It was three in the morning, standard Velex time, when StarRunner dropped into the orbit of the great green and blue pearl that was Velex itself. Audua of Lecel was exhausted, but oddly wakeful. She had only been off of Ingor once; when she had attended medical school on Lengrum for five years. Her new friends were on razor's edge. They had worked for this moment for almost two months, now, and it was only at this moment that they were forced to think of what they had been fighting and working for. How would they be received- people thought dead for three years? Imposters? Frauds? Would their own families accept them? All this was racing through the mind of the five cadets.
David slowly brought the ship down, into the blackness of night. The sun was hidden; the only light came from the stars. Space Station Sagittarius blinked, from the asteroid field one orbit away. The lights of a few Velexian cities shone fitfully, twinkling like glowmoss on a round rock suspended in blackness. Slowly, one patch of moss grew, until it filled the view screen. Banglor, the capital of Velex and location of Explorien Central Command. Audua had never had much truck with the Exploriens, but all but fools respected them. They, a military/exploration organization, had effective ruled five planets for more then 250 years. Their Central Command building was a Wonder of the Universe, or so Audua had hear from wide eyed travelers. Rearranging her sikis robes, she hoped she would be presentable. Their plan was to try and gain audience with the High Commander herself.
They landed on a landing pad, just outside the main building, that was free for all Explorien vessels, which StarRunner was. It had been a month since they had fled from Aravil, but nothing had changed. She still thought that Shaylor was something special, but he had to make the first move. She and David often discussed music, and Bantu and her often talked philosophy. Indeed, the only person she was not getting on with was Yenne. The Aravillian woman was unstable at best, and Audua believed she had designs on Shaylor.
Audua stepped outside, and looked for the Explorien Central Command (E.C.C) building. She frowned. It was nowhere to be seen. Wait. That huge black bulk..... eyes darted up, and up, and up again. The Explorien Central Command was impossibly tall, but wide enough for it to appear to hug the ground. Tiny lights of ships- ships!- darted from place to place. You took ships from one part of the building to another! Shaylor noticed her awe.
"Almost two miles high, and it covers more then twenty five square miles of ground. It took over one hundred years to build." His voice rang with pride. No matter what had been done to them, her friends were all Explorien to the bone. "Now comes the hard part." He muttered to himself. Audua did not think she was supposed to hear that.
The night was damp, and cold to Audua's skin, which was used to the blistering heat of Ingor. As they marched towards the huge building almost formally, Audua felt goose bumps form on her skin. The night was foggy, but not very much so; you could see very far. It was just... misty. It was raining, a fine mist that took you minutes to notice.
Finally they were inside. The lobby reminded Audua of hospital lobbies; trying to not be foreboding, but with a certain air about them. There were many plush seats, all in a row, joined by shiny metal bars. A televiewer blared softly, and it was deserted, the lights down on ow, aside from one stuffy Velexian female behind the desk. Audua did not laugh at her- being an Ingor, she had seen every race before- but Velexian woman had the build of a muscular man, and were very short indeed. However this one somehow achieved a bureaucratic air about her; a slightly upturned nose, a dry little mouth, a large files behind her, it all contributed. "Welcome to the Explorien Central Command, how may I help you?" she almost droned.
Shaylor took the lead. He had been magnificent leading on Aravil, but today it was unanimous that he should do the talking. Training to be a Communications officer had given him knowledge of law, and diplomacy. "We wish to have an audience with the High Commander." He said very simply. Shaylor had told her of some the tactics that diplomats used. She had been shocked by some of them, shocked by their crudeness, but somehow it made the Krigoni-Terran half breed more... attractive.
"And who would you be to just demand that right?" The bureaucrat said almost contempt fully.
"Am I not right in saying that any citizen of the United Alliance of Planets-" that was the formal name for the Explorien Planets, used only because the Exploriens didn't want to be seen as dictators "-may request an audience with the High Commander? Section 39.5." He said. The look on the face of the woman behind he desk was quite satisfactory.
"I will process your request right away, but the right is only to request. You will be denied." She sniffed disdainfully. "Names." Was all she said, as if people bargain in and demanding to see the High Commander was everyday business. Perhaps it was.
"I believe she will want to see us. I am Shaylor McConnor, this is Yenne of clan Valavan, Bantu Basha, David Morrison, Anto Klarisen, and this is Audua of Lecel." Audua had protested her name being last, but it was true that Lako Oraine would have no idea who she was.
"You may wait in the lobby.' She dismissed, and then slowly began to process the request.
All the travelers turned around and walked the ten paces to the lobby chairs. The televiewer continued; it was some late night talk show. There was a Nu on the television, doing some sort of trick that involved rubber balls and a laser beam. Audua did not watch. She thought of the month long trip from Aravil, thought of why she had even come along on this mad journey. She knew why. A pair of eyes, grey like polished stone, had taken her away from her business and along, along to where she would never be safe again. At least money was no problem for her. She was still faintly embarrassed by the amount paid for her business, but the man buying it seemed to think it a bargain. Audua looked out the large picture window on the south side of the lobby. The Central Command was situated on a hill, and the lights of Banglor, eight or nine miles distant, were barely visible. Audua imagined two miles of building above her head. And, if what she had heard was true, the Central Command extended far underground as well. Stars and Moons!
That was an Aravillian saying, expressing surprise or disappointment or any strong emotion, really. She had picked it up about three years ago, just when she had opened her business, defying her parents and her religion. She fingered the white sikis robes and yawned fitfully. The Nu was finished with his trick, and the Aravillian host, a woman wearing less the Yenne usually did, said good-bye in first Terran, then Velexian, the two languages spoken by most people. A test pattern was all that showed after that. Suddenly Audua was socked to recognize she was no longer surrounded by her friends; they were boarding an elevator at the far end of the lobby. Running to catch up, she fixed her hair before entering while Shaylor held the door. He had such nice eyes, so captivating.
The elevator was more then twenty minutes reaching the top, the very centre of all Explorien power, the highest floors of High Command. All those twenty minutes there was awkward silence. The past two months had all been for this. The terror, the despair, the new friends made, the old ones found, all the growth of these five people had come down to what would happen in a few scant minutes. For some reason, Audua felt a little like the odd one out- she had nothing to expect here, nothing to fear. She feared for her friends, instead.