“Clearly they’re lying,” said Elder Henry Umbrage of the gardeners. “Thulcandra is restricted within its own moon.”
“The lunar siege was reported in Ransom’s notes.” Elder Nobari Himeko gestured to her handheld reader. “We haven’t reconstructed the timeline with anything like accuracy but he certainly wrote them before the founding of Bottletown and that was thousands of cents ago. In fact, our very presence here, and the absence of the eldil or other hnau, suggests that the world is very different from what he saw. Thulcandra may have sent out colonies of its own.”
“Assuming we’re not one ourselves.” Pak shifted nervously, eyeing Elder Alyssa Pracht. The elder bottler was one of the youngest present, excepting himself, and clearly something of a cynic. She had an intense personality which made it quite clear to him how Gemma had come to be such a subdued young woman.
Several other Elders were equally as uncomfortable with Pracht’s suggestion and were clearly about to interject when the Eldest beat them to it. “I don’t want to debate the past right now. Those discussions are important and interesting when potential emissaries from the Silent Planet are not breathing down our necks. What I want to know is if any of us have a useful way to test the notion that these people are from beyond the Solar System.”
Pak frowned. The Eldest in Bottletown at the moment was Naomi Bertolini, another bottler and, according to Gemma, supposedly more considerate than her peers. But then, Gemma had never seen her in a Council of Elders. What was clear was that Naomi wanted something specific from the Elders and wasn’t in the mood for digressions, she’d been squashing them all night. “There’s nothing in the Archives that mentions what would set two people from different planets apart,” said Elder Deng Zao Jen, from the archives in question. “There is a concept called genetics that would allow us to make an educated guess as to the truth of this statement – but we would need large samples from both Thulcandra and this – what was it called?”
“Rodenberry,” Pak supplied.
“This Rodenberry to perform it, so it is obviously not workable.”
“Then why bring it up?” Elder Himeko asked in exasperation, living up to the fishers notorious reputation for hating anything not immediately practical.
“Well,” Deng grumped, “we have the tools to do it if we could find the samples.”
“Thank you, Elder Deng,” Naomi replied. “We’ll keep that in mind, should it ever become practical. Other suggestions?”
“Exotic materials?” Elder Nobari Masamune suggested. “The archives do have an exhaustive list of materials available on Thulcandra. If they have items built of unearthly materials that would prove that, at least, they were not built on the Silent Planet.”
“We can test that easily enough,” his wife said, giving him a surprised look. “But do you think they will simply give us something to throw in the tanks so easily?”
“It can’t hurt to ask, Himeko,” Naomi said before wresting the meeting in a new direction once more. “Petitioners. We haven’t heard from the Oyarsa or his eldil since possibly as early as the founding of Bottletown. Any chance they plan to weigh in directly on this matter?”
The only elder among the petitioners on hand was Higram Skjeggestadd, a thin faced, worried looking man whose name was constantly mispronounced, even among the Elders who probably should have known better. “Eldest, you and I have repeatedly discussed the question of the eldil and their silence in the past. I cannot simply wave my hand and make them speak to us again. They may still enforce their silence towards all hnau of Thulcandra however long they live outside of the influence of that planet and its Oyarsa. They may have been forced to abandoned Malacandra entirely as the influence of Thulcandra grew more and more pronounced. The Lunar siege may have failed, and the malevolent influence of Thulcandra driven the eldil further beyond the belt and into the depths of the solar system. Regardless, we will petition them and they will answer or not as they chose. It falls to us now to test this Fyodorovich as Weston was tested. It would be simpler if the hrossa or other hnau were present. They are not, so we must make do. He must see Bottletown and his actions there judged with care.”
“Will you do this yourself, Elder Skjeggestadd?” Elder Himeko asked.
“No.” Naomi said this with surprising firmness. “Chose a promising understudy and have them do it. You’re the only Elder among the petitioners right now, let’s not risk your life heedlessly.”
Elder Higram nodded in understanding. “I will make my selection and explain the matter to them immediately after this.”
“Then we’d best let you get to it.” Naomi began to stand, causing Pak’s heart to leap up into his throat.
“Excuse me, Eldest?” Pak’s voice was almost a squeak. Speaking out of turn was hard, even for a watcher who considered himself more seasoned than most. “Who will be interacting with the outsiders from here on out?”
Naomi gave him a blithe look. “Watcher Teng, while the watchtower has previously been an assignment chosen by those who desire a great deal of time on their hands it’s always been understood that serving as Bottletown’s point of contact with the outside was one of their chief responsibilities. And you are the oldest in the watchtower, are you not?”
“But – but Eldest, I’m not even an Elder! Surely this is a time for-”
Naomi clapped him on the shoulder in a gesture oddly reminiscent of what the stranger had done just a few hours ago. “Congratulations, Watcher Teng, consider yourself promoted.”
“Department of Martian Operations?” Craig dimmed the holodisplay in front of him until it was practically invisible, allowing him to look directly at Oda. “You think we need a department for this?”
Hiroyuki shrugged, something he shouldn’t have been able to do when leaning that far back in his chair without tipping over. In this as in many other tasks, Oda was able to make the impossible look effortless. “The Mars question is about to become the most important, most pressing thing facing the Rodenberry Stellar Navy. We aren’t equipped to rescue people from a hostile planet, the Copernican Spacer Corps is. We’re not prepared to chase down and restrain ships running through hostile space, the Minervans and Dianan ships are. We can’t send enough firepower to crack a moon from Earth to Charon in less than an hour, that’s what the Newtonian section of the fleet is for. But look. There’s a whole barely understood human society down on the planet below us. The Stellar Navy was practically purpose built for these situations.”
Craig suppressed a smile. “I didn’t realize you were a Kirk purist as well.”
“I value all of the Great Man’s work that stays on his side of the accountability horizon.” Oda spread his hands. “And as the Lieutenant said, this does seem to be a classic TOS Type Two situation. But fiction always oversimplifies. We need serious manpower and equipment available for this situation and, administratively, that means we need a dedicated department for it. We can’t just handwave a bunch of people together in an incoherent command structure and wait until amusing personality conflicts arise.”
“Oda.” Craig pulled himself forward over his desk to make sure his slumping subordinate could see his extreme disgust. “Amusing personality conflicts are your favorite part of the job.”
Oda’s smile was pure malice. “Of course. But if I let them creep up the same way every time even I will get bored of them.”
“When we get back to New Frisco I’m putting you in for transfer to a desk job.”
“You can take my career but you’ll never take my love for human folly, Captain.”
Craig put the display between the two of them again. “So we build a new department. Why put Fyodorovich at the head? Why give him a double promotion in the process? Surely Lieutenant Commander Dulan-”
Oda was suddenly upright, alert and serious, crossing his legs in front of him in the position oddly known as Indian style. “Farah Dulan is an academic sociologist, poorly suited to operating her current department, much less assembling one out of scratch on the fly.”
“Okay, how about Commander-”
“Commander Rand is a crack administrator and has an excellent tactical sense in simulations but he’s never been in combat and he’s not well liked by his department. You’ll remember I recommended against accepting his posting here for this mission for exactly those reasons.”
“I do.” Craig dimmed the display again. “I’d also like to point out he has seen combat at this point.”
“If you consider our part in what happened combat then yes, and he handled himself admirably.” Oda raised two fingers. “His department still dislikes him because he doesn’t have a great leadership sense. And we were never in direct danger during the Earth Orbital exchange yesterday. In my opinion he’s still untested in the most important aspect of this assignment, which is performance under pressure.”
Craig grunted and put the display back in place. “So why Fyodorovich?”
“Ensign Fyodorovich was cited for bravery during an avalanche on Type-E Moon 2485 during a routine survey mission and again for reacting decisively during a cometquake on a standard harvesting mission, both during his second tour of duty on the Kelly. Lieutenant Fyodorovich was reprimanded for his actions during a hull breach while serving on the Yamato and then commended for his actions during a similar incident a year later on the Venture. The through line to these four incidents is simple.” Hiroyuki suddenly snapped his hand up in a clenched fist. “Bold, decisive action when he and his subordinates were in danger.”
“In moments of decision it’s better to do the wrong thing than nothing at all,” Craig murmured. He wasn’t sure the source of the sentiment, probably some American president, it had that kind of headstrong feel to it. Regardless, it wasn’t entirely out of place in deep space. And skimming through Volk Fyodorovich’s service record, it did seem the young man had it in spades.
“In addition to that,” Hiroyuki added softly. “Lieutenant Fyodorovich has been in more life threatening situations than any other officer serving aboard this ship, including yourself. He’s not reckless, in fact as the two hull breach situations show he actively adapts to familiar dangers. He’s just been lucky.”
“Unlucky is dead. Fyodorovich is alive. There’s a special quality to men who survive these kinds of circumstances; it doesn’t show up in service records or performance evaluations. But enlisted men are drawn to it and officers can rely on it. Considering the circumstances we certainly could use it on Mars.”
Craig continued through the service record with growing interest. Hiroyuki had a certain eye for people – what made them tick, what potential they had, what shortcomings they would show under stress. It wasn’t something he’d ever been able to learn but, with practice, Craig had learned to pick out shadows of what his XO saw and he was certainly seeing them in Fyodorovich. “You think he can run this new department smoothly?”
“His subordinates will love him, he’ll do whatever you ask him to and as many people as can be kept safe in the process will be safe. But this is space, Captain. Not everything will go easily.”
Craig nodded. It was space they were talking about, after all. He couldn’t ask for more than that. “Well, hopefully the other department heads will get along with him, too.”
“Oh.” The smile was back. “I’m afraid they are going to hate him.”