|Previous Page||Next Page|
|Home Page||Index Page|
Contact With Chaos: Chapter Three
Last updated: Friday, February 13, 2009 19:37 EST
Mark quickly tired of breakfast on the run. Intel was coming in at too fast a rate to keep track of. He didn't need to know finer points of evolutionary development, geography or species distribution, except as they related to political ramifications. Even with that, he rarely left the research bay, and when he did he returned as soon as he was rested, sometimes before.
To add to the stress, today they would enter orbit around the planet, at geostationary distance. Everyone was certain there was no threat, but, as he had to keep reminding them, political and social threats did not need to reach orbit. Being seen could create any number of disasters humans would ultimately be responsible for. It was ironic that to determine the potential threat, they had to get close enough to be such a threat.
Egan, and Margov, though she didn't say so, wanted to land now. Betang and the scientists would be happy to take years, creeping slowly closer and writing entire libraries of information before actually contacting natives. The military and diplomats were somewhere in between.
He kept track of the approach on a separate window on his desk, while dealing with the multitude of nitnoy crap and real issues constantly being generated. Would he approve an active scan of the near space? Had he seen these improved biome charts? Here was a tentative tectonic history for the last million years and an environmental history of growth and climate. No additional news on alien technology, except that it was clustered around river estuaries and mountains.
Three mornings later, he entered the bay chewing a nutrient bar of some description and saw McDonald waiting anxiously.
"What do you have, Land?" he muffled around a mouthful of food, if it could be called that.
"Well, there's good news and bad news," McDonald said with his trademark slight smile.
"There always is," Mark agreed.
"The air is breathable. We knew that. We can drink the water, as long as it's filtered. I wouldn't even touch anything else unprotected."
"Toxic chemistry. All the plants will burn like acid ferns or blister like Earth poison ivy. Any wounds are going to burn like firethorns. Ingesting anything is going to cause massive damage to the GI tract, and likely be toxic as well, possibly at the enzymic level."
"Will we need respirators against pollen?"
"Uh…" McDonald obviously hadn't thought that far yet. "I don't think so. It wouldn't be a bad idea to take some, though. Long sleeves, bloused pants, tight fabric, gloves wise for those who like to touch or lean on things. We may be able to devise a salve to protect skin."
"Please do all of that. We can lighten precautions afterwards if it seems prudent."
Mark sighed. The good news, from his point of view, was that it would limit interaction and make it more controllable. The bad was that the more gear needed increased the likelihood of technology transfer and would make it harder to create a comfortable environment. He decided that was a worthwhile payoff, for now.
"Can you use a worst case scenario for that when presenting the data to HMG?"
"I already did."
Mark heard a sudden voice in his earphone. Lieutenant Phelan, intelligence officer, said, "Citizen, I need you now!"
"At my desk, talk and show," he said, facing the 3D cube set in it. An image of the surface rippled and expanded. It was a flat image from high altitude.
"What am I looking at?" Mark asked.
"Watch as I zoom in," Zihn said, hooked into the same circuit.
The continent grew and spread in the screen, terrain features growing and rising, with a vague brownish area defining an area of habitation. As the resolution passed 2000 meters, lines became visible, irregular in width and brightness, but dead straight, surveyed and precise.
It took Mark a moment to recognize it, because it was so unlikely in the context he had so far.
"That's a Pythagorean model," he said.
"Yes, a right triangle and square areas, laid out across fifteen point three kilometers of grassland. Unless it's an annual celebration of mathematical knowledge…"
"They know we're here," Mark finished.
"So they have telescopes," Zihn said.
"Or an informant." Mark wasn't sure why that was the first thing he thought of, but a healthy dose of paranoia was called for.
"That…is a disturbing possibility, Citizen," Phelan offered.
"It's not likely," Mark said on reflection. "They wouldn’t announce a presence in that case. But I am assuming our real estate moguls have seen the same signal." He pondered for a moment. "Tell me about telescopes."
McDonald was on net now, and said, "Telescopes require a glass technology. That's a reasonably clean quartzite sand, and a clean, hot fire, then abrasives in increasingly finer grits."
"I assume the tube for the lenses doesn't have to be complicated?"
Zihn said, "No, a tube isn't even necessary. A frame will do. Especially since light pollution isn't a problem for them. They may be using aerial telescopes—on tall towers—as a means of combating chromatic aberration, but compound lenses are not that great of a step, though chemical treatments would be. I doubt they'd be able to manage a motor drive for timed exposures but any photographic telescopy would require metal anyway, so—"
Mark could follow that, but didn’t need it. "That's fine," he said. "So they may have telescopes and can see us. Can we confirm that?"
"Given time. I can start scanning high peaks for construction appropriate to an observatory and proceed from there."
"Please. I'm not assuming any knowledge on their part."
“Let me know too, please,” Stephens’ voice said. “That boosts their tech level to Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century.” Everyone was joining the party. Mark cringed. This was exactly why he'd have preferred not to have any interference.
A bit later, Phelan said, "Sir, we found another one. A perfect circle with radians marked."
That was impressive. Whatever tech base this society had was well above Earth's stone age, closer to at least the higher levels of ancient Greece or Rome. If telescopes were confirmed…
"How are these set up? Open fields? Wilderness?"
Phelan said, "With Doctor McDonald's approval, I authorized a sweep by a Pebble. We'll find out shortly."
"It's staying out of the atmosphere?" Mark asked, nervous. They couldn't have anything that might be perceived as hostile.
"Yes. No chance of tracking it with their technology."
"Yes, Lieutenant, but I'm remembering that this morning, they were just stone age savages, Neolithic agriculturalists. Now they have telescopes."
Zihn said, "It's not too tremendously unlikely. It actually speaks well of their scientific nature and social base. You'd know more about that than me, though."
"Somewhat," Mark replied. He wasn't an historian. His degree was international relations, as it applied to interstellar trade and marketing. He'd covered the basics of societal development twelve Grainne years before. "Let me discuss it with Marguerite Stephens."
A seg, a little under three hours, later, they had more intel. He ordered it presented in the conference room. The frames were projected along one wall, with a steady loop running at slow speed below them. Phelan met everyone with a nod. She was tall, lean, and obviously military in bearing. She used a finger light pointer to indicate points of interest.
"Keep in mind the resolution on a drone the size of a plum is low, and that it was moving at a fairly high rate of relative speed," Phelan said. "But we have a decent view of the first area. You can see the pattern is built of brush, likely cleared in that forest. Regular parties with draft-drawn wagons are bringing it, and there are substantial stockpiles. The burn is very controlled, and I wonder if they aren't doing some forest management at the same time."
"That might be coincidental," Stephens said. "That would be a substantial advance even over what we've seen so far." Mark could place her accent now. Caledonian. She'd been raised not far from the capital, with that formal, almost archaic British English delivery. Her enunciation and delivery were perfect and well-schooled.
Captain Jelling spoke up. "I see clear signs here, and here, of security checkpoints bottlenecking the arrivals. This looks like a crowd of spectators who were denied entrance and set up camp."
"Very much like a camp," Stephens said, squinting to try to see through the photo's graininess. "You'll note the improvised corral, a cluster of tents that were probably initial arrivals, and the rest in organized rows. That could be sanitation facilities, and that could be a midden heap, though they appear to be landfilling as they use it. Quite sophisticated. That's a level of discipline that was endorsed in the Middle Ages, but rarely accomplished in reality. They're smart."
"Anyone else?" Mark asked.
"Intelligence Sergeant Louise Thomas, sir," a blonde soldier said. He hadn't even noticed her. "I'm a photo intelligence specialist. Looking at the roads here and over there, it looks as if they were very crude dirt tracks. But I believe those lighter areas have been selectively filled with debris, either dried vegetation or gravel, to maintain integrity for load use."
"I concur," Jelling said.
"Enough for now," Mark said. It would be too easy to get sucked into a days' long analysis of each frame. “So, they’re mathematical symbols, not visible except from high altitude, in more than one location, restricted to participants only with no spectators allowed, and built on apparently short notice with the expectation of an extended operation,” he ticked off points. "Certainly deliberate, then, is my call. We'll assume so for now." Everyone back to work.”
No sooner had he reached the lab than Egan came storming in, and said, “I understand the natives have contacted us. When are we landing?”
“We aren’t,” he said. “They’ve drawn mathematical symbols. That does not equate to contact.”
He exploded. “You said that if contact was made, we could land. Now you’re trying to squirm out of it! If you had any idea of the business potential involved—”
Mark cut him off. “If you recall my background, you'd understand I do have some idea of the business potential involved. I also understand the sacrifices and ethics involved. As a veteran I understand the personal risk involved. It will cost you little to wait a few more days, and may keep you out of Citizen’s Court claims and bankruptcy proceedings, and it just might keep you out of the dueling arena. Now, unless you have further business aboard this military vessel, I suggest you return to yours.” His voice didn’t rise, but the tension was palpable. Egan's troop escort gestured to him, and he twisted his face in impotent rage.
“Very well, Citizen,” he snarled. “We’ll do it your way. For now. But the Council will hear from me about a Constitutional violation.” He turned and left.
Stephens was nearby, and acted as if Egan hadn't been present. "One more item. There appear to be covered or enclosed vehicles, quite large, which may be powered by some mechanism. Although, daVinci also described such enclosures for draft animals. Those were military vehicles."
"Yes, I've seen those sketches," Mark said.
Margov called a few segs later. The industrial ghouls were not about to let up for a moment, if they thought they could make a buck. "Citizen, I've been talking with my opposite number. Obviously, we're both eager to land, but I understand your caution. However, as an interim to allow better study, I propose moving into low orbit. They know we're here. You can't argue that."
"I can argue that," Mark said. "It is not yet proven, and may not be until and if we land. Also, multiple craft increase the possible perception of threat. Your presence is antagonistic to several factions. My orders remain. You can argue it with the Council back home. I want as much intel as we can acquire up here before we land."
"No, I'm comfortable with your guidance. Please proceed." He didn't believe for a second she actually cared what he thought, except as it affected her ability to land. Still, she was the easier one to deal with for now. Was it deliberate good thug/bad thug with Egan? Was she exploiting his attitude? Were the two of them even in contact at this point? He waved Shraybman over and asked her.
“I’ll see what I can find out, sir,” she agreed.
Another military officer came over. "Zig Hensley, sir," he said. He was a captain, lieutenant for spacer ranks.
"How can I help you, Lieutenant?"
"Sir, if there is a landing, I'm in charge of flight operations. I need to get an idea of where you're considering."
That was a damned good question. "I would have said somewhere quiet, like an island near a coast, to give us some privacy. We could deploy from there by boat for discretion. At this point, though, we've got a probable deliberate attempt at contact several kilometers inshore, off a major waterway. We're more likely to land there since they seem to be inviting it."
"I can prepare both projects. Inland would have to be a DGO. I can make the same plans for the coast, and also plan to drop an assault craft, with a masked approach from open sea."
"Man, I haven’t done either in twelve years," Mark said with a wistful grin. "I'll be different."
An entourage of scientists came over. It was McDonald, Stephens, and one he recognized only from his badge, Navin, a UN optical scientist.
Navin said, “We’ve found what looks like an observatory. It’s an open building on a mountainside, with a road leading up to it, and is situated behind the peak from the city, which would cut light pollution.”
“I’m confused,” Mark admitted. “We’re still discussing a Stone Age culture here?”
“Yes,” he agreed. “They have gas lighting. It's doubtful that it's centrally piped. They still seem to have pressure vessels, though, and tubing."
"Obviously," Mark pondered, "if they don't have metals, their technology will develop without them."
McDonald prompted, "Show the Citizen the shots of the city."
A moment later, a city map flashed on screen at 5000 m resolution. It flashed quickly down to 1000 m, and features became clearer.
It looked like a city. A large one.
"This is native?" he asked redundantly. Of course it was native. He was surprised, though.
"Yes. I'll zoom in on some interesting parts." McDonald grabbed remote and ran his finger over it. Pan, zoom, and a section of river grew huge.
"Damn," Mark said. "That's some serious engineering."
The river was dammed in stages and viaducts and sluices ran from it, to large buildings and installations. It was clear that water pressure and volume were used for industry. A scan in various colored overlays showed temperature, chemical content, flow velocity. Mark saw what looked like settling beds, canals, quite sophisticated engineering. Boats. Barges. Ships at anchor…
McDonald said, "We're estimating population around five hundred thousand. There are nine cities so far that we believe are over one hundred thousand, more than a hundred over fifty thousand and thousands over ten thousand, on this continent. This is definitely the base of the largest population and greatest technical development. Continental population is on the close order of one hundred million."
"Not bad for stone age."
Stephens sounded bothered. "I don't like it. There is no reason they could or should have developed the technology for this. It's sixteenth century at least, some of it is nineteenth, and might generously be twentieth. Technically, it's staggering." Her expression was intense, studious.
Mark said, "You're not thinking about social development. Religion, philosophy and social networking all affect development. I'd speculate they skipped large numbers of cultural wars that Earth had."
"Those wars resulted in development and transfer of knowledge, though. And I certainly do think about such things. Sir." She sounded annoyed. Under her curly blonde hair she wore a disapproving expression.
"Generally from vanquished to victor, and a great many sources were wiped out. The library of Alexandria, for instance, and the Mayan codices. If they shared cultural knowledge, even limited technical information would be synthesized and incorporated."
"We've looked at that, Citizen. We estimated they'd reach classical Greece or Rome at best." She was insistent. This was her field, so he assumed she knew what she was talking about, and asked for more.
"You don't think it's possible you were wrong by a couple of millennia? Since we have this concrete example in front of us."
"Obviously we were," she admitted. "We can't figure out where, why or how, though. That's a chance to learn and develop, but it's also disturbing in this context."
Mark nodded thoughtfully. It was a significant level of error. On the other hand, it was completely new territory, and the locals clearly did have that level of technology.
"First of all, do they have electrical power, modern weapons or anything that could be a significant threat?"
McDonald said, "Well, obviously there are environmental factors. We don’t anticipate diseases or other cross contamination, but chemical incompatibility, enzymes, toxins are all possible, as we’ve discussed. They have no substantial metal. They might have jewelry or some artifacts, but the precious metals are almost nonexistent, too. If HMG offers them gold and teaches them how to work it, it would be a tremendous trade medium, assuming the locals appreciate it, of course.
“It's barely possible to make firearms without metal, but the results cannot be too sophisticated. Polyceramic barrels are certainly beyond them. No electrical generation capability that we know of, though they might have some crude chemical batteries in labs. That's 'crude' in a relative sense. They could be highly refined for research, but they'd not be portable or of concern to us as weapons."
"Still, archery was devastatingly effective for the English and Turks, among others." He raised his comm and said, "Add body armor to landing gear."
"I was going to suggest that," Stephens said. "We don't want a misunderstanding to turn into war."
"No, we're juggling culture shock as it is, and our aspiring Freehold East India Company is not helping."
"Is that a hot air balloon?" someone asked.
Everyone stared intently as McDonald grabbed a remote and zoomed in.
"I'll be damned. Eighteenth Century tech," Stephens said.
"Nothing past Twentieth, though, right?" Mark asked.
"Nothing so far. It seems unlikely," McDonald said. "Of course, this is one grid square of one continent, but it seems reasonable that technology will be on a general par, even with surface travel only. Balloons increase the reliability of that assessment."
Shraybman came over as Mark said, “So, an initial contact would seem to be what they are asking for then.”
“That’s what they’re getting,” she said, looking frustrated and angry. “Margin has launched a shuttle.”
“Dammit!” he swore. “Can you intercept?”
She nodded. “We have a gunboat in pursuit. However, the Captain has no authority to stop him. It’s your call.”
“Stop him, tell him to wait, and we’ll go down together,” Mark said. "Is Egan still aboard?" He knew it was a mistake to have Egan along, but he didn’t have much choice. Egan could go down now. Undoubtedly, his crew had come to the same conclusions as the government had. The only possible compromise was to make sure he was escorted, hope that whoever we met wanted to discuss politics before business, and play it by ear.
Mark realized how ridiculous that seemed. The representative of a laissez-faire capitalist system praying for political intrigue to slow the rush of business. Well, you know what they say about strange bedfellows, he thought.
"Egan left as soon as you dressed him down," Sergeant Thomas said. "He seemed to be planning something, but I wasn't sure what. Sorry, sir."
"Not your fault. Thanks. Continue with your research." He left to follow this latest disaster.
Russ called through just then. “Citizen, I observe and protest your corporation’s initiation of contact. We consider this an aggressive, pre-emptive act of occupation.” It was a formal statement, but he sounded angry.
“Give me a few segs and I’ll have them back, and you can hold your protests.”
“Very well, sir.” Russ probably wanted to say more, but bit down on it.
It was gratifying to see the military hadn't lost its edge. They'd almost lost a war against a massively more powerful UN military from Earth, winning through brutality and stubbornness that had become legendary. Mark had served after that, while the Forces tried to rebuild their numbers and equipment with little budget and insufficient recruits, because the Marshal refused to lower standards to gain bodies.
The gunboat commander literally drove his craft out at full G, on a direct collision course, all active sensors blazing. As soon as he hit range, he locked on a full complement of missiles. Mark wasn't sure what Egan thought about it, but his pilot understood that if he didn't stand to, he'd be shot or rammed, and the military commander was unlikely to choose ramming. Either way, debate was pointless and the flight was over. A div later, the shuttle was back and docked to Healy. Emgee could be fun, or relaxing. It could also be a hindrance, such as when swimming and climbing aft to a conference. Mark hoped the initial experiments in generated gravity panned out. It would simplify a great many things in space. He couldn't keep track of how many times they'd transitioned from free orbit to centrifugal rotation and back. He arrived last, just late enough to reinforce the suggestion that he was running the show without being rude. The officers were present, McDonald representing the technical mission, Egan, Margov, and Russ. "My plan," he said as he dragged himself through the hatch, without the dignity striding would have offered, "is to land as a group. I will speak. The scientists will advise me. The military will be along against any threats. Assuming we can communicate, I will then present each of you, and you may begin your own negotiations on trade or diplomacy under the guidelines I create with the advice of the scientific contingents of both the UN and the Freehold."
Before anyone could start objecting, he pointed and said, "Egan, you're first."
"I'm not clear on how the government has the authority to interfere with my free actions and trade, especially as we're not in the Freehold. In fact, my company has the initial claim here."
"I have the authority because I have a warship. Your claim fails of its merits because the system is already property of its inhabitants."
"That depends on how those inhabitants view it." He didn't mention the threat of military force. Cool operator, when he wanted to be.
"No. It depends on how they view it, after we have determined how their society works and if they understand the ramifications of your deal."
"That could take years."
"It likely will."
"Talk to the Council."
"Oh, my people already are," he said with vitriol, "and I will own you when this is over." "Good luck with that." He deliberately turned away from Egan. He did so with enough disdain that the man said nothing, just sputtered for a moment and then locked up with a tight expression. He faced his counterpart. "Mister Russ, over to you."
Russ was far more reasonable. He leaned back in his chair and said, "We'll be present and allowed input in this meeting? You're just funneling through one party to keep things clean and controllable?"
"That's my plan, yes. I need all the input I can get from scientists, diplomats like yourself, even economic interests. We don't want to overwhelm or confuse them, or we could screw it all up." "And we'll have free access to your findings?" His stretch and shift was probably feigned casualness, but he didn't seem antagonistic, just alert.
"I see no reason why not. You're bound to notice things we don't." Good so far.
"What of other parties?"
"Galactic Alliance, Earth development groups and such?" At Russ's nod, he said, "As long as they check in with me, or through you to me, they're welcome. But anyone going past me without discussing it is getting tossed out with prejudice."
"As long as we do get actual input, I have no objections at this time. I will expect to create our own, independent mission as soon as, and assuming, the aliens consent. At that point, we can continue to share information." The statement was matter of fact, but clearly made it a deal breaker if declined.
"Agreed." Egan didn't snarl, but looked disgusted. "Basically, you're cutting us out of our investment."
"I'm sure your ROI on existing systems is profitable. I know you find a substantial percentage of unusable systems. Worst case, this is one such. It doesn’t affect your margin. Best case, you're here and do have a claim for initial negotiations once the relationship is ironed out. I know you've spent years developing Shade, building surface and orbital habitats, and have yet to bring out enough material to get in the black. Don't try to play me for a fool. I was doing this while you were in primary school."
Margov said, "My company finds the deal acceptable. We're ready to proceed on your schedule." She smiled in a way that was charmingly agreeable to the diplomats while being a triumphant sneer to her competitor at the same time. Mark made a note to get an image and study the technique. It was good.
"I'm going to see about setting this up. We will land tomorrow, barring any unforeseen changes. I will consult with everyone either way." He left before he had to argue the point.
Later he wished he'd stayed. Apparently, in an ensuing debate, Egan had said something callous about native development, and Stephens ripped a chair loose from the deck and threw it at him.
Back in the bay, Lieutenant Hensley showed him potential landing sites, Shraybman worked on a disclaimer and nondisclosure agreement for all concerned, which a legal officer would neaten up and formalize, and Jelling came over with more bad news. "It's not quite my department, Citizen, but we have a security issue. We found surveillance bugs in here from two different sources. Two fixed ones that are probably HMG, three floaters that are definitely UN technology, though that does not mean they initiated them. In fact, I'd suspect not, because it would be too obvious. Of course, that could also be a cover." She dropped the electronic carcasses in front of him. Two were small round nubs that could pass as rivets or repair plugs, three looked like small insects.
"They've been disabled?"
"Yes, and we do regular sweeps."
"Should I keep quiet about this, or can I pin someone to the wall?"
"I'd recommend against it, sir. They've found at least one of ours." Her grin suggested they hadn't found any of the others, however many that might be.
"I see." This was going to be that kind of game. "Even though we invited them in, they're skulking around. Or is it just in retaliation?"
"I'm not sure, sir."
"Citizen," he heard behind him. It was Captain Betang on intercom.
"Yes, Captain?" he said as he turned. "The UN is building a Jump Point. We're seeing indications of a breakout. That's one of the drawbacks of phase drive. It costs as much as a government full of crooked politicians, but once you have one, you can use it for transit, then build jump points in days, not years."
"Understood. What can we do and should we?"
"I've taken the liberty of deploying drones that will jam the operation when triggered. They're in sleep mode now. We can't stop people coming in, but we can stop them leaving. Except, of course, in phase drive. But communications will be under our control."
Standard interstellar communication was via pods that were dragged through the Jump Point by passing ships, to dump their signals for relay or tightbeam. Once that was up, Mark could theoretically get advice from other Citizens within sixty hours, twenty-two divs. As fast as the situation was changing, he doubted that would make any difference. He could report his progress, though.
"I guess you should continue with that, and try not to give our hand away. I assume they know they're visible?"
"The construction? Certainly. It's impossible to hide. They likely suspect we have some kind of surveillance or jamming, and they likely have some countermeasures. None of that need be discussed, though. It's all part of the game."
"Indeed it is. Keep me informed and try not to take action without consulting. If you feel it's necessary, do what you have to and inform me soonest."
"Understood, sir. Betang out."
|Home Page||Index Page|
Comments from the Peanut Gallery:
|Previous Page||Next Page|