Parts 1 & 2 were more connected than my short stories normally are, so I posted them as one story. That's why this is part 3.
While on Dandre, they only kept a light watch and that was more a habit than anything else. So during their stay, the crew had gotten into the habit of eating supper together. The messhall was configured for three tables, all of which could take five.
Ben was picking at his food, which wasn't like him and Kim, the Med-Tech was a little worried and looking at him. She asked, with concern, “Something wrong, Ben?”
Ben gave up on the food as hopeless and pushing his chair back a little so that Ethel, the ship's cat could jump up on his lap. Ben admitted, looking at Captain Mason Cooper, “I feel a little guilty. When I first came on board, I didn't tell you everything I know about myself. It was too soon and I didn't trust you fully then, so I want to fill in a few gaps in your knowledge.”
The captain looked at him calmly, just nodding. It wouldn't be the first time a crew member had secrets. As long as it didn't affect the ship, he didn't feel it was any of his business, though he had no objection to someone volunteering information.
Ben said thoughtfully, “I know a bare history of my people. It's genetically encoded in my DNA so in a sense it's a racial memory and there's no way of proving that it's really true.”
He explained, “When the Federation was only a few thousand years old, many of the policies that are still used had already been formulated. One of those policies is that like Dandre all primitive societies are watched by Monitor stations which prevent any interference in the day to day life of that world. Dandre is somewhat different from Terra, because it is in fact a Terran colony and they chose to continue their pastoral lifestyle, with limited contact with the Federation.”
Bn told them, “If you look in the Federation records, which I have done, there is a record of a Monitor station watching Terra, for several thousand years. When a certain level of space travel is acquired and that is when the indigent people put their first step on another of the planets in their solar system then those societies are no longer fully monitored. So when man first set foot on Mars then the Monitor station packed up and left.”
He said, “However the Federation allows exceptions to those rules. It was possible, that when a society was in danger of complete destruction, with no chance of survival, then those people could be rescued.”
Ben explained, “That much I know from Federation databases the rest is genetic memory, so I think I'll start it off like they do fairy tales, because that's exactly what it may be. Once upon a time, an alien people had been watching Terra for hundreds of years. They were appalled at the level of violence that humans were capable of, though in fact if they had bothered to look, most of the beings belonging to the Federation were as bad. They wondered if a small group cut off from the rest of humanity could be changed, not by force, but simply by persuasion to give up their habit of violence.”
Ben said seriously, “Of course with their advanced instruments they were aware that the volcanic island of Thera, in the Aegean Sea, was about to blow its top, killing most of the people. They had permission from the Federation to rescue those people who had no chance of living. So milliseconds before the volcano blew, they stopped time. That's not really accurate, but in effect that's what they did. Then they began searching the island, for those people who had no chance of survival and took them into their ship.”
He told them, “When they had collected all those they knew could not survive it amounted to several hundred, men woman and children. So at about fifteen hundred BC those people, my ancestors became as far as we know, the first Terran colonists. The aliens took them to a world which they had been preparing for centuries and after the long period of Terraforming was almost more like Terra than Terra itself.”
Ben explained, “These aliens preached to the people they had rescued on the rightness of non-violence. They had watched us for centuries yet they had acquired absolutely no knowledge of the human psyche, especially when it came to religion. They had no idea that the rescued people regarded them as Gods, so what they preached had the weight of the Gods behind it. Of course the people became non-violent, in the main, though there were always those who rejected that philosophy.”
He shook his head, saying, “Providing us with science which we were not ready for, especially in the life sciences we were able to remove violence right out of our society, by genetic engineering. After watching the society for a further few hundred years, the aliens left fully satisfied that they had created a new society of non-violent people. What they had in fact done, was to create a crippled society, because violence is as much a part of the human psyche, as love and compassion. What the aliens considered violence doesn't have to be bad. It can be expressed in many ways, in sports, in gambling and especially in the will to live.”
Ben sighed, saying, “When the aliens left, the population was close to three billion people and while we were not a Federation world, our science was not that far behind. But the leaders watched in despair as over the next several hundred years, the population went into steady decline. A thousand years after they were placed on their planet, there was about a billion and a half people and the decline was continuing. Our world was dying.”
He brightened, as he said, “It took an outside threat to save my world. There was a vast horde of Galactic nomads passing through our quadrant of space. They were far away and they would not come to our world for centuries. If we had done nothing by the time the nomads had reached our world, there would have only have been the remnants of our people left. Our leaders took the opportunity to make our world survive. They dedicated our people to saving themselves.”
He explained, “Surprisingly it actually worked, despite the apathy of the people. They called on volunteers to prepare to fight the n omads and about five percent of the population came forward. They told these volunteers that they intended to genetically engineer them so that they and their offspring would be able to fight. When the nomads were gone and the danger was over the volunteers would self-destruct, not personally but genetically. They would simply stop having children.”
Ben grinned as he said, “A total lie, in fact the volunteers would be genetically engineered to become Protectors and the leaders intended to make sure that the danger never ended and they did it very neatly. The Protector project served two purposed. It was intended to mask the genetic engineering they intended to illegally do on the rest of the population. That meant that the people would end up closer to the human norm where they should have been in the first place and to provide our world with people who could protect them from the nomads.”
He said seriously, “There were several types of Protectors. I'm one type, but I have no idea of what my purpose is. My reflexes aren't particularly fast. I'm somewhat faster than a normal human, but the Barins are much faster. I have an unusual tolerance for high gravity. It's actually higher than the Barins.”
Ben looked down at Ethel in his lap, then with a hint of sadness in his voice, “Also, as I am I'm as mature as I will ever get. My life span is double that of a normal human being, before rejuvenation, but present rejuvenation treatments won't work on me. I'm physically and emotionally a ten year old boy and I will remain one for the rest of my life, mentally of course it's a different story. The information about the maturation process is not part of my genetic coding, I learned that through Federation medical science.”
Ben looked up at the Captain, saying, “Protectors are predisposed to do what we were designed to do. We have full free will, but we tend to leap before we look, when someone is in danger. But I was completely honest with you about the reason I saved your life, Captain. I would have died a few hours later, anyway. The station manager would have looked at the data on me and sold it to the highest bidder. They of course would have killed me, but not before trying to find out what I knew. Depending on who bought the data, it could have ranged from drugs and then a painless death, to full mental or physical torture before a welcome death.”
“I feel better,” admitted Ben, “but all in all I don't think I gave you anything you can put in your records.
Ben was in the village inn sitting next to a Barin and he felt truly small. The Bears averaged seven to eight feet tall and weighed in the region of five or six hundred pounds. They didn't really look a lot like the Terran bears that gave them their nickname among humans, it was more an impression than anything else. Their snouts were much shorter for one thing and their body fur was usually dyed in half a dozen different colors, so it was only possible to tell what the real color, looked like from what was on their heads.
But they were pleasant and congenial companions and Ben liked them a lot. However when this one pulled out a smoke stick, he went green and got up to move to another seat. The Bear looked down at the little boy and cocked his head in a very humanlike way. He spoke, in his deep rumbling voice, “I've seen many humans but I've never seen a human go green before. Red yes, but never green. You find my company, not congenial?”
“Not you,” Ben said with a grin, despite his color, “that,” and he pointed at the smoke stick.
“What this ting. It's harmless.” said the Bear.
Ben told him, “To you maybe, but my body has a low tolerance to alcohol, or...”
“But this is harmless, is no alcohol in it.” said the Bear, in protest.
“Or anything my body considers alcohol,” finished Ben, “and my body seems to pick some unusual things that it thinks has alcohol in it. Smoke sticks are one. Trinic, the fruit drink that is so common on this world, according to everything that we know about it has absolutely no alcoholic content. My body insists on regarding it as an alcoholic beverage and reacts accordingly. First after a small glass I would be completely drunk and then I would spend the next four or five days in bed sick.”
Ben explained, “I know smoke sticks are completely safe and even pre-adults, fourteen to seventeen year olds, are allowed to smoke them, but even the smoke would make me sick, that's why I was going to move.”
The Bear put the smoke stick away, saying, “Kin always smoke later, no problem. Been here only few months. On home world very very expensive. Sell one hundred credits a stick, here free. Congenial company better. Called Tiff.” And he offered his large paw with its retractable claws and Ben's small hand completely disappeared in its gentle grip.
Ben said briskly, “I'm a Free Trader now, so I'm interested in anything that might sell. I thought after your people had trouble with cigarettes and cigars, after you first met humans, that getting permission to import a new type of smoke is very hard.”
Tiff nodded, saying, “Surgeon been here, forty years. Ready to retire. When first came here, discovered smoke sticks. Told me ran thousand year study and got permission from government to import. Not really sure what thousand year study be, but did trick. Goes home once year takes allotment home, sells for enormous prices. Very rich now.”
Ben told him, with a grin, “If you're interested I can tell you what a thousand year study is, it's not very complicated.”
Seeing a look of interest on the Bear's face, he explained, “First they take the product and they analyze it so they know every possible chemical composition it can produce. Then they take the data from your world, which has accumulated over the last thousand years and see if any of the chemical compositions could have caused harm, over that same thousand year period, by running it through the computer. That's it.”
The Bear laughed, saying, “Surgeon made sound very complicated, deliberately maybe, to prevent rival.”
“Probably,” Ben nodded, asking, “you say that he's planning to retire.”
“Yes, leave on next ship, one month.” said Tiff.
Ben took out his communicator and flipping it open, he entered the Captain's code. When it was answered, Ben asked, “Requesting permission to go up to the Monitor station on tonight's flight and return in the morning, Captain.”
Mase answered, “Go ahead Ben, it's fine with me. Out.” Ben spent the next few hours with the genial Tiff and towards the end of the afternoon astonished him by winning a game of Gravity Challenge from the Bear.
The Bear had a thoughtful look on his face. Ben said, “I'm a xeno-telepath, I know exactly what you're thinking.”
Tiff just waved a paw, saying with amusement, “Don't matter, don't intend fleece you, but obnoxious human on station, needs taking down peg.”
Ben grinned, saying, “Half and half, from the looks of this guy in your mind, I'd just love to help you.”
“Deal!” said Tiff with his rumbling laughter.
The Monitor station reminded Ben only a little of the Ochan station, it was much cleaner and somewhat smaller. Its corridors were brightly painted and there were many beautiful murals to add a further homey touch.
The first thing Tiff did was to introduce Ben to Kifar the Surgeon and then with a wink, “See you messhall.” he said and he grinned and a Bear's grin was very much like a humans and meant the same thing. Kifar looked after Tiff when he left, asking, “What do you two plan to do, to our poor station?” his deep rumbling voice asked in much better Standard English than Tiff.
Ben grinned, telling him, “I have a very unusual tolerance to high gravity and I beat Tiff this afternoon. He said that there's a very obnoxious human, who he'd love to fleece. We're going fifty/fifty. But I'm here mainly because Tiff mentioned, one that you're retiring and two that you did a thousand year study on smoke sticks. Since I'm a Free Trader now, I'm always looking for possible merchandise.”
With Kifar's permission, he began to ask some very probing questions about the thousand year study. The Surgeon's respect for the boy began to rise steadily as the questions became more and more technical and then beyond the Surgeon's capability to answer.
Kifar's voice rumbled, “My subfield is Advanced Cybernetics, in which I have a Level 3 Doctorate, but you're gone way beyond my capacity.”
Ben said matter-of-factly, “I have a Level 1 Doctorate, Kifar. Could I have a look at the study?”
Kifar looked shrewdly at the boy, asking, “You wish to take over the trade in smoke sticks?”
Ben nodded, saying, “If they're as harmless as it seems, my ship could make a lot of money. As a High Free Trader, we act primarily as a contact ship, it would be likely that another much larger clan ship would be assigned to the run. However our ship as the finder, would get a twenty-five percent share, but we do have respectable cargo space and it's coming up to the time that Dandreans harvest what little they can use and then destroy the rest. If instead of destroying it, we can arrange to buy a good portion of it, then we have a cargo and a place to sell it and the Dandreans have something else they can sell to us.”
He explained, “Tiff told me that you're retiring and would be leaving in about a month. Since we're still in the negotiation phase with Dandre, it'll be at least a month before we leave and if we start bargaining for smoke sticks, it'll be even longer. I think it will probably be at least six months before we could get to Barin. You'll be able to sell your final allotment and as the original shipper we would be obligated to pay you a finder's fee, which would have to be negotiated with the Captain of my ship. Before you start thinking about it, I must in honesty, tell you I'm a xeno-telepath and can hear what you're thinking.”
The Surgeon shook a huge paw in the air, telling him, “I wasn't planning on bringing another allotment home with me anyway, I have a lot of mementos that I wish to bring with me. A finder's fee would be nice however and I will indeed talk to your, Captain. As for looking at the thousand year study, I'll give you a certified copy of it and you can examine it at your leisure.” He held out a huge paw, “Deal?”
Ben held out his hand, saying with a grin, “Deal!”
Kifar said, glee obvious on his face, “Now about the little game that you and Tiff plan on having tonight, I would be truly interested in viewing it. I have had to deal with the obnoxious one far longer than Tiff and it would be a true delight to see him humbled.”
“I have a complaint from a certain human on the Monitor station, that you fleeced him of a huge amount of money, Ben. What do you have to say for yourself.” asked Mason Cooper a twinkle in his eye.
Ben answered solemnly, “Tiff and I each made a thousand credits and Kifar made five hundred.”
Mason and Kim and Dan Foreman burst out laughing. Once their laughter calmed, Mason said, “Good, it's about time somebody taught that jackass a lesson.”
“I brought you a little present, Captain.” Ben said and held up a computer disk. “A certified copy of a thousand year study made by the Barin Surgeon, on any possible detrimental affects on Barins, on the use of smoke sticks. I've looked through it. It has negative harmful results across the board. You might want to get in touch with the village leaders. Starting in a week, they pick what they can use and then plow the rest into the ground. I know there's plenty of it growing wild, but we have no right to touch it. As the original exporter, like any Bear he wants a finder's fee, of course.”
Ben said, seriously, “I was also thinking that Tiff, as the one who pointed out to me the possible cargo should also get something. I know I'm entitled to two percent. I would be willing to take one if you would give Tiff, one percent.” Ben said. He handed the disk to the Captain and then turned ready to leave.
“What are you planning to do now, replace Mabel , at a fraction the cost?” Mase asked.
Ben turned his head and grinned at the threesome and winked, saying, “Actually, that's exactly what Rick and I plan to do. We should be finished in about two weeks.” and he left the messhall.
They watched him leave, then Mason turned to Dan, asking, “Do you think he knows, that he just made us rich?” Holding up the disk. “With this all of the preliminaries have been done, we can sell to all ten Bear planets. Dandreans have hundreds of thousands of acres of what up to now have mainly considered weeds. It grows all year round in the equatorial regions and in the temperate zones in opposite seasons.”
Kim sitting with elbows on the table, fingers touching and chin on the backs of her hands. She said seriously, “Oh Ben knows, brother, but he doesn't really care. Money doesn't mean anything to him, in the way that it does to other people. I've been watching him since he told us about his Protectors. Well even in this, he was thinking as a Protector. Safety is of first importance. More money means more safety.”
It was after supper and the whole crew was on the bridge, summoned there by Ben and Rick. Mason asked with curiosity. “What's going on?”
Ben lifted his eyebrows at him, asking with a grin, “You don't know, Captain, why you stated it yourself a couple of weeks ago. Replacing Mabel at a fraction of the cost. AI's at present account for approximately half the cost of building a ship. With the backup memory circuitry that you had available, Rick and I have done two things. Built a backup module for all of Mabel's core memory and second replaced Mabel, at a cost reduction of about ninety percent.”
Mason who had some cybernetic training said, “That's impossible.”
Rick Tane said soberly, “That's what I thought too, Mase. But we've done it. With me thinking inside the box and Ben thinking outside the box we've come up with a dozen compression algorithms that have reduced Mabel's memory needs to ten percent of what it used to be. It helped, that the backup circuitry that we had is much newer and about three times more efficient than the stuff that Mabel was originally made with, but the real cost saving is in the compression.”
“What do you mean, inside the box and outside the box?” asked Kim.
Rick said, “I was at the top of my class, but I think conventionally, Ben's thinking is almost completely unconventional. Because we get along so well, the two ways of thinking, meshed in such a way, that we were able to come up with new methods that would work with the old yet create something entirely new.”
“Mabel put up a view of the stars on the screen and dim the lights.” ordered Rick and the night sky with its bright stars lit up the room. “Here's the key, Captain, use it and it'll open the shield over the new blue button and don't worry Mase, I guarantee it.”
With a little reluctance, Mason pushed the small key into the hole and turned it and raised the plastic shield. He hesitated a moment and then pushed the button. For a moment, nothing seemed to happen and then suddenly the view screen blanked and then came back on with the same view, but with at least three or four times the definition and clearness.
Ben said, matter-of-factly, “Almost all of the Federation hardware can give better results than the software running it will allow. How does it feel, Mabel?”
The AI answered, awe in her voice, “It's incredible, Ben. With the new circuitry I could have thought three or four times faster and with the addition of the compression software, I benchmark it at eight times faster. I can see right now some tweaks that I can make to the hyper engines software, that will increase the speed by at least ten percent. Don't worry Mase, I can see you're about to protest. Remember I don't control the engines, I just control some of the software that runs them and nothing that I can do can cause problems, just ask Jubal.”
Mason looked at Jubal, who said, “It's true, Mase. Mabel can't affect any critical systems, the control runs aren't there to allow it. As she said all she can do is tweak the software a bit.”
Rick said, “The original Mabel can be used as a backup. It would be too expensive to tear her out, anyway, but we'll back up the new Mabel's core programming and if we have to switch back to the old Mabel, we can download the core programming and be fully up to date. Anybody, who wanted full protection, could place two full AI's in, at twenty percent of the present cost and just switch over. The military would probably do it that way.”
Ben was watching the last of the bales of smoke sticks being loaded into the cargo hold, when the Captain came up beside him and said, “That's something that would have gone completely to waste if you hadn't realized its value. You have a good eye.”
Ben turned his head and looked up at him, saying calmly, “I've noticed that Kim's been watching me more closely since I told you about being a Protector. It appears that this is something that a Protector also does. Watches out for the welfare of his people. It seems to me, to be a good thing.”
He told Mase, “If you hadn't shown up, I was planning to look for you. I heard from Dan that you were heading for the clan's main base to pass along the information about the new AI's and the deal you made for smoke sticks. I was wondering if you could arrange for a family ship to accompany us and to stop at Ochan Station and pick up a few passengers. It seems that my instincts as a Protector have been fully awakened.”
“Your thief friends?” said Mason, with understanding.
Ben shook his head with a grin, telling him, “I don't know if I would really call any of them friends. Companions, is a more realistic term, but that is another word for people, so I feel responsible for them. I wouldn't trust them on a Free Trader for any length of time, but Bears make very good foster parents, even for humans and they believe in physical punishment, which would be necessary with my,...acquaintances.”
“Corporal punishment?” Mason asked, with puzzlement.
Ben said with amusement, “No, they never hit their offspring, or foster children. They've developed a device, based on the stun gun that they use on the bottoms of their children. A couple of dumb kids tried to pick a couple of Bears pocket. So these Bears, who were parents by the way, pulled out these devices and shot them in the bottom. Neither of them could sit down for two days. It causes no physical damage, it just scrambles the nerves for a couple of days, not really that painful, but if you've never been spanked, it can be a deterrent.” Ben snickered. “And don't think I was one of them, I'm not stupid enough to try and pick a Bear's pockets. At least not since I ended up with a live mouse in my hand. He was so grateful when I returned his pet that I've never had the heart to rob another Bear.”
Ben headed for the ship cheerfully, leaving a laughing Mason in his wake.
The Harvard and the family ship, the Ben Franklin had been locked together for their trip to Ochan Station and over the last couple of weeks, Ben and Rick had been busy rewiring their AI. Ben remembered the comment on family ships that Kim had made when he first became coherent on the Harvard, about the fact that children twelve and under on family ships, generally went naked. At the time he had thought she was kidding him, but she had been completely truthful. They did. He found it a little disconcerting at first that kids apparently his own age were naked all the time, but he got used to it after a while.
It even had a small swimming pool, which was actually part of the ship's water reserve and was covered by a clear bubble just in case the artificial gravity went out. Few of the adults swam, but the kids when they weren't being schooled spent a lot of time in it. Since one of the components of recycling consisted of water, no clothing was allowed. Ben had learned how to swim on Dandre and loved it, he had to go naked when swimming, but he was never really comfortable with it.
The Captain of the Ben Franklin, was Davis Cooper, Mason and Kim's uncle. A couple of days before they were due to reach Ochan Station, they held a little ceremony, without telling Ben first. Davis as the oldest Cooper on board, stood up and hit his water goblet with his fork. The goblet wasn't crystal but it made a musical tone like crystal. Ting, ting. Ting, ting.
He stated solemnly, “We don't go in for elaborate ceremonies like many beings do. We'll just say that the elders of the clan discussed this and agreed. Ben Dandreson, we invite you to become a member of our clan. We know you recently adopted Dandreson as your last name, but we understand you still don't have a middle name, would Cooper do?” he asked.
Ben felt stunned and there were tears falling unashamedly down his cheeks. “Oh, yes, yes!” Ben said in a choked voice.
“Good! We all welcome you! Now let's eat!” he said loudly and cheers filled the messhall, whether for the first part of his words, or the last part, didn't matter to Ben. He could feel their welcome.
“What exactly do you intend to do to Ochan Station, dearly beloved Ben?” asked Kim.
Ben said seriously, “Well, the Bears don't like the station. They were sort of swindled into taking it and even though it's in their solar system they have no authority over it. That's why there are orphans living on it, because it's controlled by people who won't let the Bears take them down to their planet.”
He grinned saying, “However the Bears have an out. In the contract they were forced to sign, it states that if ever the station is abandoned for any reason it comes under the ownership of the Bears and they become the managers. No time is stated, so the Bears can choose any time period they want, as little as a second if they wish. The original builders of the station chose the cheapest construction method possible. To do that they had to tie everything into the computer and I mean everything, well there are two exceptions, the lifepods and the space ships docked at the station.”
Ben explained, “There are quite a few completely harmless things that can cause a portion of a station to be abandoned. Smell is one of them and there are enough chemicals stored on that station to make almost any type of smell that you want. Smells while harmless, make habitation impossible. I intend to put a worm into their computer that's going to start manufacturing those chemicals in every portion of the station.”
“What about space suits?” asked Mason.
Ben shook his head, saying, “Under control of the computer system. They're hooked directly into the station's life support system until they’re actually used. They'll be almost as uninhabitable as the rest of the station. The computer will tell people to start evacuating to the lifepods and space ships. Our orphans will be directed to us. Once the Bear's ships indicate that there are no longer any life signs on board the station they'll hook up and claim the abandoned station for their own. They'll let almost everybody back in, at the same rates they're paying now, but the money will be going to the Bears and they'll be in charge of law enforcement.”
“Can they trace the worm back to us?” asked Dan.
Ben said with irritation, “Please! Don't be insulting! This is the original computer and it's over two hundred years old. It's had repairs and software upgrades, but software is only as good as its hardware and this hardware is truly antiquated. After allowing the Bears complete control, the worm after doing two last things will terminate. It'll remove all mention of any of the orphans from its records and from the records of any computer hooked to it. It'll drain the accounts of any of those who I knew were criminals and anybody who showed any special interest in me personally, except for the Federation representative. That means if they looked at my records more than once. Then it'll replicate itself, about a million times and each of those replicas will have a different date and then they all terminate. Some of the dates go back a hundred years and any traces of the worm left will be deliberate and they'll be as old as the first date. That will make it look like it could have been planted as long ago as one hundred years.”
“Harvard and Ben Franklin, please delay leaving the ship, for a time, we are experiencing unforeseen difficulties.” said the station traffic controller, sounding a bit harassed.
Those on the bridge, who were all in the know, grinned at each other. Over the next hour, they heard complaints and then indications of panic coming from all over the station.
The contoller said, sounding much more frantic, “Harvard and Ben Franklin, sixty-five persons directed to your location, please pick up and move away from the station.” Rick who was acting as the Com officer had to control his voice when he answered and he only said, “Roger, will obey.” tears of restrained laughter running down his cheeks.
Mason looked at Ben standing beside the Captain's chair, grinning widely. He asked, “Suppose they blame the Bears?”
Ben grinned even wider, saying, “I assure you the Bears would love to be blamed, two hundred years ago they were country bumpkins. They still try to give that impression, but today they're as sophisticated as the rest of the Federation. I sorta talked about this with Kifar and he kinda asked me to implicate them in this.”
A light gong of intership communications rang, “Captain we've got all of our passengers. Sixty-five girls and boys, between the ages of seven and fourteen. We can disconnect and back out now.”
“Roger. Helm contact traffic control and get us permission to back out.” Mason said.
“Aye aye, sir. Traffic control we're ready to leave.” Rick said.
“Roger. You are cleared, just watch your back.”
Being extremely careful, the Helm officer used tractor beams to shove them slowly away from the station, until he had room to use the maneuvering engines. He moved away, in no rush and he stopped them when they were about ten thousand miles away.
“Mabel, the captain hasn't needed to see this yet, but can you show us how your scanners have been improved.” Ben said.
Suddenly on the screen, the station looked only a few miles away and they could see the ships backing out and pulling away. Mabel said, “There goes the first of the lifepods.” as a small number ejected from the station and then in increasing numbers and then slowing again to only a few. Mabel told them, “That's the last of them, Captain. Scanners report no life signs left on board the station.”
“Captain if you'll tell Mabel to give us long range scanners, at the lowest setting, it might be interesting.” Ben said.
“Go ahead, Mabel.” Mase ordered and suddenly they had a view of the station and the surrounding thirty thousand miles of space. Most of the ships were moving away from the ship or were still, but a dozen ships were moving toward the station.
Ben said, cheerfully. “Bear ships, Captain. They've got all of their solar system back.”
Mason Cooper gritted his teeth. This Bear was the most uncooperative he had ever met. He was questioning everything, even the certified thousand year study. He looked over at Ben. He had brought him along because of his xeno-telepathy. Ben made a thumbs up sign under the table top.
“What exactly do you want.” Ben asked, projecting the words as well. The Bear grinned and rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the sign that had become the universal signal for a bribe. Ben stated, “So in other words if we give you a gratuity, you'll approve our request?”
“You got it, bub.” said the Bear, grinning widely.
Ben said urgently “Mase, would you mind standing up and please hurry.” as the boy got to his feet abruptly. Mason, who had learned to trust the boy, stood up and Ben grabbed his arm and pulled him over to the wall, the Bear looking at them with a puzzled expression on his face.
Just in time, as the door crashed to the floor and an angry Bear came through the doorway. He went over the desk as if it weren't even there and grabbing the other Bear, he threw him over the desk, jumping over it after him. Grabbing him he hauled him through the door, roaring with anger.
Calmly, Ben said, “We can sit down again.”
“Jeez, I've never seen a Bear that angry before.” Mason said, as he shook his head. “What did you do?”
Ben grinned as he said, “Bears hate bribery, that's how they lost the rights to Ochan Station in the first place and it's become part of their psyche. Since you brought me because I was a xeno-telepath, I thought I'd telepath. I broadcast the questions that I asked the Bear and his answers to them, to the entire building. That was his boss and our interviewer is in the process of being fired.” He said thoughtfully, “Since we're on the twentieth floor, it's a good thing the window is made of unbreakable glass, or he might have fired him right through the window. No Bear jury would have convicted him.”
A few minutes later, the Bear, still bristling a little came through the doorway ignoring the smashed door on the floor and dusting his hands off in satisfaction, another gesture the Bears had picked up from humans. He sat behind the desk and in perfect Standard English, “Now that enjoy.. Ah, unpleasant affair is over what can I do for you.”
Mason Cooper said amiably, “We brought a load of smoke sticks to Barin, we have this thousand year study showing no harmful effects.”
He handed the disk to the Bear, who put it in the computer and taking a quick look at it he said, “Oh yes, I recognize this, I signed off on it myself. Incredibly good work, by Kifar.”
Mason continued, “We don't usually get involved in planetary ventures but in this case we would like to set up a partnership. Fifty/fifty. As I said we have one cargo, but there is a family ship in orbit with us and they're three times our size. They're ready to head right back to Dandre where we got them, with a turnaround time of a month and a half there and the same back, with another two or three weeks to do a harvest. What we have is all of one type, but it grows in all climates and all soils, all year, so there are many different varieties. Kifar over the forty years he was stationed there tested all of the varieties and found no basic difference except for taste. It's a Monitored planet so we can add an additional ship but that's all, however the merchandise isn't affected by vacuum so it's possible to add external pods.”
Ben said cheerfully, “It was stupid of your former employee to ask for a bribe. If he'd listened to us and just steered us to one of his relatives, he could have got rich, since nepotism is actively encouraged in your society. But then again, if he had listened, he'd be the one getting rich, not you.” and he smiled warmly at the Bear, who was dreamily thinking of all the money his family was going to make.
Kim told him, “It's too bad all your orphan friends didn't appreciate your effort on their behalf. All the older ones wanted back to the station as soon as they could get there.”
“Why do you think I stayed well away from them? I knew exactly how they'd react.” said Ben with amusement, “However I think they're going to be somewhat disappointed. For some reason no one told them that the Bears were now in charge of the station.” he grinned nastily.
“You set them up, didn't you?” asked Dan.
Ben grinned as he said, “Oh, yeah! When a minor breaks a Bears law and they're either an orphan or if the courts consider the parents irresponsible, they sentence you to live with foster parents, trained to look after delinquents. No choice in the matter and it's until the minor reaches adulthood. So even the fourteen years olds will have to live under a Bears care for four years. None of the kids who decided to go back to the station can control themselves for more than a few days.” Ben said, gleefully. “They're going to be socialized whether they want to or not.”