t eleven Hope Montclair stepped outside her home to face a crowd of reporters, cameramen and camerawomen, and a bristling forest of microphones, accompanied by the loud hum of speculation. She raised her hands, and surprisingly the crowd of newsmen and newswomen actually quieted. She smiled at the cameras, ignoring the paper with talking points in her hand.
“I know you all have a million questions.” She paused. “So do I. So do your government representatives, my Board members.” The paparazzi gathered muttered agreements and nodded their heads. She looked directly at one of the AKN cameras, thinking specifically of the people on Abel. “And so does the Hope and the Board on Abel.” Another pause.
“We all have more questions than answers.” She stared hard at Jaeck Hodgens. “I will tell you what we know.” More muttering and nodding. “And again every 24 hours until we have all the answers we need.” She raised her voice over the growing press of questions. “When we can, Hope Gamede and I will hold a joint news conference. But right now it is just me, while he is doing everything he can to protect all of us, beginning with the people on Abel. And as soon as you can all quiet down again, I will tell you what I know so far.” It took almost a full minute for the buzz of conversations to die out. Once the last pair of off-camera conversations stopped, Hope Montclair resumed.
“We know there has been a viral outbreak on Abel. We know the virus can be fatal.” The Hope could make out the words of some of the questions in the verbal melee that followed. Maybe because those were the ones repeated, or perhaps because they were the same questions she wanted answered. Among those few she picked out, she decided to address the following four:
“What is it?”
“How is it spread?”
“Do we have an antidote?”
“Has everyone who got it died?”
“Four answers for all of you, then I must meet with your Board to continue investigations and planning. We haven’t named it yet. It is NOT V. Boli. This new virus appears to be spread only on contact. Labs on both Kayne and Abel are working to find an antidote. And only some of the cases have been fatal.”
“We’re working with Abel? Did they send the virus here?”
“Are you crazy? We should isolate ourselves from Abel.”
“Did doctors from Abel come here? Are they sick?”
More voices rose in volume, conveying anger and distrust, but also fear. The Hope held her hands out palms up, and waited again. Once the noise cut down to a manageable level she went on.
“Abel sent us digital images. They aren’t foolish enough to risk spreading the infection by sending blood or people. And we aren’t foolish enough to let them. That’s all I know for now. We’ll speak again, at the Hall of the Dome, tomorrow morning.” Ignoring the clamor behind her, she turned and walked back inside. The Board members followed. When her door closed, many of the news vans left, carrying most of the reporters and camera operators with them. KNN and AKN vans and their crews stayed behind, hoping to be the first to hear whatever the Hope or her Board had to say next.
The Hope and most of her Board members sat where they had been earlier. Thim stood by the window, holding the draperies aside to peer out at the remaining news crews. When everyone else had settled, Hope Montclair continued their discussion from earlier.
“Now that we’ve all had some time to consider the latest information,” she began, “and to digest the news from Abel along with breakfast, let’s resume our discussion. I would like to know what each of you proposes, in addition to the increased presence on Koronos.”
“You all know where I stand,” Uthir answered. “We should not wait for this situation to deteriorate, to become a more serious threat to our survival.” Ryen cleared his throat noisily, but the Commander General pressed on. “I say we should put together a command force and return to Foredune and Sehad Two. Eliminate even the possibility of a threat.”
Minister Berrymoor came to the edge of her seat and nodded at the Hope. “Frankly, I don’t care what the Commander General does off planet. And right now I don’t think what he does is our most important decision to make. We need to address the virus on Abel.”
Phaybee started speaking as soon as Carryn took a breath. “Both Commander General Flagg and Minister Berrymoor are right. We have three serious concerns to consider right now, and they have begun to address two of them. There is also the matter of the Rebels.”
“There are no Rebels,” Hope Montclair insisted.
“Rebels or not,” Minister Loo jumped in, “we can’t afford to go spending money impulsively on three or more problems, all of which are only potential threats at this time.”
“The viral outbreak on Abel is more than a potential threat,” Carryn Berrymoor insisted.”
“How can you call an alien invasion a potential threat instead of a real issue?” Uthir argued.
“We need to rebuild the Laboratory,” Minister Kyper added, looking directly at Richelle Loo.
“Stop!” the Hope raised her voice over the growing cacophony as she stood. “You’re almost as bad as the press.” A couple of the Board members hung their heads, but nobody argued with her, or fired off any more questions. “Obviously you need more time to come up with anything positive and coordinated,” the Hope told them. “The problem is, we might not have much time. Here’s what I want you to do.”
“Commander General Flagg, you are in charge of our planetary defenses. Please give me a dual proposal; the absolutely least expensive deployment you would consider viable to protect ourselves, and whatever you consider the complete solution.”
“Carryn, as Minister of Public Health and Welfare I think it most imperative that you address this virus. Tell me everything you think we need to do in order to insulate ourselves from Abel, and what we can provide to them by way of support.”
“Phaybee, as Minister of Security please work with Uthir and Carryn to include what we need in order to secure ourselves from alien invasion, and to avoid contracting this new virus here while we help Abel fight it. And figure out where Jaeck Hodgens is getting his information. I swear that man knows things he shouldn’t before we do.” Phaybee and Richelle chuckled at that comment.
“Richelle, I would like you to suggest ways to increase our public funds at the same time that you provide the other Board members our current financial status.”
“Joeanne, put together a pair of crack negotiating teams. One to deal with Abel and their needs, another that includes our top linguist for potential negotiations with aliens.”
“Jaclyn, the public needs to be educated, or re-educated, on preventing infection. That should be easy for you and the Board of Education. Add to the public information you prepare some assurances for any of our xenophobes.”
“Thim, you need to deal with your loss. I have no doubt Public Relations will be necessary as things progress.” She turned to Ryen last.
“Starnaut Renauld, you have the only first-hand knowledge of what our monitors picked up on other planets. Brief the starnauts now assigned to Koronos, those assigned to our other outposts, and work with Commander General Flagg. I would like to have a unified Army/Navy approach in any military actions we decide to employ.”
“I would like your proposals, funding estimates, and any further suggestions by tomorrow morning. We’ll reconvene here for breakfast again tomorrow at 0800. And I don’t need to remind any of you,” she added, as the others stood, “these proposals and discussions are absolutely TOP SECRET, Board Eyes Only. Except for the briefings to our outposts, Ryen. Those will be Top Secret, and to be broadcast over secure communications channels.”
“Should be OK to leave by the front door,” Thim said, dropping the drapes back in place. “The two packs of jackals that stayed behind are still out back.”