With our appointments confirmed, and Gelhinda's as Qozernan ambassador to Deshtiris, the remaining peace negotiations were concluded quickly. Essentially they boiled down to the following key provisions:
1. Both sides would recall their fleets and pretend nothing had happened, a solution made infinitely easier by the fact that both fleets had been halted before colliding;
2. A good faith agreement was made to start fresh negotiations for a more equitable trade agreement between the two planets (Deshtiris had been gouging Qozernon unmercifully in its trade policies, a situation endured grudgingly by the latter in ill-advised hopes of appeasing the former); and
3. The Emperor and Empress of Deshtiris apologized officially, sincerely and profusely for the inconvenience and misunderstandings caused by their predecessors' indiscreet battle maneuvers, and besides, it was all Those Other People's fault.
A few hotheads in the Qozernan government pressed briefly for the collection of damages from Deshtiris to pay for the frantic arming of merchant ships, a sum which would certainly have run into the hundreds of millions of yled. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, having learned something studying the fall of the Soviet Union and its aftermath, and ultimately no reparations were demanded.
Incidentally, arrival at this solution was aided immeasurably by the conclusion of an unofficial "gentlemen's agreement" between the two worlds which declared that Qozernan as well as Deshtiran corporations would be allowed to license the technology (developed by Kiri herself) which enabled the Futaba to travel at least six times faster than the battleships on either side, and over three times faster than any other ships currently available. This technology was donated by her without cost to the Deshtiran government, and in future years provided a substantial income to be applied towards the reconstruction of the planet's devastated infrastructure.
She didn't give away all her secrets, though. The Futaba would still be considerably faster than anything else in space (or hyperspace, for that matter). It never hurts to keep a little something in reserve, we felt.
Also not licensed or otherwise made available was the physics behind the gateways used to access the Futaba's living quarters. "Imagine," she had said to me during a discussion on the ongoing negotiations, "what would have happened if the Brizali had been able to land a single ship on Qozernon and then just pour their soldiers through. We'd have had no time buffer at all, and today we'd be living under Krigghin Teyn." The charismatic Teyn had been the Brizali's nominal leader, although secretly taking orders from Tenako behind the scenes.
The technology behind the Futaba's shape-shifting abilities, on the other hand, had been common knowledge for decades. It's just that no one had thought to put it to the use Kiri had, primarily because of the complexity of the computer simulations involved, something in which she of course excelled. The amorphous diamond used for the hull was likewise well known. Her genius had been to combine them into a single incredibly versatile starship, demonstrating once again that true brilliance is not necessarily so much technological sophistication as common sense.
Negotiations concluded, and Kiri having recovered sufficiently to obtain permission to travel on her own, we quitted the command ship for the Futaba and set out for our new home, accompanied by Gelhinda, Senaria and Rann. Our destination was the ruined royal palace of Deshti, the ancient capital city of Deshtiris.
Earlier that week the military leadership had approached us to raise the issue of where we were going to live. There had been no hesitation on our part. We had both grown up in the royal palace and knew in our hearts how important it would be as a symbol for the Deshtiran people. Accordingly, as we detached the Futaba from the main fleet we steeled ourselves for the ordeal of taking up residence in a gigantic shell of a crumbling building, lacking utilities, amenities, or possibly even a roof that would hold out the rain. Secretly we anticipated spending many of our nights in the Futaba's living quarters until repairs could be made. A final decision on whether to actually restore Deshti as the planet's capital city would have to wait.
To our surprise, as we set down later that day in the enclosed central courtyard of the palace we were met by a considerable military honor guard, complete with a band. After securing the Futaba we followed our guides to the second floor of the residential wing, where we were delighted to find that at least part of the building had had electricity and plumbing hastily restored and sufficient repairs made to keep out the elements. Regrettably air conditioning was not yet part of the package, but to us that was a minor inconvenience. Within a few hours we were settled into our new home, literally ready to take on the world.
As anyone who has worked as an administrator knows all too well, the most burdensome part of the job invariably consists of endless meetings, and we were not at all exempt; many decisions would have to be made that would affect the future of the planet for decades to come. Our first and possibly most important meeting, held the day after our return, was with the military leadership. Deshtiris was exceptionally fortunate that the Brizali had left the original military command in place, instead of putting in their own people. We quickly reached agreement on a number of key issues.
Thus we resolved that an elected civilian government would be created as soon as safely possible, which meant at least temporarily removing the remaining Brizali from the picture. It was decided that any member of the Brizal party who had committed crimes would be prosecuted without exception, and that all members of the party would be prohibited from holding office or voting until some future time to be determined.
We also designated the recovery of the planet's ecosystems and climate as our top priority, even if it meant impeding the re-establishment of a viable economy. The latter was in near ruins after thirty years of unrestricted armaments expenditures and the building of an invasion force four million strong. However, we knew that repairing a damaged economy was at most the work of years, while the acid rain and in particular the nascent greenhouse effect might take much longer to reverse, if indeed the greenhouse warming could be reversed at all.
To this end, the immediate resources of the planet would be devoted to redirecting the production of electricity (which for all of the Twin Planets' technological sophistication still remains the most easily produced and distributed form of transportable energy) from the many hydrocarbon-burning plants back to Deshtiris' fusion plants. There was no shortage of clean power; it was just that up until now it had been sucked up greedily by the energy "transformers" which radiated power for the Brizali's superweapons. It was the sabotage of one such station at Tar Deshta by us which had triggered the self-destruction of the others. These were also the stations which would have been the anchors of Tenako's "planar field" chimera, but this was something that we were keeping to ourselves for the time being.
Eliminating the noxious pollutants emitted by the power plants would eventually bring an end to the acid rain which was rapidly destroying the planet's forests and causing the crumbling of its physical infrastructure. It would also reverse (or so we hoped) the greenhouse effect which had been taking hold for at least the past decade or more, although it was anybody's guess how long this might actually take. Similarly, re-electrification of the railroads would provide a clean alternative to the internal-combustion motor vehicles extensively used for transportation by the Brizali.
Sadly, another result of this policy would be the eventual retirement of the many 1940's-era steam locomotives (of Earth design!) which the Brizali had built in order to reserve even more electricity for their weapons stations. I will never forget the magnificent sight of one of these engines overtaking our little party on our way to Tar Deshta, and which had unexpectedly provided us with a means of sneaking undetected into the heavily guarded city.
It was also at this meeting that Kiri made a proposal which we had discussed for long hours in advance, going over every possible argument and counter-argument we were likely to encounter. At the present time the Deshtiran military forces were virtually the only real power on the planet, and one that we couldn't afford to alienate right at the starting line.
To view our proposal in the proper perspective, it's important to understand just what the Deshtiran military was before the Brizal takeover. The original military institutions on Deshtiris (and Qozernon, for that matter) originated after the departure of the Virrin thousands of years ago, when the suddenly freed humans predictably began quarreling among themselves and soon split into a variety of nation-states similar to Earth's. The usual millennia of idiotic warfare naturally ensued, eventually leading to the unification of each planet under one leadership.
The development of space travel introduced a new element into the mix, as it took Qozernon somewhat longer to attain the technological level of its sister planet. As a result Qozernon was for a considerable time more of a colony of Deshtiris than an equal. However, the intricacies of interstellar warfare were at that time well beyond even the more powerful planet's capacities, and Qozernon was ultimately able to restore its independence.
Since that time the two planets had remained on cordial terms, and with no more enemies to fight (and a military force being an extremely expensive toy for a society to leave lying around unused) a more practical role was needed. The result was that by the time of the Brizal takeover the military forces of both planets had evolved into something more like the National Guard. Enemies may become friends, but earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes still remain as malevolent as ever, and coping with the scale of such disasters continues to require the kind of organization and discipline which only a military institution can provide.
The Brizali, however, had vastly expanded Deshtiris' modest forces into an enormous Imperial Deshtiran Battle Fleet, comprising thousands of battleships and millions of troops. With the threat of war removed, the drain on the planet's already badly strained resources was now unsupportable.
Our proposal was simple: allow anyone who wanted to go home to do so. Those who chose to stay would have food and shelter (and of course their military pay), and in return would provide a vast labor force for the rebuilding of the planet's disintegrating infrastructure. With the ecosystem in ruins and an economy strained to the breaking point, there was no way that private enterprise would have been able to accomplish the necessary tasks in time.
Rather to our surprise the military leaders, most of whom had been career officers from before the Brizal takeover, were in agreement. Pledging their support, they suggested that the largest potential for trouble would come from some of the newer, younger officers heavily indoctrinated with Brizal propaganda about the glory and nobility of combat, &c. &c.
Finally, we faced the issue of what to do for a seat of government. Deshti and most of the other great established cities of Deshtiris were ghost towns, depopulated by the Brizali's labor policies. On the other hand the Brizali's industrial cities were snakepits of pollution, squalor, and even a certain amount of crime. We had made our decision.
Earlier that day Kiri, Senaria and I had taken a long walk around the vast palace grounds and into some of the surrounding city. Everywhere we saw decay and devastation. The stonework of the palace buildings was covered with the powdery products of chemical decomposition. Most metal fittings had corroded away. Wooden gates and doors had rotted, the trees were dead or near death from the decades of acid rain. And yet--
"This is still the royal palace," Kiri insisted stubbornly. "Even if we have to reconstruct it from scratch, this still symbolizes Deshtiris." She paused. "Or am I just being a hopeless romantic?" I heard uncertainty in her voice, something surprisingly out of character for her, and suddenly realized just how shaken she was at what we saw around us.
"Look at it this way," I said as we left the palace grounds and headed up one of the adjoining streets, the pavement now faded and cracked from age and lack of maintenance. Our footsteps echoed hollowly off the deserted buildings around us. "We have three choices. First, we could set up the capital in one of the Brizal cities."
Senaria looked horrified. "Will! How could you even consider that?"
"Second," I said, "we could build a brand new city with a new palace." Both women were silent at that.
"Third," I said, and paused meaningfully.
"I see," said Kiri. "We really don't have a choice, do we? We could spend a fortune building a new palace, and what would we have? A lot of ostentatious new buildings. On the other hand, even if rebuilding the old palace cost just as much, we'd salvage all the centuries of tradition and history associated with it." Senaria enthusiastically nodded her agreement.
"But what if people see it as an extravagance?" Kiri fretted. "At a time like this can we really ask people to set aside precious resources to rebuild a fancy home for the Emperor and Empress? Is that the message we want to send? If there's one thing to be said for the Brizali, it's that they did their work in relatively Spartan surroundings. No fancy palaces, no dachas by the lakes."
"Oh, hell, Kiri, this is ridiculous," Senaria finally exploded. I had watched her building up steam through this whole discussion and was eagerly anticipating the results. "Do you really believe that's all we think of our traditions?" I grinned inwardly as I noted that she'd apparently already started thinking of herself as Deshtiran. "Why, if you gave me a chance I'd rebuild that palace with my bare hands if I had to. In fact, I'd--" And suddenly she stopped in mid-sentence as the same thought occurred to all three of us.
"Why not," murmured Kiri.
"It just might work," I rejoined softly.
"Are you both thinking what I'm thinking?" asked Senaria hesitantly, her eyes lighting up. We nodded in unison.
And so it was that as I faced the expectant officers before me I knew what the answer had to be. "Deshti," I said.
There was an immediate uproar. Putting up a hand to quell the clamor, I continued. "There are really two issues here. First, where will the capital be, and second, whether to try improve the Brizali's industrial towns or let people go home and rebuild their cities. For the second, I think we should let the people decide for themselves."
"We want to have a planetwide referendum on whether people choose to go home or not," Kiri explained. "Human beings can accomplish miracles when they really want to, and returning home is a basic need that could unleash the idealism that I think is still there in our people. It just hasn't been tapped in a long time."
"And the capital?" said one of the officers skeptically. "You make that sound like a separate issue."
"It is," I said. "And we want it to symbolize the freeing of the planet. We think the best way to do that is to announce that we're not going to spend a yled of public money to restore the royal palace, but instead call for volunteers. If we don't get a reasonable turnout we'll reconsider the idea." The looks we received were dubious, to put it mildly, but after all they had handed us the power and I suppose they felt that this was as good a way as any for them to find out if they'd made a serious blunder.
"We do need your help, though," I added. "Would you be willing to commit to providing provisions, shelter and sanitary facilities for the volunteers? It would be a real fiasco for them to make their way here only to discover that we expect them to find their own food and pee in the streets." This was easily agreed to; obviously it was a much smaller obligation than they'd expected.
"That was really magnificent," Gelhinda said later that afternoon, as Kiri and I together heaved a huge sigh of relief. We had just finished our first planetwide broadcast as Emperor and Empress. Technically it had been simple: an ordinary telecom had been set up in our second floor living room and the signals relayed to a military communications vehicle outside, which was in turn patched into the planet's comm network.
Not so simple was overcoming a certain amount of "microphone fright." I was surprised to find that Kiri was quite a bit more jittery than I, and had fleeting visions of her coming unstrung in the middle of the broadcast. At one point she did freeze up momentarily, frantically nudging me with her foot under the coffee table, and I glibly slid in and finished her paragraph for her. By all reports, though, the sight of her crimson hair and emerald eyes left most watchers in awe at seeing the legendary Princess Mikiria (now their Empress) in their homes once again for the first time in so many years.
We were gathered in what had become our favorite meeting area since returning, the kitchenette (remarkably reminiscent of one of those fifties kitchens with a curved dining table in a corner booth). There we could cluster together cozily and share our experiences of the day. With us, in addition to Gelhinda, were Senaria and Rann. I noticed that the boy looked unusually downcast.
"Anything wrong, Rann?" I asked, eliciting a hesitant nod in response.
"I was planning to tell you this evening, and now I feel really rotten after hearing your call for volunteers."
"Tell us what?" asked Gelhinda.
"I've been trying to reach my parents ever since I got back, but I never get any answer. I decided that I really ought to go home and see if they're okay. But now I feel like I'm deserting you all," he concluded.
Gelhinda put down her drink. "Rann, I think that's just what you should do," she said firmly. "Didn't you say they hadn't seen or heard from you in a year now?"
"I was told that personal calls were forbidden for the first six months," he explained sadly. "Then, when I tried after that to reach them I could never get through. Personal calls always got bottom priority under the Brizali, and our telecom service really started falling apart near the end."
"The military buildup for the invasion probably generated so much traffic that anything else just fell to the bottom of the pile," Kiri observed. "But you still can't get through?"
"Face it, Kiri," I pointed out, "at the moment everyone on Deshtiris is probably trying to reach someone else. Rann, I think you're doing the right thing. Just keep in mind that you still have a hearing to come back to, and besides, ex-Brizali aren't too popular right now, so you might want to watch your step."
It had become Senaria's turn to look thoroughly troubled during all this, and she finally waded in. "Rann, why don't I go with you? That's a long trip, especially with transportation so messed up." I knew how much it cost her to make the offer; ever since she'd triggered the idea of a volunteer force she'd talked of virtually nothing else.
Fortunately Gelhinda's common sense intervened. "Daughter," she said, "I think Rann will want to work things out with his parents on his own. It's going to be awkward enough as it is." Rann shot her a grateful glance. I also suspected that the idea of having Senaria along to protect him wouldn't have done his already battered ego a lot of good at the moment.
"I promise I'll be back soon," he said earnestly. "You've all been so kind to me, and I really do want to help. I'm awfully glad you understand." In response Senaria gave him a gentle squeeze on the shoulder.
"I'll ride with you to the train station tomorrow," she assured him. "Just let us know how it goes." Although the tracks into Deshti had been torn up by the Brizali a decade ago, the military authorities had at least set up a highway shuttle service to the nearest functioning rail line, which was about ninety miles away.
"I wonder how the referendum will go," mused Gelhinda, deliberately turning the conversation in another direction.
"Can there really be much doubt?" I retorted. "I can't believe very many people would want to stay in those Brizal hellholes." Arranging a planetwide referendum for twenty-four hours hence might seem like a Herculean task, but since it was really an informal poll all people had to do was to connect with a certain computer via their telecom and enter their ID code. Actually, one could vote any time between now and the deadline next evening; the results would be announced on the news about five minutes after that.
"I'm a lot more worried about the palace," Kiri said uncertainly. We had simply asked for volunteers and donations of materials to arrive any time starting tomorrow morning. We didn't really expect much of a turnout at first, considering the transportation situation. The rail line into Deshti would be re-laid as soon as possible, but that was inevitably months away. "What if nobody comes? Face it, people are trying to rebuild their lives right now. Who's going to drop everything to find their way here?"
"If that happens, we'll let Senaria do it all," I suggested, finally bringing a smile to Rann's face and a laugh from everyone else. Senaria gave me a mock glare.
"As long as you don't make me rebuild the sewers," she growled. This was currently a sore spot; apparently in restoring plumbing to this wing of the palace someone had failed to make sure the drains actually drained somewhere and the result had been the Day of the Stench. Fortunately that trifling oversight had quickly been corrected.
That night Kiri was about as restless as I'd ever seen her. Apologizing several times for keeping me awake, she finally slid out of bed and threw on her robe in frustration. "Why don't you talk about it?" I suggested quietly.
She turned to me in the near darkness and for a moment her eyes flared green like a cat's as they caught the light. She hesitated briefly, then sat herself down on the side of the bed. "I guess I've never really been in this kind of position before," she contemplated miserably.
"And what kind of position is that?" I asked.
She thought about it for a few moments. "Well, take this afternoon. We called for volunteers to help rebuild this palace. We didn't issue any orders, we didn't send out troops to round people up. We stepped out in front, and now we have to look back and see if anyone's actually going to follow us. What if nobody does? I've never commanded people before, and neither have you." I hid a smile in the darkness at that, but decided to let it pass.
"I suppose this was actually a pretty good experiment, wasn't it?" she continued savagely. "Because if nobody follows us on something as simple as this, will they support us when the going gets really tough? When we start closing down factories so they can be retooled to make something else, and meanwhile the workers have to live on public assistance? When we ask people to start shifting their entire lives around for the sake of a thirty-year-old memory?"
"I guess that's what you call leadership," I said calmly. "But it isn't something we do, is it? It has to be something we are. And if we aren't, there's not a lot we can do about it anyways. So why don't you try to get some sleep? Wearing a track in the floor just means more repair work for our volunteers."
"I hate it when you get logical," she grumbled. But she threw off her robe and crawled back into bed. Fifteen minutes later she was snoring loudly (something she rarely did), and I was the one wondering if I'd get any sleep that night.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
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