Chapter 9: Luscious Ladies

Copyright© 2017 by Hunter Johnson

Jason spent an enjoyable late afternoon with Robert and Marie the Chefs in their kitchen, first preparing a menu and then helping to cook. Jason loved the cooking technology in the kitchen. All food preparation was automated and cooking had progressed a long way past microwaves. They could roast, fry, barbecue, and boil food in no time at all. Timing was done to the microsecond and food was weighed by each machine to fractions of an ounce or gram. They also had installed many of Earth’s appliances of every type including ovens and cook tops to test food production and ensure that they produced authentic tastes.

They didn’t use replicators at all. Robert had removed all the kitchen replicator units and even the snack replicators along the walls of every canteen.

“There will be no fast food poisonous garbage in my kitchen or my canteen or on this ship,” was his war cry. His opposition to the machines had grown into hatred of food replicators, after he heard about the priest trying to poison Jason and their attempts to poison men throughout the Empire.

Malone and Harris arrived formally dressed, with their marine escort ahead of their seconds in command, saying that they would be late due to them assisting Connie who was short staffed in intelligence. Jason dressed in his formal suit with a black bow tie.

“Ladies you are looking luscious. I could only recognize you from your eyes! You did look fine in your armor but it’s not the same thing as a lovely form fitting, but asymmetrical garment. I seem to see some fine shapes in front of me, could they be women, dangerous women?” Jason asked flirtatiously. “Tonight, Robert, and Marie have excelled themselves in the kitchen. There will be five courses with five different wines for you to try. Before we begin I’ve made up for you a cocktail called a ‘Brandy Alexander’. I must warn you that these cocktails are lethal. Marie has prepared some pre-dinner snacks to help build up your appetites,” said Jason signaling to Marie who had been watching them through the transparent wall from the kitchen.

Marie dressed in impeccable chef’s green with a three-cornered chef’s hat, brought out a beautifully decorated platter of seafood appetizers, caught that afternoon. Jason thanked her profusely. He moved to the small serving station next to his table and took out several cocktails for the table.

“Jason, you scrub up pretty well yourself. That Earth clothing looks interesting and very attractive. Tell us a little about yourself,” said Phoebe.

“My spies tell me that you guys have already researched my background. You may even know more about my Empire family than I do. I’m happy to answer any of your questions but I’d suggest that we wait ‘til the others join us so that I don’t have to repeat everything. Tell me a bit about your own backgrounds while we wait,” suggested Jason winking at them, “I’d also suggest that we move to first names. We can use titles when we conduct our professional business. I know you are Janet Malone and Phoebe Harris. Please call me Jason.”

After a brief pause with the two women looking at each other and communicating in ‘woman’s secret code,’ Janet Malone began to talk first. Her dress was a lovely shade of red with one sleeve and off the shoulder on the other side, long on one side and short on the other with a slit going up to the hip and white leggings. She was a tall woman with the usual Empire red complexion but yellow hair. It was the Empire equivalent of blonde. She was tall, and Jason guessed she was close to six feet. Her built was athletic and she looked fit and healthy. She smiled often but had a serious manner of speaking. He found her very attractive.

“I come from the most boring planet in the Empire. It’s called Hesta. It’s so boring there that it makes me sleepy thinking about it. It’s an agricultural planet that produces food for the Empire. My father and mother are farmers as was my father’s father and my mother’s father, and it goes on for tens of thousands of years and longer. I’ve two brothers and a sister all of whom are farmers, and who married other farmers close to where we live.

“Our family has none of the fertility problems that we see elsewhere in the Empire. That goes for most people on our planet. I wanted to be a Marine ever since I was six years old and watched a serial that involved a heroic Marine. Hesta has a history of producing many Marines for the Empire. Becoming a marine is one of the few pathways off of Hesta. As soon as I was twenty-one and had completed my undergraduate university studies I enlisted and joined the Marines. The Marines are my family and my life. I cannot see myself doing anything else.

“The training is outstanding at every level of promotion. It takes sixteen years to complete Marine training. We train on multiple planets in every kind of environment. We train in space and we train in trans-dimensional environments. We even train under the water.

“The Marine Academy and the Marine hierarchy emphasize mental fitness and getting to peak physical condition. Every day is a rigorous training day physically and psychologically. Marine training has evolved over a long time. We begin our training with a mix of physical fitness and intellectual stimulation. It’s not possible to specialize in any area for a very long time. Marine headquarters expects broad versatility in every marine.

“They have a special concept of the team where they mix species from all over the Empire. The Empire is a very big and diverse place. Our Marine groups have many species that you don’t see on the ship. Teams have a balance of skills and abilities.

“This battleship is extraordinary and very unusual in that you’ve a very uniform group of humanoid people. The Empire is species diverse. My best friend is from a group of planets of sentient lizards. They are large and can be irritable and overbearing but are fantastic shock troops and are very strong. The Empire has developed universal translators that facilitates easy communication with diverse species who can’t articulate language. The Marines on the ship are an elite special forces group amongst the Marines. Every marine has to get fit and has to remain in peak physical condition. One has to learn highly disciplined habits in order to survive.

“The equivalent Army training is much less rigorous until people get to the stage of joining special forces. Because people live for such a long time, special forces would represent a much bigger proportion of the Army than you could expect on your own planet.

Our medical care is wonderful. We can repair almost every injury, no matter how severe, except moderate to severe brain damage. Even in that area the medics are getting better. I had better stop there before I descend into evangelism for the Marines. Phoebe over to you!”

Phoebe sipped her cocktail delicately. Jason looked at her. Her hair was brown which was uncommon on the ship. Her eyes were a green gray mix. Her hair was tightly platted next to her head on the right side and she had straight hair on the left side of her head that extended to her jaw line. She had high cheekbones and a narrow wide mouth. She had a very attractive and cheeky smile. She looked at Jason frequently, batting her eyelids. If he looked at her she blushed. She wore similar clothing to Janet except in green. The colors seemed different to those usually seen on Earth which are used for clothing. He thought about it but couldn’t explain why he thought so.

“My family lived near the capital on an estate. My mother has a shipping Empire and is a merchant. Both my parents come from merchant families and their marriage was a merger of two empires. My father recognized that my mother was a great chief executive and she recognized that he was a frustrated artist forced to work as a merchant.

My father was also a great homemaker, a superb cook and has a reputation as a sculptor and holo-painter throughout the Empire. He has great skill in producing huge sculptures that you will see in front of many of the buildings all over Cassiopeia and on many other planets of the Empire.

At home, he was the one who supervised homework and went to school functions. When he was busy on some of his projects we had nannies that would take over for him. He would work day and night. My mother merged the two merchant empires and led a busy working life, but was a devoted mother when time allowed. As time passed and she learned to delegate more, she was able to spend more time with us.

“I have one older brother who is recognized as an artistic genius and is producing great work with my father. They get on well together and have done so for centuries. I’ve five younger sisters.

“The whole family was competitive with any and every kind of game that you could imagine. You could say we were fanatically competitive. When I was three I started on a jet board, encouraged by my crazy father. He used to race at a professional level and converted to play jet board hockey for one of the professional teams in Cassiopeia. He played all over the Empire. Everywhere we go people recognize him as a great forward.

“I raced on anything I could from the age of five. At the age of four my father to the horror of my mother and our body guards started to teach me to fly a small, racing shuttle. From five I was racing jet board and a mini race shuttle. My brother and sisters were not far behind. At school, we were into every sport. My father was our most avid supporter. My mother was the one who promoted the importance of academic studies. We all did well academically, but it was not our priority.

“We traveled every year on holiday to a different planet. One year my father combined a holiday to coincide with a freighter fleet delivery of goods, accompanied by our naval fleet to one of the more remote planets.

“We traveled on a lovely new cruiser that my mother had recently acquired. It carried forty-five fighters. An incredibly stupid pirate attempted to intercept the fleet with an ancient destroyer with four fighters and an even more ancient and derelict frigate with one fighter and two Corvettes that looked like an insane person had glued them together in some kind of random fashion.

“We had 400 massive freighters themselves armed with missiles and the escort consisted of four cruisers, sixteen destroyers, forty frigates and a tiny carrier with 400 fighters.

“You might have guessed my mother was a worry wort. It’s an understatement when it came to the family. She was terrified that we would be killed or taken hostage or kidnapped. We had half an army protect us at home.

“No pirate could have taken on half our fleet even if you excluded the escort. My mother wanted us to be sent to our rooms deeper in the ship but my father knew that we were just as safe on the bridge. It was the most exciting experience of my entire life and shaped my future. We absolutely slaughtered them. I saw the fighters in action and fell in love with fighters in space.

“An ancient, retired admiral, who was very shrewd and could be still considered spritely, commanded our fleet. She had fought in many campaigns and was very experienced. She explained everything that she was doing to us children as if we were adults and showed us how she was managing the battle computer. She was a great teacher and had a lifelong influence on our family. Four of my sisters have done the same as I have, joining the space force. One of my sisters is a brilliant strategist and tactician and has made Admiral. She’s the youngest Admiral in the space fleet. Jason, you, and she would get on very well.

“Here come the others and that almost completes my account. I joined the space fleet when I could and I’ve progressed at a reasonable rate. I love what I do and wouldn’t swap it for anything,” remarked Phoebe.

“You lot certainly took your time. You need to learn to interrogate people faster. Jason has been asking us about our backgrounds before he tells us what he says we already know from our intelligence. His counter intelligence has told him that we have been spying on him.

“You need to try this amazing ‘Brandy Alexander,’ and if you were a loose woman before it, you will be lost after,” she said laughing. “I think that Connie goes next.”

Jason looked at her. Her features were decidedly greenish and she had short thick black/brown hair and pale green eyes. Her build was slight compared to the others and she had a startling dark green plunging neckline dress with pale green leggings that matched her eyes. He saw her pupils were vertical and cat like. She had metallic studs in the middle of her earlobe on one ear. She was like so many of the woman startlingly lovely. She moved quickly and her movements reminded him of a mouse. She talked with her arms moving very actively.

“Very well then,” said Connie cheerfully, “let me tell you a little bit about my family. We come from the planet Io which is a huge Army training base. The army activities dominate the planet and the people on the planet are largely there in support of the base. The planet itself is dry and hot and no one would live on Io if it was not for the Army. It’s so hot that we all live underground. Beneath the surface of the planet are caverns and tunnels in abundance. It’s an underground paradise for children to explore. The natural tunnels and caverns are listed among the great wonders of the Empire.

“We also have massive drilling machines that are continuously enlarging the habitats and training facilities. There are underground lakes and rivers throughout the planet. We grow our food hydroponically though we have increased underground soil based cultivation in recent years.

“We have varieties of animals that have adapted to living underground. My mother was entirely responsible for making the planet self-sufficient. She’s a super biologist farmer type. My father works in intelligence and is a professor and Dean of Intelligence at the war college. He’s much older than my mother, but you would never guess that that’s the case. He looks young and is energetic. He has boundless energy and drive. He’s also a great cook. It’s his recreation.

“My mother came from a family of public service administrators. My father’s family were in military intelligence and academics as far back as we can go. My father says that we are born to intelligence, if only we had more of it!”

Robert brought them their first course and Jason introduced the food and poured the wine. He indicated to Connie to continue when able. She ate her food talking after each few mouthfuls continuing her story.

“My mother and father met at a martial arts competition. They are equally competitive and would be regarded as combat fanatics who specialize in many weapons and also are great collectors of weapons. My mother has an ancient sword that’s priceless. Her parents handed it on to her after she won a major tournament. It has been in the family forever. My father loves throwing knives, death discs, and darts. He’s good with a sword and performs well in unarmed combat even at his age. I started martial arts as soon as I could walk and my mother insisted that I became more than proficient with the sword, while my father made sure that I could throw as well as he could.

“One day when I was eleven or twelve on a day he was looking after me, I went with him while he gave a lecture to intelligence officers, seeking promotion, on the analysis of information following interrogations. I found it very interesting and couldn’t stop talking about it and asking questions on the way home. He set me up in a simulation where I had to do an analysis following an interrogation, then act on the results and continue the process as more information emerged. From then intelligence owned me. I read everything that I could and I went through everything.

“At home, we had a learning machine with the entire curriculum of the war college on intelligence. By fifteen I had done it all and had completed all the simulations. I thought I was doing it secretly but my father knew I was using the machine and was feeding the machine harder and harder simulations that he created after the usual library of simulations ran out.

“On my sixteenth birthday, my father took me for my birthday present to the war college over a weekend where I competed as an enemy intelligence general, against a group of visiting intelligence Colonels, from all the services, who were attending for a mandatory update; prior to their postings. My father had me hidden in his office. He told me that I was competing against a group of his junior students.

“In the office, we had the observers from the University who had built the simulation who were watching what was happening.

“The observers were from Cassiopeia and the top intelligence college on Laomedeia the capitol and had created a most challenging simulation. They argued with my father about the suitability of my participation. Father told the observers that I had done the war college course and all the simulations. The observers thought that I was going to be krevil meat and their talented students would quickly finish me off.

“He said that if I was doing badly he would step in and do it as he had always done in the past, demolish them, but he said he had faith in me.

I slaughtered them, and in so doing, there was no conceivable way that I was going to do anything other than intelligence. The observers asked my father to see my previous simulation performance. After they looked at my results, and how I achieved them, they offered me a scholarship to do intelligence training with them on Cassiopeia, after basic training, at the Imperial War University. I chose to do my secondary training with the Marines and transferred to Cassiopeia five years ago.

“They put me to work soon after. I was doing some boring intelligence analysis that was driving me crazy before I joined the ship. Marshall Adams, the Dean, sent me in the month before the battleship left Cassiopeia to join the ship as the ship’s intelligence officer. He said and I quote, “There’s something fishy going on and that battleship is the key. It may be boring in the beginning but I promise you by the end you will have the most terrifying and exciting experiences of your life. That trip will make your career, I promise you that. My father said the dean had spooky second sight!

“Like you, Jason, I’m a youngster amongst these ancients!”

“Jason, you’ve had it easy so far, we’ll continue with the other two but perhaps you will answer a few questions?” said Janet.

“Fine, I shall do so with pleasure after Marie serves the next course. We need to keep going with the food or it’ll spoil.”

Marie passed boards for them to have small pieces of roast meat and vegetables and Jason poured a Merlot from Margaret River. He suggested to Marie she and Robert could deliver the next courses as they were ready, so the food wouldn’t be eaten cold.

“I believe that your daughter encouraged you to leave and was very supportive of your trip. Can you give us a bit of background?” Connie asked.

“My wife suicided after she confirmed she was developing dementia. We were married for fifty-five years. She and I grew up together as neighbors. Both families expected us to get together. I loved her as a friend ‘till I fell for her in my teens but she went out with others. She said she wanted me to be jealous and chase her. I thought she wasn’t interested in me like that.

“After University, Sarah strongly encouraged me to marry her and before I knew it the years went by, and we had two children and were old. I was eighty, and for Earth that’s pretty old. Many friends had died of old age.

Before University I spent time in the military in special forces specializing in jungle warfare and fought for five long years in the jungle before being promoted to planning operations. It was a vicious costly war that the politicians would not allow us to win.

The army paid for my University. My later career was in computers and I consulted in security. Lauren took over the company when I was sixty and I reduced my hours. I was still working at the time of my wife’s death.

“At a conscious level my life was lacking something important. It felt empty and lacking something of substance. We had a programming company and did well, but it was not enough. We had loving children and grandchildren and many friends but I felt I needed something else. It never eventuated and I became old.

“Since I’ve been on the ship I’ve felt that I’ve been battling to rebuild my body and educate myself and to get myself up to Empire standards educationally and physically. Lately I feel I’m running faster and faster, but can’t get ahead.

“The programming baffled me totally, and I can’t recall ever having experienced so much frustration in my whole life. Now I feel as if I’m no longer in control. One thing comes after me, and when that’s done the next hits. Somehow, I thrive on this change and threat. Perhaps I wouldn’t have said that when first facing the pirates, but I feel better after facing the fear. I’ve a sense of purpose, despite still feeling that I’m an old man. I can’t shake the feelings and my attitudes of a lifetime.

“I desperately want to get to the Empire, and to my great grandfather, but everything seems to be getting in my way. Papa Zora is directly obstructing me in doing what I need to do. It’s strange ... a little over two months ago I was thinking of moving to live in a home for the aged, and now I’m in a society sixty-five thousand years ahead. My body was full of aches and pains and now I’m younger and stronger every day and headed into the unknown, totally out of control of what is going on and unable to achieve my mission.

“My biggest doubt is the one about not knowing who I am, nor my place in the Empire. None of my family are sure of why the Emperor and my great-grandfather sent us to Earth, but even more, they’re unsure why we have never been recalled. So many of us died unnecessarily because of primitive medical care. Ostensibly, I’m going back because my great-grandfather wants me back. He’s old and seems to be sick. How can you be sick when you have this level of technology?”

“You mentioned something about your experiences with the priests I believe to the programmers,” Connie asked.

“A few weeks ago, an attempt to poison me was foiled by my dogs.” He saw the women look at him puzzled.

“They are pet animals who are excellent protectors. I’ll show them to you soon.

“When I saw the dogs drag a priest into my wardroom at three in the morning, I was incensed. I had dug up some nasty information on the Patriarch and he had no business visiting at that time. There was something about the situation that was wrong and I was not polite and friendly. I had no doubt that he was up to no good. I interrogated him viciously while the dogs crunched his bones to keep him off balance. I knew that if I didn’t I wouldn’t get anything. As it was I got information of Empire shattering significance. I now know how evil Papa Zora is. The priest told me he had a poison that works on men, and they use it in the Empire’s replicators. I don’t know what kind of evil bastard would try and poison all the men in the Empire. Correction! That’s not true, I do know one evil bastard who would do exactly that!” said Jason.

The others sat with their mouths open.

“What do you mean, Jason? The priests are poisoning the men in the Empire?” Janet asked incredulously.

“Yes, I’ll tell you the remainder of the story. He was carrying a heavy briefcase and in it were many vials. He told me that he put the vials into food replicators, and that was the method that the priests used to poison men in the Empire. He then started to fiddle with his mouth, I transported him into a medical pod but it was too late he had poisoned himself. When I thought about it afterwards the whole sickening plan was obvious.

“Papa Zora, for his own twisted reasons, wants to damage men and reduce their fertility in the Empire. What better way to do so to introduce poisons into the replicators? If you also control the medical pods, you can ensure that you are not discovered. He builds both the medical pods and the software that controls them and many of the doctors in the Empire are part of the priesthood. It’s a lovely closed nasty dirty system. He’s been doing this for a long time. The problems that men have, are nothing to do with the nonsense that has been sprouted and I’ve heard. There’s no doubt that he’s up to something very serious,” said Jason thoughtfully, but with a very angry tone in his voice.

“We also heard you found some information on the ship about his activities?” Phoebe asked.

“Yes,” said Jason, “lots of sick stuff that supports my conclusions that he’s an evil son of a bitch, up to no good, and is a traitor of the worst kind.”

“I’d like to get that bastard before he gets me. I also have an obligation to my great grandfather that I can’t forget. Sadly, I’m not going to attack Nirvana with a borrowed battleship, the cruiser, a damaged destroyer, and even more severely damaged frigates but I know that if I don’t deal with Papa Zora in time, Papa Zora will deal with me.

“That reminds me, how the hell does The Mob fit into this; and are they after the ship, or me? I guess you will tell me all tomorrow, let’s not talk work tonight.

“I am delighted to have you as colleagues in this bizarre series of events in which we find ourselves. Now let me propose a toast to victory over the infidels,” said Jason as he raised his glass. They all followed him in raising their glasses. He topped up the glasses that were empty.

“To victory and may we all overcome our adversaries,” said Jason and then proceeded to explain the tradition of the toast.

“Now let’s continue to eat, I promise not to be maudlin for the rest of this evening and then I’d like to hear from Cherry next,” he said as he beckoned to Robert to deliver the next course.

“My story is a little different from most of your stories, and will surprise you I expect. My parents were both slaves in the Norg abyss. Pirates captured them on their cruise ship on their honeymoon. They sold my parents as slaves to an abominable smelly obese pervert of a merchant who owned a substantial mine on Oodna in the pirate, no man’s land. Life is brutal on that bleak and miserable place. They maintain the mine poorly, caring nothing for the wellbeing of the miners who have a brutal, sad, and very short life.

“When my parents arrived, the cooks for management were terrible and the mining boss interrogated all the slaves to find if there was anybody who could cook. My father is an exceptional chef and was soon cooking for the mine boss and senior staff. My father heard that they were looking for a pilot and suggested my mother. My mother is an excellent pilot and they used her to ship ore to freighters in orbit.

“I was born on Oodna. It’s a desolate windswept world, but it was my first home. I knew no better. I was as happy as any child. I was fortunate to go to school with the children of management. My father simply took me to the classroom and that was where I stayed. No one questioned it.

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