Yew and Me
Lily hated it when things happened over which she had no control. The colonization process had been going well so the last thing that the planet needed was the disruption and trouble that the Russians had visited upon them all.
The main problem was that she needed to be in about five places at once. Sure she was the de facto Head of State and behind her back certain people referred to her as “Lilith, Empress of Mars”: not that this bothered her. In fact she often wished that she held real Imperial power: she might be able to get more things done if she did! She had fine and able people working for her, loyal people too. Alexander, close by at Copernico, could be relied upon to keep things running, come what may. While Mike Price over at Hawking and Zhuan Jin at the Shen Kuo Facility were rock-solid and shared her vision. Newton too was well-run even though there was a committee in charge. The other bases were with her and things had been moving forward at a satisfactory pace until now.
Yes, Lily knew that there were good people running those bases but the problem was that that was all that they were... They were individuals running individual facilities. They were not even a team let alone a government. As Lilith Yew gazed out of the window at the wide expanse of Elysium Plane her mind wandered to the future and she imagined a plane covered in lush, green vegetation. It would come to pass too, of this she was certain, but it was an up-hill struggle. First she needed to get everyone to think beyond the limits of their own private fiefdom. If only she were Empress, then she would have the power to compel people to work together for the common good! As it was she well knew that the only power that she could ever wielded outside her own Hive was the power of persuasion.
The irony of the fact that Mars needed a government was not lost on her. She had spent most of her life cursing governments for their ineptitude and lack of vision. It was the governments back on Earth that had turned the old Martian Authority into exactly the kind of governing body that Mars did not need. It was governments that had decided that the Authority should be profit-oriented rather than forward looking and to his end they had invited the Earth-side mega-corporations to invest in Mars. “Governments!” She spat bitterly.
“Mistress?” A quiet voice enquired from somewhere close by.
She turned slowly and smiled when her eyes fell on Eve.
Is everything okay, Mistress?” The woman asked, concern heavy in her voice.
Lily smiled again when she saw that her slave was offering her a mug of tea that she had thoughtfully brewed.
“Eve,” she said quietly, “I’ve got space shuttles zooming around on unknown flight paths, transport aircraft full of refugees threatening to swamp Hawking, a mad Russian woman throwing everything into chaos and the Ward sisters away on a mission that I don’t even know the status of and you think that a mug of tea will make everything alright?”
eve’s face fell. “Well it can’t make them any worse.”
Lily chuckled as she accepted the proffered mug. “That’s about the only thing that I can be certain of at the moment.” Actually the tea was just what she needed. “Thank you, Eve, that was very thoughtful.”
Lily looked around at her willing slave, Eve had once been her best security agent back in the days when the Authority maintained its stranglehold on Martian development. Loyal Eve had pleaded with Lily to be enslaved so that she could carry on working closely for the person that she most admired. At that time Lady Yew had doubted that she had the right to grind out her loyal operator’s individuality and turn her into little more than a robotic puppet. But now that she better understood Hive slavery she realised that she had no right to deny its release to any woman that chose it.
The woman, who thought of herself as ‘eve’ shivered slightly in appreciation of her Mistress’s thanks, before hazarding a question. “Still no news of yseult and ciara then, Mistress?”
Lily drank another mouthful of the tea. “No, my friend, nothing at all. I knew that it would be a long mission and that it would take them over a week to sneak into Tsiokolski, but all the same I hate it when I send my people into danger.”
eve nodded for she knew just how much Lily must be beating herself up. “Lily,” she said quietly, daring to use Mistress’s name without permission, “we need to know just what is happening over there and inserting agents is about the only way for us to learn anything.”
Lily’s gaze was drawn back to the picture window once more, to the dust-devils skittering across the landscape and to the brown smudge that was staining the horizon. “I’ve a feeling that there’s a big storm coming, Eve, and I’m frightened.”
eve transferred her gaze from her personal Goddess to the ominous smudge on the horizon. “It doesn’t look like a major dust storm, Mistress.”
“That’s not the storm I meant, my friend.”
She turned back to Eve and saw the concern lining her face... Mistress was worried therefore she was worried too. Lily smiled. Loyal and faithful Eve deserved a reward and it was one that only a loving Mistress could bestow. “Eve, you richly deserve this so please come for me!”
As Lilith Yew, Mistress of all that she surveyed, watched, her faithful slave’s eyes rolled upwards and her body began to shake as her scream of orgasmic release filled the Hive’s administration centre and her juices ran down both legs to pool on the parquet floor.
The Ward sisters moved easily through the tunnels and passageways of the Tsiokolski Complex and although its layout and construction was significantly different from the bases that they were familiar with, such as Copernico or Newton, its functioning was essentially the same. However it did have a feature that they had not previously encountered—a loudspeaker system.
Here they were, moving effortlessly along one of the ground floor corridors towards the medical centre when a hoarse voice had bellowed out from the grills set at regular intervals in the passageway’s ceiling. “The Earth-bound shuttles will depart from our Cosmodrome in five hours. All returning personnel stand-by for further instructions.”
As they had walked into the base the girls had noticed that the landing area outside was more than a little crowded. They had paused and memorized the registration codes of the shuttles that they could see from their hiding place because this was the sort of information that they believed would interest Mistress. Big pictures were constructed, mosaic-like, from such tiny details.
Once inside the base, one of the things that the girls had noticed was that there seemed to be a chronic shortage of men. On Mars, outside of the hive, the population averaged about 65% male yet here there only seemed to be a few scattered around in a mainly female establishment... This was another of those small mosaic tiles that Mistress needed to know of.
Moving around proved a whole lot easier than either of the sisters had anticipated for the place was reminiscent of a school during lesson time: you got the impression that there were lots of people present, but you heard rather than saw them. For, with the exception of the small group that had been waiting for an elevator, the corridors were largely deserted. Twice women had moved to one side to allow the small procession to march past but that was about it. Occasional someone had emerged from a door or a side passage before moving off but most of the time they had had the corridor to them selves. Even in the middle of a work-shift there should have been more people around and there certainly were at Philae.
The corridor along which they propelled Svetlana was much the same as the one down below in the hydroponics area: rough rock walls, green painted metal doors, bright, uncased ceiling lights and no decoration. To their right, a door slid open and a woman stepped out and hesitated. Glancing past her Yseult caught a glimpse of banks of what was probably computer equipment and she made a mental note to take a closer look in there if at all possible.
Suddenly the woman reacted and was startled no longer. “Hey, Svetlana, what’s going on?”
The sisters felt Svetlana struggle for the first time as she tried to half turn and face the newcomer. “They’re taking me to the Med Bay to turn me into one of their fucking zombies!” She spat.
“We’ll see about that.” The woman shouted as she dodged around them and sprinted away down the corridor before disappearing through another doorway.
The Ward sisters glanced at each other, their normally impassive faces displaying a hint of uncertainty. Should they carry on, or leg-it? Ciara’s expression hardened—the current course of action was the one most likely to lead to the discovery of the new data that Mistress needed. The decision already made, they carried on.
Suddenly things changed and events overtook them in the form of half a dozen women and a couple of men who seemed to boil out through one of the doors and surround them. The scuffle was brief as their attackers had armed themselves with anything that came to hand. Work-unit 4a-56 was the first to go down, felled by a well placed right cross but Yseult scarcely had time to react before the mob engulfed both her sister and herself. Ciara tried to fight back but someone caught her behind the ear with a length of hydraulic pipe and her eyes seemed to roll upwards as she sank to the floor.
Before she could react, Yseult found herself swept along for a short distance before reeling under a welter of blows that slammed her into the wall. Something banged into her face and she felt her knees begin to buckle. Then as conscientiousness faded she heard a well educated woman’s voice say. “That shouldn’t happen!”
The next thing that she remembered was looking up from the floor and seeing a hand holding the small disc that had been glued to her forehead. Suddenly hands grabbed her roughly under the armpits and she felt herself being dragged down the corridor. Blackness descended almost immediately afterwards.
Three days later Lily was standing in front of a very large table that had been especially built for her by willing members of her hive. There were work PADDs, pictures, charts and assorted pages of handwritten notes spread out in front of both herself and her helpers. Alexander was there, he had driven the short distance from Copernico specially for this conference. Across the table were eve, rebecca and solena all three dressed in dazzling white hive uniforms, the vests of which were ornamented with pale blue and silver that marked them out as administration staff as well as controllers. The black woven collars embroidered with silver tyet that they wore so proudly marked them as slaves. Close by, poring over a series of satellite photographs was a woman dressed in the old sky-blue uniform that the Space Traffic Controllers still wore. Dating from the days of the Martian Authority’s stifling rule, her shirt still bore the silver Earth-shaped badge denoting that she supposedly served the United Nations. According to the naval-style rank badges and her name badge she was Lieutenant Monika Ebersbacher.
Lieutenant Ebersbacher seemed to be trying to keep at least an arms length from the three Hive slaves, almost as if she believed that their condition was contagious. She noticed that Lily was watching her and twitched nervously as it seemed that the presence of the de facto Head of State also made her nervous.
“So!” Lily said crisply. “How do we account for this massive increase in traffic?”
Alexander suddenly looked up. “It’s not just the Russians, there’s activity at the old Saudi base, too.” He said, pushing a satellite photograph in front of Lily.
Lily looked at it, frowned and then pushed it across the table towards Ebersbacher. “Okay, what can you tell me about this shuttle?”
The Lieutenant grabbed a PADD and began to scroll through lists of entries. She stopped, bit her lower lip then dropped the handheld computer back onto the table before examining the photograph once more. After a few seconds she picked up a hand lens and tried to make out the details of the black craft parked by the side of the former Saudi dome. She picked up the PADD again and engaged the search routine entering the date-time code as was recorded on the picture. The PADD warbled, seemingly apologising for having no data.
“Sorry, Lady Yew, but there is no record of that craft or any of the flights that it has made within the Mars-Control-Zone.”
Suddenly Alexander darted around the table and retrieved another satellite picture. “Here it is again, four hours later parked, on the Tsiokolski Cosmodrome... Christ, that place is busy!”
eve looked up. “We could always radio the Russian Space Agency and offer them our assistance with their endeavours at the King Faisal Facility.”
“What’s the point?” Alexander asked in a tired voice. “They’re Russians, they’ll deny everything, they always do!”
Lily chuckled then smiled. “No wait! That’s a really good idea, Eve, send them copies of both satellite photographs too. If it is them, then it will let them know that we’re watching. But if they’re not involved then it will get them agitated and they just might overreact and let their guard down.”
eve smiled in appreciation of her Mistress’s praise. “I’ll get onto it right away, Mistress. I’ll also get the Communications Centre staff to notify you of any changes in volume of radio traffic between Earth and the Martian Oblast.”
“Can we read their codes?” Alexander asked
“Not yet. The Chinese have got a team working on it over at the Shen Kuo Facility but they’re yet to make any real progress. And before you ask, that team are the best mathematicians on our planet.” She paused and smiled continuing with. “It’s worth remembering that changes in traffic levels and volumes can often tell us almost as much as what reading their codes would.”
Lieutenant Ebersbacher suddenly cleared her throat as a way of attracting everyone’s attention. “Lady Yew, it seems that that black shuttle hopped back to the dome some hours afterwards but that’s not all; two of the other shuttles that had been parked at Tsiolkolski lifted off for Earth at more or less the same time: no final destinations being logged.”
Lily exhaled noisily something was going on right under her nose but she was damned if she could see what it was!
Suddenly the local coms unit that was sitting on the table next to Solena “beeped” into life and the former Copernico Deputy-administrator answered it quietly so as not to disturb the conference. She suddenly looked in lily’s direction. “Mistress, there’s a call for you from Tsiokolski.”
Bemused and not a little concerned Lily walked around the table to where she could see the screen.
She tapped the ‘connect’ tab at the base of the desk top and too her surprise was confronted with a shot of a grinning Valentina Karpova: the woman who had recently become her own personal nemesis.
“Ah, Madam Yew! This is a pleasure.” The nemesis proclaimed in perfect English.
“Madam Karpova!” Lily answered by way of greeting. “What can I do for you?”
The infernal woman’s cat-like smile widened to such an extent that Lily would not have been surprised to see canary feathers trapped between her flawless crimson lips. “Madam Yew... Lilith! We really need to meet face to face. There are things going on of with which you simply should become acquainted.”
“I’m busy dealing with an influx of refugees that have landed at one of my settlements so I am afraid that I don’t have the time to visit you at Tsiokolski.” Lily answered keeping her voice calm.
“No matter, I would be more than happy to call on you at your Hive. Would tomorrow morning be convenient?” The woman sounded annoyingly reasonable.
“That would be ideal providing you are alone: I will not allow your troopers inside any of my facilities.” Lily answered brusquely.
“Agreed, providing that you personally guarantee my safety, Mistress Yew.” The smile had faded as both her expression and voice became serious.
Lily blinked at the screen. “Just that? Just my verbal guarantee?”
The woman leaned forward. “If I cannot trust the word of Mistress Lilith Yew then what can I trust?” The voice sounded much older than the face on the screen and was no longer seemed to be brimming with confidence.
“In that case you have my word that you will not be harmed or inconvenienced in any way and will be free to leave whenever you may wish.” Lily stated warily, ignoring Alexander’s muttered disapproval.
The smile returned. “Good! In that case I will be able to return some of your property!” The camera zoomed back and revealed that Yseult and Ciara Ward were standing rigidly at attention behind her chair. Their faces bruised and battered but otherwise, they looked okay.
Karpova couldn’t help but see Lily’s changing expression and added. “That was none of my doing... They got themselves caught up in a small riot, which they’ll no doubt confirm tomorrow.”
The conversation ended before Lily had a chance to give vent to her displeasure.
All was silence around the table at Philae until Alexander gave voice to the doubts that they were all feeling. “You don’t believe her do you, Lily?”
“No!” Lily said thoughtfully. “Not yet, but then I don’t disbelieve her either.”
Suddenly she looked up, her face serious and her expression hard. “Solana please contact every base on this planet and advise the senior staff to place their facilities on a state of high alert.”
She turned to Rebecca. “I want Hive Philae on complete lock-down until further notice—something just does not feel right.”
And so it came to pass that the two most powerful Women on Mars did meet for the first time. It was a short meeting that lasted barely two hours and allowed them to freely exchange insincerities and information under a heavy atmosphere of mutual suspicion and distrust. However an understanding was hammered out and “found property” was returned to its rightful owner, bruised and battered but not broken or even tampered with in anyway.
“They really are cute!” Karpova had almost gushed, this time with a pronounced Russian accent: this plus her husky voice almost making her sound so sincere. “A matching pair of red-headed Irish beauties! I was tempted to keep them for myself but no! I would never steal another Mistress’s pets!”
Lily let this one ride and thanked her for returning Yseult and Ciara to her before resuming the negotiation process.
Although the powerful women had met without anyone else being present, the conference had been recorded so that it could be studied by Mistress Yew’s advisors both within and outside her Hive.
Afterwards Lily had stood and stared out at the landscape for over an hour. She had been correct, there was a storm heading her way, but, according to Karpova, it was coming from a completely unexpected quarter. Unmoving, The Mistress of Hive Philae, and also the whole of Mars, gazed out as the first tendrils of another sandstorm licked at her facility and flurries of salmon-pink dust danced past, some of them separating into little swirling dust-devils that gaily danced across the barren landscape.
Karpova’s warning still rang in her ears... “Beware of The Master who will not rest until in control of both us and also the whole of this planet!”