Vila, the Chandaran President and the team of Athol soldiers arrived inside Brent's palatial residence.
Vila whistled as he saw the size of the place. It wasn’t pretty but it was enormous. He had never been inside Residence One on Earth, but he imagined that they might be comparable. “This is huge.”
Brent’s residence staff were shocked at their sudden appearance but were quickly appraised of the situation. President Brent went off to the side to use a comm panel. Vila could vaguely hear him talking to someone he called Marlena. When Brent was finished, he came back to talk to his staff. “This is Vila. He and his men are here to help.”
Vila said, “Well, they’re not exactly my men but we are here to help.”
Brent's personal assistant Trey, was a thinly-bearded and bony man. The head keeper of the residence was a reserved man named Peters, with a high-collared shirt.
President Brent spoke to his gathered staff, "I'm sure that all of you are aware of what happened during the contest."
Trey remarked in a critical voice, "Champion of the Chandar Alliance?"
Brent said with a sigh, "Yes, I know."
At the side, the Athol sergeant whispered to Vila, "Sir, do we have time for this?"
Vila had a problem with authority figures. They intimidated him and Brent was the President of his whole planet, not to mention an Alliance of probably several planets. In his experience, such figures didn't like it when their speech-opportunities were interrupted. But the sergeant was right. They weren't just here to get the President and his family out, they had to get them out safely.
Vila wasn’t used to this role of a team leader. He had never had to plan anything before other than his own narrow tasks. To think about what other people needed to do or look at the larger picture would require much more thought.
For some reason, Argus and Cally trusted in him enough to do this. Of course, he had told him to bring one of the sergeants along too, but Vila was glad of that. His first foray into leadership would not be done alone.
“Well...” He tried to think. If there was danger from people outside the house then they had to make sure the danger didn’t get inside. That was easy enough.
Vila said, "Get some of the soldiers to check the doors. Make sure they're all locked. Have them cover the exits in case anyone tries to get in." The sergeant directed the men to follow Vila's orders. "Wait a minute…these places are always heavy on security. They'll have vid cameras." Now if he could only get Brent to pay attention so they could all get out safely. Vila coughed politely.
Brent didn't seem to hear the attempt at getting his attention, he continued, "During the contest, there was a coup attempt and I was captured."
This set the staff buzzing with surprise and outrage.
Trey asked, "What happened, Mr. President? I assume they were caught."
"Not, exactly. Argus and the people from his ship rescued me from the insurgents. He's sent Vila to help us now."
There was more excited chatter amongst the staff. "Well done!"
Vila coughed loudly this time and was able to make eye contact with Brent. "Can we do this later, Mr. President? I mean, not that I want to interrupt you or anything but… "
Brent said, "You're right, Vila. There are more important priorities."
Vila asked, "Where's your main security room? I mean, the one with the security cameras."
"Peters will show you." He nodded to his head of residence staff. "Tell the security team that I want them to cooperate with Vila and his people."
Vila looked at the sergeant. The sergeant nodded, "Sir."
Peters led the sergeant away.
Vila asked, "Mr. President, I don't want to hurry you but…"
"Yes." Brent addressed his staff again. "I don't have time to explain now but we may all be in danger. The coup has not been put down. We need to get out before the insurgents decide to send people here."
Trey said with understanding, "Marlena and Corinne." He and Brent had been friends for a long time.
Brent said, "Yes, it's out. Some of them know."
Vila almost groaned, this was all interesting but it didn't sound like these people were going to stop talking soon and do something. For his first outing as a team leader, why did it have to be a politician.
"They'll want to make an example of you and them. "
Brent's voice was heavy, "I'm sorry, I've put you all in danger."
There were sounds of consternation and worry from the staff. Trey spoke for the others, "You don't have anything to apologize for, Mr. President."
"I may not be President anymore."
"You are, Mr. President, if we have anything to say about it. All of us knew what we were in for when we followed you. We all agreed with you. That's why some of us have also become bonded with our wo...mates."
Brent's eyes widened with shock. "Trey? You? Why didn't you tell me?"
Trey looked embarrassed.
Vila made another effort, "Shouldn't we be going? Before they get here? Whoever they are?"
Trey said, "Vila's right, we don't have time to talk about this now. We should get you and your family to safety. You're the most important ones."
Brent put his hand on Trey's shoulder. "Very well. This is not over. We will be talking about this later."
Trey said with a wry grin, "I don't doubt it, Mr. President."
Brent said, "We should get some people on the exits. The security team will tell us if there's danger."
Vila said, "I've already done that, sir...Mr. President. "
"You're ahead of me, Vila," said Brent appreciatively.
"You were busy…" Vila sounded almost apologetic.
"Thank you." Brent turned to the rest of his staff, "The rest of you should get away before there's real trouble. If you don't stand with me, you should be safe."
The staff looked at each other but no one moved. Trey said, "You should know us better than that, Mr. President. We will stand with you, no matter what happens."
Brent shook his head, "It's no longer a matter of support. Even though it is much appreciated."
A gentle and cultured female voice said, "The President is right, it is no longer just a matter of support."
They all turned to the voice of the woman who had just exited the main lift. It was clear from the looks on the faces of the staff members that they respected this woman.
Vila stared in surprise. From his scouting missions, he had been told that in Chandaran society, women were rarely allowed to see strangers. They were supposed to be timid, subservient creatures who never lifted their eyes to look directly into a man’s face.
The cultured-voiced woman and the beautiful young woman who walked beside her were anything but subservient. They walked with grace and self-assurance, their eyes were direct and full of intelligence. The older one had a refinement about her that brought civility to everything she touched. Her hair was black but streaked with grey and her eyes held a calm confidence. Corinne was beautiful, but not in an eye-dazzling way, it flowed from her personality. Her eyes were grey and flashed with quick humour. Vila found himself glancing at her every so often, hoping she would say something so that he could hear her voice too. He noticed that they both had large carry cases in their hands which they handed to the waiting household staff.
Brent introduced them, “This is my bond-mate, Marlena and my daughter, Corinne.”
Marlena's cultured voice said, “You are welcome, Vila. I understand that your people rescued my mate and you are here to do the same for us?”
Vila nearly sputtered, “I thought…you can talk?”
Marlena had an amused look on her face at his question. “Yes. I have been known to say many things.”
“I mean, I wasn’t expecting…well…I don’t know what I was expecting really.”
Marlena gave him a friendly smile, “You expected us to be more like the other Chandaran women?”
Vila looked embarrassed. “Well, you know. People talk. About all kinds of things. Not always good things. I mean, I don't agree with them. Absolutely not.””
Marlena and her mate looked at each other. She said, “Unfortunately, you would be correct in your assumptions in most Chandaran households.”
Brent said fiercely, “But not here.” His hand reached for Marlena’s and they stood together.
Marlena’s eyes held something that Vila recognized many times on the Justice. There was great love and respect between these two.
Marlena said, “I am not a Chandaran. I’m from the Tellar Union.”
Brent looked uncomfortable as he said, “Marlena was captured while providing aid to one of our scout ships that had crash landed on a planet. She's a physician.”
Marlena said without recrimination, "It was a trap because they knew who we were."
Even though there was no accusation in her voice, Brent grimaced and looked guilty, "Yes. We…"
Trey spoke up, "He's tried to stop the practice."
Brent said with tight anger, "And haven't succeeded. Sometimes I don't know if we ever will and now it's too late. They know about me. Even if I regain power, they will all be against me. As long as they believed that I was still like them, there was a chance I could bring about change."
Marlena told them, "We were hoping that."
Brent looked with pride at his mate, "That's why you wanted to stay, even though I wanted to get you back to your people. You wanted to help my people even after all of the things they did to you." He turned to Trey, "Do you see now? It's too late for me but not for you and the others. They don't know about you yet. You could still bring about change. Influence others."
Trey said, "Just like you have with us?"
"Yes. Marlena thinks it's possible to do it peacefully. Without bloodshed. I think we should try. We've already lost too many people in wars that have no purpose other than to gratify our own egos."
Vila tried for, what he hoped, was the last time. "Speaking of bloodshed. It's going to be ours if we don't get out of here soon, you realize that."
At that moment, of course, the sergeant's voice came over Vila's teleport bracelet. "Sir, there's a large body of men coming this way. They're all armed."