The office décor of Major Arch Bishop de la Cortez were in very somber colors and the furnishings were in accord with so solemn a church leader. Seated at his desk going through the stack of paperwork, the Major Arch Bishop heard a knock at the door.
He put down his latest document and looked up as the door opened up to reveal his office manager Friar Antonio de Jesus.
“I am sorry to disturb your work, Major Arch Bishop but you wanted me to let you know when Friar Diego de Morillo showed up,” he said. “He’s here then?”
“Then by all means show him in, Brother,” ordered de la Cortez. A few moments later Friar de Morillo entered his office.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice,” he stated.
“I know your time right now is very precious just before you leave.”
“It was nothing at all, Major Arch Bishop,” replied de Morillo.
“Please have a seat and get a glass of wine for the friar will you please Antonio?” de la Cortez asked de Jesus.
Friar de Jesus went over to the wine cabinet against one of the walls and poured a glass of red wine for the other friar. He then crossed the room and handed it to de Morillo who had seated himself.
“Will that be all, Sir?” de Jesus asked.
“Si, and thank you friar,” stated de la Cortez. De Jesus smiled, bowed to both friars and departed the room. De Morillo took a slip of wine and sat back in his seat.
“I trust you have all the personnel you need for this mission?” asked the Major Arch Bishop.
“Yes, and thank you for your help in securing those I had need of, Father,” de Morillo said.
“You have a very important mission that will essentially determine the future of our Order and Holy Mother Church,” de la Cortez stated. “It is imperative that you have the right people around to carry out orders to insure the success of our mission, Father.”
“In that case, I feel I have the right support,” acknowledged de Morillo.
“Good,” de la Cortez replied. “Now let’s move onto that other little matter that you brought up to me a week ago.”
“About the Princess you mean?” asked e Morillo.
Anna, or Angelica, at that time was hip deep in bogeys that were coming at her from left, right, center and behind. She saw so many blips on her screen that she almost thought there were more of the enemy ships than stars.
“Ending simulation,” a disembodied voice came over her headset.
‘And just in time,’ Angelica thought.
‘I warned you,’ Alphie thought back to her.
‘Oh, don’t you start,’ she replied. ‘I’m going to be getting a royal chewing out from Manolo in just a minute or two, so give me a break.’
‘I can do that now,’ Alphie said. ‘But when we get out there, there are no breaks.’
‘Acknowledged, I just…’ she began.
‘Want to fit in?’ he interrupted. ‘I’m sure you do but getting everybody’s butt shot off because you blunder into an ambush is not a great way of accomplishing that, Princess.’
Before she could reply, the simulation’s canopy opened up and Lieutenant Marinero was standing right by the deck crew as they started getting Warren Officer Suarez’ gear off.
“You look remarkably alive for someone who just had her butt shot off a dozen times or so in the last couple of day, Suarez,” Marinero said. She climbed out of the simulation device.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” she said. “It won’t happen again, Sir.”
“You bet it won’t, Suarez,” he said. “I’m taking you off point and placing you in rear to keep an eye on our six.”
“But, you can’t Sir,” she whined.
“Can’t?” he asked. “I’d be derelict in my duty to the squad if I continue to let you get us into situations that get us killed.” They started to walk away from the sim cages and back to the wardrooms.
“Give me one more chance, Sir and I’ll prove to you that I’m a good point man,” she requested.
“Point person you mean, Warren Officer, as you so pointed out to me a few weeks ago,” he said.
“Yes, well,” she began. “I was a rookie back then.”
“Then?” he asked and chuckled.
“Yes, then,” she admitted. “That was then and this is now.”
“I must admit, for some unknown reason, I have a gut feeling about you Suarez,” he admitted. “But, as I said, I also have a responsibility to all my men.”
“As well as I do, Sir,” she acknowledged. “Just one more chance and I’ll show you and the rest of the squad that I can do this.”
“Fine, one more shot,” he said. “After lunch, we are back at it again and this is not going to be an easy one either. By God, Suarez either you do a one eighty in this next sim segment or you’ll be eating our vapors.”
Marinero walked away from Suarez after he said that and headed down the passageway. Warren Officer Emilio Dominguez came up to Suarez after Marinero walked away.
“Wow, I’ve never seen him worked up so much,” he said. “But then again since you got here, the squad has never been killed so many times, either Angel.”
Angelica gave Dominguez a frosty look. “How many times have I told you,” she said. “It is Angelica or Warren Officer Suarez, Dominguez.”
“I love it when you get all imperious on me and stuff,” Dominguez acknowledged.
“Shut up,” she said.
“You, shut up,” he replied.
Angelica started stomping away from him.
“You are an angel, Angelica,” he began. “An angel of death, yeah, that’s it…we’ll start calling you ‘ángel de la muerte’.”
“Shut up,” she yelled back.
“You shut up.”
The lunch crowd at the noontime meal was loud and boisterous from all the drills that have been taking place all over the ship. The scents wafting out of the kitchen made even the most battle weary veteran smile at the thought of sitting down and eating to their heart’s content.
The cooks aboard the San Marcos were proud to display an extensive menu to from which to choose. On the menu were dishes such as; Potaje de Cabrito Adobado que se Dice Janete de Cabrito, or Pottage of Marinated Kid (goat), Potaje llamado Gratonada or Pottage of Chicken, Pottage Dicho Morteruelo or Pottage Called Morteruelo made with Mutton, Bacon, Aragon cheese and bread.
They also served; Gallina Armada or Armored Hen where they slowly roast a hen, basting it with bacon and egg yolks and flour and served every dish with rice, vegetables, fresh baked breads and wines.
All of these dishes and finely served wines were something that Sister Maria had never experienced as a nun in the Jesuit order. She was completely out of her depth as she negotiated the line in front of her waiting to be served from the various platters that awaited her outstretched ‘placas’ or plates.
As she was standing wondering what to eat first, she was shocked to her soul’s core when she heard a familiar light, lilted laughter.
Her head swung in the direction of the laughter by its own will and as she looked at whose throat the laughter came from, Sister Maria lost her appetite. In fact, it was at that precise moment when Sister Maria lost her ability to stand or to stay conscious and fainted.
Warren Officer Angelica Josephina Suarez had just finished laughing over Warren Officer Emilio Dominguez’ latest bout with the martial arts instructor who essentially told Dominguez that the instructor’s grandmother hit harder than he did when there was a commotion over at chow line.
She automatically looked over, as everyone else did, to see a gathering crowd of onlookers bending down to look at someone on the floor.
‘Looks like a nun went down over there,’ Alphie said nonverbally.
‘Guess they are even pushing the clergy to the breaking point as well,’ she thought back. ‘Oh well, it does not concern us.’
“The next time,” she began. “You might want to think of someone who really gets you mad and put their face on the instructor’s body to make you hit harder.”
Dominguez gazed at her for a few moments.
“Okay, I think I can picture that someone right now,” he said.
“You shut up.”
Brother Delgado was sitting at his make shift desk area in the quarters assigned to him and another member of the Jesuit delegation when his personal commo unit went off.
“Father, please come to the infirmary as soon as possible,” said the voice of Vito Sanador a Knight of Malta. “A member of your staff is being taken there as we speak.”
“Thank you Knight, I’ll be right there,” Delgado replied.
He switched off his commo unit and placed it inside his robe, cleaned up his paperwork, secured it in his locker and headed out the door.
‘I pray to God that it isn’t old Father de la Seville,’ he thought as he raced down the passageway.
Other crewmembers in the passageway saw the Brother just in time to make way for him. He blessed each crewmember as he passed by them along the passageway after he excused himself.
He finally turned the corner into the passageway where the infirmary was located, whispered a prayer and breathlessly went inside.
“Ah, Brother Delgado,” Knight Sanador said. “Thanks for coming over on such short notice.”
“Thank you for informing me, so that I could get here promptly,” Delgado replied.
“De Nada, Brother.”
Brother Delgado was ushered to the side of Sister Maria’s bed just as she was reviving. He gave a sharp intake of breath when he saw who it was on the gurney.
‘That is something quite out of character for the usually somber and focused Brother,’ thought the Knight Hospitaller.
“The Sister is someone you personally know?” he asked.
“Yes,” confessed Brother Delgado. “The sister is actually my real sister.”
Doctor Sanador raised one of his eyebrows.
“Sister Maria and I have the same mother and father,” Delgado stated.
“Ah, I see,” said Sanador. “So now I’m really glad that I called you. We wouldn’t want you to hear about this second hand now would we?”
Sister Maria opened her eyes fully at that moment and saw her brother and the doctor hovering over her. She sat up as best she could.
“I’m fine,” she immediately stated. “Just a little light headed, probably because of too much rich food.”
Doctor Sanador took out his light pen and started shining it into each of her eyes.
“Well, let me be the judge of that,” he said firmly. “That is why I get the small doubloons around here you know. Now just follow the light and let me know if this hurts your eyes, Sister.”
Sister Maria followed the light around for a few moments and sighed.
“I’m telling you, I’m fine,” she stated again. “Nothing hurts. I can see the light just fine, so my motor skills are intact and acting at optimal efficiency.”
“I see you can self-diagnosis as well,” the doctor stated.
“So, can I go please?” Sister Maria asked.
The Knight looked back at the Brother and raised his eyebrow again.
“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Delgado began. “And if she decides to do another belly flop on the floor I’ll call you right away, Doctor.”
The Doctor looked back at Sister Maria and shook his finger at her.
“If you can’t eat the rich food talk to the galley staff and I’m sure they can come up with something that will suit your old eating habits,” he ordered her. “I want you to make a follow up appointment with the desk sergeant for next week and when you come in, I want to see a dietary plan set up and implemented, Sister. Do you read me?”
“Aye, aye, loud and clear, Sir,” she stated.
“Good,” he said smiling. “Then on that basis, I’ll release you to Brother Delgado, because he’s a family member.”
This time Sister Maria looked at Brother Delgado with a raised eyebrow.
“It just kinda came up when you were passed out on the gurney,” Delgado confessed.
After that, they both left the infirmary. Just outside the sick bay’s hatch, Sister Maria turned to her brother.
“We need to go to someplace on this ship that you consider a safe place to talk,” she requested. “Don’t ask any questions of me or say anything to me until we get to that safe place. Between here and there I need to do some heavy thinking.”
“Ah, okay. But…” Delgado began.
Sister Maria stopped and looked hard and long at Brother Delgado. “Okay, fine, whatever you say,” he said exasperated. He thought a moment, smiled and said, “I have just the place. Shall I proceed?”
Sister Maria nodded and fell into step with Brother Delgado while he muttered to himself. She kept her promise and did not say a word to him all the way through the different passageways of the ship until they reached an unmarked hatch. Brother Delgado unbolted the hatch and they went inside.
Sister Maria was a little surprised to see that this cabin/storage room was set up to be a small office area complete with desk, cabinets, a small library of research books, commo gear and a make shift lab with the newest in monitors and an active drone watching over the operation. She also noted that two glasses of wine awaited them on the desk.
She looked over to the drone as Brother Delgado went to the desk and sat. The drone moved over to hover near her brother’s right shoulder in a protective manner. She raised an eyebrow at the nearness of the two individuals.
Brother Delgado chuckled as he said, “May I introduce you to...”
“Vice Miembro de Consejo Carreta,” Sister Maria finished for him. “I am beginning to see that there are many more layers to this mission than I had predicted, Brother.”
“Your Sister’s intelligence is duly noted, Brother,” confessed Carreta.
“Now,” she began. “I am wondering why a Vice Member of the Drone Council should be lurking in an unmarked cabin in the bowels of this ship?”
“We were going to bring you up to speed just as soon as you settled into your quarters,” began Delgado. “But you insisted on speaking to me in a secure location, so I had no other choice then to bring you here.”
“And how did Vice Member Carreta...” she began to ask.
“Carreta will do just fine, Sister,” he interjected as he interrupted her.
“Then how did Carreta know we were coming?” she asked. “Or do you always have two glasses of wine set up for just anybody who happens by?”
Carreta chuckled. “I let him know we were on the way,” Delgado stated.
“Oh and how did you do that dear brother?” she asked. “I know I was deep in thought but I would have noticed you using a commo unit.”
“She has you there, Brother Delgado,” admitted Carreta. “You might as well tell her everything she needs to know and we might as well ‘key’ her in as well.”
Brother Delgado took a sip of wine before he answered. “He knew we were coming because, as I said, I told him,” he began. “We are keyed into a telepathic communication’s link that connects us and other members in our group.”
“I have never heard of such a thing,” she stated. “Linked, telepathically?”
“It is a capability seldom used, Sister,” Carreta informed her.
“So, you are saying, it has been used before?” she asked.
Brother Delgado nodded.
“This expedition to locate the Old World is an enormous and critical task that needs to be done,” he stated. “We can’t afford to let anything interfere with its success.The Empire depends on us to accomplish this mission and come back with the help it so desperately needs.”
“Due to this fact, the Drone Council has set aside certain rules that govern it and have made the choice to aid in its success,” advised Carreta.
“Therefore we have placed certain members of the council, here on the ship,” finished her brother.
“I believe I understand,” she began. “But only in part. What other rules has the council decided to bend?”
“You already know about the link and the undercover council members,” Delgado said. “Why do you think there is something more?”
“Because I believe I saw something,” Sister Maria admitted.
“Saw something?” they both said in unison.
“Yes, just before I fainted,” she admitted.
“What did you see, Sister?” asked Carreta.
“Before I answer,” she began. “I need to ask a few questions.”
“Go ahead,” said her brother.
“You mentioned ‘being keyed in’ will I get ‘keyed in’ as well?” she asked. Brother Delgado looked up at Carreta.
“Si,” he stated.
“We believe that the success of the mission includes you, Sister,” Carreta said.
“How is it done?” she asked.
‘As quickly as this,’ Carreta stated nonverbally, in her thoughts. She gasped at his intrusion into her mind.
‘And the Drones have always had this ability to communicate with us and never did?’ she asked.
‘That’s the same question I asked them when they linked me in,’ Delgado thought.
‘Like brother, like sister, they say,’ thought back Carreta.
‘Is he going to be able to read any or hear all of my thoughts at any time?’ she asked.
‘The link does not work that way,’ informed Carreta. ‘A Drone Council member has to be an intermediary between two humans. If I chose to cut you or Brother Delgado off, I can. But for the sake of this demonstration I have linked him in.’
‘This linking will really be effective when there comes a time when one or more members of our party are in distress or during an emergency,’ Carreta finished saying.
‘I can see how that could be effective,’ she replied.
‘Or even if we need to communicate with each other without anyone eavesdropping,’ informed Carreta.
‘Please continue with what you were about to tell us, Sister,’ thought Delgado.
‘I have more questions,’ she began. ‘This group that you have mentioned, would it included anyone from the royal family?’
“What?” Delgado asked aloud.
‘Inside voices only, Brother,’ Carreta thought.
‘Oh, sorry,’ he apologized.
‘Now why would you ask that Sister?’ asked Carreta.
‘I already have a pretty good idea what the answer is judging from my brother’s outburst,” she stated. Delgado cleared his throat. ‘One last question, then, please.’
‘Please ask away Sister Maria,’ thought Carreta.
‘Have we left Hispania’s orbit yet?’ she asked.
‘Days ago, Sister,’ Delgado stated. ‘We are just about to the “Bubble Displacer” where we’ll insert and then be on our way.’
‘Bubble Displacer?’ she asked.
‘Oh, I forgot you were fast tracked into the expeditions and haven’t quite finished all your orientation classes on what to expect during our journey,’ her brother said.
‘Yes, we are sorry about all that,’ began Carreta. ‘But the “Bubble” is an area of space that we insert a number of vessels into and be ‘displaced’ or moved from one area of space to another without any significant loss of time.’
‘I did not know that,’ she stated.
‘Many people don’t Sister Maria,’ thought Delgado. ‘The Rths found this system of traveling left over from another space faring race and used it to move from one system to another. They had no idea who created this system of displacers.’
‘I knew the Rths borrowed from past civilizations before but never knew to what extent,’ she confessed.
‘Even the Drones, were borrowed from a long dead civilization,’ admitted Carreta.
‘So what’s next after we insert into this bubble?’ she asked.
‘This will begin a series of insertion that will ultimately get us to the Old World system and from there we short hop to Earth,’ Brother Delgado stated.
‘That sounds easy enough,’ she said.
‘It’s little bit more complicated than that Sister, Brother Delgado just simplified it for you,’ thought Carreta.
‘How so?’ she asked.
‘In between the displacers are millions of miles that we have to navigate and get through before we can be transported to the next bubble,’ admitted Delgado. Sister Maria looked at Brother Delgado.
‘He was always like this when growing up,’ she began. ‘Build up the big parts and leave out the small, important parts where things get tricky. So it’s not just a hop, skip and a jump huh? And we are definitely on our way and can’t get back to Hispania without causing a fuss?’
‘It would almost take an act of God to turn us around, Sister,’ stated Carreta. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘Because when I tell you why I unexpectedly fainted,’ she began. ‘This ‘enormous and critical task’ that we have undertaken just got a whole lot bigger and vastly more critical.’
After that, Sister Maria took a long sip from her wine glass as Delgado and Carreta studied her.
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