Shepherd Moon, Part 06 (Epilogue)

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Shepherd Moon
by Bobbie Cabot
 
EPILOGUE
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
FOR ALL THE THINGS WE HOLD DEAR

 

- with a nod to the masters of space opera: J. Michael Straczynski, Larry Niven, David Brinn, E.E. (Doc) Smith,Iain M. Banks, and, of course, George Lucas.
My thanks. And my apologies.

 

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
- Frank Herbert, author, late 20th Century Earth

 

 
So it was at the end of the twenty-fourth century (according to the Earthers’ calendar) a kind of peace was realized in the Galactic Federation, as well as a long season of prosperity and growth.

This would not have been possible if the treaty negotiations between the Federation and the Detterex was not successful. The Detterex Queen Sovann would not even consent to negotiating except with Mia, and without her, even with all the good intentions on both sides, it would not have proceeded to its eventual successful conclusion.

The Queen and her court, or what the Earthers thought of as her “cabinet” agreed to most of the conditions that were required by Mia and Tasha, and the negotiations cruised along. The only condition that the Queen asked was that they seriously be considered for membership to the Federation as full members.

The rest of the Detterex Empire would actually have revolted if not for the Phase-Waved message. The royal “Imperial Seal” also helped in authenticating the message. It wasn’t literally a seal but actually the equivalent to an authentication code that if the colonies use their own authentication code, it will generate a text in Elyran that will match the last sentence spoken by the Queen. And since the seal, as well as the colony codes, are newly generated every time, it was virtually impossible to fake.

Also, with the stories racing through the empire, their fascination with Tasha, Mia and Sahsha was an impossibly high level. They looked at Tasha in wonder, because she was the only known Elyran or Detterex that had every survived “the madness,” and they looked at Mia and Sahsha with almost wondrous awe – that these were able to rescue Tasha. If just for that, Earthers weren’t considered an alien race anymore, at least by the Detterex. The two were considered some of the most powerful bridges that Detterex had ever seen, and were considered the most beautiful. Their “animal eyes” and their five-fingered hands just gave them an exotic aura that only enhanced their erotic appeal, especially to those that were more into physical beauty.

And they all, Detterex and Elyran alike, looked at Tasha with envious or jealous eyes, because she was both a dominant as well as a submissive. They could only wonder at what she goes through in their bedchamber at night.

And they have seen her, both at the Detterex palace, and when she and her consorts tour through the Detterex countryside. The almost-automatic suspicion and derision that Detterex feel for non-Detterex, but most especially for Elyrans somehow did not apply to these three. They were greeted like royalty wherever they went, and their Earther and Elyran guards were hard put to stop the citizens from reaching out and physically touching them. Mia explained to her Earther Marines what touch meant to Detterex and Elyrans, and were told to act judiciously when holding back crowds.

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(bookmark 1)

Even when the truth about the fall of the Tirosians eventually came out and the planted “communiqué” that the Detterex spies brought to the Empire was revealed to be a fake, the reputation of the Earthers as the legendary “warrior race” was already set in concrete, at least as far as the Detterex was concerned.

The Detterex had disarmed themselves (mostly), and had cheerfully (sort of) submitted to regular inspections, but only to Earther forces. Knowing that, Mumu and Pinpin requested for Admiral Silverman to assign companies of EarthForce army infantry, preferably female infantry, to all Federation forces assigned to patrol or administer Detterex territories.

But these were all details.

Speaking in broad strokes, the conditional surrender of Detterex and the fall of the Tiros Empire, though brought with them their own problems, life in Colossus had started to fall into a kind of normalcy, and the old “housekeeping” concerns of the Federation reasserted themselves.

Still, with the coming of the Earthers, and everything they brought with them had fundamentally changed Federation life.

For examples, previous races that had been sitting on the fence for millennia (some for thousands of millennia) finally decided to become members of the Galactic Federation. This was largely because of the reputation of the Earthers as the allies’ protectors and defenders. So that they may benefit from this, and the technological wonders that the Earthers brought, many decided to take the plunge and became members. And these new members also proudly claimed membership to what they unofficially called the “Earth Alliance.”

Most Federation citizens held the Earthers in respect and high esteem, some even in almost religious awe. The Earthers’ reputation was well founded, given how they had been instrumental, in some instances almost singlehandedly, in staving off the threat of the Empire, started the process of reproachment with the Detterex, and acted as the unofficial peacekeepers for the Federation ever since. They had also helped discover five new sophont races since their arrival (before, the Federation average was the discovery of one intelligent species every hundred thousand millennia), discovered at least one habitable planet every two months (except for those that they wanted for themselves, Earth regularly auctioned off the coordinates of habitable planets they didn’t want, and this had made Earthers even richer than they previously were) and introduced an uncounted number of new innovations that have made daily life in the alliance so much more comfortable (these still didn’t include Phase-Wave, their FTL innovations and their inertia converters: Earth government still had these on their proscribed technologies list, and Federation science was still not even close to discovering how they worked).

But what captured the hearts of many, especially those on the smaller marginalized colony worlds off the beaten path of galactic commerce that got little benefit from the alliance, was the Earthers’ philosophy of equal treatment and live-and-let-live, unencumbered by the preconceived notions and prejudices that most Federation members had been trapped under for countless millennia. Such an attitude seemed like a godsend to those who desperately needed to be given a chance for something better. For these and many other worlds, a kind of philosophical revolution, a kind of religious turnabout, was happening, brought on by the Earthers, and aided and abetted by their Elyran, Arachnian, Telcontari and Dixx friends, plus their new cyborg friends from Star-453, promising sweeping changes for the better.

The Earthers themselves did not quite believe their own press – an attitude they had acquired from their brush with near-extinction in what they called their “third world war.” This kind of humility was carefully nurtured and encouraged by Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Amelia Catherine Liaran-Kerr-Steele of Elyra Prime and the Elyran Great Plains, Duchess of the Sciollian Isles of Earth, Admiral of the Fifth Fleet of Earth and High Admiral of the Elyran Defense Force, Lord-Defender of Arachnia and the Daemon Territories, Friend of All Detterex, Lord and Master of New Gibraltar, Keeper of the Messiah’s Torch, Director-General Emeritus of the CETI Council, and permanent ambassador of the United Nations of Earth to the Galactic Federation of Free Races. (Mia was always embarrassed by her long and “illustrious” title, but her spouses were quite proud of it and insisted it be used as often as possible.)

Mia had confided to her Elyran spouse, Queen Tasha, that she did not want Earthers to degenerate into the self-indulgence and arrogance of humans of the past. An attitude of entitlement must not be allowed to grow, she said. She had therefore engineered things so that all monies and other material riches that the race accumulated from their association with the Federation were immediately plowed back into the galactic economy via outreach programs and other philanthropic projects, making the Earth government the first and most successful philanthropic government in the alliance. Earther citizens therefore did not get any kind of advantage from this affluence, and therefore never comported themselves with the arrogance of, say, a Detterex royal among Empire citizens. After all, they never needed to: Earth System and Earth citizens did not want for anything. Not since the discovery of Phase-Wave.

Even so, a few races and colony worlds still resented the Earthers supposed affluence, and this had sparked a few revolts. But, after Galactic Federation forces put such brushfires down, the Earthers would be one of the first to assist in the recovery, and minimize any punitive actions levied on them by the Federation government. And these worlds would find themselves quickly on the road to recovery and self-sufficiency. In time, these worlds would, in fact, become the staunchest supporters and defenders of the Federation.

From the inside of the Federation government, the savvy Earther politico, Doctor Marcus Bidwell, and his crafty staff of Earthers, Elyrans, Dixx and Telcontari also did their part, and quietly instituted reforms and policies that advocated equal treatment of all sophonts, while the dynamic duo of the First Ambassador of Arachnia and the Erocii scientist, Autumn-Sun-Rising-in-the-East (who most just called Autumn) advocated an unbiased, holistic view of the Galactic Federation, and advocated education programs that highlighted this view. The education programs they created were adopted by most worlds. After all, they were free (they were fully funded by the Earthers and, to a smaller extent, the Federation government) and they were the best around, churning out top-caliber scientists, engineers and experts in thousands of different disciplines, and the most highly regarded artists among the known planets. The only thing that the Earthers and the Federation required in exchange was that their graduates must pay allegiance to what was called the “Sophont’s Oath” – an oath advocating fair treatment of all sophonts, and to use one’s gifts and talents to assist others in need or in distress, and to help make the universe a better one. Professor Tribin, a famous Telcontari teacher, once said that the Oath was familiar to all Telcontari and most Federation citizens. It had echoes in the Telcontari’s Laws of Ethics, in the ancient writings of the Messiah of Elyra and Detterex, and in the so-called Golden Rule of the Earthers.

As for Professor Jennifer Priestly, as the new apprentice to the Keeper of the Heritage, she was starting to learn about the origins of intelligent life in their part of the galaxy, and was starting to get acquainted with the long-term plan of the Keepers.

A few cybernetic improvements had already been implanted in her. Her master had offered more enhancements but she was fine with what had already been given to her. She knew that as parts of her body failed in time, and was replaced with artificial components, her body would eventually become mostly artificial, just like the Keeper. She actually doubted if there was anything organic left in the Keeper anymore. But if that was the price of immortality, and the price to help keep the Plan in place, so be it.

She asked the Keeper if he felt different compared to when he was still mostly organic, and he said that there really was no difference - he was still the same person, and he still had the same memories, drives, emotions and needs. His artificial body, in fact, boasted no special powers, senses or advantages from his original one – it worked and felt the same way. This allowed him to feel and experience the universe in the same way he always did. The only difference was that his memory was practically endless now, and sustaining himself was easier, and it was easier to... make repairs. Jennifer asked about something... delicate, and the Keeper smiled, assuring her that his sexual drives and emotions remained the same. But (he said sadly) since his species was tragically extinct now, he had toned those drives down to practically zero. However, he knew what Jennifer was asking. He said that the previous Keeper enjoyed a happy and active sex life, and indulged her desires whenever her drives moved her, and Jennifer was free to do so as well.

Jennifer heard the sadness in the Keeper’s voice – that he was the last of his line - but felt relief upon hearing that he was still the same as before. She reviewed her behavior, senses and emotions and she didn’t detect anything different after her digestive and respiration systems were replaced. Although her new parts allowed her to continue without the need for food or even air, and could conceivably live on for months without eating, she still ate (and breathed) as she normally did. The one thing she did insist upon was that there be no visible signs of her... improvements so that she could still interact with her old friends and colleagues without them being any the wiser. Especially with Mia, Marc, Sahsha, and Queen Tasha.

She wondered if these cybernetic advances could have been shared with others but the Keeper sadly said that wasn’t possible. The ancient machinery that created his spare parts and her new digestive tract, and allowed him to live a virtually immortal life, could not be duplicated – many have tried and failed. And it was only designed to do this for two beings. It was deliberately designed that way. That was the main reason why there was ever only one Keeper and one apprentice at any time. The Keeper said that the Earthers’ cybernetic advances actually held more promise to help others than his own machines.

Who made the ancient machine and how, no one knew anymore. The only thing that the Keeper knew was that it was made specifically for the purpose of assisting him and his apprentice to continue the Plan.

Jennifer took that all in, and was glad she was the one the Keeper picked. All she could say about that was that she wasn’t surprised the Keeper picked an Earther as his apprentice. The Keeper explained he knew Earthers would be playing a large part in the galaxy in the foreseeable future, and it was convenient if the new Keeper was also an Earther.

She was determined to do her part in fulfilling the Plan. She was both excited and apprehensive that she could be around conceivably forever, and see how Earthers would fare in the coming millennia, and see how the universe changes over the eons.

As apprentice, she had to learn all that the Keeper knew. But there was no physical or mental link between her, the ancient machine and the current Keeper. Aside from her new, near-limitless memory, She was not given any special “tools” that would allow her to learn better or faster. So the only way she could learn everything was through the old-fashioned way. Despite her new bottomless memory, she said that this seemed so inefficient. Couldn’t she be given some kind of cybernetic link to the ancient machines’ memory or something? But the Keeper explained that the normal way was the only way to do it. To do it in any other way would change her so fundamentally that she wouldn’t be herself anymore, and she must remain herself. Otherwise the Plan will not continue.

So her days were now filled with reading ancient texts, scrolls and books, and listening to hours of lectures from the Keeper and his staff. She had already learned a lot - a lot of mind-boggling stuff, and she was eager to learn more. But the Keeper did not insist on a cloistered, monk-like existence, so she still kept in touch with everyone from her previous life. She also had the freedom to go home, and to take as many breaks as she wanted, for as long as she wanted. The Keeper said that they had all the time they needed so there was no rush. But there was still too much to learn. She knew she wouldn’t be taking breaks anytime soon.

To the outside world, she was just the newest staff of the Keeper. Only the Keeper, his people and the Royal Family knew her status as the Apprentice. And the Keeper didn’t seem worried about her spilling the beans: she was given free access to communication. She didn’t understand that. But, nevertheless, she didn’t spill any secrets. In her frequent Phase-Wave conversations with Mia, she freely told her about what she had learned, and how her new life was like, but she didn’t talk about the main reason for the keepers, and why they were around. Maybe in time she would tell Mia. Then again, maybe not. It all depends on what happens next.

And that’s the big question.

As for Mia, many things had changed in her life. After the three most momentous events to happen in the Federation eons – the fall of Tiros Prime, the surrender of the Detterex Empire and what they called the “The Rescue of Colossus,” Mia had become the most well-known and most popular citizen of the Federation, with Tasha and Sahsha being a close second and third.

Earth was proud of her most famous citizen, and wanted to reward her somehow. But that was problematic. She couldn’t be promoted as the next post would have been Admiral Silverman’s post, and he was not prepared to step aside. They Navy was actually prepared to create a new post just for her, but Mia didn’t want that – she had a lifelong dislike of red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy and this sounded too much like that. She did, however, wanted to resign, but given current attitudes in the Federation, she couldn’t do that. To do so was a kind of cowardice. To fall on one’s sword or to risk one’s life for a belief or a cause was an honorable thing, but to retire when one was still capable was a kind of cop out, or kind of an act of cowardice. In Earther military terms, it was like desertion, and had about the same kind of stigma.

So she was instructed to keep her post as the commander of the Fifth Fleet, although Beth was the one who acted in her place most of the time.

However, her marriage to the new ruler of All of Elyra (or the closest to it) did put a different kind of twist to things.

The Fifth Fleet was now a combined fleet: Courtesy of the Great Plains of Elyra and the Elyran colony of Harcon, the Fifth Fleet now had eight Tiros Eclipse-class cruisers assigned to it. These cruisers, however, weren’t the most cutting edge ships in the fleet – they were, after all, just recovered Tiros prize cruisers the Elyrans purchased from the Tirosians.

EarthForce couldn’t really turn down the “gift” of these ships lest they insult Princess Thalassa and Queen Tasha, so they had to do the next best thing - the engineering crews of all of Mia’s five Earth cruisers were deployed, and one Earth cargo ship full of spare parts was dispatched.

Under direct orders from the queen, the eight ships took turns to land on Gibraltar Base, and their crews allowed the Earthers onboard. At the end of one Earth month, the eight cruisers were given a thorough overhaul, and were brought back close to original spec, and in fact was so improved, they could now give any Arachnian cruiser a run for its money.

Aside from these eight, the Shepherd Moon and Mia’s five remaining Type Ones were further augmented by four other newly-commissioned Type Ones. These were specially outfitted for deep-space exploration, with larger landing decks and a much larger complement of Cobra shuttles each.

Also, per the request of Admiral Steele, Earthship II, plus Saturn’s three K-class ships underwent refits and were converted to become full-fledged FTLs and would be sent to Colossus to join up with the Fifth Fleet. Commodore Oshiro didn’t raise a fuss when he lost his three mini-cruisers because, in exchange for the Yamato, Musashi and Sinano, he was promised twelve brand-new Type Twos. More than a fair trade in his eyes.

After their refits and shakedown, the four ships were then dispatched to Gibraltar Base to join up with the Fifth Fleet. Mia had requisitioned these ships because the three fast, small ships were ideal for interdiction missions whereas Earthship II was a great platform for exploration missions.

At the end of it, the Fifth Fleet was now made up of its flag carrier (the J-One class Shepherd Moon), nine Type One cruisers, eight Eclipse-class cruisers, the three K-class ships (now reclassified as K-One “clipper class” cruisers) and the newly-FTL-capable Earthship II (the first of several “exploration-class” ships). Upon special request by the Queen, Cruiser 99, Dax’s three Dixx cruisers, and Tasha’s own Blazing Star and Talon were not permanent parts of the fleet. Dixx and Arachnia had followed Elyra’s plan and were in negotiations to buy a few Tiros ships, to be assigned to the Fifth Fleet.

With twenty-eight cruisers, Mia’s Fifth Fleet was now considered a more than respectably sized fleet instead of being the smallest among EarthForce’s five fleets.

- - - - -
(bookmark 2)

Eventually, Mia had decided to marry Tasha, in the traditions of both Earth and of Elyra. And Sahsha, because she had entered into a prior bond with Tasha, Mia, in effect, was also married to her. It was the first marriage of this kind in a long time, for both Earth and Elyra, a distinction that brought them both notoriety (on Earth) and prestige (in Elyra). In time, their love was proven to be the most enduring, and provided the basis of a partnership between Earth and Elyra that eventually became more than symbiotic.

Because they were Earthers, Mia and Sahsha did not feel the effects of Bridges, except with Tasha, but more than that, what they felt for Tasha, as well as for each other, included the old-fashioned Earther-type love, and Tasha was would swoon from what she had with her spouses: the power of the Bridge amplified by the more fundamental and basic love that Earthers had. Tasha was truly smitten. She felt the love of both kinds of Bridges – both the dominant and the submissive kinds of Bridges, and enhanced with the love Mia and Sahsha were capable of. She felt like she was the most fulfilled woman in all of Elyra and was the object of envy among its citizens - the only other Elyran who was known to have experienced that dual kind of bonding. And because of Tasha’s marriage to Mia and Sahsha, Earthers were now considered the sexiest and most attractive.

In the fullness of time, the Queen Mother passed away, and after the prescribed year of mourning, to maintain the continuity of Elyra, the new Kerr royal family, made up of Tasha, Mia and Sahsha, ascended the throne of All Elyra. Though there were some who wondered at the appropriateness of non-Elyrans becoming part of the royal family, this was not a big issue given that the royals in question were the Earther who had rescued the Princess Tasha from certain death and the Lady Amelia.

Through their influence, and because of the different perspective they had as Earthers, they initiated sweeping changes throughout all Elyra and her colonies. For example: at that time, the Detterex Empire had started to decline, and communications with their colonies and vassal planets started to break down. The Detterex Royal Family offered a new renegotiated contract of cooperation in exchange for assistance. The new First Family of Elyra and the Fifth Fleet of Earth initiated interstellar rescue and interdiction missions that became known as the “First Wave.” Through this First Wave, and subsequent follow-up missions, the breakdown of the Detterex Empire was staved off, and, though, many on both sides resisted at first, the much-reduced Detterex Empire became a new member of the Galactic Federation, and that was the beginning of Elyran-Detterex integration.

As for the Tirosians, after the loss of Tiros Prime, the all-important web of communications and commerce that kept the Empire thriving died. In thirty Earth years, the Tiros Empire was no more, and was reduced to several hundred small colony worlds that professed no alliance to any empire. It became the Galactic Federation’s ongoing mission to somehow integrate these settlements into the Federation.

It was not an exaggeration to say that Tasha, Sahsha and Mia combined (but mostly Mia) were the closest that the Earth Alliance, the Galactic Federation, the Tiros Star Empire and the Detterex Empire had to a Queen or Empress, or perhaps, per Earth terminology, a Prime Minister, since almost all their governments just took their lead from them instead of blindly or slavishly following them.

Over time, Earth and Elyra rivaled Colossus itself as the center of the Galactic Federation’s culture, commerce and politics. A change in the lines of power was evident. Very few of the races complained about it, though, except for the precious few that were adversely affected. But even their leaders conceded that the Federation, as a whole, was better off because of it, and none of them really wanted to shake things up, especially since the Earthers would not stand for it. The Dravidian Guild of Merchants were one of the exceptions, though, but their intention of simultaneously blocking the major commercial landing routes with their freight and cargo containers were foiled by the “friendly” assistance of Federation garrison troop carriers who just “happened” to be there, and towed them out of the way of commercial shipping. Other more overt but minor acts of rebellion were also put down quickly and quietly, mostly by the quick interdiction the Earth’s Fourth and Fifth Fleets. In time, just the threat of an Earther show of force and their seemingly magical ability of being at the right place at the right time was enough of a deterrent.

The cultural, economic and commercial landscape of the entire Galactic Arm was fundamentally and irrevocably changed, and whether or not the Earthers were truly the coming of the fabled Warrior Race, it had become immaterial now.

It was a joke among the citizens that, to track the changes to the Galactic Arm, one would just need go through the Elyran royal titles of the Elyran Royal Family. In fact most youngsters had memorized them. Much as an Earth child would recite her A-B-Cs, or recite their multiplication tables, Federation children could recite Tasha’s, Sahsha’s and Mia’s titles by heart:

Her Most Royal Highness, Queen Tasha the Forty-Third, by Grace of the Messiah, of the Kingdoms of Elyra and Her Dominions beyond the Rim, Grand Admiral of the Royal Armies of the Crown, Defender of the Faithful, Empress of All Elyrans and Friend of all Detterex, and permanent ambassador of the Elyran Peoples to the Galactic Federation of Free Races;

Her Royal Highness, Lady Sahsha Liaran-Kerr-Delyer, Princess of Elyra Prime and the Sciollian Isles of Earth, Royal Concubine of the Queen, Duchess of the Lesser Plains, Baroness of the Sapphire Moons of Harcon, Countess of the Highlands of Petri and the First Colony; and, of course,

Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Amelia Catherine Liaran-Kerr-Steele of Elyra Prime and the Elyran Great Plains, Duchess of the Sciollian Isles of Earth, Admiral of the Fifth Fleet of Earth and High Admiral of the Elyran Defense Force, Lord-Defender of Arachnia and the Daemon Territories, Friend of All Detterex, Lord and Master of New Gibraltar, Keeper of the Messiah’s Torch, Director-General Emeritus of the CETI Council, and permanent ambassador of the United Nations of Earth to the Galactic Federation of Free Races.

For better or worse, all the known races had all hitched the future of all their worlds to them. None knew what the future held in store for them, except, perhaps, the Keeper and his new Apprentice. But they weren’t saying…

There was one good thing that happened because of all of this, Mia said to her doctor once, during one of her infrequent visits to Earth.

“And what is that?” Doctor Isabella Puerrot asked her.

“At least I don’t have problems about being a girl, now?”

“Hmmm…” the doctor replied. “How does that make to feel?” She asked the question with some kind of thick German accent.

Mia looked at her, shocked, and then she saw her smiling, and she broke down laughing.

“Nick’s given you some more movies again, huh?”

- - - - -
(The End)




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