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Brian W. Porter
On a warm early spring day, two Council members enjoyed the last of their lunch as they sat under trees with pink flowers on an ornate poured-stone bench that overlooked the plaza. The mottles and imperfections of the stone paving created abstract patterns of gray and brown and muted red that ran out across the walkway and into the street. A statue stood in the center of the plaza, the computer generated likeness of Captain DuBoise, founder of the first colony. Tall buildings surrounded the plaza, offices and shops, separated from the open area by wide streets with pedestrians and no-fume vehicles that fought for space. Citizens hurried across the cut stone pavement as they returned to work or browsed the shops. One family, obviously visitors from one of the more remote areas since they wore tunics and shied away from the crowds, read the plaque that described how Captain DuBoise had led the first settlers to the planet and began a successful colony. Brannigan Findstien, one of the two Council members, sipped his sweet fattacoffee and said, "So what she's saying is that if Gowandahar has his way, we'll wind up with a democracy and all the problems the United States of America had on the Home World all those orbits ago. I don't see that as much of a problem, a democracy. The two don't correlate, that world and ours. We have the communication for a worldwide popular vote. We can have a true democracy, and none of the problems." Safin Satalina watched an especially pretty girl walk past, too young to have lost her youthful tone or the special look of young skin. His thoughts drifted to fantasy for a moment, to escapades with the youth who would think of him as just an old man. That quick realization brought him back to the discussion at hand. "I remember my ancient Earth history, Brannigan, that one election in what they called the longest continuous democracy, the
United States. It was really a republican federation but why quibble about names. The exact year doesn't matter, either, they were turbulent times and growing worse. Just consider the facts. If you remember, they prided themselves on the honesty of their elections in that country, and still the courts were bribed into changing the results. And that dishonesty started their downfall. How can you know that will not happen here, or many of the other problems they eventually had?" "We wouldn't have a government like in the beginning of the twenty-first century, the one that almost destroyed the United States because the Publics refused to work with the Democracies. With a purely popular vote if you didn't perform, someone else would get the job." Brannigan chuckled. "I remember learning about that time. And then the conservative extremists pushed their Juice Party, and they just added to the problems and the eventual downfall of that system. I'll agree with you there, Safin. We definitely do not want that. If we do what Gowandahar suggested, we can have a true democracy, not the representative federation they had." "But how many will vote, or keep up with current events? With that system, a totally popular vote for everything, a few people can influence what happens too easily just by encouraging lackadaisical behavior in others. And controls must be put in place against undo influence of the ill informed. We'll have the people voting for services we cannot fund. And if there's an emergency? Schedule a vote while while some disease out of the wild ravages our people? I'd rather stay with the committee. We've done all right so far." "A truly representative form of government. It does work as long as the people in the Committee are dedicated to serving their constituents and not adding to their wealth. But what happens if those in the committee decide that greed is good? That they would rather add to their wealth than serve the people?" "What is wealth? Wealth is learning, knowledge, not material goods. Not to most. With this economic system greed will not happen. In other places and other times I can see--what have we here?" An Aid ran toward the two men as his short robe flapped behind him and his bare feet slapped the pavement. Safin noticed his build and wondered how he would feel in a private situation. The young were always firm, unlike their older siblings. Then he put that thought aside. To have the Aid hurry through the crowd like that was not a good sign. Something important had developed, one of his
emergencies, something dire. The Aid reached them, stopped, and panted, "Committeeman. Committeeman. There's a spaceship, approaching, and this one, is big." Brannigan and Safin looked at each other. Both were on the Protection Council, Brannigan as head of the small council and Lead of the Capture Apparatus, and Safin as Lead for the Shield Brannigan asked, "Big? How big?" "The Observation Supervisor said that it's bigger than any we've seen before. Super has already ordered ground-line only and the shield is up." Safin thought, The Super had already taken action. If this had needed a vote, first the public would be informed. No, the system they discussed now would not do for emergencies. Perhaps with a few modifications, like a Super for emergencies and to draw the world together. That could wait. They had a problem. Safin said, "That is good. Will we convene?" The Aid answered, "I don't know." Brannigan said, "An emergency session is needed, I think." "I agree. I'll contact the right side. You left?" "When?" Safin considered the question for a moment. As junior member, he sat farther from the platform and had a better view of who was in chambers. "Most are already at the discussion, but not all. If everyone is in community, a twelfth day is sufficient, I think. If not, then a day." "If someone is out of community they can catch up. Make it two twelfths. I want to gather information." "Very well." Safin stood. "I will inform the Council of your absence, and see you in conference when you arrive. Aid, inform the Super." *** In a building on one side of the DuBoise Plaza, dwarfed by the tall office complexes that surrounded it, yet massive when seen from the plaza, built using decorative stone from the mountains of Montgomery, the planetary government made its home. The Council members had offices there for when they were in town. Four times each year they met daily in a large hall near the center of the World Domicile. A carved frieze below the domed ceiling of the ornate hall
depicted the struggles of the first colonists so many centuries before. Wood paneled walls with paintings of notable figures, hung at eye level, surrounded the circular hall. Metal rails polished to perfection separated the Councilmen and their Clerks from the spectators. Centered on the raised platform at one end of the room, a burnished wood podium with the emblem of the Council centered on the front stood. "People. People! Let's listen up." The Supervisor waited at the podium for the Council members to quiet. When he had everyone's attention his voice echoed through the chamber. "As you have obviously heard, we have a situation. A ship approaches from the spoon. I know for a fact that it's bigger than any others that have approached before. Member Brannigan Findstien told me he has more information. Member Findstien, you have the floor." Brannigan stood and walked to the podium. He stood regally, his robe of office drawn around him, placed both hands on the podium, and said, "Fellow Councilors, I believe we have a potentially dangerous situation here. This ship that approaches is more than the outrider miner we have dealt with before. This appears to be an exploration ship from whatever government controls the nearby galaxy. Yes," he shouted over the whispered comments, "they are finally looking for the small ships we have captured. Their long scan covered the entire system, before the Supervisor raised the shields. The entire system, Councilors! How much they saw at this time we cannot know. After the shields were raised, several strong scans covered the planet. I do not believe they penetrated our first defense, but we cannot take that chance. The strength registered from the scans was nearly as strong as our most powerful weapons. They surely have weapons available that are much more powerful. I council that we capture this ship also and prevent their communication." A shout from the floor asked, "If they are so powerful, how will we capture them?" Brannigan proudly announced, "We have just finished the second power plant for the Capture Apparatus, which is under my jurisdiction you will remember. Together both generators will supply enough power to meet this need. The Capture Apparatus has been strengthened and is ready to hold large ships, just as it held the smaller ships of the miners. This will make a good test." Another voice called, "This is a test? If it does not work, what then? We are open and vulnerable."
The Super called back from his chair, "We are vulnerable as it is." He stood and joined Brannigan at the podium. "This ship is much more powerful than any we have encountered before, and it is going to map this planet. Will it map the shield? And if so, what then. Will it report an empty planet ready to colonize? Now consider the power we've already seen. Will it see through the shield and consider it a possible weapon? Will they think we are armed? That they are in danger?" The second voice called, "That is exactly why we cannot capture it! That is an act of war, especially if it is as powerful as you say. If it sends a report that it is captured, are there warships nearby that are more powerful, then they will attack. Their headquarters will send an armada. We cannot risk that." As Brannigan returned to his seat, the Super said, "So what do you suggest?" The second voice called, "Dialogue. We must talk to them. We must convince them not to give us away." Another voice barked a laugh and said, "That's likely." Second voice said, "That is what we must do. We cannot risk making an enemy." Murmurs of agreement sounded throughout the room. A voice near the back countered, "If we capture and hold them, they will think that any weapon we might have is more powerful. That will increase our safety." Second voice said, "If we capture and hold them, they will call for help." Brannigan asked, "How long will that take? Days? Sevens? Twelfths? Orbits?" The Super said, "Most likely orbits. Think how long it will take a radio signal to travel to the next occupied system. Even if there is a ship, or more than one, closer than the occupied system, once they get the signal, how long will it take them to reach us? We know that a tenth light speed is the highest practical speed possible. It is most likely that no help will come for orbits." Someone else asked, "Are we sure we can hold them?" Brannigan answered, "The device is ready. The theory is sound. The scale tests were all successful. The bench tests showed no faults. We are as ready as possible." "What say you?" the Supervisor asked. He scanned the assembly looking for dissent. He found few who raised opposing fists.
"Very well. Use it. Wait until they are as directly above the facility as possible and capture them." "Then what, Supervisor?" "Then we will see what happens. Most likely they will want to discuss the situation. I believe Donalvin can talk them into staying, or at the least not revealing our position. We can supply psychic help if necessary. *** Dim lights barely illuminated the tracking room; the computer monitors and scanner screens gave out more ambient light. Black walls absorbed almost all the stray rays and minimized reflections. Operators watched their screens and made notes, the room quiet except for the occasional click of keys. Two people stood behind one of the operators as he watched a screen, one of three that had almost invisible grid lines. A small dot near the upper right hand corner moved diagonally across the screen so slowly that only the grid lines made the movement visible. The Scanner Technician said, "They are now orbiting the planet. Extrapolation puts them three orbits to optimum position." Saturn Malanl asked, "Velocity?" The technician clicked his keyboard and a formula calculator appeared on the fourth monitor. "Calculating now. It will take approximately five twelfths before they are in position, maybe a bit more." "Then we still have time." Saturn looked at an Aid. "Send word out, full crew in four twelfths. Power crews to the generators as soon as possible so they can get ready. Tell them this is not practice." The Aid asked, "Will less than a twelfth be enough time to power it up?" "It has to be. Those on the ship are scanning everything as they map. They may see the power fluctuation if we start to power up too soon, so we must wait until they clear the horizon and past that shield grid. Then we can have full power ready to capture them on their next pass." *** The large room hummed with power. Huge machines vibrated in sympathy with the electrical cycles, and the red walls bounced the sound back into the room. Control panels under large monitors
showed graphs, lines, and lists of numbers. Technicians concentrated on their monitors and maintained the values necessary for proper operation. The Apparatus Supervisor called, "Is everyone ready? Good. You all know your jobs. This is just like we practiced, except everything is live. Watch the power points. Watch the grids." A voice on the intercom said, "Target in sight. One tenth until in range." The Apparatus Supervisor checked his monitor. All looked ready. "Positions everyone. Power up! Get those turbines working. Power tubes should be warm. Spin the central antenna." The intercom said, "Sighted and targeted." The Supervisor called, "Let's do it! Sound off values as they come up." "Central spiral polarization values optimal." "High frequency powering up. Split frequency on line. Harmonics good." "Low frequency rising and at power." The supervisor called, "Antenna, half power for now. That should be enough." The intercom called, "Range." The Supervisor called, "Hit them!" Time paused. The Supervisor studied his monitor. All the gauges were within tolerances. The frequencies matched the design. The antenna power rose. An operator called, "Antenna flow. Half power. We should have them." The intercom announced, "Device team, the visitors have stopped. No movement." Cheers and applause drowned out the power hum that permeated everything. Neighbors clapped packs and shook hands as the operators celebrated. The super yelled over the noise. "People, pay attention to your jobs. We must hold them. Report any fluctuations." *** In the Council Hall, the assembled Counselors waited. The ship had been captured and now waited helpless above them. The Capture Apparatus worked perfectly and now held the ship motionless. No weapons had been fired as yet. It was possible the
ship had few, and those limited. It was also possible that the Apparatus stopped weapons. This was now a contest of wills. The intercom called, "Contact, Supervisor." The hall quickly grew silent. "Good. Let us all hear them." A woman's voice echoed through the speakers, "This is Captain Thrip of the Exploration Vessel Gift of Mars. We are on a peaceful mission of exploration. We found this uncharted system and began to map an unoccupied planet. Now you have kidnapped us. We have sent out a distress call. You must release us before help arrives." "Captain Thrip, we must do no such thing. Help will not arrive for many orbits and you know it. When you change your attitude and decide to stay we will speak again. Cut audio. That should take care of Captain Thrip on a peaceful mission." The female voice said, "Sir, you are dealing with the Federation. I believe you will find that we are far more advanced than you believe. The most positive outcome for you is to let us map your world and list you as a colonized planet. You may be visited by explorers and diplomats, but nothing more." "That is a thought, Captain, but an offer I will decline at the moment. We will contact you again when we have decided your fate. Cut transmission. Refuse incoming. "Counselors, we have decisions to make." *** The Supervisor stood at the podium four twelfths after sunrise, the beginning of the session. "Counselors, I have good news. We have the holographic area ready. Travel will be in a darkened people mover. A hydraulic platform is set up to simulate movement. We can keep the representatives of the ship confined to that area and they will not know. They will see what we want them to see, and only what we want them to see. If we can convince them to let a team on board, we can match some of their social mores. Psychics can communicate what to do. We can show something in the far distance that appears to be a powerful weapon. We can control their visit." One of the counselors asked, "Supervisor, will they not scan the area and see that nothing is there, or possibly they will see traces of the electrical power?" "That area will be shielded. They do not have the power to break through the shield, we've seen that. We must control the situation,
protect our world from invasion. I believe this is the best way. Some agree. It is now time to come to a consensus." Just at that moment an Aid hurried into the hall and toward the podium. The Supervisor asked, "What is it, Aid?" The Aid, whose words were picked up by the amplifiers, whispered, "Another ship has arrived! It just appeared in system! It didn't approach, it appeared from nothing! I was with Jaffries when it appeared on the screen. One moment it was not there, and then it was! It just appeared!" The councilors began quiet conversations. A strong voice called, "Supervisor, you said they would not receive help for a long time. We thought the same. We believed you. We all believed you because we could not see how anyone could be better than us. That arrogance has put us in major jeopardy. I believe they have faster than light, both with communication and space travel. This information changes everything." "You are right, Councilor. We have a new situation. An entirely new situation. We must decide what to do. Do we hold them? Do we destroy them? That is an option I don't recommend. Do we let them go? Is there some combination we can use? Do we negotiate? What? And how? What terms can we fight for? These are all questions that must be answered, but not now. We will meet again tomorrow. Think on this matter. The safety and continuation of our entire society rests on our actions." *** This story is based on events depicted in 'The Discovery of Tonylobons'
Also by Brian W. Porter You Cannot Run From Yourself The Discovery of Tonylobons The Defense of Tonylobons The Caterpillar Campaign Naming Tonylobons
The Regional Life New Beginnings The Traveler all found at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter *** Other short stories, essays, and poetry from this author are available at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter. *** Copyright 2010 Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs You may share this work with anyone in any way with the following provisions. You must share the complete work, including the title and this notice. You may not make any changes. You may not use this work commercially or accept payment without the written permission of the Author. Any and all rights and credit are held by Brian W. Porter.
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