A few days later, having caught up with the most pressing of our business, we set out once again in the Futaba. Promising Valkar that we would really, truly stay out of trouble this time, we deflected his entreaties for us to take along a more substantial bodyguard and assured him that Rann was quite capable as a protector. Soon we were watching the dull grey sphere that was Deshtiris recede behind us, and shortly afterwards had gone to hyperspeed. Somehow the spectacle seemed commonplace and uninteresting, doubtless a reflection of our own still-benumbed sensibilities at the time.
"How do you plan to explain your war paint to your colleagues?" asked Kiri as we lazed around the Futaba's living quarters killing time.
"I'll tell them I was kidnapped by aliens and forced to do this," Brinkman snickered. "Besides, I've done stranger things in my day."
"Yeah," Kiri agreed, "I remember the year you sported an orange Mohawk for a semester."
"The hardest part was growing it back," observed Brinkman wryly as I frantically blinked away the mental picture that had popped into mind.
"Well, Halloween's coming up," Kiri suggested, "so you could use that as an excuse, I suppose."
At last we dropped out of hyperspace and set course for Pluto, where Brinkman spent several relatively happy hours taking various readings and shooting photographs from every imaginable angle and distance as Kiri obligingly navigated the Futaba according to his instructions. Eventually he seemed satisfied, and we were soon repeating the process with Neptune, when the telecom screen lit up bearing Holan's grim visage.
"What is it, Holan?" asked Kiri nervously. There was something in his face that made me uneasy as well.
"Your Majesties, I think you had better take a look at a few of the Earth television channels before you land. Something is happening."
"What do you mean, 'something?' " I asked, looking over Kiri's shoulder.
"There appears to have been an armed uprising in the United States of America. But with all due respect to Your Majesties, I think you should see for yourselves."
"Thank you, Holan," Kiri said as she broke the connection. "Well," she inquired, looking at the rest of us, "shall we?" and motioned towards the living quarters.
Astonished at Holan's message, we turned on the telecom in the Futaba's living room. There were still several U.S. news channels on the air, but many stations had already been shut down. Visibly stunned announcers spoke of shock troops armed with seemingly unbeatable weapons storming vital command centers and capturing many of the nation's military leaders within minutes of the start of the coup. Apparently the President's communications had been cut off, although rebel leaders were claiming he had already been captured.
"Bluff," Kiri snorted. "If they had him they'd exhibit him; it would destroy what morale is left. But it does look like he's isolated from his officers." Abruptly the broadcast was interrupted by a completely different transmission, apparently cut into the news feeds without warning. I felt my stomach knot up as the Brizal emblem, a red triangle within a white circle with a yellow star in the center, unexpectedly filled the screen. It was something I'd never expected to see again in my lifetime. I heard Kiri whisper an ancient Anglo-Saxon expletive.
"Stand by for an important message," intoned a voice-over after several seconds' pause. There was another wait, this time of a minute or more, before the voice returned. "A message to the people of the United States of America," it announced, and the Brizal logo was replaced by a face I'd never seen before. It was the face of a rather heavy-set man in his late forties, with slicked-back black hair, dark, deep-set eyes, and what looked like a perpetual five-o'clock shadow. It was a strong, rather intimidating face. For some reason he reminded me of the kind of predatory lawyer that ends up in politics, who starts out accumulating money but eventually realizes that power is the only really satisfying reward.
"My name is John Lucie," he said. "I and my compatriots have taken action to save this great nation from the chaos, crime and scandal that have been eating away at it from within for the past decade. If you are a law-abiding, patriotic citizen, you have nothing to fear from us. Stay indoors for your own safety until further notice. That is all for now."
The screen returned to the Brizal logo, and remained that way in silence. Kiri and I sat stunned. Finally I got up the courage to flip channels. Although most of the U.S. ones had apparently been pre-empted, there were still one or two that had not yet been shut down. One was carrying CNN, which was airing footage of a recent firefight at a barracks outside of Washington, D.C. There was no mistaking the green laser blasts that were systematically leveling the defenders' fortifications.
"This is unbelievable," I said finally. "And who the hell is John Lucie?" Kiri impatiently reminded me of the information the Qozernan Watchdog representative had passed along to us.
"This has to be connected somehow to Teyn," she said, her face deathly pale. "The Brizal emblem settles that. But do the ringleaders, including this Lucie, know what they're dealing with? And what is Teyn trying to accomplish?"
"Tenako said that once Qozernon was pacified Earth would be next," I suggested. "Maybe these are plans made before Tar Deshta, that they're carrying out because they haven't heard anything since."
Kiri shook her head. "I can't believe that if Teyn's people were here as recently as last month they didn't contact them. I wonder if, with Tenako dead, Teyn has decided to try conquer Earth for his own purposes. After all, with the Soviet Union out of the picture, an unscrupulous leader with all the resources of the United States behind him would have almost unlimited power if he were willing to be ruthless enough. And Teyn is certainly ruthless."
"That Lucie character looked pretty ruthless himself," Brinkman interjected with a shiver.
"They were able to cut into satellite communications," she said, thinking aloud. "That almost certainly means they have control of the computer networks that operate them. That's probably also how they cut off the President's communications from his troops. But if they can do it, so can I," she finished defiantly. Excusing herself, she informed us that she would be in her computer room for the next hour or so. Rann also suggested that perhaps he ought to stay up front in the Futaba and keep an eye on the displays.
Meanwhile we sat watching the broadcasts. There was no further news from the American networks; apparently they had now been completely disconnected from the communications net. However, there was still plenty of news from the overseas services, who retained contact with their reporters on the spot. It was evident that the rebels were rolling over all opposition without difficulty, and I wondered aloud why it was taking them as long as it was to complete their conquest.
"It's probably a matter of scale," Brinkman observed in his usual analytical manner. "It doesn't matter how powerful your weapons are, if you only have a limited number of troops. In effect they need to occupy the country, and I suspect that their actual numbers are relatively small."
" 'An unholy coalition of disaffected military officers, along with firearm worshippers, extreme right-wing religious cults, and race fanatics of all varieties,' " I mused aloud.
"What's that?" asked Brinkman curiously.
"Some intelligence we received earlier," I responded hastily. "We've been hearing rumblings about something like this for a while, but I never thought it could actually happen. And I wasn't expecting the Brizali to be involved." We were interrupted by a cough from the doorway, where Rann stood waiting.
"Holan says there's an important message for you," he informed us. "It's from Deshtiran military headquarters." Disentangling a reluctant Kiri from her computers, we made our way to the front of the Futaba, to find the officer's image again waiting for us on the telecom.
"Your Majesties," he said, "I've been asked to get this message to you as quickly as possible."
"Is this more bad news, Holan?" I said heavily. "We've had a lot of that lately."
"I'm afraid so," he apologized.
It seemed that the Deshtiran tracking systems had discovered a small vessel about to enter the planet's atmosphere. It had ignored warning hails, and when a patrol was sent to intercept it they had narrowly escaped incineration by an unexpected nuclear explosion. "The good news is that apparently the ship's fusion-based self-destruct device malfunctioned; otherwise there'd be nothing left of the contents or of our patrol ship," Holan said. I grimaced. "The bad news is that they found fragments of firearms of Earth manufacture in the debris. Apparently a lot of firearms," he added, "although we have no way of ascertaining definite quantities."
"Thank you, Holan," I said. "Let us know if anything further develops on this." He saluted and the screen went blank.
Kiri sat frozen in shock. I knew what she was thinking; I was facing it myself. The only way to defend Deshtiris against an influx of twentieth-century Earth weapons would be to fight fire with fire. I recoiled angrily, remembering how on Earth firearms had turned schools and offices into battlefields and slaughterhouses. There had to be another way, I raged to myself. And then I had an idea.
"Kiri," I said softly. She looked up at me. There was a darkness in her eyes that rather frightened me. "Kiri, you said you had access to Earth's Internet traffic. Would you show me what I have to do to access the Web?"
"The Web? At a time like this?" she said coldly, repressed anger in her voice.
"Trust me on this," I said. "Or at least humor me."
Summoning an apologetic smile, she led me back into the Futaba's living quarters, to her room filled with computer equipment. After showing me the necessary commands to make the connection, she watched as I called up one of the ubiquitous search engines and then silently left me to my frivolous diversion. I found that response time was quite good, considering that we were many millions of miles from Earth. Although there was about a two and a half second delay in each direction, the time required for the satellite signals we were intercepting to reach the hidden hyperspace relay on the moon, the remaining distance was through hyperspace and the added delay infinitesimal. All in all, it was no worse than surfing the Web via a telephone connection with a fast modem.
And I found what I was looking for. Remarkably, it was in a page sponsored by the National Rifle Association. I made the necessary printouts and stashed them with my other belongings until I could present my idea.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, without written permission from the author,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|