In the late morning Kari stood at the kitchen sink in her robe, a little bleary eyed after being up late explaining to the members of the colonists’ groups how and why Ida had accomplished so much as head of the transition to civil government.
Most of them were very satisfied with the results, although a few groups were unhappy that their priorities had not been paramount.
She looked up from rinsing her coffee cup and glanced out the window to see her son Matt walking toward the house, followed at some distance by a large four legged creature with huge tusks protruding from its lower jaw.
“Oh my God, no!!” she exclaimed as she sprang to the door, grabbing a rifle on the way. Slamming the door against the wall she jumped off the porch while yelling, “Matt, behind you! Move aside!” and threw the rifle to her shoulder.
Matt took a quick look over his shoulder and threw up his arms while staying between his mother and the creature, “No! Mom! Don't shoot, it's alright. It's tame.”
Kari didn't lower the rifle but shouted,“What the hell do you mean it's tame, look at the snout on that ugly beast!”
Matt turned and made shooing motions to the brute, whereupon it stopped, looked at him for a moment, then turned and walked away. He walked to his mother, and seeing that she was shaking, gently took the rifle from her and urged her back into the house. “It's okay, mom, she's perfectly harmless.”
“Are you sure? It doesn't look harmless to me. Where did it come from?”
“Let me get you some coffee and I'll tell you. Oh, someone broke your favorite cup in the sink, I'll get you another, just sit there and calm down.”
After pouring both of them some coffee he sat and explained, “I was hunting a couple of weeks ago and found her lying in the brush with this big wooden spike broken off in her hind quarter. I think she was ambushed by one of those plants that killed that Marine but was able to get away. She didn't object when I approached her so I pulled the spike out and treated the wound. The next time I saw her she was limping but she kinda sidled up to me like she wanted to thank me.”
“You let it approach you? You could have been killed.”
“Naw, it was gentle as a lamb. Anyway, she followed me home. So I built a little nest for her behind the shed. Rather, I built a little shelter and she built a nest in it.”
“Damn it, Matt, you should have told me. You did the same thing on Earth when you were a kid and brought that puppy home. It chewed up my good shoes and a couple of pillows.”
“Yeah, and now you know why I didn't tell you — I didn't want to get sent to bed without my dinner again. I thought I had her trained to stay away from the house.”
“You keep calling it a she, but I didn't see any sexual characteristics.”
“Well, how many males do you know that lay eggs, Mom?”
“I think I heard of a platypus or something on Earth... wait a minute, she laid eggs? How many eggs does she have?”
“None now, she hatched them, but she's got eight puppies, I guess you could call them that.”
“Puppies! What in hell are we going to do with eight puppies?”
Ida had been leaning against an inner door jamb and listening said, “Matt's going to sell them. I've already found buyers, and for a good price, too. He hasn't yet told you what they eat.”
“You knew about this, mother, and you didn't tell me? What other secrets have you kept me from knowing?”
“Don't get your bloomers in a bind, Kari. If you paid more attention here instead of trying to run the Council by yourself you would have known all about it. Tell your mother what they eat, Matt.”
“Huh, you're sure a fine one to preach about running things, Mom. Okay, Matt, what do they eat?”
“Mom, they eat most anything, I think. But the reason for those tusks is do dig up the nippers and eat them. That seems to be their preferred food. Even though we now know how to stop the nippers from breeding on our land they still keep coming in from outside. As soon as they do she digs up the nest and eats them. Besides, I think they're pretty with all those shiny scales.”
“Let me get dressed, I want to see those puppies.”
They all walked down to the equipment shed. As they came around to the back Kari saw a small lean-to against the rear wall with an open front. When she leaned and looked in she saw the mother and the puppies curled around her, napping. There was a few beams of sunlight shining on two of the little creatures, showing them to have iridescent scales that changed colors as they shifted position. They didn't, as yet, have the huge tusks of their mother, just tiny stubs showing.
“Oh my,” Kari gushed, “They're gorgeous, aren't they? Why isn't their momma shiny like that?”
“She is when I wash her off, Mom. She's all dusty from grubbing out the nippers. Pick one up.”
“I don't think so, Matt. They're already bigger than I thought they'd be, and I'm not going to take a chance on their mother objecting.”
John joined the puppy admirers and said. “How's Snipper and the puppies doing today, Matt?
Kari asked, “What did you call her, John?”
“Matt named her Snipper, good name, she snips those nippers like crazy.”
“How does she keep from getting bit, Matt? She must get right in the nest.”
“Her scales run all the way down to her hooves and they're pretty hard and protect her, but she also does this dance. None of her feet are on the ground for more than a second, she looks like a four legged ballerina.”
“I'd like to see that, but I have to go to town. Are you coming, Mother?”
“No, Kari, you go ahead, I'm having company over at my house today. Don't forget about the open house party later, you're all invited.
“Oh, of course. Who's all coming?”
“I invited the Council and some other folks, but I don't know how many are coming. It won't make a difference, there's plenty of room.”
Ida and Kari went their separate ways while Matt whispered to John, “Grandma wasn't kidding about room. Have you been over there lately?”
“I just got back. I was shanghaied into helping carry all the furniture her Rover friends brought. What's she going to do with all that room? From the outside, pushed up against that hill, it looks smaller than our house but inside it's huge, I haven't been through all of it, but I think that whole hill is hollow.”
“Yeah, I know. I asked her about it and she just smiled and said, 'I might have guests over.' That's all I could get out of her.”
When Kari reached town her first stop was Sam's office. “You're going to come to Mom's housewarming aren't you, Sam?”
“I'd be silly not to. Did you know she hired the town orchestra to hold a concert there? She'll have to string lights or something, because it will have to be outside with all the people I know are coming. Even Minetta, Ross, and Keith are coming down to go. At least this time you can't beg off going to a concert with me.”
“Don't be silly, Sam, you know I enjoy my time with you, but sometimes it just doesn't work out.”
“I know that Sanchez sandbagged Kurt into taking her too. I wish that boy would realize that he cares for her just as much as she does for him.”
“You realize that that 'boy' you're talking about is right around sixty Earth years old. I don't care if he looks like he just left his teens a few years ago.”
“Of course I do, but you must know what he's been doing for most of those years. He hasn't had any experience with what you would call 'good women'. When we did get back to Earth we were treated as no better than animals. I'm not going to say that there wasn't some justification in that, what we had been doing coarsened a lot of men and women. But you also know the tests we all went through to be picked for this colonization. The few that slid by, like the Ames brothers, are the rare exception.”
“I know that, Sam. I think there was a little baksheesh spread about for those two to make the pick. And I know that every Marine here is far from being an animal. It's just that Kurt is so much older than Maria, I'm not sure how that would work out.”
Sam studied her for a few moments, then asked, “ Are they the only ones you're worried about, Kari? Don't you have some doubts closer to home too?”
She looked down at her clenched hands for a few seconds, then looked into Sam's eyes, “Yes, I guess I am. I don't know how old you really are Sam, and I don't care. You know I have feelings for you but I'm not sure how you feel about someone so much younger than you.”
Sam grinned, “Don't give me that, you know I'm in love with you. Why else would I be chasing you around, panting like a puppy? We've known each other long enough to know that what you see is what you get. You've been married and have two wonderful sons, it's not like you're a teenager. If you're worried about age, did you know that if we do get together you will immediately get the anti aging serum too? I expect we'll have a long and happy life if you agree.”
“No, I didn't know that, and even if I did it wouldn't have made a difference. Should I take what you've said as a proposal of marriage?”
“It sure as hell wasn't a proposal of shacking up. I'm sorry I'm not down on one knee but I was shot in both of them and they're a little stiff. I hope I haven't disappointed you.”
Now Kari broke out in a grin, “Oh, I think I'll be able to bear up under it, and now I know why you couldn't catch me when you were chasing me. Maybe I'll let you catch me at the party tonight and give you an answer.”
Meanwhile, over in Marine Corp barracks.
“What do you mean you can't dance, Kurt. You move like a cat, even though a very big one. Why, you're probably one of the most graceful people I've ever seen.”
They were in the small workout room where the advanced martial artists pummeled one another. They were the only inhabitants as Cpl. Sanchez had made sure that everyone who would normally be there had duty. She made the schedule.
“Look, Maria, they don't hold dances in combat or getting ready for it, and that's where I spent most of my time. When I did get liberty and saw a woman, there was very little vertical entertainment, you know what I mean?”
She thought a moment, “ Oh, ooh, yes, I get your meaning. But that was then and this is now. There's supposed to be dancing at Ida's party and I haven't been dancing in ages. Come over here, I'm going to turn some music on and teach you.
“I hope you've steel toed boots on. I've got size fourteen boondockers on and I outweigh you by close to a hundred fifty pounds. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“You big sissy. Now, put that arm around my back and hold this hand with your other. No, Kurt, we're not studying karate now, give me a little room.”
Kurt grinned at her, “I don't know, I was kinda enjoying that. Are you sure you wouldn't like to learn close combat? I mean real close.”
“If you don't quit screwing around you're going to find out what that Japanese guy taught me about close combat. Now just start moving to the music, I'll follow you. Loosen up a little,.... that's it. See, you're dancing. We'll do this for a couple songs, and I'll up the tempo . I was right, you're a natural. Do you like it?”
“Yeah, so far. I don't think I would with Sergeant Beard though, he's not as graceful as you.”
“You clown, um, I think you've got it now. You could hold me a little closer now if you'd like.” The dancing continued for quite some time.
Early that afternoon Sam pulled up in front of Kari's house to pick her up for the party. Kari wanted to be early to help her mother set up whatever was needed.
“All set Kari? I brought those party favors you asked for, but I have to tell you, they were hard to find. No one has been throwing much in the line of parties.”
“Thanks, Sam. Will you load that box in your jeep? I thought I would bring some extra bowls and platters, just in case. I don't know how many people she invited.”
When they arrived at Ida's a few people were wandering in the lush gardens or admiring the small house nestled into the side of a very large hill. At first glance it didn't appear to be a house at all, but another display of landscaping with a huge tree with four or maybe five trunks growing together and some massive stones gathered in an artistic arrangement. Surrounding this were some luxuriant, flowering bushes. There were what appeared to be random flat stones leading to a intricately carved set of double doors. Everywhere there was a thick green lawn that reminded Kari of her trip to Nirvana.
“My goodness, Sam, I haven't been over here lately. Mom's Rover friends have really done a magnificent job here.”
“They sure have. If you look in that one garden you can see an enormous stone that's perfectly flat. I have no idea how they were able to do that, but I'll bet that's where the dancing is going to be. I don't see any lighting though. Maybe I should see if I can help with that. Have you seen Ida yet?”
“No, let's go to the house and see what's still needed to be done. She's probably pulling her hair out trying to get it all finished.” They passed closely to two prominent businessmen from town and exchanged greetings. As the walked away they heard one say, “All this must have cost a fortune, I didn't know that Ida was that well off.”
The other said, “You don't suppose she's been dipping into that transition money, do you?”
Sam quickly grasped Kari's arm as she started to turn back. “Let it go, Kari, anyone in power gets suspicious questions like that.”
As they were walking up the entry path one of the doors opened and Ida stepped out, closing the door behind her.
Kari almost stumbled as she halted, stunned by the sight before her, “Mother, you're radiant!”
Ida approached them. Her hair was not being pulled out, instead it was done in an elaborate fashion that Kari had never seen before. The gray that before had dulled her gleaming black tresses had been accented into a shining silver crown. The long fitted gown echoed her hair, silver with black accents, and the elaborate, exquisite silver necklace with the large opal set everything together into a dazzling totality.
“Mom, how, er why...?”
“Shush, Honey, can't I dress up once in a while too? Let's go greet my guests.”
By now there was quite a crowd roaming the lands. Kari glanced back when she heard the door open again and saw some young Rovers appear. They were carrying trays of bubbling wine flutes and elaborate dainty snacks. They mingled with the guests, offering their wine and delicacies to all who wished.
A small band of Rover youths had set up their musical instruments aside the stone dance floor that Sam had noticed earlier and started playing a combination of Earth music and some Rover melodies. The humans were surprised by the different instruments, but the melodious music soon had toes tapping and a few couples dancing.
By now the crowd looked to be over a hundred and more were arriving. Kari nudged Sam and whispered, “There's supposed to be a dinner. How is she going to feed all these people? Do you think that a lot of them are party crashers?”
“I think your mother knows what she's doing; look behind that hedge.” Kari walked closer to the hedge until she could see through an opening. There were more young Rovers setting up table and chairs, while others covered them with linen tablecloths, napkins, and strange looking eating utensils. Off to the side there were more tables where an elaborate buffet was being assembled.
After a short time Ida could be heard making an announcement. Somehow her voice could be heard by everyone although she didn't seem to have a amplifier of any kind. “Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes. Many of the dishes are from our Rover friends. They are all safe to eat and I think you'll find them delicious, as I certainly have.”
It didn't take but a short time before the crowd was lining up at the serving tables. There they picked up very delicate looking, fine porcelain plates from stacks of them. Some of them looked dubiously at the Rover dishes but took a small portion. More than one took a tentative taste while still in line, said, “Oh my,” and went back for a generous serving.
After everyone was seated and the young Rovers had circulated with drink offerings Ida rose and tapping on her glass to gain the attention of all announced, “ I would like to propose a toast before we eat.” She raised her wine flute. “ Here's to the colony and all who have done so much to make sure it continues to be a success.”
She received quite a few, “Hear hear,” in reply.
She continued speaking. “Enjoy your meal, and please feel free to have seconds if you wish. The dessert tables will be available shortly as well. And now I would like to introduce some of my friends, or I should say co-hosts for this party. This is my housewarming, but also the housewarming for the Rover embassy here on Prime where they can conduct business without intruding on us, the humans, too much. I'm sure you are all aware of Troyal, who is the Rover ambassador. This lady is his secretary and factotum. Would you please rise, Trivel? Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Trivel.”
Trivel bowed to the applause that rang out and then resumed her seat.
Gesturing to another Rover to stand she said, “This lady is Tribet, the head of the Rover's science department. Please welcome her.” Again applause broke out. Although she looked much older than any of the other Rovers present, she was quite spry as she rose, bowed and retook her seat.
Looking across the head table Ida said something that sounded very discordant and another Rover rose. “This gentleman is Tromen, the chief officer of the Rover military. The applause was not quite as enthusiastic as the crowd watched this very large, heavily muscled, Rover rise gracefully from his chair and bow, first to Ida, then turning, to the crowd.
“When you're finished eating please go through the front exit, you'll be shown to the theater for the concert, first by the town orchestra and then by the Rover orchestra that has traveled here today from Nirvana for this event.”
She resumed her seat at the head table, a large round wooden, construction with an intricately carved central leg. Seated with her were Captain Minetta, Dr. Keith, Colonel Ross, the four Rovers, Sam and Kari.
Captain Minetta leaned toward Ida, “I didn't know you could speak the Rover's language, Ida. When did you learn that?”
“Oh, I can't speak it, Roger, but I can understand it. Trivel taught me. I only can pronounce a few word, and those imperfectly. We humans don't have the vocal equipment to do any more than that I'm afraid.”
She turned to Dr. Keith, “You don't mind if I call you by your first name, do you, Edwin ?”
“Dear lady, after the banquet you have provided this day, you may call me anything you wish.”
“Thank you, Edwin. How is your effort to communicate with the alien artificial intelligence going?”
“I have to admit that it's not going as well as I'd like. I'd hardly call it an intelligence either. From what we've been able to find out it has an agenda to carry out and the ability to direct those limited directives, but that's all. It really has no capability to communicate outside of that. Our main effort now is to hack, I think it's called hacking, their memory banks. From them we hope to be able to ascertain where they came from, where they've been, and how long they've been doing it. We hope.”
“If you don't mind a suggestion, after the concert, why don't you sit down with Tribet. There are translation headsets inside and I think she may be able to help you.” Turning to Colonel Ross she said, “I'm sure you and Tromen could find common ground too, Jim. All of the Rovers are here for constructive dialog.”
Jim nodded and smiled at Tromen, “I think I'll take you up on that, Ida, I may learn a thing or two.”
After dinner as Kari and Sam were walking toward the house after dinner he said, “ I don't think there's going to be much call for those paper hats and horns I brought or, for that matter, your bowls and platters.”
“No, I doubt it. Darn it, I knew mother was being secretive for the last couple weeks, but I thought it had something to do with the transition. Who knew she was going to open an embassy?”
“She sure did a bang-up job of it though. I've never seen so many astonished people wondering where all this came from.”
They entered the double doors to find some young Rovers silently offering to take their coats or wraps and hang them in a large closet just off the hall. More of them were escorting people down the hall. They followed a tiny Rover girl and as they passed openings peered in to see small conference rooms and salons, each furnished with different styles. There were also some closed doors.
“We must be ddep inside the hill by now, Sam. Where's the light coming from? I don't see any fixtures. You'd think it would be dark as pitch.”
“Look up at the ceiling. They're piping it in from outside somehow and the entire ceiling is diffusing it. You don't notice it 'cause it's spread out. I'm sure they have some way of lighting it after dark.”
Kari was admiring the almost hypnotic design on the thick carpeting as they followed down the hall and around a corner for a short distance until they stopped at another set of double doors. When she looked up she found herself in the entrance to a theater. “Oh, my God, It's magnificent,” she exclaimed.
She looked down over row after row of upholstered seating leading a large stage where the town orchestra was setting up their music stands and opening their instrument cases. Glancing to the side walls she saw individual boxes where there were some already occupied. She saw Captain Minetta with an attractive lady, also in uniform. Dr. Keith was in another box with his wife, a small, rather plain woman.
Fortunately, Sam held her arm as they were led to the side to another box or she would have walked into something as she looked around. The domed ceiling was a perfect duplication of what the sky would be outside; dusk, with a few of the brighter stars showing. The walls, not taken by the boxes, were covered with beautiful, but muted designs. She couldn't discern if they were paintings or carvings until she touched a wall to find they were a combination of the two.
They entered their box and sat in their individual, semi-reclining chairs. There was a small table in the rear of the box with some light drinks set up.
They were there for only a few moments when Ida walked into the box, “I can only stay a few moments, I have to join Troyal on stage. I just wanted to see what you thought about the place.”
Springing up, Kari embraced her stating, “Mom, it's all wonderful! How did you get it all done in such short a time? This place is fabulous!”
“Short time? They've been working on it for weeks, ever since my trip to Nirvana with Troyal. Didn't the boys tell you?”
“They knew? I'm going to skin them, they didn't say a word.”
“Huh, I asked them not to, thinking they'd blab it to you immediately. I'm sorry, honey, I thought you knew.”
“Uh, Mom, speaking of secrets, I want you to be the first to know , Sam and I are going to marry.”
“Hell, that's no secret, half the town knows. I knew it when you first met and you had moon eyes over him and he was panting after you like a puppy. I think your boys are looking forward to some help on the farm.”
“Hmph, you think you're so smart. Mom, did you know I'll get the anti aging serum? I don't think I want to be younger looking than the boys or young while you age.”
“I wouldn't worry about that, I've already received it from Troyal. As for the boys, I think they'll have to give it to a lot of people to build our population faster. Right now we're not even the equal of a good sized city on Earth. Wait until the transition comes about. We'll see what the elected officials say.”
Sam asked, “You wouldn't be planning on being one of them, would you, Ida?”
“I thought of running for dog catcher until Matt started breeding those snippers. I'll just have to think about it. I have to run now, I see the orchestra is almost ready. Later I'll show you my suite of rooms here. Bye now.”
Ida appeared on the stage a few minutes later and introduced the orchestra. Troyal gave a short talk, welcoming everyone and telling them that if they had any issues with the Rovers on trade or anything else to bring it to him and his staff.
The orchestra gave a very good performance, followed by an intermission, then there was a mixed performance with some Rovers joining them, finally the Rover Orchestra played. At the end of the performance Ida again appeared to say that dancing under the stars will be carried on as long as anyone wished.
The rest of the evening was mostly a blur to both Kari and Sam. They danced until exhausted, sat until refreshed, then danced again. Sam received his answer from Kari and they were seen sealing it with a long kiss. They saw Matt and John taking advantage of all the town girls present as they went from one to another, dancing, laughing and talking. They even spied Kurt and Maria dancing very close together in one of the darker corners. The lighting was provided by globes that wandered randomly overhead, throwing the dancers in soft light one moment and into shadow the next.
Sam drove Kari home in the early hours of the morning and walked her to the door. After a lingering kiss Sam said, “I'll call you tomorrow, sleep tight.”
Looking down and twirling the decorations on Sam's chest Kari quietly said, “Uh, Sam, it's late and that's a long drive, why don't you stay the night?” She grasped his hand and pulled him into the house.
The following week was hectic in the town as it prepared for the election. Many people had advanced their names for the offices being voted on. The important ones were Mayor of the town, Chairman of the constitution committee, Governor of the territory, Tax collector and many smaller, but no less important, sub offices.
Some citizens, Dr. Keith being the most prominent, had protested the policy of testing before voting, objecting that it would severely limit the number of people casting a ballot. Just the opposite proved to be true; it seems that when people had to show that they were educated on the choices they realized that their vote did have meaning and took the time to know the issues. The ballots cast, although not universal, was much higher than what had been anticipated.
Ida hadn't entered her name for any office but had received so many write-in votes in all of the important ones, always in the top tier, that is was apparent that she would be an important voice in governing.
The Colonist's Committee had changed its name to the Farm Board and had become an advisory, still headed by Kari. The military was disqualified to hold an elected office although they could serve as advisors.
Captain Minetta held two positions, when on the planet he was a common citizen, but when he was aboard the ship he was still the commanding officer. The ship itself was in a strange limbo, considered as being under civilian control, yet also being an independent entity, when the situation required it.
All of the important posts went to influential citizens that had contributed much to the success of the colonization. Many had served in government on Earth. Dr. Keith was very disappointed that he hadn't won one of the many positions he had tried for, but had in fact, received very few votes.
Captain Minetta knocked on the door jamb to Ida's open office door, “Got time to chat for a few minutes, Ida?”
“For you, Roger, anytime. I'm not real busy right now anyway, just clearing my desk out. Want a cup of coffee? That's still on.”
“Sure. Thanks.” She poured him a cup and he took a sip. “Wow, that's sure a lot better than that swill they give me on the ship! Where did you get coffee like that?”
“When Troyal saw how much coffee we imbibe he took some home and had their chemists analyze it. They removed the DNA that made it bitter. Now they're growing it and expect it'll be a good trade item. Don't worry, they didn't remove the caffeine.”
“Ida, I'm curious. Why didn't you run for an office? You know you would have won any one hands down. They might have voted you in as Queen.”
“I thought about it, but how would it look for an elected official to have the embassy of a foreign planet in her home. I'll do a lot more good as a sort of bridge between the two planets and be able to work for the benefit of both.”
Roger studied her over his cup for a moment, then said, “You're a wise woman, Ida and I'm glad you're where you want to be. Which brings me to my next reason I stopped in. Ida, the next time you have a shindig at your place may I have the honor to be your escort?”
“Oh, Roger, the honor would have been mine to have you escort me, but I'm afraid the Marines have made a landing. Jim Ross launched an offensive and asked me the same thing this morning and I surrendered. I'm sorry.”
“Well, save me a spot or two on your dance card please. How do you you think this civil government will work out, Ida?”
“You know as well as I do that there are going to be problems. You, I and many others are going to have to be on our toes to nip them in the bud, but in the long run I think it'll be fine. The colonists wanted civil government, now let's see how they do with it.”