Into the Dark — Escape of the Nomad
“It is brutal and barbaric!”
Ambassador Klicktah of the Crenum Alliance was nearing the end of his speech. He was usually soft spoken, but today he had to talk over the rumble of anger in the assembly hall. Some of the delegates agreed with him, some didn’t, all were outraged.
He wished he’d remembered to bring along some hearing protection. It was good that the ancient founders of The United Council for Peace had designed the outside of the meeting hall to resemble a living planet—complete with clouds, oceans, and continents—to remind everyone, delegates and functionaries alike, what they were there to protect. Unfortunately, at times like this, the spherical shape caused the delegates’ thunderous shouting inside the hall to focus toward the center like gravity and reverberate with a crushing din.
Klicktah had expected his remarks to be provocative—the treatment of grounded worlds had always split the UCP. Its founders had designed it to trap starfaring cultures in a web of common interests, but this topic often caused the delegates to forget their common interests—at least temporarily.
“Order!” the deep, booming voice of Avin Shackree, President of the UCP, rose above the clamor. As the leader of the Council, he did his job well and usually kept these exchanges fair and civil.
“We will have order here! Please let Klicktah speak!” He pounded his gavel and the noise in the room subsided.
“There, that’s better. Please continue Ambassador.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. We all stood here in this hall, not long ago, and agreed that we would not tolerate such behavior again,” Klicktah resumed in a more diplomatic tone, “We should resolve as a council to pass a new opinion, promising consequences…”
“It is none of the UCP’s or the Crenum’s’ business what we do within our own borders!” Ambassador Trelleg, of the Zom Republic, interrupted. “Why can’t the Crenum Alliance just keep to its own affairs? Why does this council tolerate Crenum incursions onto our planets? Why doesn’t the UCP limit its own activities to member and neutral worlds? Telis 3 is outside the boundaries of the Crenum Alliance and its culture is outside the jurisdiction of the UCP.”
“Trelleg, you are out of order, you will get your turn to speak,” Shackree replied.
“Telis 3 is grounded,” Klicktah now spoke directly at Trelleg. “It has a native, non-space-faring people inhabiting it. You know that! It puts them under the governance of the UCP, regardless of where they are.”
“The Mistaac Accord only protects advancing cultures,” Trelleg fired back. “The people of Telis 3 are permanently grounded! They have abandoned spaceflight, and have no plans to pursue it further. Their society is in decline. They no longer have the public will or even the capacity to become a starfaring people!” He lowered his voice to a more reasonable tone. “If they were exploring interstellar space, they would have their own membership and representation on this council; if they were progressing, they would have the protection of the Mistaac Accord. As it stands they are a vassal world of the Zom Republic and their disposition is nobody’s business but ours.”
“The Zom claim that the Telesians are not progressing,” Klicktah continued, addressing the council again, “but our findings show otherwise.”
“Your findings,” said Ambassador Trelleg with a humorless smile, “are illegal. However, the Zom Republic would be very interested in anything that your spies have learned about Telesian technology. Do you have their reports with you?”
Klicktah removed a data module from a pocket in his coat and inserted it into a slot in his computer console.
He accessed the file, broadcasting it to the other delegates’ terminals and displaying it on the huge, 3-D holo-image in the center of the hall.
“The Telesians have been using a primitive form of anti-gravity in various aircraft designs—and to enhance and improve some of their other vehicles, and other devices—for the past fifteen of their years. Many of these technologies have historically been precursors to star flight propulsion on other planets. For this reason and others, our researchers believe that there is a starship under construction somewhere on the planet.” Moving images of various aircraft and other vehicles and tools—seen hovering and flying without thrusters or wings—appeared on the holo-image.
“Preposterous!” yelled Trelleg. He waved his hand at the display. “Those primitives have been using anti-gravity in those same disgustingly limited ways, with very little advancement in form, for that entire fifteen years.”
“Again, Mr. Trelleg,” President Shackree said, without taking his eyes off of the image in front of him, “You will get your chance to refute Ambassador Klicktah’s data.”
Trelleg made an impatient sound.
“But it’s a waste of time, our own scientists have been through all of this,” he argued. “They’ve studied these images, tracked their progress, and haven’t found much new advancement since then. The people of Telis 3 have stagnated technologically, their industries continue to use mostly hydrocarbon chemical reaction and nuclear fission for most of their energy needs, and the natural resources that support those technologies are nearly depleted. There is a lot less advancement going on there than Klicktah is implying, and the Telesian governments have outlawed publicly financed space flight research. There are no government funded deep space projects, no extra-orbital probes, no manned spacecraft, no private space programs, nothing.”
“That’s not true, Trelleg,” Klicktah replied patiently, “There is more going on there than you’re revealing.” He had to ruggle with his tone; Trelleg’s obvious attempts to rewrite the facts annoyed him. He made his next point with emphasis, drawing a breath before continuing.
“Our findings show direct evidence of an independently funded project—a prototype spacecraft under construction with an rtificial-gravity based propulsion system.”
The murmuring and whispers that had begun in the chambers suddenly ceased.
Now you’ve gone and done it; you and your big mouth may just have spoiled everything, Klicktah thought to himself. He had to try to protect Telis 3, but he had to do it without revealing information that would doom the advancements currently taking place on the planet. The Zom knew that the development of artificial gravity propulsion, by any Telesian, would stop their plans for the Telis system—so such projects had a way of disappearing. Klicktah knew that such a prototype existed. Crenum scientists had seen it, even touched the hull of the craft with their hands—Klicktah had seen the photographs. He thought about this and chewed his lip as he opened the truth another crack.
A new image appeared; it was an official looking Telesian document. The heading read:
National Aeronautic and Space Administration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
PAGA (Projected Artificial Gravity Attenuator)
Astronaut Stan McPherson presenting
On each of their displays, the delegates could see the same document, but in their own languages. Klicktah zoomed in on a sketch of a spherical craft on page 5 of the document. The ship had a large, horizontal, ring-shaped structure encircling its middle, prompting an audible gasp from some of the delegates. Then Klicktah’s aged finger appeared, giant sized, on the holo-display. He pointed to the ring.
“This proposal was presented to a government organization called ‘NASA’, in a country on Telis 3 called the ‘United States of America’ or ‘U.S.A.’ for short,” he said. “Look familiar? The ring structure that you see encircling this craft is recognizable to everyone here, it is a dual-node, parabolic artificial gravity projector—a drive ring. This report, together with the details of this proposal, indicates that the ship in this sketch is a spacecraft similar in design and abilities to the first interstellar vehicles that each of our cultures used, to lift us out of our grounded years. In each interstellar culture, spacecraft very similar to this one began a revolution of new technologies that started the rebirth of each of our races, and eventually brought us to join hands between the stars and form this organization, the UCP. This document and sketch were produced by native scientists on Telis 3 and the ship in this drawing is currently under construction on the planet.”
Klicktah stopped speaking. He was out of time.
“Trelleg, would you like to offer a rebuttal?”
“Of course, Mr. President.” He took control of the council’s 3-D display and pointed to some text in the upper corner of the document, it said:
July 17, 2022
“The date on this document indicates that it was in the Telesian year 2022 that this Mr. McPherson presented his team’s findings to the organization called ‘NASA’. Today’s date, by Telesian reckoning, is…let me see…” There was a pause while he calculated something on a separate device which he held in his hand. “March 13th, 2035. Therefore, according to this document, McPherson gave this presentation almost thirteen full cycles ago. What my esteemed colleague, Klicktah, has failed to mention—in his rather over-dramatized speech—is that this ‘NASA’ was disbanded sometime in 2023 and that all of the research and designs for this spacecraft were lost in a radiation accident in 2025. The publicly elected government there has since outlawed all funding for extra-orbital space flight development and has been oppressively regulating and taxing all private spaceflight enterprises. They do this, as they like to put it, ‘to reimburse the public’ for all the money and other resources that were ‘squandered’ in the past, on ‘worthless space adventures’.”
He pointed at the display. “This document that Klicktah has presented to us with such flair is already known to the Zom; I have a copy of it in my office. These people arrogantly rejected the technologies that this scientist pioneer, this Mr. McPherson, proposed, and canceled all funding for NASA. Not just the U.S. Government either, but this attitude is a plague, effecting every government on the planet. They have all jettisoned space science funding from their public policy, in favor of pressing issues more planet-side. Serious public interest in anything off planet has been completely lost and the vision of space sciences even became unpopular in their fiction literature. Other than a few die-hard individuals with telescopes, the only attention they pay to anything outside their atmosphere is orbiting probes that look inward at the planet. The evidence that Klicktah has presented here is worthless! The scientists that participated in this proposal have all been discredited and are now employed in other pursuits. Now, even private spaceflight enterprises quickly fail because of restrictive laws, abusive taxation, and an overall lack of interest by the Telesian people.
“Furthermore, even if someone on Telis 3 were able to build a spacecraft capable of interstellar flight, building a space flight industry would be impossible for these people. They’ve used up nearly all of their geologic energy reserves, and since they are no longer able to gather Helium3 fuel from the reserves on their moon, and other places in the Telesian system, they don’t have enough sustainable energy sources to support their population. Even hydrogen fusion energy is becoming difficult for them to maintain, because of their reduced manufacturing capacity. The industrial period on Telis 3 is dying, all of its advanced industries are in decline, and the people there are struggling just to move about, educate, and feed themselves. The age of advancement is history for them.
“Mr. Klicktah has dramatically told us that there is a private project at work; but he has shown us no physical evidence to back up his claims. Are we to take his word for it? He represents the Crenum Alliance, a nation that has been illegally trespassing on Zom space, spying on us in Telesia and elsewhere for years. Yet even with all of the information they have gathered, Klicktah still seems unable to produce even a shred of proof, not even an image, of this alleged hyper-stellar spacecraft. Zom scientists have been studying the Telesians very closely, and if such a project exists, then how could it have gone on right under our noses, and under the noses of the Telesian authorities, without being seen? How is it that only Crenum spies are aware of it? Could it be that they are actually the ones who are building this craft?”
A murmur began in the hall. Trelleg smiled at this and continued.
“Klicktah wants this council to oversee Zom activities on the planet, but who is overseeing Crenum activities? This little sketch that Klicktah has shown us today is conveniently similar to our own technology, and seems to imply that Telis 3 is developing interstellar sciences. Klicktah wants to build hope that the Telesians might be one of us someday. It is a very romantic notion, but who is to say that this drawing was not prepared under the coaching of Crenum agents? How can anyone be sure?”
“Outrageous!” Klicktah was on his feet, he could not believe Trelleg’s audacious…
“Please sit down, Klicktah,” President Shackree admonished him.
“Our researchers have built a well documented tradition studying primitive cultures, and we have always done it without interfering with them; but while we watch grounded worlds develop into starfaring societies, the Zom Empire covertly undermines, invades, and destroys them! Trelleg’s naked hypocrisy in making this preposterous allegation is more shocking even…than his government’s brazen encroachments!”
President Shackree pounded his gavel, but Klicktah continued.
“It is absurd and laughable that anyone representing the Zom could stand there, and with a straight face, accuse anyone else of interfering with the natural development of anything.” Klicktah added, calming down a little. “The fact that Trelleg would make such a ridiculous allegation articulates Zom arrogance more eloquently than I ever could.”
“Mr. Klicktah is trying to promote hysteria with this outburst,” Ambassador Trelleg continued. “He clearly has no current, detailed data to substantiate his claim that the Telesians are progressing toward star travel. If this antiquated document, which his spies could only have found in a museum somewhere, is the extent of his evidence, then he has no evidence at all. If there is a spacecraft under construction on Telis 3, then the Zom Republic would certainly like to see it.”
“So you can crush it!”
“No! So we can examine it for foreign tampering!”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen please,” President Shackree cut in again. “Ambassador Trelleg, you know as well as I do that if even one native person on that planet has recently produced any fruitful spaceflight research, or is constructing anything like the spacecraft in that sketch, that we would probably find your planned occupation and biology mining of Telis 3 to be illegal.”
In addition, the fact that Telis 3 lies within your borders makes no difference and you know it. That culture is far older than the Zom Republic, far older even than this council. Most of these planetary societies will last longer than our cheap copies of them. That is the reason why it is our duty to protect the rich cultures and governments on these worlds—they are the building blocks of everything else we do. It is our public policy that they rein supreme; we are here to serve them.
“It is in everyone’s best interest that we preserve them and not interfere with them, and you cannot undertake an encroachment of the size that you intend without a full scale invasion of the planet. Also, I refuse to believe that your industries will not enslave whatever will be left of that planet’s population to provide the labor force for such an endeavor.”
He turned to Klicktah, “However, you know that there are degenerate planets whose cultures and societies have already peaked. The Mistaac Accord does not protect such and the Zom and others are free to colonize, or otherwise make use of any such resources within their borders. The legal language that allows for this is not popular with everyone here, but the law binds us all. Now, are you prepared to dispute Trelleg’s claims regarding Telesian laws and public attitudes? I could make him produce evidence of them.”
“No,” Klicktah shook his head, “those facts are not in dispute at this time. What we dispute is Trelleg’s very subjective projections on the planet’s future industrial capacity…”
“…and you dispute it on even more subjective grounds since you, officially, won’t even admit that you have any scientists in Telesia,” Shakree interrupted, “and if we send a fact finding committee, they won’t be there to explore the hypothetical. I should also think that the team would have to include Zom representatives and they would need to know where to find the Telesian spacecraft, so they can examine it.”
Klicktah looked down at the age spots on his hands and sighed. He had already served longer in his office than had any other Crenum Alliance delegate in history, and it had been a good run. Though he was fit for his age, he suddenly felt very old. He wondered for a moment what he would be doing right now if he had retired last year when his wife had urged him to.
She had often said that he kept himself cooped up indoors too much. Being from a farm, it had always bothered her that her husband spent so much time breathing cycled air, either inside the UCP building with his high-stress occupation or on board a spacecraft; she said that it was unhealthy. Looking around him now, he could see her point. His apartment/office was here at the all-enclosed UCP facility, his life as the Crenum Ambassador to the UCP was here, as were the various recreational activities that he engaged in—when he had the time. His duties permitted him to return home only when the council was in recess; and then he would travel for three weeks to his home planet, where he would stay for three weeks and then return here and back to work. In the early days of his assignment, his wife used to join him on Cartlar 3 when the Council was in session, but there was really nothing for an old farm girl to do in such a place, particularly when all of their children and grandchildren lived near their home on Crenumar 4.
The Crenum worlds were running out of peaceful solutions to the Zom issue. There was a war brewing; it was going to start on his watch and he was feeling increasingly powerless to prevent it. Telis 3 was very near the borders of Crenum space and the various implications of that, whether real or imagined, were adding tensions to the issues at home. The Crenum people wanted the UCP to do something about the Zom’s plan to invade and occupy Telis 3, not only because the Mistaac Accord was a UCP law, and it fell to the UCP to enforce it, but also because the Crenum Alliance was not equipped to deal with the Zom, on that level, without support. However, if the Zom invaded that planet, such an act of barbarism against a defenseless, primitive world so close to the Crenum borders, might cause the planets of the Crenum Alliance to rise up and demand war against the Zom Republic. The people of the Crenum Alliance feared the Zom, and fear is a dangerous thing.
The Crenum and the Zom had the most powerful forces in the region. Each had a long list of friends and allies and had been engaged in an arms race with each other for as long as anyone could remember, but the Zom had the edge. Distance, better technology, and issues which had drawn the Zom’s attention to other regions of their space, had kept the Crenum and Zom forces separated up until now, but the Telis 3 debate was proof that those days were long over.
There was a man on Telis 3 who was building a spacecraft, one that was equipped with a primitive interstellar drive. However, his own people were hostile to his efforts and he was in constant jeopardy of losing it all, because he had to do his work outside the knowledge and laws of his government. Crenum operatives on the planet had visited the man’s secret facility, while he was away, and collected some very specific data; and the evidence they had gathered was clear and definitive. If Klicktah used this evidence it would assure further debate, and possibly get the UCP to prevent further Zom activities there, but he dared not risk it. All the Zom would have to do, once they knew the space craft’s whereabouts, would be to find an excuse to delay the UCP team for a little while and arrange an accident.
What’s more, while the Crenum field agents claimed that the Zom were in violation of the Mistaac Accord with respect to Telis 3, those same agents were actually skirting the thin edges of it themselves.