Offspring Ch. 028byTalemaster©
I took my time in the morning. There wasn't much for me to do and Feng wouldn't be ready until lunchtime. When I eventually went to my office I found workers in there installing the mining paraphernalia I had asked for. I left them to it and went to the bar for a beer.
I thought about my meeting with the Oktonian negotiator. There was something about it that disturbed me. We had already established the person we were dealing with wasn't Alfred Dalrymple. I found it difficult to believe the Federation did not know this. Arden and Nakov are competent security men. They would have checked. I decided to test the waters.
I rang up Arden and asked if I could see him. He said I was welcome. An hour later I was in his office.
"What can I do for you Frank?" he asked.
"Yesterday I've met Alfred Dalrymple, the negotiator. What can you tell me about him?"
Arden pulled up a file on his computer. It was all there. Date and place of birth, his career and his jumping ship eight years ago, accredited as negotiator some four months back. Then Arden surprised me. He pulled up another photograph and put it next to the photo on the accreditation document. It was evidently someone entirely different.
"This is the real Alfred Dalrymple," he said. "We have no idea who the guy is you were talking to. They are all like this. They carry the ID of people who jumped ship, but that's not who they are. We have no idea where the Oktonians get these people from. You realise of course what I am showing you here is classified."
"Yes, that goes without saying. What else can you tell me?"
"The Federation thinks the Oktonians are doing this because they don't want us to know where they are sourcing their staff. We are ordered to ignore it. These are the people who handle all trade matters. No one wants to rock the boat. When all is said and done it really doesn't matter who these guys are. Like it or not we have to deal with them, there is no other way to do business. They can be difficult to trade with at times, but they are well behaved and don't cause any problems."
"I thought it might be something like this. Thanks for telling me."
"Tell me, Frank, what made you suspicious?"
"The guy was too educated and too polished to be a spacer mechanic who had jumped a freighter because of alien pussy."
"I've always believed you are the right man for the job. Not much gets past you," he said when I took my leave. It was clear to me he would report our conversation to Nakov the minute I had left his office.
Feng was in the dining room when I got back. Over lunch I told him of my conversation with Arden.
"I am surprised Arden was that open with you."
"I'm not. Alfred Dalrymple's profile is on public record. Arden is a sharp operator. The fact that I called on him to ask for more detail about the man would have told him I was smelling a rat somewhere. Besides, as far as Arden and the Federation brass is concerned little has changed. In their eyes I am still a Federation Major, currently on undercover assignment."
We finished our meal and went downstairs. The workers were putting the final touches on my revamped office. Apart from installing the items I had asked for they had removed the settees and the coffee table and replaced it with a plain white table and eight simple chairs. They had thrown the cocktail cabinet out too and put in a fridge and a small cupboard for the liquor bottles and glasses instead. The place looked now like the office of a hands on engineer in charge of a large project. Precisely the impression I wanted to convey.
I thanked the workmen and rang the dining room. I told the head waiter to serve the workers with meals of their choice and any drinks they liked and book it to the Chang corporation. The men looked happy when they went upstairs.
"Good move," said Feng. "They'll brag about this. It'll get around that you are a good man to work for and help a lot when we are recruiting people for phase two."
"Alright Sir Feng, let's have a look at the library."
We told Talla that we were in conference and not to be disturbed. Safely tucked away in our hidden room Feng explained the system to me. Getting used to the layout of the data base would take a while, but it wouldn't be a major problem. Searching for specifics was a different matter. Because of the old fashioned language used it would be difficult to find items until we got more used to their version of Federation Intergalactic.
"Bearing in mind what I've just told you, where do you want to start?"
"It'll be helpful to know a bit about the background and how humans got to be there. That'll give us an insight into the overall scenario. The really important bits though are the breeding programme and anything on whatever floats around in those spacecraft."
Feng sat down on one of the terminals and pulled some stuff up on the screen.
"Here," he said, vacating the seat and motioning me to sit down. "I've loaded the historical part. You busy yourself with that while I'll look for the other shit."
I did as I was asked and was soon immersed in some fascinating material. What Feng had given me was a history textbook, perhaps meant for high school students. The left two thirds of the screen told the story in fairly broad strokes, the right hand third provided links to source materials and articles that went into greater detail on certain points. The record started with the arrival of the humans almost 400 years ago.
Captain Lars Harkon was a slaver. He had called his ship Happy Delivery after a famous pirate ship of the eighteenth century. On the day in question Captain Harkon was very pleased with himself. Because of information he had received he was lying in wait for a Federation ship to set down colonists on a new world. As soon as the Federation vessel had left he had struck and captured five hundred colonists plus all their supplies without loss of life on either side. The Happy Delivery was overloaded, barely managing to take off. Things had gone well.
As soon as was in open space Captain Harkon set course to a planet in the Aldebaran system where he knew he could profitably sell his cargo and engaged the hyper-drive.
That's when disaster struck. For five days the ship bounced around in hyperspace like a tumble-weed in the desert. The Happy Delivery finally emerged on the rim of the Orion belt, its hyper-drives wrecked, but otherwise in fairly good order.
Captain Harkon took stock. It soon became clear that he was over one thousand light years away from civilisation and that there was no way back. Luckily there was a planet suitable for human habitation within reach of his still functioning sub-light drives. He set course for it. The prisoners and crew had been cuffed around a bit during that wild ride, but apart from a few cuts and bruises were in good shape. He issued extra rations and a can of beer or soft drink according to choice for crew and prisoners alike. The gesture was well received.
Well, Lars Harkon, he wrote in his log, you have royally fucked up. Here you are with a hundred crew and five hundred prisoners in the middle of nowhere. Your career as a pirate and slaver is over. If you want yourself and the people in your charge to survive you must become a statesman. Get on with it!
He did just that. He devised a plan. What helped was the fact that he had never tolerated any mistreatment of prisoners. Damaged goods are bad for business, he used to say and his crew had followed orders. It wasn't much to start with, but it was something. There would be some goodwill on which he could build.
When he had a fair idea how to proceed he called his ten senior officers into the briefing room and explained the situation they were in.
"Our only hope for survival is to establish a colony on the planet we are heading for. To achieve that we need to come to some arrangement with our captives. There are ten holds with fifty people each. I want you to go and see them. Explain that we want them to send one delegate per hold to discuss future options. Give them two hours to do so. You will then undo the shackles of the delegates in full view of the others and bring them here. The rest of the captives will stay locked in their holds. Any questions?"
There were none. Just over two hours later the officers returned with their charges.
Captain Harkon explained the situation they were in. He spoke about his vision for the future, the need for cooperation and the need to come up with a model for a society that all can live with.
"It will take three weeks to reach our destination," he said. "I will put the ship into a low orbit to give us a chance to study the planet and identify a suitable landing site. This might take a week or more, depending on what we find. Once we have landed there will be no way to leave, so it is important we get it right. We will use that time to draft a constitution and a set of laws that will be binding on everybody. I want you to appoint your ten most suitable people for such a task. I will do the same. These twenty people will form a committee, chaired by me. I will have a casting vote in case of a deadlock. My crew has been ordered to treat your people with courtesy and respect. I demand from you the same respect and courtesy towards my crew. You will now return and inform your people of my conditions. I will give you three hours to get back to me with an answer. Should my proposal be acceptable I will have all shackles removed. I regret not to be able to allow you the freedom of the ship, it would create chaos, so the holds will stay locked. I will permit however limited movement between the holds to enable you to see friends and exchange places until we land. After that you will be free to move. That is all."
According to contemporary records the mood amongst the captives changed almost instantly. The general feeling of despair had made room for cautious optimism. Captain Harkon's conditions were accepted.
In due course a constitution was drawn up that spelled out the structure of the state as well as the rights and obligations of its citizens. It was an enlightened document. To start the discussion Captain Harkon had prepared a document outlining his vision of a future society. Basic rights and obligations were common to all and inviolable. In addition there was a system of privileges that would be granted on merit only. It revolved around a scale of Merit Levels or ML's that ranged from one to fifty depending on such things as level of education, strength of character, willingness to work, value of his/her contribution to society, obedience to the law and so forth. Each level had its own criteria that had to be met in order to qualify. All citizens had the right to apply for the next level above their current status and sit for an examination. On successful passing promotion was guaranteed. Three consecutive failures and there would be no further opportunity for advancement.
The ML's determined rate of pay and status within the society. Each citizen was required to wear a badge showing the current ML and the area of employment such as construction, administration, research and so forth.
The idea of a meritocracy found immediate approval amongst committee members. The constitution was drawn up accordingly. A copy of the draft constitution was given to everyone and when put to the vote accepted by over eighty percent of the people on board. It was duly adopted and became the foundation of the emerging state.
A basic criminal and civil law was drafted and adopted and by the time the ship was in orbit around the new planet the stage was set. Captain Harkon had named the planet Hope, a name that found universal approval.
A team of scientists, both crew and former captives were busily evaluating the planet and found it suitable for colonisation. They discovered small cities, indicating the presence of intelligent indigenous life. There were no signs of advanced technology, presumably the inhabitants were still at a fairly early stage of development. The presence of fixed settlements proved that agriculture was flourishing.
Several possible landing sites were identified. The site favoured by Captain Harkon was a plain, crossed by a large river that went from a snow covered mountain range to the sea. Where the river met the sea was a sizeable settlement. The distance from the mountains to the sea was about three hundred miles. He decided to set the ship down on the half way mark. It would allow him to establish contact with the natives without the likelihood of an immediate attack.
He managed to bring the ship down in one piece, more by luck than good management he admitted later. They were home.
I needed a break. As fascinating as the material was it was wearing me out. Because of the old fashioned language I had to go over some sentences several times to make some sense out of what I was reading. It was hard work. I poured myself a beer and sat down in our little sitting corner. Feng must have thought it was a good idea. I had hardly sat down when he joined me.
"Had enough for a while?" he asked.
I told him I was struggling with the old fashioned terminology in places.
"Yeah, I know. It gets easier with time. To be truthful, I've had enough for today. Want to call it quits?"
I didn't need much prompting. We finished our drinks, closed off the computers and went upstairs into the bar after telling Talla she could go home.
"I don't know how Talla can stand it. Sitting there all day with virtually nothing to do. It would drive me nuts," I said after we had settled down.
"Talla lives in her own little dream world, whatever that is. She snaps out of it when there is something to do and gets back to it when she's done. That's one of the reasons why I picked her. That and the fact that she's fiercely loyal. Oktonians are like that. You treat them nicely and look after them and they'll do anything for you."
"What? Even give blow jobs?"
"Don't even think about it. Have you ever seen an Oktonian drink?"
"No, I haven't. What has that got to do with anything?"
"They are related to birds. They can't suck. When they drink they fill their mouth and tip their head back to swallow. On top of that they have razor sharp teeth."
"There was this guy who tried just that. When he couldn't get her to suck he tried to fuck her throat. She gagged and bit down. Some sort of reflex. It took the surgeon three hours to stitch his cock up. He can still piss, but he'll never get hard again."
"There goes that idea," I said, suddenly experiencing a very nasty twitch in my nether region.
We had a couple more drinks before Feng excused himself.
"I need to go for my lesson, after that I'll go home. See you in the morning."
I stayed for another drink and went to the dining room for a meal. Afterwards I decided to pay Mara a visit and toddled off for my lesson. I timed myself to arrive early. When she arrived she was wearing her lab coat as usual. There was no sign of a ML badge though.
"Don't they make you wear ML badges any more?" I asked after I had kissed her.
"I see you have been doing some studying. Yes, we are still obliged to wear them, but only at work. At other times they are not compulsory any more."
"Where is it then?"
She reached into her pocket and showed me. It was a disk about three inches in diameter, silver with a red border. There were two symbols on the disk, one above the other. The top one was purple, the bottom one green. I asked what they meant.
"The top one is my merit level, in this case thirty-nine, the bottom one shows I am with research."
"Why aren't you wearing it?"
"I hide it when I come here. I am very careful, but if someone sees me by accident they won't wonder too much what I'm doing here. There could be any number of reasons. If they saw a ML39 entering the building they would know something is wrong and report it. They would also know who it was, I'm the only ML39 here. That's why I'm always wearing a lab coat when I come here. This particular badge is for use with the lab coats. We change coats sometimes two or three times a day, depending on what we are doing. When we get a fresh coat we transfer the badge. The tops I wear when I am lecturing have the badges sewn on."
"And you are level thirty-nine. That's pretty high."
"It's as high as I want to go. Senior management stops there. Higher up are only government jobs at the ruling level. I want to continue doing research."
Mara was already taking her clothes off, I gathered she was finished talking.
I was right.