS-5 should they ever gain sufficient power and strength to try and throw off Taloran domination. And she doubted the Alliance would be opposed to rescuing nations forced into the Habsburg Empire. "We would not behave as the Athenians did, though. In the Alliance, we cannot justify war merely to impose our will on others.. We must have a good reason, a cause that is morally and legally sustainable. There is a difference, Ambassador, between acts of conquest and acts of liberation, even if both have a stronger power using its strength to force the weaker to do its will. One is in service to selfish expansion, the other is a sacrifice made to free the unfree."

"I fear I do not see it, Ms. Verdes - you do not have to use my title, I will reciprocate - you are still declaring war. Would those Talorans who died to defend 'their' worlds care what reasons you used? Would they be justified in invading you if part of the Alliance wished to join them? It is still a majority of part of an Empire choosing to use you to overcome their own weakness. Where does the line lie, hm? If Herculea asked you for assistance and swore to do all you asked, would you have intervened? Democracy is quite convenient when it gives the result you want. No, by intervening you are choosing to selectively violate the principles of state sovereignty. What if the continent of one of your member worlds wished to depart? Would they be allowed to? What of a city? They are words being used to cover up raw power being used to bend the universe to your will, no matter the excuse." The woman's voice was still rather deceptively calm as she laid out her case... and rather alien worldview. "If a state chooses to let part of itself depart, very well, but if you choose to intervene to force an issue, then it is as the Athenians told the Melians, no matter what words you cloak it in. The only 'right' you have to do so is the one provided by your fleets and armies."

"In the matter of Herculea? No, no we would not have intervened," Alexandria insisted. "Just because we can do something doesn't mean we will. The Athenians had no justification to attack Melos, but did so out of pure imperialism, which the Alliance is opposed to. And if a world of the Alliance wishes to withdraw, there are legal avenues they can pursue to do so."

"As for the issue of state sovereignty... yes, I understand that it's not an easy thing to declare you will ignore that. If everyone started to ignore each other's sovereignty the result would be more bloodshed and violence. But that doesn't mean state sovereignty can be a shield for regimes to abuse their own people as they please in the assurance that other nations will not act to stop them. Too often in our history we've allowed such regimes to go on existing with an end result that saw only further misery, even the war that refusing intervention had meant to avoid. It is never easy either way. As you said, why would a Taloran or a Habsburg who dies fighting to hold worlds our forces are trying to liberate care of our motivations? For that matter, one of our world's great minds once said that the dead and orphans and homeless had no reason to care whether the destruction of their families and homes was done in the name of freedom or conquest. War is a terrible thing, Ms. bat Devorah, as you and I are both familiar with. I've seen good men and women die too many times to go to war easily. War is, quite simply, not what I want to see happen either way. The alternatives are negotiation, reliance on law and treaty, and respecting the needs and positions of other powers to the point of mutual compromise. And those alternatives are what I intend to pursue in the event of any troubles."

"But for those alternatives to work, we must recognize, again, that just because a state is more powerful and could do a thing, it doesn't mean they should. Might does not make right."

The Otreran woman stared open-mouthed in shock at Alexandria after those pronouncements, before managing to reply with a rather bitter sounding; "Ms. Verdes, our foundresses believed those things when they settled our world. Do you know what happened to them?"

"Given your reaction, something very bad."

"They were raped and tortured to death by the ship crews and security they had contracted to bring us there. The first Queen of my people in the Altiplano was gang-raped and left for dead after half the other officers in her constabulary barracks were shot. She was the Bandit Queen of the Altiplano, and for decades she fought while watching her people die in the bunkers and tunnels they’d scrabbled into those those plains against the damned men who were fighting themselves, too. She brought the Qin-supported ones down and then got the supplies their home empire had been sending to keep the proxy war going. We have a nobility because we had no ideas of war - we learned by doing, and when we died, our daughters had been on our staffs, had learned, and took up our places, teaching their daughters before the Herculaneans killed them too. We still stand up and die, for what sort of a noblewoman would be otherwise? We are considered foolishly merciful for what we did to our prisoners in the wars, for we Otrerans only castrated them and sent them to work in the mines without masks or respirators. Our sisters and brothers were starved to near-death and sold, if they were lucky. If they were not, well, Gilead was paradise compared to some of the "specialty" clubs our sisters ended up in. One of my aunts, they blew out her neural interface to where she was never able to speak again in her life - she could only communicate through her drawings and paintings. They leased her out to some of the more depraved sorts, you see, after they’d done that to her, letting cutting parts of her off, the sick monsters got off on it. One of my Sister officers who graduated from the Academy with me, they wanted our comms codes from her. They impaled her body with swords, stuck her to a wall and hooked her up to life support, drawing her down by a fraction of an inch at a time for two years before she talked. I don't think more than a third of my Queen is biological anymore after those monsters got a hold of her during the landings. We were weak, and so they did this to us. We will never be weak again! I apologise, Ms. Verdes, but do not spout inconsistent rationalisations for your nation's policies at me. War is not a glorious thing, but I will happily fight and die to save my daughter from the hell we've lived in for so many centuries, even if that means conquering every other damned and Goddess-forsaken human planet in our universe! Your people have the luxury to act as you do, and that is only because you are str-"

The Otreran woman broke off and started violently coughing, as her voice, which had been getting breathy and wheezy as she was worked up, finally gave out.

The noise was certainly heard outside the door, where Presidential Security was standing. Indeed, the guards there were about to enter themselves, hearing the violence of the Otreran ambassador's words even if they weren't sure what she was saying (their translator units finding the words too muffled by the door to accurately translate). Inside the room there was a flush of color to Alexandria's face. She was used to having people scream at her and so was not perplexed by that, though the sheer violence of it was naturally something to react to.

Before Ziliyah could continue, Alexandria cut in. "I'm sorry, dreadfully sorry, that your people have suffered so. Be angry at us because we have not suffered quite the same, if you please. But if it is a luxury that the Alliance can stand above 'might makes right' imperialism, then we must use that luxury to the best benefit for everyone. We do not make war to force other nations to join us, nor to enslave, and we certainly won't support such vile barbarity... I'm honestly offended that you dared imply earlier that we would have sided with your enemies if they had pledged themselves to do as we asked!" Forcing calm upon herself, Alexandria watched Ziliyah recover from her coughing by nursing her tea and took a moment to compose her thoughts further. "So that's how it is, then? Yours wouldn't be the first people to turn bitter and violent due to the atrocities they've suffered - the Stronghold are evidence of how vicious survivors and victims of these things can be - and you scorn the ideals we hold dear. But you're a fool if you think we don't realize how rare our beliefs are in this Multiverse, Miss bat Devorah. You're a damned fool. Millions, so many millions, of Alliance citizens are dead today because our ideals aren't universal. They died fighting regimes that were just as evil, if not so utterly sadistic, as the Herculeans. Trillions of beings have been liberated in these past thirty years because our citizens, and citizens of nations that think at least in part like we do, do honestly believe that it is right that makes might, not the other way around, and that simply being strong is not good enough reason to impose your will on others. Be angry, Miss bat Devorah, you have every right to be. I am angry that your enemies are so horrible. I'm angry that your universe is in such a wretched state that your people have to castrate and work to death enemies as a matter of course, and are considered weak for it. Were it in my power we would stop all this savagery, and I won't begrudge you the desire to be free from the fear of conquest. We even consider that one of the great, cardinal freedoms of our beliefs; freedom from fear."

"But don't let your anger make you dismiss what the people here believe. You've come here to represent your people to the Alliance. I hope you'll come to understand us, and to realize that no matter whatever happens in the disputes of the great Multiversal powers, we are genuinely committed to freedom and peace. We make war only to restore or save freedom, and to create a better peace than existed before."

"I hope the day comes when you know the same freedom, Miss bat Devorah. Until that day, despite everything you might expect, we will not impose our will on you. We only offer friendship and the aid you need to security your liberty so that you can decide your own fates, no matter what I or Empress Saverana would prefer to see you do. I'm saying this knowing full damned well your Empire probably will seek to conquer other worlds to protect yourselves. I just hope you come to realize that the way things go in RQA-22 isn't how they have to be, if you're willing to change."

Having suppressed her coughs, though with her shoulders still shaking as Alexandria talked, Zillyah finally took her hand away from her mouth, looking down at the bright red wetness on it with a momentary wince before looking back up to the Alliance president and smiling. A very brilliant, open smile, though her voice was still hoarse when she spoke, with frequent pauses as she stopped to suppress her reflex to have another coughing spasm. "That was a very coherent and cognizant response. Perhaps... perhaps, when things ease for us, our soldiers will be able to fight side-by-side to rid the Multiverse of such evils. You... have told me a great deal what I need to know, in a way that
I had not come to expect of a republic-selected leader. Please, I beg of you… accept my formal and informal apologies for the rudeness. We will accept the outstretched hand you offer, if you can accept that our right is clasped to the Taloran and you must settle for the left. It is likely we will have to conquer our entire galaxy to finally see peace, and be forever changed in the process. I think, perhaps, some... selected Alliance ideas would not be out of place in the end product... Sister Alexandria." The ambassador's eyes twinkled even as she suppressed another cough while waiting for the response to that.

And so here I am, expected to say yes to allowing the Otrerans, and through them the Talorans, to conquer likely hundreds of worlds. Yet what else could she say? The Alliance had no presence in RQA-22, and as Ziliyah indicated, any ADN entry into the universe would likely be reacted to with opposition. For that matter, the exact nature of how much Taloran influence was present in Otrera had yet to be fully measured. They'd taken a Taloran empress, yes, and a particularly infamous one (though she suspected, darkly, that the cruel Terrible Tisara, the woman who ordered a medieval gorefest of an execution inflicted on the Kobolian Gaius Baltar, was right at home amongst the savagery)... but it was unlikely the Otrerans would simply suborn themselves completely and utterly. Not if given an alternative.That, then, might be our course. Work to the future, and toward an Otrera balanced between Alliance and Taloran interests... Aware of the irony, arguably hypocrisy, of her cynical considerations of interest after extolling the ideals of right makes might and only seeking freedom for others, she let the thoughts pass. We do what we must..."Then, Sister Ziliyah, I hope that we provide you inspiration to see your universe cleared of its horrors, and in its place an interstellar order not based on military force but law and freedom." We do what we must... she thought again as she offered her hand. And the decision I'm going to have to make is whether to pursue any settlement or action in RQA-22 or not.

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Steve » 2011-12-12 01:45am

Washington, District of Columbia
Earth, Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate HE-1
29 March 2181 AST[/b]

Leora Yadin, as Minister of Foreign Relations, saw her President and friend Alexandria often in the course of duties, in both private discussions and scheduled meetings like Cabinet sessions and Security Committee meetings. Today was one of the more casual interactions, the two women lunching on roast beef sandwiches, potato chips, and other minor dishes as they took a working meal in the residential area of the White House.

"The Otrerans have been deathly quiet since the state dinner," Yadin informed Alexandria, deciding to broach that subject with her. "Since there have been no new developments in the ongoing hearings on Babylon-5 involving IUCEC sanctions on the Talorans, I assume this has to do with the... exchange you had with their new Ambassador, and that apology letter she sent in reply?"

Alexandria drew in a sigh and nodded very quietly. "You would have thought they were unwanted guests at their own welcoming state dinner," she remarked, remembering that tedious affair. The entire Otreran delegation had behaved as if she would have them shot at the slighest inkling of offense, and had basically shown up, allowed the exchange of toasts and the initial courses to be had, and then taken off as early as Zillyah could justify it. "There seems to be something of a major cultural gap...." Alexandria saw the look on Leora's face. "I recognize that look. It's the 'Alexandria just said something stupidly obvious' look."

"Well, Madame President," Leora began, her smile indicating the use of the formal address was as much meant for humor as proper respect, "the Otrerans are basically an entire civilization of women who use artificial means to procreate without men. And while that's not exactly new..."

"It isn't?"

"Sometimes, Alexandria, I forget that you were spared History of Gender Studies as a college course," Leora sighed. "There have been various attempts in various universes, over the centuries before and after the start of the Interuniversal Era, to do what the Otrerans have done. Usually some high-minded feminist group or woman billionaire would try to create an all-woman society with men forbidden to coexist with them. A few are even around now, though most fall apart for mostly the same reasons other ideologically-extreme colonies do so. The Otrerans are just uniquely successful, probably because of the vastly different cosmos they come from. And they have a very different culture, so it’s going to take time for them to get used to us." Leora sipped at her soda. "And they obviously feel like they've gotten off on the wrong foot."

"Well, they're a part of a very dicey issue we have to face right now, Leora." Alexandria set her half-finished sandwich down. "We're going to need a real channel with these people, and we're not getting it with them holed up inside their embassy. Have any notions on getting them out?"

"A few," Leora said. "It'll take time for them to bear fruit, likely... but I'm hoping curiosity will get the gate to open a bit."

2 April 2181

Zillyah bat Devorah nursed a large headache, with her assistant behind her massaging her scalp to try and relieve some of her tension. The embassy had been on pins and needles since she had gotten back from her meeting with the President... and proceeded to have a screaming breakdown right in the entry hall after she'd realised what she'd done. At least her second had managed to calm her down by ordering her into the bath and not leaving her side that night- or letting her be alone in any of the few weeks since. Probably a good idea, Zillyah thought to herself. I might have done something even more stupid.

There was a knock at the door, and without waiting for a response, her fellow, Kanta Narayan, breezed in and settled a piece of paper on the ambassador's desk. With a look up to the mismatched pair of eyes looking down at her from the portrait of the Empress, the Jewish woman picked up the paper and started to read, her mouth twitching into a small frown. "... A tour?"

"Yes, Zilly, a tour. I think it might do us good - we cannot ascertain how much opprobrium we are truly under without some careful contact, after all..." came the reply from the woman whose ancestresses had been from the Subcontinent generations ago.

A long moment of silence stretched out, one of the Ambassador's hands starting to work up to play with the ends of her hair, at least until it was batted away by the embassy guard's hand, who gently rebuked her with a "Sister Zillyah, I just brushed that...", which inspired a blush and a quiet "My apologies, Sister Nanida. Kanta, tell them we accept, please?"

With a smile and a slight curtsy, the Resident replied; "Sure thing, Zilly. See, I told you it wasn't that bad..."

"Oh, yes it was, and we both know it. They are quite justifiably upset with us." Zillyah replied, rather acidly, causing her friend to sigh and lift her arms in a placating gesture.

"Fine, fine, but I am reserving the right to say 'I told you so' should you be proven wrong, and extend to you the same, deal?"

Zillyah sighed and shook her head ruefully. "Yes, but Empress Sikala will be happy to do terrible things to us if you're wrong. Let us hope you are not, hm?" She gave a glance up to the portrait of the Taloran woman in question, whose stern green-tinged face and mismatched eyes regarded the room, remembering that it was she who represented Sikala, and despite her fears, a small smile spread across her face. Our lady saviouress. What wondrousness of the Goddess brought you to us... And so worthy of the Silver Throne, too, with blood so storied and grand, and two wives so soon after being delivered to us!

"And may we successfully convince these people that She is not a sadistic torturer, rather a loving wife, and a great and stern Empress."

"Indeed, Kanta, indeed... yes, tell them we accept, and... while you're at it, do invite the Taloran Ambassador over for tea, hm? Might as well make some sort of friends so as to not go stir-crazy, and I think I can avoid annoying her... If not, then she can slice my face to ribbons as punishment!"

As Kanta turned to go, she was shaking her head and clucking. I know you mean that too, Zilly, you madwoman...

3 April 2181 AST

"You're a familiar face, it's better that way."

That's what Contessa Branca had been assured by her boss Donald Atwater, the Foreign Relations Vice Minister of Ambassadorial Affairs, when he'd asked her- in her capacity as Secretary of the Office of Embassy Affairs- to take over this tour. And after thirty years as a dedicated Alliance civil servant, Contessa was not one to turn down "sensitive affairs". That was how she'd gone from a minor job in the Ministry of External Trade to the Defense Ministry, the Treasury Ministry, and finally here, the Foreign Ministry.

She had wanted to sarcastically reply "So you want the only avowed lesbian in the office to babysit the lesbian empire embassy on their tour", but she'd kept her mouth shut and did as she was told. That was why she was here, wearing a full-sleeved blouse and long formal skirt, conservative office fare to be sure, but suited to the brisk spring day of Washington. Temperatures were already well into the teens and rising fast as it hit 8am on her watch.

The sound of the embassy door opening made her look up, as it did her personal assistant Gabrielle Hunt. The prim Englishwoman, very fair-skinned compared to Contessa’s deep tan, had volunteered to join her boss on this 'tour’ business, though her relatively new arrival to the Alliance capitol - most of her own 15 year Foreign career had been served in embassies - meant that Contessa would bear the brunt of the actual tour. "And here they come," Contessa sighed a Brooklyn-accented soprano, with its harsh edge softened and refined by years of formal government service.

Opposite her was the entire Otreran embassy, talking amongst themselves in their odd tongues, which sounded so lyrical to the ear of the natives of this earth. There was the visibly nervous ambassador, dressed even more conservatively than Contessa, in a dress that came down to just above her ankles and a blouse with a high collar and long sleeves, made up each of mixed green and brown patches of fabric, with brown leather gloves. Of the others, none were in uniform, and all were dressed as conservatively, though all of them, Zillyah included, wore intensely clashing colours as accessories- hair scarves, kerchiefs around their necks, fabric belts and the like. They looked thinner than they had been when last seen three weeks ago; more notably, their hair was dyed in brilliant, clashing colours, looking something like a confused bundle of peacocks who had been unable to decide between blending in and attracting attention.

Zillyah and Kanta came up at the head of their group to the woman who, having arrived at the designated time, was likely to be their escort, and curtsied to her with a polite smile from the Jewess and a more friendly, brilliant one from the Mauryan woman. The Minister-Resident offered brightly: "A pleasant morning, is it not, madame?"

"Yes, Madame Resident," Contessa offered politely, hoping the auto-translators were working properly. She curtsied in reply, as did Mrs. Hunt. "I hope you are enjoying our home?" She tried not to blanch openly after saying that for how stupid and coyingly sweet it sounded to her ears. This was one of those times she wished she’d stayed in Treasury.

The reply from Kanta sounded happy. "As pleasant as Otrera, though the sky is too dark, and we have heard stories of what the summer will bring. I am given to understand you will be showing us the points of interest in the city- you have our thanks for this. It is.... hm, difficult for us to find engagement in such a foreign place, and the gracious offer of your time is very much appreciated."

"It's part of my office's duty to attend to any issues with embassy staff," Contessa explained. "The packet the Ministry gave you upon arrival should have all our contact information in it, should you require our assistance. As for now, I have arranged for a tour bus for us." Okay, why do they all look like Taloran fangirls? Contessa pondered to herself. She couldn't help but remember that diplomatic imbroglio, not after how close the Wells-Intuit talks came to disaster. Multiple bombings in the capital tended to remain with you that way.

The tour bus was one of the smaller anti-grav models, though it had sufficient seating for the entire mission. The snow-haired driver, the only male in the group, seemed only a bit bewildered by the sight before him, and was the epitome of professionalism as the mission boarded.

"Ah, anti-grav! How luxurious... Don't you agree, Sister Zillyah?" Kanta visibly prodded the other leader of the delegation out of her fugue, who visibly started and blinked, looking around. "Mmm... yes, I fear we prefer trams for this sort of thing, or fuel-cell electrics... sir." The ambassador paused, nodding to the driver on her way in, before moving to sit. "My apologies, madame, I think I am not feeling quite well. Perhap-ow!" A sharp look went to the woman behind her, who was the picture of confused innocence as Zillyah finally sat, rubbing at the back of her leg and looking a little upset. Her counterpart leaped in with a quick; "Well, I am less sure it is assistance we require as much as we are labouring under a bit of a cultural gap that we are unequipped to bridge. I mean, we haven't had men in the Empire in centuries, the poor loyal dears."

Hunt couldn't help but let out a sigh, but she said nothing as she slipped into a seat. Contessa took her seat opposite the Ambassador, allowing her to look directly at the Otreran, then looked back over her shoulder to nod at the driver. He was fairly non-plussed as he secured the door and activated the anti-gravs. The tour bus' streamlined form rose slowly and began to move forward as the driver carefully interlinked with the air traffic control systems maintaining the city's skyways.

Zillyah was rather quiet and didn't meet Contessa's gaze for a long time as the bus took off and lifted smoothly into the sky, though she did stir slightly and remark, with her gaze off to the side, "It seems rather inefficient. Properly designed mass transit would remove the need to clutter the sky like this, would it not? Or is this a cultural individualist issue?" She finally looked at Contessa, quizzically. "Seeing as many mostly empty cars go by, and no trams... I can barely believe it even as I see it."

"The trams are underground," Contessa explained, a veteran Metro rider herself. "Many people use them, actually, due to the traffic congestion and limitations. But plenty of people prefer driving themselves over public transportation."

Kanta grinned from her seat across the aisle. "What Sister Zillyah is too kind to say is that on Otrera, it would be unthinkable that people would be allowed to do something so inefficient and injurious to the state and people as a whole. Otrera is governed on the principle of the Matronly Authoritarian State, after all."

Contessa gave a very delicate nod. She and Hunt kept their faces clear of any emotion at that; authoritarian states weren't rare in the Multiverse, after all. "The nations of the Alliance are non-authoritarian." And anti-authoritarian in some cases... "We have governments built upon the rights of individuals and the people of the whole being held as more important than the desires of the State."

Zillyah responded in a very quiet voice that spoke in the sing-song of rote; "Otrera is Mother, Mother Knows Best... But it is a poor mother who does not explain why to her daughters. Our governing principle is that She acts in our best interest and explains why She does things. It is a comfortable thing to us, and we allow those who disagree to make their cases and protest, though they have been very quiet since the war came and we drew together under the threat. One of those ways we differ, but we would not seek to change your society except as we could do with our own hands to make the lot of those who suffer easier. No more than that..." she finished, trailing off with a wistful expression.

There was silence as the bus pulled up to the protected landing spot for VIP tours to the side of the Lincoln Memorial. As it was the western point of the Old Mall, Contessa had decided to start here- and she had to admit to Hunt's earlier, half-joking charge that her American background made it the first stop in her head. Given the info packet on the Otrerans, she expected they would find something recognizable in the Doric style of the Memorial and its great marble columns. As they went up the steps, the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln looked down upon them, the equally classical fasces present on his chair, and the inscription above him still the same after all these centuries.
The north and south cellas bore the inscriptions of two of Lincoln's greatest speeches: his Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address.

The Otrerans, in pairs and gaggles, started to spread out as they walked up the stairs into the building, holding up small electronic devices to translate the text- quiet, all, with only soft reverent whispers between them as they split up, recombined, then split again, before forming a large group near the entrance, whispering reverently as they huddled together. They had not asked any questions, but taken in what was around them. When finally approached, it was Zillyah who spoke in a very quiet voice; "He would have been a good Otreran before the Usurpation, Madame Branca. A very good Otreran."

"Most of the great battles of the American Civil War were fought in this region," Contessa told her. "There are plenty of history tours associated with them if you are curious about learning more. Nevertheless, we shall continue..."

They moved on to the northeast and to the sunken V-shape of the Vietnam Wall. The war it was built to commemorate the dead of was centuries old now, with all of the old social baggage long lost to history, but the Park Service still loyally maintained it. New additions to the Wall offered explanation to those unfamiliar with the history. Holographic kiosks and neural interface jacks allowed the curious to learn about the purpose of the wall, its contents, and about the conflict that had birthed it.

Here, they were more visibly confused, clustering around a holographic kiosk and whispering between each other- it was less reverent than they had been at the Lincoln Memorial, with what almost sounded like an argument. They seemed to reach a consensus, with one of the secretaries saying in a confused tone; "Madame Branca... I confess, to us, this is a strange and incongrous place. Might... we move on, perhaps?" There was an undercurrent that indicated their lack of understanding of the place, namely the rapid whispering between them.

"It's a very... dated memorial," Contessa admitted. "It was done as much to heal the social rifts of the Vietnam conflict and the divide between the veterans and the rest of society as it was to actually commemorate the conflict. Anyway, we shall move on..."

Next up, very close by, was the Nurses' Memorial. Contessa looked on at the bronze figure and wondered how the Otrerans would react to this very visible reminder of the patriarchal values that persisted to this day in much of the Multiverse.

The group of Otrerans seemed to brighten at seeing women memorialized in this place, speeding up into quick walks and crowding around with excited murmurs... that faded very quickly into sighs, shoulders slumping slightly as they bowed their heads towards the memorial, turning back towards Contessa with glum looks painted on all their faces, incongruous with their bright hair and previously overjoyed look.

Yeah, this isn't going very well, Contessa thought glumly. They'd seemed so animated after Lincoln.... I knew I should've listened to the others and ended with Lincoln. She gestured them onward, leading them through Constitution Gardens and on to the memorials to the great wars of the 20th Century. None of them held any particular interest to the Otrerans. Questions were occasionally asked, but there was no real emotion to them. As they approached the Korean memorial Contessa was afraid she was losing their interest and turning this into a chore.

It was not exactly getting better, but this, at least, seemed to hold their attention longer, as they recognized enough of the style, the grim figures trudging forwards, here rendered in stainless steel. The Otrerans here broke up into their smaller groups, glancing around and murmuring - there was no sign of what had triggered this particular reaction, but though it was not as reverent as that at the Lincoln Memorial, they were expressing the same sort of pecular clumping and dispersing.

Well... at least it's a change, Contessa thought to herself.

"We really should've put them on a trans-Atlantic shuttle and showed them Trafalgar Square," Hunt mumbled to her in a low voice.

"Shush, you," Contessa sighed.

They finally re-formed before Contessa, looking quietly to each other, with Kanta speaking in what had become the usual soft Otreran tone. "We are ready to continue, madame. This, at least, seems to properly allow one to visualize the war. Much more familiar than the others we've seen so far, if you will permit."

They continued on to the FDR Memorial, following a curving path along the Tidal Basin shaded by cherry trees in full bloom. The Otrerans seemed to relax a little more. Upon reaching the memorial, Contessa explained briefly the symbolism of the four outdoor rooms, and why the statues included one of President Roosevelt in his wheelchair. She also identified the statue of Roosevelt's wife Eleanor and the symbolism of her place in front of the UN insignia. Among the engravings stood the four freedoms as established by the famed President: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.

Now there were frowns and muttering- they were evidently disagreeing with something here, before they literally walked away. One of the younger Otrerans sounded like she was snarling to Zillyah while the ambassador tried to calm her down, as Kanta came up to Contessa and said, in a very delicate tone; "We do not agree with many of the sentiments expressed here, as you may understand, and she seems to regard the tone of the inscription beside the statue of the man to be an affront to Her Majesty and the Otreran system."

Contessa looked at the offending text. It was a statement by FDR: "They who seek to establish systems of government based upon the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers call this a new order. It is not new, and it is not order." Feeling a creeping headache coming up, Contessa sighed. "It's... you have to understand the historic context. Roosevelt's leadership was during and before World War II, when fascism was on the rise in other countries. Like the Nazis... the people we fought in the war. The people who performed the Holocaust."

"Aaaaah. I see. Like the Herculaneans have... you see, there is much defensiveness amongst the younger generation... they know what Adeners call our Empress, madame. They do not like it. Sister Zillyah and I are at least old enough to understand the vicissitudes of foreigners, even if we do not quite understand the stubborn permanence of that horrid appellation."

The headache got worse. Almost hesitantly, she led them out of the FDR Memorial and to the nearby MLK Memorial. The slain 20th century civil rights leader's memorial might be better for them, she reasoned. She hoped.

The women were starting to seem a bit on edge, as the young Otreran in their midst had been calmed down. They squeezed through the Mountain of Despair into the memorial proper, and started to read the quotes.

This time, there was more than one woman looking agitated. Contessa got at least two glares of anger from the younger members of the delegation this time, as Zillyah and Kanta did their best to calm down the group, but they looked intensely displeased themselves.

"It's official. This is a disaster," Contessa mumbled to Hunt.

"Oh, yes," Hunt agreed. "Maybe you should just call the rest of the tour off and plan it out better?"

"It seemed so simple! Show them around the capitol, let them understand some of what we believe in, and..." Contessa quieted, seeing Kanta begin to approach into earshot range.

Kanta, that woman who had seemed so smiling and understanding before, had a stormy expression on her face as she flung an arm behind her and ground out; "What was the purpose of this, do you think? A memorial to a damned pacifist!? Do they immortalize their treasons in marble too!?"

"Ah, Madame Resident, um..." Contessa put her hand on her forehead. "Mister King was immortalized because he was the leading figure in the civil rights movement of the mid-20th Century. He was, indeed, pacifist in his actions, but his campaigns of civil disobedience have been deemed by historians to have been instrumental in ensuring the success of his movement. And his principles of all people being created equal and deserving fair judgement based on their characters and not their sex, color, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation are cornerstones of how we believe today."

"Civil disobedience is still disobedience, and anywhere but Otrera in our knowledge would result in a slaughter, as the State isn't under any such restriction! How in the name of all that is holy are we supposed to understand you people when this is apparently part of your enshrined cultural tradition?" She fell silent before muttering, holding her own forehead. "Goddess forgive me, but I'm sounding like Zillyah..."

"Pardon me for interrupting, Madame Resident," Hunt spoke up, seeing the very forlorn look on Contessa. "But to us, the State isn't... nearly so powerful. We don't think States have rights to slaughter people for disobedience, especially when portions of the State itself is violating the law to enforce bigotry and racist supremacy. In the Yanks' case, Dr. King's campaign was to stop the Southern states - the descendants of the bloody bastards Lincoln had to defeat, I'll add- from forcing non-whites to use different bathrooms and having to drink from different water fountains and not being permitted seats near the front of the bus. If he had used violence, the bastards would have been able to claim he was trying to undermine the whole country, and was breaking the law himself. But since he and his people were peaceful and it was the bastards using illegal violence, the rest of the country turned on them."

"...I fear I don't understand. It would only be a government in danger of falling to revolution that would hold off on using force such as that... oh." Kanta looked a bit sheepish as she thought about it. "This is that concept of inherent rights that is entirely absent from our conception, isn't it? That restrained the government like that... oh, and your contractural rather than granted constitutions, I think? I am sorry, the data files have been a bit much to absorb at once."

"Um, yes," Contessa said. "It's okay, I just... don't know a lot about your people and didn't realize how this would affect you." She almost inquired about ending the tour early, but held back. Atwater wouldn't be pleased, and Minister Yadin wouldn't either.

"Look... can we perhaps crash a tea house or something? Take a break from the marble and granite for a while? Someplace classy and woman-owned, perhaps?" Kanta asked softly, brushing her hair back and sighing.

"Hrm." Contessa drew in a breath. "Well, I can think of one place you'd appreciate. It's... very unofficial, you understand. The government doesn't generally make official restaurants or clubs."

"Oh, don't worry about that. I think it better - it might be good to ease off on the stress of the tour, and we won't blame you, surely, no matter what!"

"Well, let me call the bus then." Contessa looked to Hunt, who brought out her cell. "I'll make the call. It's a place I know. One of mine."

"Ah." Hunt smiled and laughed. "One of your sapphic clubs?"

"The sapphic club of the capitol," Contessa corrected her drolly. "I can't exactly take them to a bar, after all..."

"Ah, well, my job is to join the tour, not the party afterward. I'll head back to the office and file a report on the day. If you lot decide to tour some more later, you know my number."

"Yes, I do." Contessa watched Hunt walk off to get a taxi and took out her own cell to reach the bus driver. Okay, this was not authorized she thought to herself, but better a bunch of happy drunk Otrerans who've gotten to drink wine and watch holos at the Tigerlily than a bunch of angry Otrerans who have even more reason to hate the Alliance...
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Simon_Jester » 2011-12-12 02:13am

I'd be interested to hear an explanation of why the Otrerans react that way before deciding what to think of memorials- the clumping and murmuring and shuffling and picking of a spokeswoman.
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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Voyager989 » 2011-12-14 01:35am

3 April 2181 AST

The Tigerlily Club had stood for 120 years as the premiere lesbian club in what had then been the former capital. Founded to celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of the 32nd Amendment to the US Constitution of Universe HE-1, which formally forbade discrimination against GLBT persons and guaranteed their right to do everything from adopt to marry to serve in office, it had long catered to the upper crust in the region. It had gone through tough times, and come close to closing more than once, before the founding of the Alliance and the placement of the ADN capital in Washington had saved it. A flood of civil servants came to Washington, including closeted and non-closeted lesbians who found the club as a place to unwind (the frequency of their visits determined by their income and their rank).

Once upon a time, Contessa had gone to the Tigerlily only sporadically, not being able to afford the tab there except for special occasions. But she was a senior civil servant now, and over the past decade especially her appearances had grown in frequency. And now she had an Ambassador and her staff, all made up of the club's target clientele, who looked ready to burst with outrage if they didn't get a chance to unwind.

The Club was part bar, part restaurant, part dance club- it had a bit of everything. A central bar for serving beer and spirits, another bar for those looking for more sophisticated fare like wine, a coffee and tea station near the holo-viewing room. There was a dance floor where well-dressed young ladies were, even at this young hour, already starting to groove to the latest techno hits. The upper deck, composed of platforms and catwalks, was full of tables for people wanting a more private dinner experience, though both decks could view the gigantic holo-screen on the north wall. Other smaller flat holos or even actual flatscreen 2-D displays showed various channels, while the holo-viewing room had even more displays, with insulated walls ensuring the parties there weren't disturbed in their viewing by the commotion and bustle outside. Some were news channels (this was Washington), others were entertainment. The giant holo was showing the pregame show for the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship of HE-1.

Normally, just stepping into this place made Contessa feel more relaxed. For the moment, though, the Otrerans filing in behind her made relaxation impossible.

The Otrerans behind her all halted for a moment, their eyes growing very, very wide as the ones in back piled into the ones in front, and a gasp ran through the group, almost as an electric shock, and Zillyah asked in a cutely worried and excited tone; "They take platinum coins here, right...?"

"Let me ask." Contessa went up to the wine bar and the well-dressed lady overseeing it. They were of similar age, though wildly different careers. Biao Yu-Ling (Yuli to her friends) was the Tigerlily’s main manager. "Yuli?"

Yu-Ling looked over at her and gave her a smile that made Contessa's heart flutter. They walked closer; it took a bit of reserve for Contessa to remember it would probably not look good in front of her guests if she lip-locked with her lover right here and now, as sorely as she wanted some alone time to de-stress from the day. "Contessa? You're here early. How did that tour you talked about...?"

"I'm afraid I'm here on business." Contessa drew in a sigh. "The tour was a disaster, and right now I just need to get the out-of-towners to unwind and be less likely to explode in outrage at our... cultural differences."

Yu-Ling smiled widely at that. "Well, given what I've heard, you brought them to the right place."

"Yeah, but... they want to use their money. Platinum coins or something. They... well, their money is specie-backed. And from what I know, their foreign currency reserves are non-existant."

"So is the Alliance dollar, just that you can't replicate latinum." Yu-Ling sighed deeply. "Listen, I know even Secretaries of the Office of Embassy Affairs can't afford to regularly entertain that many people at a place like this. I can extend a tab and hopefully you can get your bosses to sign off in covering it. If not... we'll work something out."

"I won't leave you in the lurch on this, Yuli. I promise." Contessa gave her a happy kiss on the cheek.

"I'm not worried about that." Yu-Ling gave her a sad grin. "I can see you're going to need a backrub tonight. It's just Tuesday, so I'll be free..."

Contessa quivered involuntarily at the thought of Yuli's hands rubbing her worries away, and of where that might lead. Contenting herself with a slight peck of a kiss on Yuli's lips, Contessa thanked her again and returned to the Otrerans. "Um... platinum isn't very valuable at the moment, but I've arranged a tab for you. I'll handle the payment arrangements. My little apology for how... stressful.... this tour turned out to be." I'm going to have to arrange a packet on our economic system for them, I guess.

The group blinked at her, winced sharply and with a quick; "Apologies, but we would prefer to not owe a debt..." huddled back together, at least shuffling out of the way of the door... and then coin-purses were coming out and there was some apparent pooling - the glint of Taloran rialas was visible as they seemed to be trying to figure out exactly what they had to work with in hard currency.

Kanta and Zillyah finally seperated themselves with two handfuls of rialas in varying denominations, arranging them into their coinpurses and tapping on their handheld comps to tally who had given what to the central pool, smiling nervously. "No getting drunk, I think, but we should have enough to avoid... they do take rialas, yes?" Kanta's eyes were wide as she asked the question, suddenly nervous again. "We do not mean to cause trouble, you understand!"

Contessa sighed at this display, which was getting some attention. "No, listen... you're not going to owe a debt, okay? It's.... I've already set things up, please just accept this as a gesture of hospitality? Otherwise I'm going to look stupid again and I've been looking stupid all God damned day."

The two women before her flinched and actually trembled a bit, glancing at each other and starting to look extremely nervous. "A gesture of hospitality, you say...? But does a tab not have... implications? I fear we do not understand... it places us in the debt of the ADN, and that is not something..." Zillyah sighed and rubbed her face before taking over for Kanta; "Let's just sit down, by the Queen of Heaven, before this degenerates again. This is a place for sapphists, is it not? The worst that happens if that I have to beg Her Majesty to cover the bill. This is worse than the torture of listening to Margravine Slyperia at a debrief." She smiled winningly to Contessa, then. "A booth big enough for the three of us with a holoprojector, then, and let the little ones go with a curfew, you think?"

"Yes, I think so. Tell them to enjoy some of the wine, try out the tea and coffee, and be themselves. And, uh, to remember that most people don't have neural translator jacks in their brains unless they're Foreign Ministry personnel, so they won't understand a word they say in most cases."

"Ah, we’re linked with our microcomps, so that should not be too much of a problem, I think. They should be able to use the gauntlets as portable translators. Still, well noted, and I'll tell them to be careful... there aren't any Taloran regulars I need to tell them to lay off pursuing, are there?" Zillyah asked, as Kanta blushed and coughed into her hand at that question.

"Um, not usually. The Talorans in Washington don't really come here that I know of," Contessa admitted. "We get visitors once and a while, mind you. Talorans coming for conferences or academic symposiums who hear about the club and want to see it."

"Good." Zillyah replied, heaving a sigh of relief. "I would not want some angry officer demanding to know how one of my girls and her girls ended up eloping... oy vey, not that I would mind if said officer made an offer to me... Queen Theodora is so lucky... It truly 'twas a beautiful wedding, you know." The Otreran woman looked wistful as she thought back to a happier time. "She had an even grander harness than Her Imperial Majesty... my sister got to ride as one of her escorts, you know. That was such an honour!"

Having seen examples of the prickly Talorans' sense of honor and such, Contessa gave a faint nod. She waited for Zillyah and Kanta to give the others their instructions and led them into the private holo-viewing areas, where she found a table with a holoviewer set to IUNS. Seeing that it was a report on another Blakist attack in MWB-32, she quickly switched the channel to the Tigerlily's private sports channel and the same pregame show on the main holo. Sliding into her seat, she pointed to the small digital readers on the table. "Those are the menus. Just press them and it'll bring up the database of what they serve here."

Kanta had wandered back to the main group to give them their briefing before sliding in herself, taking up next to Zillyah and tapping her own screen into life, as Otrerans paired or tripled up to go exploring the Tigerlily. The ambassador took the chance to keep on, murmuring "A wonderful selection, and the girls need a treat like this... would you mind if we extended an invitation to you, your partner over there at the bar, and whatever other women you work with to stop by the embassy some time for a movie night? I am not sure if our standards are the same, but it would be educational about us, at least, far more than a data file could be... after all, it's not as if we ever had to write one for anyone before!"

Kanta giggled at that, lightly nudging Zillyah. "Yeah, well, the Talorans just came in and saved us, so we told them whatever they wanted to know and way more besides. They're so glamourous, you know, and are infusing such new and vital blood into the old noble titles, either through marriage or Empress Sikala awarding them. We bled so much, you know, before she showed up, without even managing to hit back. Now there's a Porbandar, a Slattara d'Colonna, a Slattara, a Pileser... all the old names rising from the grave, and a Valeria leading!"

"Kanta, you're gushing all over the table." Zillyah prodded with a grin, making her companion blush and concentrate very hard on the menu. "Is there a way to filter by dietary… restriction?"

"There should be a selection to screen for kosher," Contessa said. "I had a girlfriend once who was... very observant."

For the moment they all focused on ordering. The holo showed analysts debating the upcoming match between Washington State and University of Toledo, with clips of the two teams in their various playoff games so far. Contessa had once played basketball herself, in high school and in her early years at college, though she’d never been much more than a backup even before the need to study came and walloped her on the head... She sometimes thought back longingly to those days, thinking of the despairing ease with which flab now appeared on her arms and belly, defying her efforts to re-tone her figure with every diet and exercise regimen she had time to employ in her government job.

It was while they were waiting for appetizers that Contessa finally asked, "I noticed during the tour that your girls often... gathered into their own groups. Is that from any internal differences or cliques or something?”

"Aaaah... I see. Sorry, my neurocomp's not the best at translating... hm... ah, there it is! On the note of which, I have to say, the fact that there's no Temple for me here... I don't understand the lack at all, and I am reasonably sure there's not a synagogue who will take me, from what I've managed to read so far. Which is... annoying, to have to consult on issues via IU message. Still, managing, which is good enough. Still alive, which is even better... hrm... while we're hunting for our victuals... to answer your question, no. We hide it rather well, but the average Otreran woman has more experience with living in democracy than her Adener counterpart, I'll almost guarantee... and by that look on your face, you want me to elaborate, do you not?"

"I'm guessing you mean democracy as in the old-school Athenian democracy stuff?", Contessa asked.

"You might recognize it more as something else - I saw something about it in the data files we got on the ADN. What the northern colonies of what became the United States practiced, and still do. Village direct democracy, so yes, you’re right, the older definition as distinct from a republic. We do have a very democratic local government, and I think by some of what we've seen on the newsfeeds, that got lost in translation. Yes, we have noblewomen and Duchesses and Queens and an Empress, but they are almost anachronistic when it comes to power over local matters. They are there, above all, to preserve the institutional knowledge of how to fight and die when the time comes. Each level but the Empress has an elected advisory council, hers being the Duchesses and Queens in council. When a noblewoman’s off at war, if she doesn't appoint a regent, her council just takes over- in fact, that's how most of Otrera's been running for decades now, given how close the nobility came to dying out. Those councils are just happily advising women with the old titles again, ears or not, and the new women, as far as I can tell, are smart enough to listen as they learn about us and feel their way into their role."

"So locally, you have direct democracies, but on top you have elected governments and hereditary leaders." Contessa gave a nod. "And that encourages you to deliberate about a lot of things?"

"Disunity almost got all of us enslaved. We tend to take a very long time to reach consensus, but we do reach it, and there is no going back after we do. We were also talking about what each of us had seen, describing it so we could stay together and not need to see it ourselves if a sister already had, as this place does still feel dangerously alien and powerful to us. Safety in numbers, coupled to..." Here Zillyah paused to flush brilliantly. "... An exquisitely refined fear of looking bad to outsiders. We are not... a Power, and so I am trying to behave circumspectly, but I am also an Otreran, and thus a very emotional woman without training in hiding and suppressing strong reactions."

"I've been dealing with embassy missions for a few years, and your people do seem more passionate than most," Contessa agreed.

Before she could speak further, a fine fair-skinned girl came up with a bottle of wine and glasses. "It's New Queensland Port," Contessa explained as the bottle was set down. "The vintage is almost a hundred years old. It's a very unique wine that utilizes native New Queensland fruits as well as transplanted Earth grapes. It's a favorite." She allowed the attendant to pour their glasses and then slipped her a $5 ADN note as a tip with the instructions, "Go ahead and leave the bottle."

Kanta brightened, murmuring excitedly. "Ooooh! Port, the navy girl's favourite! You shouldn't have, really."

Zillyah sighed and poked her. "Kanta. I'm the Altiplano girl. It's my duty to get drunker than everyone at the table, remember?"

"You think they got their hands on the Secret History of the Sl--mrrrmpf!"

Zillyah had clapped her hand over her companion's mouth with a stricken look, hissing "You will not finish that sentence unless you want to be on nebula patrol for the rest of your natural life!" She then smiled incongruously sweetly to Contessa, shot another glare at her companion, and only then removed her hand.

Very carefully, Contessa took a drink before asking, "Keeping her from letting loose with little Otreran secrets, I guess?"

"You know they're going to find out anyway eventually, right?" Kanta said very softly, as Zillyah pinched the brow of her nose and sighed, grinding out a ."Yes." before looking up to Contessa. "The Slattara Dynasty of the Altiplano had a book written about them by someone who was not a partisan. The things in it were true, damn it. They have an... the Slattaras, the last of whom is married to the Empress Sikala, are a colourful line of women who were... how do we say, colourfully uninhibited."

Contessa mouthed the word, "Oh". Though given what was commonly considered to be Terrible Tis... Empress Sikala's fetishes, she imagined the result would be like a train wreck for anyone who observed it. The closest she got to getting kinky was that time Yuli bought that pair of furry handcuffs that made her wrists itch for a week.... That thought brought an involuntary blush to her face before she could stop it, and she hoped the other two would think it a result of contemplating what they'd said. "Well, everyone has their ways I guess?"

"Oh, not Theodora the Second. She's utterly normal. Not like the foundress of the dynasty or her own namesake..."


"Sister Zillyah, you see, is an Altiplano girl. I'm from the other queendom. Our monarchs were normal."

"I am going to kill you with a feather duster."

Kanta grinned brightly. "You'll find out eventually. But if you’re not Otreran, don't insult the Slattara before a plains girl unless you want to be dodging fists and knees. They're tough girls, they volunteer to fight out of all proportion to their number in peacetime. Let's just say if somebody was trying to kill us, I'd be hiding behind Sister Zillyah with you."

By this point Contessa was giggling despite herself. And we haven't even gotten buzzed yet she thought to herself. "It's just so weird for me... I mean, there have been small societies like the Amazons of Gilead that were all lesbian, but to think there's an entire star empire..."

"Forty-nine worlds of it!" Kanta said proudly as Zillyah rolled her eyes skyward. "Well, we did chase down and stake out the lot of women who made us that way, you know."

Contessa smiled at them. To be truthful, forty-nine worlds... well, okay, that was big if going by some of the smaller constituent nations of the ADN. Or if you were eliminating minor worlds that couldn't be terraformed, only counting Earth-like or near-Earth like ones with proper populations... That was a respectable number even for an ADN constituent nation - all the more so for a nation of ideological extremists, surrounded by enemies and with their sex ratio knocked totally off balance before they even rediscovered space travel.

The talk remained light, and their food came soon. It was a meal that Contessa enjoyed in spite of everything. Her headache was fading (replaced by the sweet buzz of slight inebriation) and the day finally seemed to be going right.

"This is a nice place, isn't it Sister Aiman?" came the call from the black-skinned woman beside her, Yonanta, as the two of them sat sipping their green tea. The last of their group, a Seleukid-descended girl named Eirene, nursed a cup of chai as the three of them sat glancing about and grinning. The Turkic steppe girl made a show of pondering before replying "No eligible Taloran girls," which got all three to break into a giggle fit. Less restrained than before, they seemed to be truly relaxing, this odd little group, with two others like them scattered about the club.

"So, who thinks this is better than before?" All three hands went up, to more giggles as eyes roamed around the club - they were not an item, and rather hoped it showed. While the place was far too... modernist for their tastes, the atmosphere was familiar, and close enough to home that the next item up for a vote was "All in favour of moving the embassy within walking distance?" This motion also passed unanimously, to more giggles, and an effort to politely signal the waitresses for more tea.

The waitress, a local girl named Anna, noticed the gesture and brought a fresh container of the drink to the quirky foreign girls. She was on the thin side with a sweetly cherubic face, her brown hair kept back in a bun. "Would you like to try our ginseng green as well?", she asked kindly, figuring they had auto-translators.

The three girls at the table talked among themselves for a moment before their spokeswoman spoke into her comp for translation. The reply came out as a very chipper "That would be wonderful, thank you for the suggestion, madame. Yes, one round, and truly a wonderful place, our compliments as humble as we can offer to yourself and the staff, the owner besides."

"Thank you," was the waitress' reply before she went to fill their order. The foreign girls were rather weird to her, with their bizarre taste in dyed hair and the look of intentionally making themselves thin. Must be a fad for them, she thought.

"She's cute, isn't she?" Eirene murmured, leaning in conspiratorially. The other two made a show of pondering before Aiman replied, smirking; "Yeah, but one, she works here, and two, not a Taloran. The officers will get so angry if we get into stuff like that, I think..." before Yonata piped up with a "Not like we can afford to come back here, either. I did a spot currency check - Arzadokh, we might be able to buy a cup of tea on a month's salary. It's like fiat currency, and the locals don't seem to share our own estimation of our chances."

"Can you really blame them, though? We are fighting, what, most of the damned galaxy at once? Besides, look at these people. Most of their modern buildings look atrocious, they don't even memorialize all the names of their dead, I mean, really, what does one war matter over the others?"

"Yeah, Yonata, and they memorialized a pacifist too. That Lincoln guy seems all right, but if the Empress didn't throw someone like that King fellow into prison... can you imagine the damage he did to the moral strength of the country that used to be here? 'S treason, that's what it is, and I can't believe they showed it to us. And that other one too! We damned well know what they think of Her Majesty, they didn't have to throw it in our faces like that!"

"Easy, Aiman..." Eirene murmured. "No need to get angry again. That Contessa lady seems about as experienced as our own bosses, or misinformed, but she's nice, and did you see the way she looked at the woman behind the bar!? Goddess, that was so cute!"

The Kazakh girl grinned and shot right back with "No, what was cute was how she looked back, am I right, or am I right?"

A peal of laughter rolled around the table as each of the three nodded in eager agreement, with the pale-skinned Greek woman offering up a happy-sounding; "I hope this tour of duty lasts a while, girls! Let's toast that, shall we?" With a clinking of teacups, the other two indicated their own assent to the statement, as the three sat back and grinned happily, looking around the room again with a lull in their conversation to enjoy the tea.

It was a very tired and happily chattering group of Otrerans who finally came back to their embassy many hours later, with curtsies and a chorus of eager-sounding thank-yous to Contessa. Zillyah and Kanta brought up the rear, each offering a hand to the Alliance diplomat with a smile. "Thank you again. The invitation to stop by for a holo night stands, you know, and we really wish you would, with as many co-workers and friends as you can!"

"When I have a free weekend, I'll try to take you up on that," Contessa replied happily, a little buzzed from the wine but thankful that she'd at least ended the day on a good note. She waited for the Otrerans to enter the embassy fully before she turned back to the government transport that would take her to the Foreign Ministry building and her waiting aircar. And Yuli at home, waiting for me...

As soon as the door closed behind her, Zillyah looked out over the gaggle of women before her, all looking anxious, before she sighed and finally gave a small smile. "Well done, everyone. No diplomatic incidents, and a wonderful display of forbearance from you all. I know that was difficult, but we need to keep doing it. Do your best to get out there and show them the good women Otrerans can be, all right? Volunteering, sports, helping carry groceries, it does not matter! We have a long way to go until our Empress is spoken of in neutral terms, and we reflect on her and the Empire! Now, first watch, into the bath, you can use the candles tonight!" There was a cheer as four of the women dashed off, and Zillyah looked over to Kanta, with her smile fading slightly at the expectant look. "... Oh, damn you, you remembered. Fine!" Digging into her coin purse, Zillyah handed over a single coin almost the size of her palm with a grumble and an eye roll, which Kanta slipped into her pocket with a wink. "Had to teach you somehow... hope she takes us up on the offer, you know. I'd hate to be limited to keeping Talorans entertained before they send us back to the front!"

Zillyah laughed at that, a bemused look settling across her features as she murmured; "I wonder if I can find a polo league..."

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Voyager989 » 2012-12-25 03:53am

9 May 2181 AST

The end of spring, and the start of summer in Washington was starting to grow heavy on the low-lying land near the Potomac, and the old townhouse that had been selected for the embassy was as as any other of the old stock - some of the windows open, and curtains billowing lightly in the breeze.

"So... tell me again, why our Grid site presence - and our connections keep dropping off-the-line?" The Ambassador had not found a polo team - in fact, she'd found nothing but headaches the last few months, and was now attempting to understand yet another one. Her assistant, Helene, replied with a bit of a sheepish tone, "It seems that we have annoyed a collectivist group of... the term here is 'hackers', with the younger girls' defences of Empress Sikala on various message boards and commenting forums. We are thus under sustained assault from an anti-authoritarian collective, who are causing endless technical problems. I fear I cannot offer you any idea of when the systems will again be stable - intrusion efforts have - thus far - been stopped by ourselves, with the assistance of our unfamiliar systems."

The Levantine woman sighed and placed her head in her hands. "Thank you, Helene, that will be all..." Is this to be my hardship exile posting? I think I would almost rather be in a tank on fire again... With a sigh, she waited for the other woman to leave before getting up out of her chair to pace - something that was becoming very common for her. At least I am not depressed, but I am not sure if this is better or not... no progress on trade negotiations with the Alliance, the IUEC commission dragging their heels, and now this low-level resistance to our way of life... "Aaaaiii! Why didn't I get the Taloran posting...?"

She sighed and glanced at the portrait of the Empress, who gave no reply, and walked over to her upright desk to look over the request one of the shelters they had been volunteering at had sent. A counselor to assist them, with a salary? Hard currency is hard currency, and we have proven our worth here... Arzadokh, there's three women sleeping here right now from that place... With a bit of a smile, she approved the request to be sent on Inter-Universal mail for Otrera, which would produce a response in the form of a women to fill the need of the shelter in a few months. It always feels good to help...

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Voyager989 » 2013-01-18 12:45am

14 May 2181 AST

"Ah... Sister Zillyah?" The Otreran ambassador looked at her secretary, glancing around the doorframe into her office and a seeming a bit nervous as she asked that.

"Yes, what is it, Sister Helene?" Ambassador bat Devorah replied with a quizzical look, trying to think just what could have sparked this.

"... We've finished translating the treaties that the Alliance sent to us in the hopes we would sign them, and... I think you and Sister Kanta need to read these."

What insanity have the Adeners come up with this time...? Zillyah sighed to herself and gestured to her desk. "All right, send it over via the intranet, and page Kanta up, please..." She sat back in the leather chair and started to read... then frowned, scrolled back up, and started over. Kanta found here there a few minutes later, with her face contorted into a frown, and leaned over Zilly's shoulder to see the screen. "What's this... The Geneva Conventions?"

"... Do they actually follow this?"

"That doesn't sound good... all right, let me see th... Arzadokh have mercy, are they insane? What rational nation would agree to something like this?"

"What, the part about paying prisoners of war who you're using for labour? Or is it the part about officers being exempt from it?"

"... Both. Along with this idea of allowing external observers to go wandering through your country to make sure you're following the rules. I mean... I know they have some sort of fetishization of personal rights, but... do they really follow all this? Despite portraying themselves as so?"

Zillyah sighed deeply and rubbed her face. "So. We do not talk about anything happening under the Otreran aegis... at all, if they hold these things so dearly, and... hrm. How do I phrase this..."

To the Foreign Minister of the Alliance of Democratic Nations;
Having been made aware and familiarized ourselves with the Geneva Conventions and Hague Conventions (with all associated protocols), on behalf of the Empress of Otrera and the Otreran Government, we announce our willingness to follow the particulars of the protocols in the event of an outbreak of fighting between ourselves and a signatory power. Imperative national interest, however, unfortunately prevents us from making a formal accession to the conventions at this time.
Signed and sealed this 15 May, 2181 AST;
-Ambassador Zillyah bat Devorah
-Minister-Resident Kanta Naryan

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Voyager989 » 2013-01-29 01:23am

18 May 2181 AST

The Otreran embassy was... busy. In the main sitting room, there were secretaries and guards moving chairs and tables to the side of the room, and setting up cushions on the floor, backed by the one couch the building had.

"Quickly, quickly!" came the sharp words from Zillyah's secretary, Helene, as she oversaw the preparations - the tri-D projector was set up, with one girl working on it to ensure it would not be balky, and the computer to translate the codecs properly being carefully babied.

The smells of snacks and dishes from the kitchen wafted through, as women bustled about, dressed in a dizzying variety of tunics and soft-cloth outfits, casual indeed in the late spring weather of a Washington evening. The wine was very, very well watered for how long the meeting would go, and faloodeh ready for afterwards, with the flatbreads and sauces of the main snacks thrown together - and popcorn. The women of Otrera from the Americas had brought that to the Empire, and it formed part of the incredibly varied melange of foods within it - and each woman assigned to the embassy had helped prepare at least one dish herself, to allow a full variety for their guests tonight. The sound of the door-chime would send the Hellenic girl bounding over to the door in her indoor slippers, to meet and greet them in her casual tunic with a light silk robe pulled over.

"Is the movie really going to be that long?" Yuli looked over the building picked as the Otreran Embassy as she stood by Contessa's hovercar. Contessa had reached into the back to get the self-popping popcorn bags with "Movie Butter" popcorn inside, as well as the potato chips and celery sticks for the veggie-lovers. Once she got the bags out Yuli got her contribution; a stack of insulated containers that held within pizzas from a pizzeria the two enjoyed.

"They told me it'd be hours." Contessa shifted the weight of the bags in her arms. "It's why it had to be a Friday night."

"A shame you have a weekday job... Kyla won't burn the club down, but I prefer to be there on our busy nights." Yuli followed Contessa up from the parking space toward the door. "Are you sure you won't get..."

"One of the privileges of working with the Foreign Relations Ministry is that I get access to the fun decals that announce a vehicle has embassy parking rights," Contessa announced. "So the police won't be towing me."


They got up to the door. The Embassy was closed at this time and had no external guards, but they still had the door chime and Contessa, with her hand holding the lighter bags, pressed it.

The face that met them, olive-skinned and bubblingly smiling, was attached to a relatively short woman who bowed politely to them, light brown hair bobbing in its' braid. "Greetings, Sisters! We have met, but not been introduced before. I am Helene, of Nea Alexándreia - the Ambassador and Minister are finishing up their workweek reports right now - so odd, to have four per month! - so you have, ah, we working girls until then. Come in, come in! We have slippers for you to put on and..." She turned to shout; "Sister Manizheh, please come here to assist our guests with their packages!" before turning back to stretch out her arms. "Please, please, I can take those and place them with everything else... oh! You have popcorn too! Wonderful! We will certainly have plenty of that... You will have to try the olive wine, soon enough to burn it off before driving. The Talorans love it so much that it's impossible to find at home... you, maybe not so much, rare taste amongst humans..."

She was talking so quickly as to be almost overwhelming as she stepped back to let them in. "So nice to see friendly faces not downtrodden by life... ah, apologies, I am rambling, yes, yes, come in and receive hospitality..."

The remark did not go unnoticed, but Contessa was too busy making sure that the other girls were easily able to take some of the bags before they were led to the sitting room. The faces were all a little familiar, of course.... and mostly because Contessa could remember their glowers and anger from the more... controversial parts of her failed tour. Her bosses had thankfully not gotten upset with her, probably because Minister Yadin had come down on them for assigning a non-diplomat who had been given no orientation on the Otrerans and then given her a congratulatory note on the way she'd defused the situation. I actually got a small bonus for hanging out at the Tigerlily was the thought she had on that.

The atmosphere this time was completely different from the last time they had interacted, as a chorus of greetings met the two of them, as women bustled about putting last-moment things into order, and had nothing but smiles and excited expressions on display, as the two were quietly shown to the seats of honour, as it were, front and centre on the cushioned ampitheatre they had assembled. "Is there anything I can get you, Sisters? If you will forgive the term, that is, I know I am forward for daring to use it to one who is not a citizen, but it seems to fit...? We met on bad ground, but I hope this will prove... something of an improvement. The penultimate Otreran historical epic tonight, so there will be two intermissions, and... I believe it may come off a little different than standard Adener fare, if the other differences in our culture are so reflected."

Contessa couldn't speak before Yuli did. "You haven't seen the gamut of movies in the Multiverse, have you ladies? Even within the Alliance we have so many nations with their own ideas of what movies should entail. Despite what you might think given this city, the Alliance isn't just made up of Western cultures." There was just the slight hint of aggravation there, but Contessa was familiar with it; a lot of aliens in particular seemed to think all Humans were North American or European in culture and tastes, and Yuli was still very proud of her heritage and family background. Contessa had seen more Chinese movies than she could count at her girlfriend's insistence.

"Ah..." Helene paused for a long moment, looking about and unsure. "I did not mean culturally. The fissure between our cultures is far more deep-seated than that, and passes through all those that make up the ADN, I believe. It would be difficult for an Otreran to make the mistake, if I may beg leave to defend for a moment. Look at us - women from every one of Earth's peoples under our aegis, but it is easy to focus on the Hellenistic patina to the exclusion of, say, the Mesoamericans and Maryurans. The... culture imperialism, however, of your European and North American cultures did colour the rest of the world in many cases, furthermore. That, ah, does... completely pale next to the unnatural effects of patriarchy, however." She was slightly defensive, but coherent and stiff-backed in her defence of her people.

That last line drew Contessa's curiosity. "Patriarchy?" She hadn't heard that term, outside of a couple diplomatic briefs about minor alien cultures, since that horrid Gender Studies class back in university which almost killed her GPA.

"... Well, yes." Helene murmured, and glanced about for re-assurance for a moment. "The tide of history has been against us for centuries upon centuries, as men stole our birthrights and our freedoms. It is only now that we are finally turning that tide, and taking that which we should have had. Male rule is inherently unjust and illegitimate, and no Otreran should be quiescent in allowing women to be oppressed under it. Your society has mitigated many of the evils, but others still remain. Thus we are here, and thus we use our own hands in what good works we may be able to do, though it is pale substitute for taking up the sword against evil in Arzadokh's name. I can only pray that, even if it should cost all our lives, our daughters in generations to come will know peace and be free from fear, whence their are no more enemies of womankind left."

The fervor in Helene's remarks, and the accepting nods and sentiments from her fellows, made Contessa feel very alone.... and the rhetoric was militant like she'd heard from that dreaded Gender Studies professor, who had advocated women-only rule and founding a woman-only colony. A bit of a tingle went down the back of her spine as, for a moment, she considered the ramifications of what had just been said and compared them to what was seen even now, where it had been mostly men involved in the signing of the Alliance Constitution and a man had been President of the Alliance for 34 years compared to women only being President for less than 3. I wonder if they think our government should be overthrown and men forbidden from governance, went through her head. But she made herself stop; she was here for a friendly night and to try to understand this strange culture by watching a movie with them, not to feel like an infldel amongst religious crusaders.

The Otrerans were still smiling and easy-going, and Helene grinned. "I mean, who can oppose removing those who fill the masculine roles of oppression? Anyhow, I am rambling again... tea to start? I am not sure what you take it with... ah! Sister Kanta, Sister Zillyah!" The two seniour members of the delegation had descended the stairs into the first floor, and looked notably different in light, colourful outfits than their usual dourly formal wear. A mock-serious glare from Zillyah to her secretary made her blush, as she called out; "I hope the girls have not been talking your ear off too much - please remember, she is already courting another woman, ah?" The statement of which got blushes all around as the two strode in to find seats somewhere in the room, heedless of rank. "I hope everything is going all right? Our own headaches have continued, but they are minor enough, thankfully..."

"Work has been heavy, lately, with all of these IUCEC talks and the SRC-19 issues and the Blakist campaign... but that's why a movie night is always welcome." Contessa smiled and looked to Yuli, who seemed less apprehensive and maybe a bit annoyed at Helene's fervor.

"Good. One most not forget what bonds of sisterhood exist, or let them be trampled under..." Zillyah murmured, with a firm look to her own subordinates as she did. "I apologise for the movie being so long, Sister -" She said, speaking to Yuli. "I hope it is enjoyable enough to ease the anxiety of taking you away from your business on a very classically profitable night." She waited as small, low tables were set up with plates, pots, and cups on them. "If you need anything, feel free to ask. Helene - go ahead and start it, if you will."

She would lean back, and let the movie start to roll - the somewhat discordant sound of Otreran music would start as the screen was black... and with a loud crash, singing in mixed languages of the Empire would begin, as the long series of credits began, in nine different scripts, through the long list of credits, as behind them jumbledly chaotic scenes, of battles and politics - the history of Earth leading up to their exodus - and thence it began with the appearance of the Empress Nirupama, without even a title - a slow-lead in - long, running through dozens upon dozens of name in the various languages of Otrera, still not completed from the first set... and then, before the viewer's eyes, the Fall began. It was a grand, glorious epic sort of film... that pulled not a single emotional punch for the viewer, as the flashes of nuclear fire brought the idyllic, peaceful life of the First Otreran Empire crashing down.

It had been set up in broad brush-strokes in the form of a flash-back - the early revolt against the crewers that had overthrown the republic, the forging of their new society, and the dawning of hope as things seemed to settle down into a tense sort of peace that allowed Otreran culture to start to flourish. Thence the music turned dark and ominous as a Roman sector fleet appeared - a shuttle came down to the planet, and without the face being seen, a strangely accented voice rose with; "They are here to destroy you!"

Scenes flashed by with dizzying speed after that point - in the first moments, the Empress was dead, along with millions upon millions more, in graphic detail. In orbit of the planet, as the Roman missiles streaked down, the Otreran star navy of the period died, crashing their small cutters into cruisers to drag them down and end the deadly rain of hellfire. As the scene shifted, the missiles of the two factions on the planet were already flying, smashing into their ships, their bases, their cities. It was an apocalypse, simple enough, and then the broken-backed war after it began.

There were sharp flashes between the scenes, as the army suffered and died. Women who had lost their families, their loves, fighting suicidally bravely to buy time. Here, the movie began to coalesce around a grand figure as the protaganist - Godeliva of the Altiplano, the second of her line, diplomatic and skilled, and her three daughters - one referred to in passing, and the two loyal ones who stood close by her as she threw what was left of the army about, battering the Herculaneans back by guile and skill... and then she was dead in a flash, her entire army with, and three-quarters of the other high nobility of the Empire, whence the tactical weapons of Herculea snuffed them out in a heartbeat just as they started to turn the tide. Tears were welling in Otreran eyes as the scene faded away, and the first intermission began.

"That's... that's dark," Contessa said. She found she was tearing up a bit too. All of those people just trying to get on in their lives, just to have these assholes nuke the crap out of them.

"Historic epics can be, dear," Yuli responded simply.

The girl who had ended up next to them would murmur over, quietly as the lights came up; "That's how it's always been for us, you know. Every time our star began to wax, the darkness would come again and force it to begin to wane. Generation after generation, through the cycles of history - this is how it's been for women throughout all our remembered history." Her green eyes shimmered as she went on; "Our noblewomen. You see a bit of it there - where they come from. They kept their daughters close. We didn't have academies to go to. You learned from your mother, and then she died, and you took up the family name and led, and taught your daughters too. They still do it... 's why we've so few lines left, and so many Talorans transfusing their noble blood with ours. They understood as soon as they met us."

"So every time you start getting back up, someone kicks you down again," Contessa said.

"Not any longer." came the murmured reply. "That's what different this time. This time, we're not letting it happen again. You saw there - Queen Godeliva? She was probably the greatest Slattara to ever live. Gone... and her daughter had to live up to it. Every one of them has had to." She sighed. "I don't want my daughters or grand-daughters to have to fear for the reverse of fate again. Our ships and guns should be on the frontier, not desperately defending our homes from the men who would tear us out of them - and they always will try eventually. They can't help it. Women in positions of authority over them drives some sort of... primal rage."

"I'm sure there are guys who voted for Maxwell-Fyfe because they couldn't vote for a girl," Contessa said snarkily. "Thankfully most people don't care for that kind of thing anymore. Most people here anyway."

Yuli coughed. "China is, historically, rather more patriarchal, but things have been changing for us as well. It seems that with your people having diverged from our's in the ancient past, it has changed how the societies of Humanity developed."

The almost mestizo-looking young woman frowned and looked like she wanted to mutter. "No, your men just hide it better. Look at what they did to the Magistracy. There has not been a single matriarchial system that has survived contact even with the so-called progressively equal Aden. If things were different, why do I see women still bruised from the beatings of their husbands and partners every time I go to the shelters? You cannot change the nature of the male beast. You need arguments they cannot refute, of the sort that a billion bayonets provide."

"There are always people who get mad and take out their anger on the people they are supposed to care for. I've been to shelters filled with kids being kept from their abusive mothers. Sometimes the fathers even drop them off," Contessa pointed out.

"Then they need help. A mother who does such a thing... she is ill. Very ill indeed. I have only heard of such horrors... but under the pressure of such a society as this, perhaps it is expected that some crack. The looks we get on the streets - so many, it as if we are things - property - not people. This is why Otrerans have honour daggers. We always have our claws as long as we are free, for as soon as we lose them, we would be enslaved."

Yuli squeezed Contessa's hand, but something in her brain clicked and made her blurt out the thought she had. "You mean that if a guy is being abusive to his spouse or kids he's a violent asshole but if it's a woman doing it she's just sick instead of being a raging bitch?"
"... That is the natural state for men, miss. It is an unnatural state for women. We have an excellent ability of healing such souls." She gestured to the screen. "You - you will see."

The second part was much darker than the first from the start, with the long, painful collapse of the Empire into an age of pikes and swords - and the focus of the movie shifted - as all the characters it had previously focused on were now dead. The situation would repeat again and again, as things grew worse - as one of the characters said; "A woman's just as able as a man to pull a trigger, but ask her to swing a sword a few hundred times, and it's a lot less fair, now isn't it!" The Otrerans were pushed back, in horribly bloody battles, with no detail spared as to each agonizing defeat - a new Empress now, Kaleena - bookish, quiet, but posessing a quietly firm presence and a brilliant mind behind her unwarlike exteriour - and again, the tides started to shift again, as she promoted a more defensive posture, coordinating a plan to draw the Herculanean legions into long sieges of prepared fortresses, while the redoubts of Otrera rebuilt their foundries and factories to turn the tide... which soon shifted again - the Empress betrayed and murdered by her own consort's troops, much of the army turning to the foe, the capital taken and sacked, and the last daughter of Godeliva, then, was all that was left - the own husband she had treated coldly turning on her with his troops, and her army was forced to retreat to the High Altiplano; as winter began to draw close, Otrera seemed doomed.

It's no wonder they're so... so fanatical, Contessa thought as the girls split up to prepare food. They keep getting kicked no matter how far they're down and just keep getting back up. And then their men betrayed them too. No wonder they sound like radical feminist misandrists.

"It reminds me of 'The History'," Yuli noted softly, within earshot of the girls around them.

"Well, history is a series of cycles." Kanta murmured back, having worked her way over as the lights came up. "The cycle of dynasties, or the ages of Hinduism - what waxes will wane, and we accept it. It is just... women have waned for a very, very long time, and we intend to ensure that the cycle turns upwards once again. It must, and so it shall." She gave a very light lift to her shoulder. "We have been spared all but the lightest touch of internal disunity over our history, and such is good, but our external record... tch." She gestured towards the frozen screen. "Kaleena did not even have a daughter, she was so young. A woman who would have flourished in a rising cycle, who instead found herself trying to turn a falling, and was betrayed by those closest to her. We... never got very many of those women back, nor their daughter-lines before we finally crossed the sea to drive them off Otrera. I... hope this helps explain us somewhat. The data-packets are sparse and sterile, I know, compared to seeing a simulacrum as this."

"When I was asked to give you the tour of the city I was only given some basic 'they're all lesbians, they speak Greek, their timeline has a stupendously early point of diversion' information," Contessa confessed. "I mean... I never imagined I'd insult you with some of those memorials... and I never even got you to the Alliance ones in the New Mall."

"We are a... strange people to you." Kanta murmured, as she sipped a mug of tea, and leaned on the wall. "I intellectually knew this, but it is easy to draw offence. Look at what we face in the public persona of our Empress. Which I think I have to explain here. The first we saw of her, she had thousands of our sisters she had found and liberated, without asking a single question of us. Next, she gave us the vast majority of her personal fortune to allow us to purchase arms to defend ourselves - and then she threw herself into action, defending our world when she could have simply left... and then we found that she had sent raiding squadrons to liberate every slave on a ship they could find. But you call her Terrible Tizzy for killing a heinous man whose crime in Otrera would see him staked to the ground under the sun and left to die. To us, she is a glorious, kind-hearted woman, and it is a thing of rage how she is casually slandered here.And your memorials? Every woman who died for Otrera and is known has her named etched in stone, that we might never forget. Not just for one brushfire of a war. The staggering weight of blood-debt we owe our foremothers can barely be comprehended staring at the serried ranks of memorial stones. This was not your fault, however, and we understand this. Not held against you. Arzadokh be blessed, though, it is as if people seem firmly set on driving us into a rage, and denying that we are sane for acting otherwise."

There was an uncomfortable silence. And then it was Yuli who spoke. "That's because we don't think either punishment is... proper. It's become a common belief among the nations of the Alliance, many of the nations in the Multiverse, that drawing and quartering a man after lopping his balls off with an axe is just being sadistic. Staking him and letting him die in the sun, well... we think that kind of thing is horrible too. Baltar would have been executed here by lethal injection, firing squad, or vaporization. And that's all we know about Tisara. If you go around telling people she freed thousands of slaves just to do it? We like that. People in the Alliance universally hate slavery."

"... We tried." She sipped her tea. "They haven't stopped trying to break into our computers or vandalize our Grid presence since. The media laughed at or ignored us when we tried to request corrections. You will forgive me if I find the idea naive. Nobody wants to believe she isn't a villain. They've made up their minds." She sighed, and reached for a slice of pizza, regarding it for a moment before trying a nibble. "The specific crime was impersonating a prophet to mislead the Empress - it doesn't have an exact corollary in Otreran law, because the Conclave has no power to punish. It is treason that has horrific punishments for us - that being the punishment for civilians. No other crime punished so, not amongst sisters. Other things will get you a prison term and rehabilitation if the term was not for life, nothing harsher."

"Sounds like you need to hire network security specialists," Yuli remarked. "We've had a couple radical religious groups try to vandalize the Tigerlily's website as well, but we have very effective security. And once you do that, there's nothing stopping you from just... going around talking to people. The media is attracted to big splashes. Whenever they have to correct themselves they do it as quietly as they can get away with because they just care about the next big story. You have to approach this another way. Maybe contact groups that would help you make press releases, set up your websites. You have to learn to advertise."

Kanta gave her a... very blank look. "... This is another cultural difference. The other issue being... ah..." The Otreran woman looked mildly sheepish. "Those things cost money. Alliance money, and my hard currency budget is barely sufficient to keep us fed and the utilities paid, much less such extras... and the impression of us is set by our Empress. Which renders most of those groups interested in our volunteering, but not an alliance. They do not wish the association advertised, lest it reflect ill on them."

"You're a government. Just take out loans. You might not get the best deals, but government debt is pretty established and, honestly, you'll probably be able to drum up some foreign aid if you just make the case right. They hand out that stuff to everyone. So you won't get turned away." Yuli drew in a sigh. "And if your girls have time... take little jobs? I could use a couple extra waitresses on the busy nights."

"I think we are already well in debt to the Talorans for our navy, you know. Certainly the discussions of government loans are for the Empress, not me." Kanta murmured, gesturing for Zillyah to make her way over. "We are attempting to arrange foreign aid, but this takes time, and... we are most assuredly not a democracy. This makes it harder." She gave a light shrug. "We can't legally work. We're not citizens, nor do we have the legal cards to do it, and you would get in all sorts of trouble of you hired us. Which is a pity, because some of them would really be very good at it. It's why we do volunteering every chance we get. That is... well, only someone evil would object to aiding women like that, even if I think it is somehow illegal."

"You have diplomatic visas. Under North American Union labor laws I can hire some of you, but only for part-time and on-call work with a limit on the number of hours you can work a week," Yuli replied. "You're not the first people in an embassy who could use extra work, ma'am."

"... Well, that's different." Kanta murmured. "... It makes me feel better. Well, I'll send everyone over for interviews, and you can pick whom you need? I assure you, they'll be amongst the most enthusiastic sorts you'll have, even if this will necessitate some very careful arranging of volunteering and work to avoid exhaustion... ... ahm. Are the honour daggers going to be a problem? The ones we wear outside are in compliance with all the known knife laws on the planet, but we still get nasty looks, I've seen."

"We have bouncers to protect our people," Yuli pointed out. "So they'll have to put them up inside the club. I doubt they'll need to fight off rapists inside the Tigerlily."

"I... don't know if it's possible to make this work then." Kanta sighed, and rubbed her face. "It is... a fundamental part of being an Otreran. We get them when we come of age, and they pretty much only leave our sides in the bath. I..." She took a breath. "Well. If you'll swear to protect them as if you were a liege lady and an Otreran sister while you're holding them in trust, I can convince them to do it, I believe. It's like asking a Sikh to do the same, you understand."

"I don't suppose you could hide them under your dresses," Contessa remarked. She looked to Yuli.

Yuli shrugged. "I have to take care of the club, Contessa. If some fight breaks out because one of our customers has too much wine and gets violent, and that dagger comes out... it's not good." She looked to Kanta. "But I do protect my customers and my employees. And the moment they're going home they can put the daggers back on, it's just when they're going around the customers. Though if you have any girls who know how to bring a drunk down quickly and throw people out, I think Mamiko would enjoy having an extra girl on the busy nights. It's hard to find good bouncer girls who aren't so straight they don't get awkward when getting hit on... figuratively."

"... Well, there's Zilly, but I'm worried she'd want an armoured chariot for it." Kanta laughed, as the other woman blushed. "We've three infantry reservists, but they're not constabulary, so they'll need training in how to take someone down without hurting them too badly. Military training, rather than controlling, you know. I'll let you make the decisions on who for what, and your own experts... and what to tell your own employees about Otrera to give them a heads up for what's coming in these girls. They're comfortable in formal wear, and we actually wear... well, quite a bit more than you'd expect amongst only other women, except as very formal wear." She made a face. "The sun is blue, and she will burn you if you don't respect her. Yes. This can indeed work out, I do think." She bowed formally at the waist. "Thank you for your thoughtful kindness, Sister Yuli."

As the third part opened, a young heresiarch that had appeared only momentarily in the second part, in chains before Queen Theodora, yet again made an appearance - here, it seemed, was the genesis of the Otreran shift away from polytheistic paganism - in the person of a woman who claimed to be the reincarnation of the Queen Theodora's first wife! - and who, by commanding her followers to dam a river to create a flood, and thence charging down into the Herculanean camp preparing to lay siege to the fastness of the high Altiplano, had driven them back into a rout, and then, though details were not clear, the woman was restored to her place besides the Altiplanian queen. The campaign that followed was bloody, violent, and for once, victorious, all the way to a desperate battle in the northern forests, with the imperial capital at Landing being the prize... and there, near every Duchess fell - the daughters and grand-daughters of the women who had died in the previous acts - which included Theodora the First, in all her imperfect, lustful amazonist glory, dying to defend the great prophetess - and new Empress - against a desperate Herculanean attack. She, herself, Sylphia, lingered on another few years with the daughters of her wife, before dying, as she had prophecied, on the day that marked her previous lifespan, minus three years, as all knowledgeful reincarnations were in the Otreran religion - throwing herself into a swollen river to save a drowning young girl, before being swept away herself.

The only character that had lingered from the first act, the Jewess Elisheva bat Marah, close confidante of the Queen Theodora appeared then as the music of the epilogue began to grow, looking at the camera - older now, and wearing the regalia of the Empress. "She named me her heir upon the throne, and here I sit - and that, Sisters, was the story of my friends."

"So... almost everyone died?" Contessa looked toward Zillyah and Kanta as the film ended. "That's... really depressing."

The two glanced over, and Kanta gestured to the other woman. "You're an Altiplano woman, you take it."
She in turn sighed and rubbed her face. "Yes. Of the characters, only Queen Theodora's daughters and Empress Elisheva lived full, natural lives. The rest, with their lives, they bought us peace for a time. I hope to be able to do at least a pitifully small part of the same. You have to understand, though. They bought us peace. Without those deaths, we would be enslaved like other women are. Nothing truly worthy can be bought without blood, and noble blood is spilt most freely of all."

"So... it's like the Jefferson saying on the memorial. That the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots?"

"Patriots and tyrants, love," Yuli corrected. "But, yes, sometimes almost everyone dies. The Three Kingdoms Saga sees almost everyone perish inevitably as well."

"It's a risk of being an Altiplano girl. Everyone looks up to you, and... by the Goddess, but sometimes that demands a price in blood for it. I wish I could say this was exaggerated, like histories sometimes are. It is not - it is as accurate as we could get it with the surviving records."

"No wonder you got so upset with me about Doctor King," Contessa murmured. "That's what pacifism is to you, isn't it? Because if you're pacifist you're just getting yourself and everyone else killed."

"If it ever infected a majority of our populace again, yes. A small minority can indulge, but even they... serve the state, and only a very, very small minority of even those would not take up arms for their daughters."

"I... I'm sorry, I had no idea. I... I just thought you'd appreciate a monument to someone who struggled to ensure freedom for everyone," Contessa murmured. "I never thought it'd come off like that..."

"Ah, we forgave you for it, once we understood everything. We are very forgiving with sisters. Very forgiving. There is something more than geographical about being an Otreran." She smiled, and the others around who her who heard it did the same. "Righteousness is a very immediate thing to us."

"Which is why you liked Lincoln so much, even though he was a man?", Contessa asked.

"Not all men are evil, you know. Some are downright feminine. He certainly seems to have been."
Zilly replied, thinking back to the visit.

"I... I never thought of Lincoln as feminine," Contessa confessed.

Yuli let out a giggle. "My dear Tessa, it's not like that. It's...." Yuli looked to them. "Pardon me if I get this wrong, ladies, but it's like how even now many Americans believe the ideals of the Alliance are American ideals. That protecting and defending freedom and liberty and justice are particular American ideas. To the Ambassador and her people... the high ideals of being free and no slavery existing are feminine ideas, and if a man espouses them then he is showing the traits of a woman."

"It... is hard to define what being Otreran is." Zillyah murmured, furrowing her brow. "I certainly am not enough of a philsopher to produce a coherent explanation of it all. But, the act of being free, of hating slavery and oppression and seeking to end it? Oh yes those are Otreran - and thusly, feminine traits to us. A masculine man is one who seeks to oppress as his natural state, and would if not restrained by laws and society."

Contessa nodded with understanding beginning to dawn. "So, that's what you call it. The things we call democratic ideals, you call feminine."

"I think that might be a bit simplistic." Kanta interjected, as her own face showed an intense concentration. "There is some crossover, certainly, but we also find the natural order of things to be a matronly, authoritarian state - and so another Otreran trait is the willingness to sacrifice when a mother - the Empress for us - asks us to do so for our daughters. I know you hate me harping on that, but it explains a great deal about us. The sorts of authoritarian states you know are not natural for us, and would grate and oppress just as they do here." She made a placating gesture. "The basic point, however, is true. Laudatory acts are feminine. Acts of oppression, or that hurt the whole, are masculine." Her face quirked into a smile. "And yet we, we are daring enough to appropriate the wearing of skirts."

That brought giggling from everyone. "We think of skirts as entirely girly, unless you're Scottish," Contessa laughed.

"I know! It's so strange, whereas we are considered incredible deviants in our home universe over it!" Kanta replied, laughing, as Zillyah covered her mouth. "And yet, we also have bagpipes."

"Well, maybe you'll make them happier after we introduce you to blue jeans." Contessa cracked a smile.

"Somehow, I doubt that." Kanta giggled, as the knot started to break up a bit. "Ah... any other questions? It is hard to leap the gap of comprehension. Such as... well. This may be hard to believe, but I actually rather like the way Habsburg business dress looks. It's a bit dour, but... almost Altiplanian."

"They look so colorless to me," Contessa admitted. "Have you tried checking out our fashions at all?"

"They seem to show far too much skin to us..." one of the other girls chimed in, heading past with a stack of dishes, as Zillyah... blushed. "Well, we'd have to fix the colours... I mean our uniforms are... ..." She glanced about. "... We had to re-design them to get the Talorans to wear them."

"Wait, too much skin? You think I'm showing too much?" Contessa gestured toward her long-sleeved blouse and knee-length skirt.

".... Oh yes." Zillyah said, nodding quickly. "What I wore to meet the President - that is your... 'White tie', as it is. Extremely formal. Oh, G-d, sunburning my breasts would be horrible... ah. We have a Class A star, you see. And the Altiplano, at altitude, not only has thinner air, it is cold in winter! What you're wearing is... well, about as modest as we would expect a military uniform to be, and you should be wearing high boots and tights under the skirt."

"Well, if we were in subzero temps I'd have something heavier, yeah, but it's late spring now and it's warm enough."

"Ah, it's mostly the sun... now, it's rather late, so I extend the offer of hospitality for the two of you, if you'd prefer to not drive home at this hour, and take breakfast with us instead?" Kanta spoke up, having eyed the chrono on the wall.

"Oh, we didn't bring anything to stay over with," Contessa answered. "But maybe Sunday morning? All we need is a big cup of coffee for Yuli after tomorrow night."

"If you'll permit me to observe the place on a busy night, I can sort out the files for you... and, ah, so - coffee, and... well, you're welcome when-ever you need." Kanta - who seemed a bit more the administrative sort - blushed a bit. "... Not that you should, but... it gets lonely here sometimes, compared to the constant streams of visitors at the other embassies."

"We'll have to get you involved in the social life of the capital," Yuli said. "I'll see you tomorrow night and maybe we'll begin that."

"Of course. Thank you for the invitation - and I will pick something... less formal than with Verdes. Zai jian, Sister Yuli, Sister Contessa."

"Good night," Contessa said to them. They headed out to the door into the cool spring night.

"... That went far better than last time, Sister Kanta." Zillyah murmured, as the two of them stood at the door to watch their guests depart. "Well, of course it did. All sisters here... and now I need to scrape together my rialas for tomorrow. Seltzer water and bar snacks it is..." Kanta smirked. "Maybe I should wear my uniform just to strike up conversation, though that'd probably be wrong... hrm. Well. Here's to moving forward.... now, is there any of that 'pizza' of theirs left...?"

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by Voyager989 » 2013-02-06 08:19pm

19 May 2181 AST

Kanta Narayan was... not dressed as she had on any of her previous sojurns, and drew many fewer looks this time, stepping off the Metro with a sigh - a light pack hung off a shoulder, in sturdy brown leather - inside, what she needed to do the work that had to be tonight, along with the meagre budget she had for enjoyment. A richly embroidered silk sari, black with stitching of silver, and hints flashing of the dark blue underneath as she moved. Pearls around her neck, (farmed, of course), and sturdy, if decorated sandals were on her feet as she walked - with the scabbard for her dagger at her belt, and the thing that marked her as a rather strange human indeed was the medals she wore pinned to the silk, and the small jeweled insignia with. Climbing up into the night air, she glanced about for a bit, and took a deep intake of breath as she stepped to the side to let everyone around her exit without blocking the way. With a glance up, and a shake of her head, she stepped off - consulting her microcomputer to check the directions - So dark here... never get used to it at night.

At a steady pace, the distance betwen her stop and the Tigerlily dropped, and thence the front of the building came into view - she was early, before the rush of the evening, indeed, about ten minutes before the place even opened to the public, which she supposed was sign of over-eagerness, as she slowed, to re-adjust the braid on her hair and thence head over to the entrance, wary all the while.

There was a woman at the door with distinct Asian features. Her dark eyes focuse don Kanta. "The club isn't open yet, ma'am, you'll have to wait."

Kanta took that in stride and bowed lightly to the woman. "Of course. You must be Mamiko. It is a pleasure to meet you, miss - I am the Otreran Minister-Resident who co-hosted Sister Yuli and Sister Contessa last night. I will be observing the club tonight, as a part of that conversation - to see which of our girls is best suited for which needed position." She was still smiling politely as she stood there, wonderfully calm and relaxed. "At some point I may get to be a customer, but that seems... unlikely? I think you make more in currency than I do. I am Kanta Naryan, Dame of the Queendom of Highridge... which I truly need to remember means very little here."

The woman sighed and pulled out a phone. She began speaking in fairly passable Han. After a brief exchange she opened the door. "Miss Biao said to let you in."

"Thank you." She bowed again, and pulled out a card - "If the arrangement does work out, and you need to speak to me about any of the women working here, please do not hesitate to call - I feel rather responsible for them here. Zai jian, Sister." And with that... she stepped in, this time not feeling the pressure of diplomatic disaster.

The club was almost eerily empty compared to the last time Kanta had visited. The last bottles were being sorted for the busy night to come, the waitresses were all talking like it was the calm before the storm, and the final tables were being set up. The big holoscreen on the north side showed a news show airing something about cooking with Bajoran cuisine.

Kanta brushed the insignia on her sash for a moment as she stepped in - taking in the ambiance, the clothing of the waitresses, and quietly settling herself in an out of the way place that gave her good observation - and wouldn't take up a place of a paying customer, or at least she tried, slipping a control gauntlet onto her off-hand to take notes and record what she needed. Very impresssively professional...

Yuli emerged from the backroom and was quick to spot Kanta. She didn't go up to her right away, having the waitresses to deal with and double-checking with the bartender. It was just a couple minutes before opening before she finally stepped up, dressed smartly and conservatively in a long-sleeved blue dress with gold trim and glittering beads with loose blue trousers, clearly a matched set. "Kanta, you came early? I hope Mamiko didn't bother you. She's always very short and direct with the diplomatic personnel we get."

"She is professional - I can, ah, given the issues with Sister Contessa, understand why she might be... wary?" She picked the word hesitantly, turning to fully face Yuli. "I hope I chose appropriately in clothing - I decided to leave the sword behind as... well. Not fitting. I do not wish to cause trouble, and so if I can set up someplace out of the way? I will be trying to observe and not getting in the way, and I have a few rialas and a very small credit chit to not be a drain, though I think... 'bottom-shelf' is a good way to describe my budget tonight." She was nervous, as the rather rapid speech, even if well translated, showed.

"Very professional, yes. And I must confess, not entirely fond of the 'lesbian empire' concept, if only because of the conduct of a Gilean delegate and her party from their Amazon enclave a couple of years ago. That was a very... trying night." Yuli showed Kanta to a small table out of the way, but not in the corner. "I will extend a small complimentary tab later in the night, enough that you won't be stuck with crackers and club soda all night. That would be criminal."

"... I somehow do not think I want to know - but we are trying to reach out to them. Not a great deal of friends, do we have..." She sighed, as she settled in. "Come no, Sister Yuli, I love soda water... when it is flavoured, I grant." She smiled - a bit tiredly after the day at work, and stretched into the chair. "I won't abuse it, and I've had worse onshipboard during some more... chaotic moments. Thank you, and I will try and offer that we are... more diplomatic, at least." A ghost of a smile touched her lips. "And I will not be a recluse if I can help it - I remember what you said about... not isolating ourselves."

"Hopefully we will have some of the more interesting faces around. Regrettably almost all are government or politics. If this was New York City or LA or New Vegas.... well, it would be far more colorful. But we make due."

"Aren't I supposed to be meeting those people anyhow? Oh, I have..." She reached into the case, and pulled out a datachip. "What of the vids I could get for you to put into your system, though I doubt many will care. Legal to view in the club, download for home viewing needs us to sign off on it, but that's a formality, really... and Zilly says she can probably get you a narrow selection of wine and liquor next shipment from home, if it will help?"

"I would be pleased to try out some selection of drinks from your home, give everyone some new tastes to consider." Yuli accepted the chip. "Something for our movie library, then?"

"That's so - including some... romantic comedies, I think is the word? Yes, it includes last night's, but I also brought a predominance of lighter fare." Kanta was smiling wonderfully as she handed it over. "Wonderful! I'll see what we can manage, but it will be a few months, with the distances involved."

"Of course, yes..." Yuli pocketed the chip. People were already starting to mill into the club. "Enjoy your night, Kanta." She stood up and went to some of the new guests. Kanta would have recognized few if any of them; an Alliance court justice, a vice minister in Internal Affairs, industry lobbyists, the head of a homosexual rights advocacy group, it was a varied bunch that spanned political and cultural gaps. And then there were the college professors, the businesswomen, the lawyers, and others from the middle and upper classes.

The facial recognition software on her computer helped her put names with faces, but her primary concern was watching the operations of the club - and listening, making notes with twitches of her fingers in the gauntlet as she did, and mentally sorting lists of which woman would be best at what - or at least provide the start of an idea to Yuli, who she was rather starting to like as a Sister. Such a prestigious place... such a very prestigious place indeed to have these sorts. Very, very good for her.

She would idle away her time after that point - making notes, checking people coming in, but otherwise content to watch - and besides, she told herself It's not as if I know any of those crazy dances...

With a sigh, she shook her head and stood up from the chair, adjusting the folds of her sari once she did - and started to head over to the bar, because Arzadokh bless it, she was thirsty, and wanted to know just what she could get with pomegranate... and wanted to see what on earth the bartenders did from closer up too. She had the loose gait of a spacer, moving through the crowd easily, and as something of a ghost with how quiet she was.

The bartender tonight was named Nicole, short boyish black hair and a crooked grin with skin almost the color of snow. Bright green eyes looked at Kanta and she asked, "Finally coming over I see. What would you like?"

"A bit odd, but something with pomegranate - surprise me on the details, whatever I'd order you'd probably never heard of or it means something entirely different, and no, I'm not going to test it." She grinned at the woman, before leaning onto the bar with a sigh.

Nicole went off to make the drink for her. When she returned, she asked, "So, your girls follow that Taloran who had a guy's balls chopped off and sliced him to pieces, huh?"

Kanta slipped a note across the table - the tip, first, because not providing it was ungracious, before she said - with a hint of heat in her voice - "Is that all bloody Adeners focus on?"

"Nobody had heard of her until the news filtered out of VS-6 about what she did to that Baltar guy. I mean, the Talorans are just kind of there for most of us, unless you're one of those hardcore atheist or religious types."

Kanta... sighed. "Well. Being crowned seems to have been good for her. We've seen nothing but kindness and mothering love from her thus far." Yes, retrain the urge to bite her head off, that's important...

Nicole crossed her arms. "Wow, you're all real smitten with the lady aren't you? I mean, I've seen lots of types holding back anger, and you were pretty peeved just now."

"It's hard not to be. She even married one of our high noble ladies... after her first love, Empress-Consort Ysalha." Kanta replied... carefully, sipping her drink again. "And she's done a lot more besides. That, however, does not have quite the immediate... impact as that damned vid."

"And I bet you're getting tired of hearing people talk about it," Nicole continued. "Well..."

Yuli stepped up beside Nicole. "The Haversham party is looking for several mixes," Yuli said to her. "Can you see to it?"

"Sure, ma'am." Nicole stepped away from them.

"Barkeepers are supposed to be talkative, but sometimes it's necessary to keep Nicole on task," Yuli explained to Kanta as the younger woman walked off. "Still one of our best. The ladies like her because she's good at getting everyone to blow off steam."

"... Aaaaah. I see..." With her drink in hand, Kanta was glancing about slightly. "I know one or two with the sort of outgoing nature, steady hands, and self-restraint to manage that - but they'll need training on what drink mixes are the usual here." Still keeping her head on business, she sounded like the sort herself. "Which is normal, all said."

"Are you getting tired of people asking you about Empress Tisara?"

"... No. And that's not her name, though I am used to the correction." Kanta took another sip. "Regnal name. She took the one of her childhood friend, the mother of the Empress Saverana. She is thus properly referred to as Tisara of Urami, Empress Sikala I of Otrera." She looked down into her drink for a long moment. "Until they hate her not, I will not be tired of the questions."

"You might want to write down a standard reply, simply hand it out whenever questioned," Yuli suggested jovially. "Because it's probably going to be a while before people get that thing with Baltar out of their heads."

"Hah. I know you were joking, but... pssssssssh." Kanta shook her head slightly. "It is not a terrible idea, because I suspect it will be the end of my posting - I think I have had bureaucrats I am speaking to almost make the slip, despite what can only be flashing letters on their screen telling them to not screw it up..."

"Sounds about right." Yuli smiled and looked around. "I hope you enjoy the rest of the night."

"Thank you, Sister." Kanta gave a small salute with her glass. "Fare thee well, and prosperity to you 'till we meet again." And now... to make it back to my table, with the drink. And not making a fool of myself. Here we go...

Sometime later a smartly-dressed woman stepped up. Her skin had a light bronze, Mediterrenean look to it, with light brown hair pulled back into a bun at the back of her head. She was certainly attractive, with a cute mole on her right cheek, and dark brown eyes that appraised Kanta slightly. "You're one of the Otrerans?", she asked politely.

With the glass mostly empty by this point, Kanta looked up her slow scanning of the room and focused. "Yes, that's so. How could you tell?" Her face formed a smile as she glanced down. "I thought I had managed to blend in... can I help you with something?" Well, maybe she wants a visa? No, not at the club, somebody here could just ask...

"You... kind of gave yourself away, ma'am." The woman extended a hand. "I'm Katie Lansford, of Regals Lewis & Waters."

"Oh, my conversation at the bar..." Kanta stood to take the hand, and bowed slightly over it. "Dame Kanta Narayan, miss, it's a pleasure. A barrister, I believe the title signifies?" Am I about to have a lawsuit filed against us? I hope not...

"Miss Narayan," Katie said pleasantly. She took a seat. "I just thought you looked a little lonely. I mean... we've gotten embassy staff here all the time, but this is the first night I've seen you here."

"Our currency's quite worthless in the exchange markets, miss." Kanta replied a bit wistfully. "Without the kindness of the owner, it would be soda and crackers for me tonight. We have been here... once before, but it was in the afternoon, and something of a special circumstance. Despite how wonderful it is, it would thusly be irresponsible to become a regular."

"What, you still use gold or something? That sometimes happens when we make contact with societies that don't have replicator technology." Katie put her arms together. "Haven't you tried to get aid or something? Or are people blocking it because you're led by Terrible Tizzy?"

Kanta visibly twitched. "Empress Sikala of Otrera" she managed to grind out, internally thinking Goddess, is this all these people think about!? "It... platinum, actually. And all our liquid assets have rather been spent. The lobbying for an aid bill has... been very delayed due to that, and other circumstances besides."

"Yeah, well, people usually don't go for supporting a..." Lansford shrugged. "I'm not sure what to call her. But she had a man castrated with an axe and chopped up and it was so barbaric, you know? It was like hearing about the stuff that went on in the Gilean Primitive Zone before the Gilean Civil War."

"She's been nothing but a loving mother to her people as long as we've known her." Kanta murmured, and sighed out loud. "And if you call that barbaric, well, I'd not suggest coming to our universe. I personally would prefer something that quick compared to the fate I'd have if I was captured. She... well, we love her. That damned thing, though. That damned thing..." We'll never escape this, will we? Arzadokh, but what will the people in their legislature think when our request comes up if this is the reaction we getnow...?

"Really? Your universe is that bad? I mean, I saw the pictures of the Kalundan woman who had their eyes gouged out, teeth and nails ripped out, and legs impaled so they could be raped over and over. You're saying that would be nice?!"

"... There are stories of officers who were impaled to walls with swords, and achingly slowly, over weeks, dragged slowly downwards as automedics kept them alive, trying to get them to talk. There's been worse, too. Given the alternative? Yes, I'll take being chopped apart with an axe. For thousands of years, we've had to make that choice." She drained the last of her drink almost convulsively. "Not that any more women within our reach will have to make that choice if we can help it."

"I'd hope not! That's... that's disgusting! I mean, you've got video proof of it, right? Lots of eyewitness testimony? There are memory projects for that kind of thing."

"When you've been blasted to pieces so hard you fought with pikes and swords, miss, some things get lost. We have things from... after that, but..." She looked distant for a long moment. "It is not an Otreran thing to remember such things as Adeners do. Remembering and leaving the scars - it gives them power over you. I am sure they exist, but I have never had cause to look. I heard enough from my mother and Sisters, and I need to know no more."

"Well, I mean, you should try to do something. People here wouldn't stand for it!"

Her gaze re-focused on Lansford. "Your people have an odd way of not standing for it, hacking our 'net presence and defacing it, or using that vile epithet about our Empress when they give us platitudes rather than aid."

"But... we don't know what goes on, your people keep telling us we can't go in. How can we know if it's happening if nobody tells us?"

"We do that, because they will try and kill you! Kanta said rather heatedly. "Our universe is a terrible place, and we are trying to protect people from it. I swore an oath..." The Otreran woman slumped in her chair. "Why does no-one believe we actually want to protect people from the evils we fight?"

"Well, because people figure you've got something to hide. That you don't want us to see what you're doing. And your Empress' reputation makes that harder to shake. You really should reconsider, you just need to let reporters meet surviving victims and such."

"... No. I have seen what your media does to such people. It would rip open the wounds that we have so carefully tried to heal! Why must it be a spectacle to convince you people...?"

"Because why else would we believe you? You say horrible things happen, but you expect us to do everything based on what you say? And... I mean, that's kind of life us believing everything the Eurofascists say about Arabs and Jews or just accepting the Tsen'kethi whenever they do something horrible and claim it was because they were fighting 'imperialism'. It's like if we had believed everything Giuseppe had said about the resistance movements against the ENU or Hitler about.... Listen, you... you don't just nod your head and believe a government because it says something. You investigate it first! I have to in my line of work, I can't defend my clients' civil rights very well if I blindly accept whatever the government official I'm investigating claims!"

Kanta looked... blankly stunned. "... Wait. You are telling me your governments lie to you...?" The concept was something that she was visibly having trouble processing.

"Well, yeah. The government will refuse to give information sometimes, and individual officials will lie to cover up corruption, bribery, that kind of thing. Even our government does it sometimes; totalitarian states lie as a matter of course in their propaganda."

"... But... that is a gross violation of trust. Certainly, the Empress will on occasion not tell her daughters things, but mothers always do such a thing. Certainly she does not lie to her children... and the punishment for anyone who did such a thing independently, dishonouring their position and their family? I... I find it very hard to believe, but you have no reason to be untrue about this." Kanta was still visibly rocked back as she took it all in.

"...you mean you never imagined people in power might lie?" The look on Katie's face betrayed her surprise at such... naivety.

"The Empress is our mother, and our nobility... I... no. Who would do such a thing? It would be such a dishonour... men, assuredly could do so, but..." She looked so flounderingly lost. "Otrera is Mother, and a Mother knows what is best for her Daughters, but it is a poor mother who does not explain her decisions to her daughters..."

"Mothers can lie too. My mother lied to me a bit. Sometimes it was necessary, sometimes not. I mean..." There was a ring on her cell, forcing Katie to pick it up. She held up a finger. "What?.... yes, the brief is there. I finished it this morning!.... then check your damned replicator if it's not there, it might be in the.... this can wait until Monday, I'm...." Katie drew in a sigh. "Yes ma'am, I know you need the extra day to go over it. I'll have it to you by tomor.... alright, tonight. Yes, tonight, I heard you!" Katie rolled her eyes. "See you in the office Monday ma'am. Bye." She hung up. "Oh Christ, talk about people who don't know what replicators are like. My boss is native to HE-1, and even after half a century she's god damned oblivious. Sorry, Kanta, but I have to go. Have a good night!" She rose from the seat and walked away.

The Otreran woman looked after her, still a bit shell-shocked at the idea she'd been introduced to, and would stare at her empty glass for a long while. She was kindly. If we need a barrister, I will have to keep her in mind... well, if she's affordable. With a thought that was done, and she settled back to her slow note-taking, looking at the dance floor enviously. Someday. Someday.

"Um, excuse me. Madam?"

Startled, Kanta looked up at the noise, and the feminine voice from close by. "Yes, miss?" She murmured, eyes focusing again. Need to stop drifting off, lack of sleep or not...

The young woman - or youngish looking one anyway - was on the petite side, with a pointed chin, a polite smile that caused her to form dimples, and brilliant blue eyes. Her complexion was entirely white, such that she looked like the slightest bit of sun would be cause for a nasty sunburn, and her dress even more conservative than Katie Lansford's. "Hi, am... you can understand me, right? Because I haven't been able to afford the neuro-translator implant yet and..."

Kanta laughed softly and gestured to the seat across from her. "Go ahead and sit - I have an implanted computer that can translate, so yes, I understand you. Please, be at ease. Otrerans are not terrifying, I hope."

"Well, maybe a little intimidating. I mean, people talk about your Empress..."

Kanta closed her eyes. She could fill out the words coming in her head.

Except, this time, the young woman was going off script. "....and how she's Taloran and is this really awesome war leader, and I mean I find the Talorans really intimidating and I'm kind of scared of what they'll do to the unique culture of the Kobolian Colonies over the long term but well that's not what I'm here to talk about." The rapid fire, nervous nature of the girl's speech was the kind you heard from someone who's mouth could not keep up with the brain.

Kanta had tensed... and then relaxed. "Well - Talorans are great respecters of traditions and rights. As long as the Kobolian Colonies deem the aspects of their culture important, they will not face pressure from above to change them." That was... more pleasant than usual. "She certainly has reigned in keeping with all the Otreran traditions, for what I know myself. She is a great and noble War-Lady, and Talorans... we could never find them intimidating. Not after the meeting between our peoples."

"Yeah, but they also preach that polytheists are agents of the devil and stuff. But if you're in a nasty war I can see why you'd want one to be your head ruler. So..." She smiled. "Oh! I'm sorry, I'm Jenny Addison, I'm a graduate student in anthropology duing sociological studies. When I heard that your people came by here I just had to try! I mean, you have such an early divergent point compared to us and such different cultures...!"

"Well, we have a term for polytheists too, but we phrase things rather differently than they do. It is a pleasure, Sister Addison - you are rather lucky, we are not able to afford regular visits here." Kanta smiled, honestly and openly - the young woman's enthusiasm was rather infectious. "Do you just want to talk, or did you want a visa for research?" she asked, half joking on the second part... but only half.

"What?! You'd... I thought they said you weren't letting people go?! That'd be great! I'd love to see how your culture works firsthand!"

"I do warn you, however, it is] dangerous, and you may see much that horrifies you - but I can, in fact, arrange it." After you're vetted, of course... ONIs briefing packet was explicit on that. "So... what do you want to know..."

"Well, I have to see about getting a grant then... can you tell me about...?!"

3 May 2181 AST

"Minister Yadin will see you now."

"Thank you." Zillyah bat Devorah replied in a quiet tone, standing - with her attache case in-hand, and dressed in in a conservative dress of dark brown, stepped into the office of the woman she had to petition - in the most classical sort of terms. No eruptions this time, no matter what... this is too important, even if she accuses the Empress of something horrible.

Leora was enjoying a small bag of grain snacks and going through a variety of files when Zillyah entered. "Your Excellency, how may I help you?", she asked amiably, looking up from the files.

Zillyah stepped forwards and bowed. "Lady Minister - In accordance with the principles of the Alliance of Democratic Nations and the Foquet-Erzburger Act, I am today presenting to you a formal request for humanitarian and economic aid for the people and economy of the Empire of Otrera, itemized with justifications for each. I have a request for defence aid as well, divided in the same way, though I will freely say I do not expect your government to be capable of forcing the passage, even in an attenuated form. I stand ready to negotiate with you, formally or informally, on the issues that will impede passage of this into formal legislation."

She stepped forward to offer the printed flimsies, protected inside a leather folder.

"As the President would say, I believe - 'All our cards are on the table, and we are ready and willing to talk'."

Leora accepted the documents and looked over them. "I see. I will bring this up with the President then. The defense aid is unlikely, we have too many resources tied up in other problems and, to be frank, it's a common belief that your state is already a military client of the Taloran Empire and any aid from us thus unnecessary. On the other hand, the humanitarian and economic aid requests are a legitimate possibility. I'll have my people process the request before the day is over." She looked up from the documents and folded her hands over them. "But Your Excellency, you do understand that this will inevitably require you to end travel restrictions. The Representatives aren't going to funnel aid to you if they're not sure how it's being spent or if you're even as eligible as you claim. You're stating that the Empire of Otrera is under direct threat from slavocratic states and that its citizens have already been taken as slaves by neighboring powers; we'll want corroboration."

"We will begin negotiations about signing New Brasilia." came the woman's quiet response - she, personally, disagreed with the decision. "I believe the treaty contains the allowable restrictions on travel, yes?" She was... not happy with that either. "If there are reservations, they will be due to our previous treaty with the Taloran Empress, or the Conclave's right to reject legislation. Please, however, understand. We are trying to protect people, and do not make this step lightly. There simply is, as we have been repeatedly told, no choice but to allow travel into a war zone. If further concessions are required, please tell me, that I may provide a response in Empress Sikala's name."

"So you are looking to join the IUCEC?", Leora asked. "The restrictions on travel allowed have certain limitations since the IUCEC will want some oversight of use of the gates."

"I have been instructed by Her Imperial Majesty to open negotiations for accession to the treaty, Madame Minister." Zillyah replied simply. "Is that sufficient proof of Her intentions?"

"Yes, it is. I will give you the proper contact channels to Babylon-5 to begin negotiations."

"Thank you, Madame Minister." The Jewish woman's head bowed politely at that. "I am, informally, asking as to what the Alliance's intentions in RQA-22 are."

Leora remained quiet for a moment. "The President and I have discussed the issue on occasion, but for the moment we have no actual intentions. We have no presence in RQA-22, no interests, no influences. It is still something of a mystery to us. Oh, I'm sure eventually we will want to participate in an examination of it, but for the moment the issue of RQA-22 is being left to the IUCEC and its deliberations on the Taloran Empire's violations of New Brasilia protocols relating to its discovery."

"Then I may say, privately - intervention will almost certainly be regarded as an unfriendly act. It is... difficult to describe the situation in Otrera presently in terms that I think would be easily be understandable."

"The President is well aware of how badly you would view outright intervention in your universe's affairs," Leora replied diplomatically. "I do not see how it is an issue currently or for the foreseeable future, as again we have no colonies in your home universe nor trading partners."

"I... from my time here, am aware that there are... elements in your legislature that may demand intervention." The Otreran woman started, picking her words with extreme care, and triple-checking her translations too. "This is difficult to phrase, and I apologise for my delay... Otrera is on a great jihad, Madame Minister. Crusade is another word that may fit the situation. I... am not certain some of your people will understand the... implications."

"You are waging a religious war against your neighbors." Leora leaned forward. "Yes, I can see where that will unsettle. What provoked it? How are you waging it?"

Zillyah... paused for a long moment. "The Herculaneans and Romans sent a joint fleet to destroy our navy and open our home system for invasion. An attempted decapitation strike by special forces was defeated by Tisara of Urami and her officers in hand-to-hand combat. My... mother died, but they saved about half our fleet leadership with their personal bravery and valour. We then fought the enemy fleet and routed it, capturing several and putting the rest to flight. The battle, you understand, would have almost surely been a foregone conclusion without the Talorans. We had been dreading the day ever since the Qin withdrew their guarantee of our independence several years before. It... awoke something in our people. Oh, Queen of Heaven, but it awoke something long hidden that came surging to the surface." She swallowed past a dry throat before going on. "I saw it on the news - it was Empress Sikala's presentation to the people, after her election but before her coronation, and it was as if she knew us. She spoke to the heart of the nation, and challenged us to give freedom to womankind - not just underneath our own star, but around all the hearths under foreign stars besides. As She said; "What woman should be forced to leave her hearth for her Goddess-given freedom? She asked for our lives, that our daughters would never have to face terrors from the stars? I still remember..."

With a distant look in her eyes, the woman repeated something from memory; "Go, I say. Go, and steel yourselves thusly: Go to the schools of your children and the parks and the bath-houses and look at the little gas masks we make for our daughters, see the bomb shelters and the drill cards teaching them how to cover and think of their daughters! Think of their daughters never needing to learn that! Then, I ask you, think of ways, of things you may do, to make that possible. For it is the promise of my reign to you that I shall never rest from doing exactly that. Amen, for the Goddess, for the Lady of Justice, Amen, for there is no higher honour to me, than to lead forth the nation of Otrera as Mother-Empress, to battle and to peace through battle!"

She re-focused her eyes on Leora. "First, we smash their fleets. Thence we seed the planet to kill those who would enslave their fellows. And then, the army lands, and we fight and die for the freedom of our sisters. Any peaceable man who throws down his arms and never troubles women again may leave in peace. Any man who chooses otherwise, dies. It is such that we shall bring freedom to womankind in our universe, against any who would attempt to stand against us, no matter what cost it asks or burden it places."

The room became very quiet as Leora heard her say these things. "So your intention is to overrun the Roman and Herculean states only? Or is this... wider?"

"I believe it will stretch to encompass all that was claimed by those two empires at their height... and thence turn inwards, to rebuild and recover. We have no intention of taking our work outside our universe unless our hand is forced." Zillyah was very, very calm as she looked across at the Foreign Minister. "It will, after all, cost the lives of millions upon millions of us by the end."

"Madame Minister - we captured their plans for us. They have raided our worlds, struck us with plagues and sunfire weapons, dragged millions off in chains. This will end Our star is finally waxing once again, and womankind's with it after millennia, and we will not be stopped as long as we draw breath."

And that was that. Leora was calm as she digested this information, but she knew what was being referred to. An entire society turned to war, its sole purpose being to spread out through its home universe and annihilate everything that was not of it because that which was not Otreran was perceived as a threat. It was the original purpose of the Dominion married to the fanaticism of Hanson Leewood. And if they succeed, possibly when they succeed.... what will that spell for the rest of us? Will their need for security be sated? Or will they become convinced of our potential hostility and be ready to try and repeat the process? I wonder if, in the long run, we would be better off if we were the ones stepping into RQA-22 and reordering it with force, rather than the bright-eyed fanaticism of women like this? We may all come to regret it if the Otrerans succeed...

"Madame Minister." Zillyah interrupted her reverie suddenly. "I recognize the look on your face. We can be friendly people. You can call upon the bonds of sisterhood - indeed, by my reckoning, you are an Otreran in many ways. We can be quite tolerant. We can be polite. We can even co-exist with men who do not oppress and enslave. We can take a hand of honest friendship offered, and give what aid we can spare against the existential horrors of the Multiverse. But by all that is holy, do not attempt to stand against us unless you are willing to pay the full cost of it. You are a woman, and a sister. This is a tidal wave three thousand years in the making - we could glass the planets of our foes, but we are going to land on them, garrison them, and eliminate resistance at the point of the bayonet. Millions upon millions of us are going to die in an attempt to preserve the lives of the innocent rather than taking the easy way out and accepting their loss. If this is a fundamental problem, then speak your thoughts as a Sister, please, that blood be not needlessly shed."

"You say, then, that you do not wish to take your... crusade beyond the boundaries of RQA-22?"

"I can say that the religious justification for it is uncertain, at the least." Zillyah replied in a cautious tone. "It would have to be examined once the Empire was secure and safe - but Arzadokh was revealed to us in a particular form. There must be a reason that she was not so elsewhere. Ah... as a Jewess, I can say as something of an amateur theologian, and while I cannot speak for my daughters and grand-daughters, the basis for it would be... very weak, unless we were talking of an incredibly egregious example of masculine oppression that was being aided or ignored by other powers."

"You must understand how disconcerting this will make people feel. Though we in the Alliance have occasionally been accused of launching our own crusades in defiance of issues of sovereignty.... the sheer scope of what you're proposing is something we have only seen mirrored in the liberation of the Gamma Quadrant, with all of the bloodshed and destruction that entailed. That your people are eager for that..."

"Madame Minister... if I may attempt to explain... we do not have the right to live free while others are in chains. The shame and guilt... what right do we have to live, when we could see our daughters, and all sisters throughout known space free? For that, I will die eagerly, and my sisters the same. The All-Mother has been buried, raped by upstart gods throughout history, but She is as timeless as motherhood itself, and we are not worthy of Her if we do not answer Her call."

"So you say, but the rest of the Multiverse may not understand you, ma'am. They may only see a nation driven to expansionist war with no end in sight."

"Is that what you see, Madame Minister...?" Zillyah asked with a real hint of trepidation in her voice, as she folded suddenly clammy hands in her lap. I pray not...

"I see a nation that is tired of getting knocked down and kicked around," Leora replied candidly. "But I also see a nation that poses a risk if it loses itself to blind anger. You have undoubtedly heard of the Stronghold?"

"Their diplomatic mission has been... very full-throatedly supportive of our aims, Madame Minister, in the one meeting I have had with them. They are... more bitter than an Otreran can fully comprehend, in the indiscriminate rage they feel. They are lost in it. Even if the common woman could become so blind... Her Imperial Majesty would not. She is an immigrant Otreran, with the clarity of the different perspective that allows. Certainly her instructions to myself have been an indication of an incisively clear mind."

So Tisara is riding a wave she cannot fully control, but which she's trying to direct, was Leora's thought. "The Stronghold had every reason to be enraged at Erud atrocities. Had we not been embroiled in the Interuniversal War the Alliance would have gladly dealt with the Erud. But we could not at the time, and then the Stronghold turned on us because we would not let them genocide the remaining Erud worlds after we occupied them. Because of that rage you speak of, they have made themselves a perpetual threat to peace that by all rights they should not be, and an enemy of the Alliance where we have more common beliefs than disagreements." Save, of course, their continued desire to murder the Erud survivors...

"That is what people may think of when they see Otrera, Madame Ambassador. It may guide them to doing for you what war forbade us to do for the Kalderi that helped form the Stronghold. Or it may guide them to oppose aid for fear of only making you more powerful in the long run. How people perceive Otrera is going to tell how well this application survives." Leora looked straight to Zillyah. "Madame Ambassador, I have had a chance to read some of the materials your girls have posted to our official forums, and I know the statements your Minister made recently to a feminist magazine. Tell me.... suppose that in the next election President Verdes is defeated electorally by a man. How, precisely, will your people take it?"

Zillyah winced slightly at the question. "... Poorly. It would not be the cause of any official change in relations, but culturally... it would be cause for concern. Wondering and worrying that Alliance policy was going to change against us, and wariness towards it happening. I know that, in the Alliance's eyes, that is an irrational action, but all that we are shapes us to respond in such a way. We could work with such a man even so, but the current sense of sisterhood I often speak of would no longer be present." With all that implies...

"I understand that asking otherwise would require you to overlook centuries of experience, Madame Ambassador." Leora gave a nod. "It will take time for your people to adjust to how the Multiverse works compared to your own home universe." A small smile crossed her face. "And for us to adjust to your's, I imagine."

"Madame Minister, that is certainly so - but what we are trying to do ensure that it will not be necessary for your people to have to make that adjustment. We are available to offer what assistance and information we can, though we are diplomatically short-handed, and may have to draw from our embassies the personnel to negotiate on Babylon-5. Our feelings pre-dispose us to acting a certain way - our rationality opposes such judgements. I hope our survival thus far provides at least some proof as to which has been ascendant." Zillyah responded in a quiet tone, trying to pour sincerity into her voice, as she sensed the very delicate nature of the impressions given.

"It does prove much, yes." Leora looked at the time. "I hope you understand, Madame Ambassador, if I head off now. My schedule has become very busy these days and I'm due to meet with the Chairman of the Council's Foreign Committee in half an hour. May I show you out?"

"Of course, Madame Minister. You have my most sincere and heartfelt thanks for being willing to receive my petition, and you most certainly may." Zillyah smiled, feeling her stomach... flutter. And as to what she says to the President... I shall pray it is positive.

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Re: (TGG) Under a Strange and Dark Sky

Post by TimothyC » 2013-02-07 04:14pm

A much tighter update than some of the prior ones. A good addition to the story.
"I believe in the future. It is wonderful because it stands on what has been achieved." - Sergei Korolev

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