Offspring Ch. 031byTalemaster©
Talla had hardly served me my morning coffee when the phone rang. It was Al. He told me my conditions had been accepted and all systems were 'GO'. I invited him for lunch. We would meet at 1 PM in the dining room.
I immediately rang the Tai-pan to tell him we had been cleared by the Oktonians. As expected he already knew.
"I take it, Mister Walters you didn't ring me to tell me just that," he said. "What else is on your mind."
"My agronomist is arriving here in eight day's time. I would like to take off for Olympus in ten days from now."
"That is what I have called the new planet because of the mountains and the Mediterranean type sea. Besides, since you will be virtually a God on this world, the name of the abode of the Gods seemed fitting."
"Very amusing, Mister Walters. Olympus it is."
"If I want to stick to this tentative schedule I need to know a couple of things. Have arrangements been made for the scout ship and the soldiers I have asked for? Everything else I have under control."
"The soldiers are already on standby. I can get Sergeant Conners to report to you at three this afternoon, if you wish. As to the scout ship, I leave it to you to make the arrangements. Use your corporate credit card to pay for their services. It's your project, do whatever you feel is necessary. Anything else?"
"Thank you, Tai-pan, for your confidence in me, and yes, there is something else."
"An up to date register of available scout ships is kept by the Federation. Seeing our expedition will be common knowledge all over the known worlds within days I feel we should make our arrangements with knowledge of the Federation.
"It may be presumptuous of me, but I would like to make the following suggestion: I go to Federation Security and ask formally for their assistance to procure a scout ship for a mission into the proscribed zone. I will tell them that there will be an Oktonian observer on board and that the mission entails evaluating a planet for possible commercial exploitation. I will show them a brief description of the planet in question like I did to the agronomist. I will tell them nothing else.
"If possible I would like you to invite General Nakov and his executive officer for a briefing on the mission over dinner, say tomorrow evening. There you can personally tell them what you want them to know."
"You are right, Mister Walters. It is presumptuous of you. It is also the correct course of action. It is never a disadvantage, even for a Tai-pan, to be seen dining with a General and a Colonel of Federation Security. I will get the invitations out today, say dinner at seven at your hotel. I shall make all the arrangements. I expect you and Feng to attend."
"Thank you, Tai-pan."
It was still early. Nakov would still be at breakfast. I rang Arden and asked if I could come around at ten for an important briefing. He said that would be alright. I printed out some copies of my report to Jack on the planet.
When Feng arrived I filled him in on what had happened and told him I was off to the Federation and that I would see him on my return. I had just enough time to make it to my appointment.
Arden took me straight into Nakov's office.
"Look at what the cat dragged in," said Nakov as we shook hands. "What's got you so flustered, Frank?"
I handed them the sheet with the specifics on the planet and said: "I've been asked to lead an exploratory expedition to this planet and investigate its suitability for commercial exploitation."
They both briefly looked over my report.
"Very nice for you," said Nakov, "but why should we be interested in this?"
"Have a look where it is," I said.
Arden went to the computer terminal and punched in the coordinates. Not believing what he saw he punched the numbers in again, just to make sure. He blanched.
"What is is Arden?" the general asked.
"It's in the forbidden zone, Sir."
Nakov got up and checked the computer himself.
"Precisely," I said. "I thought you guys would be interested."
Nakov went to the fridge, gave Arden and me a can of beer and took one for himself.
"Fuck regulations," he said. "I think we all need a drink. What the fuck is going on Frank?"
"I'm not quite sure myself, Ivan," I said, using his name for the first time, "All I know is, it's something big.
"A week ago the Tai-pan gave me some space probe shots and an astronomer's assessment of a planet and asked me to analyse it. I had a good look, wrote a report and recommended an exploratory expedition since there seemed to be a good potential for exploitation.
"This morning he told me where it is and what he wanted me to do. I told him it would be very expensive. He gave me a corporate credit card and dropped the whole project into my lap. He said I had a free hand. When I said he wouldn't get much change out of ten million credits he said the credit card was good for it. The old guy used to be a miner in his younger days, he'd have a fairly good idea what's involved in a project of this kind. Incidentally an Oktonian observer will accompany us."
"What else can you tell us?" Nakov was on the edge of his seat.
"When I told him I needed a scout ship with a first class crew and that it would perhaps be best if I asked the Federation for some assistance in this matter he said he had no problem with that. I said that perhaps Federation Security should be informed of the project too. He agreed that this was the proper way to go about it. He is inviting you two for a dinner tomorrow night where he will give you a briefing. You should get the invitations sometime today."
"So what do you want from us, Frank?"
"I want to use your facilities to find and hire a scout ship for the expedition. I know you have an up to date register of what's available."
"Surely the Chang Corporation can find that out without our help."
"Of course they can, but if you help now, down the track, if you want some information about what is going on in the forbidden zone, you get more than a 'Get fucked, mind you own business' type of answer. It can't hurt if the Federation is involved in the project, however peripherally, from the word go."
"You've sold me, Frank. Arden, help him find what he wants. Priority one."
It took us less than ten minutes. The Pygmalion was available and currently on Earth. I knew the ship and its captain from a previous expedition. It would be perfect. I sent a proposal off together with a description of the planet and a personal note to the captain. He would remember me.
I thanked Arden and made tracks back to the hotel. I would be in time for lunch with Mr. Dalrymple.
Lunch was uneventful. Over drinks I told Al that official duty would start day after tomorrow at 9 AM.
"From then on, until we depart, you will stay here in the hotel and be available at all times for briefings and training," I said. "There are a number of things you need to know. I don't want anyone to come on the expedition unprepared. Is there a problem with that?"
Al told me there wouldn't be.
"I'll assemble the rest of the crew. You will train together. The agronomist and the ship's crew are old hands at this, they don't need a lengthy introduction. The tentative departure date is ten days from today. And now, Gentlemen, I need to leave. I have Sergeant Conners reporting for duty in half an hour. I need to be at my office."
Trevor Conners was a wiry man of about five foot six wearing army fatigues and a red beret. He stood to attention and gave me a military salute.
"Sergeant Conners reporting for duty, Sir," he barked in the manner of soldiers.
"At ease, Soldier," I said without getting up from my chair. "I am Frank Walters and I am in charge of this expedition. Sit down Sergeant and join me in a beer."
"Not when I am on duty, Sir."
"You are not on duty yet. This is just a friendly get to know each other and an initial briefing. It's okay for you to have a drink."
"In that case, Sir, I'll gladly join you," he said with a grin.
"Before we going anywhere let's lay down some ground rules. I'm not much on formality. When we are off duty or in private you can call me Frank. Is that alright with you, Trevor?"
"That's usually the way it works with the better commanders, Frank." He was grinning again. I would get on well with this guy.
"I take it you have been briefed on the mission, Trevor."
"No, I haven't. All I've been told is that my men and I are to provide cover for an expedition to a virgin world and to report here."
"And you accepted the assignment without further detail?"
"We are soldiers, Frank. We go where we are sent."
I briefed Trevor on the mission.
"I have requested the 'Pygmalion' to be our scout ship," I concluded "I haven't heard back yet, but I think they will accept. I have worked with them before."
Sergeant Conners laughed out loud.
"You are that Frank Walters? Oh, this is going to be be a lot of fun."
"You've heard of me?"
"I've served with Captain Rodriguez and that crazy brother of his on a couple of missions. Only ship I've ever been on that had two captains. You never knew who is the captain and who is the exec. They told some wild stories about you."
"Really? What a coincidence!"
"Not especially. This is a very large universe, but when it comes to scout ships who handle the hairy missions it's a rather small club. They all know of each other's exploits."
"Yes, you are right. I've heard wild stories about some people too. I just never thought I was in that league. Anyway, let's get back to our task. I have heard you people have some place here where you train. What can you tell me about it?"
"There is a place where they have obstacle courses, gyms, mock up land and cityscapes and so forth where we train. A lot of civilians go there too, for fun. They even have mock battles with guns and everything. The guns are real in every respect except they can't fire live rounds. They fire laser beams instead. The hits are recorded and evaluated. You can even hunt virtual animals. It's very realistic."
"Wonderful. I want you to take the greenhorns in our expedition and train them in the rudiments. Weapons care and safety, how to take cover, how to hit a target and so forth, you know the drill. Lift their arses a little. Miniature boot camp sort of thing. You have about eight days to teach them how to handle trouble."
"I won't be able to teach them much."
"As long as they can take cover and fire in the direction of trouble and not into our arses I'll be quite happy. Better than leaving them ignorant."
"I can do that."
"We start day after tomorrow at 9 AM with a meeting here. After that they are all yours until we leave. There are rooms booked at the hotel for you and your men, you can move in as soon as you are ready. Book all meals and drinks to your rooms. The company will take care of the bills. And now, lets close off and have a couple more beers. Tell me about your time on the Pygmalion."
Feng had arranged for me to interview the chemist, the meteorologist and the doctor in the morning. I was through with them by lunchtime. They seemed to be good men.
I was just about to pack up and go upstairs when Talla came in, put a beer in front of me and just stood there staring at me expressionless. She had never done anything like this before.
"What's the matter Talla? Is there a problem somewhere?"
"No problem. Talla wants to go with Frank."
"Go with me? Where to?"
"Talla wants to go with Frank to Olympus."
"You want to join the expedition?"
I thought about it for a moment. Perhaps this wasn't such a bad idea. Sooner or later, if we found Olympus suitable, we would need to bring Oktonians there to handle the agriculture and a host of other things. If Talla came with us it would give us an idea if her people can handle the environment and function there.
"You realise, Talla, you might be going into great danger?"
"I have no idea how I am going to sell this to the Tai-pan or to Al Dalrymple's mob, but I promise you this: Tomorrow Sergeant Conners starts training the crew in ways to defend themselves. You will be amongst them. If at the end of the training he is convinced you can handle yourself as well as the others you can come."
"The Goddess loves Frank. Talla can see why."
Before I could ask what that was all about she was gone. She was sitting in her receptionist corner when I went for lunch.
I told Feng over lunch about Talla.
"I have no idea how to sell this to your uncle or to Al," I said.
"Don't sell! Simply tell them you are taking her if she passes the test. My uncle has given you the project. You make the decisions. End of story. Inform him as a matter of courtesy, but don't ask permission. As to Al's masters, since when have you ever given a fuck what they think? They are getting used to you pontificating. Why change it now?"
As usual, Feng's advice was as good as gold.
When I got back to the office there was a message from Captain Rodriguez. It read:
"Preparing the Pygmalion for departure. Awaiting confirmation. Contracts attached. My brother Juan is looking forward to getting pissed with you again, so am I. Pedro."
The contracts were straight forward. These guys don't believe in crooked clauses. I acknowledged the contracts and sent two million credits to their account as a down payment. I also sent the list of authorised weapons and asked for them to be put into the toy cupboard. They would have no trouble procuring them on Earth. On Okton4 it would be impossible.
The Pygmalion is fast. She would be here in four days.
There was nothing further to do in the office. I told Talla she could call it quits for the day, grabbed Feng and went upstairs. On the way to the bar I called in on the liaison officer and asked for an extra room for Talla on the floor where our crew members would stay in the coming days.
"I don't know if extra facilities are needed for her. I want her to be as comfortable as possible. You also need to arrange meals for her, she will be eating with the rest of the crew."
To say she was stunned at my request would be an understatement. She was totally confused. I had to repeat my request. In the end she excused herself and went to make some telephone calls. When she returned she apologised for the delay, saying that this sort of thing had never happened before and that she had to get instructions from her superiors. However, arrangements would be made and the room would be ready some time tomorrow. As to meals, would Talla please ring them in the morning and let them know what she would like to eat so it could be prepared.
I thanked her and went with Feng for a drink. Feng had been staying at the hotel for the last few days so when it became time to change for dinner he didn't have far to go. All spruced up in our Tuxedos we met in the bar again at around six. We had hardly sat down with our drinks when the Tai-pan turned up, grabbed himself a beer at the bar and joined us.
"You certainly know how to make waves, Mister Walters," he said after a greeting. "Your request to accommodate Talla here at the hotel went all the way to me. The management didn't know what to do. I told them to give you what you had asked for. They were not impressed. You must have your reasons. Care to tell me what they are?"
I told him that Talla had asked to join the expedition and that I had agreed to take her, subject to some conditions. I also told him that I didn't think the Oktonians were as dumb as everyone thinks.
"What we perceive as mental dullness is essentially a problem with communication. I intend to rectify this. With better communication between the races there is no telling what we might achieve together. Besides, sooner or later we have to introduce the Oktonians to the conditions on Olympus. Might as well be now, especially since we have a volunteer who understands the risks involved."
"You seem to understand these people better than anyone I've ever heard of. I trust your instincts in this. You have my support."
"Thank you Tai-pan."
"You realise you have just become a legend to the Oktonians. They have a better grapevine than we have. By tomorrow morning there won't be an Oktonian in the spaceport, if not on the whole planet, who won't know that you have demanded in one of the finest hotels that one of their own be treated as an equal. You'll be a hero."
"If that's the case, Sir, this won't hurt our project one bit. Especially when it comes to recruiting."
"Indeed, my boy. I wonder how the Federation is going to react when they find out."
"They won't even notice. The Federation see these people as some higher form of domestic animal. They couldn't give a fuck what some barkeeps and cleaning ladies think about anything."
"A rather sad, but nevertheless accurate comment on our society."
The Tai-pan looked at his watch.
"Well, Gentlemen," he said, "let's finish our drinks. It's time for our little public relations exercise."
Dinner was a formal affair complete with candles and real silverware. The General and Arden looked splendid in their dress uniforms. Cleverly the Tai-pan had chosen a round table for the occasion to give an egalitarian impression. He had the General seated to his right and myself to his left. The food was exquisite, the wines crisp and expensive.
Not much was said over dinner. When after dinner drinks and coffee were served the Tai-pan told our guests about the project. He spoke about the years it had taken him to convince the Oktonians that a joint venture between his company and their government was in the interest of both. Now that the political framework had been established the project could proceed in earnest. He spoke of his vision to have humans and Oktonians open up new worlds together in a spirit of cooperation and trust. It was all pure bullshit, of course. He implied that he saw the Federation getting involved at some stage, something the General was very impressed with. The old coot had no intention of ever allowing that to happen, but it sounded good and would keep the arseholes pacified, if not forever, but for a long while.
Eventually the party broke up. The Tai-pan asked me and Feng to join him for a last drink in the bar.
"How do you think we went?" he asked when we had settled down, to which I replied:
"Remind me to never buy a used space ship from you either."
The Tai-pan laughed out loud and mumbled something about birds of a feather.
We broke up soon after that.