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The Bull and the Genie
- Chapter 21 - Home Again, Part 1
[]

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Brandis, Taurian Concordat


On Leave[]

Brandis System, Taurian Concordat


Mary had spent the entire trip back memorizing materials. Turned out, running an RCT was a bit more difficult than running a brigade, or being forced to take over a regiment after the entire command staff was killed.

By "a bit" Mary meant "and you thought basic was hard." It was a good thing it'd be at least a year, maybe two, before they were deployed, because she was going to need every second of it.

Well, mostly. Her commander had ordered her to take at least a few weeks of leave, when she'd protested, he'd just pointed out that she'd be getting leave normally, never mind after having to take over because her entire command and diplomatic staff caught an untimely case of death.

Mary hadn't been too hard to convince, honestly. It'd been far too long since she'd seen her parents and sister. It'd be nice to get back to the old home.

But home… had changed.


Pirates United[]

Star's End, Periphery


Family Reunion


"Aren't we dropping for the military port?" Mary asked. As ranking officer, she got a ride in the little cockpit of the shuttle.

The pilot shook his head. "Military port is too small for the traffic, so they put in a civilian port, outside the current city limits. People complained about the traffic."

Mary shook her head. When she'd been growing up, they had gotten maybe one dropship every few months.

Her bemusement only grew as she saw the port. Not as big as the ones on Samantha or other major worlds, but it was still modern, big runways for the aerodynes, blast pits for the spheroid dropships, with everything else a modern spaceport required, both highway and rail links to the city. A few moments after they landed, the pilot taxied into the passenger terminal and Mary got off, behind a gaggle of businessmen who had been talking about investment opportunities.

Inside, she checked in to customs, then got waved through and came face to face with a big, LED display.

A bunch of children were leading a blind man, his face scarred, a sign of an unsuccessful surgical attempt to remove the parasites. As Mary walked, he stopped, the children around him and the recording shifted.

"Remember, every day we eliminate more of the habitat for the eye rot parasite. Until then, make certain to get bimonthly checkups. Eye rot is no longer incurable, and with your help, we will make it extinct!"

"C'mon, Grandpa!" one of the girls said. "I wanna to go the park so I can tell you what I see!"

"Right! Remember, if we do our job, they will never need to worry about eye rot!"

Mary shook her head and continued on. The terminal was brightly lit, the air conditioning keeping the air crisp and clean and—

"MARY!"

Mary barely held up under the death from above attack by the MK II Cheng Daughter. Or rather, Mary had been short, like her mother, but Jennifer was tending more towards tall, like her father, and even at 11 was almost as tall as Mary was.

"Jennifer Cheng! If you kill your sister, we'll report you to the Protector!", Mary's Father told his youngest daughter.

"Eep!" The girl jumped back and Mary stared at her. How had she gotten so big?

Then Mary hugged her sister. "C'mere! It's been forever!" She found herself blinking a little faster. It has been forever. When she'd left, Jennifer had barely come up above her waist and recorded messages just didn't convey it. Dad had… did he have gray in his hair? It couldn't be that long?

Then she was hugging Mom and Dad, and they were laughing, but Jennifer was staring.

"What is it?" Mary asked.

"You're… You're a General!"

Both Mom and Dad paused, and looked at the insignia.

"I thought you were…"

"You know how I jumped a grade when I was ten?" Mary asked. "Turns out you can do that in the military." She glanced at Jennifer and the parents nodded. Some things weren't exactly secret, but shouldn't be broadcast.

"I see. Well, we'll be heading out to eat unless you want to rest…"

Mary shook her head. "I've been on a dropship for most of the trip here, and we didn't have a synchronized route. I could really do with some time out and planetary food…" She paused. "Is Geraldo's still around?"

"Around and bigger," Dad grinned. "but he still has the lasagna dish you loved."

"Well, what's keeping us? Time to drop these 'mechs!"' Mary said.

When she came out, she stopped once. "Where's the Beast?" Mary asked, naming the old steamer dad tinkered on regularly.

"Ah, well…" Dad chuckled. "I traded it in for an electric job. It was that or have to pay the emission's tariff and they were offering a great bonus to buy a new one."

"Ah." Makes sense, Mary's officer brain thought. Battery powered cars could be powered from any source of electricity, and steam needed some form of burner, which was always polluting… come to think of it, she really hadn't smelled much in way of burned carbohydrates in the air…

The car would barely count as an economy model on Taurus, but better than three quarters of the cars on the road were also battery powered. They got in, and Dad pulled out from the curb, merging into traffic.

"They're talking about a central traffic guidance system, but I think it's way too early to talk about that." he said.

"I don't know, Honey, better do it now than wait until we have to do it fast." Mom said.

Mary smiled. Dad was the leap before you looked type and Mom liked to plan everything out. Some things never changed.

"Is it true?" Jennifer asked.

"What?", she asked her sister.

"Well, Sarah, you don't know her, but she moved in with some of the biologists from Taurus, and her brother, he lives on Brisbane and he knows Lord Calderon—Edward, I mean and she said that—"

"Jennifer? Breathe." Mom order.

"Right, okay!" She breathed. "But she said that her brother talked to a man who talked to Lord Calderon and they heard from a another guy that someone had created a clone of Stephen Amaris and that's why you were fighting in the Directorate!"

"Coalition," Mary corrected, feeling a little run over. "I… never met Stefen Amaris, clone or otherwise."

"But...Sarah wouldn't lie! She's my best friend!"

"Oh, I don't think she lied, and I know her brother wouldn't lie about knowing Lord Calderon, but sometimes things… get confused. Has your school ever played HPG station?"

"Yeah?"

"Did your letter ever look like the one you wrote when you got it back?"

"So maybe it wasn't Stefen Amaris."

"Probably not."

"Stanley said it was Hanse Davion."

Mary didn't quite know what to say about that, but she caught a glance of her mother in the mirror, mouthing "sorry."

"Well, I cannot confirm or deny any reports…" Mary said, falling back on the boilerplate that she assumed was not, in the slightest, intended to deal with younger siblings, as opposed to reporters.


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