The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Twenty

Previous Chapter

Carrington stormed into the room and tossed a tablet down on the table in front of him, causing Mond to jump. “I’m a busy man,” the Admiral snapped, “so I really hope this isn’t a waste of my time, Director. In fact, let’s start by seeing if it’s worth my while. What were you people mining under the Antarctic ice caps? Based on the approximate mass and spectroscopic data we’re putting cobalt and nickle in the top spots but there’s a bunch of exotic stuff down in the lower spots and you could make a couple of gamblers very happy if you can clear it up for us.”

“Antarctica was well outside of my jurisdiction, Admiral,” Mond said, his typical neutral attitude struggling to reassert itself. “I’m not sure I ever saw anything detailing what we mine there. I presume it’s comparable to resources in Australia and the extremities of South America, I understand they’re very similar, geologically speaking.”

“I’ll pass that on.” Carrington took a seat and stared at the other two empty spots at the table. The room was empty save for himself, Mond and the Earthling’s two guards. “So why did you ask me here?”

“I wanted to talk to you and, if she agrees, the young lady from Mars.” Mond fidgeted for a second. “You see, I’ve been thinking for the past few days and there’s something I feel I should say.”

“Well, better late than never, I suppose.” Carrington eyed the other man, trying to figure him out. He’d spent more time with this man from Earth than anyone else, Sergeant Langley included, but getting any kind of a solid read on him had proven difficult. The admiral suspected Mond was reserved by nature and Earth culture, for all it supposedly fostered communication and understanding, only seemed to make people more withdrawn and less likely to explain themselves. Add the impenetrable jargon they couched everything in and Mond was a natural enigma. “Did someone let Miss Bertolini know?”

“We did, sir,” one of the guards said.

Mond reached out with one of his prosthetics and carefully, deliberately moved the tablet over so it was directly in front of him. “Why are you asking about the Antarctic mining operations?”

“We sank one of your freighters hauling goods back from there about an hour ago.”

“Sank?!” Mond looked horrified. “Why? They’re entirely automated at this point and those mines are hardly our largest suppliers.”

“Curiosity and general strategic doctrine.” Carrington touched his fingertips together as his hands rested on the table, studying Mond’s reaction. “We wanted to know what you were carrying. Disrupting the transportation of materials in enemy territory is a very basic strategy that has existed for at least seven hundred years. If I told you we were forming a superluminal corridor between Earth and Copernicus to flood your planet with troops how would you react?”

Mond considered it. “Honestly, Admiral, after all the things I’ve heard, seen and done in the last month I can’t say with certainty anymore. That’s… that’s part of why I’ve asked you here.”

Carrington’s AI pinged his tablet causing a small, pulsing green light to appear in one corner. He flicked a finger to answer the ping and room’s comm switched on. “Admiral?” Major Bennet’s voice rose from the tablet. “I’ve brought the Malacandrans, as requested.”

“Send them in, Major.”

A moment later Naomi and Teng were back, both looking a little flushed and windswept. Carrington wondered what they’d been doing. Hopefully nothing that would risk an interplanetary incident, otherwise he was going to have to make a note in Bennet’s official record. “I’m surprised,” Naomi said as she took her seat. “I hadn’t expected a sapiens to be interested in a second discussion with one of the dreaded martians.”

“A fair expectation,” Mond replied. In the last meeting between the two he’d been badly off balance, clearly unprepared to face the namesake of UNIGOV’s preferred boogeymen. Now he appeared more in control of himself. “Particularly given that when we last parted I never wanted to see you again.”

“But you asked me to come here.” Naomi leaned back in her chair, doing a terrible job of hiding the look of scorn on her face. “Why should I listen to you?”

Her derision wasn’t missed by the Earthling across from her. “We could start with fairness.”

“Fairness?” If that was meant to make Naomi more receptive to him it wasn’t working.

“Yes. You gave me a very clear idea of where you and the people of Mars stand, what you hope from us and why. I gave you a very poor response.” Mond leaned forward on his elbows, shining metal hands folded in front of him. “I’d like to try to correct that now.”

She studied him through narrowed eyes. “What brought about this change in heart?”

“Since our last meeting I’ve been trying to discern why you wanted to return to Earth beyond the obvious. It didn’t take long to work out.” Mond pointed one finger at Naomi. “You don’t have space for all the martians in Shutdown on Mars.”

This time Naomi did a better job of hiding any reaction she might have. “What if we don’t?”

“It was just the first step of logic that led me to ask you here. The second step came when I considered that you were the Eldest Malacandran. If Malacandrans only spend their first twenty years outside Shutdown it raises a question. How long was there between any two of you leaving for the vault? Five days? Ten? How long were you the Eldest, Miss Bertolini?”

“Twenty days,” she said. “Bottletown was maintained at a constant population of two thousand, one hundred and sixty people. A few dozen die a year of illness or in accidents, so there is a larger gap between changeovers than you might think.”

“But it removes most of the continuity in leadership that stable societies rely on.” Mond gestured towards himself. “For example, my tenure in the UNIGOV directorate lasted thirty years before I met Mr. Langley and was brought here. If that hadn’t happened I could easily have remained there another dozen years. On Earth, a leader can easily expect to lead his community for twice as long as you’ve been alive.”

“That’s very impressive, Director-”

“I’m not boasting, Miss Bertolini,” Mond said quickly, “although I understand it may seem that way to someone who hasn’t lived the life I have. I’m trying to impress on you the difference in our experience. As I said before, the sapiens life is dedicated to first understanding ourselves and one thing I realized as I struggled with that this week is that I have lived in a society far more used to stability than to change. That was probably true even before the final split between sapiens and martians.”

“You don’t know?” Carrington asked. “I thought the whole point of a Vault Director was to keep track of all those bits of information that were taken away from everyone else.”

“It is. But it’s difficult to do that without the necessary tools at hand and even if you let me use your computers I can’t access the Vaults from them so what am I to do?” Mond chuckled and shook his head. “Sadly, sociological history was not something that I specialized in so I’d have to do a lot of reference work to say anything about what things were like on that front two hundred years ago.”

“What is your specialty?” Naomi asked.

“Music history, believe it or not.” Mond whistled a bar or two of music that meant nothing to Carrington or anyone other than himself, from the looks of the others in the room. “I see you’re not versed in the classics yourself, Admiral. Jailhouse Rock, by Elvis Presley. A tune that has been on my mind for the last week for obvious reasons.”

“Not surprising,” Carrington said, twitching a finger to flag that for later followup. He didn’t think listening to Mond’s favorite music choices would give him much insight into the man’s mind but you never knew. “Why do you think stability is such an important factor, Director?”

“I think the stability Earth has enjoyed has created a blind spot in us, Admiral. I never understood the need for uncertainty.” Mond flattened one hand on the table with a metallic clunk. “The purpose of a sapiens’ introspection is to create an unshakable foundation before action is taken. The care in understanding our surroundings allows us to avoid culpability in actions that harm others. However, all of this leaves us quite low to the ground.”

Naomi nodded. “Trapped in Vaults, in fact.”

“As you say.” Mond drummed his fingers once, then again, before lifting his hand to stare at its fingertips. “The last few days I’ve been thinking about unknowns.”

“How very martian of you,” Carrington said dryly.

“Indeed.” Mond pressed his fingertips together. “And yet, until I did so I didn’t know myself. I didn’t realize how important it was to face the unknown and make it known. UNIGOV exists to bring the stability and self actualization necessary to create a sapiens society. I wonder if our focus on that has been so myopic we’ve actually created our own instabilities. If we haven’t wronged others just by trying to prevent unforeseen wrongs.”

“That’s a very basic problem many philosophies grapple with,” Carrington admitted.

“Perhaps one we should not have forgotten so willfully,” Mond replied. “Regardless, I have reached a decision. I will try to serve as intermediary between UNIGOV and your fleet, Admiral. And your planet, Eldest.”

Carrington sighed. “That’s an encouraging step, Director, but one that I wish you’d made sooner. I’m afraid that history tells us once these conflicts escalate to this level they’re much less likely to be bottled away again. Besides, we still can’t talk to the rest of your Directorate, so there’s not much we can do to open negotiations right now.”

“Well, that depends.” Mond turned his full attention to Naomi. “I don’t have access to the Vault’s records anymore and I’m sure most of your records were taken when Borealis was put into Shutdown. However if you have a working Vault under the colony there are a few things that may open doors for us. Does it have a working crystal storage mainframe?”

Naomi tilted her head to one side, thinking. “Is that the large blue-green crystals in the electrified saline pool?”


“Then yes, we do.”

Mond smiled. “Good. Here is what I need you to do…”