I am heading out to the planet Feldspar where my aunt, the sister of my father, lives. Yup, I am going to see her. I know it has been almost six months since she visited Alexandria, so I am sure she will welcome seeing her favorite nephew. Yeah, as though there was some kind of contest. Being the only child of her only brother, it is not hard to be the favorite. But enough about my exciting life. Let me tell you a little about Feldspar.
Feldspar is one of the few republics existing in our part of the galaxy that was not at one point in time under the Thorvus Empire. That part of my people’s history I am not too proud of. But in any case, Feldspar is home to the Key Titanium mines, the largest mines in this quadrant. They pull enough titanium out of there in a day to build fourteen luxury-class ships almost six miles long! That is a lot of titanium!
Now you know what they do on Feldspar, you should know who controls it. Well, most of it. My dear aunt Patricia Tyberius-Coronado, the titanium queen. From a strictly financial perspective, she is beyond rich, but her outgoing demeanor certainly was not affected by all that money. It is not as though my family is poor, but, well, that is a lot of money in one person’s control. And when you marry someone as difficult to like as Belthavius Coronado, many could speculate money was a motive.
But after he died in a mining accident, and she inherited it all, many times she said she would trade it all to have him back. I am not sure how many would believe her if she told them herself, but having grown up around her, I can tell she really does miss him. It has been nearly two years since his death, but she still talks about him. Well, they were married for nearly seventy-five years, so I guess that is not an easy thing to quickly overcome.
Oh yeah! I have cousins on Feldspar. Tess, the oldest daughter of my aunt, is about my age. And then there are some other ones. But Tess is the only one of import, because she was with me in school. I intend to ask her if she wants to go.
In any case, this is the captain, signing off.
Richard and Joe sit quietly in the forward helm of the Spartacus, an expansive deck centered on the forward plane of the ship. Its hemispherical portal allows for clear visibility in many directions.
However, Richard realizes the months of neglect from its disuse by the HMSV Thor’s captain, in the form of large, opaque splotches, eliminate much of the visibility it should offer. After searching for hours for a large clear spot to stare through, Richard finally nods to himself. “I really should clean this.”
Joe looks in surprise over to Richard, asking, “Tell me this isn’t the first time you’ve noticed this!” He waves his hands in disgust toward the portal. “Or have you actually come to terms with how disgusting this looks?”
Richard shakes his head. “Well, in the beginning it did not seem a serious issue, because I usually set the controls, turn on the automatic pilot, and go back to my room,” Richard sighs. “I never looked at it this hard.”
Joe shakes his head in disbelief. “I can’t accept your people would let something get this … well, dirty!” He turns to Richard. “As a species, you’re all neat freaks!”
Richard nods. “Well, normally, I would agree, since you are not the first to point this out.” He focuses on a particular dirt splotch. “But many of the captains of our battleships think it is, well, silly to have a pleasure ship as part of a battle ship complement. And, as a sign of their due diligence to their posts, they have a competition to see who has the filthiest yacht, simply from disuse.” Richard looks over to Joe briefly. “I can assume you obviously could not reach Jen?”
“Nope,” he admits, “she’ll be on that dig for a while. But I’m gonna check back with her in six hours. She’ll be back to the Hotel Alexandria by then.” Joe continues to shake his head in disbelief at the portal and then returns his attention to his controls, making a slight course adjustment. “If the captains hate these ships so, why continue to build them?”
Richard squints again at the dirt splotch, and decides it is a dog. “It was mostly for diplomatic functions they were built.” He moves closer to the portal. “But since we finished the first of our naval constellations five years ago, we have no need of them.” Richard, still staring at a dirt splotch in the shape of a well-groomed golden retriever, notices something beyond. “Hey!” he exclaims, pointing at the splotch. “There it is!”
Joe looks at the dirt splotch. “What? It’s a dirt spot shaped like a dog. There’s one over here shaped like a dolphin!” he laughingly remarks, pointing toward a splotch near the base of the glass.
Richard looks for a moment at the dolphin-shaped splotch and then returns to his original line of thought. “Oh, well, I am not pointing at the dirt. I was pointing at the planet.”
Joe strains to look beyond the dog splotch, repositioning himself several times to spy the planet. “That stupid spot is in the way! I can’t see anything!” He looks up to Richard. “Do you see Feldspar or something?”
“Yeah, that is Feldspar all right!” He begins to move to the rear exit. “I will attempt to establish contact. Hold her steady!” The rear door pops open and Richard quickly slips through.
Joe continues to search for the planet around the dog splotch but then finally gives up. “I guess I’ll see it when I see it.”
Richard steps into the communications room, seeing Maice and Ana sitting at the desk on the wall opposite the door, near to a bookshelf on Richard’s left. Maice, leaning heavily on the table, nervously shuffles his feet under the table. He taps his fingers and then stops, the tapping getting on his own nerves. Ana, sitting opposite him, is carefully making notes on a digital pad of some sort.
Richard, trying to avoid disturbing them, walks over to the communications console on the right side of the room. Maice decides at that moment to look up, seeing Richard. “Are we there yet?” he says roughly.
Startled, Richard turns to face Maice. “I think we are in communications range. I can see the planet.” Maice gets up. Richard turns to wave off Maice. “Oh, do not get up! I should not disturb you from this distance.”
“That’s all right,” says Ana, finishing up her notes. “We’re done for now.”
Maice eagerly turns to Ana. “Well? What’s the score?”
Ana, with a look of disgust, gives him his answer as she gets up. “I’m giving you a D.”
“What! What do you mean a D?” he hollers.
“I mean a D—that’s what I mean.” She shakes her head and looks away. “Maice, you’re not working with me. If you fight progress, then you can’t expect to improve.”
Richard, observing this rather confusing exchange of words, interjects. “Uh, I take it this is not a good thing, this D?”
Maice, taking a deep breath, replies, still looking at Ana. “She rates me according to what progress I’m making each week.” Not getting a response from her, he turns away. “I haven’t been having a very good week.” He leaves, grumbling to himself. Ana rubs her head from the migraine she feels coming on, walking after him.
Richard shrugs his shoulders and makes his way over to the communications console. He sits down to the console and then looks at a screen in the middle of the slanted surface in front of him. “Computer,” he says, addressing the communications console, “connect me with the Feldspar Comlink radio array.” Immediately, the ruby seal of the Feldspar Republic pops on the screen, indicating he has a connection established. “Computer, connect me to the Coronado residence.” A small translucent window appears over the seal, displaying a list of people whose last name is Coronado.
The computer beckons. “Which Coronado do you seek? Please choose from the following.” Richard picks his aunt out of the lineup. Then the screen goes blank, and another window appears with the words ‘now making call’ blinking in the middle.
As the moments pass, Richard tries to wipe a little of the dust off the console. As he runs his finger through the dust, he runs into something that didn’t feel quite like dust. “Ew, what is that?” he squeals.
“I didn’t realize they’ve changed the salutation for your world,” blurts the console. Richard looks down, seeing it is his cousin, Tess. She bears a particularly toothy grin, showing nearly all of her pearly white teeth. “What brings you to Feldspar, Richie?”
Whipping a handkerchief out of his pocket, he wipes off his hand. “Why this great ship I just got!” He glances back at the spot. “So how have you been?”
She looks up at her ceiling. “I’m okay. How about you?”
Richard wipes at the spot on the console, “Oh, the same. Is Aunt Patricia still doing okay?” Tess looks to her left and starts to laugh. “What? What happened?”
“Oh, nothing.” She looks back at the screen. “Well, Mom’s on the other line with our distributor.” Tess moves closer to the screen. “I think he’s in love with her.”
“Oh, really?” he remarks, scrubbing harder on the spot. “How does she feel about it?”
Tess looks back to her left. “Well, you know Mom! She tries so hard to be nice to people—she sometimes can’t tell people no.” She shakes her head. “And this guy’s persistent!” She snaps back to the screen, suddenly hearing Richard’s first comment. “You got a ship? What kind?”
Richard, smiling, gives up on the spot. “Well, it is an old yacht from the Viking series.” He looks around at the dimly lit and rather dusty room behind him. “It is not much to gaze upon, but it has a light drive, so I do not have to use the toll gateways.”
Tess grins really big again. “Wow! How did you manage to talk your dad out of this ship? A ship with a light drive, even an old one, is tough to secure.” She brushes back her reddish-blond hair. “But one from the Viking series!”
“Well, I guess I am a capable negotiator,” Richard leans back in his chair, proud of this feat.
“Can I ride with you back home? I want to see your ship!”
Richard leans forward. “Oh, I am not going home in the neartime. I am traversing the galaxy in search of coolness.”
Tess displays a look of surprise, wrinkling her eyebrows. “You’re kidding, right?”
Richard, now mildly confused, thinks for a moment. “That is my plan in any case. Is there something I should be remembering?”
Tess laughs, shaking her head. “I can’t believe you don’t know! You would manage to be the last person informed of the most important event in your life!”
Richard’s confusion begins to multiply exponentially. “I do not understand. What are you referring to? If it was important, I am sure I would have—” He instantly recalls something she’s probably referring to.
“Your wedding! You know it’s been arranged for the past, what, twelve hundred years!” She pauses, still grinning. “I thought you came here to get us!” Tess stops for a moment, noticing the color has left Richard’s face. “Are you well, Richie?”
Richard stares off into space, his mind still focusing on the idea of getting married. He comes to, realizing what he is doing. “What? Oh, yeah. I guess I am well, considering…” he quickly blurts, the energy lacking in his words.
Tess smirks. “Richard, it’s not the end of your life. You know, she might be a nice girl, and it might work out in the end.” As she says it, she pauses, dwelling on the words. She releases her smirk starting to frown instead.
“Yeah, it could,” he says, trying to stay optimistic. “But I do not know.” He folds his arms. “This whole wedding is a silly idea, if you ask me.”
“Well,” she says, thinking for a moment, “it’s to benefit both Alexandria and Thorvus-Maxia. By bringing you two together, it will finally unite your planets for the first time in fifteen hundred years.” Tess looks around for more reasons. “I mean, you both have the same background. It’s not as though you’re marrying a total stranger.” Tess stops and bites her bottom lip. “I’m sorry. I meant…”
Richard waves his hand, smiling a little to comfort her. “No, it is of minor concern, I know you are trying to help.” He refolds his arms. “My family has been trying to convince me this is inevitable as distant as I can remember.” He shrugs. “It seems I am as ready as I will ever be.”
Tess sighs, feeling relief. “Well, you better get back to Alexandria and fast! The wedding is on Stardate 78.06-07. That’s forty-eight hours away at 150 Kliks!”
Richard looks at his personal assistant, and sees the new wedding date was sent to it forty-eight hours ago. “Whoa, you are not humoring! I better go!”
“Hey!” yells Tess, trying to get his attention before he breaks the connection. “What about me?”
Richard stops for a moment, recalling her request. “Uh, sure you can go! But I cannot take anybody else. My ship is not as big as I first thought.”
“Great! My stuff is already packed to go with my mom, so I’m ready as soon as you get here!” she says with excitement.
Richard sighs deeply. “Great. That is just fine.”
Tess pauses, looking at Richard again. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Did I not say I was?” he says sarcastically, forcing an insincere smile. “I will be landing shortly. See you then.” He asks the computer to end the transmission. He turns away from the console, in thought, looking over the various titles lining the shelf. Not stopping on any particular one, simply glancing at each spine one by one.
As Richard starts to stand, he turns back to see Joe entering the room. “Hey, I finally found Feldspar,” he comments, stepping toward Richard. “I’ve started the final approach.”
Richard nods. “Great. Just great.”
Joe frowns. “My, aren’t we moody today. When you left, you were in a pretty good mood,” Joe relates. “What happened?”
Richard sighs. “Oh, I just found out my bachelor excursion has been put in stasis indefinitely.” He looks up at Joe. “The wedding is moved up.”
Joe scratches his head, following Richard out of the room. “Wedding?” Joe folds his arms. “You never told me you were getting married!”
Richard and Joe reenter the forward helm. “Well, it is nothing I have considered favorably.”
Joe grabs Richard’s arm. “Richard, I thought I was your best friend! How could you not tell me about the most important day in your life?”
Richard stops. “My marriage was prearranged.” Joe releases Richard. “The girl I am to marry, I have yet to meet.” Richard feigns a smile. “And if you can believe it, it is to fulfill the conditions for the peace the Tyberian Empire has enjoyed for over a millennium!” Richard moves to sit at his console. “It is not something I enjoy talking about.”
Joe sits down beside him. “I can see that. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
Richard continues to look down at his console. “I have already told you more on this matter than I have told anyone, outside my father,” he pauses, immediately frowning, “the King, as to how I feel.” He punches in the coordinates for the landing site. “I really do not wish to discuss this further.”
Joe nods returning his attention to his console to prepare for their arrival.
The ship lands near a massive fortification on the peak of a mountain known as GreiMetel Mountain. The fortification, built two hundred and fifty years earlier, is made entirely of titanium, save a few decorative marble and granite details. The landing site near the edge of the plateau is covered with reinforcing titanium plates.
As the copper-toned ship comes to rest on the tarmac, a young woman darts out from the fortification, preparing to greet the visitors. Behind her are three gentlemen bearing luggage.
The doors have barely opened and the gantry lowered before the young woman darts up the stairs and embraces Richard, who happens to be at the top of the stairs. “I am happy to see you too, Tess!” He laughs, hugging her back.
Tess, being a few inches shorter than Richard, looks up. “It’s great to see you again—that’s all!” she says. “If you visited more often, I wouldn’t have to react this way!” She waves at the gentlemen bearing luggage, standing near the edge of the tarmac. They briskly start toward the ship. Tess smiles. “See? I told you I was ready!”
Richard frowns. “You are not bringing an entourage with you, right?” Richard clarifies.
Tess shakes her head. “Of course not,” she remarks. “Those bags are just heavy.” Tess and Richard move off the gantry to allow the porters to fulfill their responsibility.
Richard sighs. “I was hoping to pick up a couple of other people and do some traveling.” Richard folds his arms. “Why does my father insist on things being done in this manner?”
Tess moves to Richard’s side. “I’m sure there’s a good reason for the wedding being moved up.” Tess steps in front of Richard, putting on a big smile. “Although you may not favor this arraigned marriage business, I’m jealous. You don’t even have to look for a nice girl to marry or worry about breeding.” She gestures mockingly with her hands. “She’s being brought to you, the princess of a powerful ally.”
Richard shakes his head. “I know you are trying to allay my fears with your sarcasm, but this is not a matter in which I can see any humor.” Richard starts for the ship. “We had best be on our way.” As Richard approaches the Spartacus, he notes Ana is about to disembark. Richard waves his hands. “Sorry, we are merely landing to retrieve family.”
Ana stops. “What?” she comments. She looks up at the fortifications. “But we’re at the house of the titanium queen! We have to at least take a tour!”
Richard gently nudges her back onto the ship. “I apologize, but my plans have been changed. I have been summoned back to my homeworld.”
“And the castle isn’t all that great,” Tess remarks.
Ana finally moves back onto the ship voluntarily. “How would you know? Do you work there?”
Tess smiles. “You could say that.”
Ana looks closely at Tess. “Haven’t I seen you somewhere?”
“Ana, this is my cousin Tess,” he conveys.
As they make their acquaintance, Joe steps into the room. “Sorry to break this up, but I think we’d better move.”
Tess nods. “Yeah, my mother has already left, and she’s on a faster ship than this.”
Richard nods. “Then let us make for Alexandria.” As they continue to board, Richard sighs to himself, “So I can face my fate.”