Dedicated to the Columbia shuttle crew who died on this date Feb 1, 2003. They were coming back from the stars. They can't return, so humanity will have to do it for them.
Ben was looking at a screen showing the progress of the factory line for the Spin Ships. They had finished retooling it a couple of weeks ago and the first of the ships were in the preliminary phase. In just a week full scale production would begin. He should have been happy about that, but he wasn't. He was feeling miserable and he had been avoiding everybody since the Regalo had arrived at Home Base.
Ben heard the door hiss open behind him and he whirled around, feeling apprehensive. Only Kim and his mother could just enter and Kim was off with the Harvard. His throat tightened and he couldn't stop the tears that were flowing slowly down his cheeks.
Ferma said sternly, “Ben, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were acting like a ten year old.”
Ben couldn't help but laugh in spite of his tears, though it was a sad laugh. “That's the problem,” he said in a choked voice, “the one time in my life that I should have acted as a ten year old, I froze and I simply couldn't. I acted like my normal pleasant not particularly emotional self, instead of like the child I really am, in spite of my twenty-three years.”
She said compassionately, “Well let's try it again then. Ben Dandreson, I'm Ferma Simpson and I'm your mother. Your very loving mother.” She held out her arms and Ben flung himself into them, his body racked with silent sobs, as he allowed himself to really let go for the first time in his life, feeling comfort in the arms holding him and rocking him gently. She had a smile of satisfaction on her face and the wisdom of her over one hundred years was showing in her sparkling green eyes. She'd been waiting for this moment and it was just the right moment.
Finally when the tears had stopped, she pushed him away, looking into his small upturned face. She laughed gently and said, “You're a mess, go wash your face.”
Ben did as he was told and when he came back, he was more composed. He sat in his favorite chair, his right leg folded under him and looked at his mother who was sitting in another chair. He mused, “I can't afford to do that very often.”
“Why not, Ben?” she asked gently.
He explained, “The others all know that in time they will begin to age again, that they can afford to act like ten year olds until then, though not all of them do. Tolnar doesn't and from what I've seen of Thomas, I don't think he will either. But I know and I've known since I was twelve, when I had a full medical scan on the station, that I was fully mature. In the situation I was in, I couldn't afford to let ten year old emotions dictate my actions. I couldn't afford ever to let my childish emotions tell me what to do, even when I was younger.”
Ben sighed, saying, “I was raised fairly normally for the first few years, at least for Ochan station. Of course there were no adults to love you, but you had your friends. Then, when I was six, I started training in how to be a thief. That year was the scariest of my life. We started out with twenty-five, but by the end of the year, there were only thirteen of us. You'd go to sleep in the evening, then when you woke up someone would be gone. We all thought they were killed and our trainers let us think that. You no longer had your friends and, along with fear, there was sadness. I know now from the computer records that they simply turned the children over to the Bears. To get any of the children, the Bears had to keep silent about what was happening, though I know they must have hated the situation they were in.”
Ben said, “When they finished our training, they simply turned us loose on the station. In the next year, five more were gone, only these we knew died, because in most cases we saw them die. They simply picked the wrong marks. Someone more important than they thought they were and the mark retaliated by killing the thief. By the time I was eight, I had discovered computers and I was a good enough thief that I had worked myself into a position where I could afford to live alone. I got into the Federation school database and I was getting an education. At first, I concentrated on learning about computers. By the time I was eight and a half, I could hack to my heart's content without getting caught. Though I left traces, they didn't lead back to me. Since I was so good a thief, I only had to spend a couple of hours a day at that. By the time I was ten, only five of those I started with were still alive.”
Ben frowned, saying, “The next five years were very frustrating. By the time I was twelve, with the education I had, I could have turned that station inside out, but there was no way to access the core computer. As a child and an orphan, although my name was in the computers, in effect I didn't exist. I had no citizenship and I couldn't get off the station, since I wasn't old enough to claim Federation citizenship and I knew I never would be.”
He said, “When I was fourteen, I took the Federation Test of Maturity. It ignored my mental abilities, simply focusing on my physical and emotional age and it insisted on assigning me the status of a ten year old. I found out when we managed to get the station back for the Bears that it had been tampered with. It should have assigned me provisional adult maturity status, which would have allowed me to claim Federation citizenship and get off the station.”
Ben told her, “That was about the time I began hearing voices in my head. I figured either I was crazy, or I was a weak esper. I finally decided to take the test. The testing computer was a standalone unit and it was state of the art, which uploaded its information into the core computer. In fact it was the only terminal from which the core computer could be accessed except for the computer room itself. Only there was no way to input anything except brain scans, so I couldn't do anything with it.”
He admitted with embarrassment, “My survival instincts took a holiday and I was careless and in the end it was just as well. While I didn't do anything with it, there was a provision for putting privacy blocks around the information and I didn't set them. When I got the results I was terrified. I knew I had to get off the station before the end of the month.”
He shook his head, saying, “By the time the end of the month came, I was almost resigned. When I saw Mason Cooper, obviously a Captain, I got my hopes up. I had one last chance. I moved toward him and I intended to be very clumsy and get caught. Instead I caught the alien's intentions to kill Mase. Partly because of my Protector's instincts and partly because I knew he was my last chance and if he was dead I was going to die anyway, I threw myself in front of one of the laser beams. It almost got me killed but it got me off the station, in a very favorable position. If I'd planned it I couldn't have done it better.” He smiled at the memory, terror that had turned into happiness.
Ferma asked, her face puzzled, “That's very late for our type of telepathy to appear Ben. Are you sure that it didn't begin earlier?”
He admitted, “It's possible, but right at that time there were no aliens in the sector of the station I was in, except for those few who were passing through. The Bears were really pissed at that time and were boycotting the station. You could go into other sectors, but when I was moving around the station, I was looking for marks and you were very conspicuous in the alien sectors. That's why they dyed my hair, because it was too conspicuous. My eyes were also a problem, but there wasn't much we could do about them. Contact lenses are too easy to detect and therefore dangerous. There's a way to change eye color, but it's expensive and can lead to problems if used for a long period. Those who were in charge of us weren't willing to spend the money and I managed.” Ben said with a shrug.
“I'm sorry that you had to live like that, Ben.” Ferma said, sorrow in her eyes.
Ben looked at her and smiled, eyes dancing, saying with amusement, “I'm not. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do everything the same way. Otherwise the result might be different and I like the way it ended too much to want anything to change. Did you come to winkle me out like I had Peter do with the orphans, right after we arrived here?”
She shook her head, saying, “No, we had to get things squared away first and this is the first opportunity I've had to talk to you about this subject.” Her eyes and voice were sober. “When Cam killed the Doctor, he in fact only killed one of the Doctors. There were three of them, who called themselves collectively the Doctor. As you thought, their people come from the Ramar Cloud Region. I made several trips there from Leben in a Venrye freighter. Judging by the time it took, it's about forty or forty-five light years from Bartan. While Bartan is close to the center line of the Cloud Region, their world is close to the edge of the globe and they've had contact with the Venrye for several hundred years.”
Ben said thoughtfully, “If they've been in touch with the Venrye for that long, obviously they're aware of the Federation's existence. They're isolated and they want to stay that way. I assume the Doctor, all three of him, wanted something different, or they wouldn't need to go about it in secret. You said it was close to the edge of the Cloud Region. Would you say it was within five light years?”
Ferma shook her head at the intelligence of her son. He had not only not been surprised but had also realized the Doctor was working on something to do with their home planet. She said, “Yes, I wouldn't be surprised. Would that make a difference?”
Ben speculated, “If the Doctors had gotten control of their system, they could have contacted the Federation demanding to be given Independent status. That would mean that five light years all around the Doctors' system would be their territory, except where it touched another star nation's border. If they intended to create Spin Ships so they could take on the Venrye, the Federation probably wouldn't have interfered. Almost a case of someone you don't know being better than the one you do know. That's no longer the case. If anyone shows up with Spin Ship technology, the Federation won't let it be used in a war of expansionism. Did they siphon off some Spin Ships from the factory?”
Fermq nodded, telling him, “Yes, but they only managed to get twenty. Enough to take over their system, but not enough to take on any other nation. They were intent on getting a couple of hundred and a couple of carriers, but the Tarne moved their invasion plans up and screwed up the Doctors' plans.”
“What do they intend to do for pilots?” asked Ben.
She explained, “The Doctors' people consist of three sexes, though some people would consider that they have four, male and female, then male neuter and female neuter. That's how the Doctor always referred to them, as neuter. At least outwardly, they give the impression of being male and female. I've never seen one of them undressed, so I don't know whether they are really neuter, or whether they have sex organs which simply don't function.”
Ferma told him, “The mother is always fertilized in multiples of three, the eggs are fertilized at the same time, though there can be as much as ten years between the births. It's not unusual to lose one or two of the eggs after the first birth occurs, so one or two children are not unusual. They look very much like we do, only their skin is scaly and multicolored, though the colors are muted at least in a human's eyes. All of the Doctors have had surgery to look more human like. They mature faster than humans do, the neuters are fully grown at ten, the others at twelve.”
She explained, “It doesn't matter if the neuters mature fully, since they aren't fertile and they react very much like humans to drugs. It was possible to genetically engineer their parents so that they can accept the same chemicals that Spin Ship pilots use, with the same reaction. In other words, the experiments on you were intended to be used on the neuters, and, like you, they will not grow up. That's what all of the experiments were for. The minds of the neuters are very much like humans and unlike most aliens, they can't be read by a xeno-telepath, even with the normal ones, all I could read was surface thoughts. They weren't interested in the Tarne, they were simply interested in the ability to experiment on humans and then transfer their research to their own people.”
She said soberly, “The clones were another experiment and the Doctors didn't like the results. They were not independent enough, so the Doctors went back to their experiments on you and created Thomas. He was what the Doctor was searching for. That was why Thomas was born three years after the others. There were in fact more than two hundred clones, two hundred and fifteen to be exact, but fifteen died before or just after birth.”
Ferma explained, “The neuter Doctor was the one who showed up in Sanscri. Over a thirty year period he worked into a position of trust. He was intent on stealing the information about the Spin Ships and the chemicals and the genetic engineering, which he succeeded in doing. Then he decided to kidnap me. The Doctor succeeded in stealing all of the design features that I had included in Charlie. However, there was no way that they could force me to do any additional research to improve on Charlie and they finally gave up. The anti-interrogation routines were much better than their interrogation routines. They never did manage to come up with ones that would work.”
Ben gave a short ironic laugh, saying, “We've got to deal with those Spin Ships, but I'm just wondering if the Doctors did their job too well.”
She raised an eyebrow, asking, “What do you mean by that, Ben?”
He said gravely, “Did the Doctors create Spin Ship pilots, or did they inadvertently create Protectors? The Leben children took us by surprise, but this time we know about the extra Spin Ships. A couple of years ago I made modifications to Spin Ships because of an idea I had. I examined some of the Leben Spin Ships and the modifications have now been included in them. With the earlier ones I worked out something that might allow us to capture them alive and find out which they are.” Ben told his mother.
“Peter.” he addressed the station AI.
Peter answered, “Yes, Ben.”
Ben told him, “Could you please send a message to the Captains of the Intrepid and the Incursion and have them meet me in my briefing room in two hours time, please.”
“Messages sent, Ben.”
“Thank you, Peter.” he said, appreciatively, Turning to his mother he said, “Let's go see the Federation Consul.”
Ms. Pamela Richardson looked at Ben shrewdly, asked, “How can I help you, Ben?”
Ben explained what his mother had told him about the Doctor, then said, “That means there are twenty Spin Ships and their pilots in the Ramar Cloud Region. That will easily let the Doctors take control of their system, why else would they be doing it? They originally wanted two hundred Spin Ships and their carriers, but the number they have makes them very dangerous.”
Ms. Richardson nodded in agreement and Ben continued, “Let's play a 'What if' game. 'What if' the Doctors capture their planetary system? They didn't need two hundred Spin Ships just to do that. What they have now will let them do it easily. If they take control of the system, they can build a factory to produce Spin Ships. They obviously don't have the resources to do it out of their own pocket, or they would have done so. They wouldn't have produced the ships on Leben using Tarne financing. Not surprising, few individuals or groups of individuals could.”
Ben said, “There's no way of saying how long it would take to build a factory to produce Spin Ships starting from scratch. Probably about two to five years, depending on how efficient their industry is. The Doctors are patient. They've been working on this plan for at least ninety years, but eventually they will have the Spin Ships they want.”
He said, “'What if' after they get the two hundred Spin Ships or more, there's an incident between them and the Venrye. If it appears that the Venrye caused it, would the Federation intervene? According to the way the Federation acts, it would be unlikely. Venrye is made up of three different races. The one closest to the Cloud, which controls about three hundred systems, is the most independent and is always on the point of instability. Their area contains half of the border with the Federation; therefore, they have a large number of naval units. Capture the bulk of those three hundred systems and it's very likely that they would split off, giving the Doctors a nice little empire to rule.”
Ben shook his head and with a smile said, “Personally I don't think it would have a hope in hell of working. But the Doctors seem to be atypical of their race, judging from the fact that the rest of their people seem to be isolationist. They've been in contact with the Venrye for centuries and with all of the beings out there, their only contact is the Venrye. We've got to contact the Doctors' system and establish their status, either as a Federation member, or a Protectorate or an Independent system. We need to get the Spin Ships back and the Doctors under lock and key. The Doctors could kill a lot of beings in an unsuccessful attempt.”
Ms. Richardson smiled, “What's the problem, Ben?”
He looked at her suspiciously, asking warily, “The last time somebody said something like that to me, I found out I was a Battle Commander for life. What exactly do YOU mean?”
She giggled, at the sight of him sitting there, glaring with his hands clenched. She had a little gurgle of amusement in her voice as she said, “Sorry, Ben. The Federation did the same thing to you, I'm afraid. When you affect our society as greatly as you have done, the Federation starts watching you. They also began testing you. It might appear unusual to those in the Terran Sector of the Federation. It's not as common as in other sectors.”
Pamela Richardson explained, “The decision to put you in charge of the mission into the Ramar Cloud System, was their decision, not the local Federation leaders’. The Federation Observers were watching you as much as the war between the Tarne and the Sanscri Republic. You impressed them and they advised whomever they advise, to continue with the testing. Therefore, they never rescinded your rank as Ambassador or Commodore. In fact, when they realized that you would be a Battle Commander for life, they decided to bump you up to Rear-Admiral and make you part of the Naval Reserve. Any decision to go on active service is yours, if you think you need to do so. Or they can ask you to do so and it will still be your choice whether you accept or not. So, you have full authority to do whatever you need to do.”
She paused to allow Ben to digest the information. From his face it was obvious he wasn't sure if he was pleased or not, but his mother had no such reservations. She had a look of fond pride on her face.
Pamela said more gently, “I'm afraid you’ve marked yourself out as an outstanding individual Ben and the Federation is always looking for them. First you changed this system from a dead end to a major industrial center. Now your innovations are going to change the galaxy in ways we can't foresee now. It's going to be a much faster galaxy, that much we know.”
She explained, “Each sector has a Council which sets out overall laws by which the sector is to live by. There is also a High Federation Council who set out the guidelines for how the Federation Sectors pass laws. Both Councils are interested in you, Ben. Whatever you do, for good or ill, is going to be watched very closely.”
Pamela sighed, a look of annoyance on her face, as she said, “I've been in the Diplomatic Corps for over ninety years, Ben and I had the rank to choose my assignments. The last one was to the Benteen Polity and it was an important assignment, since they're the largest human political entity outside the Federation. My husband was one of those unfortunate humans who couldn't use rejuvenation techniques. When he died ten years ago, I wanted to have time to mourn, so I chose Freedom as my next assignment.”
She sat back with a little laugh, saying, “I was finally getting over his death when you showed up Ben and interesting things began to happen. By your actions you arranged things so that I was promoted to Consul, which can mean two things in the Diplomatic Corps. You can be a Consul to a place like the Benteen Polity where you mediate disputes between Federation and Benteen people. Or you can be a Consul representative which simply means you're a more important representative. My most recent promotion, which came in last week, gives me rank equal to an Ambassador. That indicates the status that Freedom and Home Base now have in the Federation.”
Aside from Ben, the meeting included his mother, Taffle and Dawn Evers, Tolnar Ferick and Mor Cooper the Shipyard Manager and Ms. Pamela Richardson, the Federation Consul. It also included the three ship captains, Pol Tyran from the Incursion, Gar Wan of the Intrepid, Cam Simpson of the Regalo.
Ben got the meeting off to a start by giving a recap of all had gone on and the ranks that he had been given on a permanent basis. He said, “We're going to have to retrieve those Spin Ships and find out whether the pilots are just that, or Protectors. If they are simply pilots, then the Spin Ships can be disarmed. If on the other hand, they are Protectors, they can be trusted to keep armed Spin Ships once the Doctors are out of the picture.”
He said, “Gar I want you to keep the Intrepid in this part of the Federation until that is accomplished instead of going home. We'll be taking one of the carriers into the Ramar Cloud System as well as the Regalo. The other will continue the training of the Leben children. The Regalo will be acting as the flagship. It's up to you which one goes with me.”
Gar and Pol looked at each other, then Gar said, “You've worked with him directly Pol and since we'll be operating under our command structure, you've got seniority. I'd just as soon instruct pilots as get involved in combat.”
Pol nodded. Gar was nearly seventy years older than Pol and near retirement. He had performed well in combat, but his heart was never in it, though that hadn't stopped him from getting superior ratings for his conduct during the Tarne war.
They looked back at Ben, who just nodded, tellig them, “Normally I would just have chosen one of you, but I want to switch fifty pilots from/to each carrier. That will mean that both carriers will have some of their pilots involved in the final resolution.”
He looked around the table, saying, “A lot of my ideas come from a 'What if' session. I explained one of my 'What if' ideas to Ms. Richardson. This is a 'What if' session from about two and a half years ago. The question was 'What if I could block the telepathy between a Spin Ship and its pilot and cause it to go into suspend mode.' The answer was yes, I think I can do so, now prove it.”
Ben explained, “I designed a wave generator that I thought would do the job. It was unsuccessful the first time. I was using one small unit only a few feet away from Charlie. I still thought the idea was sound, so I constructed a second generator. It was still unsuccessful, so I tried three and then four. With four, I was successful. The generators didn't touch my telepathy, what they did was block the artificial waves that connect the AI to the pilot, me and instruct it to go into suspend mode.”
He said, “Then I asked, 'Now that I have a wave generator that will block the artificial waves, can I protect against it and can I do it simply and inexpensively?' The answer was yes, I think so. I designed a shielding device that would surround the cockpit and AI and it takes about half an hour to install. That was one of the modifications that was sent to Sanscri. Every ship that they have or the Federation now has, were modified appropriately.”
Taffle looked thoughtful and then said in his deep rumbling voice, “Going with your 'What if' idea. 'What if the Spin Ships the Doctors stole haven't been protected, because they don't know anything about it, can I design a larger version that will affect them?'“
Ben nodded, saying, “The answer is yes and it's already designed. I designed the full sized version of the wave generator first and then downsized it to test it. Mor, that's why you're here. It uses standard components and it's actually two units in one, a wave generator and a com and hyper com jammer. The jammer was an afterthought. If you wanted to prevent the capture of Spin Ships, you could install self-destruct mechanisms, which could either be set off by the pilot or by com, whether a regular com or a hyper com.”
Ben explained, “The jammer will stop a hyper com or long range com from being used to set off the self-destruct mechanism. If they are Protectors, the pilots will probably be willing to talk first before using the self-destruct. That should give us time enough to at least make initial contact and talk to them. Then we go from there.”
Rachel said urgently, “Don we have multiple contacts. They're all around us, so obviously they just emerged from stealth.”
Don said tensely, “Go to full alert. Denise, how many and can you tell what they are?”
Denise said, “One hundred and fourteen, sir. One hundred and twelve are Spin Ships and one is a Spin Ship Carrier, we have no specs on the last ship. It has characteristics of a heavy cruiser but is much longer. IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) identifies one hundred and one of them as Federation/Sanscri and the other thirteen as Federation.” She said with relief.
Rachel said, “We are being hailed, Don.”
“Put it on screen!” Don said a little more sharply than he intended, a little frown on his face. He was starting to relax, but he was still a little tense.
Suddenly familiar green eyes were twinkling at him from the screen, the small face trying to appear solemn. He said, “Gee, Don. Did we scare you? We didn't want to do that, we just wanted to introduce ourselves.” Before Don could say anything, Ben continued, “Transmitting credentials.”
Rachel gave a little whistle as she received the transmission. She explained, “Don, Ben still retains the title of Ambassador and he's now a Rear-Admiral. It's a permanent position, as a part of the Naval Reserve. He can activate and deactivate his status as he chooses. It now reads active.”
Ben's face was sober now as he said, “We're hunting, Don, for a planet and twenty Spin Ships. It's somewhere in this area.” and he flipped a couple of switches and Rachel said, “Putting map on screen.”
Suddenly there was a 3-D map on the screen showing a portion of the Ramar Cloud Region. They could hear Ben's voiceover. “Somewhere in this region, between forty and forty-five light years from Bartan and within the area where the Venrye borders the Ramar Cloud Region, there is a planet. Those who produced the Spin Ships pilots and everything else, are from this planet. There were three of them. One was killed, so there are two of them remaining. They have in their possession twenty Spin Ships and the pilots to fly them. Everything they did, including the experiments on humans, was so they could produce Spin Ship pilots from their own people.”
Ben told them soberly, “We suspect that they intend to take over their solar system, if they have not yet done so, then build a factory to produce additional Spin Ships. We are hoping we can contact their home government before they do so.”
He explained, “We intend to deploy the Spin Ships in concentric half-rings, starting at the farthest distance that your ships' sensors can reach. With one hundred Spin Ships, we can deploy five such half-rings. Since we must match your speed, we can use full-stealth. That will extend your range immensely because the scanners on these ships have been beefed up. Only a Survey Ship, such as yours, can properly integrate the data which you will be receiving.”
Ben told them, “Since I'm at present acting as both a Sanscri Battle Commander and a Federation Admiral, the Regalo is my flagship. She is also a Spin Ship carrier. She carries twelve of them. She was originally just a prototype for a much larger carrier, but she's very fast, as fast as a courier. The Sanscri Republic is building one hundred of them, but the Federation wants two thousand, so in two or three years you'll begin seeing them on a regular basis and they'll be in your database. The Incursion will accompany you with the Regalo's twelve Spin Ships held back to defend you in case of need. A survey, which would normally take a couple of months, can be completed within days.”
Denise said, “One hundred of the ships have disappeared. Gone back into stealth mode I would assume and we've lost contact with them.”
Ben said, “They're heading for their pre-programmed positions. Once they reach them, data will start coming back to the Incursion for you, Don, to integrate. We will be keeping six Spin Ships on post throughout for protection. I invite you and your first officer to join me aboard the Regalo. I want you to meet my mother and father and,” he giggled, “and my son.” and the screen went blank.
The Regalo's tractor beam speared their shuttle and gently drew it into the Shuttle Bay. Don Francis and Denise Richmond exited from the shuttle.
Aside from Ben, there were three people waiting for them. Two adults and a boy who looked a lot like Ben. Both Don and Denise could see that Ben had changed. He had a presence about him now that only high command could give, yet at the same time he seemed much more relaxed.
Ben shook hands firmly with them, congratulating Denise on her promotion to Lieutenant-Commander and her posting as the new first officer of Searcher. He introduced Cam Simpson his father, the Captain of the Regalo and his mother. The four liked each other on sight and their handshakes were the beginning of a friendship that would last for the rest of their lives.
“This is Thomas and he's my son. Really.” Ben grinned. “I talked about what had been done to me, in the way of experimentation, when I was on your ship the last time. Before they began experimenting on me, they collected enough of my DNA to produce clones. Over two hundred of them in fact though only two hundred survived. The others are a little older than Thomas and their personalities are much different. Thomas has a personality that's much more like mine. He was the only one of the clones to claim the legal relationship as my son.”
They looked at Thomas with curiosity and he returned their looks with frankness. He looked much like Ben but at the same time he seemed much younger. Don asked him, “How close to Ben's personality are you really, Thomas?”
He answered honestly, “Well, we're very close in a lot of ways. We laugh at the same things, we enjoy many of the same things. But in other ways we're very different. Cloning has never been an exact science and to produce an exact duplicate is impossible. If they had been able to clone Einstein for instance, there might be a one in ten chance that you would reproduce the intelligence that Einstein had.”
Thomas explained, “The same is true between Ben and me. He's far more intelligent than I am. Not in IQ, because we are very close there; however the way his mind works is very different from mine. He's also much more introspective than I am and he was much more standoffish up to a couple of months ago. He and grandmother had a talk and he's been much more relaxed since then and more outgoing.”
“I don't have the inventiveness that he and grandmother have.” Thomas told them, waving his arm around them. “Ben designed the Regalo and there's little difference from what he designed and what was actually built. She's basically a heavy cruiser, but she's much improved over the normal heavy cruiser. She could take on three or four of her cousins with a good probability of winning. A normal heavy cruiser requires about three hundred people to fight it. This one is so automated that twenty-four can do the same job.”
“A light cruiser like yours normally requires a hundred people to fight it, but because you're a Survey ship you have a crew of a hundred and fifty.” Thomas said.
Ben interjected, “Thomas is aware that in fact you don't have that many people. You are always undermanned and never have the full complement that you're supposed to have.”
He said soberly, “However the fact that she can fight is a secondary consideration for the Regalo. She's a Spin Ship carrier and she's designed to get twelve Spin Ships to the place they need to be, then get the hell out of the way. She's as fast as a courier ship, so nothing that exists today, except for Spin Ships, are fast enough to catch her.”
Ben told them, “As I mentioned the Federation wants two thousand of them, plus one hundred of the full size carriers.” Ben nodded at the transparent plasteel window that overlooked the Spin Ship bay. Only six of the twelve cradles were occupied at the moment. They were being checked over in a routine post flight check, four of the children who flew them actively involved in the check.
Ben continued with a grin, “Just one warning, only Taffle and Dawn Evers, who you know, aren't Federation Navy, everyone else is wearing Sanscri rank markings because they are all Commanders. Many of them have more years of seniority in that rank, than you Don, have been alive. The Federation took the Sanscri psychological profile of captains and crew members very seriously. They asked to use the Regalo and the Incursion as training ships until the ships of their class start being produced.”
Ben explained solemnly, “That profile is very different from the normal profile for captains in the Federation Navy. They have to like children, yet at the same time they have to respect those children because they are combatants. Their primary responsibility is to get those children to the place where combat will take place. They need to have the ability to act as fathers or mothers; at the same time, they have to be willing to send them into combat knowing that sometimes some of them won't come back.”
Ben paused for a moment before continuing, thinking about what he was saying. “We are very special children. We originally had two purposes for existing. To help give our people the will to live and to Protect them from a very real danger. We did both and for thirty-five hundred years we have continued doing the second. We weren't bred to simply throw our lives away. We have the same fear of death and the same wish to live as any other human being. But we are Protectors. It is our duty and our pleasure to defend those we are sworn to Protect. If it is necessary, we will give our lives to fulfil that obligation, as would any adult defender.”
Ben said, “It's not something that the Federation is accustomed to; maybe they never will, but it's vital for your Navy to understand it and this is the first step.” Ben stepped up to the plasteel wall and pushed a button on a com panel. “Come infants, it's time to eat. Stop bothering the nice people.” He laughed at the rude gestures he got back, a couple of them sticking out their tongues and the other two giving him a one finger salute. He said with amusement, “The other children will join us. The mess hall was programmed by my mother and some of your people, so it has a selection of Sanscri, Leben and Federation cuisine. Tolnar Ferick, is my deputy and is commanding the six ships on guard duty.”
Denise flicked the switch that brought the Regalo into the circuit and said, “We've got indications of a inhabited planet, Don, Ben. It's at the extreme range of the furthest Spin Ship, ninety degrees to their starboard, but it's definitely a high-tech world.”
Ben said, “Please change course accordingly and assume your positions around it, as planned.”
Don said to Ben, in his briefing room on the Regalo, “Now that we're at the outer edge of their solar system, we've been able to receive their broadcasts directly for the last day and a half. Despite what you say about their possible isolationist policies, almost ninety percent of their communication is in Standard English. The Vid shows that are aired in their own language, are also simultaneously broadcast in Standard English. That has allowed Rachel to translate their language with ease. She can find nothing that indicates that the world has been taken over in a coup.”
Ben said soberly, “The Doctors are very patient, Don. They've been working on their plan for at least ninety years. If they don't know about the death of the third Doctor yet, they're probably still not in any rush. Regalo's AI Alexander has been sifting through the same information and he finds a definite trend in their media towards replacing the present government. The Doctors are trying to get people on their side. Alexander, give us an analysis of what you've found.”
Alexander told them, “In a sense it is working, Ben. The last polls done by several of the news media, indicate that about forty-five percent favor contacting the Federation. That's a rise of almost twenty percent over the last twenty-five years. There's a very vocal radical movement that demands immediate contact with the Federation. It's a very minor group and we have downloaded everything from their web site. Reading the contents, it indicates that their motivation is almost opposite to what they state in the media. They want contact yes, but they believe that they are destined to rule the heavens. I'd would say that the Doctors are behind this group. In setting out their objectives, there are half a dozen paragraphs quoted directly from Adolf Hitler speeches made before and during Terra's World War II.”
Ben asked, “Who's Hitler?”
Don answered rather than Alexander. “Hitler was one of the most evil men in our pre-space history. He started World War II which killed many millions of people. He believed that his people were the master race. He chose as his scapegoat, the Jewish people, who he could blame everything on, in order to justify the war.”
Ben asked, “Alexander, is there any indication that the Doctors are trying to do anything similar here?”
Alexander said, “No, Ben, but from what I can gather of their history from their Net, they have a homogenous population. The racial differences that Terra had, simply don’t exist here. Also there are no extreme religious differences, or at least none mentioned on their Net. They believe in one God and their religion is called the Church of God. There are some sub-groups inside that religion, but as I said, nothing extreme. Almost sixty percent of the population belong to a group that is called Church of God Secularist's and the church like the Federation has no say in the government.”
Ben said cheerfully, “They use a presidential system and the president lives in the Presidential Complex. Let's go pay them a visit, Don.”
Den'ary, President of the planet simply named Green, looked at the Vid showing the two ships hovering right above the Presidential Complex and thought wryly that, as Daniel was so fond of saying, it was about to hit the fan. The government AI Bar'ay had identified the lower ship hovering at ten miles as a Federation Survey Ship, but was unable to identify the ship holding at one hundred miles.
Daniel bustled in and he grinned, saying, “Well, it's decision making time, whether you want it or not, Mr. President. We've been sent ID's for both ships on a tight beam. The lower one is called the Searcher. Since the type of ship is in our database, you probably already are aware that it's a Federation Survey Ship. The upper ship is called the Regalo. While not a Federation ship as such, she is owned by Ben Dandreson and is serving as his flagship at the moment. The Regalo is a small Spin Ship carrier and she carries twelve of them. There are ten of them buzzing around the Regalo at the moment.”
He moved around the desk and flipping a switch a recorded Vid began to run. A young boy appeared on the screen. He said with courtesy, “Good afternoon, Mr. President. I am Ben Dandreson and I will send my credentials at the end of this message. I am a Rear-Admiral in the Federation Navy, Battle Commander of the Sanscri Republic and Ambassador At Large for the Federation; I'm here in all three capacities and would like to arrange a meeting with you. You are in a spatial area which has been claimed by the Federation and your status must be clearly defined. I would like to meet with you to establish that position. End Message.” Then a squeal was heard for about five seconds before the screen went blank.
Daniel told him, “His credentials sir. We've used the program provided by the Venrye and the one I brought with me, to verify them and both give the same results. He is who he says he is and he has the authority to make a decision which is binding on the Federation.”
Daniel explained, “He's the one who found Leben, which prompted the Senate and the House of Representatives to give you the power to negotiate when the Federation showed up here. And don't take his appearance literally. He may look the same age as my son, but he's almost twenty-four Terran years old. He just finished directing the war in which his people took over control of the Tarne Empire.
“I've done a little research on him, especially since I was on Leben when the moving ceremony was held by the two Sanscri carriers in tribute to the children from Leben.” and he began to brief his boss.
Den'ary was impressed by the quiet self-confidence that Ben Dandreson displayed as they sat at the circular conference table after introductions had been made.
Ben grinned, saying, “First things first Mr. President. Is there anybody authorized to listen in on this conversation?”
President Den'ary shook his head, saying firmly, “Certainly not. We were authorized by the other branches of government to negotiate with the Federation when you found us. The only ones who are supposed to know what goes on in this room, are those that are here.”
“My mother,” Ben said and he nodded at the woman looking much like he did. “is much more familiar with your physical makeup and she developed this.” and he put a small device on the table. “It detects bugs or listeners, but unlike most such devices it actively interferes with them. I call it a Blowback Device because it energetically finds, follows and then blasts such devices. If anyone is listening in illegally, that gives you fair warning.” and he turned it on.
Ben looked at it for thirty seconds interest on his small face. He satd, “There were a total of four listeners. It gives an indication that one listener was within two hundred yards of us, which confirms it's in the Presidential Complex itself. One seems to be of Venrye manufacture, but the other three are characteristic of devices made by your people. The third is somewhere on your world though I can't give a specific location and the last is offworld, perhaps your moon.
Den'ary gestured at his human aide, saying sternly, “Daniel we can do nothing about three of them, but we can do something about the one in the Complex itself.”
Daniel pulled out a com and asked, “Exactly what does the device do, Mr. Ambassador, if they ignored your warning?.”
Ben said, “It'll knock them out for a couple of hours and they'll have a headache to end all headaches when they wake up, but it's not designed to do any permanent damage.”
Daniel nodded and he input a com number and began speaking quietly.
“Daniel,” Den'ary said, “if whoever Security finds is a member of an intelligence agency, I want to know why they were doing any listening and whether it was authorized by any of their superiors. If so, as you sometimes put it, I want their heads on a platter.”
Daniel nodded with a grin on his face, as he continued talking. When he put the com down he said, “Done Mr. President.”
Ben touched the device in front of him, saying, “We don't wish to seem like we don't trust you, Mr. President. Normally we wouldn't care if a meeting such as this was being monitored by someone, but I'm involved because of special circumstances, It includes unfinished business left over by the Tarne War and the events that led up to it. Those events go back over a hundred years and have to do with at least three and perhaps more, of your citizens.”
Ben took a disk out of his pocket and placed it in the Vid at his place. “This was recorded at the end of the Tarne war. I was chasing a Courier ship with my Spin Ship and realizing he couldn't outrun me he let me catch up to him.”
The man's eyes widened as he saw who was on the screen and then a feral grin came onto his face. He said a phrase, that a human would not have been able to say.
Ben just looked at him, a thoughtful look on his face and he watched the grin disappear from the Doctor's mouth. “That's very interesting Doctor, you've placed a command in the clones memories. I assume that would have allowed you to control one of them. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm the original.”
She murmured, “Bennarion. The Doctor told me that you were dead, that the clones were mine.”
Ben said with humor in his voice, “Just call me Ben. Ben Dandreson. If you call me Bennarion again, I might leave you with the Doctor.” She giggled.
He turned his green eyes back on the Doctor. “You will surrender the ship, Doctor.”
He sneered, “Or what, you'll destroy the ship. With your mother on board?”
Ben looked at him saying “She's a Protector, Doctor. The only reason she stayed alive was to see you stopped. With all your plans undone, now like any Protector, she will joyfully give up her life to serve her people. You've known her for fifty-eight years, yet you don't know her at all.”
Both the Doctor and the pilot looked at Ferma, the Doctor with bafflement. There was the smile on her face as she nodded. Ben was completely accurate in his assessment of his mother's reaction. The pilot turned, bringing up the gun which had been hidden at his station and shot the Doctor in the head.
Ben had been watching the President who had been absorbed in the recording. He had become even more so when the Doctor said the phrase that had been unintelligible to everyone who had seen the recording including his mother.
Ben said dryly, “As you may have guessed, though the man looked human, he was one of your people. Can you tell us what he said?”
Den'ary said, “You will obey me. Answer as you have been instructed.”
Ben nodded, saying, “Thank you. I brought Thomas along with me for three reasons. One, this isn't a normal diplomatic event, but, more importantly, he was one of two hundred children who were cloned using my DNA. That phrase was buried in their subconscious. Under both Sanscri and Federation law, clones who discover the clone donor may claim them as their father or mother. Thomas was the only one of my clones who chose to do so. Also he represents the children of Leben. If one of the Tarne clans had not broken away from the others, insisting that the clones be left with them, they would have died at the same time.”
Ben explained, “The man who was shot was called the Doctor. At the time I thought he was the only one, but I've learned since then, from my mother that there were in fact three Doctors who used the title Doctor collectively. The one who was killed, was a male neuter. The two who are left are males, but they also have been altered by surgery to look human. In fact to look identical.”
He said seriously, “About ninety years ago the neuter Doctor made his way to the Sanscri Republic. Somehow he was able to fool the scans and pass himself off as human. Over the next thirty years he worked himself into an important research position and ended up in the program my mother was directing. Fifty-eight years ago he stole the plans for the generation of Spin Ships that my mother was working on. He destroyed a great deal of the research that she had done, but not the actual prototype which had been built. He also kidnapped my mother which meant that the only record of her research was the Spin Ship itself.”
Ben explained, “It took them almost fifty years but they managed to recreate most of her work, using the prototype. However it was such a radical departure from previous generations of Spin Ships that they decided to be cautious. They only used about twenty percent of the eighty percent of the knowledge that they gained from the prototype that could have been used. The prototype couldn't fly, because it needed one of her offspring to do so. That was something she built in toward the end, because she was becoming suspicious. On the maiden flight of a group of Spin Ship pilots they found me and I proved that if anyone had duplicated the prototype, the Sanscri Republic would have been completely overmatched.”
He had a solemn look on his face as he said, “They went into a crash replacement of all of their Spin Ships using the full eighty percent of the knowledge they had accumulated from the prototype. With innovative software they reversed the probable outcome. They finished about a year before the Tarne used the children from Leben to attack Sanscri.” he said bleakly, “They didn't have a chance, they were completely overmatched. Not quite three hundred of the new Spin Ships destroyed the twelve hundred flown by the Leben children.”
Den'ary bowed his head in pain before saying quietly, “I gather those you call the Doctor are the ones responsible for creating the Spin Ships and the children on Leben.”
Ben looked him squarely in the eye and the President could see his own pain mirrored in those large green eyes. Ben said with tight lipped sorrow, “Yes, Mr. President. They developed the ships, and, using surgery, they genetically altered the parents of the Leben children to produce Spin Ship pilots. But that wasn't their primary purpose. The Tarne moved the timetable up on them and the Doctor's ended up getting only part of what they wanted, two hundred Spin Ships and a couple of Spin Ship carriers.”
Den'ary went back over that phrase and alarm bells rang in his head. “Part!!” he said sharply.
Ben nodded, saying, “Yes sir. They managed to get some Spin Ships. So somewhere in your solar system there are twenty Spin Ships and their pilots. They found that the genetic changes could be done to your people to produce offspring that have almost identical reactions to the Sanscri and Leben children. The drugs that are used to enhance a Spin Ship pilots reactions can be used on your neuters with only a little alteration. So they have twenty pilots, who like me will never mature and perhaps as many as two hundred others.”
Ben said, sternly, “We have no intention of allowing those Spin Ships to remain a danger Mr. President. Whatever diplomatic route that you decide to go, our first order of business is to capture or destroy those Spin Ships and to capture the Doctors.”
Daniel asked with curiosity. “You said capture or destroy. Which would you prefer?”
Ben turned his eyes on the man. He stated firmly, “Capture if possible, Mr. Moore. They are entirely innocent in this affair, like the Leben children they have no choice in the matter of being Spin Ship pilots. We would also like to determine whether they are Protectors rather than just being pilots. If they are Protectors, no matter what the Doctors think, their primary loyalty would be to your world. If they are simply pilots, then their loyalty is in question.”
Ferma told them soberly, shaking her head, “Unless the Doctors have come up with something brand new and from what I've seen of them, they aren't very innovative. A Protector's genetic coding and the chemicals they use to speed up their thinking, will prevent them from being brainwashed, either mentally or chemically. It's been tried half a dozen times in our history and it's never worked. They may seem to be compliant but when the crunch comes, they come down squarely on loyalty to their planet first.”
Den'ary guessed, “The small Spin Ship carrier is bait, isn't it. Aren't you worried about being outnumbered.”
Ben smiled, saying, “In point of fact, sir, the Spin Ships on the Regalo are the latest generation and not in general service yet. We're fifteen to twenty percent faster, have a better inertial compensator, stronger shields and heavier anti-matter beams. We could probably take on the twenty ships with what we have with a probability of losing no ships, however the possibility of losing ships is there. But as you say, we are bait, so the energy readings that the Doctors will be getting at this moment indicate that the ships he has overmatches what we're carrying. Unless they have accurate information on the ships we used in the Tarne war, they have no way of knowing exactly what those ships were like and no way of knowing that we're a significant improvement over those.”
Ben frowned, saying, “However, we have no intention of trying to fight the Doctors. We'll see what happens during this meeting, but whatever we decide, when we go up to our ships tonight, we ask you to announce to your media that nothing has been decided, but it looks promising. That means the Doctors have only one chance of preventing your decision, whatever it is, from being implemented. They attack tonight, or they might as well leave the system.”
Ben said, “No Mr. President, we have no intention of fighting them. You see two ships, but in fact there's a third. A full sized Spin Ship carrier, called the Incursion, is in orbit outside of your moon in full stealth and it carries one hundred Spin Ships, which are exact duplicates of the ones we're carrying, with three exceptions. They carry a hyper com and a normal long-range com jammer, also they carry a generator which can block the waves which allow mental communication between Spin Ship pilots and their AI's and then put them into suspend mode. Once we capture them, we'll try to talk to them. We assume the self-destruct mechanism can be set off by the individual pilots. If they're Protectors… well normally we're willing to at least listen.”
Ben looked down at his com pad, saying, “Now getting to your options. I imagine Daniel has probably given you a good idea of what they are, but I'll go over them. You can become a Protectorate of the Federation. We will protect you and you decide who you want to allow to enter the two light year zone around your system. You can become an Independent system and you must provide your own protection, though you control a zone of five light years around your system, except where it meets the border of another star nation. In your case the Venrye, which is only four light years from here.”
Ben smiled, saying, “Sometimes it's an advantage to become an Independent system, when you have peaceful neighbors. However the Venrye have always been territorially aggressive and it's likely that they'd simply snap your system up to become part of their star nation.”
Den'ary nodded ruefully, telling him, “We are well aware of that possibility. We've known the Venrye for several hundred years and there was always a threat that we had better not try to contact the Federation with an implied or else. When the Federation claimed the Ramar Cloud Region, that threat was over. We had become so accustomed to being isolated by that time, that it was decided to wait until we were actually found before deciding what to do. After you found the Bartan system, I was given power to negotiate when found, since we knew it would be at the most two or three years.”
Ben nodded and said, “I thought you might be isolationists. The possibility that you were forced into it hadn't occurred to me, though it should have, having read extensively about the Venrye. The last option is a Provisional membership in the Federation. That gives you some of the benefits with none of the drawbacks. For instance you wouldn't pay taxes and you wouldn't have to make any contributions to your defense. However, it also means that some of the technology that the Federation has, wouldn't be available to you.”
He explained, “The Provisional period is a minimum of six months, but there are still some Provisional members who have remained just that for several centuries. It gives them more benefits than being a Protectorate would, including most of the Federation technology, though as I said, some isn't available to them mainly in the matter of weaponry. As long as they are Provisional members they can withdraw from the Federation at any time they wish. Once you become a full member, it would take a plebiscite with at least a sixty-five percent majority to withdraw from the Federation. It hasn't happened often, but it has happened.”
Ben paused, before continuing. “The necessity for a Provisional period isn't chiseled in stone. As an Ambassador I haven't got the authority to waive it, but it can in fact be waived at the Sector Council level or higher. The Sanscri Republic entered with no Provisional period for instance.”
Den'ary nodded, saying, “The Vice-President and I have spent several sessions talking about the issue. As you said, Daniel has already given us a good idea of what our choices would be. The two of us decided to ask for a Provisional membership of six months. That gives us the opportunity to hold a referendum. Something this important shouldn't simply be decided by two beings, or even six hundred which is the total of the two houses of elected officials. We will indicate that we favor the short Provisional time period of six months but we will tell them what the other choices are as well.”
He made a very human gesture which he had learned from his aide, he shrugged, saying, “Right now the latest media polls indicate that about forty-five percent of our people would favor joining the Federation, with only about ten percent opposed, however that leaves forty-five percent undecided or not talking to the news media. Our own polling indicates that perhaps as many as sixty percent are in favor, with about fifteen percent opposed and twenty-five percent undecided.
Ben nodded, saying, “It's certainly wise to get the people's opinion. After all they're the ones who have to live with it.” He looked down at his com pad which was larger than normal and he began to work, explaining as he did so. “This particular com pad is used for diplomatic conferences. It has recorded everything we've said. I'm simply reorganizing the data, deleting some that has no relevance to the documents and here it is. As you asked for, it gives you a Provisional period of six months, which can be terminated in case of a no vote in the referendum. Otherwise it will give you full membership in the Federation after the six month period.”
He handed it to Daniel who handed it to the President. Ben continued, “There is a place for you to sign, Mr. President, as well as for your Vice-President. Daniel and my mother can witness it and I as the Ambassador ratify it when I sign it.”
After everyone had signed, Ben pressed a button on the pad and it began to extrude a hard copy and then a second. Ben told him, “You get the two hard copies Mr. President. The com pad is now in Read Only Mode and can't be altered. That's our copy and also the terms have been commed to both the Searcher and the Regalo and entered in a special unalterable diplomatic database. It will be downloaded when we get to a Federation base. As of this moment you are a Provisional member of the Federation.”
Ben sighed, then said, “Normally there would be a celebration now, Mr. President, but until the Doctors are captured, we'll have to postpone it. As I asked earlier, if you indicate that there is only one point to be settled and then the signing will be done tomorrow, that gives the Doctors' tonight to act.”
Daniel's com buzzed and he picked it up and listened for about thirty seconds. Putting the com into his pocket, he said, “That was Presidential Complex Security, Mr. President. They found the bug, but it was abandoned. They were however able to gather enough data to identify those who were using the equipment and they are now in custody. They worked for the Federal Intelligence Committee and both the agency head and his deputy have tendered their resignation. There are some ambiguities as to who they were working for, but from preliminary interrogation it appears to be the Doctors. The agents appear to have been obeying orders.”
Den'ary said firmly, “Well, while I sympathize with the agents, they had to have known that they were breaking a law, so I want them prosecuted to the full extent. Hopefully that'll send a message to the intelligence community that you don't break laws whenever you feel like it.”
“Security anticipated your wishes Mr. President. The agents and the chief and deputy chief of the FIC have been charged with illegal activities.” Daniel said with a grin and Den'ary nodded .
Ben said to Don Francis as the shuttle was being drawn into the Searcher. “Don, I want you to disappear. You don't have the speed to run away from the Spin Ships the Doctors have and we don't know where they are. Probably in the asteroid belt, but, until the Spin Ships go active, we can't find their point of origin. I want you to go into stealth, find a nice flat spot and land on the moon. If they even notice that you're missing, they'll just think they'll get you later.”
“You're sure they'll fall for it Ben?” Don asked.
a thoughtful look on his small face and he said, “I'm pretty sure
they will. Once the treaty is signed, it comes into effect and as long
as the Doctors believe that they can prevent the signing, the likelihood
is they will do so.”
Ben said, “I hope you're well rested, little ones. It might be several hours before the Doctors' attack, but I have no doubt it will happen.” after he and Thomas launched to join the Spin Ships circling the Regalo which was now well outside the atmosphere.
“Little ones you call us.” jeered Garetth, “We're all bigger than you are, oh honored Battle Commander.”
Ben smiled as he replied, “Yeah, Garetth and I know you're the biggest, but you're still only an inch taller than I am and only weigh three pounds more than I do. Little one was supposed to be a gesture of affection, but since you complain I'll take it back, oh fat one.”
Sherma said amiably, “Yeah. Shut up, Garetth. Personally like Ben, I think that extra three pounds is all fat and you really would look better without it.” setting off a round of good-natured bickering, as friend insulted friend.
Ben took note when the Searcher disappeared into stealth. Well, she didn't disappear completely, Charlie's sensors were too good for that, but the Doctors' Spin Ships would have no chance of picking her up.
Two hours later the Incursion reported, “Multiple launch from the asteroid belt. They're trying to stay in stealth, but because they're a couple of generations behind us, they have no chance. All twenty Spin Ships were launched, Ben.”
Ben said crisply, “All right, we'll give it ten minutes and then we start to run away from them. At fifty percent of light speed we should seem to be slow enough that they can catch us before we reach the hyper limit. Incursion, based on their speed and ours, figure out where we would meet and launch Spin Ships, giving them a rendezvous spot which is five minutes short of where the Doctors' Spin Ships can catch us.”
if any of the Spin Ships break off pursuit and head in your direction
go into stealth and make for the rendevous point.”
Vet'tary watched with satisfaction as the distance continued to close. His AI Re'anda estimated that they would catch the intruders in just over five minutes. With the time clicking down, it reached five minutes and then something happened that had never occurred before. He lost contact with Re'anda as he went into suspend mode and at the same time his hyper com and long range com lights blinked out. He blinked as suddenly his scanners were recording an additional one hundred Spin Ships.
His first thoughts were angered and then rage quickly faded as admiration took over, at the realization that the whole thing from the time the Federation ships had arrived till this moment had been a trap.
He realized that the remote self-destruct was being jammed. His first thought was to use the manual release, but on second thought he simply waited. He watched absently as Ha'tory's ship self-destructed. He had always been one to act without thinking.
The other pilots began to contact him on the short range com and he told them all the same thing. If the opposition (strangely that was how he saw them, not as the enemy) wanted to destroy them, they outnumbered them five to one. Also the Spin Ships had to be much faster than those they had been chasing had chosen to show. They wanted to talk. Obviously since Ha'tory had been able to self-destruct, they could choose to do the same at any time, they would wait and see what the opposition had to say.
He blinked as his scanners showed one of the ships they had been chasing had reversed course and was heading for them at over ninety percent of light speed. He realized that the ship was simply demonstrating just how superior these ships really were. It followed a course which would take it into a matching course and speed with Vet'tary and his comrades.
It matched his speed at less than ten thousand miles and then the screen lit up and a young human with red hair and green eyes was visible on the short range com. He said,, “I am Ben Dandreson. I'm in command of the Federation forces presently in this system. I hold the rank of Battle Commander in the Sanscri Republic, which predated our entrance into the Federation. I was in command of the force which captured the Tarne Empire. I also hold the rank of Rear-Admiral in the Federation Navy and Ambassador at Large in the Federation Diplomatic Corps.”
was a ghost of a smile on his lips, as he said, “When we were planning
this little trap, we prepared a Vid.” The humor disappeared from his
small face and it became stern, “It won't be a pleasant Vid for you
to watch, but it chronicles the Doctors' ambitions as we have interpreted
them. We will allow you to watch it and decide for yourself. There is
no coercion in this. As you have already discovered, you can self-destruct
anytime that you wish.”
As it began, it first showed them why Spin Ship pilots had been created and the fact that they were in fact Protectors and, until the Tarne war, had never been conquerors. The fact that the Doctors who they had always worshipped had created and then watched twelve hundred children die. Twelve hundred Protectors because that's what they had been, had died to Protect their families left behind on Leben. Obviously the Doctors hadn't cared since they had continued on with their program and fully intended to take over their own solar system. Vet'tary and the others knew with a hatred that only those who have been completely betrayed by ones they worshipped, could ever feel, that it would only have been the beginning.
than two hundred of their brothers and sisters on the base in the asteroids
proved that. Two of them simply couldn't accept betrayal and tripped
the self-destruct mechanism, but the others were full Protectors. Not
only were their minds strong enough to accept the betrayal, their loyalty
was instantly on the side of the elected government of Green.
Ben was in the shuttle bay of the Regalo when the Doctors were brought aboard by Green planet soldiers. The assault on the outpost had cost nine lives. He said to President Den'ary, “I'm sorry that we couldn't help with the actual assault Mr. President. We've never used shipboard marines or soldiers. When Protectors grow up they usually become peace-enforcers. Not very many of them are suited for shipboard action. Something different takes over with them and they become planet bound. Only a few like Pol ever return to space.”
“I'm not sorry, Ben.” The President said gravely, “Even though it cost lives, the Doctors are our responsibility since they are our people. It was right and fitting that we were the ones who captured them. The children and their parents have decided to remain here on the outpost. This is where they were born and this is their home. By the time the Spin Ships are ready for them, we'll have finished building the launch bays for them. The decision about whether we'll ask for carriers hasn't yet been made.”
President Den'ary was watching Ben coming toward him with a plate closely followed by Vet'tary. When the two boys reached him he asked, “Something I didn't ask you at the time, Ben. Are you surprised that we managed to capture the Doctors alive? Especially since the third one intended to self-destruct?”
Ben shook his head saying, “Not really, Mr. President. I knew from what my mother said that neuters tend to have more balls than brains. Ouch!!” he yelped as Vet'tary stamped on his foot. Ben hopped on one foot as he said to Vet'tary, “If you'd waited until I'd finished you probably wouldn't have felt so insulted.”
Addressing the President again, he said with a grin on his face, “Spin Ship pilots are like that as well. It's something that's intrinsic in our basic makeup. Though our thought process is speeded up immensely during combat, we still don't have time to think about whether we should do this or do that. We have to be able to make up our mind instantly. Normally for a Spin Ship pilot, if there's a choice between what seems like a dangerous way and a safer way, we choose the more dangerous route. We've learned through experience that the way that seems safer ninety percent of the time ends up being wrong.”
He explained, “That's because of the way a computer is built and only a computer AI can think fast enough to deal with us. They assess danger logically and the safest way for a Spin Ship to attack is given the highest priority and the most dangerous way the lowest priority. Therefore since we know that, the most dangerous way for us is actually the safest.”
He pursed his lips and then said, “Normal people when faced with two choices, tend to take the less dangerous way and that's the decision the Doctors' made. Capture and then possible escape, or a mindwipe and a long life, or instant death. They chose the former.”
Ben thought about what had happened. They couldn't escape and the judge sentenced them to a mindwipe. All the Doctors property and funds that could be found had been confiscated. They had a chance to start all over again. They had no personal knowledge and all knowledge of Spin Ship technology was removed from their brains. Because of that fact and because so much of what they knew concerned Spin Ships basically they would have to go through the educational process all over again.
A mindwipe could be circumvented, if you anticipated it. He was sure that the Doctors had prepared for any eventuality. He was certain that somewhere out there a brainscan existed which could turn the Doctors back into what they were. He knew they would be watched very carefully. However he wouldn't be surprised if someday they simply disappeared.