Legislation Hall, Republican City, United Republic of Provinces
Nasai, White Moon 3303 – September
“That went well, I think,” Hijaz El Amra enthused, walking briskly beside his cousin Sekel and trying to keep pace with him down the wide corridor towards the front exit of Legislation Hall as they proceeded from the council chambers.
Sekel was not so sure, but he smiled at his younger cousin and clapped him on the back anyway. The only positive development from today’s session in Sekel’s opinion was that the Communications Committee hadn’t presented the transmission logs from this week so Sekel would have a few more days to prepare for the backlash sure to come from Rebecca’s declarations. CEC and UCB members walked along beside them and past them in the corridor, cordially greeting Sekel and Hijaz as they passed, but ceremoniously ignoring one another for the most part. Sekel waved back or smiled diplomatically, internally shaking his head, but otherwise remaining neutral as was his job. Had he known what he was in store for when his father had asked him to accept the Ambassadorship he would have refused.
“Let’s hope your optimism is not misplaced and that the legislation will push through; positive thinking always helps,” Sekel replied with a grin that he did not feel.
There was no sense in alarming Hijaz, but the truth of the matter was that Sekel did not foresee a compromise between the two political parties and didn’t think that the Complex would be receiving a fraction of the monies requested in the UCB’s bill. The URP was supposed to be a democratic governing system, but the two ruling parties, The Council for Elected Citizens, the CEC, and the United Council for Brotherhood, the UCB, opposed one another so completely and frequently that the business of democratic government was seldom cooperatively realized, especially where the Urnahi were concerned, because the CEC was comprised primarily of the old families who maintained most of the wealth. Sekel and Hijaz reached the reception desk where they flashed their ID cards to the guard as they passed and stepped through the body scanners to exit the building.
“And you’ve informed the girl that we would be picking her up this afternoon?” Sekel asked Hijaz as they strode side by side towards the land transport parked and waiting for them by the curb.
“Yes, she is expecting us,” Hijaz answered. “But I’ll call over now to remind her, since we’re late.”
Sekel climbed into the rear seat first and greeted the driver as Hijaz dialed the sleephouse on his wrist communicator.
“Greetings, Yullie. To Seaside Sleephouse, please, and then to Woodridge Landing Station,” Sekel instructed the driver.
“Yes, of course, sirrah,” Yullie responded cordially.
“You’re looking well, I’m glad to see that you’ve recovered,” Sekel stated as Hijaz sat down across from Sekel in the transport and closed the door.
“Thank you, sirrah,” Yullie replied and drove away from the curb. “And thank you for the tonic. I don’t think that I would have recovered as well if it had not been for your generosity. My wife has had a hard time convincing our neighbors that we do not have anymore.”
Yullie laughed light-heartedly but Sekel understood what it could mean for his family if Yullie’s neighbors continued with their suspicions.
“You tell your wife that she can inform all of your neighbors that the Ambassador secured the tonic for you and to send them to my office. I’ll see what I can do to help,” Sekel responded and laughed with Yullie.
“You are too generous, sirrah. May the Creator smile upon you always,” Yullie said warmly.
“And upon you, my friend,” Sekel answered and turned questioningly to Hijaz.
“She’s ready; waiting at the front desk. I’ll run inside to get her when we arrive,” Hijaz stated.
Yullie drove the transport for a few yards along Republic Road before turning off at a side street and taking a shorter, less congested route to the sleephouse. They arrived at the small cottage within minutes and saw that Safiya was already waiting outside. She stared curiously at the transport as it pulled up along the curb and smiled in pleasant surprise when Hijaz stepped out to greet her. Sekel watched her closely, noticing the way that she gazed at the off-worlders as they walked passed and the tentative suspicion that she carried. Hijaz opened the door for her and waited for her to climb into the transport before following her inside and sealing the door closed behind him. Yullie immediately drove off towards the landing station once the two of them were inside.
“Peace and blessings be with you, sister,” Sekel greeted as she settled into her seat across from him and beside Hijaz.
“And with you, Ambassador Sekel,” she responded.
She wore a light blue tunic shirt with matching pants and a yellow headscarf draped over her head and shoulders today and now looked more like what Sekel would have expected. She had apparently used the salve that Sekel had sent over to her at the cottage because the bruise upon her cheek was now almost unnoticeable.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay here. Was everything to your liking?” Sekel asked her.
“Yes, thank you. And thank you for the ointment. Sister Sarai wouldn’t understand if she’d seen the bruise,” Safiya admitted.
“Well, let’s just hope that you will keep your exploring to within the confines of the neutral zone from now on,” Sekel responded.
“I think I might want to visit Republican City again one day,” Safiya replied as she gazed through the window at the passing transport vehicles and pedestrians. “It’s awful that there’s such a difference between here and the laborer cities. Maybe you could use more Urnahi working with you; to make things better.”
“That would be a great idea,” Hijaz enthused and his face flushed pink with embarrassment at Sekel’s surprised expression.
“We could always use help,” Sekel responded carefully. “But I’ve heard that you have another year of schooling to complete. You’d have to finish your schooling first and then I’d be happy to offer you a job.”
Safiya looked uncomfortable at his revelation but replied, “Ok. Would I need to take additional lessons about the Republic? To learn the whole history of it and of the off-worlders?”
“No, not necessarily, but it would help to learn about them,” Sekel answered. “Hijaz and I could help you with that. You must have learned some of the history in day school?”
“Some, but not much,” Safiya answered as she eyed the view of the city square through the window where off-worlders lounged upon the grass listening to music and eating as they enjoyed the afternoon. “We learned the general stuff: how the United Republic of Provinces had originally been formed by the off-worlders when they colonized the south, how they brought the Pox with them from their home planet and how the Urnahi became sick and died from it. But we didn’t learn anything about how things really are here. About the exiles and laborer cities.”
“You wouldn’t learn about the laborers in the day school. I’m not sure if you’d learn that in any other place besides within the URP; maybe Yarna,” Sekel stated.
The transport stopped in front of the inter-stellar landing station located at the center of the city.
“Thank you, Yullie. We return next week and will call ahead for a pick up,” Sekel said to the kindly driver and opened the transport door.
“You are most welcome, Brother Ambassador. Blessed journey and safe return,” Yullie responded.
Sekel climbed out first and held the door open for Safiya and Hijaz before allowing it to seal closed. Safiya gazed in amazement at the large, stone and glass inter-stellar flight and landing station and Sekel wondered what had really led her to come to the Republic. The station was deserted for the most part at this time of day so there were no lines when they crossed the front courtyard and entered. Hijaz walked over to the reception counter and confirmed the reservation for the copter with an available flight attendant while Sekel continued across the gallery with Safiya in tow.
“Do other off-worlders really land here?” Safiya asked as she ogled her surroundings.
“Not very often, but occasionally,” Sekel answered and held open one of the glass doors for her to pass through.
They walked onto a private flight strip and stood beneath the deck overhang to wait for Hijaz. A pair of shuttle attendants smiled in greeting as they strode along the deck and a troop of flight mechanics whizzed by them in a small silver cart.
“Do you enjoy working here?” Safiya asked him as her gaze followed the little cart to where it stopped and parked beside an immense white cargo shuttle.
Sekel was caught off guard by her inquiry and not sure of how to answer her. The frustration of constantly having to mediate between the CEC and the UCB tested his patience in ways that he wouldn’t have thought possible but to their credit, most of the UCB members were often willing to compromise. The CEC on the other hand was a constant thorn in Sekel’s side with its stubborn refusal to cooperate, thus making the idea of enjoying anything when he was here nearly impossible because so many lives were at stake. Hijaz stepped through the glass doors at that moment.
“Our copter is docked at port seven,” Hijaz stated as he joined them and addressed Sekel. “Do you want to walk over or should I get a cart?”
Sekel looked over at Safiya for a response.
“I don’t mind walking,” she replied and looked up and down the strip once more.
“Ok, we’ll walk then,” Sekel answered and followed Hijaz across the deck and along the right side of the strip towards port seven.
“So do you?” Safiya asked again and stared deliberately at Sekel.
“Do I?” he inquired back, distracted by a unit of Republican Guards that had driven along the tarmac only to park their cart beside port seven and the awaiting copter.
“Do you enjoy working here within the Republic?” Safiya repeated.
Hijaz also noticed the guards and looked questioningly at Sekel.
“That’s a difficult question to answer with a simple yes or no,” Sekel replied to Safiya while shrugging his eyebrows at Hijaz.
They crossed the strip to the entrance ramp of the copter and Sekel was about to question the guards when he noticed a shuttle medic jogging behind Safiya. The medic sprinted forward and ran into her, nearly knocking her to the ground, before Sekel could reach for her.
She regained her balance and rubbed her arm along the bicep as the medic began his apologies.
“I’m so sorry,” the medic said earnestly first to Safiya and then to Sekel. “Please forgive me, Ambassador. I’m late for registration. I’ve been assigned as the medic for this shuttle: UCB Copter 112 at Port Seven.”
The medic handed Sekel his badge and apologized again to Safiya as Sekel looked over his credentials. Sekel did not recognize the small man but his badge held the correct levels of clearances.
“Very well then, Officer Wasem, get on aboard and register,” Sekel responded and handed the medic’s badge back to him.
“Are you ok?” Hijaz asked Safiya with concern as he came to stand beside her.
Sekel ignored the guards and waited for Safiya’s response.
“Yeah, I think so,” she said and continued to rub her arm. “My arm stings a little, like something pinched me, but I’m ok.”
“Hijaz, why don’t you take her on board while I deal with this,” Sekel stated and nodded towards the guards who had filed out of the cart and now stood at attention beside the ramp.
“Ok,” Hijaz replied and steered Safiya up the ramp by the elbow.
Ambassador Kruju Ubejit, 1st Lieutenant of the Republican military, climbed out of the rear seat last and greeted Sekel formally.
“Hello and Good Day to you, Ambassador El Amra,” the shorter, slimmer, Ubejit stated.
“Good Day,” Sekel responded coolly.
Ubejit had been assigned as the Ambassador to the Sovereign Tribes by the Council for Elected Citizens after Sekel had accepted the offer of Ambassadorship from the United Council of Brotherhood but where Sekel’s primary responsibility was safeguarding the interests of the laborers and settlers within the Complex, Ubejit’s duties revolved around securing the CEC’s financial interests. There was no love lost between the two of them.
“It has been brought to my attention that a citizen of the Wards has crossed the border into the Republic. Chairman Woodridge is concerned. I’ve been asked to inspect the exit papers,” Ubejit declared.
“The papers have been turned over to the flight attendant inside. I’m sure she’d be more than willing to provide you with copies,” Sekel answered.
Ubejit narrowed his eyes at Sekel and responded tightly, “Very well then. If you’ll just remain docked while I check back inside to confirm the Ward’s information, I’ll check with the flight attendant, or, you can cooperate and show me your copies.”
The two of them stared rigidly at one another for several tense moments before Sekel reached into his data case and shuffled through the documents inside for his copies of Safiya’s papers. He had hoped that he’d been able to get the request through without setting off any flags but the CEC was obviously still on high alert if Woodridge had sent Ubejit all the way over here so soon after council in chambers. Sekel knew that the Communications Committee was keeping tabs on his office, he just hadn’t known how closely until now, and he suspected that his transmission with Rebecca had already been discovered. He handed the copies of Safiya’s papers to Ubejit and waited while the Lieutenant looked them over.
“So it’s a woman . . . from the neutral zone, 21 years of age . . . but it doesn’t provide her reason for entering?” Ubejit observed and looked up at Sekel.
“It does. On the second page: she entered for holiday,” Sekel countered but even he had questions about her visit; he would not, however, reveal that to Ubejit.
“Hm,” Ubejit muttered and opened the small pamphlet to the second page where he read over the information meticulously before handing the papers back to Sekel. “And you are personally escorting the Ward back to the neutral zone? That’s curious.”
Sekel knew that Ubejit was fishing for anything that he could find out from Sekel because despite the lack of detail on Safiya’s papers, they were lawful and met all exit criteria.
“She’s a personal acquaintance,” Sekel replied and stowed the papers back into his data case. “I offered to escort her back since I had already scheduled a trip to the north.”
Ubejit stared hostilely at Sekel before responding, “Well then I will allow you to be on your way. Good day, Ambassador.”
Sekel clenched his jaw and stared back at Ubejit’s cold, brown eyes but said nothing in response. Ubejit finally broke their gaze and turned away towards the transport cart, signaling for the guards to follow him. Sekel stood at the foot of the ramp, watching as the cart drove away, and although he hoped for the best in response to what he knew was coming, he prepared himself for the worst.
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