Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Only Alternative                  


242-1107, Tara, Integrity City

The Jarra de Té seemed fairly upscale so far tea houses went to Atopia’s mind as she, Baronet Lawrence and Tabitha entered the place.  The floor of the lobby was an intricate mosaic of brightly-colored tiles contrasting with the richly stained arches of wood that supported the rafters.  Art was in evidence everywhere in the space, with paintings adorning walls, statues occupying alcoves and mobiles suspended from the ceiling.  Decorative blooming plants occupied nooks and crannies about the place, subdividing the much larger space into manageable, cozy sections that invited relaxation and conversation.

“He’s here,” said Baronet Lawrence, nodding the direction of a table toward the back of the house.  Atopia looked that direction and saw the man – Simon Udet, the senator representing the Department of Genetic Purity.  He was thin man with stern features, even when they were at rest and contemplative as they were now over a cup of what appeared to be coffee.  His suit was cut in the style of the DGP’s officers’ uniforms, but its only adornment was a lapel pin of the department’s logo.

“He certainly doesn’t look like a monster,” commented Tabitha as she handed Atopia a steaming cup of Joe from the counter.

“Book and its cover,” Atopia said around a sip from her cup, wishing she had less pressing business so she could savor its excellent contents.  “Let’s hear his side of the story,” she said as she started striding toward his table.

Tara’s form of feudal technocracy meant that each department and bureau of its government was essentially independent from the others – each having near absolute responsibility for a very limited set of functions within that government.  The Taran Senate was the government body that worked out the differences between elements of the government when they got into each other’s way.  Thus, while Simon wasn’t the head of the DGP, he was the most accessible member of its organization.

Baronet Lawrence handled the introductions as the trio sat across from Simon at his table.  Simon politely nodded to Tabitha and then offered a formal bow to both Lawrence and Atopia.  “I can assume this isn’t a social call,” Simon said he sat back down, “I don’t have the demeanor for that nor the looks that would be attractive to either of the ladies present, after all.”

“I have reason to believe that the Department of Genetic Purity has detained my daughter and a member of my starship’s crew,” said Atopia.  “I want both of them returned to the starport extrality immediately, along with an official apology and a full explanation of why they were detained.”

“Indeed,” said Simon who was looking singularly unimpressed as he turned toward Lawrence.  “I take it your lordship did not adequately inform her ladyship of my exact position within the DGP?  Otherwise, I think her tone would be considerably less strident and her expectations considerably lower.”

“My daughter, Lady Olivia Verne, is a member of the Imperial Peerage by birth,” Atopia continued, “and I am a Defender of the Imperium.  Therefore, Senator, if you are incapable or unwilling to produce my daughter and my crew member, I expect you to immediately direct me to the person who can.”

Simon regarded Atopia with a dispassionate stare.  “Your ladyship assumes that I have full knowledge of the situation,” he replied.  “This is the first I’ve heard of it.  If true, it is regrettable that off-worlders have been mistakenly detained by the officers of the department I represent.  I offer you apologies on behalf of the DGP.  I’m sure that his lordship Baronet Lawrence has informed you that no lasting harm comes to anyone in our custody, so whatever fears you have for your daughter and crew member are unfounded.”

Atopia bit down on her initial response to that, taking a breath before speaking.  “Senator, this is my daughter we’re talking about,” she said, “I’m sure you would understand the depths of a parent’s concern when it comes to her child.”

Simon nodded.  “I do,” he said, “and I am sure that as a starship captain you are equally concerned with your missing crewmember as well.  With your permission, I will excuse myself and make an inquiry immediately.  This should only take a few minutes.”  Simon rose and extracted a comlink from the breast pocket of his suit and stepped away from the table.

Tabitha looked confused.  “He’s actually going to help us?”

Atopia watched as Simon talked into the device in an alcove out of earshot.  “He’s going to make a show of it, at least,” she said.  “Call back to the ship and tell John, Kim and Sir Winston to be ready for ‘Plan B.’ Make sure to remind Hawk we may need to leave in a hurry.”

Simon was returning to the table as Tabitha finished the call to the ship.  “The TGP did detain a woman and a young girl at the marketplace in Integrity City this afternoon, your ladyship,” said Simon as he returned to his seat.  “The girl was detained as part of our ongoing mission while the woman was detained for interfering with the actions of the department’s officers carrying out that mission.”

“They couldn’t tell she was from off-world?” blurted Tabitha.

Simon’s gaze turned toward her.  “Aside from your blue eyes,” he said, “I doubt I or anyone else on Tara could set you apart from a member of the populace.  I assume that neither the child nor the crew member has blue eyes?”

Atopia shook her head realizing that both Samantha and Olivia could easily lose themselves in a crowd on Tara which was predominantly dark-haired and brown-eyed.

“Your officers don’t ask for identification?” continued Tabitha.  “Olivia has an Imperial Patent of Nobility and Samantha has Imperial Identification Card.”

“I really wish it was that simple,” said Simon.  “Unfortunately, there is a group of criminals who are actively attempting to thwart the mission of the department.  They have resorted to using false identities, including falsified Patents of Nobility, plus disguises to evade the department’s officers, as well as physical assaults upon the officers.  Their actions have forced the department to take a hard line when it comes to the mission.”

“Criminals?” asked Baronet Lawrence.  “This is the first time you’ve mentioned this to me, Senator.”

“And it will be the last time in so public a place,” said Simon as he finished his coffee and stood.  “Baronet Atopia, I will look into this matter personally.  I may not meet with success in my inquiry, but if you will give me until midnight, I will come to his lordship’s manor and present all I have learned.  May I have your ladyship’s solemn oath that you will not act or authorize action for others before then?”

Atopia forced a sigh.  “I see my reputation precedes me,” she said with a nod.  “You have my word, Senator.”

242-1107, Tara, Integrity City Starport Extrality

Baronet Lawrence’s manor was a modern A-frame chateau of sorts surmounting a hill on the southern edge of the starport.  The wall facing the starport was an expanse of polarized transparasteel offering the perfect place to view the comings and goings of spacecraft and starships.  Given that his lordship was a retired corporate merchant captain, this arrangement for his private residence was quite understandable.

While the dinner was catered from an excellent local restaurant, the entertainment was genuine as the host was an accomplished pianist.  Lisa revealed that she was a passable singer, too.  Ordinarily, such entertainment would have made for a wonderful evening, but Atopia’s mind was preoccupied by two things – her daughter and the agonizingly slow march of time.

Senator Udet arrived at the house full hour before midnight.  His expression was even sterner than in the tea house.  “I must apologize properly for this situation at some point,” he began, “but time is now of the essence.  The director of the department has been engaging in an unauthorized course of action and my inquiry has, in all likelihood, triggered a sort of failsafe response.  I fear for the safety of your daughter and crew member now.

“Briefly, the genetic makeup of the natives of Tara incorporates a specific gene combination that is recessive, but when present in both parents has a twenty-five percent chance of producing offspring with parapsychological abilities.  The DGP was created to locate, identify and proactively suppress these abilities in those members of our populace who possess them, as well as to identify carriers and prevent their having children with other carriers.  The Taran class system was instituted to assist in this mission, with arranged marriages that were hoped to breed the gene out of existence.”

“He’s talking psionics,” said Valo suddenly.  “Then that would mean the criminals are –“

“Psionic, yes,” said Simon with a nod toward the Dawn’s pilot and navigator, “Protecting their own.”

“You said Olivia was picked up by your department’s officers,” said Atopia.  “How would they know she was a psion in the first place?”

Simon answered by producing a small, boxy device from a pocket of his suitcoat.  “This is a detector the department uses.  It detects abnormal brain activity out to about ten meters.  Plainclothes officers circulate in crowds while uniformed officers are used to drive suspected psions toward them.  Those that register on the detector are arrested and subjected to a battery of tests to determine their potential or existing level of ability.  If they are a confirmed psionic, they are given a series of injections to permanently suppress their psionic abilities or to keep them from developing.”

“Let me guess,” said Sir Winston with a snort, “some special cocktail of micro-encapsulated neurotoxins injected into the base of the skull and spine?”

Simon nodded.  “It’s particularly effective,” he said.

“Care to share with us the five-year survival rate for the people who receive that treatment?” said Winston.  “Or the ones who are permanently brain damaged or paralyzed, for that matter?”

Simon nodded.  “The department’s mission is to protect both our people and the rest of the Imperium, of which Tara is part,” he said.  “We continue to refine the process.  Currently, the lethality rates are below five percent, to answer your question.  In the other case, the rates are about fifteen percent.”

“I’m no scientist,” said Lisa, “but the math is one in five.  That hardly seems viable.”

“It is when the alternative is a ten-millimeter bullet to the back of the skull,” said Simon.  “That is precisely what the Imperium and the DGP were doing before these treatments became acceptable.  Using parapsychological abilities within the Third Imperium is the only death sentence that remains part of interstellar law.  All member worlds of the Imperium are required to uphold and enforce that law.  The department has worked tirelessly on finding non-lethal means of dealing with this, given the prevalence of the gene in our people.”

“Ethics aside,” said Atopia, “what did your director do, what is the failsafe option, and where in the Nine Hells is my daughter?!”

243-1107, Tara, Integrity City Starport, aboard the Golden Dawn

--from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering

I gave the crew the day off.  Given our activities into the wee hours of the morning today, I imagine most of them did precisely what I did – sleep in until suppertime.

After they were arrested, Olivia and Samantha had been moved to a secret subbasement level of a mental health asylum on the western edge of Integrity City.  There was a specially built small subway line connecting it and the Bureau of Genetics building.  Simon provided us with electronic access keys that allowed us to get into the subway tunnel and into the facility.  He’d also alerted the Senator from the Division of Law Enforcement about our rescue mission.  Considering that none of the helicopters from DLE challenged our rescue team when we barreled over the extrality’s border in the ship’s air/raft, I’d say the two senators are pretty tight.

Simon’s hunch had been right about the director’s failsafe option.  The staff of doctors, nurses and researchers working at the detention facility had all been executed – bullet to the back of the head.  There weren’t any guards, no officers of the DGP to be found.  The “patients” were sedated, but were all unharmed otherwise.  They laced the IV drips with neurotransmitter inhibitors, so all of the victims including Samantha and my little Olivia didn’t remember anything of their experience.  Sir Winston made sure they stayed forgetful until we got them all out past the carnage and into the asylum proper for medical treatment.

Olivia’s cell had a stunning variety of lower tech neurological activity monitors and even a portable verdicator that had been imported.  Obviously, they had taken great interest in my little girl, which is strange since most psionics don’t manifest abilities until they reach puberty.  Simon told me after it was all over that the detectors aren’t one-hundred percent accurate and Olivia’s false positive might have been due to interference from the “criminal” psionics to prevent the discovery of one of their own.

I really hope that’s true.  I had a nightmare this morning where I had a pistol to the back of Olivia’s skull with the hammer cocked and my finger was starting to squeeze the trigger when I woke up.  Access to the wet bar in the passenger commons had been left open and I partook.  I’ll have to give Samantha a raise.

We found what the director of the department had done in the last room of the facility, along with the bodies of two technicians who’d been riddled with bullets.  There was a row of cryogenic freezers that had been hastily emptied, their liquid nitrogen feeds disconnected.  If they find the director of the department, I hope they find some suitably barbaric way of dealing with him.  He had a team of researchers conducting unethical neurological experiments on some of the detainees here – the ones without psionic abilities or potential – with the intent of creating psions.

Yeah.  He’d already confiscated their data and executed the team before they could be found.  Dead biological scientists can’t testify, after all.

As for us, we’ll blow off some steam tonight and begin prepping for departure to Lankin in the wee hours tomorrow.  I’m hoping to get some commerce done before parking the Dawn for a couple of weeks for her annual maintenance overhaul next cycle.

Right now, though, the little one has just announced she’s hungry and so am I.  And in just another cycle she’ll turn nine years old.  And, as yet, I have no idea what to get her for her birthday…


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