Joined: 29 Dec 2005
Location: Dancing with the Mara
|Posted: Fri Jun 09, 2006 8:44 pm Post subject: An Open System - Part One
|This is part one of a post Season 4 story I've been working on. As ever, all feedback gratefully received. Part Two should be posted in the next few days, if the remote control K9 doesn't prove too much of a distraction!!
AN OPEN SYSTEM
Without the drugs, patrol duty would have been unbearable. It was all well and good sending patriotic men and women out into space to protect the Federation’s borders. On their first assignments they were generally keen, usually young and invariably full of dreams of heroism and glory. But when they had learnt how little of interest was ever likely to happen to them, those same patriotic men and women inevitably became bored and careless. That was when the mistakes happened. Even in the old days when Computer Control had been all pervasive, an unfocussed pilot was a risk. A wandering mind wouldn’t notice the tell tale signs of an unwanted intruder. If that intrusion were from the Outer Darkness, the results could be catastrophic.
The last War had proved the need for vigilance. In retrospect, there had been countless indications that the Enemy was preparing to attack. But the computer systems could only provide data not decipher it and the human beings who’s job it was to protect the Federation had been too lost in their own dreams and ambitions to understand what they were seeing.
The drugs stopped all that. They killed the dreams, stray thoughts and nagging anxieties. The pilots were able to focus totally on their duties. It was not mind control - it simply made a difficult job easier to endure.
Or so the theory went.
Flight Lieutenant Nateman did not agree. To him, the drugs were not just a part of his job. They were the key to a new life.
‘Ore Carrier Augustus requesting clearance for Gamma Four Lateral Approach’
The woman’s voice was badly distorted by interference but he had no problem making out every word. She sounded middle aged. Her face would be lined and hardened by the rigours of her work . Her ginger hair would have streaks of grey, but she would never find the time or the money to get it treated. The drugs allowed him to know people so well, just from the sounds of their voices.
‘Repeat. Ore Carrier Augustus requesting clearance for Gamma Four Lateral Approach’
Nateman shifted in the cramped cockpit of the patrol ship, moving his head closer to the console before he spoke into the grill of the communication system. There were stories that some first time pilots were driven mad by the claustrophobic confines of the patrol ships. Nateman found that difficult to understand. He liked the cockpit, especially since it had begun to stink of his own body
‘State password’ he said, deliberately whispering.
There was a momentary pause at the other end. Nateman’s gaze drifted up to the triangular viewing screen. The ore carrier was a squat, clumsy looking thing. Little more than two orange storage pods and a black guidance unit. A single bolt would reduce it all to flotsam in seconds.
‘Password is Propitiate. Request clearance’
He could picture the look on the woman’s face in the millisecond before the bolt hit. Too amazed for anger or even fear. Then her skin would burn and shrivel and she would be gone.
The voice came again. He could hear her sudden doubt and anxiety.
‘I repeat. Password is Propitiate. Request clearance’
Nateman ran his hand over the firing controls. His fingers left a trail of sweat on the console.
He cleared his throat, before he spoke.
‘Clearance granted Ore Carrier Augustus. Proceed’
There was no reply as the ore carrier begun to move out of range. He could still destroy it. The woman would be even more surprised then. That might be fun.
But no. That was too easy. The other ship had barely any defences let alone an offensive capability. It was not the type of opponent that this patrol ship had been designed to engage.
He decided to alter course. Look elsewhere. The flight computer nervously demanded an explanation, but he ignored it. Later on he would explain to it that there were new priorities. It would surely understand.
As for the other two members of the crew…well, they would understand too.
‘Let’s drop all the Commissioner Sleer crap, shall we? It’s obvious who you are’
He must be mad, she thought. Mad or at the very least stupid. Surely he must realise that she had but give to the order and he would be dead within the hour? Of course, as there was no-one else in the room with them she could have killed him herself. It would hardly have been the first time. This room had seen so many secret deaths. The scarlet drapes and impassive marble statues looted from a planet the name of which she had long since forgotten, seemed to bear witness to all those who had met their end here.
‘And who I am?’ she asked with a smile.
The young man sitting in the bronze chair facing her returned the smile. He rested his elbows on the obsidian table and carried on fearlessly.
‘Oh come on Servalan. You have one of the most recognisable faces in the history of Federation politics. Most of the Presidents were bald old men who had lost half of their teeth and all of their bladder control. You…stood out’
My God, she thought, he is bold. It was a wonder he had managed to live this long.
‘Are you complimenting me? Or are you hoping that if I’m amused I might want to engage your…services’
Adnan smiled again. He was rather an ugly young man, with a small mouth, a large nose and narrow eyes. His hair was tied into a tight pony tail. The metallic blue tunic he was wearing seemed much too big for his wiry frame and the black trousers were too small. Altogether, not a predisposing figure, but he certainly had a disarming smile. Maybe that was what had kept him alive?
‘Complimenting you. We were glad to have a leader with style’
Without thinking, she turned to examine herself in the full length mirror that hung on one wall. The red kimono was an excellent fit she thought. Not a single lock of her ebony hair had escaped from the tight bun it was pinned into. It had taken her assistants over an hour to dress her and apply her make up. Of course, they knew that the results had to be perfect and what the consequences would be for them if they were not.
Still, she wasn’t going to be swayed by flattery.
‘I was never a leader of the Terra Nostra’ she corrected him. ‘By the time I became President of the Federation, you were a broken force. Space City and the Shadow fields were destroyed by the first wave of Andromedan ships’
Adnan nodded sadly.
‘A terrible blow’
‘And a mistake, by all accounts. Most analysis suggests that the Andromedans thought that Space City was the nexus for Federation ciphers. The Terra Nostra were destroyed because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time’
‘Not quite destroyed. And thank you’
Servalan frowned. She suddenly felt as though she were no longer entirely in control of the conversation. It was an unfamiliar and unpleasant sensation.
‘Thank you for what?’
‘Confirming who you are. Not that there was any doubt. Half of the Federation must know by now’
Did he expect her to be frightened? To plead with him to keep her secret? Obviously Adnan didn’t know how many times she had played out this scenario, usually in less comfortable surroundings than this.
‘How very clever of them’ she said evenly.
‘Not really. You are far too useful to the Federation. Or at least your Pacification Program is. It is in their interests as much as yours for this charade to continue’
She leaned back into the black leather cushions of her golden chair.
‘And is that it?’ Is that the sole reason why you asked for a meeting with me? To tell me what half the Federation apparently all ready knows?’
‘No‘ said Adnan, his tone as level as hers. ‘I wanted to tell you that you need a new strategy’
Adnan spread out his long, spindly arms to encompass the ornate room.
‘You understand power. You understand the trappings of power. The psychology of it. That’s why you have survived even when hundreds of people know that you are a disgraced former President’
She raised an eyebrow at that.
‘Be very careful of what you say. My toleration of impertinence is limited’
He inclined his head. Servalan hoped that she had scared him, but somehow doubted it.
‘Disgraced in their eyes only. Of course’
‘But you have survived. Because you act like someone that should survive. That’s how power works. That’s why we had so many rituals in the Terra Nostra - because our reputation was built on the performance we put on for the rest of the galaxy as much as anything we actually did’
She couldn’t resist striking at the opening he had left her, even though she was sure Adnan had done it deliberately.
‘It didn’t seem to do you much good when the Andromedans attacked. Your…theatrics didn’t impress them’
He leaned even further forward and Servalan automatically reached for the gun under her desk. Before her hand had tightened on the grip, Adnan was speaking. His narrow eyes were suddenly wide and unblinking.
‘Yes, that’s exactly the point. We didn’t see it coming. History threw something at us that we weren’t prepared for. And that’s what always happens in the end. However powerful you are, history will always have a surprise in store’
So that was what he had been driving towards.
‘And is that what is going to happen to me, Adnan? Something I haven’t prepared for?’
He leaned back in the chair.
‘Yes. And I can help you to survive it. Without me, you’ll be dead within the next six months’
She still had her hand on the gun. It would be an easy matter to kill him now. Her assistants would clear away the body and she could attend to the many other matters pressing for her attention.
But he had her interest, there was no doubt about it. He acted like a reckless fool who thought he could say whatever he wanted to whoever he chose. But there was a certain…sense to his words.
She would see where this lead and then decide.
‘Tell me then’ she said.
Everything in life is only for now.