Like bees swarming around a honeycomb, curious onlookers and skeptics alike began to fill the corridors. Since before dawn, people gathered in small intimate groups, whispering and gossiping about the events about to begin. All, with hopes of catching a glimpse of the infamous Lacindra Tyrain.
Never in the history of the Andrian race had a person dared to challenge the ancient beliefs, and yet there had never been a person quite like Lacindra before. Raised in the Tristanian Doctrine, Lacindra demanded it was time to change the convictions of the Interplanetary Peace and Defense Council. Their twelve-millennium-year-old tradition of not allowing women to hold ranks of authority was archaic, and long overdue for change.
The name of Commander Tyrain had spread throughout the galaxies like a plague. Her reputation of bravery had made her legendary among her peers, and she wore her commitment to the right as boldly as she did her uniform. She was known to take on missions the Council had otherwise labeled impossible, or too dangerous to risk one of their vessels, and yet she had the uncanny ability of succeeding. She was of the belief that if a situation had occurred in the first place, then there must be a solution to reverse the events that took place.
Those who knew her, knew Lacindra to be compassionate, loyal, and good-natured, while those who didn’t found themselves wary of her. Her character was said to be both savage and sensitive, like that of a subdued beast until crossed the wrong way.
For the past five years, Lacindra held the rank of Commander - the highest rank allowed to a woman on Andria - as well as degrees in Science, Engineering, and Navigation. She had graduated with the highest honors awarded in both the Andrian Academy of Military Sciences, as well as the Tristanian Academy of Science and Technology.
She proudly wore the medals of bravery and good conduct, with ribbons for performance above and beyond the call of duty. She had received three awards from the Council, for the successful rescue missions of civilian and military personnel, in which she not only commanded but masterminded the operations personally.
There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Lacindra could handle the difficult duties of Vessel Commander. Yet, even with all her skills and training, she had been forced to accept the position of Master Chancellor at the Andrian Academy. Though she enjoyed her position and found satisfaction in teaching new cadets, she felt it was time to move on and advance to higher levels of her chosen profession.
Quietly, and with dignity and order, Lacindra and Mila Farnslette made their way down the passageways toward the Council chambers. The decisions that were to be made this day, would decide the future of Commander Tyrain’s career with the Andrian Military.
The two women were as polite as possible to those lining the corridors, hoping to be the first to witness the day’s outcome. They nodded their heads in greeting and thanked them for their well-wishes, yet continued to push onward.
Her dress cape and black form-fitting uniform, adorned with her many medals and ribbons, made Lacindra’s appearance a breathtaking sight to behold. Her natural beauty and sense of arrogance added to the aura of controlled assurance. She was a proud officer and a determined woman, which made her commission with the Andrian military so valuable.
At last, they reached the first of two doors that opened into the private Council chambers. Lacindra and Mila punched in their clearance codes on the computer terminal positioned next to the door. Lights of yellow and blue began flashing on the panel as two small, narrow platforms slid out from the wall in front of them.
“Place right hand on designated area for proper identification,” ordered the computer’s feminine voice.
The women did as they were told and waited patiently to be admitted. Lacindra tried to push aside the irritation mounting within her. She never ceased to be amazed by the treatment of women on this planet. They were always considered docile and weak, or intellectually inferior to stand against their male counterparts. Yet, women had always been considered stimulating and sexually arousing, and it was shown repeatedly by the way they were represented. Even by something as meaningless as the vocal response of a machine.
“Identification confirmed; access granted,” replied the mechanical voice again.
The doors slid open with a quick upward snap, granting the women admittance into the last of the narrow passageways. Her destiny was within a few meters of her, and Lacindra could practically smell the prehistoric stench of history. The chambers that lie ahead, had been the Council’s home for centuries, and it held a certain degree of apprehension for those brought before the bench. Dreams had been achieved and crumbled within these walls, by more men than anyone could count. But until today, no woman had ever seen this side of the chambers.
Lacindra continued with an air of quiet dignity, as the sound of the doors closing behind her blocked out the soft chants and hum of voices from those left outside. They were at last left in silence. The only sounds heard were the soft whisper of their breaths echoing off the walls and the tapping of their shoe heels against the marble floors.
Her adrenaline level began to rise as the tingle of anticipation ran down her spine. The years of preparation and hard work had finally come to a climatic plateau. Lacindra was amply fit for competition against the Chairman and his famed rank challenges, no matter how difficult they may prove to be. Yet, even with all her skills and knowledge, she found herself swallowing back the lump of expectation that choked her airway.
As she and Mila turned the corner to the Council chambers, a young man in Ensign apparel and insignia came into view. Lacindra approached the young officer in vain as he quickly stepped in front of them, forcing the women to alter their pace to a complete halt.
“Commander Tyrain,” he said in an almost childlike voice, as he studied the attractive brunette with eyes that barely registered the dark-skinned woman next to her.
“I’m Ensign Turish Malcove. I’ve been commissioned to be your escort throughout your petitioned hearing.”
Lacindra inspected the boy silently, mentally estimating his age to be no more than sixteen before she replied.
“Very well, Ensign Malcove, I accept your commission. Shall we present ourselves to the Council?”
Without waiting for acknowledgment, Lacindra stepped to the door glancing briefly to Mila as she continued, forcing the young Ensign to pace his walk with a quickened step.
Once inside the chambers, the two women bowed respectfully to the Council members already present. They then turned and took their places within the petitioner’s stand, while Malcove took up his stance by the sealed door leading to the challenge simulators.
The room was deathly quiet, and the silence swelled up around them, threatening to rob Lacindra’s soul of life-sustaining breath. She studied the faces of the twelve Council members who sat as though frozen in time before her. They were all elderly men, each proudly set in their ancient Andrian ways, determined to keep tradition fused together for all eternity. It wouldn’t be easy proving to them how reliable she was, or how ready she was for the tests they would soon delegate.
Mila had to force herself to remain calm; her hands sweating at her sides as she stood at attention. Her heartbeat raced within her suddenly tight chest while she speculated her friend’s fate. She was worried for Lacindra, fearing the woman’s state of mind if she failed this long-awaited task.
Too many years of wanting, of working, of fighting to make herself known, had taken their toll on Lacindra. She had changed over the years from a once happy, carefree youth into a determined, bittersweet warrior. Mila knew, as did those few individuals allowed to form a close relationship with her if Lacindra failed today it would mean the end of a very distinguishable career. One that spanned over three decades of service.
Several long, anxious moments passed before the chamber doors slid open again, allowing admittance to the infamous Councilman Ricta. Lacindra watched the illustrious white-haired man closely as he ascended the steps toward his waiting comrades. For years, she held a certain admiration for this man, who now held her future in his hands. She somehow felt as though they were linked by a similar, spiritual force.
Both had spent their entire military careers proving their worthiness to this planet of traditional prejudice and arrogance. Ricta, for an unknown past he could never remember, and Lacindra for her sexual gender. Yet there was something else; a feeling, or an impression perhaps, something she could never quite put a name to. She could never completely explain it, but there was some unknown power that bonded them together. It was a power that puzzled and irritated Lacindra each time she reached through the sands of time and space for an answer.
The one and only difference between the two was that Izelous Ricta had succeeded where Lacindra was still fighting. He had been the youngest member ever elected to the Council and found himself having to fight the aged old traditions to prove his abilities and loyalty to the elderly members. When Awnsil Latonga, the former Chairman, retired as head of the Council, he personally promoted Ricta to assume his seat. His actions at the time had been considered irrational and illogical, but it was a tradition for the Chairman to appoint a successor.
It was in fact, Ricta who opened the Council floor to women. He changed the rulings to allow any female the right to petition for Vessel Command; again, despite Council members’ objections. Until now, however, no woman had dared to file a petition. None held the rank or the ambition to be taken seriously by the majority.
It was said, Ricta’s late wife had been a Vessel Commander with the Tristan military, though nobody knew much of her, or his life prior to arriving on Andria. A hundred and fifty years ago his planet had faced a horrible battle with the Strictons. Thought to have been the only survivor from his home world, he arrived on Andria as a child, though he was too young to remember anything that had happened. After graduating from the Tristanian Academy, Ricta married and began exploring space. It wasn’t until his wife died that he moved to Andria permanently.
Perhaps his love for her, and the memory of what they had shared, had been the determining force behind his decision to open the simulator doors to women. Perhaps it was because Ricta was not the celebrated chauvinist the other members were. Whatever the reason, Lacindra was pleased to have this chance to stand before the Chairman and his Council today and set in place this momentous milestone for those wishing to follow her.
Ricta took his place amidst his twelve Council members with a sense of quiet dignity. He examined the attractive dark-haired woman standing obediently before him. Their eyes met and locked in stern defiance; neither willing to look away, yet daring the other to back down in defeat. Ricta slowly leaned forward and pressed a button on his console panel.
“Commander Tyrain,” he began in a deep methodical tone. “It has become a tradition throughout the years to record the petitioner’s hearing for future use and reference. You have the right to decline permission if you so choose since it is not mandatory.”
“I have nothing to hide, Sir. Permission granted,” she answered, scanning the stern faces that stared at her across the large black desk.
The computer beeped twice, acknowledging the start of the recording as Ricta continued.
“You have become well known to this Council and its members, Commander Tyrain,” the Chairman said. “We have come to rely on you many times over the past years, but, as you are aware, no female has ever succeeded in securing the rank of Vessel Commander. Your accomplishments have been well and duly rewarded, the universe knows your name, and your reputation precedes you.
“You should know, however, the reason we have allowed you this opportunity is out of consideration to your military record, as well as to your father. Ambassador Bonshell Tyrain is a loyal supporter of this Council and the traditions and beliefs we value. However, we strongly suggest that you give up this ridiculous notion of challenging those traditions, and return to your post as Master Chancellor at the Andrian Military Academy.”
Lacindra’s eyes narrowed slightly in annoyance, her pulse quickening with anger and her jaw clenching to control the tone of her response. If she had been entertaining the thought of retreat, however remote, Ricta’s words burned the doubt from her mind with a torch so hot, there would be no extinguishing its flame. She was more determined now, to drive this Council to their knees in utter shame and humiliation.
“What do you fear from me, Mr. Chairman?” she asked boldly, pulling control forcibly back into her voice. “Perhaps you’re afraid I will succeed where others, yourself included, have failed. I have no intention of leaving this hearing without the challenge that is my right to demand.”
The room again took on an eerie silence as Lacindra’s green eyes bore deep into Ricta’s conscience, leaving a lasting and definite impression. She blinked twice, wondering if the grin that curved the Chairman’s lips had indeed been there, or if it had been her imagination.
“It is your right to demand challenge, Commander. However, I have the right to demand something of you in return.”
Lacindra looked at the white-haired man with his neatly trimmed beard and penetrating dark eyes. She didn’t know what he was thinking and dared not intrude on his privacy, telepathically, to inquire, but she suspected she was in for a battle.
“If you fail the challenge I assign you,” Ricta continued, ignoring the anxious and doubtful stares of his brethren, “you must agree never again to petition this Council. You must also agree to remain in your given position until such a time, as you choose, to retire from active duty, or return to your father’s people.”
“You ask a great deal from me, Chairman Ricta,” Lacindra snorted, forcing control into her cool tone.
“Very little, for what you ask from me, Commander,” Ricta replied quietly.
Lacindra thought silently for a long moment before answering the Chairman’s conditions.
“Very well, Sir. I accept your condition.”
The smile that had appeared a few moments before was there again as the elderly man looked across the room at her, and this time she had no doubt of its presence.
“Commander Tyrain,” the man continued, ignoring the irritated expressions of his Council members, “as I have mentioned, no female has ever succeeded in securing the rank of Vessel Commander. What makes you feel you have the skills necessary to ask for such a prestigious demand?”
“With all due respect, Chairman Ricta, I believe my record speaks for itself.”
“We would prefer to hear it from you, Commander, not the computer.”
“I have been in the military since the age of thirteen,” she began boldly, an air of arrogance squaring her shoulders. “I hold degrees in Science, Engineering, and Navigation. I have graduated with honors from both the Tristanian Academy of Science and Technology as well as your own Andrian Academy of Military Sciences. Besides wearing medals awarded me by your Council, I have logged seventeen successful rescue missions, and aided in over one hundred missions, duly recorded and logged.
“My record and skills are greater than many of my male counterparts, who hold a superior rank. I have more knowledge and skills than eight of your own Councilmen and have done more for this Council than any other officer currently holding the rank of Vessel Commander. In my opinion, Sir, I am more than qualified to accept - and surpass - any test you may put before me.”
So, she was as high spirited as he’d always heard, Ricta thought silently. He’d never had the privilege to sit and talk with the woman until now, though he knew of her by reputation. It was no wonder her petition hadn’t come as a surprise. He felt a sudden sense of challenge swell up within him, as he continued to inspect the woman’s stance. A challenge he had not felt in many long years; not since he first met and confronted his beloved wife, Lazenda.
So much like her, this young woman was. Similar, yet different in more ways than one could count. He had often thought of how Lazenda would have reacted to the Council challenges. Perhaps watching this young Commander would be the answer he had once searched to find. It would be interesting to see how she reacted to the simulation and intriguing to see precisely who would be discredited among the Andrian people.
Regardless of the outcome today, Lacindra would always have an open invitation with her father’s race to join the Tristanian forces. At least there, with her credits in tow, she would be able to name her rank and commission, no questions asked. She would be welcomed with open arms, and not because she was the only daughter of their ruler.
“Tell us of your consort, Commander,” continued the Chairman a moment later. “What are his thoughts concerning this petition?”
“I am Tristanian, by birth and law of rights. I am Andrian by maternal means only. Tristans do not recognize the antiquated beliefs of betrothal and are not arranged to a mate, as Andrians are. We believe in fate controlling our destiny.”
“If you believe in fate, Commander, why have you not joined the Tristanian Forces? I know from personal experience; Tristan women hold ranks of authority; they have for millenniums. Why have you not gone where you are guaranteed your desired rank?”
“Perhaps it is because I enjoy the thrill of challenge Mr. Chairman.”
Ricta nodded softly. The woman was indeed stubborn. Perhaps he truly was looking at the only woman capable of breaking Andria’s centuries-old traditions. Ricta glanced to the slender dark-skinned woman beside Lacindra. Her long hair hung down her back in a similar style as her companions, and her violet eyes shone in the room’s light, like rare Trulonian gems from the crystal mines of Ozula IV. Her formal uniform, decorated with the medals and ribbons of the Andrian Forces, hung neatly across her slender shoulder.
“I assume, you are Commander Tyrain’s Petitioned Witness?” Ricta asked methodically.
“I am, Sir,” answered Mila, swallowing back the nervous lump that had formed in her throat.
“As Chairman of this Council, it is my responsibility to make clear the terms of the Petitioned Witness and to record your response. Do you have any objections?”
“No, Sir, I do not,” Mila said proudly.
“The first three Articles of Petition pertain primarily to you. Article one; the Petitioned Witness has the right to act on behalf of the petitioner. If for any reason the petitioner cannot finish the challenge, the witness will be requested to complete the simulation in his place. Forgive me; her place.
“Article two; the petitioner may request the dismissal of their witness at any time throughout this hearing, without the prior notice of the witness. However, the witness is forbidden from resigning.
“Article three; the witness is prohibited from leaving the proceedings of the simulation until the petitioner has released him - excuse me; her - from their obligation. If the first simulation is a draw, a second challenge may be requested, at which time the witness will be requested to remain in their position, until all challenges have been met, and the previous two articles will remain solid. Do you accept the terms presented to you today?”
“I do, Chairman Ricta.”
“Are you aware of the enormous responsibility your friend has put upon you?” Ricta asked again. “You will not have another chance to back out of this hearing once you agree, on record, to the terms of Petitioned Witness.”
“I am aware of my position, Sir,” Mila answered proudly. “I am also aware of who my friend is. I have no doubts as to Lacindra Tyrain’s ability to stand against you, or anyone else for that matter. I have had the privilege of serving with Commander Tyrain, and I know how she reacts under given situations. I accept your terms willingly, Sir.”
Ricta sat silently looking from one woman to the other. If this was the type of woman the future was presenting to them, it would indeed become a woman’s domain, as prophets had foreseen, he thought.
“Very well, Commander. State your name, rank, and current commission for the record.”
Ricta sat back in his seat - unaware he had been leaning forward - sighing against his emotional restraint.
“I am Mila Farnslette, Commander First Rank and Science Trainer aboard the vessel Poseidon, under the command of Captain Jolan Nectura.”
“Let the record show, Commander Farnslette freely accepts the responsibilities of Petitioned Witness to the petitioner, Commander Lacindra Tyrain, with this Council’s approval.”
The computer beeped in acknowledgment, allowing the Chairman to continue with his duties.
“The simulation chamber has been programmed with a randomly chosen challenge by the computer. I must apologize, Commander; since we have never had a female petitioner to stand before us, we have no programming currently in use, that is capable of challenging your gender.”
“With all due respect, Chairman Ricta,” Lacindra began sniffing back her irritation. “In an actual battle, all that matters are my abilities to uphold my end of the fight, and maintain control of my vessel and crew, as well as protecting the ordinances and rules set down by this Council. The issue of my gender means nothing.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more, Commander Tyrain,” a voice said from the back of the room.
Those present turned to bear witness to the tall, well-dressed man ascending toward the Council bench. His dress uniform presented him as a Vessel Commander and a junior Council member. He bowed with respect to his superiors, then stepped next to Mila in the petitioner’s stand.
“Councilman Harlense,” the Chairman acknowledge. “We were not expecting to have you present today. Are you here to lend support to this petitioner?”
“No, Sir, I am not,” the man said, glancing sideways to catch the irritated look on Lacindra’s stern features. “I am here primarily to bear witness. I would like to go on record as stating, that in my opinion, there is no other petitioner - male or female - more qualified to stand before this Council in challenge, than Lacindra Tyrain.”
Ricta glanced at Lacindra and noted, with a slight frown, the determined, almost stubborn tilt of her head. It was public knowledge, these two had been linked, romantically, many years back. All that had ended, when Natoma Harlense was forced to confront his duty to his consort. It was also clear to see that the incident had left a great deal of bitterness in Lacindra’s heart.
“You only have fifteen minutes in which to prove your abilities, Commander,” the Chairman continued, taking up where he had left off. “You must emerge with an overall score of 98.9% accuracy and a casualty/fatality report of no more than ten. Your future with the Andrian Forces will be decided by the outcome of this challenge. On a personal note, Commander; you have become a legend among the universe. It will not be pleasant for this Council to make public your inability to handle our simulation. I mourn your discredit.”
“Are you so certain I will fail, Chairman, that you pass judgment on me before I have the opportunity to complete your challenge?”
Lacindra’s question made Ricta realize his prematurity concerning the projected outcome of the day’s events.
“Yes…well…” he hesitated, then cleared his throat. “It is time for you to take that chance, Commander, and prove our predictions wrong if you can. Ensign Malcove will escort you to the simulation chamber. This Council will monitor your progress, but it is the computer who will determine the final score of your challenge. It is also the computer who will be evaluating your actions. This Council is only able to offer you assignment if the improbability of your success were to occur. Once inside the simulation chamber, there is no turning back. Use your skills and training wisely, Lacindra...and good luck.”
He added the last of his statement almost as an afterthought, unaware he had addressed the woman by her given name.
Lacindra glanced briefly toward Natoma who stood by her side like a wall of muscle and flesh against the storm of traditional injustice. He knew her capabilities and was proud to bear witness on her behalf, yet he also knew the pain of the past would prevent her from appreciating the gesture.
Turning from the ruggedly handsome man with a soft grunt, Lacindra looked at Mila, catching the expression of complete and unadulterated confidence. Her violet eye winked her support. She felt confident that her friend would knock the council on their aged butts and was looking forward to watching it.
Lacindra followed Ensign Malcove out of the room, leaving her last chance of escape behind her. The passageway toward the simulation chambers was short and narrow and she found herself fighting the urge to run from the building, screaming in panic. She knew if she left now, she would never be allowed the chance to face the Council again; a fact she had just agreed to willingly. She would also seal the fate of every female wishing to apply for a petition in the wake of her attempt.
Even if she failed her assigned test, at least she had opened the door to future petitioners. She would have forced the Council to re-evaluate their outdated standards concerning women and their ability to handle stressful situations.
They neared the simulation chambers in silent steps of anticipation. Lacindra’s heart began pounding like Batonum ceremonial drums, when the doors to the simulator opened with a quick snap, allowing her a moment to gaze through. It was dimly lit and visual examination was difficult. She could see the command chair softly illuminated among the dark shadows of the cold and uninviting room.
She sighed deeply, bringing a forced sense of calm to her racing nerves, before stepping across the threshold. The doors shut just as quickly as they had opened, thrusting her into a room of silent, unforgiving darkness. She stood among the shadows for several long seconds, feeling the emotions and despair of those who had tested and failed before her swell up around her.
Lacindra cleared her throat before stepping cautiously to the command seat. She slid her hand across the leather upholstery, feeling the softness and expense of the dark violet hide of a Mantar. It was time for her to face her destiny, ready or not.
The instant she took her position in the seat, the lights of the room brightened to a brilliant glow of yellow and white. Lacindra began to examine the simulator’s décor, no longer hidden behind shadows of fear and dejection. The room had been set up to resemble an I.P.D.C 201; the fastest, most sophisticated vessel ever commissioned for military use, and the object of Lacindra’s personal interest the past two years. She had studied and examined the designs and print outs of the vessel with mounted envy. Only the very seasoned Captain had the opportunity of commanding a vessel of such sophistication and complexity.
Lacindra felt a sudden jump of nerves as she began playing out the mental scenario that lay ahead of her. The realistic and intellectual ideas were at battle with her emotional and irrational feelings, yet never had there been a more prepared battlefield. She knew she was amply ready and confident of her abilities to master the tasks that lay ahead of her. If only she could convince her pulse of that knowledge.
“The computer will begin the simulation on your order, Commander,” Ricta announced over the intercom of the simulation chambers. “I remind you, you only have fifteen minutes. The computer will be monitoring your every action, but the time is not of the essence here. It is your abilities and actions during that time which will be evaluated. Good luck Commander.”
The intercom was once again silent, allowing Lacindra a few moments to prepare herself.
“Why do you bother with this one?” asked the elderly Council member sitting at the Chairman’s right. “She’s nothing more than a nuisance. She should return to her home planet and raise a family, as any respectable woman would do.”
“The only reason she’s in the Andrian Forces is because of her father,” replied another member. “Ambassador Tyrain wanted one of his seed to follow in his footsteps and be trained to take over as Tristan’s ruler. Since his sons chose other directions to demonstrate their loyalty to their planet, the only logical recourse was for his daughter to make that dream a reality. Lacindra Tyrain’s desires to become the next ruler of Tristan are the only reason she is, where she is, now. She feels it necessary to prove to her planet, and to her father, that a woman is capable of becoming a strong monarch.”
“It will be a sorry day for Tristan when a female takes the ruler’s seat,” snorted yet another member.
“I feel you underestimate the young woman, my friends,” Ricta assured them in a hushed tone so as not to attract the attention of the room’s other occupants. “Lacindra Tyrain is not like most women, at least those whom this Council has come to know. A fatal mistake any ruler makes is not granting their opponent credit of intellectual decision. It would be a pity to do the same with our young Commander. She is, after all, an asset to our military. Look how many civilians she’s rescued from the clutches of the Strictons.”
Ricta’s members listened carefully to him speak, as they always did, and as usual, did not understand a word of what he said. Lacindra wasn’t a benefit to them. She was a woman. A spoiled brat at best, but not an opponent, and she would be easily replaced when she left Andria. That was what many of them wanted; her removal from command, once and for all, with no hesitation and no promotion in rank.