17 Revelations

The session with the council had been early in the day. They still had the rest of the day free. After returning to their rooms to change, Danil took the group to the places of his childhood. Zeke found that, like the Academy, the Anyari valued human interaction. Danil had gone to the equivalent of elementary and high school, though Zeke couldn't tell how much different it was than Earth schools. He wondered if, as the son of the king, he'd needed the equivalent of the Secret Service.

All the places he took them were deep underground. He saw large common open areas, some as big as small stadiums. Danil told him that the larger cities were all underground. Though motivated by the Rogue, most were glad the surface was little marked by human presence.

In the afternoon, Danil arranged an impromptu "party" for the group at the house of a friend. The house was much different from Elenne's. Large 3D screens looked enough like real windows that Zeke thought he could be comfortable living in a place like that.

Danil's friends treated them like any other group of young people. When you associate with the king's son, not much is going to intimidate you. Danil introduced them as if they were cousins from out-of-town.

The girls asked him a lot about himself, and about Earth. They were pretty much the same questions and he gave the same answers, but they were genuinely interested and he the attention was flattering.

"This is great," Zeke told Danil. "Thank you."

"You fit in. I knew you would," Danil replied.

Before long, it was time to return to the Diplomatic building. Zeke had been asked, and had promised, to message a couple of the girls. Each knew about the others, but that didn't seem to deter any of them.

The walk to the tube was quick and before long they were back in their rooms, getting ready for the night's dinner.

"What do we wear?" he said with a voice loud enough for Danil to hear in his room. "Our dress uniforms again?"

"No, this is informal, it will be in my family's living quarters and not in the public dining room, so just wear your civilian clothes," Danil answered.

His other clothes, including the uniform he'd worn that morning, were already clean and hanging in a small closet.

A car was waiting for them downstairs. It took them out of the city. After a short time, the buildings stopped. Within a few hundred yards the road entered an otherwise undisturbed forest. They passed through a few intersections, after which the car sped up to an almost alarming velocity. It was only a few minutes before they pulled up to what was obviously the king's residence. It was surrounded by a stone wall, about six feet high with a gate, and manned by two guards with weapons.

Zeke looked at Danil, the question on his face.

"They are for show... mostly," was his answer.

Egrenne, Danil's mother, was waiting with Enne as the car pulled up to the large front entrance. She immediately grabbed Danil and hugged him. Enne waited beside them for her mother to finish, before embracing him herself. Danil looked at Zeke and rolled his eyes, but he returned her hug, lifting her feet from the ground, and kissed her on the cheek.

When he let her down, she turned around to see Zeke who was standing several steps back. Her expression became suddenly demure, catching Zeke by surprise. If she was pretending, she was doing a good job.

She did come up to him, though, and give him a hug, as she had her brother.

She was dressed much more simply than before and she looked younger. She looked up at him, her eyes wide. "I really am glad to see you again," she said, "and glad you replied to my messages."

"Thank you for sending them," Zeke replied. "You are the closest thing to family I have here. Receiving messages from someone, we would call them letters on Earth, was very nice. Being the only one not to have messages from home would have been difficult."

She smiled at that, and she looked even younger than before. She was, after all, two years younger than he and Danil. Perhaps the clothes and cosmetics before had made her seem more self-indulgent and spoiled than she really was.

Danil was introducing Egrenne to the others. She had been watching and came up to Zeke and wrapped her arms warmly around him. "It is good to have you back, you didn't spend enough time here before you went off to the Academy. Not enough time to acclimate to our ways here. I told Rolenil... but he has his reasons, I'm sure."

"We are having your favorite food from when you were here before," she said with a smile.

"My favorite?" he said, not recalling that he'd indicated he had one.

"You called it a 'chowder', made with several peeled crustaceans and other fish harvested from the sea?" she said, reminding him.

"Oh, yes! It was what we would call a chowder, made with shrimp, or something that was similar. I remember!"

"You ate a great deal. I'd assumed you enjoyed it," she said with the slightest hint of disappointment.

"Oh, I did! I didn't realize you'd noticed, or that I'd eaten so much. It reminded me of something similar my grandmother made on Earth. Thank you!" he told her. "Thank you very much!"

That brought a smile back to her face. She put her arm through one of his. Enne put hers through the other and they guided him up the steps into the palace.

The door opened into a large room. The floor in this room was polished wood, unlike the stone in most of the other places he'd been. The center of the room was empty, while the walls were lined with expensive looking chairs and small tables with lamps and vases with flowers.

"This is where we entertain," Egrenne told him. "It is for public functions, but tonight we'll dine in our quarters--they are much more comfortable."

They passed through a doorway into a long hall with a number of doors on each side. A doorway at the end opened into a large but comparatively modest room with an arc-shaped, narrow table. The chairs, enough to seat at least ten, were all on the outside of the table. The chairs at the top of the arc were slightly larger and more ornate.

Dev, Danil, and the rest were right behind them. Egrenne led Zeke to one of the chairs next to the "'royal" chairs in the center. Enne took the seat next to Zeke. Egrenne motioned for the others to take seats.

As they were doing so, Rolenil casually walked in. No one rose this time, as at the Council meeting. He greeted everyone and put his hand on Zeke's shoulder as he came around the table to sit by him.

His face had been serious in the council meeting, but he was smiling now.

Zeke saw that the narrow table allowed servants, mostly robotic, to bring the food to the table. Rolenil told them of his day's activities. He had been up to one of the orbiting shipyards today to see the construction of two new Redun class cruiser carriers. The shipyards had been inactive until just after the battle a few months before. Now they were almost completely operational. Many of the prefabricated parts for the first ship had been flown up to orbit and some smaller modules were being assembled.

The engines, he said, would be the last thing. Getting the manufacturing facilities on the ground ready would be the slowest task. Much had been taken from them, since their initial construction, for use in other projects.

He looked at Zeke. "Building your drones will work well. They're small and can be built completely on the ground."

"They are not my drones, sir," Zeke told him. "It was Dev's idea, so if they are anyone's, they are his."

Rolenil laughed and looked at Dev. "Dev's drones they are, and Dev's drones we will call them!"

He could see Dev's face color, but he could also see he took pride in the king's acknowledgment.

The king and Egrenne led the conversation without dominating it. To Zeke it had the feel of a holiday meal with friends and family. The time passed quickly and soon they were served the last course, a sweet dish covered in a fruit jelly.

After the meal, Rolenil asked Zeke to accompany him while Danil took everyone else on a tour of the estate.

They went up some stairs to a room like a large study. It had a large window which looked out on the grounds and the forest beyond to the south. It was filled with what were obviously many personal items. The king sat in an old, worn chair and indicated Zeke should take another chair next to him.

"I am glad you accepted the appointment to the Academy. You did not have to, you know," he said and paused.

"Yes, I know. When Danil told me that he was going, it seemed like the right thing to do. I was not enthused about being separated from him. I see now that sending us to different facilities was the right choice. It would have been difficult, especially for me, if we had been together."

"I'm glad you see that. You have made a name for yourself, and you have done it without any assistance. Your performance on Berhlende's mission stunned everyone."

"There was a great deal of luck involved," Zeke responded.

"I am told you say that a lot. I'm also told that most of those who you tell that to don't believe it."

"I won't be accused of being overconfident."

"Perhaps some of us want to believe it was more than luck."

Zeke thought for a moment and said, "I know that I have done well in the training. I can see the rankings posted for myself and my flight. I even believe it is fair to take some credit for that performance. For those successes, I worked hard and tried my best to find ways to be successful and to help my flight be successful. But, Berhlende's mission was a lucky hunch."

He went on, "If I ever were in command of a large ship or squadron, would you want me to commit them to battle on a hunch?"

"No, most certainly I would not. I am glad that you extend your habit of analysis to yourself."

"Honesty, especially honesty about oneself, is a trait my grandfather taught me by example."

"I believe," the king said, "that is an important part of your success. I would like to meet your grandfather someday."

The king paused for a moment, seemingly ready to say something, but started on a different subject.

"The main reason I wanted to talk to you is to ask you some questions about Earth. We had the choice of sending you to the Academy, or taking some time to find out more about Earth and its recent history.

"The last time anyone from Anyar was in the area was over a hundred years ago. You had trains and very primitive flying machines. And wars, many wars."

"Things have advanced a lot in the last one hundred years. We have computers and robotics is becoming common, though nowhere near on the level of Anyar. A few trips into space, not as many as we thought there would be when we sent a few people to the moon."

"You travel to your moon already? You have advanced much faster than I would have thought."

"We only sent a few missions, and that was over forty years ago. Since then we haven't done much."

"That is hard to understand."

"Yes," Zeke agreed, "it is."

"What about the wars, are they still as common?" the king asked.

"Two major wars that involved most of the planet, and numerous smaller, regional wars. Several of them involved my country."

"Is that why you've made so little progress in space?"

"I don't know," Zeke answered. "I don't think the answer is that simple. The situation on Earth is complex, many times more complex than it is here on Anyar, from what I can tell."

"That was true from the last reports made about your planet."

"Many countries are competing for power and resources. Economic factors, from what I hear on the news, seem to be the dominant focus of my government, and all those who aren't directly involved in conflicts."

"Hmm," the king nodded. "Do you know why I ask?"

"To determine if Earth is a danger to Anyar?"

"No, I don't think that will be a problem for quite some time, unless your planet unifies around some common goal. No, I don't consider Earth a threat. It might be, someday, an ally."

Zeke took a minute to absorb that idea. "That is something that would not have occurred to me. It is hard to imagine people on Earth stopping the squabbling among themselves to aid someone else."

"We were not much different before the Rogue came. A threat like that can influence many minds."

"Yes. A great war, over half a century ago, unified my country more than it ever had been before, or has been since. Our contribution, and the advances made during that time, made us one of the two most powerful nations on Earth."

"Earth is not safe from the Rogue, either. We don't know why they attacked us, so we can't say that they might not attack Earth. That is one reason I support your flight's drone proposal so strongly."

"We have smart people, at least I think we do. We've shown we can unite to fight an enemy. But I don't know how you get the planet to unite without a Rogue attack. I don't know that many would believe anything less."

"Well," the king said, "it is something to think about. I will give it some more thought. You should, too. However, this is an idea I have shared with no one else. And I do not intend to do so until I have a plan."

"I understand," Zeke said solemnly.

The king's serious mood lightened. "I hear you've exchanged a few messages with Enne," he said with a smile.

"How do you know about that?" Zeke said before he thought.

"It is my business to know, especially where my daughter is concerned."

"I haven't done anything to give her a reason to be interested in me."

"That isn't nearly as true as you think it is, but I understand that you did not say or do anything to encourage her. You've accomplished enough to attract the interest of most of the young women on the planet. Probably even some that aren't so young," he said with a smile.

"I'm starting to see that."

"Do you mind," the king said, "if I ask what your intentions are?"

"I certainly have no intention of getting on your bad side," Zeke said, seriously.

"You needn't worry on that score. You can both make your own decisions. We don't have arranged marriages for political reasons here, as I seem to recall were common among Earth's royalty."

"The last time I was here, I considered her shallow and only interested in playing games with the young men who were her suitors."

"I can't disagree with that assessment. Even a king can't change the behavior of a willful child. Trying to do so would have likely made it worse. What do you think of her now?"

"Can you tell me why she seems interested in me now? Is it only because of the Berhlende thing, or because I've evidently become more desirable to many of the young women here on Anyar?" Zeke laughed as he finished.

"Why do you laugh?"

"I am from a small town in rural area. The small school I attended was the center of young people's social lives, and I was not popular with the girls, not at all. It seems ludicrous to talk about so many girls--young women---who are apparently interested in me."

"I am also from a rural area. The path that brought me here was an unlikely one, though not nearly so unlikely as yours. Although I can understand your point, I don't think it means as much as you believe."

"What do you think I should do about Enne?" Zeke asked.

"I would say that you have the qualities that women find desirable. You have become famous, you are sought after by other women... I suspect, whether we like to admit it or not, qualities such as that influence us all, regardless of our gender or the planet we come from.

"You are an honorable young man. All I have heard and all I have seen has convinced me of that. In matters like this, sometimes people are hurt. No more can be expected of you than that you avoid hurting her deliberately, or carelessly. My sense now is that if anyone is hurt, it will be Enne."

"I would not hurt her."

The king looked at him seriously. "Sometimes it is not a matter of intent."

"Should I leave her alone?"

"Here on Anyar, we don't ascribe to the notion of royal infallibility. I don't know the answer to that question and I have enough responsibility without advising you on that," he said with a smile.

With that, the king rose and motioned for Zeke to follow.

They went down a set of stairs, past ground level, to another level well below the surface. At the bottom were two heavy doors. One opened into what Zeke could see was a shelter. The other was closed and he saw the king enter a long combination into a pad beside the door.

Inside the room, he flipped a switch and lights came on to reveal a long room with a smell of old wood and leather. Rows of tables were piled with a wide variety of items. Shelves with boxes lined the walls.

At a nearby table, he picked up something that looked like a large knife but with a hilt like a sword. "This was used by the first king of Ara--at least the first one for which we have artifacts from his reign. His name was Rilellel. This was probably a ceremonial weapon--gunpowder had been used in hand weapons for some time. He started the habit of keeping a history of his reign, a habit that continues to this day," and he pointed to countless boxes on the shelves lining the walls.

"I keep up the tradition and record the events and my thoughts each day with pen and paper; although it is transcribed electronically. Only I have access to it until the next king is selected."

"Why?" Zeke asked.

"For a country, culture, or any kind of group to be truly successful, it must move in the same direction consistently from generation to generation. When power changes hands, as when a new king is selected, the temptation is to change course---to make different, supposedly better, plans."

"You say that as if it were a bad thing."

"If the decisions and directions set by the previous generation were so bad, history has shown, the new generation is not likely to do better."

"Good and consistent leadership over generations made Ara the most powerful nation on the planet. I don't know if it was luck or leadership that also made it a place where its citizens had the most security and the least oppression.

"I would not say that it was ever or will ever be without fault. Even now some are unhappy and, I'm sure, some are treated unfairly, but we've had few atrocities and even fewer revolts. I have spent a great deal of time reading the writings of the kings who preceded me. I believe the vast majority were good men who put the welfare of Ara and--later--all of Anyar, above their own egos."

They walked along the tables. Weapons, uniforms, saddles, sculptures, and a variety of items were laid out around them.

"These were the most treasured possessions of the kings of Ara and Anyar," he said looking around the large room.

"Why," Zeke asked him, "are they here instead of a museum? And why are you showing them to me? I would guess that few, besides kings, gain access to this room."

"This room serves a purpose more important than a museum. Many other items are in museums. It connects a king with those whom he follows. It fills him with a sense of history. You know that our kings are not hereditary? So the history is not passed down from father to son. This is the legacy that each king passes on to the next. One that I will add to, and the next king after me."

Zeke could only nod. From the Anyari history he'd read, he knew that the process for selecting a king was lengthy and complex. It began long before the current king was ready to abdicate.

"Why are you showing this to me? This doesn't seem the kind of place that you take a lot of people to see," Zeke said.

"You are correct, very rarely is someone invited to view this room. Danil has not seen it, and will not except in the unlikely event that he follows me as king."

"You are here," he answered, "because you have not lived on Anyar long enough to have an understanding of our ways. From what I know from our reports, and from what you have told me, your world doesn't have the same order and long traditions that are the heart of Anyar. You have done as much in the service of Anyar as any man, and though Danil has done as much, I don't believe he needs to experience this as you do."

"Why?" Zeke asked.

"I am tempted to say that 'you just do'," the king replied. "However, I'll say that I have the strong impression that you have another role to play. It is just a hunch, and if I am wrong, nothing is hurt by bringing you here."

Rolenil picked up a ragged old hat, dusty and stained, and put it on his head. It had a thick lining and was obviously worn for warmth in the winter.

"This was a hunting cap worn by the king who preceded me. I always thought it was the ugliest hat I had ever seen."

"That is something I would not be tempted to disagree with," Zeke replied with a smile.

The king smiled, too. "It is funny how your perceptions change with time. We spent many years together while he taught me to become a king. I respected him, but even though we spent a lot of time together, we were not close until shortly before he abdicated.

"By tradition, the previous king becomes a counselor and main adviser to the new king. He remained to guide me for ten more years. We did not always agree, and he taught me to value our different viewpoints. His death was more difficult for me than that of my own father, and I loved my father dearly."

Zeke looked around the room at the vast array of objects. He realized that each had a story and a treasured place in the life of men with great influence and power.

"Thank you," Zeke told Rolenil with sincerity. "It is an honor to see these things and to hear your stories."

The king nodded, but said nothing as he headed back to the door. They went back up the stairs and out onto a large grass-covered courtyard. Everyone else had returned from Danil's tour and was playing a game.

Rolenil went to join the game. Zeke stepped back to watch.

Everyone yelled at him to join, but he protested that he had never played and didn't know the rules.

They promised to go easy on him, so he walked over to Danil who handed him an elastic purple vest, the same color that he was wearing.

The game was played with three triangular nets at points on the edge of a circular court. Each net was in the center of a wedge. It was a game of both strategy and athletics. They passed the ball quickly from player to player to outmaneuver the opposing team and throw the ball into an open net.

Everyone played and the women were as accomplished as the men. Size wasn't an advantage. Zeke had played enough basketball that he was able to hold his own and began to feel comfortable and enjoy the competition.

They played for over an hour until the sun began to set. By the time they finished, everyone had worked up a sweat. They walked back into the palace, laughing, with each side proclaiming its superiority.

Egrenne told the visitors, "I've taken the liberty of having your things sent over from the Diplomatic building so you can spend the night here with us, before heading back to the Academy in the morning."

After a shower and change of clothes, they gathered in a small room downstairs, with couches and comfortable padded chairs, for a small snack before bed. It reminded Zeke of family outings at his grandparents' with his uncles and cousins, back when his mother was still alive.

As they ate small sandwiches with an iced, lemony drink, Zeke looked around at the family mementos scattered around the room. Danil and Egrenne took turns telling the story of each.

As he had on his previous visit, Zeke shared a room with Danil. It was more than large enough. A second bed had appeared while they were downstairs. Dev and Sephen were in a room down the hall. Ereine shared a room with Enne. That was, Zeke understood, the way Anyari treated close friends and family.

Zeke's bed was by the window and for the first time since he'd been here before, he could see the Anyari night sky. It was not much different from the sky he'd watched from his grandparents' deck.

It took a while to quiet his thoughts and as he lay quietly, he thought of Elenne and wondered what she thought of him. He'd been distracted enough for most of the evening that the situation with Enne had not been a factor. Finally, he thought of Ereine.

He drifted off with vague imaginings of what the next few weeks would bring. Traveling out on the Redun again, flying a real fighter in space, and, perhaps, a real encounter with the Rogue.