Admiral Cupit was not a happy man. Life just got more difficult for himself and he was about to have to pass that difficulty on to his contact team. Right now his primary source of frustration was standing across from him in the Flag Office aboard the Roosevelt. She was making demands of him and it wasn't even 0700 yet. "Tell me one thing Admiral, why am I not on my way down to that spacecraft now?"
Cupit raised an eyebrow and locked gaze with her, "Because Senator Redham, we are currently shuttling down the supplies and equipment Doctor Leight requested, as well as replacements for the crewmen we lost when the Chinese fired on the ALVIN."
"And remind me again why the Joint Chiefs decided to send a rabid racists down on that contact team?" she demanded. "Doctor Leight's own public comments about our Arab neighbors make her unfit for any first contact. I demand she be removed from the team this moment."
Admiral Cupit felt his eyes harden. He knew what comments the woman was talking about. "Senator Redham, the Joint Chiefs chose her because she and Doctor Vovarasky are the best in their field. As for her comments, they were made about the terrorists who set off a dirty nuke in Orlando. I'm sure you know about that attack, Senator. The one that killed all those people." He took a deep breath and came around the desk to stand in front of her. "As for removing her from this team, that might prove difficult. The Shan Commander has requested that she remain in the capacity of Ambassador Plenipotentiary to their society. Unless you can show where she has acted in a manner contrary to the best interest of the United States of America concerning this mission, she stays. If you don't like that, you can take that up with the Joint Chiefs."
"Well, that's what I'm going down there to find out. The military has no business involved in this mission," she said flatly.
"Ma'am, when a possible alien spacecraft crash lands in the Gulf of Mexico, it is the US Navy's business." Taking a deep breath he looked down at the orders on his desk from the White House itself. CooperatewithSenatorRedhamasmuchaspossible, butundernocircumstancesallowheractionstothreatenthemission. Youareherebygrantedunusuallybroaddiscretionarypowers. "Now, if you wish to go down and observe the State Department's personnel doing their jobs, you are welcome to join the UN Observers and the press representative on the next ALVIN going down." He smiled wickedly, "However, Madam Senator, I must warn you that space is limited aboard the diver. It's going to be quite tight quarters."
"And your point is Admiral?" she asked
"Only that you may wish to change into something a little less formal. That may not be the best choice of wardrobe for comfort, functionality, or even modesty's sake." He indicated the smart business skirt and jacket she was wearing. My people would be glad to outfit you with appropriate wear." He sighed, "However, you may also want to consider your safety. You are going into an uncontrolled area where our people are busy with critical jobs, and their people are in the midst of repairs caused by the Chinese attack on their vessel. There will probably be little time for the pleasantries of politics."
"I understand hardship, Admiral,,," she began.
"I don't think you do, Senator. This isn't Thanksgiving Dinner with the troops," he deliberately brought up a political trip she took several years ago that blew up in her face. "This is a working mission in progress. You're not going to be on some securable military base, you're going to be anywhere between half a mile to a mile down. At those depths, an accident could crush you or your sub before you ever knew what happened. A hull breech that deep can create a stream of water in the cabin capable of slicing a man in half. To be honest, having you aboard the Roosevelt is more disruption that I want to deal with under tense circumstances. If you ask me, which you didn't, sending you down there right now is just plain stupid. However, I've been told that as long as you don't disrupt the proceedings, to cooperate with you as best I can."
For a moment, the woman seemed taken aback by his directness. Actually he didn't give a damn. This was going to be his last mission anyway. His career had reached the point where it was either time to move up, or out. He had very few choices as to going up, so he was looking forward to doing some fishing in the Gulf off the coast of Mobile. Smiling to him, she said, "It is not my intention to disrupt the proceedings, Admiral Cupit. Not as long as they are being directed properly. I'm here to make sure that the Administration doesn't pull a fast one and set off a war with the rest of the world with its unilateral action."
Cupit raised an eyebrow and indicated the deployment screen on the wall. He touched the ArkRoyal, and the Kiev, before saying. "Madam, there is a British carrier and a Russian destroyer in this task force. Somehow I don't think it's unilateral."
"There's no French, no Indian, and no Chinese ships out there," she said. "It seems to be the same good ol' boy club it's always been throwing around their weight and making sure everyone else does what they want them to. In case you haven't figured it out yet, Admiral, it's a new century, with new political powers. We have to live in a global community." Turning on her heel she said, "If you'll send one of your yeomen or whatever you call them to me with something appropriate to wear, I'll be ready five minutes later." She left the room.
Cupit said to her back, "Yeah, tell that to the people who died in Orlando." He hit the intercom on his desk and said, "Have a yeoman report to Congresswoman Redham's quarters with a set of BDUs."
"Yes, sir," was the quick answer from the box.
"And call up to CIC and have them get Heller on the horn, secure channel."
"Secure channel, sir?"
"You heard me, Watkins: secure channel."
Cupit grabbed his hat and headed out. He hated dropping this in Heller's lap, but there was no way to avoid it. The Shan were about to receive more guests. He for one would rather do the world a favor and take them out and shoot them. But this was politics and in politics one didn't shoot the rabid dogs, one tried to make peace with them.
Adam couldn't help but be amazed at all the activity around him. He was astonished at just how much twenty-six individuals could get done in a short time. Of course the fact that they were twenty-six Shan Defenders went a long way toward explaining it. He was just starting to realize what a Defender really was. Five hundred years ago, they'd have been considered gods.
After working closely with several of them, Randi had commented, "I think I can understand how these people could defend their communities from predators. All you have to do is take Aquaman and toss in someone like Superman's strength, and you've got a Shan Defender. Well, maybe Supes is exaggerating, but you got the idea."
Adam had laughed the idea off as being hyperbole until he'd seen the digital recordings of how K'hori had dealt with the Chinese sub. He'd literally stopped the thing's drive shafts with his bare hands and then twisted the screws off it. Those screws weighed several tens of tons by themselves and he'd ripped them off like Adam would twist the top off a pop bottle.
He would be glad when Madison returned from his fourth run up to the ship. The problem was, that he and Thompson had been the only other pilot rated for the ALVIN. Now they were waiting from one of the pilots from the JimmyCarter to be flown in. Until then, poor Madison was running eighteen hours on and six off. His last run had been to return the bodies of the other members of their team to the Roosevelt. He was supposed to be bringing in some diplomats from other countries and one of the reporters from topside. He just hoped it wasn't that Chang chick.
Right now, he was trying to figure out what was to be done about the Shan themselves. If it were up to him, and probably the vast majority of the people of the US, he'd let them have this little piece of the Gulf and leave them the hell alone. However, he knew that even if he could convince his government to let a possibly hostile, definitely technologically superior force sit off the Gulf Coast, the rest of the world would have a collective hissy fit. K'hori had given him and his friends some leverage. He'd requested that contact with the outside world be limited, and that the three of them be the primary contact. Now he just had to figure out how to make it stick.
Then it hit him. WhendidIstartworryingmoreabouttheShanandlessaboutthemission? No, that'snotright. ThemissionispeacefulcontactwiththeShan. He knew his countrymen well enough to know that they'd be willing to help out a stranger in need. Hell, for the past fifty years, the US had become the nation everyone else turned to in time of need, and if anyone needed help, it was the Shan.
"Commander Heller?" Mother's voice interrupted his musings. He noticed that like the others, he was beginning to think in terms of all this broken but advanced technology as something common.
"Admiral Cupit is calling again. He wants to make sure that you can speak freely."
"Put him on," Adam said.
"Heller?" the Admiral's rather irritated voice came through the air.
"Is this a secure line?"
"Depends on what you mean by secure, sir. I am the only person in the room, but I can guarantee that the Shan computer is listening."
"Understood." There was a long delay that Adam understood to be the Admiral weighing his options. "Okay, Commander, for now this is need to know information. I'm trusting that the AI you described can be discrete."
"As long as it is not a threat to Ship or our mission," Mother told the Admiral.
"I'm more worried about what being said getting back to the people we are discussing, than I am you or your people finding out about it," Cupit answered her.
"Understood Admiral," Heller said. He knew the Admiral was playing a dangerous game of politics upstairs.
"Speak freely Admiral," Mother said.
Cupit sighed and began, "This next trip, Madison is bringing down several politicos along with the reporter coming down. By the way, that will be O'Malley. I was rather impressed with his concern over the families of injured. But, as I was saying, among those politicos are a representative from the Arab nations, a Chinese representative, the UN's representative, and Senator Redham."
Heller listened to the news with trepidation. Any one of those was bad enough, but four of them was going to be a mess. "Admiral, with all due respect, that sounds like the absolute worse possible scenario."
"I'm aware of that Commander. However I really have no choice. I couldn't get them to agree on sending down a single representative to act as liaison to the rest. They want redundancy."
"I see," Adam replied. They were still paranoid about the US government being able to influence whomever they send down. "Admiral?"
"My authority over security hasn't been compromised by any of this has it?" he asked carefully.
Cupit chuckled, "No, Commander. However, be aware that if they feel insulted enough to push the issue, it could change as a result." In other words, the Admiral was telling him not to be too rough with them.
"I understand perfectly sir. Mother?"
"Are you capable of scanning for explosives and other weapons among the our guests' provisions?"
"Affirmative," Mother answered. "Do you really expect there to be difficulties, Commander?"
"Honestly, yes," Heller replied. "I've never met a diplomat I trusted. I don't play games with words. If I don't like somebody, I say it."
"But what makes you think there may be problems with weapons?" Mother asked.
"Because diplomats seldom play by the rules. They think that they are exempt from the rules agreed upon."
"About what kinds of weapons are you concerned, Commander?" Mother asked.
"Explosives, possibly. Guns definitely. Even knives."
"I will scan for explosives and their components. I'm assuming you mean projectiles propelled by expanding gasses like the ones aboard your ship above. However, I'm unconcerned by knives. They are no threat to the Defenders."
"But they are a threat to Randi and the rest of my crew," he said.
"I hadn't considered that," Mother said. "I will speak with K'hori about it."
"Thank you, Mother."
K'hori glided through the water as he checked the perimeter of the agro-pens and inspected the connections to the neutral-ballast grow lights that were to be used. Normally, in shallower waters, the grow lights would not be necessary. Either the colony would be established above the point where natural sunlight could be used; or the agricultural fields would be in shallow waters away from the ship and colony itself. However, the current situation made that impossible, deep-water farming was going to be necessary, and that meant grow lights and magnetic pens.
Of course he was also concerned about what Mother had told him of Adam's warning and his new guests. He understood the human's trepidation of having what they believed to be a technologically superior alien species setting up shop in their oceans. Under their circumstances he would feel the same way. However, this was a critical juncture in the mission. He had little time to be a diplomat, there was too much to do to make sure the colony survived.
He knew that it was probably unfair to give one nation state more access to his people and his ship than the others, but in some ways the individuals involved were very much in the same situation as he was. They had been injured and were too far from medical facilities to be saved without his intervention. There was also the fact, that they had come down for peaceful contact, and they were the nation who's shores were just 212 of their miles from his ship.
What most concerned him was how he was going to get through this whole tangle of situations. He had to keep his priorities in order, but they were starting to overlap each other because the situation was growing into a web of interdependent issues. If he'd had time, he may have given more consideration to landing on the far side of this continent, where the water was deeper and there were fewer nations with which to come into conflict, but the initial scans indicated that the ocean floor there was too geologically unstable. A single quake could have undone all his work to save his people. Now he was in a situation where a single mistake on his part could have just as devastating effects.
Checking the last anchor to the lights, he moved on and outward to the perimeter of the defense grid where two of the newly awakened defenders were working with a swarm of squks to align the shield generators with Earth's magnetic field. At his approach several of the squks swam over to him, eager to show him the work they were doing. He smiled at one female in particular who was beginning to weigh heavy with a litter, as she pulled at his hand. Reaching down, he gently patted her on the head and said quietly, "How goes it little one?"
He was rewarded with a series of high-pitched whistles and clicks that the squks used as a rudimentary language. He'd been around them enough to learn to recognize some of the basics of it. She was basically saying, "See, I did good?"
Nodding to her, he carefully checked the connections she was indicating, he knew that he would offend her if he only gave it a cursory examination, and indeed it was good work. Again he nodded and stroked her long hair in affirmation. She squealed again and rushed back to work looking for something else to do well.
"How long before all the emitters will be in working order?" he asked the tall female defender, Vae'l who was lifting the final array into place.
"Hello Commander," she replied. "We will have partial shields in just under ten of the human's minutes. Full shields will be online in half a day."
K'hori nodded and sent a ping down line to where another emitter was already in place. "Very good."
"Commander?" the male asked.
"Do you think the humans would really attack us? I mean, Commander Heller and his team all seem to be quite reasonable, and even personable."
K'hori smiled, "I tend to agree. But, Adam and his team are not the only humans with which we must deal. There is evidence that these humans have on at least three occasions used thermonuclear weapons on each other. I am alarmed to think at what they might be willing to do to us, a perceived alien species."
"So the precautions," D'fen interpreted.
"So the precautions," K'hori repeated.
"Commander?" D'fen asked again.
"Then why allow the human ships so close to us?"
K'hori smiled, "Because, believe it or not, there is some justification for them to claim that after all, it is their ocean."
"But we were here first," D'fen said.
"And we left and have now come back. Establishing our original origins here might be problematic. There seems to be no fossil evidence of our civilization, and we left long enough ago that there aren't even legends of our existence in the racial memory."
"Isn't there some way we can prove our previous existence on Homeworld?"
K'hori looked over at the squks who were continuing with the alignment of the emitters before turning back to D'fen, "From what I can deduce from my conversations with Commander Heller, not that won't cause more problems than they would solve."
D'fen nodded as if he understood, "To be honest, I'm glad you're the one dealing with the humans. I don't know if I would have the patience to do it."
"Patience is a learned virtue," K'hori said quoting an old Shan adage.
"If you say so, Commander. Still, I don't think the humans would be foolish enough to actually attack us. What would be the point? We're not a real threat to them."
K'hori smiled as this conversation brought back very old memories of those days just following the Great War, when he was fighting the Ilian for the very survival of the Defenders. Then, as now, the younger ones could not understand why anyone would attack them. They didn't understand why others not like them would see them as a threat. In some ways, that made his job easier, but in many, it was more difficult because it was a terrible thing to realize that the world was not always such a nice place as one believed.
K'hori had no illusions about how the humans might react what so ever. He'd already seen some of their reaction to what they didn't understand. Now he had to make sure that there were no more misunderstandings.
"Commander, What would be the point?" D'fen repeated his question.
"We know that we aren't a threat to them, but they don't necessarily know that," K'hori said. Then with a smile, he added, "I tell you what, D'fen. Why don't I put you in charge of making sure our guests are comfortable." He stopped and floated there for a minute, considering how he was going to phrase what he had to say. "Commander Heller is concerned that one or two of our new arrivals on the shuttle coming down may harbor some fear or ill will toward us. He's afraid that one or two may be carrying concealed weapons. Why don't I put you in charge of making sure they are comfortable, while in a diplomatic way insuring that they are not so armed?"
D'fen nodded. "What kind of weapons?"
"Commander Heller seems to be concerned about concealed explosives, projectile and bladed weapons."
"Bladed weapons are no threat to a defender, Commander."
K'hori shook his head, "No, but they would be a threat to a baseline Shan, or another human."
D'fen then nodded. "I see. So we should treat the humans as baselines?"
"As a threat level, yes. But remember, that with the exceptions of Stefan and Miranda, they cannot survive for very long in the water, and their bodies are definitely not designed for sudden changes in atmospheric pressures. So, in some ways they are less of a threat than a baseline."
"It must be strange to only be able to creep around on the ground. To not know the freedom of the water," D'fen said.
K'hori nodded and hid the frown that he knew was forming. Something about this conversation bothered him, but he had no idea what it could be. He filed it away to consider later.