|Back to Index||Written July, 1998|
To the uninitiated it looked like an ordinary room, occupied by an ordinary desk at which sat a very ordinarily looking man. In fact the only sign which gave away even a slightest indication of the room's true purpose came from the window, out of which could be seen only the blackness of space. This impression of normality was of course what the designers had had in mind for the room, since in its purpose - it was anything but. It was the office of a sector co-ordinator for the newly formed Empire and as such was probably the single most important location within several hundred light years.
The bundle of papers hit the desk with a resounding thump causing several less weighty collections to become airborne for a few seconds before wafting back down to the desktop, in the process scattering themselves out of their original order.
The owner of the desk was not amused by the demonstration and as he looked up to stare irately at the face of the woman responsible for the demonstration of the laws of gravity his face showed it clearly. Before he could launch into his planned tirade of insults however, he was pre-empted.
"Read it." She said simply. The man at the desk took a few seconds to observe the woman but he already knew what his decision would be - when Helen Corey presented something as dramatically as this, there was rarely any other option.
A trained observer, the man noted a slight tinge of red to her face and concluded that his orderly day was probably heading very quickly towards chaos.
"Couldn't you have made an appointment?" Giles Tashida asked wearily as he tried to rearrange the papers on his desk before eventually giving up and letting them keep their new found disorder. He picked up the bundle and began to quickly scan the front few pages.
"No time." Helen said, still slightly out of breath from her probably record setting passage from her office to this one. "This could break any moment." Tashida didn't hear her.
He put down the bundle and leant back in his chair, touching his fingers to his lips in thought. As if truly noticing her presence for the first time he waved at Helen to take a seat. She waited several seconds for him to speak.
"What do we know?" He asked in a manner of fact tone.
"Basically, what's there." She replied in a suspiciously similar tone. "Stellar system AB124322#3, in our sector. Charted once by a small survey ship about 50 years ago. Two habitable planets, one with an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, the other oxygen-argon. Both have evolved intelligent species. Our directive was to observe but with no involvement."
Tashida nodded, that much he was aware of. The Empire was less than a century old and although the whole point of its existence had been to create a solid, stable entity that would effectively run itself - it was turning out that there was a great deal of administration involved in establishing it. Intervention in less advanced cultures was frowned upon as wasting valuable resources, observing on the other hand was widely acknowledged as an excellent utilisation of materiel. The dilemma of what to do when your observation turned up something requiring intervention had yet to be decided. "So," he asked again, "What went wrong?"
Helen snorted. "If we knew that, we wouldn't be here. It's a near miracle of timing but both intelligent species are at approximately the same level of technology. About half a century ago both species developed a rudimentary space technology and contacted each other. Actually it was the inhabitatants of the innermost planet" - she consulted a sheet of notes which she had in her hand and Giles had only just noticed - "… the Alterans, we've named them, who contacted the civilisation of the outer world, the Gorgons." She noticed Giles' wince. "Don't ask!"
"Since then both species have put a great deal of effort into improving their space technology - I suppose having the two different worlds in the same system gave them a lot of encouragement. Over the years relations between the two worlds have grown strained however, and there is actually now a military stand off. The asteroid belt between the two planets is generally regarded as the border and both sides have bases on their side of it. Each side also has ships which patrol their side, looking for infiltrators, no doubt."
Giles nodded again. "And now there is a problem?" It was a half statement, half question.
Helen nodded. "Recently, the Gorgon's have been gaining a slight technological advantage in some non-military areas. The Alterans who have the superior military technology have realised this and have in return developed a number of weapons with the potential to destroy all the Gorgons on the outer planet. The weapons are biological and chemical agents which will disrupt the biochemistry of the Gorgons, while in theory leaving Alterans completely unaffected.
"It was our belief that these weapons were only an insurance policy." She tailed off.
"And they aren't?" Giles was worried now. The complete destruction of a species was not something the Empire encouraged.
"Several days ago, one of our undercover operatives in the Alteran government came across information suggesting the imminent completion of a missile base on the Gorgon side of the asteroid belt. This base is sited on one of the asteroids and according to our information is suitable camouflaged to ensure that only a direct sensor scan of it by a Gorgon ship would reveal its existence. From its position it can launch a strike which will reach the planet within a week, and - it is our prediction - destroy all Gorgon life within another two."
Giles held up his hand to stop her from continuing and then touched a button on his desk. "Sally?" He asked. "Get me the director of operations in here immediately please." There was a curt reply and he disengaged the intercom circuit.
The director of operations, Pe'teir (no second name) must have been practically waiting outside becuase within a few seconds he had entered the room. "I just read it." He said, by means of an introduction. "I also checked up on our situation there. We don't have any operatives in place who could in any way sabotage it. Our directive was to put the priority on observation."
Giles swore softly, but he hadn't expected anything different. "Alright. We need more information on this one. Helen?" She nodded. "Send a message to our operatives in the Gorgon government, find out if they know about it." Helen nodded again and then glanced at her counterpart from Operations. Pe'teir smiled briefly and then followed her out of the room.
The door closed automatically behind them. Giles Tashida frowned, and thought unhappy thoughts. He touched the intercom panel once more. "Sally? Get me Imperial command."
"Alright. Options?" Giles was abrupt, beginning the meeting immediately upon his entrance.
It was Helen who replied, beating Pe'teir to the post at what was in effect his department. "We obviously only have one option. We must destroy that asteroid base."
Pe'teir managed a reply to her however. "Out of the question."
Helen was incredulous. "Why? We have the capability, what more do we need?"
"Unfortunately," broke in Giles, "Pe'teir is right. Even assuming that command would authorise such an action it would most probably result in a commencement of direct hostilities. The Alterans would assume that the Gorgons had some sort of new capability that allowed them to attack without detection - obviously we couldn't allow the base to transmit a distress call."
"Command would never authorise an attack on a base that large. It would result in hundreds of deaths." Pe'teir was the most politically savvy of the group. He touched a button on the circular conference table and a holographic representation of the stellar system sprang into existence above the table.
"Computer." Pe'teir commanded. "Plot Gorgon patrol routes on the holo-map."
Several red lines drew out from the Gorgon planet around the outer system before returning to it.
"Can we zoom in to the area of the Alteran asteroid belt?" Asked Helen. It was more of a polite command since she was well aware of the capabilities of the holo-map system. Pe'teir simply nodded and adjusted the controls. Seconds later all of the people sitting around the table could see the asteroid belt in detail.
"We ran a sensor sweep concentrating on the asteroid belt and confirmed the existence of the base. Our intelligence also tells us that the Gorgons have no knowledge of the bases' existence, and that it will be completely operational within three Alteran days." Helen confirmed Giles' fears.
"So, within three days, the Alterans will control the system."
"That is correct."
"In that case, we have a problem." Giles was not happy with the situation. "I have received a directive from command stating that any action we take must be highly limited and is completely my responsibility. What limited action can we take - and that doesn't include destroying the base."
"I'm not sure that any limited action would have a noticeable effect." Pe'teir had been briefed on the possibilities. "We can not destroy the base and we can not directly inform the Gorgon of the base's existance. I don't see anything we can do."
Giles muttered something unintelligible under his breath. He sighed and then looked at each of the people round the table in turn, meeting their eyes. "I think I must make it clear that if we can not find a limited option then I will not authorise any action whatsoever. It is Imperial policy not to interfere at all and it is only because of the absolutely dire nature of this circumstance that action is even being considered."
"We probably wouldn't want to inform the Gorgons of the base's existance." It was Helen speaking now. "Our statistical analysis shows that they would launch an assault at the Alterans."
"I'm sure that's one of the options they would consider." Pe'teir replied.
"It's 97% probable." Helen shot back. "I think they really would consider it."
Giles grunted. "In that case our best option is clearly to allow the attack to go ahead."
"What?" Helen was incredulous. "You can't be serious. At least if we did something we might give the Gorgons a fighting chance."
"That is not necessarily desirable." Giles replied. "My staff did some analysis and that showed that in a direct conflict at least 60% of both species populations."
"Are you saying we'll let the Gorgons be annihilated." Helen's voice was accusatory and her eyes conveyed her opinion of the suggestion.
"I'm saying that the total annihilation of 5 billion people leaving one civilisation completely intact is possibly preferable to the annihilation of 6 billion people and the devastation of two civilisations as they fight to a bloody stalemate."
Pe'teir interrupted. "That's fine, as long as you want to maintain the worst civilisation."
"How do you define worst?" Shot back Giles.
"The conquerer. The aggressor."
"They are only cast in that role because they have a superior technology which allows them to be a conquerer. If the Gorgons had a superior technology they would no doubt be developing biological weapons to eliminate the Alterans right now."
"You don't know that. Statistical analysis would be no good for identifying the 'personality' traits of a civilisation - and you know it."
"I don't need SA to tell me this." Giles replied calmly. "It is simply something which I have come to recognise over the course of my career."
"Look - this isn't really relevant." Said Pe'teir, trying to get the conference back onto track. "It is the present that is the problem and the present that must be dealt with."
There were a few general sounds of consensus and the argument was put onto the back burner as the subjects around the conference table turned to those of a more immediate nature than the philosophical nature of the universe.
"Alright." Said Pe'teir. "To summarise. We can't destroy the base ourselves and we can't inform the Gorgons of its existence directly. What if we could inform them indirectly?"
There were a few murmurs of curiosity. "What exactly do you mean?" Asked Giles.
"I don't know yet," replied Pe'teir, "but give me a minute and I'll tell you."
"So this is what all the trouble is about." Giles mused. "It looks so insignificant.
Helen snorted. "On the scale of interstellar events - it is. On the other hand, on the scale of interstellar events the annihilation of the Gorgons would represent a insignificant event as well."
This time Giles snorted.
The asteroid base occupied the main view screen mounted on the front wall of the ship's bridge. To either side, smaller screens showed various views of the asteroid from different angles and one even showed a cross section of the asteroid with the major areas of the base marked. On the far right one screen showed something that was totally different. A small Gorgon patrol ship occupied the view.
Giles learned over to Pe'tier and spoke in a voice that gave his words an almost conspiratorial overtone. "You know, sometimes it's so obvious that you are on a starship that you forget about it. I don't think I've been to the bridge since I first came aboard." Pe'teir nodded but did not reply.
The centre of the room was a massive semi-circular control console. Seated at it of intervals of about a metre were officers who were all clearly very busy. Sitting at the centre of the semi-circle was the captain of the ship. Just as Giles was admiring the flashing lights on the consoles and wondering how the crew could possibly keep track of them the captain approached him.
"Sir, we're in position with our dark fields fully deployed. Total EMCON is currently in effect. We're ready."
Giles smiled slightly and then nodded. "Proceed at your discretion, captain." He replied.
The captain nodded in return. "If you'll follow me to the Combat Information Centre, sir. That's where most of the action will be." Giles didn't bother to nod this time but merely followed the retreating form of the captain. "XO has the conn." The captain shouted to the bridge at large just before disappearing down one of the ladders that led from the bridge to the CIC.
Somewhere on the way down the ladder the well lit, quiet and orderly bridge gave way to the dim and noisy Combat Information Centre. Giles found himself a place at the back, out of the way and watched.
Across the room officers and crew traded near unintelligible cries. Giles listened with interest but, he had to admit, rather little understanding.
"Range to target?"
"Target now within range."
"Set OPCON 1."
"All stations confirm OPCON status change."
"Plot solution on target."
"Ready main thrusters."
"Upload to torpedo one and configure for launch."
The captain interrupted. "WIO, confirm torpedo is set for minimum detonation."
"Ready to fire, sir."
The captain nodded grimly. "Vac torpedo tubes and open the outer doors."
"Doors opening…torpedo ready to launch."
Silence spread through the room like a wave and one by one, each station fell silent. "Status of secondary target track?" Asked the captain.
"In range now, sir." The secondary target was a large Gorgon patrol group, near to the patrol ship.
"Very well." The captain appeared to make a small note on a pad of paper which seemed to have miraculously appeared at his arm. "Fire one!"
"Torpedo away…torpedo has acquired…torpedo is tracking…impact in three minutes."
"Alright," the captain touched the intercom panel on his chair. "Bridge? CIC. Get us out of here."
The ship shook slightly as its engines engaged and slowly moved it away from the area.
"Torpedo has impacted!" Under different circumstances there might have been a cheer. "Target disabled."
For the second time in several days Helen was standing in Giles' office. Giles looked up from his papers and was glad to see that Helen held only a single sheet of paper in her hand, at least with that there was little chance of her disrupting his arrangement of information.
"The results?" He asked.
She nodded and then passed him the sheet. "As predicted." The sheet gave a point by point description of the events which had taken place. "Damage to the Gorgon ship we hit?"
"Their engines were disabled, but there were no casualties and no damage to any other systems."
"Tell the captain to congratulate his crew on some excellent shooting."
"I already did, sir."
Giles skimmed the sheet, noting the items of interest. "Was there any suspicion of our involvement?"
Helen smiled. "None, sir."
At the bottom of the sheet in front of him, and summary occupied the page.
Following the launch of the torpedo towards the Gorgon ship all Imperial presence was withdrawn from the area. The Gorgon patrol group rendezvoused with the patrol ship less than an hour later. The Gorgon ships scanned along the heading of the torpedo and located the asteroid base. After receiving authorisation from their command base they proceeded to totally destroy the base. There were no survivors.
Giles looked at her fondly and then turned his attention back to the sheet. "Total losses?"
"Minimal - and neither side seems to want to take this further."
"Excellent. So, it's over then."
"For the moment, sir, yes." For the moment.