Being married to that overbearing ass had been agonizing enough, but at least he was usually good enough to stick to his proper duties. This, however, was beyond the pale.
The door recognized her and slid open to allow her ingress. Bella was grateful that he hadn't put a privacy seal on the door, which would have ruined Bella's grand entrance--though it also meant she wasn't interrupting a private moment between Constantino and Eleftheria, something she always got sadistic pleasure out of, mainly because of the irritated look he got on his face. (It never seemed to bother Eleftheria, who was actually much easier to deal with than most mistresses. Bella got along with her better than her own jig, truth be told, as Edward was something of a cold fish much of the time.)
At first, when she entered, she thought Constantino had company, but then she realized that the second person in the room besides its primary occupant was the holographically projected body of a UNN reporter whose name Bella couldn't remember; behind him was a panoramic, if generic-looking, view of Antiga Prime. Mercifully, Eleftheria was nowhere to be found. While Bella generally liked her husband's mistress, she often tried to mediate between them, and Bella simply wasn't in the mood for that right now. She just wanted to yell at Constantino directly.
The holograph was in mid-sentence: "--earned that Mengsk and the Sons of Korhal are in control of powerful mind-control drugs, which they have been using freely on the populace. Hundreds have died as a result of interdimensional spraying, which can only be described as chemical attacks against innocent citizens. Others have been warped into strange mutagenic shapes as a result of the side effects of these drugs. Mengsk sent a sabo--"
Noticing Bella's entrance, Constantino touched a button on the nightstand, which paused the reporter, leaving him with his eyes closed and his lips comically pursed. Bella thought he came across more intelligent this way.
"Bella--what can I do for you?" Constantino asked. He was in the process of removing his tuxedo.
"What in the hell are you playing at?"
His nostrils flared, making him look like a particularly idiotic horse. "I beg your pardon?"
"Beg all you want, you won't get it. How dare you?"
"Bella, I haven't the foggiest idea what you're carrying on about, but--"
"Nova just came crying to my room, you jackass. I don't ever remember seeing her cry before--or at least not since she was an infant--but I can't blame her for doing it now. She's a fifteen-year-old girl who just got told by her father that she's being sent for reeducation on some godforsaken rock in Tyrador!"
Constantino's green eyes--which he had passed on to his daughter--widened and his mouth hung agape, making him look like an especially confused fish. She wondered if he'd work his way through the entire animal kingdom before this conversation ended. "Reeducation? That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard."
That brought Bella up short. "You mean you're not sending her to Tyrador?"
"Of course I am, but it has nothing to do with any kind of reeducation. Where could she have gotten such a notion?"
Bella's fury returned a hundredfold. She couldn't believe he spoiled what had been a glorious evening for Nova like this. "And when were you planning to inform me of this momentous decision regarding my daughter, precisely?"
"She's my daughter too, Bella, and--"
"You didn't sneak off and get a sex change behind my back, did you? I only ask because you may have mistaken your role for that of the head of the household. Besides, it's an honest mistake to make, since you seem to have lost your testicular fortitude."
Now Constantino rolled his eyes. "Very droll, my dear, very droll, but this is a necessary step. It's not safe on Tarsonis. The hovercraft plant was attacked last night."
Again, Bella found herself brought up short. "Rebels?" she asked in a much quieter tone.
"How many--how many died?"
"Almost the entire night shift."
For what seemed like the millionth time, she cursed Arcturus Mengsk and his band of murdering scum. She swore that if she ever saw him--well, if they were ever in the same room, he'd probably have her shot, but she'd do her best to try to kill him first. A forlorn hope, but one she had kept burning in her gut ever since that rabble-rouser first started causing his unrest.
"And then there's the aliens."
Bella rolled her eyes. "Please don't tell me you believe that nonsense on UNN. Mind-control drugs?"
Constantino smiled wryly. "Oh, UNN's reports bear only a passing resemblance to reality." He touched the control on the end table again, and the reporter started up again.
"--teur aboard the Norad II and exposed the crew to a virulent toxin. The result was the recent crash of that ship. Agents of the Sons of Korhal captured those affected by the mind-control drugs, and left the rest to die at the hands of their Zerg allies. I believe that General Edmund Duke, scion of the Duke Family of Tarsonis, has fallen prey to these mind-control devices, and now has been reduced to a mentally reprogrammed zombie in the service of the terr--"
He paused the playback again. "The best lies contain a kernel of truth." He walked up to Bella, looking down at her and putting his hands on her shoulders. "Bella, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but-- An alien race called the Protoss destroyed Chau Sara and Mar Sara."
"D--destroyed?" Bella couldn't believe it. Planets weren't just destroyed--well, except for Korhal… "That can't be right."
"I'm afraid it is. And those Zerg that they're talking about on UNN? They're real, too--but they're not allied with Mengsk or anyone else. They are enemies of the Protoss, though, and I suspect that our fate is to be caught in the middle of their war. That's why a number of us have agreed to get some of our children off Tarsonis. And Duke has turned--but not because of any drugs. Mengsk has convinced him to join his side."
Bella felt as if she'd been slapped with a metal plate. "That's insane." She wasn't even sure which of the revelations her husband had dropped on her fit that bill best--though the fact that Edmund Duke had gone rogue was no real surprise. The man was always an idiot, and an embarrassment. If he had been mentally reprogrammed into a zombie, nobody would know the difference. Then again, recalling Garth's antics at the party, she thought that perhaps that whole family had gone mad.
"This wasn't my idea originally, to be honest, it was Arturro Calabas's. Morgan Calabas, Antonia Tygore, and several others are going to a resort on Tyrador IX, just in case the Protoss or the Zerg target us next. Besides, in a world where a Duke joins the Sons of Korhal, we can't trust anyone."
A resort at least sounded better than a reeducation camp. Where do these children get these insane notions? "You still haven't answered my question," she said testily.
"Which question is that?" He removed his hands from her shoulders and pulled out his loosened tie from the collar.
"When were you going to tell me? The children are part of the household, and that is my responsibility!"
"Yes, along with choosing the wine. What were you thinking using the '07?"
"I like the '07. And so does everyone else." She sighed. "You never had any taste for good wine, Constantino, I don't know why you insist on bringing it up every time a vintage doesn't strike your fancy. And you're changing the subject. The disposition of the children--"
He took off his jacket as he spoke. "It's a security matter, Bella, which does fall under my purview--and to be honest, I wasn't going to send her at first. When Arturro told me about his plan, I thought it too panicky. But then Lia told me about the plant and about Sara, I…" He trailed off.
"What about Clara and Zeb?"
"I need Zeb here. Besides, he's a man now, it's time he started acting like it. As for Clara." He sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed. "Milo refuses to go, so she's staying as well." Looking up, he added, "Besides, we can't appear to be abandoning Tarsonis altogether--it's a show of weakness we can ill-afford, especially now. To all outward appearances, it will just be some of the children on an outing to the resort on Tyrador."
She sat down next to him and put a hand on his thigh. Normally, she'd never think of being that affectionate, but if what he was saying was really true… "Do you really think they'll attack us?"
"I don't know. A year ago, if you'd told me that there were aliens, I'd have laughed at you. But now?" He put his hand on hers. It felt cold and clammy. "I don't know what's likely anymore. And I don't know if this will really do any good. But I'll feel better if I know Nova's safe on Tyrador. It's for the best, Bella, truly."
"You're right, it probably is." She hadn't had cause to say those first two words to her husband in many years. "But you had no business making this decision without consulting me. I'm your wife, Constantino, and Nova is my daughter. If you ever make this kind of decision without me again, I will flay you alive, you understand?"
He looked over at her, staring at him with those damn green eyes. "You're right, Bella, I'm sorry. I guess we've been working so independently of each other that it never occurred to me to--"
"Save it." She stood up. "Don't make excuses. You shouldn't be cutting me out of family business. That's grounds for divorce--and no," she said quickly, holding up a hand, "I'm not threatening that, merely trying to make you realize the gravity of what you've done."
He shook his head and chuckled, looking up at her. "You're right. As usual, I suppose. I really don't give you enough credit, Bella--and for that, I truly do apologize."
Biting back a snotty retort, Bella decided to accept what Constantino offered "Apology accepted."
"Thank you. I promise you, I won't cut you out of such decisions again, my dear, all right?"
"See that you don't." Turning on her heel, she stomped out of the bedroom. What a jackass. She had to admit, the plan was a sensible one. If he had come to her when Arturro proposed it, she probably would have been more enthusiastic about the notion than he was. Her only objection to the plan itself was that Clara and Zeb weren't going. She could accept Zeb's remaining--now that he was all grown, it was a business matter, and therefore in Constantino's purview--and Clara was her own woman now. But dammit, she's also my daughter, and I want her to be as safe as her sister.
As she headed to the door, Constantino restarted the news report. "--orists. In this way, Mengsk and his inhuman allies hope to confuse the brave warriors of the Confederacy and cause them to lose faith in their leaders. Only by eternal vigilance can we root out such terorrists as Mengsk and his mind-controlled minions. As I speak, a massive Confederate blockade is surrounding Antiga Prime, and the terrorist should be destroyed within a few days. This is Michael Daniel Liberty for UNN."
Bella departed, thinking, Liberty, that's his name. What a stupid name for a reporter.
She stomped toward her bedroom, hoping for his sake that Edward was still up. If he wasn't, he would be soon. She needed some serious comforting, and he wasn't going to get away with pleading exhaustion tonight…
The puddle-jumpers were small, thirty-passenger transports that took one from Giddings Station on Tarsonis to Osborne Port in orbit. This particular puddle-jumper's entire first-class section was occupied by scions of the Old Families who were going to be taken in the Calabas's yacht, the Padraig, to Tyrador IX.
Nova didn't want to go.
She had cried in her room for hours after Daddy told her she was going. Her anguish only abated mildly when, later on, Daddy assured her that she wasn't going to be reeducated along with Morgan Calabas, but simply being taken somewhere safe from the rebels and the aliens. Nova's first instinct was to dismiss his paranoia, but she knew as soon as he said it that his fear was very genuine, that there really were aliens out there who had killed humans and would likely do so again.
But she still didn't want to go.
To make matters worse, she was sitting next to Morgan on the puddle-jumper, and he would not shut up.
"This is smart," he was saying. "This way, if something terrible happens to our families, the best and the brightest will still be safe. Plus, have you been to the resort on Tyrador? It's amazing. Beautiful countryside, state-of-the-art padball courts--maybe we could play?"
Stunned that he gave her an opening to speak, Nova said, "I don't know how to play padball." Even as she spoke the words, she realized that it wouldn't help.
"I can teach you, then. I'm a master padball player."
In fact, Nova knew for a fact that he was a dreadful player, and was only wasn't cut from the school padball team last year because his father was the one who paid for the school's courts. Nobody had ever told her this--mainly because she never cared enough to ask--but she simply knew it now.
Nova leaned forward and punched up the menu on the food unit. To her great disappointment, they didn't have any framberry juice. She settled for tangerine juice, which was dispensed in a plastic bottle through the slot a moment later.
Morgan was still droning on, but she stopped paying attention.
For three days, she tried to convince her parents not to let her go. Mommy and Daddy were both insistent. Eleftheria was less sure, but supported Daddy. The only one who argued against her going was Edward, which surprised Nova. Edward was always hard for her to figure out; it was as if his mind was closed off. Zeb joked once that it was because he was so boring, there was nothing there for her empathy to pick up. So she was surprised to see him argue for letting her stay.
But no amount of cajoling would work, especially after the reports of rebel attacks on Antiga Prime came in. Whatever doubt was in her parents' minds were gone after that. They were adamant that she go to Tyrador--at least for a few months, until the current unrest died down.
If it died down. If they weren't overrun by aliens.
"Of course, I had my choice of women to escort, but I chose you for a reason."
Nova realized that Morgan was talking about her. "Oh?" she said noncomittally. It wasn't as if her participation were necessary; Morgan simply adored the sound of his own voice.
"That's right. But you're special, Nova. I don't know what it is, but there's something about you that stands out from all the other girls." As he said those words, he was staring right at her chest.
Then she again heard Morgan speak without him speaking: I can't wait to see what she looks like naked.
And she heard something else. Something that spoke in her father's voice. What the hell are you doing?
Then biting pain, as if someone had punched her in the face.
Without knowing how, she simply knew that someone had just hit her father.
At the same time, a computerized voice sounded over the speakers. "Attention passengers. We will be taking off in ten minutes. Please activate your restraints in preparation for takeoff."
Morgan immediately pressed the button that activated the padded restraints that combined with the seats--which would blow up into huge balloon-like cushions before takeoff--to protect the passengers from the intense G-forces of escape velocity.
Nova, however, did not. Something was wrong. She didn't know what it was, but she suddenly, with crystal clarity, knew that her family was in trouble.
She got up from the seat. "I have to go."
Morgan looked boggled as she climbed over his seat to the aisle. "What? Nova, what're you--?"
Ignoring him, and thrilled at the prospect of not listening to him prattle about padball and think about her body all the way to Tyrador, Nova moved toward the exit.
A steward blocked her path. "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but--"
Drawing herself to her full height--which was considerable for a girl her age--and using the same overbearing tone she'd been hearing from Andrea Tygore all her life, she said, "I am November Terra, daughter of Constantino and Annabella Terra, and you will let me disembark this vessel now!"
The steward swallowed once, considered responding, then decided that it was best to accede to her request. The Terra name was not one to be trifled with.
Several people behind her asked her where she was going, but she ignored them as she left the puddle-jumper, then jogged across the catwalk to the gate, and then ran through the corridors of Giddings Station to the cab stand.
Bypassing the queue for hovercabs, she went straight to the dispatcher and informed him of her name and family in the same tone she used on the steward. He got her a cab forthwith, leaving several disgruntled people in her wake.
The feeling grew worse, if less well defined. Somehow, someway, she could feel that her parents, her brother, Eleftheria, the servants--they were all in trouble.
All except Edward, for some reason.
Oh, no. No, no, no.
She cast her mind back to her conversation with Daddy two nights ago, before the attack on Antiga Prime made him cease all discussion. "My darling girl, you don't understand. The reason why the attack on the plant worked so well is because Mengsk had people there, working undercover. If he could infiltrate the plant, he might be able to infiltrate this house. I can't take the chance that you'll be hurt, so you have to go."
Although she still didn't understand how she could possibly know this, she was sure now that Edward was a rebel, that he had been suborned to the cause after years of dissatisfaction as the jig to a woman he couldn't stand, and that he had now betrayed the Terra family.
That was why he wanted me to stay.
The cab pulled up in front of the Terra Skyscraper. Throwing bills into the slot in the wall that separated driver from passenger and hoping it was enough, she ran into the building, past the public lobby and to the entry to the private lobby, to which she gained ingress via retinal scan.
As soon as the door opened to admit her, she knew something was wrong. Something smelled funny, and she knew that Bryan, the daytime lobby guard, wasn't there.
No, he was there. Or at least his body was.
Nova had never seen a dead body before. She had been to funerals, of course, but one never looked upon the dead at such occasions--it was sacreligious. Even when she was a little kid, she had refused to look at the body of her grandmother, though Zeb tried to get her to sneak into the back room of the funeral parlor with her to take a look.
Dead bodies, she realized, felt empty. A big nothing. And they smelled.
Bryan's uniform was stained with something red that she realized was blood.
If they killed Bryan, they're already here. I'm too late!
Tears streaming down her cheeks, she ran to the elevator and gave another retinal scan. The lift came immediately, of course--she was a Terra, after all, so they always got what they wanted.
As the elevator shot up the hundred stories to the penthouse where Nova had lived her entire life, she found herself overwhelmed by hatred and pain, neither of them her own. Strange thoughts intruded upon her own. What's happening to me?
Edward, you slike, how dare you!
That was Mommy. She could feel Mommy, as if she was right there next to her.
Dammit, look at me! How could you--
Then she didn't feel Mommy anymore. Mommy was ripped from her, like the insects Zeb used to pull the wings off of when they were little.
You'll pay for this, you hear me? You won't get away with this--
That was Daddy. He didn't get to finish his sentence either.
She collapsed to the elevator floor, even as the door opened on the top floor.
"Daddy? Oh God, Daddy, please, don't be dead, please!" She managed to clamber out into the domed space, but she couldn't make her legs work right, and she collapsed again to the floor.
Three days ago, this had been the site of her fifteenth birthday party. Now it was full of men and women dressed in all-black clothing, holding weapons of various types. She saw a goodly number of the serving staff lined up against the wall--and a few more of them among those in the black clothes. All the people in black wanted nothing less than to wipe out the Old Families--she could feel that overwhelming imperative in their minds all of a sudden. But they weren't associated with the Sons of Korhal, the group that was all over the news, the ones who attacked Antiga Prime--no these were just agitators who had no plan beyond making sure the Old Families all died.
Edward was standing over three corpses. Two were of her parents; the other was Eleftheria, who must have already been dead. Next to Edward was a man named Gustavo McBain, who was aiming a pistol at Zeb. Her brother was on his knees, his hands behind his head.
"Y'know," Zeb was saying, "you always were an asshole, Eddie."
"Takes one to know one, kid," Edward said. Then he looked at Gustavo. "Do it."
Gustavo fired the pistol. The bullet slammed into Zeb's head, causing it to snap back, his blood and brains splattered on the wall behind him.
Nova had felt her mother and father die. Now she had seen and felt her brother die.
Edward turned to look at her and smiled. "Well, well, well. After all that, you come home, anyhow."
He walked over to her and raised a pistol of his own. Edward was a tall, skinny man with black curly hair and a black beard, though both hair and beard were flecked with gray. She had never seen him smile quite the way he was smiling now. He had never killed anyone before, and she knew that he was afraid to kill someone now--that was why he had had Gustavo do it, because Gustavo hated the Old Families even more than he did, and he would enjoy the killing. Edward wouldn't enjoy it.
But he was going to do it anyhow.
Aiming the pistol's muzzle at her head, just as Gustavo had done to Zeb, Edward said, "Say goodnight, Nova."
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