Voyage From Yesteryear

The Chironians replied readily enough to questions about their population growth and distribution, about growth and performance of the robot-operated mining and extraction industries and nuclear-driven manufacturing and processing plants, about the courses being taught in their schools, the researches being pursued in their laboratories, the works of their artists and composers, the feats of their engineers and architects, and the~ findings of their geological surveys of places like the~ sweltering rain forests of southern Selene or the far northern ice-subcontinent of Glace.

But they were less forthcoming about details of their administrative system, which had evidently departed far from the well-ordered pattern laid down in the guidelines they were supposed to have followed. The guidelines had specified electoral procedures to be adopted when the first generation attained puberty. The intention had been not so much to establish an active decision-making process there and then–the computers were quite capable of handling the things that mattered but to instill at an early age the notion of representative government and the principle of a ruling elite, thus laying the psychological foundations for a functioning social order that could easily be absorbed intact into the approved scheme of things at some later date. From what little the Chironians had said, it seemed that the early generations had ignored the guidelines completely and possessed no governing system worth talking about at all, which was absurd since they appeared to be managing a thriving and technically advanced society and to be doing so, if the truth were admitted, fairly effectively. In other words, they had to be covering a lot of things up.

Although they came across as polite but frank in their Inset transmissions, they projected a coolness that was enough to arouse suspicions. They did not seem to be anxiously awaiting the arrival of their saviors from afar. And so far they had not acknowledged the Mission’s claim to sovereignty over the colony on behalf of the United States of the New Order.

“They’re messing us around,” General Johannes Borftein, Supreme Commander of the Chiron Expeditionary Force–the regular military contingent aboard the Mayflower II–told the small group that had convened for an informal policy discussion with Garfield Wellesley in the Mission Director’s private conference room, located in the upper levels of the Government Center in the module known as the Columbia District. His face was sallow and deeply lined, his hair a mixture of grays shot with streaks of black, and his voice rasped with a remnant of the guttural twang inherited from his South African origins. “We’ve got two years to get this show organized, and they’re playing games. We don’t have the time. We haven’t seen any evidence of a defense program down there. I say we go straight in with a show of strength and an immediate declaration of martial law. It’s the best way.”

Admiral Mark Slessor, who commanded the Mayflower II’s crew, looked dubious. I’m not so sure it’s that simple.” He rubbed his powerful, blue-shadowed chin. “We could be walking into anything. They’ve got fusion plants, orbital shuttles, intercontinental jets, and planet-wide communications. How do we know they haven’t been working on defense? They’ve got the know-how and the means. I can see John’s point, but his approach is too risky.”

“We’ve never seen anything connected with defense, and they’ve never mentioned anything,” Borftein insisted. “Let’s stick to reality and the facts we know. Why complicate the issue with speculation?”

“What do you say, Howard?” Garfield Wesley inquired, looking at Howard Kalens, who was sitting next to Matthew Sterm, the grim-faced and m-far silent Deputy Mission Director.

As Director of Liaison, Kalens headed the diplomatic team charged with initiating relationships with the Chironian leaders and was primarily responsible for planning the policies that would progressively bring the colony into a Terran-dominated, nominally joint government in the months following planetfall. Hence the question probably concerned him more than anybody else. Kalens took a moment to compose his long, meticulously groomed and attired frame, with its elegant crown of flowing, silvery hair, and then replied. “I agree with John that a rigid rule needs to be asserted early on . . . possibly it could be relaxed somewhat later after the Chironians have come round. However, Mark has a point too. We should avoid the. risk of hostilities if we can, and think of it only as a last resort. We’re going to need those resources working for us, not against. And they’re still very thin. We can’t permit them to be frittered away or destroyed. Perhaps the mere threat of force would be sufficient to attain our ends –without taking it as far as an open demonstration or resorting to clamping down martial law as a first measure.”

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