Limo. Waiters scrambling to open doors and hold stools. Telepathic level service, catering to every possible need.
Reporters. Acting shy (to hide trying-not-to-collapse-in-hysterical-lau
The funniest part was Trev in ostentatious clothing, looking snotty and overbearing, Waving Regally To The Little People. The Imperial Guards were turning all sorts of interesting shades, apparently horrified by his parody of what he considered his brother's standard behavior.
It would have been a totally enjoyable lark even without hearing from Vee about the quiet cozy lunch Fenni and Pas had managed. Well, cozy for an Imperial. No doubt there'd been guards and waiters and various other chaperones around.
Listening to Vee, Trev shook his head smiling. "I never really realized how good a job I'd done of shaking off the shackles."
"You drove S'ank to drink. I lied regularly about you being private with known and wanted criminals, for fear of him having a heart attack." Vee smiled reminiscently. "Of course, now it never happened. Poor lizard thinks I'm incredibly lax with you."
"As opposed to knowing you are, like before? Sand! Eight Guards for a lunch in a nice restaurant." Trev fluffed his spines irritably. "On display. I think there where more, and a taster, back in the kitchen."
Vee nodded. "Standard for the Crown Prince. After The Announcement it'll warm up for him, and Principle Feritu will get all the cold windy dust."
Trev hissed a bit. "No wonder she's pushing putting it off as long as possible. She's not going to like it."
"How about W'ufda?" Xaero asked, curiously.
Trev nodded, "They'll either have to get married or their relationship is going to have to get so discrete it vanishes."
"Consort Woofie." Vee murmured. "The guards will like it, no more looking the other way and letting people in and out off the public record. And being allowed to stick a guard on him, finally."
"W'ufda won't like it a bit. He's a police officer through and through." Trev looked glum, "And I'll have to break in a new boss." Vee nodded agreement on that.
"So . . . what do we do for an encore?" Xaero asked.
"How about a tryst in some run down hotel? We can absolutely ruin their reputations."
Xaero poked his ribs, "Behave! Family of lawyers, remember?"
"There is no doubt that considerable cross-contamination occurred between Mars and Blue at an early basic stage, but there are also considerable similarities between some complex organisms of both planets. Taking the Uglies', sorry, Human's, timing of Blue evolutionary stages, and cross checking with estimated mutation rates, the timing of accidental interplanetary colonization can be pinned down fairly well. I find that the common single celled organisms have a wide diversity, and split from Martian forms as long ago as four billion years, while others may have diverged as recently as a hundred million years ago, arguing for multiple injections of Martian Biota."
Xaero grinned, "Recently? A hundred million years is recent?"
Nyx ignored her, and continued. "The similarity of many of the larger animals to Mars animals is probably parallel evolution, as a mechanism for interplanetary transfer is lacking for organisms that have no hardy single cell dormant phase."
"No kidding," Trev muttered.
"I recommend using the TS phenomenon to establish the history of Blue Biological development, as well as collect organisms closer to some of the calculated splits."
"Dream on, Nyx, my friend." Xaero shook her head. "Maybe in a couple of decades. Or maybe never if they get more worried about time travel."
"You two are no help at all." Nyx grumbled, "I need to practice my presentation."
"No you don't." Xaero told him. "You'll do fine. You know everyone that'll be there, anyway."
"We really need to figure out the relationship between Mars and Blue life." Nyx insisted. "I was hoping you two were off on some secret trip last weekend, and would come back with new specimens and information. In fact Trebore was speculating on a diplomatic mission to the Uglies."
"Nope, just fun and games," Trev assured him. "Besides, we don't know when the Uglies are from. I don't know if we could find them. I do, however, know that it's time for the meeting."
The usual reports, Nyx's presentation, and finally what they'd all been waiting for.
"…need the widest variety of experience, and to have on hand experts to make decisions about changes in the program on the fly." Dr. S'dow tapped a claw on his data pad as he finally got to the important part. "So, the flight crew will consist of Saji L'on, Albe N'rom and Jemi S'jen. The Survey Crew will consist of Trebore M'hel, Xaero L'svages, Riu K'via, Arto L'drawn, Mothe T'fayd and Fatreve O'noh. In case of unforeseen consequences, the senior Dr. M'kabon will also be aboard." He looked around and grinned at all the disappointed faces. "This is just the first trip. Many more will follow."
Xaero placed her hand on Trev's proffered elbow, elevated her muzzle and paraded out of the theatre and into the waiting limo under the eyes of the reporters. The headlines were getting downright silly. Not a single reporter had twigged to Trev's identity, Xaero was reported to be living in seclusion to avoid publicity, and Fenni and Pas were edging toward trust and commitment.
"You know, this is getting old." Xaero complained. "Can't we take next weekend off and stay at work?"
"Or Sun Town, at any rate?" Trev nodded wistful agreement. "It kind of depends on if Fenni and Pas are going to do anything that needs cover. What I'd like is a weekend off of both duties, someplace private with no one but you."
Xaero nodded glumly. "Even my surface place is stuffed full of other people."
"Creating horrible magazines." Trev agreed, glumly. "Did you know Vee took a week off to get the latest issue of 'Truly Male' beaten into shape?"
Xaero snickered. "I got a message from Orto. It sounds like they've been doing a really good job."
"They concentrated on the quake, at first with stories about how the rescue operations worked, the engineering details of the collapse, as well as stuff to help all the evacuees and their hosts, stuff on expanding water distribution systems, how to do finish work on rough construction and so forth."
"No hero's tales?"
"Well, yes, but they included stories along the lines of strong family males, true and pseudo, all pitching in to help and so forth. Any rumors I've heard about the articles getting vetted through the Imperial offices and grumbles about psychologists therein you didn't get from me. Now they've switched to rebuilding and the excavation of the new caverns, and getting ready to do a bang up job on the one year anniversary issue."
"It's been a year? Already?"
Trev nodded. "Pity they can't write up the automated missions to the Zwehra planets. Everyone has pretty much decided to sit on their discovery."
Xaero glanced up at him, "The Big Blue exploration project was a real hit."
Trev frowned, "I think they announced that because they want to let everyone know we have a secure source of uranium for the reactors. They're fueling the new generating plant as we speak, the PR office is going to make a big deal out of the start up ceremony, complete with an end to electricity rationing—then when the reporters go negative, as they can be counted on to do—they'll reveal just where the fuel is coming from."
"And so the space program that everyone considered such a waste of time proves its value." Xaero grimaced, "And I suppose they'll leave out all the time travel part."
"Absolutely. That was literally the first time the space program has done anything out of the public eye, and the sandstorm about the secrecy still hasn't died down." Trev looked dubious. "I hope that the uranium revelations will make everyone think we're back to doing things honestly and openly."
"Hmm, the Blue biota seems to have diverted everyone's attention from the sneakiness involved."
"Yeah, especially some of the vid we brought back."
"So . . . at some point the possibility of exploring the stars will come up. What are they planning on saying then?"
"Right now, that we've got an unmanned probe on the way." He shook his head. "They don't want to get people's hopes up if the time traveling planetary engineering won't work."
"I can see that." Xaero admitted, "but they aren't going to try to promote moving to Blue, are they? I've heard some people talking about it."
"They're arguing about it, but just as a ploy. One faction thinks that getting lizards to think about colonizing Blue will have the best effect psychologically, without the risk of disappointment. Others are still in favor of complete opacity until, if and when it is possible, they'll announce the discovery of the Zwehra planets."
Xaero hissed in irritation. "If they want to keep the time travel aspects secret, they're going to have to wait until the planets, or at any rate, one of the planets is habitable."
"So to speak. They're conferring with the scientific group about how far into the future they'll have to jump to colonize and how to not tell people about it at all."
"Which we don't yet know."
"Yep. That's going to be one of the focuses of the mission. With the live crew, we'll be much more flexible in checking out the time needed for atmospheric engineering.." They swapped identical bright eyed, ambitious looks. Then the limo eased to a gentle stop before the Builtdown. No long lingering farewells allowed. A dozen Imperial Guards waited to escort her inside. Trev ran a finger along her muzzle. "I'll see you late tomorrow at Sun Town."
"This is ridiculous." Xaero grumbled, alone in the lift at last. "I need to get back to work." She thought about her identification of 'work' as being the space project and grinned. She was barely halfway through catching up with her department's latest progress reports. The pace at this end of the time traveling space exploration project was little short of frantic.
There was a message waiting for her on the dining room table. 'Call Pas, no matter how late you get in' signed by her mother. She shook her spines irritably. After all this charade they'd better not have . . .
"Xaero! Xaero, what am I going to do? He asked me to marry him!"
Xaero laughed, "Pas, that's wonderful! You know you love him, you know your legal training and all your experience is going to be very useful to him and his position will give you a boost toward all the stuff you always used to complain about not being able to change."
"Well, yes, but . . . Married?"
"And you know about Feritu, right? That you're not going to end up on endless display as The Emperor's Consort, right?"
"Well, yes, but . . . "
"And I seem to remember some old natterings of yours about wanting children?"
"Well, yes . . . "
"And he's sexy as all get out."
"But . . . I don't know anything about that!" she wailed.
"Ah," Xaero said, suddenly enlightened. "What you two need is a nice cozy weekend away from all the Imperial Guards."
"Xaero! Not before the wedding!"
Xaero shook her head at the comm, "Pas, what you really need to worry about is living in public. The reporters will just love having a Royal Wedding to cover. By the time you deal with all of that, sex will be small vegetables."
Pas cleared her throat primly, apparently getting a grip on herself. "If you and Trev are involved with vegetables, maybe I should go somewhere else for advice."
Xaero snickered, "Better. Now grab him before he gets away."
She stretched out contentedly on her heated rock and started reading progress reports. Pas and Fenni were engaged, and she was headed for the stars, hand-in-hand with her own Prince Charming. All was well with the world.