Chapter 3
The Ambassador and Commercial Consul of the Western Galactic Empire were ushered into the White House meeting room and greeted by the President and his cabinet.
The President was dwarfed by the Commercial Consul, but nevertheless aggressively approached him and shook his hand.
"Mr. Ambassador," the President said to the Consul warmly, "I’m so glad to finally meet you."
The Consul allowed his hand to be touched briefly, but then withdrew it nervously. "West Imperial Commercial Consul Fedris, at your service sir. Allow me to introduce our ambassador, the Reverend Priestess Junea."
Taken aback by his mistake, the President turned to Junea with some apparent embarrassment. "Oh, I’m sorry, Madame Ambassador. I hope you’ll excuse my misunderstanding." He held out his hand.
The Ambassador Reverend Priestess Junea stared down at the President, hiding her disgust with the Mask of Serenity taught to all the acolytes of the triune Goddess. The President was a little man, with horrible skin and disgusting silver metal slugs in his teeth. His clothes, cut in the absurd Earthling style, stunk of sweat and chemical cleansers, and the skin of some dead animal adorned his feet. Horrible thoughts boiled forth uncontrollably from his outer mind, filling the room like a noxious cloud. There were traces of human feces on his hand; apparently the ribald stories claiming that Earthlings used their hands to wipe themselves after defecation were actually true! Briefly willing her eyes to high magnification, she could see that his hand was in fact covered with microbes of every description, including numerous obvious pathogens. She exchanged a quick thought with the Consul, commending him telepathically for having the will power to touch the savage, but declined to follow suit. Instead, she raised her hands in a gesture of blessing, and smiled. "Greetings," she said.
The Consul cleared his throat. "The Ambassador is very busy, and has a large number of planets to visit in this sector over the next few days. So if you would get right down to business and tell us the reason for your urgent call, we would greatly appreciate it."
"You don’t want to dine with us first? We have had a special buffet prepared in your honor." The President indicated a nearby table, which was covered with fragments of dead animals and plants, cut and mutilated beyond recognition.
Junea shuddered. "No thank you. Please proceed with your presentation."
"Well alright," the President said. "As you know, several months ago our planet was invaded by Minervans. They have taken over our holy city of Kennewick, and desecrated it with their horrible pagan rituals. They have inflicted hideous crimes on the local population, and thrown our entire world into misery. We are a peaceful people, and have tried to convince them to leave, but they won’t listen to us. So we ask the help of the Western Galactic Empire to free us of these monsters."
Junea smiled. "Ah yes, Minervans. They never seem to be popular, do they? Clever people in their way, but their single-minded fanatical attachment to Minerva always gets them into trouble."
The President nodded vigorously. "So, you understand our problem, having heretical pagans thrust among us, and taking over our holiest of cities."
Junea sighed. "Indeed. Of course, none of us denies that Minerva is a great goddess, but to deny, as the Minervans do, the divinity of the other Goddesses of the triune sisterhood, is the greatest of errors."
At this remark, shock emanated from the President’s mind. Curious as to how her obviously truthful platitude could have elicited such a reaction, Junea peered into his mental cloud and saw that the savage had been programmed in some kind of local crackpot monotheism called Christianity. She shrugged.
The President said, "The Western Galactic Empire brought them here. We ask that you remove them."
Junea shook her head. "I’m afraid that’s not possible."
"Why not?"
"Well for one thing, the Minervans are from here. They originated here, 20,000 years ago, in the place you call Kennewick. It’s rightfully theirs."
The President slammed his pathetic little fist down on a desk. "That’s crazy! Twenty thousand years ago? How does anyone know where they were then?"
Junea said, "It’s in all the holy books, both the Minervans’ and ours. In any case, there is really no point arguing about it. After the recent war, during which so many Minervans suffered at the hands of the Central Empire, Galactic public opinion demanded that the Minervans be given a home, and the Empress of the West committed herself to that goal. So a home is what they will have."
A spectacled man, whose thoughts seemed somewhat more ordered than the President’s, but whose appearance and smell were even more grotesque, broke into the conversation. "But why didn’t you just let them settle in your own empire? You have over a hundred million planets. Even if they did once come from Earth, it is clear that today they are culturally much more like you than us."
The President sneered. "I think Doctor Beasley has a point. The fact of the matter is that you don’t like them either. Why don’t you just join forces with us? Together we can wipe them out."
Junea raised her eyebrows. "We have quite enough Minervans living in the Western Empire already. The fact that we do not want more should in no way suggest that we support violence against them. The Western Empire is committed to defending the rights of all peoples, whatever their flaws. That is why people throughout the galaxy look to us for their protection."
The one the President called Doctor Beasley broke in again. "But then look what they are doing to us!" He looked for assurance to the President, who then sent him a very crude proto-telepathic affirmative. Beasley closed an electric circuit, and a cathode-ray video monitor emitting uncomfortable levels of beta ray radiation came to life. Juneau took a few steps back just to be safe.
An image appeared of Minervans engaged in an Owl Festival Dance. During a pause in the Festival, violence erupted between some small ragged and ugly Earthling boys armed with hand-wielded chemical projectile weapons and Minervans using reflective disarmers. Some of the boys were killed, but most just had their limbs blown off. The image panned again and again to the little screaming savages with dismembered limbs.
"See," the President said. "They are murdering our children. Poor little boys, with only six-shooters to protect themselves, being slaughtered by trained Minervan killers using advanced Galactic weaponry."
Consul Fedris was bemused. "Why did you have your children attack them? And with such obsolete weapons? Surely the result was not unexpected?"
"The children were just defending their country and their faith, using the traditional weapons of our forefathers," the President moaned, as melodramatic tears streamed from the rest of his retinue. "Who would have expected the Minervans to be so cruel!"
Junea stifled a yawn. "Well, I think I need to be going now."
The President said, "Wait, you haven’t seen it all. Look at the horrible conditions our people made homeless by the Minervans are being forced to live in. Beasley, show them the second tape."
Beasley switched cassettes in the video machine, and now the screen showed a vast sprawling camp of crude canvas structures. Diseased and malnourished children in ragged clothing wandered listlessly about, searching through piles of garbage for something of value among the filth that surrounded them. The picture zoomed in to focus on two naked infants lying on the ground, whose distended stomachs and prominent ribs indicated advanced stages of starvation. Their mother sat nearby in a similar condition, staring hopelessly into space.
"You see," the President said. "They have no place to live and nothing to eat. They’re starving!"
"Why don’t you just let them move to one of your other cities?" the Consul suggested helpfully. "Our data shows that you have a nationwide labor shortage. If they moved away they could get jobs and buy whatever they need."
The President turned to the Consul. "You don’t understand. They are Kennewickians. They can’t live anywhere but Kennewick."
"Then why don’t you ship them some food. You have a large grain surplus."
The President seemed momentarily at a loss. Apparently he hadn’t expected this suggestion. Then he said; "No, the only solution is for them to be given back their native land."
Junea cleared her throat. "Fascinating. Well it was nice meeting you, but I have several more planets to visit." She turned to leave.
Her motion was interrupted by the Consul. "Excuse me, Your Reverence, but we have some business to conduct here before we leave."
Junea nodded. She had quite forgotten. "Ah, yes," she said.
The President, who an instant before had seemed depressed by the emissaries’ apparent lack of interest in the plight of the Kennewickians, was now alert. "Business?" he said.
"Yes," answered Fedris. "While we can’t help you in your conflict with the Minervans, we are prepared to offer you some business deals that I think you will find rewarding."
The President steepled his hands. "Please continue," he said.
Fedris smiled. "Well, I’ve just been informed by one of the scientists who happens to be traveling along with our party, that your country is sitting on top of a large reserve of helicity."
The President was puzzled. "What does that mean?"
"It means that this is your lucky day. Helicity is of no use to you, but it happens to be a great interest to some commercial organizations that I represent, and they are prepared to pay handsomely for it."
"What is helicity?" Beasley asked.
Fedris waved his hands dismissively. "I’m afraid that’s rather complicated, and quite beyond your understanding. However, the main point is that you have it, and we want it, and I’m sure you’ll be delighted with the kinds of things we are prepared to give you in exchange."
The President raised an eyebrow. "What is helicity used for?"
Fedris looked uncomfortable. "Well, it’s an energy source for a number of handy devices, levitation skates, for example."
The President smiled. "And lightning balls? And starships?"
"Well, yes."
The President laughed. "My, my. It seems we have something to sell indeed. Well if you want it, you’ll have to give us what we want. No sale unless you kick out the Minervans."
Junea interrupted. "I’m afraid that’s not possible. And you will sell."
"Or?"
Fedris grinned a wolfish grin. "I’m sure that we don’t need to explain that in detail to a man of your intelligence."
The President frowned. "I see. So why do you want to buy from us? Why not from some other country?"
"Because you have the most," Fedris said. "Also, as the most powerful of the local tribal despots, the example of your cooperation will help insure reasonable behavior from the others."
This was actually meant as a compliment, but the President took it otherwise. "I, sir, am not a local tribal despot. I am the lawfully elected President of the greatest nation on God’s green Earth."
"Whatever," Fedris said.
The President sulked for a few seconds, then said; "So you are prepared to take it, but you prefer to buy it. You want to keep this a smooth deal."
"Exactly."
"And what exactly do we get if we agree to sell?"
Fedris brightened. "Oh, many fine things. For example we have technologies that could double your crop yields, triple your industrial productivity, and cure many of the diseases afflicting your population."
The President shrugged. "Boring."
Fedris said, "I see." He exchanged a quick thought with Junea, then proceeded. "In that case, how about this?"
The Consul removed a small cube from his pocket and placed it on the table. "Observe," he said as he touched it lightly on one side.
Immediately the room was filled with holograms of beautiful naked men and women engaged in sexual acts of every description to the accompaniment of intensely erotic music.
As Junea expected, the President and the other savages in the room were immediately overwhelmed and were riveted to the display, panting and rubbing themselves as they watched. Fedris let this go on for about a minute, and then touched the cube again to stop the show.
"Wow!" the President said. "That was great. You mean to say we can keep the cube if we sell you some of that helicity stuff?"
Fedris smiled. "Certainly. This one is only a sample. As soon as we conclude an arrangement, I’ll arrange for shipments of new ones for each of you, every year. I assure you that you will never lack for the finest in joycubes for the rest of your lives. In addition, we will supply you with millions of mass market editions, that you can resell to your population at great profit, and help keep them happy too."
The President nodded thoughtfully. "Well, I must say that this deal is beginning to look more promising."
But Beasley had a question. "If you don’t mind my asking, Mr. Consul, at the rate you propose to export it, how long will our helicity last?"
"At least sixty years," Fedris answered. "Possibly as long as seventy."
"Just sixty years?" Beasley looked at the President in dismay. "Mr. President, I’m not sure this deal is wise. Our helicity reserve would appear to be a non-renewable resource of great value. We can’t let them take it for nothing but these little pleasure cubes."
Junea telepathed to Fedris. "This Beasley character, with his traces of rationality, could cause a problem." Fedris answered in kind. "Don’t worry, I’m on top of it."
Fedris faced the President. "Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that joycubes were all we would give you. We are also willing to supply you with large quantities of these."
With that he drew a small silver prism shape from his pocket and placed it on the table. "Observe," he said, and stroked it gently along the top edge.
Immediately, Beasley screamed and went into convulsions on the floor.
"Now," Fedris continued. "Let’s say you have a subject like that one who questions your judgment or authority. All you need to do is bring them into the presence of one of these and…" Here he pressed down harder on the prism edge. Beasley screamed again as every part of his body twisted in pain.
The President watched, fascinated. "Can I try it?" he asked.
"Certainly," Fedris said, and pushed the prism over to the President’s side of the table.
The President gave the top of the prism a light tap, and Beasley cried out in unendurable agony. He tapped again, and Beasley screamed again. He laughed with delight. "Hey, Jack, Lisa. Come here and try this. This is fun."
The other members of the President’s cabinet gathered around, and all had a turn torturing Beasley. As the party continued, Fedris drew the President aside.
"And in addition, with the amount of helicity you’ve got to offer, we can give you a healthy supply of these." He drew from his pocket a small pile of glowing iridescent blue plastic triangles, each with the picture of a rather beautiful woman wearing some kind of crown at its center.
"What are those?" The President asked.
"Western Galactic bluebacks," Fedris said. "Cold cash, accepted everywhere. Don’t leave home without it."
Looking around to make sure that the rest of the cabinet was sufficiently preoccupied, the President quickly pocketed the triangles.
"So you see, Mr. President, in exchange for something that you didn’t even know you had, we offer copious supplies of joycubes, painprisms, and good old-fashioned moolah. Joycubes for you and your loyal subjects, painprisms for your police to apply to the disloyal ones, and enough bluebacks for all the fun the galaxy has to offer. Everything you need to maintain happiness and keep order in your country."
The President observed Beasley writhing on the floor to the merry ministrations of his cabinet. "Partner," he said, "You’ve got a deal." He stuck out his hand.
Fedris shook the hand without apparent disgust. Junea offered her
blessing.
*
Hamilton sat with Aurora in the open-air cafe sipping raffa. The delightful Minervan drink filled the body with mild exhilaration, while imposing none of the numbing effects of alcohol. As the young priestess chatted on, he couldn’t avoid reflecting upon how pretty she looked, and how sweetly musical her voice sounded.
"I want you to know, Hamilton, that I’m not ungrateful to you for your action in disarming that assassin yesterday."
"Oh? How do you know I wasn’t just trying to save the boy?"
She smiled an amused smile. "Hamilton, haven’t you learned yet? I know what you are thinking."
"Oh, yeah." He should have thought about that.
Her grin became broader. "And I know how you feel about me."
That one caught him by surprise. He looked at her sharply. "Now wait just a minute, your worship, you may be telepathic but…"
"You are in love with me."
"No, I’m…"
"Hopelessly, helplessly, utterly, totally in love with me."
With a shock of recognition, Hamilton realized it was true. He sat back in his chair, unable to speak. How had it happened? Had it been the exhilaration of the dance? Or had she used her telepathic powers to cast some kind of spell on him? It didn’t matter. The situation was terrible. He was in love with a woman who viewed him as a clinical specimen.
"Poor thing," she said.
He looked at her in misery. "What can we do about it?"
"Why should I want to do anything about it? I think it’s sweet."
"It’s not fair!"
She chuckled. "What’s that expression you Earthlings use? ‘Life’s not fair?’"
"How can you be so cruel?"
"Cruel?" she raised an eyebrow. "You murder six fine people without provocation, and won’t even apologize for it, and I’m supposed to pity you for your emotional desperation?"
"But can’t you see that…"
She interrupted him. "Enough. As I said, I am not ungrateful for what you did yesterday. So here is what I am willing to do. If you will give me your word of honor that you will not try to escape, or undertake any harmful actions against any Minervans, I will give you freedom of the city. You’ll be able to go outside whenever you wish, walk around, visit people, even," she smiled, "go dancing. Just so long as you agree not to try to leave Minervan territory and come whenever I call you so we can continue our talks."
Hamilton thought the offer over. He knew there was no point trying to lie to her, so if he was to make the pledge, he would also have to decide to keep it. Giving up his right to attempt escape would be giving up his stand that he was a prisoner of war, which would reduce his dignity yet another notch. On the other hand, if he did not accept the offer, Aurora would keep him confined to his cell except when under her direct supervision, in which case escape would be impossible anyway. Yet his situation here was so humiliating. But then he thought: Wait, Aurora may think of me as a laboratory specimen, but I’m not. I am a man, and I remain a man no matter what she thinks. And if I stay here, and talk with her, and tell her all about me, just as she wants, maybe I can convince her that I am fully human. And if I can convince her, then maybe we together can convince the other Minervans that Earthlings are really human beings just like them, so we can all live together in peace. And maybe, if I can do all that, I can win her love.
Aurora’s eyes went wide. "What a noble thought!" she said. "And so romantic! So you’ll do it?"
"Yes. You have my word."
"Great! Wait till I tell my friends." Turning, she called out in Minervan to a group of young priestesses who were walking nearby. As they gathered around the table, she spoke to them rapidly in the musical Minervan tongue. Then they all turned to stare at Hamilton and started to giggle.
Aurora faced the soldier. "So, Hamilton," she said with an ironic smile, "you’re not a laboratory specimen after all. You’re a Man with a Mission."
"Yeah, that’s right."
All the priestesses burst out laughing.
Hamilton reddened with embarrassment. I guess I have my work cut out for me, he thought to himself.
"Yes," Aurora said, struggling to contain her laughter. "You certainly do."
*
In the basement of the First Methodist Church of Kennewick, Minister Aaron Vardt looked at his little charges. "Now boys and girls, who wants to go to heaven?"
All the little children raised their hands.
The Minister smiled. "Very good. Now who here knows what you need to do to go to heaven?"
Many of the children raised their hands, and waved them anxiously, hoping to be the one called on. The Minister chose one little girl who he knew to be very bright. "Yes, Nancy."
Nancy said; "The way to go to heaven is to kill a Minervan."
Minister Vardt beamed his approval. "That’s right, Nancy, Jesus wants us all to kill Minervans. And what is the best way to kill a Minervan?" He looked around for another bright child to call on. "Yes, Alan?"
Alan, age 9, knew the right answer. "The right way to kill Minervans is with a six-gun!" He made a gun out of his fingers and blazed away at the posters depicting the enemy that adorned the wall. "Bang! bang!"
"That’s right, children, Alan is exactly right. The six-gun is our holy weapon. It represents our spirit and traditional values. Jesus will love us best of all if we use the six-gun. It is the divine tool that can allow each of you to achieve martyrdom."
On cue, Emily, age 13, spoke up. "But Reverend, we have no sixguns."
"Then let us turn the lights out and pray. Perhaps Christ will show us a way."
Emily threw a switch and the cellar went dark. All the children prayed in unison. "Our father, that art in heaven, please show us the way to kill the Minervans, the hateful enemies of all that is holy. Show us how to smite them, to shoot them, to poison them, to burn them, or slit their throats. Show us the way to inflict pain and misery on them here on Earth, as you will do to them in Hell everlasting…"
As the pious prayer went on, the Minister could hear the sound of a large crate being dragged into the room. Then the prayer ended. The Minister said, "Emily, you may turn on the lights now."
The lights came on. There in the center of the room was a magnificent man. Beside him was an open crate filled with Colt-45 revolvers. The man said, "Behold! Jesus has answered your prayers. Here are loaded six-guns for each of you. Go forth and slay the Minervans!"
With glee, the children ran up and seized their weapons. As they headed joyously towards the door, the Minister stopped them for a final review. "Remember children, it is important that others bear witness to your martyrdom. Don’t try to shoot a Minervan until there is a TV crew nearby. And once they blow your hand off, you can cry all you want, but remember to stay in frame. And what is our priority order for TV coverage?"
The children all chimed in. "Galactic, interstellar, international,
national, state and local."
The Minister nodded. "Very good. Now go forth and do God’s work. I will meet you all in Heaven."
The children ran out the door.
When they were all gone, the Minister approached the Secret Service agent who had brought in the guns.
"So Lou, how’s tricks?"
"Not bad, Aaron. We’ve already rounded up enough new families of Kennewickian refugees to replace the martyrs you’ve expended three times over. Say, I heard the last lot of kids did pretty good."
Minister Vardt shrugged. "They did OK, I guess, killing one Minervan and wounding another before they were scragged. They could have gotten another if not for that traitor."
"What traitor?"
"Hamilton, the Ranger they took prisoner during the May 1 fighting. One of my boys would have nailed a Priestess if not for him."
The Agent stared at the Minister. "You can’t let him get away with that."
"I don’t intend to."