Danielle woke up when her band alarm sounded. She sat up, confused. She was still in her uniform and laying on top of the covers. She tried to remember what happened and was lost.
Bethany came bundling into the room with a tray. “I thought I heard your alarm. I brought you food, orange juice, and aspirin,” she said, setting the tray in front of Danielle.
“Thanks,” she said. She had to swallow hard when the smell of eggs and toast hit her nose.
“Kyle would have been pissed I didn’t bring you that hangover cure you gave him when he came home roaring drunk when his was sixteen. Remember that?” Bethany laughed.
Danielle laughed and then grabbed her head. She groaned. She grabbed the aspirin Bethany handed her and the orange juice and downed the works. “Good God, how much did I drink?”
“Believe it or not, only about a full glass. Erica helped me get you in here and then I had to help her across the hall when she couldn’t quite coordinate opening the door and then walking through it,” laughed Bethany. “She drank less than you did.”
“Wow. That was some potent stuff,” said Danielle.
“I am not surprised it hit you hard, you are like a third of his size. That was the one thing you drilled into me in high school about drinking,” said Bethany.
“It is not the amount of alcohol that’s the problem, it is the amount of it in you that is the problem,” they both said at the same time. They both then laughed. Danielle clutched her head again.
“I cannot remember the last time I was drunk. Oh, God. Did I say anything horrible?” she asked, put her hands over her face. When Bethany didn’t answer, she looked up at her through her fingers and said, “What?”
“Well, you kept saying you wanted to climb the grumpy tree and how he smelled good enough to eat,” laughed Bethany. “You even did a little song parody of the Hanging Tree from that movie about the food games.”
“No, I didn’t,” said Danielle. “Did I?” she asked.
“Yep,” laughed Bethany. “I agree he is yummy.”
“It’s okay, Mom. You are human,” she said, smiling. “Eat and take your shower or you are going to be late.” Bethany turned and walked out of the room as she called behind her, “And tardy is unacceptable.”
Danielle looked at the eggs and ate quickly before she thought about her stomach.
* * *
She had just finished getting ready when her band chirped. She felt immensely better after her shower and putting on a clean uniform.
“Yes,” she said.
“It’s Aengus and Mara,” he said.
“Come on in. I will be right out,” she said. She tapped her band and said, “Open door.”
She walked into the living room just as Aengus and Mara came in the suite. He introduced Danielle to the beautiful blonde from Brasik IV.
“Thank you for coming. Have a seat. Can I get you anything?” she asked.
They both said no and sat down.
Danielle made her coffee and came to join them with her tablet. “Aengus asked me to talk with you both to see if we could figure out why you haven’t conceived yet. First let me say that I am not a fertility specialist, but my sister went through a similar problem, so I know all the things they asked her. Does that make sense?” asked Danielle.
Mara nodded as she clutched Aengus’ hand.
“Let’s start easy,” Danielle asked. She started asking about her cycles and her diet, and her exercise routine. She then got more personal. She stopped when Aengus blushed. “Okay, it’s a good start. Have your band send your temperature to me each day after you wake, but before you get out of bed. It’s called a basal temperature. It may help us figure out when you ovulate.”
They said goodbye to Mara, and then Danielle got Bethany out of her room. They then headed to the conference room. She was meeting with the Strategic Managers. She expected to get quite an earful.
* * *
“There has been an attempt,” said Evgen, through the monitor.
“Did you shut it down?” asked Spartak.
“We did,” said Evgen.
“Where did he try?” Spartak asked.
“If you can believe it, directly into her suite. It took a bit to find the tracing program for her band. We have removed it. We also put a security lock on it so only you, me, Aengus, Bethany, and Erica can find her. Every other request routes to me. Silas is re-working the teleport rules for the entire fleet. We only kept the teleport logs for the bays up to this point. We are making sure that is the only entry point on every vessel going forward. It is a near certain that if they tried this once, they have done it many times before,” said Evgen.
“That’s what scares me. How many didn’t have a choice?” asked Spartak.
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but we have no way of knowing. My guess would be anyone who transferred from another ship to the Kleponia. I will look up the numbers and get back to you,” said Evgen.
“Have you notified Aengus that this is a permanent assignment?” asked Spartak.
“Yes. Who do you want on the alternates?” asked Evgen.
“Is Roderick mated?” Spartak asked.
“Yes,” said Evgen.
“Okay, add him. What about Ware?” Spartak asked.
“No,” said Evgen, grinning.
Spartak ignored Evgen’s grin. “Ramos?”
“Yes,” said Evgen, grinning broader, knowing that his friend was ignoring the dig.
“Add him. Do not tell her unless she specifically asks. I want video surveillance on her floor when she is in her suite,” ordered Spartak.
“Affirmative,” said Evgen, ending the session.
“Damn,” Spartak muttered. He really did not need to deal with this right now.
* * *
Danielle walked into the smaller conference room on the Executive Deck and found it full of women. Aengus moved to the side of the door and took his post, watching. Danielle smiled at him. Apparently she was getting a guard at all times now when she wasn’t in her suite. She wondered what had upped the concern, but knew no one would tell her if she asked. She would have to ask Aengus about Bethany’s risk after the meeting.
She moved to the head of the table and set down her coffee cup and her tablet. “Hi. I am Danielle McQuarrie. I am the Strategic Director for Earthlings and I am assigned on this ship. I am not sure what you have been told already about the hierarchy here, so if you wouldn’t mind, can you tell me that as you go around the table introducing yourself?” she asked. She turned to her right and asked the petite brunette, “Can you start?” She then sat down and turned on her tablet so she could make notes.
“Sure. I am Emily Stratton-Minch. I am from London. I am the British Strategic Manager. I have been aboard the Gliesean vessel for nearly a month. We were the first group brought here. We have 267 females and 43 males. The males are all RAF pilots and have been split between the Gliesea and the Regista. All but eleven females have found mates. Five of the females that were under my supervision have transferred to Bimala since they are now aboard the Kleponia,” Emily explained. “My experience with the hierarchy here is Spartak is the absolute law. I have talked to him once when he assigned me the job. He said that he would decide about the Strategic Director once all the Earthlings were aboard. Since then I have interfaced with Jareth and occasionally, Evgen.”
She had a very open and expressive face that looked almost Elven with her curly hair bound in a messy bun. She noticed a single silver triangle insignia on the collar. “I see you are in light blue, do you teach?” asked Danielle.
Emily frowned. “I am actually an Aeronautical Engineer for her Majesty’s Air Force. I used to fly but lost my flight status when I got pregnant. My eight-year-old daughter Madeline is here with me. Apparently, females cannot serve in the military. Since I have an education, they made me a teacher.”
“We will talk about all that today,” Danielle said. “Next.”
“I am Esmee. I am French,” she said with a decided accent as she swept her long straight hair over her shoulder. She had a single silver triangle insignia on the collar of her gray uniform. “I am the Strategic Manager for the Europeans. I have been aboard the Cetiarian vessel for over three weeks. There are 400 of us, all females. I was a model on Earth. I am seamstress here, as you can tell from my uniform.”
“You do not like sewing?” Danielle asked.
“I do, but I like the design part better. They do not have leisure clothes here,” said Esmee.
“Yet,” said Danielle, smiling. “And your understanding of the hierarchy?” she asked.
“Pretty much the same thing as Emily. Spartak is intimidating.”
Next to Esmee sat a dark-haired beauty dressed in light blue with a single silver triangle insignia who looked very Russian to Danielle. “And you?”
“I am Zoya Vladimov. I am the Strategic Manager for the Russians. I am assigned to the Wanamoor where all 225 of our females have been assigned. 202 have mated. We have fourteen males, also pilots who were spread across Wanamoor’s A, B, and C squads. They report directly to the squad commander. We have been here almost three weeks. I am very unhappy about the job choices, the rules, and the male expectations.”
“I take it you are not a teacher either?” asked Danielle.
“No. I am a nuclear physicist,” she snarled. “Spartak is an arrogant man who will hear nothing from a female.”
Danielle smiled. She knew he did, it just had to make sense. That told her a lot about Zoya. The job assignment was a different matter. The common theme of making high educated women teachers was not lost on Danielle.
* * *
The next woman was a petite Asian with very curly hair. She was also dressed in light blue. “And you?” she asked, looking directly at her.
“I am Choko Jue. I am the Strategic Manager for Asia. I am assigned to the Wanamoor. There are 325 females and 4 male pilots spread out all over the fleet. Most of the females have not mated yet. I have also only met with Spartak the one time and have most dealt with Jareth and Evgen.”
“What are your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?” asked Danielle. She was on Danielle’s list for the Medical Corps.
“My undergraduate degree is in Biology and my graduate degree is in Medicine. I have worked as a Virologist in Wuhan for the last six years,” Choko answered.
“You didn’t do a residency?” Danielle asked.
“No. Just did first aid support during the Tsunami we had,” Choko answered.
“Okay, good to know. Just so everyone is aware, there will be significant changes in how we provide medical services in this Fleet. Until now, only one person was managing it, and he found women’s and children’s health beneath him. The stats are horrifying. Please reach out to your people and send anyone with any kind of medical experience or training, even if it is midwifery, homeopathic, or alternative, to me,” said Danielle.
“Good luck getting Spartak on board with that,” muttered Zoya.
“Actually, he is. You see this insignia?” she asked, pointing to the three gold circles and ignoring Zoya’s comment. There were nods around the room. “I am the Senior Medical Officer for the Fleet. Services will change because they must. Our survival depends on it.”
“You have a lot of gold on your chest,” observed Emily.
“Yes, I have a big mouth,” chuckled Danielle. “The circles are for the Senior Medical Officer, the Triangles are for Fleet Strategic Director, and the squares are for a military rank of Captain, so I won’t get as much crap from the men. That is why the chain of command comes through me. I may not have to go to Spartak depending on what it is. This is our home now, even though we may not have chosen it. We will try to adapt things so they are more tolerable for all of us. Just so we are clear, it will be a process. I do not think the males have ever given any thought to what women want or need. That will be changing.”
The women nodded.
“Okay, next,” said Danielle.
The next up was a quiet Indian woman. “I am Bimala. I am the Strategic Manager for those of Indian descent. There are 82 of us aboard the Kleponia,” she nearly whispered. She kept her eyes cast at the table as she spoke.
“You are in burgundy. I must have missed that color during training,” said Danielle.
“No. It only exists on the Kleponia and only for women. It means I am to be a mother. My mate is allowing me to be the Strategic Manager because it does not take much time,” Bimala said.
“What did you do before coming here and how long have you been here?” asked Danielle.
“We came two weeks ago. I used to be a data analyst,” said Bimala.
“You are all mated already?” asked Danielle, surprised.
“Yes. As soon as they delivered us to the ship, Chatura gave each of us to the highest bidder. He said he was the patriarch, and it was his decision,” said Bimala.
Danielle had to fight back her anger. “I have met him and this does not surprise me. Are the matings acceptable?” asked Danielle, trying to not be alarmist.
“In our culture, we marry who our fathers tell us to, so this is no different. There have been a couple of incidents, but things are quieter now,” Bimala said. “The bigger concern among the women is they cannot practice their religion.”
“Which is?” asked Danielle.
“Most are Hindu. We also have a couple Buddhists,” said Bimala.
“We have the same problem,” said Esmee. “The religions are all over the board.”
Danielle nodded. “Okay, its on my list. Health comes first, then job roles. After that, we will tackle religion.”
“I am Linnea,” the lithe blonde volunteered. “I am the Strategic Manager for the Scandinavians. All 118 of us have been on the Regista the last three weeks. We are all mated and my experience with Spartak is pretty much what everyone else’s has been. Jareth is a sweetheart and easy to deal with.”
“Did you pick your own mates?” asked Danielle.
“For the most part. It was more like I want you, are you okay with that?” she said. “A few women said no and were able to mate with someone else.”
“I would bet that you are not a teacher either,” said Danielle, motioning at the light blue.
“Nope. Clinical Psychologist,” she said.
“Soon to be Medical Corps. We will talk later,” said Danielle. “Okay, who is next?”
“That would be me,” said a stunning Hispanic woman dressed like everyone else in light blue. “I am Jada Escobar. I am the Meso-American Strategic Manager. I actually lived in San Francisco, but I was visiting my sister in Bogata when I was brought here last week. There were 97 of us, and most of us have not mated. Our culture requires a longer period of getting to know one another. I am assigned aboard the Nandoria.”
“What did you do in San Francisco?” Danielle asked.
“I was a Computer Programmer. I specialized in Game Logic. I have built several of the most popular video games out there,” she said proudly.
“Well, I think that there are too many women who have been underestimated and underutilized,” said Danielle.