Federation politics are fascinating. Canon drops all sorts of shadowy hints but remains deliciously vague about politics in the BotP Universe. This leaves things wide open for fanfic writers. Equally fascinating are questions of point of view. In this story, I challenged myself to write this exclusively from the point of view of female characters only.
"Brobdingnag" was a fictitious country described by the eighteenth century satirist Jonathon Swift in his book, Gulliver's Travels. It was a land where the occupants were giants, and the protagonist Gulliver, who had been as a giant in Lilliput, land of the little people, suddenly found that the shoe, so to speak, was on the other foot.
Many thanks to Catherine Rees-Lay (aka cathrl) for her patience in beta reading this story more than once.
- Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 - 1962)
Princess followed her commanding officer on to the stage. Before her lay something that made her heart pound harder than an approaching enemy with a gun: an audience. She drew her white winged cape more closely about herself as though it could deflect the curious eyes of the Space Academy graduating class.
The Academy's commander shook Mark's hand, then Princess' and turned the podium over to her guests.
Mark rested both hands on the lectern and let his gaze sweep over the assembled graduates. "Congratulations," he told them. "Three years ago, you ceased to be civilians and became what's possibly the lowest form of life in the Interplanetary Security Organisation's food chain: officer cadets." This elicited the expected ripple of laughter. "Today, you'll walk out of here the second lowest form of life in the Interplanetary Security Organisation's food chain: graduate officers." The laughter was less enthusiastic this time. "If you ask any officer, including myself, whether they've been exactly where you are right now, the answer will be a resounding, 'Yes,' because to get somewhere, you have to start somewhere, and the second lowest form of life on the ISO food chain also represents our greatest potential."
Princess watched the graduates relax as Mark's address began to take a familiar path. About a third of them were women, she noted, most of them around her own age of twenty-one with a few mature-age candidates scattered here and there. Their appearance took in the full range from no makeup and crew cuts through to elaborately coiffed hair and expertly painted faces. Some of them would be 'one of the boys,' while others would maintain their femininity to the bitter end. The cadets were resplendent in their white ISO dress uniforms, their individual service allegiance distinguishable by the colour of their epaulettes and uniform trim: khaki for the Army, white for the Navy, royal blue for the Air Force, burgundy for the Space Patrol and midnight blue for Galaxy Security.
"Your role," Mark was continuing, "no matter how small it may seem to you, makes up a vital part of ISO operations. If it didn't, you wouldn't be here."
I wish I could believe that, some days, Princess mused. She tried to focus on the upbeat message of the speech, tried to think about the new graduates starting valuable careers, but the bitter little inner voice refused to be silenced. When was the last time he told me I was a vital part of anything? With an effort of will, she kept her features composed, her breathing steady, and even managed a vaguely supportive smile.
After Mark's congratulatory speech, there were the presentations as each graduate received a diploma and a commission. Princess smiled, handed over the beautifully worked scrolls and shook hands, acutely aware of the way the graduates looked at her. Curiosity, admiration, envy and a thousand variations on a theme blended into a blur of intense scrutiny, focussed squarely on her. She wanted to cry out, to turn and run, to find somewhere to hide away from all the gazes that pinned her like a hunted animal in a spotlight.
When it was over and the hats had been tossed in the air, Princess tried to seek refuge next to Mark, but Mark was engaged in conversation with Field Marshall Abdul Al-Farouk, the Army's Chief of Staff. For a few moments, nobody looked at the people on the stage as the graduates shuffled around, hugging friends, shaking hands and trying to retrieve the right hats.
The respite from attention didn't last long. Graduates and instructors were soon crowding around, hemming her in within a suffocating press of warm bodies and eager smiles, wanting to talk to her, wanting to be able to say they'd shaken her hand. She fought down the urge to scream at them to leave her alone. Instead, she smiled and stammered polite congratulations.
Afterward, she remembered one exchange in particular with a young woman who approached her with an odd mix of nervousness and admiration. "Um... " the new Galaxy Security Junior Lieutenant had said, "ma'am, there's one thing I've always wanted to ask you." The girl had looked uncomfortable, her fingers flexing around the dark blue beret she clutched in both hands. "About the skirt? I mean... we regulars have uniform options. I don't know if I... Don't you ever feel... you know... vulnerable?"
Princess had managed a smile. "I guess I do, but a lot of enemy soldiers have learned the hard way that looks can be deceiving."
In the limousine on the way back to Headquarters, Princess stared out of the window without speaking.
"Something on your mind?" Mark asked.
"Yes," Princess said, and lapsed back into silence.
"Um..." Mark tried again after a moment. "Penny for your thoughts?"
Princess twisted in her seat so she could look him full in the face. "Do you think I'm vulnerable?"
"What?" Mark frowned. "In what way?"
"In the field. With the cute little pink mini dress and the short cape. Do you think I'm vulnerable?"
"Why would you be any more vulnerable than anyone else? Okay, so maybe your uniform looks different, but I thought you said you liked it. Your cape doesn't get caught up on stuff like mine does."
"So you don't feel in the least bit protective of me when we're out there?"
Princess fancied she could see the wheels turning as Mark's mind raced to try and find the right answer. "Well?" she prompted, aware that there wasn't a right answer but determined to get something out of him.
"Well... as professionals, we have to be able to compartmentalise certain things --"
"Of course I feel protective! I know I'm not supposed to, but I do!"
Princess nodded. "Thanks for being honest."
On the one hand, he cared. That was good.
On the other hand, he felt she needed looking out for. That wasn't so good.
So now, all she had to decide was whether or not to get mad.
When Mark's bracelet chirped, followed a second later by her own, Princess realised she'd have to put off that decision for a little while at least.