Tuesday, March 09, 2004

A Short Story, by Jerry

If landing at Camp David didn't convince us, observatory confirmations did. He's for real, he's here and he has the absolute attention of the President of the United States.

His shirt was pressed and his shoes looked comfortable. He tended to smile when he spoke and his thick grey hair seemed misplaced on a man so young, until we heard what he had to say.

The President called the cabinet up Saturday afternoon, the same day our visitor had arrived. My train to Philadelphia was stopped outside Baltimore, Secret Service escorted off. Something that dramatic never happens, but it did.

By four fifteen we were all sitting in the ante room listening to the relentless ticking of the clock and clueless to why we were there.

It was startling when the secretary of homeland security approached us; his presence erased our hopes of good news.

Tensions rose as we entered the main dining hall. To our surprise, the President was alone ' no security, no servants. The secretary left once we were seated and our eyes were fixed on President Quinton.

'Gentlemen,' he began, 'what I am about to tell you will change the world as we know it.' And for two hours we heard the things we only dreamt and feared were true.

As it turns out our first contact with extraterrestrial life was not the way they had planned it. According to the visitor, our ambassador has been killed ' some 200 years ago. His absence and the current timetable required a temporary ambassador.

The initial meeting with President Quinton was with a security detail who prepared the arrival of our new liaison, which he described as the Fleet Patriarch.

Since his departure the cabinet was summoned, the military was mobilized, international leaders were alerted and the civilized world remained ignorant. The marines arrived while I was sleeping. Masses of soldiers assembled just beyond the magic line. Biological details and distant helicopters peppered the landscape.

It was the Secret Service who referred to it as the magic line. President Quinton was told exactly where it must be and he sheepishly called it the line of courtesy.

We were allowed to be present with the President, but no one else could come inside the line of courtesy. It was reasonable to assume they would know if we violated their request.

The blue sky was hot, but we waited near the edge of the horse run. When the hour struck, silence followed. The low murmur of distant troops and equipment seemed to vanish as a speck in the sky began to grow larger.

I suppose it was a door, but it looked more like a crack. Nonetheless, the figure was there and moving away from the vessel.

The President approached what appeared to be a man; they each extended their hands to one another.

I don't know why, but that moment of civility made me feel comforted. Our visitor looked up for some time then advanced beside the President.

Soon he had approached each of us ' offering a silent handshake and a friendly nod.

His hand was warm, his eyes seemed friendly and as best we could tell, he was human.

A silence continued until we reached the house. Tea was waiting us. We could not imagine eating but our visitor indulged the hospitality.

Once seated, he lifted his spoon to assemble our attentions and spoke with what can only be described as a whispered shout.

By the way he held himself; it was obvious he was a leader. And though he held his spoon with calm, his words came down like a hammer.

'Brothers,' he began and with that first word my feeling of comfort left me.

'To be here, I am the envy of the fleet. They dream of your blue sky. Citadels tell their children of Jarlentia. And here I am, living the myth, drinking tea. You see, most stopped believing. Not all of us. But here we are. Is this sky a myth' Is this tea a myth' No. Jarlentia is not a myth.'

And with that he pulled his cup to his mouth and drank.

'Sir,' the President interrupted, to the shock of most of the cabinet, 'Yesterday your emissary spoke of you as the Patriarch. Of what are you the leader?'

With a smile he lowered his cup, licked his lips and spoke again, 'My name is Oasis, Patriarch of the Fleet and of the Indian Armada.' His face flinched for a moment, and with squinted eyes added, 'That is, when there was an Indian Armada.'

'You see,' he continued, 'the empire was fragile. The ruling lineage was dilute and weak provincial control foretold of the imminent unrest. Human leadership was losing favor in many provinces.'

'Then, at the end of the third era, a human colony began a border conflict with non-human neighbors. The emperor sent an envoy to settle the dispute, but they were sent back. This refusal of his authority is when many consider the end of the imperial rule.'

'Shortly after, the human colony was destroyed in a massive attack. The weapon not only destroyed the colony, but cascaded across the system destroying five planets in all, three of which were inhabited. Only two were human.'

'Fear gripped the empire. With such power, entire worlds were at risk. Indeed, the entire empire was at risk ' not of overthrow, but of inhalation.'

'Swiftly, the emperor dispatched negotiators to regional governors to calm the leadership, but those ships never arrived. We assume they were destroyed by regional cruisers.'

'Within days, neighboring systems suffered similar fates. Half the empire was lost in two weeks, with only two human systems and Imperia remained.'

'A panicked court fled the imperial palace, but the emperor summoned his table of patriarchs; all four heeded the call, each armada poised aside Imperia. In that pivotal meeting human destiny was forged.'

'The Forward and Rear Fleets of the Right Armada were detached to engage the regional guard directly; the imperial protectorate opened a jump thread that would lead the entire Right Armada to their deaths.'

'Distress calls reached Imperia within the hour.'

'The Forward Fleet of the Left Armada embarked to Lartal, while the Rear Fleet went to Sartin ' the last human systems. This massive movement was to distract from what was considered to be impossible, a second jump thread within a single galactic cycle.'

'The imperial science ministry had secretly perfected thread technology, using it to investigate deep space human colony opportunities.'

'The Rear Fleet had taken as many as ten thousand refugees from the Sartin ruins when they encountered the enemy. Recovered log buoys detailed how two and only two attacking vessels systematically destroyed their fleet of 30 seasoned warships.'

'The imperial protectorate opened the second jump thread. It reached deep into space, far from the empire. It was not for military craft. It was for the Toltec ' a stasis craft transporting Risan colony volunteers. They would not awaken at Risa.'

'The emperor, fearing human genocide, provisioned the Toltec to the uncharted coordinates of a potential deep space colony.'

'He placed his newborn son aboard and destroyed the imperial protectorate and the imperial science ministry once the ship jumped.'

'At that moment only the emperor and his one remaining Fleet Patriarch knew the location of the deep space colony.'

'When the Forward Fleet arrived, the Lartal system was only planetary debris. Every human system was lost.'

'Incoming transmissions told of Imperia's destruction and the attack on the imperial flotilla as the emperor fled the system. Tradition holds that the emperor ensured his own destruction to protect the secret location of the last human colony and his newborn son.'

'As for the empire, the Forward Fleet was the last human refuge. It was just a matter of time until they were destroyed.'

'To fight was unimaginable. Victory seemed impossible. The enemy was a mystery, their technology superior.'

'The fleet turned their bows away from the empire, fleeing.'

'Two months later the fleet reached the first system, Taer. Its harbor is the pivotal moment where the last Patriarch explained the final commands of the late emperor. Save Lartal, flee to the last colony, and someday return.'

'Lartal was lost; nothing could be done about that. But out there was the last colony. The Patriarch plotted the course and began the tireless journey to humanity's deepest secret, and their only hope, Jarlentia.'

'That was more than five thousand years ago - from Earth's perspective.'

The cabinet members looked at each other in disbelief. The President stared at his hands; I could not resist but ask the question burning in my mind, 'Sir, Mr. Oasis, am I to understand that this Forward Fleet is your fleet' Some thirty ships, you say, that have made a thousands year pilgrimage to Earth?'

Oasis looked at me as if in pleasure and replied, 'The galaxy is not rich with life. Outside the empire, it was not believed there were habitable systems.'

Frustrated, I injected, 'And how old, sir, are you, if I may ask?'

Undisturbed, Oasis answered, 'Practically speaking, I am 53, but I have been in biological stasis for 622 galactic cycles. Less than a forth of my ship's crew survived the journey; when I awoke only three ships remain in my Fleet. 1,700 soldiers desperately wait to see what hope there is for mankind.'

The President snapped to attention when he heard this. It was like a light had gone off ' a trigger inside him responding to a higher call when he said, 'Oasis, Patriarch, I will dedicate my authority to ensuring your people have a place on Earth.'

Suddenly, Oasis looked very upset. His face was bleak. He looked over the cabinet realizing the issue.

'Mr. President, our journey log indicates our ships were lost to numerous technical and astrological causes. Some ships veered into planets, ship computers failed, while cosmic circumstances condemned many.'

'However, our hope is not for a home, but for a force. You see, our logs do show the plight of our brothers, but they also show the constant presence of a ship following at the far edge of our sensor perimeter.'

'Cycle after cycle they could not catch us. But they never relented. Our computers kept us on course. They persued.'

'Now that we have stopped, they will overtake us in less than four months. Our fuel is nearly exhausted, Mr. President. Most of our crew is dead. Our foe is undefeated. Mr. President this is the hope we seek, once again, a hope for the survival of mankind.'

'Have we found hope,' he growled, 'or are we at the end of mankind?'

The silence in the room was painful. O'Connell began to weep; he was the oldest cabinet member. The President sat there stunned. Oasis scanned our faces for a sign. I prayed that I would wake up.

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