THE BULL-LEAPER

CHAPTER 1: Life on Planet Earth

On the morning of Thursday, March 15, 2044, Aysheia Lisia Napolipolita-Daitokuji woke up and lay quietly in her bed.

Slowly stretching her long limbs (she had been troubled with arthritis more and more as the years flew by), Aysha's eyes now traced the lines of the carvings that decorated their bedroom ceiling. She listened to the Terran birdsong coming from outside their balcony window, and to the sounds of her household staff busying themselves in preparation for the day.

In that warm and drowsy state that hovers somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, she thought about the peaceful happiness she now enjoyed in her life. With the exception of Kir and Athenia, all of her children were grown and had left the Mansion to lead their own lives and seek their own destinies. The Mansion was too quiet for her taste these days. Grandchildren were the obvious solution, and the more the merrier.

Such was the Cygnan Way. Alpha Cygni – the planet from which Aysha hailed – was nothing less than an unapologetic matriarchy where it was every woman's duty to produce as many citizens of the Realm as possible. Queen Zazen'lda the First – the mother of C-ko Kotobuki – had reigned there with peace and prosperity for many a year, her own daughters doing their part to fulfill the Cygnan Way themselves and thus ensuring the future of the Empire.

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Alia Makita had been her eldest child. Who would have thought that the tiny baby in her young arms would someday command the Cygnan Space Fleet? Life could really surprise you, now and again.

Now in her early thirties (as Terrans reckon time), Alia hadn't produced any children to date, but Aysha kept hoping. "After all, my own mother was a hen with one chick," she had said in her enthusiastic avocation of the joys of motherhood. "Even one baby would ensure the continuation of our House, and would bring you great happiness as well. A Cygnan doesn't know what pride is until she looks into the eyes of her own daughter!"

Alia usually smiled and shrugged, saying that she'd get around to it. Giving such an answer to a woman who had once commanded twelve thousand troops would have intimidated Alia if it hadn't been for the fact that she herself commanded over a million.

Ultimately, her earnest and persistent mother would come to realize that Alia's life was not hers to plan. Learning this hard lesson had made it easier for Napolipolita as her other children left home.

Both Alana and Arisa now served as officers in the Allied Defense Force, an amalgam of the old EDF and the Cygnan military machine formerly known as Gaia Front. These two chicks of hers were leading happy lives with their lifemates, and were producing a satisfactory number of daughters (Aysha no longer expected any grandsons, realizing that her own son Kir's birth had been a fluke). It seemed to be as true as it had been in the days of the Great Xramcrusher Bacchanalia Napolipolita that members of that House bore ample fruit, but females were their only bumper crop.

Atina initially studied nuclear physics but became bored quickly. She presently worked on Jupiter Station as a ship designer, hoping to defy the laws of physics by creating a ship that allowed its occupants to explore event horizons - the distant edges between deep space and the gravitational pull of black holes.

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Fifth daughter Akana (also known as Mama's Little Baby, except in front of people) had given her mother yet another lesson in letting go.

Like her sisters before her, Aki had planned on a military career. She had even spent the summers of her sixteenth and seventeenth years at Queen Hippolyta's palace on Themyscira Island. It had come as a rude shock to her mother when Aki told her she'd turned down the proffered ADF commission, choosing instead to join her father as navigator and chief helpmate in his intergalactic spice-trading business.

Predictably, Aysha had been angry. That Akana had grown to stand over six feet tall and possessed the body of an Olympic athlete was but ashes in her mother's mouth.

"All that talent gone to waste! All that training! Of all my children, I had thought Aki would have been my warrior."

It had taken Hikaru to defuse her rageful disappointment. "She's young. Let her tramp around the galaxy if she wants. Her father seems like a good fellow. She'll have no trouble joining the Cygnan Space Fleet or our own ADF. But she'll do so in her own time - not yours or mine."

This comment about Aki's father had surprised Aysha. Historically, her lifemate had shown nothing but contempt for Alie Tuzoia. The Anathasian had been incarcerated at Gonidesh, after all! Hikaru had harped on that one for quite a while, not unlike a dog chewing a bone until it worked its way into the soft marrow beneath.

Perhaps the humility imparted by the infirmities of aging had softened Hikaru Daitokuji's soul. No matter what the cause, Aysha had been grateful for a respite from his occasional jabs about her wild and decidedly alcohol-ridden past. It went without saying that Aysha herself had never seen Alie again. Why in Cybele's name would she?

Poor Alie. He'd become a pawn in Commander Maldekai's eternal quest to keep her command at any price. She had concocted the scheme that had sent the young man to Gonidesh. Anxious that young Napolipolita would ultimately succeed her own mother as Commander, Maldekai had invented the false charges for the purpose of hurting her. Aysha had loved Alie at the time, and Maldekai knew it.

That cow!

As it happened, the Commander cooked her own goose; the Queen had gotten wise to her little conspiracies. Maldekai had been fortunate to escape execution. Aysha herself would have happily condemned her nasty backside to Gonidesh for a couple of decades, to see how she liked it!

That flat-chested old sourpuss. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

Aysha silently chided herself for not being more charitable (but for only about seven seconds or so). She had seen her husband's occasional boiling rages reduced to simmers as of late, and wished that her own horns could be filed down an inch or two with no effort on her part. Terrans called this phenomenon "mellowing with age."

Oh well. Can't have everything, as her stepdaughter once said.

It hadn't even occurred to Aysha that Akana – who had the Sight - had foreseen her own father's death two years from now. The girl had simply put her own career plans on hold to be with him.

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Aysha sighed now, smelling wonderful breakfast smells and enjoying the lemon-yellow sunlight filtering through her windows and reflecting on the polished parquet floor. The former starship captain rubbed her eyes and thought of her life on Earth. She said a silent prayer of gratitude for the wonderful children it had bestowed upon her.

Shiiko Rubia Napolipolita-Daitokuji had been touted as the first fully documented Cygnan-Terran birth on Planet Earth (N.B. There were plenty of other little hybrids running around Graviton City by then, but nobody talked about them).

Great Mother! Could it have possibly been nearly twenty-five years ago?

Because the first alien leader on Earth and the wealthiest industrialist in the Pacific Rim were both rich and famous, people around the world had been fascinated by Shiiko's birth. Even the tabloid rag the couple called "the National Perspirer" had published a special supplement that featured Shiiko's birth.

The arrival of each Napolipolita-Daitokuji child had been a topic of international interest. Ultimately, some of the cattier individuals in Graviton City high society had publicly stated that the Daitokujis had a child every two years just to thumb their wealthy noses at the public. There was also a rumor that Planned Parenthood had instituted a global boycott against NDFG products and services, but that had never been substantiated.

The former Miss Napolipolita had refused the facilities of the Junko Daitokuji Memorial Hospital for Shiiko's delivery, just to stick it to those annoying Terran male doctors. She had simply taken her husband's arm and strode home to have their first child under their own roof. Only wimps and Earth women had babies in hospitals.

What were they? Sick?

Shiiko grew up studied, analyzed, and genome-coded; her height, weight, and metabolism charted and tracked by physicians, both Terran and Cygnan. The media descended upon the family in a full-blown feeding frenzy whenever Shiiko did anything as fascinating as losing a baby tooth.

Poor Dee – then NDFG Head of Security – had routinely rousted the paparazzi from the Mansion's hedgerows with a cattle prod. Confiscating their cameras and crushing the contents with her large fists, the big Cygnan also occasionally threw in deep and formidable growls as an extra-added fillip. In later years, Akana had taken care of the news helicopters that invaded the Mansion's airspace with her favorite pulse cannon. Indeed; even threats of litigation by the media were handled with the business end of an AK-47 automatic pulse rifle with attachable rocket launcher.

In spite of all this attention, Shiiko's disposition remained sweet. Always beautiful and loving to her parents and family, she'd similarly impressed an Australian graduate student with those qualities of late, and was now engaged to be married. Since her half-sister Biko now ran the family zaibatsu, Shiiko encountered no difficulty in joining the NDFG's Aerospace Division as an executive trainee.

It went without saying that her father spent hours counseling her about the secrets to success in business, as he had done in his oldest daughter's case. The man could be overbearing without a doubt; but Shiiko came to truly believe that in matters of corporate governance and strategy, Father did know best.

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Aysha's thoughts now drifted to Mitsuko, her seventh child. Highly talented in mathematics, she'd recently earned her doctorate in Portal Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge in Oxford, England (having rewritten the school's ludicrously inaccurate Terran textbooks as her dissertation project). It was fortunate that she'd dropped her old habit of breaking into whoops of laughter whenever her parents so much as held hands. On the other hand, she no longer showed any interest in following the Path of the Amazon, either. Perhaps one habit left with the other.

Both Shiiko and Mitsuko had spent several summer vacations training on Themyscira Island. Aysha had even expressed hope to General Phillipus that both might heed the call of the warrior she'd awakened within them years before. She persistently clung to the hope that they would get around to being the space warriors they'd been destined to become. She supposed that they had to get those foolish Terran careers out of their systems first.

Ah well. Their mother would have to wait and see.

Little thumb-sucking Kazushi, now 20 years old, had surprised both parents. Always a shy child overshadowed by her two older sisters and the even older Cygnettes, Kazi now lived on the continent of Cygnus Major on the Homeworld. She had joined the Great Motherists (their doctrine now more moderate due to the absence of the conniving Chief Priestess Vipsania Parsua) in their pet project – the restoration of the Temple of Kir Azenath.

The girl had initially found Mur Sejanus cold and desolate, but had been warmed in her heart by the knowledge that she would have a hand in bringing back the ancient capital of Bashtorethi, the Azure City, and the temple once erected by her distant ancestor, Kir Azenath the Cherished One. It hadn't hurt that Kazi's choice had also delighted Queen Zazen'lda, who often spent time digging, sieving, scanning, and otherwise getting her own hands dirty at the famed archaeological site in the High Desert.