Chapter 5 – Squabbles "Enet, you are being unreasonable."
"Unreasonable?" Veta flinched as Enet's voice got shriller and she whirled to face her. "Unreasonable? Why you honor-less subjugate excrement farmer! You will get yourself killed! And then where will we be?" Veta knew she meant, “Where will I be?” But she didn't say anything. She just looked down at her feet. She was sure Enet would calm down after she was done with her shrieking.
“You just stand there. You have nothing to say?” Enet paused for an answer. Then she gave up. “You ‘real’ Warriors are all alike. Just looking to get killed.” Exasperated, Enet turned away again. Enet was a Tech and always seemed to hold that against Veta. Enet had always wanted to be a Warrior, but she had been selected when she was cloned by the Mother’s Drones to be a tech. Techs were just made more small and fragile than Warriors. Enet would never be able to be a Warrior. She just wasn’t ever going to be strong enough. And, Veta admitted only to herself, not coordinated enough either. Veta had given up trying to convince Enet that her tech skills were just as valuable to the Flight as a Warrior’s skills.. Every time she tried, it just upset Enet more. The caste difference was too obvious. Enet had gotten bitter over the years with too many lost friends and disappointments. If only she’d learn to accept her place, Veta thought.
“Enet.” Veta tried to coax Enet to turn and face her again. “Its just one landing, and the subjugates are sure to be just barely technical. Serik in Recon says they haven't even gotten off their excrement pile of a planet yet. At least, not that counts. Air-burner combustion engines. Can you believe it? They're not even going to be real adversaries.” Veta put her hands on Enet’s back. “Remember those hairy primates on Ivnar? They almost blew themselves up trying to defend against us. Remember how ridiculous they were; fat and waddling, hairy and covered with lice insects?”
“Oh, Veta. Those don’t count. They were so inept and comical. Even the Mother decided to leave them in their mud-holes in the end.” Enet turned to look at Veta. Veta looked down into Enet’s eyes. Like all clones, it was almost like looking in a mirror. There were some differences. Enet was a paler, thinner, and smaller version of Veta. She was shorter, too. The top of Enet's head only came to a level with Veta's chin. Differences caused by the variations of growth hormones and life experiences. That, and their Maker’s decision that one would be a Warrior and the other a Tech.
“You can't believe everything the propagandists tell you,” Enet softened. “Veta, we've lost so many. I don't know what I'll do without you.”
Veta heard the capitulation in her voice. “Have faith in Galeta. This is the only way to be sure I don't really end up a subjugate excrement farmer.” Veta only half-feigned disgust as she said, “You know how I feel about those dirty planets with their crawling legions of bugs everywhere! It’s so . . . so . . . unsanitary.”
Enet laughed at the look of abject horror on Veta’s face at the thought of ending up as a planet-bound agricultural worker for The Mother. “You'll never be a farmer, Veta. What your incompetence didn't kill, you would out of shear frustration.”
“Come here.” Veta said, taking Enet in her arms. “You worry like one of those detestable Drones.”
“Hush, they'll hear you one of these days.”
"Enet! We are clones of the Flight. No matter how close the Drones are to The Mother, we are superior. We are female,” she repeated, “and that’s more like The Mother than they can ever be. They are male and inferior.”
“Ummm, Veta, you make me glad to be a clone, even a Tech.” Enet clung to Veta and began to mouth Veta's ear flaps and neck.
“Enet, let us give each other pleasure while we can. We are only clones and our span is always too brief. Remember, ‘Not one of us dies of old age’.”
“You and your mottos!” Enet retorted, but she didn’t resist as Veta motioned at the light sensor and pulled Enet over to the sleeping pallet, where they toppled over onto it in a tangle of limbs.
When Veta started to speak, Enet covered her mouth. “Shut up. No mottos. Do you think that saying such things entices me? Silly Warrior.” Enet pinched. Hard! Veta squealed, and then the wrestling match was on. Later, Veta and Enet embraced each other in the dark and whispered and giggled. Then they gave themselves to an enjoyment that no Mother or Drone had ever understood. The sterile clones had no need to mate. The mock mating was like much of the other activities of the clones. The Clones were an enigma The Mothers and their Drones could not fathom. In the end, they ignored it, as they ignored much of the perversions of their mutated offspring.
Afterwards Veta lay next to the sleeping Enet, thinking. Enet’s brains were what made her and Veta a good match. But when her emotions were flowing, there was no reasoning. Veta was glad that the clones weren’t like the other members of the Hive. She was proud of the differences between the Clones of the Flight and the other members of the Swarm. We are the mutated clones of the Mother’s offspring, Veta mused. Unlike the Drones or the Workers, we were made to be better suited for life in space than them. The other castes of the Hive treat us as inferior, but no matter what they think, we are more like the Mother than any of the others. Like the Drones, we can think and reason better than the Workers. Though those vile Drones would deny it, we are above all the others in intellect and Tech skills. We are inferior only to the Mother.
This was a common belief among the clones and they kept this belief a secret to themselves to avoid harsh treatment by the Drones, who we must obey by order of The Mother and Galeta. Life in the Hive requires many secrets. Drones are cunning, and their higher caste allows them mastery of us clones. This is as the Mother wishes. As Galeta wishes. But we are greatly beloved by The Mother for our dedication and sacrifice, she assured herself. Although we do not look like the rest of the Hive. We clones all resemble each other far more than we do the Workers or Drones. We were selected to have the honor of these modifications. When we were specialized, our entire form was modified. The Drones in the Bureaucracy were all smaller and more cunning by far than the Alpha Drones that vied for the Mother in the Rituals. And Workers, hah, every function of Worker from Nurse to Cleaner had a modified form. But not a mod greater than the clones! Every single one of us Clones looks like the others. Our uniformity is our strength, blessed be Galeta.
Sure we Warriors are larger versions than the others, but not much more so than the Mechs. And, Techs and Meds are indistinguishable. You never know who you are flirting with between those two. Not that she would ever want Enet to know, she laughed quietly. Often she found that she knew almost as much about some Tech or Mech fields as they did. And she knew that clones could adapt to fill in for any missing members. Part of why we are so much the same. We are interchangeable parts. So much more practical than a Drone, she felt derision for the male-inferiors. She was a mother, too. A small-mother, but all females were small-mothers. She was glad the Drones with their expedition had died. That made her tremble a bit. If they knew how she felt, they would euthanize her she was sure.
Veta, thought of Galeta and the Mother. And how Galeta had made many Mothers. And each Mother made her Hive and raised Her Swarm. Top among each Swarm was their Flight. In a Hive, the Flight was all that stood between the Mother with Her Swarm, and the Hostile Universe. A Universe that Galeta called upon them to Subjugate for Her Hive.
Garret walked down the aisle of desks headed for the conference room. He had his jacket and tie on for the meeting and felt good. Everything working on his project and at this meeting he was going to go over the fundamental changes he had made to the device. That and tout how well the proto-type functioned.
As he walked along he saw Linda McBride leaning over a co-workers desk. Her long blonde hair was hanging down and swung as she chatted with the other person. She had a v-neck sweater-blouse on and a blue skirt that was just short enough for him to notice it was short, especially with her leaned over. Everything fit nicely, he thought. She really looks good. I definitely am going to have to ask her out.
As he got closer she looked up and saw him, she smiled widely as their eyes met. She straightened up and said, “Hi, Garret,” cheerfully.
“You’re all dressed up. Got a meeting,” she inquired.
“As a matter of fact I do. I finished up my work on the Orbison project.” “I thought you were having trouble with that.”
“I was, but I figured it out. Just had to start from scratch, that’s all. They’ll be very satisfied with how the gadget works now.”
“That’s good. I need to get over to accounting, there’s a spreadsheet I’m going over with Stephanie,” she said as she squeezed by him in the aisle. The aisle was narrow and her body brushed his. He could feel the shape of her breasts as they passed. “Oh. Excuse me.” She stopped briefly and looked straight into his face. Then she giggled as she hurried away. Garret stood there watching her shape as she walked away.
“Ahem!” The person she had been talking to, an older grumpy looking lady was frowning at him.
He shut his mouth quickly and said, “Uh. . . I was just going. . . Right.” He whirled and fled. Man! That was embarrassing. God, I hope that old grouch doesn’t tell her I was staring at her ass. He hurried to the meeting.
“. . . And as you can see, the new redesign of these parts has turned this project around.” Garret finished up feeling very satisfied. He had watched several heads nodding as he went over the device and the changes. Some of them appreciated what he had done, but he could see Jeremy near the head of the table frowning. Good! He was glad to have fixed something that Jere couldn’t. And he thought smugly, everyone at that table knew it, too.
As the meeting broke up, several shook his hand as they were leaving and made congratulatory remarks. While these weren’t the top dogs of the company, they were all solid fairly senior staff. The Big guys had all left straight away and were gone, with Jeremy Rudstein trailing behind them. He shook his head. Hopefully I have bought some grace with that, he thought as he wandered out of the conference room.
He saw Linda across the office at the copier. He swung out around the perimeter making sure that his path was one that she could not avoid if she were to finish and head back to her desk before he reached her. As he got nearer he saw that he needn’t have worried. She had a large stack of reports that she was collating and sorting.
“Hi,” he said right behind her causing her to jump.
“Oh. Hi, Garret. You scared me,” she accused him.
“Sorry. I. . . uh, I was wondering if you were busy after work?”
She stopped and turned towards him. She looked surprised and pleased. She looked at him for a moment before saying, “I was hoping you’d ask me that sometime. I was beginning to wonder if you weren’t interested.” She smiled at his stunned look. “Oh, relax. You’ve been working too hard. All work and no play, you know what they say.”
“Well, maybe. . . but I am interested. How about a drink at Diego’s up the street?”
“I’d like that, but I am tied up this evening. Can we make it tomorrow after work instead?” Garret had deflated a bit when she said she couldn’t make it. He was surprised at her forwardness, but was glad. It made it easier to work through the awkward phase.
“Sure. Sure. Tomorrow would be great. I’ll look forward to it.”
“You’d better go before you get me into trouble for standing around and visiting instead of working.” She smiled though and winked. “Tomorrow,” she said.
Yeah! Garret headed out to catch the subway to his flat. He was on top of the world. He’d fixed the engineering problem, rubbed it in Jeremy’s nose, and got a date with Linda, all in one day. Man! I have got to buy a lottery ticket, he laughed to himself.
The French Minister of Intelligence, Pierre Lamour, set down the report. “This is hard to accept.” He signaled to one of his bodyguards who poured and handed him a new glass of cognac. He was sitting at his copious desk in his den at his personal estate near Marseilles. “We have verified what it says, of course, but still. . .” He left his sentence unfinished.
Andre LeGalais was sitting in a much less comfortable chair in front of the Minister’s desk. “I . . . I am not sure I understand, sir.”
“This is only half true. Enough that you paid good euros for it, understandably, Andre. Understandably. Do not worry that you have made an error. You have not. It has just turned out to not be so. Forget about it. We will look further, but . . . the odds of anything else coming of it is very slim.”
“Yes, sir. I am sorry, sir.” The Minister waved him to silence.
“I said not to worry. In fact, good job. You got it to us. It is not your fault it has turned out to be garbage.” The Minister swirled his cognac and looked into it. “Why don’t you take a week off. Naples has a nice hotel on the beach that we can make available to you. It is a reward.”
“Thank you, sir, but if my information is worthless . . .”
“I said not to worry. Go on. Get your vacation started.” Andre stood and gave a sharp short bow, turned smartly, and was shown out of the room by two more bodyguards who shut the doors after he left.
For a moment after the door shut, there was a silence. Then a thin man in a nondescript black suit who had been standing with the guards stepped up to the Minister. “Excellent. I do not doubt that he will put this out of his mind.”
“Yes,” the Minister replied. “He will not want others to know that he was deceived. This will ensure that our knowledge of these aliens is kept secret. Now we must decide how to proceed. Have we found anything else out about the American’s search?”
“Many small bits and pieces, sir. Our intelligence service is combing through what has been found. We are at a disadvantage if we hoped to make contact before the Americans. They have tied up nearly every observatory in the world and their media is talking about the discovery of a new asteroid. They’ve played on the public’s fears of a possible impact, but say the risk is very low. They are “studying it closely to verify we are all safe. A good story, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Unfortunate that it is not we who are in their position, Missuer Smith. Your agency has slipped up, Jacques.” Jacques frowned at the accusation, but said nothing. The Minister sat quietly staring at his cognac for a moment. He took a sip and set the glass down. “I shared the presence of our alien visitors with President Rouseaux the other day. Rouseaux has forbidden our sharing it within the European Union. He has made it clear that he does not want to have to compete with any more nations than necessary to make first contact.”
“As your Chief of Espionage, let me assure you that we have stepped up our intelligence operations, and data is coming in. At first the intelligence is going to be a few days to a week or more old by the time we get it. We are playing a catch up game. But soon, I assure you, we will know what they know as they know it.”
“Good, Jacque. President Rouseaux has also authorized our space agency, the Centre National d'Études Spatiales, to proceed with an immediate launch of an Ariane 6 rocket with the Miranda probe on it.”
The thin man folded his arms across his chest and began to pace. “The probe is designed to take scientific measurements and pictures of Neptunes moon, Miranda. Neptune is not even close to where these ships are suspected. What good is that in this situation?” He complained.
The Minister smiled. “Ahhh, but the probe is being reprogrammed and its course recalculated to take it directly into the proximity of our solar system where the Americans are searching. It is already set up with a new array of communications devices to make contact with whatever it finds. We stand to gain much if we can be the first nation to speak with an alien race.”
“The European Space Agency will be very upset when we launch a year early and to a new target.”
“Bah. The ESA are headquartered in Paris and are under the joint functional supervision of the French Ministries of Defense and Research. It will take a great deal of time for the other European countries to wrest the control of ESA from us. By that time, it will be too late.”
His breath made clouds of steam in the cold night air. Bundled up in his heavy coat, he looked more like a balding chubby three year-old going out to play in the snow, rather than one of the world’s leading astronomers. It was so cold here on the top of Mount Graham, especially in winter. He was minimally thankful that the dry Arizona desert air made the cold less intense, still it was too brisk to be bearable for long. The twin Large Binocular Telescopes behind him was still the most powerful visual telescope in the world. The twin telescopes were linked by computers and had proved long since that two lenses were better than one. It was 10 times more powerful than the Hubble. He wondered again what he was doing here in person. He should be back in his warm offices at the University of Arizona, Tempe.
There are plenty of others to scan the sky, he thought as he looked up at it again. Especially since the Feds are picking up the tab for everything on this one. But, the Foundation wanted his name to help justify the huge expenditures. So, not only was every available person they had room for here, but so was he. Get everyone on the payroll as long as the money lasts. He snorted. How many times had he prostituted himself for science? The Foundation had him running every test and scanning technique he could think of. He’d even hauled in several dozen small refractor telescopes and set them up in the parking lot. They were running shifts of grad students on the refractors just hoping one would stumble on a visual trace of some kind. He doubted they’d find optical evidence with one of those, but, well . . . he was grasping at straws here.
“Professor Hazarian!?” A female voice said.
“Yes?” He said turning towards the voice.
“What are you doing out here? It’s freezing!” Amad Hazarian recognized Sandi Wilson. She’d been assigned to manage the logistics and budget aspects of the effort. Amad had known her for at least fifteen years, off and on, on a dozen or so projects. She was a strong manager, tight with a dollar. Her job, he had just accused her of the other day, was to bury the government accountants in their own paperwork. And she was very good at it.
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” He lied. “I needed to get out of that stuffy little trailer they call an office that they stuck us in.” He thought of his desk crammed in between stacks of supplies and equipment within the trailer. He shuddered to think what would happen to him if the stacks overhead were to shift. He wasn’t sure they would find him for days under all that junk.
“I can understand that. You’d think that with all the money they’re spending on this, that we’d get newer trailers.” Sandi bushed her shoulder length blond hair back from her face. The breeze was just strong enough to scatter loose strands of it about her head. In her fifties, she still had an energetic vibrancy that amazed Amad.
“I’ve been in worse,” he responded, thinking of a job he had years ago in Equador. “But, I admit, it has been a while. What are you doing out tonight?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” she responded. “My sleeping quarters are even worse than the offices. And, I don’t think the mattress is more than an inch thick.”
“Ah, well . . . Sleep is over rated anyway.” He said returning his gaze to the sky.
“Has anyone seen anything yet, Amad?”
“You mean something ‘out of the ordinary’ I’m sure?” He asked smiling. When she nodded he continued, “No. I have not heard of anything yet. Domino’s boys are going to start over again comparing our earliest photos with all the new ones first thing tomorrow morning. Domino hopes this will tell us if there is a very slow moving object out there that is perhaps non-reflective. Barring that . . . I suspect it will just be a chance observation.”
“Have you, uh, heard the latest rumors that are going around? I mean the one about what we are supposed to be looking for?” Sandi was trying to sound nonchalant.
Amad sighed. He turned to find Sandi earnestly staring at him. He bit off the wise crack he had planned to make. He realized she must be seriously worried from her look. “Sandi. What is this? Same old rumor as always isn’t it? UFO’S. Little green men. So what?” Amad felt his accent reasserting itself. “We are probably looking for lost space junk that the CIA put up to spy with.”
“No, Amad. It’s different this time. You know we’re looking too far out from Earth. A missing spy satellite shouldn’t have that kind of escape velocity. Even if it did, we’d have been looking for it before it was anywhere near that far away. And I’m not talking about just a few crack pots. Did you know that DeHavland is doing the same thing we are down in Chile?”
“De Havland, too?” Amad needed to think about it. De Havland was at the Gemini South Observatory. It did secretly please him to think of De Havland gasping for air at an elevation of 9,000 meters in the Andes. Maybe there was more to this than he thought. Were the rumors he was hearing true? Is the United States Government really was looking for little green men, or bug eyed monsters even, from outer space. He would have been quick to dismiss it, but he’d spoken to Wolfgang over at the Keck Observatory, also known as Gemini North, on the peak of the Mauna Kea Volcano in Hawai’i. The same frenzied searching of the skies was being conducted over there. Karl Wolfgang also claimed that the Hubble and its three other sister telescopes in orbit were all searching space round the clock. He even claimed that JPL had all the probes they could activate refocused onto the same area.
“Too?” Sandi pounced on the word. “You do know that there is more searching going on than is being made public!”
Amad sighed again and then told her about his conversation with Karl. “Same as here.” He finished up. “No one would tell Karl what it was they were looking for either. ‘Anything unusual’ are the only instructions. That and where they wanted the most intense search targeted. Same section of space we’re looking at.”
“So what do you think, Amad?” Sandi had a blunt way of cutting straight to the heart of an issue. “I heard from Georgette Jefferson up at the Home Offices that the Government really is looking for UFO’s, several great big ones. She claims one of them either blew up or fired off a set of rockets bigger than a dozen old Saturn 5’s at lift-off. She also said that there are already several reports of unusual incidents coming in. She heard that the reported incidents are mostly movements in background stars here and there. A couple that winked out and then winked back a few minutes later. It only happens for a short period of time, then it goes away. But it’s not happening on a straight trajectory. It’s happening scattered about the whole area. No one would have ever seen it if they hadn’t been looking hard. She overheard James Mckinney say to someone on the phone that something, or things, are moving in front of the stars, and causing the light to diffract around them.”
“Mckinney doesn’t do science.” Amad retorted. “He must be repeating someone else’s theories.”
“Who cares whose theory it is?” Sandi threw her hands in the air. “This isn’t about McKinney. Don’t you get it? Something may actually be out there this time. We may actually have some new discovery about to happen. When it does, it may be enough to turn the world upside down.”
Amad was suddenly afraid of where this conversation had taken him. “Sandi, you know better than I that we cannot be saying things we can’t prove. That’ll get you sacked and black-listed in a nano-second. We cannot be spreading any rumors that cannot be proven beyond a shadow of doubt. No . . . until I personally see these ‘little green men’, it has to be that they have lost some very valuable piece of space equipment. They must want it back before the press gets hold of the story. Do not be spreading rumors, Sandi. I have work to do.” Turning he stomped back towards the warm trailer. He looked back to see her standing unmoving, staring after him. He knew he had been brusque and felt bad about it, but he had to move fast. He had to get hold of Domino and have his students start scanning the hundreds of photos they’d already taken for stars that moved or blinked in a much bigger area. Damn, it was so obvious to him now that they had been looking for the wrong things. Mumbling to himself in Afghani, Amad Hazarian, began to make new plans for his search.
Three elderly Chinese men sat at a simple black table together. They were the faces of the triumvirate who were in charge of the ‘Guoanbu’. That was the Chinese name for its version of the KGB. One of the modern attempts to limit their power had split the decision making head of the agency into three. This was to balance their power one against the other in this new age of democracy. The room was bare of all other furniture except one small table holding refreshments of water and tea. The utilitarian glare of the fluorescent tubes above them made the room seem sterile and harsh. Chairman Zhou listened to the one fly buzzing about the room. Chairman Tiew waved at it in exasperation. How subtle and yet clear to him did the fly’s message seem. Tiew was Taiwanese and it rankled Zhou that he was here. The Taiwanese has resisted the Mainland for decades before succumbing to its rightful place. They were still not completely resolved to their place.
Woo was at least Cantonese. His southern ancestors had served Zhou’s Mandarin ones. Zhou was inordinately proud of his heritage and took pains to let others know he was Mandarin. They were all in identical black suits, but Zhou had a bright red tie. He wore it to dare the others to say something. He knew it was childish, but it entertained him, especially when he saw the pained look on Tiew’s face. It was there now.
“The Ministry of State Security has an agent we use in Malaysia and Thailand extensively, a Mr. Chiang Heung. Mr. Chiang’s information led us to discover that both the Russians and Americans know of these ships in space. The Ministry has confirmed that through several other sources.” Tiew had been insistent before of Chiang’s value. How like him to support Heung, who was of Hong Kong, another rat’s bed of insurrection. Zhou sighed but continued to listen. “We have had it confirmed It is possible that they actually shared this intelligence, but not with us.”
“We need to remember,” Woo stated yet again. “The people are not able to understand the impact of this approach of an alien race. We do not want to start a panic. It was just last year we had the food riots in Jiujiang in the Jiangxi province. We cannot afford such happening again.”
Zhou spoke loudly to assert his senior position, “There is an advantage to pretending our ignorance. This allows us to contain the risk to the public and our cities. At the same time, it allows us to not alert the Americans or Russians of our knowledge and possibly damage our trade relationships. Finally, it allows us to prepare a plan for how we will convince the aliens that we are the ones they should deal with. As the most populous country on the earth, we have a legitimate claim to being its rightful representatives.”
“How can we do the last?” Woo inquired.
“We make it appear that the Americans and Russians are dangerous, and that we are more civilized.”