Friday, December 24, 2004

Chapter 5

Chapter Five





On each of a thousand elevated pads a Network transporter waited with open doors. In less than thirty seconds the welcome landing would be overrun by a mob of disappointed people. If his luck held he would be speeding toward the plateau before the first wave arrived.


Carrying a commboard and wearing a monocle camera over one eye, Sollalia was making all the gestures of a smart reporter with a hot lead. He was a step away from salvation when he heard shouting. He knew the voice. He snapped his head around to locate the source.

"Up here," came the voice again. He looked up and found Livvevea standing in the open door smiling down at him. "Quickly," she urged him, "before anyone sees you."

Soll rifled his way around the ramp and ducked inside. "How did you know where to find me?" He asked as he tore the camera from his face.

"I knew what you were up to. I knew it the second you gave the floor to Sebb. You are a clever one. You knew Larrvino would close the session down."

"You’re right, but am I that predictable?"

"Remember, I was there… I knew she had nothing. How could she? No one knows for sure what Dakk’s message really means."

"Well, I intend to find out," he mumbled.

"How? They won’t let you see him until he’s cleared the quarantine period."

"They’ll have to. I'll invoke High Council privilege if I have to."

"Won’t Deppopio have to grant it?"

"He will."

"Then it’s settled," she declared, "I won’t have to travel alone," She laid her hand on the console activating the anti-matter field. "Ballalta’s City, please…" The transporter began lifting off the pad. "High Council priority… Clear all necessary flight lanes."

"Wouldn’t miss this party, would you," Soll said half smiling. "I suppose you miss him terribly?"

She blushed. Perhaps of all people Soll understood her anguish. Thirty years ago his mate left him to pursue a dangerous mission and never returned. How awful he must have felt when Dakk signed up for a tour of duty with Galactic. Losing Dakk would surely be the final blow. "More than anything in the world," she whispered.

He laughed heartily. "Then you’ll take him back after what he’s put you through."

"If he’ll have me. You do realize he’ll have his choice of any woman in the city. He’ll be famous you know, perhaps as famous as Deppopio himself."
"I know."

She saw a horde of reporters descending on the pad. He had been spotted. With a punch of a button the transparent hull became opaque. "Let’s get out of here!"



***


Ballalta’s City was like no other place in the world. Ancient legends told of the explorer Ballalta, who set out to chart the Great South Belt Ocean from the tiny port town and became the first person to successfully circumnavigate the globe. The town that eventually came to bear his name started out as a dreary trading post with little to offer but hot weather and large insects. It was now recognized to be one of the oldest cities in the world, quite possibly as old as Terrekka’s City itself. It grew in size and reputation as it became a trading center for all that was unusual and exotic. With the advent of spaceflight the ‘Gateway City’ became Orr’s primary spaceport and the birthplace of the juggernaut known as Galactic Mining. Flush with the wealth from mineral rights for entire the solar system Galactic Mining quickly became the premiere organization on the planet. Wielding more control than the Terrekkan High Council, it was often said that the director of the ‘mining’ was the most influential person in the world. The clash of wills between the old families on the Terrekkan High Council and Galactic Mining provided the impetus for the construction of a neutral government city. New Pallpoli was built to be the home of the Orrian High Council. The council was given the right as the sole arbiter of space policy. Within the monumental compromise Galactic was given exclusive right to chart deep space.

Lured by the glamour of space travel young people were drawn to the glittering port city. Those not interested in spaceflight came for the grand parties. Ballalta's City was renown for its Convergence Night soirees. It was often said that the city's population doubled on Convergence Night. 


The Celestial Convergence, the point at which Jarr and Dass came nearest the planet, happened four times a year. The twin moons, sharing the same elliptical orbit exactly one hundred and eighty degrees apart, completed the roundabout just twice each year.   In ancient times, it was celebrated as a fertility ritual. Today it was just a splendid excuse for a party. The actual convergence lasted only a matter minutes but the parties went on for days. The Epoch Points, when the moons were their furthest from Orr, were only significant to the culture as calendar markers. 

Only once had the city seen a party that surpassed the sacred Convergence night affairs. It was the night Deppopio was released from quarantine. He descended upon a city that waited breathlessly for their new hero. It was the stuff of legends, a gala like the world had never seen. In less than ten days there was to be a party that would surpass even that. The city was bracing itself for the emergence of Dakkalia and the mayhem that was sure to follow.

As the rumors of what Dakkalia had discovered circulated the corridors and strollways the mood of the city became frenetic. Thousands poured into Ballalta's City daily until it seemed poised to burst at the seams. The whole scene only served to frighten Livv. Torn between the electric anticipation of seeing him again and the crushing anxiety of finding him so altered by his experience that he wouldn’t even recognize her. It was a thought she couldn’t bear. She thought she had prepared herself for the possibility that he would dispatch her, but every minute closer to his release told her that she hadn’t succeeded. It was the reason her mother always told her to stay away from Galactic pilots. 'They’ll break your heart.'

She stood alone at the foot of the towering Galaxy Building. Looking up as it disappeared into the clouds she was transported back in time. It was the exact spot where she had watched Dakk’s shuttle ascend into the clear blue sky more than fourteen months ago. No one cared about Dakkalia as she stood alone crying that painful day. Today the strollways overflowed with admirers all wanting to be a part of history with him.

As she wandered the elevated strollway moving toward the mezzanine, she saw a holosculptor erecting a statue of him. His image was literally everywhere she looked. Propelled by the mass of bodies pushing their way into the foyer she passed a group of young girls boasting how each was going to attract his attention. They were all very young and beautiful. She frowned; he could have any one of them or all of them if he so desired. She spied her own reflection in the mirrored wall. She straightened her posture and smiled and yet her eyes saw a figure that did not compare to young and nubile maidens standing next to her. Her heart sank, with all these choices surely he would not want her anymore.

She ducked inside the building only to find a hundred more young girls plucking and preening themselves, preparing for a one-time chance to catch his eye. They were everywhere. She silently screamed: was there no escape? Finally, at the end of the mall she saw a hopeful sign. It was the House of the Book of Terrekka. A safe haven. In there intellectuals would be dutifully studying the ancient documents. She ran toward the sign, pushing people aside and scowling at anyone who objected.

Once inside she took a seat at the rear of the lecture hall. The speaker stopped to acknowledge her and then continued speaking...

"…One of the questions most often asked in post discovery era is what would Terrekka Herself have made of the savages of Earth. As you can imagine, Terrekkan scholars eagerly dug into to this question almost immediately upon Deppopio’s return. I believe there is really only one conclusion one can draw from studying the Word. I dare to say The Book is clear - She would have accepted them into the forest as our brothers and sisters. Now, if you will all tab over to Reckoning, section 1425:28… Are we all there?"

Livv did not have a commboard. Noticing this, an old man sitting near her motioned for her to sit by him and share his. His silent gesture and warm smile were compelling enough get her move to the open chair next to him. "Thank you," she whispered. "You’re very kind."

"Now, I’d like to show you something that is very interesting, and is still the subject of many interpretations. If you’ll allow me to read Terrekka's words... 'In time all the tribes of the forest shall live in the grace of peace and fellowship, and at such time I will be gone. I will be needed elsewhere. All who hear the Word shall know the way. There are those who are not of this forest who shall hear the Word and they too will know the way. The creator knows them as the creator knows me.

'Do not despair at my passing as I shall be remembered by those who hear the Word and my work will continue as long as the creator fills the night sky with stars...'

"Now," the speaker continued, "if you’ll all reference the Earth volume New Testament, Greek Translation and tab over to John 10:14-17 and again allow me to read the words attributed to the prophet Jesus Christ... 'I am the good shepherd; my sheep are known to me and know me; just as I am known to my father and know him. And for these sheep I am laying down my life. I have other sheep too, which do not belong to this fold; I must bring them in too; they will listen to my voice; so there will be one fold, and one shepherd. This my father loves in me, that I am laying down my life to take it up again afterwards...' These words are incredibly powerful. The comparisons are simply fascinating."

Maybe Soll would’ve found it fascinating, she thought to herself. She had never studied the Book of Terrekka the way he had. It was all rather droll to her.


Presently her portacon was flashing. A tiny image of her friend Gynnevva hovered over her arm. Gynnevva worked for Sebbreba in the same capacity that she served Soll. She quietly excused herself and left the hall. She found a secluded corner where she could return the call in peace.

"This is Livv. Are you there?"

"Livvy!" Gynn’s holographic image shouted from the portacon on her wrist.


"Where are you?"

"I’m in Ballalta’s City, silly. Where else would I be?"

"Sorry, stupid question," Livv admitted sheepishly. Everyone was in the city today. "We simply must get together. Where can we meet?"

"How about right here."

"Wha...?"

"Turn around."

Livv spun in place and was standing face to face with her old friend.


***
He felt like an animal on display. His cage a quarantine chamber. Despite being perfectly adorned with holographic images of home it was still a cage. He had been poked and prodded and examined from head to toe, peppered with endless questions and deprived of any semblance of privacy.

Quarantine was something veteran surveyors just accepted as part of the process. A tedious exercise, it was something that had to be endured for the safety of the Orrian system. Quarantine was designed to protect the home world from the rest of the galaxy. At least that is what Galactic Mining would say. In reality, it served to protect Galactic’s vital interests; not everything discovered became public knowledge. The High Council knew it. Everyone knew it. It was the price that society paid for the brave men and women who tripped through darkspace. In bringing home the wonders of the galaxy it was Galactic that took the risk and so it was reasonable that Galactic enjoyed the spoils.

The trippers themselves ultimately paid the price. Precious time was lost, as family and friends grew old without them. They often outlived everyone they loved. There were those who even envied them. On its face, the concept was quite appealing. After all, who wouldn’t want to be young forever? In truth, it was more a curse than a blessing. They came back to a changed world. Nothing was ever the same. He remembered trying to explain it to Livv before he left on his first charting mission. "Why won’t you age while you are gone?" - "I will age, just not as much as you will." - "It doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t time the same everywhere? And the speed of light; isn’t it a universal constant? "- "Well, yes... and no." - "Which is it?" - "It’s a bit complicated." He patiently explained the phenomenon as best he could: "One of the key elements involved in the defining time drift," he began, "is calculating the velocity and the direction of the universe relative to the velocity and direction of the breakout target. It's as hard to explain as it is to grasp… The universe of light is in constant motion, moving from something to something, like a river if you will. The individual galaxies spin away like eddies in turbulent water. Our galaxy itself is moving in relation to the river as a whole, yet, since it is also rotating it means parts of it are moving toward the source while other parts are moving away. Likewise, the individual star systems also rotate around the core of the galaxy further complicating time drift. So you can see that calculating time variables is tremendously difficult without complicated mathematical algorithms which require exact figures in order to be perfectly accurate. That’s why we can account for the time drift to all the colonies and to Earth. All the variables are known and can be calculated precisely. But when we are charting new systems the exact figures are not available. It’s like this: when we break the light barrier, time, as we know it ceases to exist. I could be suspended in darkspace for months or even years as time passes here, but to me it is merely a blink of an eye. If my breakout target is moving away from me relative to the place I started then more time is lost. However, if the breakout target is moving toward me relative to the place I started then the breakout target is rushing toward me eating up the distance between us and the time lost is much less. Am I making any sense to you?" - She smiled. He was never quite satisfied with his ability to explain the seemingly unexplainable.

The constant barrage of tests and endless interviews had left him drained. He just wanted to sleep. When he woke he was going to want to eat real food; fresh food brought up from the planet, not grown in the hothouse at the station. His keepers promised they would oblige. Climbing into the float bed he smiled to himself, soon he hoped he would not have to sleep alone. The thought of Livv’s body wrapped around his brought on a shudder. It was the image of her face that had sustained his sanity, and forbade him from giving up. The world would never really know the role she played in history, but he would know and he would be forever humbled by it.

As he drifted on the edge of sleep he wondered if Livv had waited for him. Over a year had passed on Orr, but to a light tripper these things seem like only a few weeks. He felt a pang in his heart as he told himself he would understand if she met somebody. He tried to put it out of his mind but couldn’t. Finally, the pall of sleep did it for him.

"Excuse me, sir," came the low, soft voice of the console, "You have a visitor."

"What now?" he shouted. "I told you no more interviews!"

"Dakk, it’s me, Soll."

"Father? It’s you? How?"

"I’m in the exam chamber, here on Dass."

"But... How did you get here? The quarantine?"

"I threatened to invoke High Council privilege. Viddelio thought better of that and granted my request."

"I see," Dakk mumbled. "Old Vidd didn’t want a confrontation with the most popular alumni in the history of the mining."

"I’m not so sure Depp would have stepped up for me, but, thankfully, it didn’t come to that. That will be a subject for another time. Now, can I see you? Turn on your projector and point it to exam room eleven. My projector is already on if you’ll just activate the receiver."

Dakk materialized before his eyes. Soll reacted as only a father could. "Ah, son, you look great!" It was a lie. The truth was that he didn’t look good at all. The first thing that struck Soll was the streak of white hair on his otherwise black head. He had always been a thin boy; he now looked positively skeletal. His eyes, though sunken, were as bright as always; and his smile beamed. "Dakk, I’m so proud of you."

"Stop it, will you. I’ve had enough of how great I am. I’m just Dakkalia that's all. A surveyor. Nothing more, nothing less."

"Now, wait a minute, you’re the son of Sollalia. Let’s not minimize that." They both laughed aloud.

Soll feared that his son had no idea what awaited him back home. His hero status, already legendary, would only escalate the minute he set foot on Orrian soil. It was his job to prepare him for that.

"Well," Soll began, "I’ve seen the preliminary report. What have they told you?"

"They don’t need to tell me anything," Dakk countered. "I know what we need to do."

"And that is?"

"Prepare for war!"

Soll was astounded by his son’s appeal. "I don’t understand… Have you even seen the report?"

"I don’t need to see it. I’m telling you right now we cannot waste a single minute."

"Your logs contained very precise data on the extent of the Sirenese domain. That, by the way, is the name they’ve chosen to give them. They’ve pinpointed their original home planet and based on their rate of expansion that they won’t be reaching this sector of the galaxy for two thousand years."

Dakk sighed. Brushing Soll’s assumptions away with a wave of a hand. He declared: "That was before. That doesn’t mean a thing now."

"Before what?"

"Before they saw me. They’re coming and they will not stop until they get here."

"But you escaped. They don’t know where this place is. You dumped their ship into a nascent star. You’ve done something no one else has ever done; and you lived. You came back, alone, free from your pursuers. We’re safe because of you."

He watched his son pace the room; the hologram disappearing into the wall only to reappear on the other side of the room forcing him to spin around on his chair. Dakk stopped in front of him and looked him in the eye. "You don’t understand, do you?"

"I understand this...You should be proud of what you’ve done…"

"Proud! We’re doomed because of me."

"You can’t be serious," Soll exclaimed. "You must not think such thoughts."

"No… No. Listen to me! Has anyone thought about what this means to all of our deep space activity? They have an imprint of our propulsion signature, and they’ll be looking for it. All they need is to find one and it’ll be over. I’ve seen what they’re capable of. They do not take prisoners..."

Oh, but they do, thought Soll. Despite his own feeble reassurances he knew his son was right. It was even worse than Dakk’s dire predictions. They were a race bent on conquest, that much was true, and the only thing keeping them from expanding their empire even faster was the perpetual war being waged amongst themselves.

Just before Dakk had ignited his lightdrives, in the moments preceding his diversionary explosion, he was able to do a complete sensor sweep of the Sirenese warship. If for nothing else that act alone made him a true hero. The picture his report painted was mortifying. It was too terrifying to consider. These warriors practiced the ultimate in the slave trade. It seems the eleven distinct factions among the Sirenese fought for the supreme booty... Sirenese women. Enemy warriors were summarily slaughtered, but the women were treated like royalty for they could produce the one thing that was prized more than anything else, future warriors. There was some evidence that the women were never educated and were not cognizant of their ultimate role. They were protected at all costs.

The report estimated that at least five thousand planets were colonized by the Sirenese. In contrast the Orrians had colonized a mere one hundred and fifty. Perhaps the most startling fact of all was that the Sirenese war had been going on for over thirty thousand years. If Dakk was right the chance to claim five billion Orrian women might be just the thing to bring all the factions together. It was a bone chilling thought.

"Father, when do you plan to return to the surface?" Dakk asked him.

"When you do. I intend to stand by your side."

"I’d like that."

***

They followed the parade through the mall and out into the strollways, winding aimlessly around the sleepless city until the sun began to rise. Gynn had succeeded in getting a few shots of dieto juice into Livv. The ‘nectar of the living creation’ flowed freely from every tap in the city.
Extracted from the fruit of dietomini vines dieto juice was a powerful intoxicant. Processed from the mature fruit in varying stages of ripeness to determine its ultimate potency it arrived on the palette in an infinite variety of tastes and smells. Its active ingredient was an anti-anxiety agent that had been used as medicine to prevent the onset of shock for hundreds of centuries. Livv, of course, did not care about any of this, she only knew she liked the way it made her feel.

The city was alive with an intensity she had never experienced before. Even the peddlers of illegal Earth artifacts seemed to suspend their usual clandestine tactics. Gynnevva found shoes called Adidas from a place called Malaysia. Livv walked around in the dark with Ray Ban sunglasses from the USA perched on her head. Everyone they met was wearing something that came from Earth. None seemed to fear confiscation by the High Council’s Contraband Group who were, curiously enough, all but absent from the scene.

All around her were images of Dakkalia. At first, she wanted so badly to scream out at the world to tell them she was Dakkalia’s lover. The more she drank the more removed from him she became until not even hearing Gynn swoon over him bothered her anymore. Before long she was worshiping the same untouchable icon as the rest of them.

"He’s so beautiful. Do you think you could set me up with him?" Gynn asked teasingly. "I don’t know how you could keep your hands off him when you are at his father’s place. You must have had a chance to be alone with him."

"Yes, it is true," Livv replied, smiling inwardly. "Oh, yes, I do agree, he is beautiful, but so painfully quiet. He doesn’t like to talk about himself."

"Really, I would think he lives a fascinating life."

"You realize, don’t you, that he’s had three unsuccessful trips. And there’s been no one throwing a party for him when he came home then. I’m the only one..." She stopped herself as Gynn's eyebrows rose. "Soll’s been so busy he sends me to retrieve his son."

Gynn sensed the possessiveness in her voice. "You like him, don’t you?" she asked with a smirk. She saw the averted glance of embarrassment in Livv’s face. "I knew it!"

"Stop it! You’re being ridiculous. He’s a friend, of course I like him."

"I guess you won’t be setting me up with him then," Gynn laughed. "You’ll keep him for yourself..."

Livv smiled. She wasn’t going to let Gynn goad her on. "I guess you’ll never know."

They laughed and chased each other through the city the rest of the night and into the morning. In the square at the center of the city they danced to music of Elvis Presley and ate their fill of some oddly shaped little wafers from Earth called Pringles. Finally, succumbing to exhaustion, they found a room at the Ballaltan Council Building to escape from the light of the new day and slept uninterrupted until dusk.

Gynn was first to awaken. She was glad to see Livv still sleeping. Crawling on all fours she searched for a discarded dress until she found what she had come to Ballalta’s city for: Livvevea’s portacon. Working quickly she disabled its tamper alarm. She scanned the device for all the clearance codes and personal data it contained and then drained it’s power crystals so it would appear to be corrupted and in need of a reset. She had been well trained, and was a skilled specialist at covering her tracks, not many knew how to disable a secured portacon. She then sat quietly in the corner, smiling to herself, waiting for her friend to wake up.

***

"You’re out of your mind," Vidd charged. "I can’t do that. What you’re talking about is a death sentence for Earth. I’ll have nothing to do with it."

Larrvino sat in cold silence. Sipping a glass quadafia rind blend he watched the nervous eyes of Viddelio dart back and forth and chuckled to himself. It was the thing he most liked about the High Director of Galactic Mining and Mapping. He could always count on him to act like a trapped animal whenever they were in the same room together.

Vidd’s office rotated slowly from its perch atop the Galaxy building. On a clear day it provided Vidd and his visitors a most spectacular view. Ballalta’s Bay wrapped around the city on three sides and lush jungle stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was one of the world’s most stunning vistas.

"You can drop your stoic pretense’s, Vidd," Larr said mockingly. "I’ve got some friends on the High Council who’d just love to know about some of your less than honorable activities."

"What?" Vidd said with his brow furrowed in confusion. "I don’t know what you’re talking about."

"Oh, but I think you know exactly what I’m talking about, Mr. Victor Delano..."

Vidd’s jaw dropped. "How? How did you find out about that?"

"Don’t be so ignorant, Vidd. Did you think your Delano Industries was going to go unnoticed? Your first mistake was to let it grow it too fast. Had it taken thirty years I may have never looked into it. People like Sam Walton and the Cargill’s built their businesses over the decades, but I don't trust people like Steve Case and Bill Gates. We all know that there are Orrians working on Earth to thwart our every effort to keep Orr safe. People like Victor Delano… Besides, Vidd, you didn’t disguise yourself very well. I saw you in Forbes and the in Wall Street Journal. You're a fool and a buffoon. You let yourself be photographed. Why would you be so careless?"

"Does anyone else know?"

"No, it’ll be our little secret. And I’ll make a promise to keep it that way if you’ll just do what I asked of you."

"But you can't be serious!"

Larr laughed uproariously. He stopped abruptly and pulled in close to Vidd’s face, the pungent smell of quadafia pierced the air between them, and "I've never been more serious in my life. Now, will you do it or do I make a little trip to New Pallpoli tonight?"

"Do you realize what you’re asking me to do? If I point one of our satellites toward Sirenese space Earth will be doomed. It’ll be genocide. I’d be responsible for the deaths of billions..."

"Oh, don’t be so dramatic. Billions of what? Primitives? They’re animals, Vidd. Look what they’ve done to our beautiful culture. Have you been down there?" Larr pointed to the plaza below them. "Have you seen what our young people are doing down there? You’ll be doing all of us a big favor. You alone will have saved the world."


Vidd scoffed at the notion. "If you think it will keep them from coming after us you’re wrong. How long do think it will take them to realize that Dakk’s jumpship could not have possible come from Earth? Besides, Earth’s scientists may use primitive methods but they’re not so unsophisticated that they wouldn’t notice it. They’ll launch one of their rocket shuttles and confiscate it."

"It really won’t matter by then, now, will it?" Larr gulped down the last of his drink and smashed the glass on Vidd’s solid marble desk. "No more discussion! Now do it!"

"You’re insane, Larr. Positively insane."


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