he Hope glanced at her watch as she stood.
“Of course not,” she smiled at Ryen. “You’re right on time, as usual. Please, grab a seat and some food.”
“We were just talking about some new duties for my people,” Commander General Flagg assured Ryen as the starnaut took a seat and started loading up his plate.
“Oh? And what are those additional duties?” Ryen pressed. “Nothing to do with the portal activity I witnessed, I hope. Or Koronos.”
“Not exactly,” Phaybee jumped in. “But based on the options we have considered, we might want to send a small unit to Koronos soon. Any thoughts on that?”
Ryen chewed quickly and swallowed. “I don’t recommend that yet. It’s too early,” Ryen shook his head, then picked up another slice of bacon. “My compliments to the chef,” he nodded in the Hope’s direction. “This is unimaginably superior to the powdered eggs and faux bacon I had on Koronos.”
“Thank you,” the Hope grinned. “I won’t add the contrast with Koronos rations, though. That might lower the sense of your compliment significantly.”
“Why do you think it’s too early to send troops to Koronos?” Uthir pressed. “I understand you tend to shy away from the use of power, even when power is necessary, being a Navy man. Is there any other reason?”
Ryen shook his head again in response to the Commander General. “That’s not it at all,” he kept his voice even and calm, refusing to be baited. “Surely you can see the main reason it is too early to do that, even with your Army eagerness to engage a non-existent threat.”
Uthir reddened at Ryen’s comment and started to push back his chair. When the Hope placed a restraining hand on his arm he eased back down and forced himself to take a deep breath.
“I do not agree that the threat is non-existent,” Commander General Flagg stated with a forced exhalation. “But please, go ahead and enlighten us with your superior strategic thoughts, and why we should adopt a non-threatening, peaceful approach, Mr. Navy man.” Uthir’s Army and Ryen’s Navy shared a long-standing rivalry, dating to long before the Journey of the Arks. Uthir spat the word “Navy” as if he were cursing. Deep down Ryen believed that each service had respect for the other. He certainly respected the Army. Not that such respect would ever be admitted publicly, of course.
“Well, Army,” Ryen matched Uthir’s tone, “if there was an identifiable threat, I would appreciate the Army engaging the enemy.” He smiled. “Then the Navy could come in and mop after them.”
“You know, Commander,” Uthir grinned back. “We never really need the Navy. But of course, we would be more than happy to let you give us a ride, as usual.”
“Enough arguing about which service is better,” the Hope stood, ready now to reign in the rivalry. “We have important things to discuss. Shall we adjourn to the den?”
The Board members all stood. Ryen wolfed down a couple more bites of breakfast, then grabbed his coffee mug and another slice of bacon as he stood up to join them.
“Chowhound,” Uthir muttered, just loud enough to be heard by everyone.
“Since the Hope was kind enough to provide more than you could eat,” Ryen waved his bacon at the Commander General, “I thought it only polite and proper to make sure I ate my share.”
Hope Montclair waited for the other Board members, and Commander Ryen Renauld, to settle in comfortably in her den before continuing the discussion.
“Now, where were we?” the Hope began, taking a sip of coffee.
“Commander Renauld was arguing against sending troops to Koronos,” Commander General Flagg said before anyone else had time to speak. “Mainly because he thinks there is no threat.”
Ryen nodded in agreement with Uthir. “There is no perceivable threat at this point,” he added for clarification. “And certainly no imminent danger that requires an immediate armed response.”
“And how do you know this?” Uthir growled. “Are you omniscient now, as well as a namby-pamby?”
“I would turn that question around, Commander General Flagg,” came Ryen’s rejoinder. “How do you know there is a threat? After all, I am the starnaut that was stationed on Koronos, monitoring the portal activity in our wake.”
“Gentlemen,” the Hope held a hand towards each of the military men.
“Please act, and speak as the gentlemen you have been proclaimed to be.” Each military officer, when given their commission, was proclaimed by the Board to be “an officer and a gentleman.”
Minister Phaybee Doeck spoke into the tense silence that followed the Hope’s admonition. “As Minister of Security, I believe we would be severely derelict in our duty if we did not take some kind of action. If we wait until there is a known threat, it might be too late to deal with it effectively.”
“Didn’t this very Board decide yesterday to send two starnauts to Koronos? To monitor activity around the clock?” Ryen asked. “And didn’t those two starnauts launch earlier today?”
“Yes, we did make that decision yesterday,” Uthir consented. “And we implemented it today. So our ability to monitor what is going on has improved. But not our ability to handle an invasion, should one occur.”
“We are far closer to Koronos that any of the planets where the increase in portal activity has been observed,” Ryen pointed out. “As soon as we notice a launch of anything large heading towards Koronos, any troops we dispatch will get there before the threat arrives.”
“If and only if their space travel ability is at the same speed as ours, or slower,” Phaybee countered. Uthir had moved forward to the edge of his seat and looked ready to stand. But after Phaybee made the same point he was about to make, he relaxed back into his chair and closed his mouth.
“What if they have FTL travel?” Phaybee asked the group. All members of this Board know that Faster Than Light travel, or FTL, was considered to be impossible.
“If they have FTL technology, they probably have more military firepower than we have, and nothing we do will make a difference,” Ryen frowned.
“For once, I agree with the Navy,” Commander General Flagg nodded. “Frankly, if they have FTL, we’re pretty much up the creek without a paddle.”
The Hope’s service bot, Jeeves, rolled over to the Hope as she started to speak. He handed her a remote control.
“You wanted to know when this man went on air with something new.” Jeeves’ voice sounded like a child speaking through a tin can. Hope Montclair chose to have him sound that way. She wanted to know when she was hearing a robot or a human, just from the tone of the voice.
“Thank you, Jeeves.” The Hope pressed a button on the remote and Jaeck Hodgens’ face filled most of the screen, speaking from outside a KNN news van. Scenery behind them was blocked by an image of Abel over his left shoulder, and an obviously photoshopped depiction of a freakish, evil looking bug made of DNA strands over his right. Not only did the images underscore what he was saying; they also prevented viewers from seeing where the van was, or where it was going.
“. . . deadly viral outbreak on Abel,” Jaeck finished his announcement. “According to my sources, several people have already died after contracting this virus. And yet your government, the Pairodice Republic, has said nothing. Are they behind this outbreak? Do they have an antidote, being hoarded for those they decide should have it?” The Hope muted his voice again and slammed the remote down on the table beside her chair.
“Where is that nut job getting his information?” she demanded, standing up and glaring at each of the Board members in turn. She even stared menacingly at Jeeves, but he stood silent, staring in the direction of the wall screen.
“Who died?” Ryen yelled, standing up and glaring at the Hope. “Who died? Did you know about this?” he added.
“Yes, there has been an outbreak,” Carryn Berrymoor, Minister of Public Health and Safety confirmed. “Just last night. Minister Heigan died. Just this morning we found out that four others passed away, but we don’t know who they are.”
“Why wasn’t I told?” Ryen was visibly upset at being kept in the dark about the virus. The Hope remembered that Ryen’s family members lived on both Abel and Kayne. She took a deep breath, deciding not to lash out at him for his outburst.
“We were getting to that,” the Hope assured him. “But we obviously had other important topics to discuss. We still do. Including a new hot topic, finding the source of these leaks.”
“You were going to keep this from the public?” Ryen wanted to know.
“Yes,” Minister Berrymoor answered. “The last thing we want is widespread panic.”
“I understand the need to avoid panic,” Ryen agreed. “But the public has a right to know something like this.”
“And not about the portal activity on Sehad Two, and Foredune?” Carryn countered.
“We don’t know what the portal activity means,” Ryen pointed out. “It could be nothing. It could be something. Even if it means there are other species about to travel through space, and even if they come here, we don’t know their intentions.”
“Exactly. We don’t have enough information,” Carryn said. “And we don’t have enough information about the virus. We don’t know what it is, how it is transmitted, or if there is an effective antidote or treatment. We can’t even tell people what precautions to take, because we don’t know its transmission vectors.”
Ryen thought about this for a moment. “We do know, apparently, that it is fatal. And ‘we,’ meaning Jaeck Hodgens and now the public, know it is happening. We should isolate ourselves from Abel at the very least.”
“Until we know more,” Uthir agreed. “And that is exactly what we are doing, now that we have more than one reported infection, and five fatalities. We’re working with the Abellians to find a cure.”
“They didn’t ship virus or blood samples here for analysis, did they?” Ryen was incredulous.
“Sounds like you want my job,” Carryn Berrymoor smiled, hoping to defuse the tension just a little. “They sent us digital images and details,” she assured Ryen. “We are working together, but remotely.”
“And now that you are up to speed on the viral incident,” the Hope nodded in Ryen’s direction. “Shall we move on to one of our other urgent topics, such as finding the source of Jaeck Hodgens’ information?”
“It could be someone on Abel,” Phaybee suggested. “He could have a contact there, and she, or he, might have sent him information.”
“Minister Doeck,” the Hope ordered steel in her voice, “I want you to find the source of Mr. Hodgens’ information. And I want you to find that source today.” She turned to Carryn Berrymoor, Minister of Public Health and Welfare.
“Carryn, bring me status reports on the virus twice a day. I want to know everything we learn. How does it transmit? Is there a treatment? Where did it originate? Everything.”
“Commander General Flagg,” Hope Montclair faced Uthir now. “Prepare a small team of Rangers. Equip them with everything you think they might need. Including a key to open and operate the portals on Foredune. If there is a way to use the one on Sehad Two, give them a key to that one, as well. They should be briefed and ready to go to Koronos.”
Just as Ryen opened his mouth to object, the Hope turned to face him. “Relax. I said get them ready to go, not send them. But I need you and the best analysts you have to pore over every feed we have from Koronos. As soon as any ship leaves Sehad Two or Foredune, we need to know about its departure, and as soon as possible, its destination.”
“Jaclyn, since Carryn will be working hard on finding a treatment for the virus, and everything else we can find out about it, I need you to educate the public. Let them know we are on top of this, and what we are doing. Regarding the virus, that is. And don’t say anything about what Phaybee is doing to discover Mr. Hodgens’ sources. Just talk about our efforts to work together with Abel remotely to get to the bottom of this, and to protect everyone.”
“Thim, prepare a news release for my office. I want that within the hour. Pass it by me before releasing it. Schedule a news conference for . . . “ she glanced at the wall monitor to see what time it was, “Eleven a.m. That gives you a little more than an hour, in case I need to revise the first draft.”
“What about me?” Joeanne asked. “Should I prepare a plan to negotiate with the Rebels about virus containment?”
“There are no Rebels,” the Hope repeated. “But yes, prepare a negotiation plan. Make that two plans. I want to be ready to start talks with anyone who claims they are responsible for this outbreak. And I want a strategy for negotiating with an alien enemy if one is headed this way.”
“But we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Ryen argued.
“How will I know what kind of language to use to negotiate with aliens?” Joeanne asked at the same time.
“We can pretend to negotiate with terrorists,” the Hope offered Ryen a grim half-smile. “How should I know how to talk with aliens?” she directed at Joeanne. “You’re the Minister of Negotiations. I’m just the Hope. Figure it out.”
The Hope turned back to stare at the monitor on the wall, but Jaeck Hodgens’ face was no longer on the screen. Just the image of Abel, and the DNA-bug. She turned back to look at her Board members as they also stared at the screen.
“Go, go,” she urged them. “We have problems to solve, and leaks to plug. Go. And join me here for my news release at eleven.”