I watched with interest as the humans reacted to the chaos of an unprovoked, system-wide assault.
“Reports of attacks on the asteroid belt. Sylvia and Cybele folded instantly, but Ceres and Vesta are fighting back.”
“First reports from Lemuria, confirm the attack. There are also ships in orbit, closing in on Arean Watch.”
“Hearing something similar from Cytherean and Hermean. Looks like they’re going after the space stations.”
Laura Medina, the human with the lie-detecting ability, looked thoughtful. “What about the Watches farther out? Any word back?”
The woman from the moon nodded. “Haven’t gotten turnaround yet, but first responses are positive. Jovian Watch and Cronian Watch haven’t seen any alien ships, and Uranian Watch saw some, but they went dark and were missed. No word back from Neptunian Watch yet. They should have responded by now.”
Medina rolled her eyes. I could hear the singing of her soul, sense that she had reactivated her lie-detecting ability, but I didn’t say anything. “It’s a science station. They’re probably just too busy to obey basic communications protocol.”
The moon-woman smiled. “Perhaps.”
“Enough,” Butler, the big human who seemed to be in charge, said. “They seem to be attacking everywhere at once. We do not have the ships to reach anyone in time, so we will have to leave everyone to their own devices for the moment.” He glared at me. “Unless you can call off your people. Do you have FTL communications?”
It took a second for my translator to give me a likely explanation for that. It didn’t like acronyms. “No. Most likely, all the ships were simply ordered before they were sent off to start their attacks at the same time.”
“Small favors,” Medina said. “That’s one advantage we have.”
The president of America gave her a look. I had read about him and his country a bit in the notes Medina had given me, but I still didn’t understand exactly who he was or what he was doing here. “You have those tele-whatsits across the system?”
Medina scowled. “No. That’s why it’s just a small favor.”
The man who always stood close to President Martinez—I hadn’t learned his name—looked thoughtful. “You know, if we’re going to do the full alliance against an alien menace thing, we should start shipping telepaths to every base we have.”
“While an excellent idea for the future, it will hardly help us now,” Medina said. “Even with modern advancements, it still takes at least a month to get to Mars, and that’s assuming that nothing intercepts them. We need to deal with the para first.”
I thought for a moment. “Mars is the fourth planet, correct?”
Moon-woman nodded. “Right before the asteroid belt.”
I did some calculations in my head. “Your ships are about six times faster than we anticipated. I’m impressed.”
“How fast are yours?” Martinez asked.
“Just slightly slower,” I said.
“But probably far more fuel-efficient,” Medina said.
I nodded, conceding the point. “My people have been space-faring for centuries, even though this was our first time truly leaving our star system. Fuel efficiency is usually more important than raw speed.”
Butler frowned. “If we’re all done with the posturing and discussing theoretical plans for the future, we have some more immediate matters to discuss. Ambassador Leenoreynrey, please. Tell us all you can about these attacks.”
I glanced over at the map that was projected onto the wall. It was primitive, but it was color-coded, which made it easy for me to understand instinctively. “The cerulean blue are your ships, and the Ferrari red are my people’s, correct?”
Everyone stared at me. I frowned. Had I said something wrong?
“…yes,” Butler said after a moment.
“And the Gainsborough are…”
“You mean the gray ones?”
I scrunched up my face. Such an imprecise word, gray. “Yes. What do those dots represent?”
“Neutral ships,” Medina said.
I cocked my head, a gesture my translator told me meant light confusion. “I thought humans were the only species in the system?” I had known the information she had given me was censored, of course, but I had assumed it wasn’t that bad.
Most of the humans looked confused, but Medina had clearly already figured it out. “We’re the only species, but we’re not united. There are still many, many individual countries on Earth, and the space colonies barely pay lip service to the nations that supposedly own them.”
Many of the humans looked annoyed, but no one looked surprised.
“Oh,” I said. Quite a few confusing things made more sense now. “Well, then…” I shook my head. “It is not my place to tell you how to handle your own politics. Clearly I don’t know enough. But what I do know is this:” I pointed at the map. “That is not all of our ships. It’s barely even a large fraction. I suspect that they are the standard armed reconnaissance ships that were dropped as we were traveling through your system at FTL speed. That’s why they’re all over your system, when it would take years to go from here to some of the outer planets.” I had memorized standard scouting protocols centuries ago.
“And what does that mean?” one of the other men asked. He… Petrov, I was pretty sure. The names had blurred past me.
“It means this isn’t a real attack,” I said. “It’s a show of force, or maybe a test. A way of reminding you that they have assets throughout the system.”
“Seems like a poor idea to use that if they’re not planning to follow up on it,” Petrov said.
“Most of our stations are unarmed, and half the rest may as well be,” Medina said. “Even with just a few scout ships, they might be able to conquer a significant portion of the system. I doubt they’ll be able to hold anything, but they’ll make a pretty strong point.”
“This is a standard way of opening negotiations for my people,” I said. “I suspect they will be calling once the attacks have finished.”
Martinez pointed to the map. “Can you tell us which of these colonies your people will be able to capture? Just going by the ships.”
I glanced over them. “All of the farther ones, easily. These ones.”
“Anything past Jupiter,” Medina said to the others. “Not unexpected. I’d be surprised if all the stations on Neptune, Saturn, and Uranus had a hundred bullets between them. I’m sure they’ll surrender as soon as they can.”
“How do your people treat captured prisoners?” a woman asked. I wasn’t sure who she represented. I was pretty sure her name was Korea.
“Reasonably well, by your standards,” I said. It had been in the information Medina gave me, and it had been the first thing I looked for. “Confined to a room, with food and modular light levels. Interrogation is illegal until negotiations have started.”
They all looked surprised at that. “Really?” Martinez asked.
I nodded. “The Right of Silence is sacred in our culture.”
Everyone glanced at Zero. I didn’t look at her. The Right of Silence was sacred, but there weren’t many laws protecting speech. Thankfully, if the prisoners talked too much, the worst that would happen was that they would be gagged. Making someone Colorless was far more complicated, both legally and practically.
“All right,” Petrov said. “You say your people will open negotiations. Who will they contact, and where will these negotiations take place?”
I blinked in surprise. “I… don’t know, actually. The negotiations will take place on the mothership, of course, that’s part of why they attacked, to gain the leverage to demand that. But since you don’t have a unified government, I have no idea who they would contact.” I glanced around the table. “Who has the most powerful military?”
Everyone looked at Martinez.
He smirked. “Well, I don’t like to brag…”
“Most likely, they will send a diplomatic shuttle to your capital,” I said. I had no idea where that was, but the elders would surely have figured it out by now.
“Maybe not,” the moon-woman said. “They don’t have anything in space. How would that affect the power equation?”
It took me a moment to puzzle out what she meant. It wasn’t a euphemism that my translator had in its database. “It shouldn’t affect it much. I suppose if one of the colonies has a sufficiently powerful military, they might be declared the leaders of the system, but that seems unlikely.”
“None of the colonies have more than a few ships,” Butler said. “I doubt very much any of them will be mistaken as the leaders of our species.”
“I should probably be getting back, then,” Martinez said, adjusting his clothing. “Need to receive the ambassador in person and all that.” He turned to me. “Anything else I’ll need to know about?”
“Nothing immediate,” I said.
He nodded. “Excellent.” He turned back to Butler. “I would like to speak to you about Silk at some point, though.”
Butler gestured at a small human woman with tattoos of an indecipherable design. “Lily has given me most of the details.”
Martinez chuckled. “I need more details. Maybe we can talk on the way to that mayor you mentioned earlier.”
“Aren’t you the mayor?” Martinez’s friend said to Butler.
Butler smiled. “President. A different mayor wanted to meet him.”
The human with the jet black skin and tail smiled. “Oh, you’re sending him down to Timmy? I have a friend who has family down there.”
“Yes, I’m sure that Mayor Konstantopoulos will be happy to—” There was a knock on the door, and Butler frowned. “Hm. Odd.” He glanced at Medina. “Guards are still in place, correct?”
Medina checked a device, a small brick of plastic with a glass screen. “Yes. This isn’t an attack.”
“Attackers wouldn’t knock anyway,” Martinez said with a smile.
Butler sighed. “Some do, in this city.” He raised his voice. “Enter.”
The door opened and a human woman with a royal blue ribbon in her hair stepped in. She wore simple clothes and had something long at her side that was holstered like a weapon. A sword? Seemed an odd choice for a technologically advanced society.
But when she scanned the room, I could feel her singing with the universe, taking just a bit of power to speed her body and mind. That would be a very useful ability for a swordswoman to have.
She stepped aside and two more people stepped in. One was another human with a sword, though this one had a red ribbon in his hair instead of blue. The third was a subspecies of humanity I hadn’t encountered yet, a hairy creature with large ears, curling horns, and backward-bending legs that ended in hooves.
I noticed that many of the humans flinched when the creature walked through the door, though they tried to hide it.
The strange man looked around the room before settling on Butler and the woman standing next to him, Lily.
He bowed deeply at the waist. “Mister Butler. Honored Mother. It is a pleasure to see you both.”
I cocked my head. So the small woman was an elder? Did this mean that older humans were smaller, like the para? They didn’t have stages like we did, but perhaps they shrank over time.
“Speak, man,” Butler said.
The man straightened. “Of course. I am Ziege, of the bulezau. I come bearing a message.”
The timing was too perfect. It was obvious now that I thought about it. Who cared about the armies and fleets when the real power was in politics? In the end, the most important place in the world was simply the place where all the important people flocked to.
“The para are sending an ambassador, Mister Butler. They wish to speak to you.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 326)
The para have names for every single possible color, which are number-based and also used for their names. Since different para see different colors, it is important for them to be precise when describing colors. Leeno’s translator changes these names into the far less logical human color names, which of course are not used with anywhere near the same frequency.
Oh, and Leeno’s eyes give him color vision that’s mostly the same as human. He just has a bit more red.