It's Sunday, so it must be time for a look inside the next Cassidyverse novel!
I suppose you could make the case that Memories of Aiyana is the next novel, as it will be out on February 1st, but why quibble?
And while Memories is definitely a Cassidyverse novel, it's also a memoir. Kendra wrote it, after all, a fact she won't let me forget. I did the editing and formatting and creating the cover, but it's her story, right?
(Kendra says, and I quote: "Damn right it is!")
So we're going back to The Ghosts of Tantor now with another chapter from somewhere in the book.
TFS Pike, Commander’s Quarters
“I’m home,” Chloe called as the hatch slid aside, to no answering cries.
This was weird.
Admittedly, her compartments were more extensive than her quarters back on Njord. They were far, far larger than anything she’d had on Defiant, but usually someone was near the entrance. It opened into their family room, after all, and there was always something happening. And her days were, relatively speaking, regular. Right now, most of her decisions were either routine or long-term; being in warp space meant there wasn’t much to occupy the Mission Commander. As a result, she arrived back before eighteen nearly every day, and today she’d managed seventeen-forty.
Frankly, the silence was worrying. It meant her family was Up To Something, which was rarely peaceful.
“Ryan? Susan? Unity?” She spoke the names of her spouses first and waited.
“Jeffy? Rab?” Next came the children. Jeff was four, Rab one. Rab would squeal when he heard her voice, and Jeff usually did a fair imitation of a guided missile into her legs. Tonight, nothing.
“Drac?” Last was the treecat bonded to Susan, though he was usually within a few meters of his person and didn’t particularly pay attention to anyone else if she was around. She was unsurprised by his lack of response.
“Gods damn it,” she muttered. “Hermes.”
“Colonel? You sound agitated.”
“Yes, I’m agitated; my family isn’t answering me.”
“I don’t understand your difficulty, Colonel.”
“What are they doing?”
“They are awaiting you.”
She rolled her eyes. Hermes might be an Alpha AI, but he was still working on his humanity and tended to answer the question asked, not the question intended. “Great. Where are they waiting?”
“At The Rabbit Hole.”
“The Rabbit Hole…?” Given the size of the Pike and the planned duration of the missions, Fleet – in this case, Admiral Whitmore – had realized they needed to provide more for the crew than the standard supplies and rations. Replicators went a long way toward solving the fatigue factor in the variety of food, but people needed places to socialize.
Set on the uppermost deck in the central leg of the ship, it was an open space eight hundred meters long and half that wide. From end to end, it was filled with stores, restaurants, bars, small concert venues, parks, pathways, and more. The Rabbit Hole was one of the restaurants, a relatively high-end one, and damnably tricky to get into without a reservation. Certainly not the sort of place her family would go on a whim.
A thought tickled the back of her mind.
“Fuck!” Today was Ryan and Unity’s anniversary.
She started peeling out of her uniform as she dashed to her bedroom. “Shower on, forty degrees, and I need a dress!”
She heard the water start running. “Specify the type of dress.”
“Formal, no, fancy. Match me to what Susan is wearing, but complement it, not copy it.” By now, her clothes were off, fallen in a straight line from the entry hatch to the ‘fresher. She dove in.
“Shampoo,” she said. Her preferred blend emerged from the showerhead and, with some vigorous scrubbing, soon encased her hair in apple-scented foam.
“Soap.” Now sprays coated her body with a cleansing mixture.
“Depilatories, shoulders down.” She was careful to specify the latter, raising her arms above her head. One time she’d forgotten and ended up completely bald, lacking even eyebrows. It had been before she’d joined the Fleet, though, so she didn’t think anyone except Susan knew the story.
“Rinse.” A wave of pleasantly hot water sluiced over her from her head down, then another wave, and then a final one.
She usually did without the automatic drying, preferring old-fashioned towels, an anachronism her spouses looked on with fondness. But today, speed took priority, so she let the combination of air and infrared heat dry her in seconds. Total time elapsed from start to finish? Two minutes, eighteen seconds.
She ran a hand through her gold-streaked brunette hair. Did she have time to style it?
“How long have they been waiting, Hermes? When did they get there?”
“They arrived at The Rabbit Hole at seventeen thirty-five, and thus they have been waiting nine minutes.”
Nine minutes. Okay. The kids would be OK for a while. They probably had an eighteen reservation, so if she didn’t do anything crazy, she might be able to pull something together. She’d have to match the outfit.
“Where’s that dress?”
“Clothes replicator, Colonel.”
She opened the indicated cubicle and whistled. If this was matching Susan, then dinner was fancy indeed.
The dress was full-length and sheer. The top was covered with glittering clear gems; given replicator tech, they could well be created diamonds, but she wasn’t going to ask. They shone in the light, and that was enough. The underlying material was a color between ivory and beige, soft and subtle and echoing her hair.
Chloe shook herself from the reverie, snatched it from the cupboard, and tossed it on the bed. No time to admire Susan’s taste, she thought, setting herself before the mirror.
Makeup and simple treatment for her hair took a few moments, but she’d learned the hard way not to rush the steps. When she was satisfied, she gave her reflection a nod before turning to the dress and dropping it over her head.
After adjusting it into place, she turned to the mirror and gasped. She hadn’t seen the entire form, but now she could, and…
“Damn, I look good in this.”
The neckline was a deep vee, dropping almost to the bottom of her ribcage. Slits ran up both sides of the dress, almost to her hips. The diamonds, or rhinestones or whatever was replicated, were in a pattern evoking memories of lotuses without actually being the flower. The material was loose, flowing, and layered, but each layer was nearly translucent. She gave an experimental twirl, pleased with the flare.
“Right. I gotta stop looking. Necklace, this needs a necklace.” She rummaged until she found the delicate platinum chain Susan had given her three years earlier. Then she clipped it behind her neck and adjusted the yellow citrine until it hung properly.
She was crap in heels, but she could manage them if they weren’t terribly tall. Two or three centimeters would do, and she started to order a pair.
“I assumed you would need matching shoes, Colonel,” Hermes said with a hint of hesitation. “Was I incorrect?”
“Not at all. Where?”
She pulled it open, and there they were, low-rise heels which, miracles of miracles, not only fit but felt comfortable.
“Thank you, Hermes.”
“You’re welcome, Colonel.”
She took one more look at herself, satisfied, and headed for the hatch before stopping abruptly.
“I need a gift!” she wailed.
Her marriage was technically a quad, but it wasn’t a traditional quad. Instead of starting with four singles at one joint ceremony, the Resler family had been formed from the union of two couples. Chloe and her wife had been married for five years now, Ryan and Unity for eleven, and they’d all known each other for even longer. They’d formalized their expanded family three years ago, after the War’s end, and that date was not one Chloe was about to forget. She wouldn’t forget hers and Susan’s, either. But Ryan and Unity’s original anniversary?
“What did Susan get them?”
“I do not know, Colonel. Would you like me to ask her?”
“No!” She was going to make this work, without letting on to her co-spouses she’d nearly, okay, completely, forgotten about the date. And that meant no asking Susan.
Wedding gift, wedding gift. Eleven years.
“Hermes, what’s the traditional gift for an eleventh anniversary?”
“It depends on whether you wish to utilize the traditional, mid-modern, or modern interpretation, Colonel.”
I don’t have time for this!
“Give me all three.”
“The traditional gift is steel; it symbolizes strength. The mid-modern interpretation is fashion jewelry, preferably turquoise, which symbolizes longevity. The modern gift would be –”
“Stop. Combine the two. Necklaces, no, bracelets for them both, stainless steel chain, heavier for him, lighter for her, with turquoise beads. Can you replicate that?”
“I can, Colonel, but it will take time for the design process.”
“Ask me for anything but time,” Chloe muttered. “How long?”
She’d be in the middle of dinner. But maybe there was a possibility.
“What’s the closest replicator station to The Rabbit Hole?”
He told her.
“Tell me when they’re ready to create, I’ll go to the station, and you replicate them there.”
“Now I really have to run.”
She resumed heading for the door, opening a channel to Susan.
“Babe? Where are you? You didn’t forget, did you?” Chloe could hear Rab protesting in the background.
“Forget?” she scoffed, sounding almost genuine. “I’m on my way. You didn’t expect me in uniform, did you?”
Susan chuckled. “It wouldn’t have surprised me.”
“Maybe next time. Are you at the table yet?”
“Almost. We were a little bit early for the reservation.”
“I’ll see you in a few minutes. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Relieved she had everything in hand, Chloe hustled out of the compartment and headed to the nearest portal.
The portals were a relatively “old” technology for values of “old.” Aiyana Cassidy made the breakthrough that allowed living beings to teleport over a decade earlier. This happened before anyone had ever heard of her, before the first starship had been built. Since then, they’d spread across the globe, killing off the remains of the airline and the other personal transport industries. They were also standard equipment on starships in the Federation. It was far simpler to teleport from ship to ship or station than to send a Wolf with a passenger or three. Intership teleport was routine.
But the Pike was the first starship to have intraship teleports. She was more than four kilometers long, two kilometers wide, and had two hundred decks. There were a couple hundred kilometers of corridor on every deck; getting from one end of the ship to the other was a good ten-minute fast walk. Portals made sense.
The biggest issue was the energy demand the portals created, but the Pike could handle it. Even though they’d been in the Black for less than two weeks and commissioned less than a month, portal-hopping had been an easy habit to get into.
Being the Mission Commander had its perqs, and one of them was the location of a portal a few meters down the corridor from her quarters.
“The Rabbit Hole.” The computer which controlled the portals utilized Hermes’ computational abilities to perform the quadrillions of calculations required but wasn’t the AI himself.
“Destination recognized. Enter when ready.”
She stepped into the cubicle and waited. In a few seconds, she heard a hum as the system warmed, then a timeless instant of nothingness, and she was in another identical cubicle.
“Thank you,” the mechanical voice said, and the doors opened to the noise of The Mall.
There weren’t portals for every location. Instead, they were placed strategically through the area. She had a few dozen meters to cover instead of a three-kilometer walk horizontally, laterally, and vertically.
“May I help you?” said the harassed-looking host.
“Meeting a party.”
His eyes took in her outfit, judging whether she would be deemed suitable to enter. She tried not to grin. It wasn’t surprising he didn’t recognize her; she doubted more than her immediate command crew knew her on sight.
Her dress seemed to be up to his standards.
Now there was a flash of awareness, but he didn’t let it enter his voice, still as proper and haughty as it had been.
“Yes, I’ll have you brought to your party.” He dismissed her from his consciousness and turned to the next hopeful.
A server approached and led her into the restaurant, but she could hear the children long before seeing her family.
“Mom, Rab stinks!”
Rab, oblivious to his brother’s discomfiture, babbled happily in his seat.
“Well, it seems I’m just in time,” she said with a smile. She bent to give Susan a kiss, then reached for Rab. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
Dinner was a cheerful affair. Jeffy behaved far beyond his years. After the meal had been eaten, as they awaited dessert, he presented his birth parents with a card he proudly announced he’d made himself. He received the expected approbation and sat between them, smiling hugely.
Chloe had managed to step away when Hermes had commed. She retrieved the replicated bracelets (though she had to wait while the AI whomped up a suitable package and wrapping for them) and returned to the table.
“From us,” she said, handing the package to Unity.
“What did we get them?” Susan whispered.
“You’ll see,” she whispered back. “Do you have anything for them?”
“No, I had faith you had it under control.”
Their conversation was interrupted as Unity and Ryan admired the steel and turquoise bracelets. Chloe explained the two materials' symbolism as they fitted the jewelry on each other’s wrists.
“They’re lovely,” Unity said, pivoting her wrist back and forth to catch the light. “When did you have them made?”
“Maybe I should say, did you have them made before you remembered dinner or after?” Unity’s voice was teasing.
“After,” Chloe admitted.
“You owe me a credit,” Unity said triumphantly to Ryan.
“You bet on when I’d get your gift?”
“Of course. A tiger doesn’t change her stripes, and we’ve known you far too long to expect anything else. At least I didn’t expect anything else.” She poked Ryan in the ribs. “He’s an optimist.”
“I knew she’d come through!” Ryan’s protest was drowned out by the laughter at the table.
Colonel, you’re needed on the bridge.
Chloe groaned, then checked her ‘plant for the time.
It’s not even three, Hermes! The anniversary party had gotten home about twenty. They’d put the boys to bed, then the celebration resumed. It was well after midnight when she’d finally gotten to sleep, though she’d been awakened a short while later by Susan for a minor continuation of the evening.
That is correct, Colonel. It is oh two fifty-two.
Without opening her eyes, she replied, Who needs me?
Lieutenant Ellis requests your presence, as well as Captain Porter, to discuss a rogue planet.
She awoke further. Ellis was a solid officer. If she was asking for both her and Porter, it was necessary.
Ten minutes, she thought to Hermes. Now go away.
His presence in her mind vanished, and she allowed herself a moment to luxuriate. Susan was a warm presence next to her, her skin pressed against Chloe’s the entire length of her side, her head on Chloe’s shoulder, and one arm draped possessively over Chloe’s middle. To her other side, Chloe could feel the warmth coming from the tangle of Ryan and Unity.
I would be in the middle, she thought. Naturally.
She lifted the entrapping arm from her, then tried to lift and roll herself over her sleeping wife.
The arm returned as she was over the top, and a sleepy Susan muttered, “No’ so fas’. ‘m not done with you.”
“Shh.” Chloe attempted to free the encircling arm; instead, it pulled her down, and the other hand cupped a breast.
“Told you, not done with you,” Susan murmured into her ear. Chloe shivered; Susan always did know exactly what to do.
Half hour, Hermes.
Then she was occupied.