Episode 200: First Encounters
by Smoke / BabyDoc
Private Jenkins knocked as he entered the senior officer's office, but the man behind the large desk barely took notice of him. The captain seemed much more interested in the small object he held in his hand. Carl stood at attention a few uncomfortable moments awaiting some acknowledgement. Without taking his eyes off his hands, the man began to speak...almost in a whisper.
"Private Jenkins, word has reached me concerning your performance on Klendathu, particularly your actions in the Queen's chambers," the officer shifted his gaze to a paper on his desk. "Quite a remarkable feat...an impressive demonstration of ...power, if the reports are to be believed. That is what we're here to find out."
The officer raised his head to look at Carl for the first time as a faint smile creased his lips. Behind the dark coffee color of the officer's face shone two bright eyes. Their gaze was so penetrating that Carl caught himself looking away. Jenkins wasn't sure how to respond. So many thoughts raced through his head. He was about to answer when the officer spoke first.
"I understand your concerns Carl. If I were in your position I would have my reservations too. But I'm here to help you. Together we can do great things." Once again his attention turned to the object in his hand. It was crystalline and strange in design. As he held it, the object seemed to emanate a warmth that filled his entire being. He couldn't seem to part with it. The way the sunlight caught each facet, the subtle changes of color and shadow he could summon with the slightest movement of his hand, the sense of power and control it emanated.
"Yes...we will do great things...you and I"
"Thank you captain. If I may sir..."
"Carl," the captain started at Carl's words as though roused from a trance. His manner abruptly changed, becoming more casual. "I abhor SICON titles. You may call me Freeman."
The children were being taken. Cheerful women in crisp, starchy uniforms took the bundled babies in their arms and calmly shepherded the toddlers into waiting vans. The dark faces of their Maori parents betrayed emotions ranging from grief to blind incomprehension. There was no crying, though many eyes were glistening with unspent tears. Some of the Maori men turned their faces downward so that the uniformed women and their armed escorts could not see the murder in their eyes.
It was called the Aboriginal Assimilation Protocols, a lovely bureaucratic euphemism for the obliteration of a people. During the incorporation of New Zealand and Indonesia into the new TransAustralia Collective, the decision was made to deal with the rancorous, uncooperative native peoples of the new state by forced assimilation; the last shreds of Australia's and New Zealand's aboriginal peoples would be absorbed fully into the dominant culture. Their few scattered, squalid villages would be cleared and razed, their populations relocated, and, most importantly, their children placed into non-indigenous foster care. The adults would be swallowed up by the dominant culture, and the children taken before age three to be raised with no memory of their parents or identity...It was all justified with carefully compiled scientific data and high-minded motives. But in the end, it was just the strong taking from the weak.
One of the uniformed women carefully took an infant from its mother's arms. She looked down at the tiny bundle. It was a baby boy, not more than six months old. His bright eyes shone like tiny stars against his round coffee-colored face. He was remarkably alert, the uniformed woman observed; but there was something more. The gaze from those shining black eyes seemed so penetrating that it stopped the woman in her tracks for a moment. She chuckled to herself and shook off the gaze, taking the baby to the waiting vehicles. Still she could not shake the memory of his face. She did not like this duty, taking children from their mothers, but she consoled herself with the thought that it was for their benefit. They would be given the education, material support and health care their parents could never provide. They were deliberately taken young, so they would remember none of this. But she was wrong. The baby with the bright eyes, he would remember. His Maori name had been Te Kooti, after the prophet of old, but for his new life he would received a new name. In the final irony, this child taken and traded like property would be called Freeman.
The drill instructor pressed his face so close to the helmet of the young T'Phetti, his words fogged the faceplate. "I...Want...Your...DOR!"
"The bounds of honor prevent me from executing that request," the recruit answered, her large black eyes blinking in response to the NCO.
"The bounds of what?!" screamed the sergeant, not believing what he'd just heard. "Look clubfoot, this can all end today. You can go back to that dustball of a planet you call home. Just give me your D-O-R!"
"Sergeant! A word..."
Max Brutto didn't need any long explanations to know what was happening. He'd seen it dozens of times before. It started as isolated incidents, but now what played out before him was happening so regularly it could not be happenstance. Brass was behind this, or encouraging it. It wasn't that Max had any great love for Skinnies. He respected them as troopers; serving with Cpl. T'Phai had taught him that much. He loved the Mobile Infantry and wasn't going to stand around and let this kind of thing happen to his T'Phetti recruits. Not while he was in charge. They would pass or fail on their own merits.
Max took the sergeant aside, moving a few feet away from the alien recruit. "What is our mission at this command, sergeant?"
"To train SICON officer candidates to become able troopers and pilots. What are you getting at gunny?"
Max trained his eyes on the T'Phetti recruit and asked simply, "How will we do that if we insist on getting rid of our best recruits?"
"I didn't know we were going soft of meth-breathers..."
Max's temper flared, but he suppressed it, speaking in quiet measured tones, "I'll let that one slide first sergeant, but you better get your 'feelings' about T'Phetti stowed away or find another command. Do I make myself clear?"
Admiral Ibanez needed this to work! Carmen had fought long and hard to get the appropriation for this new squadron. And in the time of austerity budgets that was no small feat. She had hoped that by using T'Phetti cadet pilots to shore up her depleted ranks, she could avoid the petty prejudices that plagued the rest of the service. Terran and T'Phetti had worked so well together during war with a common enemy. Nowadays, it seemed most battles were waged between themselves.
"No! No! No! That's the third time you blew that run!" barked the flight instructor. "Why can't you hit the target, Johnson? The T'Phetti cadets don't seem to have any problems."
"That's cause they got three eyes. Everyone knows that."
"Belay that noise! Alright you people...let's run this sim...AGAIN!"
Carmen turned off the monitor. She had seen enough...maybe too much. The vid screen on her desk chimed with an incoming call. "Now what?" she thought as she answered the message. It was Miriam, again. This could not be good news.
"Carmen, how are things...progressing?"
Just like Miriam to get right to the point without being heavy-handed.
"You don't have to answer." Miriam quickly added, "Your face says it all. Look , I had to call in a lot of favors to get this budget passed. You know how things are on the council these days."
"Yes, I know too well." Carmen paused. Had her face revealed that much of her mind set? She'd have to work on her poker face before she faced the Federal Oversight Committee again.
"Carmen, the sharks are smelling blood in the water. If they can siphon more funding for their 'pet' projects at the expense of a unit like yours..."
"I understand, Miriam. This will work. We just need a little more time..."
Miriam sighed and her face softened on the view screen, "I'll see what I can do. But the way things are going nowadays, we might not have much time left. You may be on a command deck a lot sooner than you think."
Carmen didn't like the sound of those words. The rumors of conflict within the Alliance had filtered down to her before, but she'd never heard Miriam refer to them.
"Carmen, we can finish this when you get to town. How about dinner at my place?...Around seven?...I know Charles would love to see you."
It was the end of another very long day. M'Zar quickly removed her encounter suit and tried as best she could to get comfortable in the cramped quarters she shared with her fellow T'Phetti recruits. In a space designed for six humans, eight lanky Skinnies fought for whatever privacy could be found. M'Zar was the lucky one today. She was first to enter the barracks and would have the luxury of the bunk closest to the solar heating vents. Oh, to bask in that delicious heat!
"She beat us back again!" remarked J'Ton as he entered the chamber and began untangling himself from his suit. "What is it now...three cycles in sequence? How does she do that?"
T'Phal who followed closely on J'Ton's heels dropped hard into his rack. He was clearly not in a joking mood.
"By the two suns, I despise this cold, wet rock."
M'Zar now relaxing in front of the coveted vents, did not need her friend to recount the day's events that had so spoiled his mood. It would be another variation of T'Phal's rant against terrans and their world. How could the blame the insults and petty harassments of a foolish few on an entire world?
"Is it not written that the fool yells into the wind so he may hear his own complaint?"
"Spare me you 'wise counsel,' M'Zar" T'Phal spat as he turned toward his comrade, "I'm in a dark mood and wish to remain in this state until I choose NOT to be. My feelings are one of the few things I control in this place. Terran vermin! Flesh sacks of water! Did you see what they scrawled on the door?"
"I saw," M'Zar answered, "The spelling is terrible. Who taught them T'Phetti?"
"I find no humor in this! If those words were spoken to my face, I'd kill their author with my own claws!"
J'Ton smiled at both his childhood friends. "If you continue to squabble, I will be forced to relieve both of you of your ravna tonight. Such a delicacy would be wasted on you both!"
The good nature of T'Phal's friends did little to cheer him, and nothing to quell the fire that was burning in his heart. He was close to the blood rage, and his fellow T'Phetti knew it.
As the students settled into their seats, Freeman pressed the holo-projector button and the words of his first lesson whirled around the room.
There are no secrets except the secrets that keep themselves. G. B. Shaw
"We are the seekers. We are the bearers of the inner sight. We are the true testament of creation, because we can view eternity!"
That's laying it on a bit thick for the first day, Carl thought.
"Quite right Mister Jenkins," Freeman wheeled toward Carl pinning him with his gaze, "It is heavy. Too heavy for you, perhaps?"
Jenkins didn't have time to form an answer because in the next breath, Freeman had moved on. Carl could see why Freeman had been dubbed "the Wild Man" and why everyone in Psi-Ops Advanced Training tried to get into his lectures.
"He is a hard one to keep pace with, isn't he?" It was the young woman in the seat next to his.
He's just full of himself...like any other officer, was Carl's telepathic reply.
Carl saw that his message was having the desired effect as the young woman hid her face in her hands to stifle her laughter.
I can't believe you said that! she replied wordlessly, Aren't you afraid he'll hear?
Jenkins took his first real look at Haley Roman, his classmate recruited like he was by Freeman for this advanced training.
...No, I've blocked...
"Blocked Mr. Jenkins?" Freeman interrupted. "You think you can keep ME out of anything here?" Have a care boy! Here in my classroom I set the rules!
Freeman's full attention was on Carl now and his mind was laid bare. It was an onslaught the likes of which Carl had never since...
Klendathu? Freeman telepathically finished his thought. Is that fear, Carl?
Carl struggled to shield himself. Then as quickly as it had begun, the psychic examination was over. Freeman seemed to relax as he approached his student.
"Forgive me, Jenkins," Freeman said placing a friendly hand on his shoulder. "You were a convenient subject for our first exercise. Class, did you see how my mental slight-of-hand enabled me to avoid Mr. Jenkin's defenses and probe more deeply?"
The instructor paused to survey the room. "The oldest trick of the street magician...misdirection. Have your subject concentrate on one thing while you hide your real intent."
After class, Haley followed Carl out of the classroom. Her expression was kind with just a hint of concern. He didn't hurt you, did he?
"No just a bit of ego bruising," smiled Carl. "But why aren't you speaking. We aren't in class now."
I guess I need the practice. Besides, I like your mind, she laughed. Want to go for coffee?
"I'd love to."
It was no secret that SICON wanted to increase the numbers and strength of its Psy-troops and Freeman seemed to be the man to get it done. He got more out of his students than any other instructor in the division. If he acted a bit odd sometimes...well, that was expected from psychics. As long as he produced, what did the rest matter?
Freeman, the instructor, would always challenge his students. Answer a question with a question. Always push for more that his charges thought they were capable of giving. But Freeman, the man was an enigma. His background was a mystery; his dark coloration, broad features and the merest trace of an Australian accent suggested aboriginal ancestry, but there were no family portraits in his office, no service certificates or citations lining the walls of his quarters. In manner, he was a Spartan individual: few amenities, fewer personal effects. Clearly this was the way he preferred it.
For Carl, this man was a godsend. This teacher seemed to feed his mind and soul. He was mesmerizing. Haley and Carl talked for hours about him, his theories on paranormal evolution, the elaborate training exercises he taught. It was during one such conversation that the two were interrupted by the 'Wild Man' himself. He asked if they would like to join his special research group. He only chose a few students each quarter for these assignments. How could they refuse?
"Do you see this?" asked Freeman as he held a strange crystalline object.
"Yes, of course" Carl replied.
"No, I mean do you really SEE it?"
"Yes, yes I do see it!" Haley interjected.
"Excellent Roman. Mr. Jenkins, you may leave."
"This has gotta be the worst posting in the entire service!"
"Ah, quit your whining, Barlow!" supply sergeant Leung replied into his mike, "What's not to love? It's quiet...nobody shooting at us, and best of all...NO OFFICERS!"
"That's easy for you to say Leung. You're not the one stuck piloting the shuttle past all these hulks for the millionth time!"
The two non-coms shared this conversation countless times before, arguing like an old married couple. "Cut the static. Just finish your count and come home."
The routine seemed endless, much like the thousands of ships moored in the orbital graveyard that was both their assignment and curse. Every month, they had to file the same report, a report about nothing. Not one ship had been brought to this facility since the two salvage techs had been assigned to it. Nothing came in...nothing went out. It had been that way for years.
Wearily looking at his manifest, Barlow began the tedious task of once more logging the inventory of the Horse Head Surplus Yard. "Let's get it over with. Slip 1...HMC-716."
"Check...only 14, 215 more to go."
Six hours later, Fil Barlow, his feet propped on a mess hall table, nursed the last few sips of his cold coffee. Sgt. Ray Leung ambled in with a clipboard in his hand.
"Uh, private...I think we may have a problem."
"What are you babbling about?" Barlow didn't bother to rise. Niceties of rank didn't mean much in a backwater like the Horse Head yards.
"You screwed up the count, Fil."
"What are you talking about? I counted every last miserable hulk out there."
"Well, you seem to have misplaced a battle cruiser." Ray continued, "and its not the only one gone missing."
Barlow snatched the clipboard from the sergeant and leafed through the sheets. The blood drained from both their faces as they realized the magnitude of their dilemma.
"We could be in real trouble, Ray. I mean...the brass would probably get upset if we lost some of their ships, right?"
"Fil, we didn't lose anything," Ray spoke not looking entirely convinced of his own words, "You just botched the count is all. Everything is like it always is. Just file the report the way we always do."
Calling asteroid LV 547 isolated was to understate the point. The rocky heart of a long-spent comet, the asteroid drifted sleepily in its elliptical orbit around and unimpressive star far from wars and men and machines. So it was a memorable day when the black transport appeared in LV's skies. The huge oval vessel, ringed in tiny flames slid noiselessly onto the barren rock. It dispensed a tiny party of creatures moving quickly and with purpose. Skittering on many legs, they began to frantically dig into the rock. A nursery must be built. The Egg must have a home.
How long had it been, Doc wondered. He knew this was the day. Some days you just don't forget. The day you enlist, the day you're discharged, the day a friend dies, or the child of a friend...Doc had to talk to someone. It was his turn to call Charlie anyway.
"Hello, how's it going, sir?" Doc pasted a smile on his face as the view screen glowed to life.
"Will you knock that off, Doc?" Charlie Zim laughed. He had an easy laugh, but few were ever privileged to hear it. "You know I revert back to my permanent rank when they give me the boot next month."
"Well I wouldn't want to catch the wrath of the DI for not following proper protocol." Doc replied, "How are you and Miriam doing?"
"Oh, the Madam President is just fine!"
"You have to say all that?" Doc chuckled.
"She makes me!" protested Zim. "I'm glad you called. It seems like ages since I talked to an Ape. Hear about you, Rico and Brutto from time to time. Higgins requires an appointment. You hear much from Goss? You guys were always pretty tight."
"He's gone seriously downhill," Doc answered with feigned concern, "He still thinks he's a sailor! You know that boat he bought..."
"That thing is still floating?"
"Afraid so. At least Bubba-Goss Shrimp keeps him out of mischief. I hear Max is doing well."
"I've got my eye on him, don't you worry. I just told his old man the same thing."
"Well, I was just calling to say..." Doc's eyes fell and his voice died away.
"I know why you called, Doc. Do they even talk now?"
"Rico is over in SOQ. Diz sold the house I hear. We don't talk much."
"It's a real shame...my heart goes out to them."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Will you and Miriam be able to make it down?"
"Are you kidding?" Zim's face warmed, "There's no way we would miss seeing you graduate your last class."
"Glad to hear it. Semper Fi, Charlie."
"Semper fi, Doc."
Next Episode: 201: Absent Friends