Authors: Laura Jo Phillips
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
“If I tell you to hand over the Jasani territory to one of your sisters, what will be your response?”
Xaqana Ti felt relief, but was careful not to show her feelings by so much as a twitch of a mandible. “I will hand it over at once, and offer any assistance to whichever sister receives it. We
work together, Honored Mother, for the future of the Xanti.”
“Very well,” Qarnia said. “I can see that you are sincere, Daughter. Your warning is heard, and will certainly be heeded.”
“Thank you, Honored Mother,” Xaqana-Ti said, allowing her relief to show. “I will send all reports and missives on Jasan to you at once.”
“That will not be necessary, Daughter,” the Supreme Queen said with a wave of one foreleg. “Which sister do you recommend for Jasan?”
“I just received a status report from my Jasani Leg Leader,” Xaqana Ti said. “His ship malfunctioned and he is short on crew. He requested that one of Narliq-Li’s battle cruisers stand guard until his return. Since one of her ships is already in place, it might be simplest for her to take Jasan. I can forward the message to you for your review if you like.”
“Please,” Qarnia said. “I will review it, and then let you know my final decision.”
“I thank you, Honored Mother,” Xaqana Ti replied, bowing her head slightly. “Please tell my sisters that I’m happy to leave some of my ships in place to help with their transition.”
“That is very generous of you, Daughter,” Qarnia said. “I will tell them, though I do not think they will accept the offer.”
“I know,” Xaqana Ti replied, allowing herself to sigh softly. “Nevertheless, the offer is sincere.”
After promising to get back to her soon, Qarnia ended the transmission. Xaqana Ti watched as the tiny screen on her control board went dark, then waited another full minute before lowering herself slowly, hardly able to believe what had just happened. She was handing over the two most important territories she had, but she was not losing any prestige. In fact, she’d gained prestige. A great deal of it. It could not have gone better if she’d planned it.
Faith dressed in a new pair of jeans and a light blue sweater, happy to have new clothes. Traveling with only one bag had made her journey easier, but she’d been wearing the same handful of items for so long that she was tempted to toss them in the trash. Since there was nothing wrong with them, she resisted the impulse.
She put her hair in a pony tail out of consideration for Bubbles. According to the booklet, most
liked having something like long hair to hide beneath, but Bubbles was curious about her new surroundings. If she began to get nervous or shy, she’d let it down.
She’d just finished getting dressed when she heard a knock on her door. She opened it, smiling in appreciation at the three men standing in the corridor. They all wore black jeans and long sleeved shirts that matched their brightly colored eyes. The little thrill she felt in response to their focused attention surprised her.
“You look very nice, if I may say so,” Tristan said.
“You also seem very relaxed, and happy,” Gray added.
“Thanks,” she said. “I am happy. Happier than I’ve been in...well, a long time. And its thanks to the three of you.”
“And Bubbles,” Jon said, smiling at the bright red strip of fur draped over Faith’s shoulder. Bubbles looked at him with her large red eyes and made her little popping sounds, causing them all to laugh.
“We thought you’d enjoy eating on the Observation Deck,” Tristan said as they escorted her up the hall to the elevator. “If not, we can eat in the cafeteria.”
“The Observation Deck would be nice,” Faith said. “Will it be just the four of us?”
“Yes,” Tristan replied. The elevator doors opened and they all stepped inside. “We have something we’d like to speak with you about, and would prefer privacy.”
Faith smiled, wondering why she didn’t feel the usual tension and fear that had been her constant companions for so long. Maybe Bubbles had something to do with it, but she thought that spending the day out with the Falcorans was the biggest reason.
A few minutes later they entered the Observation Deck, the same room where Faith had first met the Falcorans. She’d either forgotten how beautiful the view was, or simply hadn’t cared. Most likely the latter, she thought as she stood in front of the viewport and gazed out at all of the stars in wonder. It was so beautiful.
Bubbles seemed to like the view as well. She raised her front half up so that her eyes were level with Faith’s jaw, and made soft popping noises as she gazed out the window. Faith and the Falcorans all smiled indulgently at her.
“Our dinner will be served in just a few minutes,” Tristan said. “Joseph has prepared something that meets your dietary requirements, and that we can eat as well.”
“That reminds me,” Faith said, “I was going to ask Joseph to send a bit of raw meat with my meals for Bubbles and I forgot.”
“We did not forget,” Gray said. “Joseph has been informed of Bubble’s presence, and will include something appropriate for her with your meals.”
“I really need to think of some way to repay him,” Faith said.
“Yes, you mentioned that before,” Tristan said. “Toward that end, we did a bit of investigating and learned that Joseph has a family on Pilorat. A wife, and two small sons. He’s been trying to set aside enough money to pay the fines required before they will be allowed to move to Jasan. It is a very large sum of money.”
“Fines?” Faith asked. “Fines for what?”
“For wanting to leave Pilorat,” Gray said with a grimace of distaste. “Now that Pilorat is a member of the Intersystem Commerce Union, the government can no longer force their people to remain on Pilorat if they don’t want to. However, they do require hefty fines be paid in order to off-set the costs of changing the status of the citizen in question.”
“That makes no sense,” Faith said, frowning.
“No, it doesn’t, but it’s a loop hole and they exploit it,” Jon said. “There is nothing that can be done about it until the terms of their membership are revisited in another ten years or so.”
“That’s too bad,” Faith said. “How much are the fines?”
Tristan mentioned a number that shocked her. “That’s outrageous,” she said. Then she sighed. “I wish I could help him with that, but I don’t have near that much money even with the settlement. Maybe I could pay for one of them though. How much is it for just one of the children?”
“Faith, that number was for just one of them,” Gray said, wondering, as his brothers were, what settlement she was referring to. “But don’t worry. On your behalf, we have already arranged to have the fines paid, tickets purchased, and a home in Badia prepared for them. We’ve also sent people to Pilorat to aid his family in any way needed, and be sure that they are comfortably ensconced on Jasan as soon as possible.”
“Wow,” Faith said, stunned. “I know that I should protest. But I can’t bring myself to do it since this is for Joseph’s benefit, not mine. So instead I’ll just say thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You are welcome, Faith,” Tristan said. “But, it would be less than honest if we didn’t tell you we did it for ourselves, too. Joseph is an excellent addition to the
, and we would like him to remain with us. Making sure that his family is safe on Jasan ensures that he will be more likely to remain with us.”
“I owe you guys an apology,” Faith said, “I didn’t think you were very nice when I first met you. I’m sorry for that. I was obviously wrong.”
“No, Faith,” Tristan said. “You were not wrong. Jon is nice, and Gray is usually nice, but I was not, and I know it full well since it was deliberate on my part.”
“Deliberate?” Faith asked, confused. “Why?”
“I felt that it was necessary to keep people at arm’s length,” Tristan said. “It worked too. Quite well in fact.”
Faith thought about that for a few moments. This was the opening she needed, but she hesitated. What if she ruined their new friendship with her questions?
“Please, don’t hesitate to ask us what you will,” Jon said, interrupting her thoughts. “We will not become angry.”
“I know you won’t get angry, but I don’t want to ruin anything,” Faith said.
“We will allow nothing to ruin the budding friendship between us,” Tristan promised. “It’s important to us, too.”
Faith smiled at him, relieved that they understood. “Well, I was wondering if you would mind explaining a few things to me about Arimas.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she felt the Falcorans stiffen. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “Forget I asked.”
“No, you are misinterpreting us,” Gray said. “We’re surprised, that is all.”
Faith looked at him doubtfully, catching a glimpse of Bubbles as she turned. The
was stiff, her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at Gray, reacting to Faith’s tension and seeing Gray as the source of it.
“It’s all right, Bubbles,” Faith said, reaching up to pet her soothingly. “You can relax.” Bubbles looked into her eyes for a long moment, then popped a few times before settling down.
“May I ask, why do you want to know?” Tristan asked, keeping his voice gentle.
“I can feel your emotions,” Faith said. “I know you can feel mine. I assume it’s because I’m supposed to be your Arima, but I’m not sure. I don’t know anything at all about Arimas, and I just wanted to know if I’m right, and if there are other...symptoms...I should be aware of.”
“We apologize for not explaining these things to you sooner, Faith,” Tristan said after a moment. “We should have anticipated your confusion.”
“I don’t know why,” Faith said with a shrug, carefully not moving her left shoulder where Bubbles sat. “It’s not like you can read my mind.” She paused, her eyes going round. “You can’t, can you? Read my mind, I mean.”
“No, we cannot read your mind,” Tristan said, smiling. “I confess, there are times I wish we could, but we can’t.”
Faith relaxed. The door opened and two white coated young men entered, pushing carts in front of them. They quickly transformed the meeting table into a dining table, complete with a linen tablecloth and candles. Tristan guided her to a place at the end of the table and pulled the chair out for her. Faith sat down, then lifted the cover from the plate before her. She grinned at the tiny glass dish holding finely chopped steak for Bubbles. Even though the Falcorans were rewarding Joseph in a big way, she was still determined to find something that she could do for the thoughtful man herself.
“This is for you, Bubbles,” Faith said, picking up the small container and looking around, frowning.
“What are you looking for?” Gray asked.
“Somewhere for Bubbles to eat,” she said. “She’s cute and all, but I am not letting her sit on the table while we eat.”
“Here,” Gray said, pulling an empty chair away from the table and moving it next to Faith. “She can sit here.”
“Thank you, Gray,” Faith said. She set the small dish down on the chair, then held her arm out so that Bubbles could walk down it. As Bubbles dug into her dinner, Faith turned to her own. She glanced up at the viewport and saw what they now knew was a jump point to Sheara 3 in the distance.
“I wish I could see meta space through images,” she said. “That would take so much less time.”
“We won’t have to do as we did this past week,” Gray told her. “We’ve taken careful readings of the new jump points, as well as the Doors created by the Xanti, both opened and closed, and sent them to Sheara 3 a couple of days ago. They’ve begun searching their system, and will have a list of the most likely spots to look when we arrive. It will certainly require time to visit each spot, but that won’t be a problem. It will take most of the day for the entire task force to pass through the jump point anyway, so it’ll give us something to do besides sit and wait.”
“That’s good,” Faith said, relieved. “I just wish I wasn’t so stupid. If I could do more than simply point it would sure be easier for you guys to find what I see.”
“First of all, lack of knowledge does not indicate stupidity, and you are far from stupid,” Jon said. “Secondly, I think we may have solved that problem.”
“It would be easier to show you,” Jon said. “After we finish our meal, this room will be transformed. Since you must be able to see out a viewport in order to identify anomalies, and since your identity and abilities are classified, we’ve decided to transform the Observation Deck into a restricted working area for the four of us. By the time we depart in the morning, it will be ready.”
“It will be a nice place to work with that view,” Faith said.
“On the subject of Arimas and Rami,” Jon said. Faith looked at him expectantly. “I have a suggestion. Mind you, it is a suggestion only. If you don’t like it, we can discuss the matter, as you asked.”
“All right,” Faith said, wondering what he had in mind.
“The Gryphon Consuls had to make an unexpected journey to Earth a few months back,” he said. “To pass the time, they began compiling a booklet containing information specifically for new Arimas. It has proven to be extremely useful, particularly for those women staying at Arima House. I’ll give you a hand terminal with the booklet on it. You can read it at your leisure, and we will be glad to answer any questions you may have.”