Wiliam Williams sat in the green room; there were two others seated
on the comfy couches beside him. William ignored them, his mind totally
occupied with the speech he would soon be making. They in turn appeared
to take no notice of him, but Williams knew it was a nervous dissregard.
They were well aware that he was a man that you got to know at your own
peril, and that a while ago they wouldn't have had a clue who he was. That
wasn't a critisism of them in any way, in fact for all his professional
life Williams had done everything he could to be completely invisible. Not
now: now he was almost as well known as some of the movie stars who sought
his company. Where once his direct associates could be seated in a small
room, now he spoke to millions: and to those multitudes he was the consumate
If they only knew that he despised politicians; or maybe it was because
they suspected: like a great number of people, he hated the way how elected
officials changed opinions and attatched themselves to causes that were
popular without the slightest embarrasment. Politicians said one thing and
did another. They agreed with you and agreed with your enemies and then
did something that would benefit themselves. He would never be that kind
of politician; when he spoke he kept faith with what he said and and he
would; until the world was back to rights again.
A young woman entered the room; she smiled at him. "Mr Williams we
are ready for you.'
Sand and sea, Gareth was thinking there wasn't much better than this
as he picked up a soda and lay back in the wicker chair. His skin felt dry:
it wasn't, it was just the layer of moisture over his body vaporizing under
the hot sun. He stared out past where the gentle waves broke and washed
up the white beach: out to where Catherine swam in the clear blue lagoon.
He felt warm inside and utterly content; this was living and life was perfect.
Reluctantly he pushed himself up from the chair; walked a few paces onto
the timber verandah and into the shade. He slid back the tinted glass door:
it seemed dark inside, and he blinked several times trying to adjust to
the low light. "Computer," he said softly, crossing to the desk
and sitting in front of the screen before squinting as it flashed brightly
on. Instantly a holographic image of a man s face appeared. Gareth stared
at the face as his mind stumbled out of lazy contentment to remembering
the imminent election.
she promised it would be a whole new World," the man said
in a bitter tone. "She told us our children were safe, but she lied
Gareth felt his peaceful mood slip away. "Delete," he snapped,
but the man carried on speaking.
"Diseases from the distant past are filling our hospitalss: Influenza
is attacking us in our homes and closing our schools in epidemic proportions
each and every
"Erase," Gareth said forcefully as the only keyword that could
remove the so-called pesky spam entered his mind. The image evaporated leaving
Gareth tense. "Dammed junk mail," he muttered wondering why after
all the years of technological advance no one had been able to eradicate
the internet's scourge. "Messages, Gareth?" He tried to think
of nicer things, and his eyes were drawn immediately to Carries nik; 'Glaciergirl'
He began to read the message with slight trepidation. Carrie and Julie were
in their first week of term, and he was overly alert to a problem arising;
but as he read his concern eased. The message was only to bring him up to
date with her latest escapades. Reading on his fears were soon unfounded.
As he continued to absorb the contents: both written and implied; a feeling
of warmth came over him. It still puzzled him: although in truth most things
about Carrie were unfathomable; as to why she had returned to college; but
Julie had made it seem such a sensible thing to do. Back before the doomed
flight Carrie had been in her final year at school; achieving good grades;
and in the process of deciding which university to attend, but a hundred
years had negated everything. Ignoring the aliens and their enhancements,
schooling had evolved to where now a basic education required a level equal
to: if not higher than, what was once considered a university entrance qualification.
What level was actually needed to get into university in this society Gareth
had no idea.
After the shortest of considerations Carrie had eagerly agreed; readily
admitting she was unaware of almost everything of the world they now lived
in. It did seem logical, and a couple of years would undoubtedly bring her
up to pace. In fact it had turned out that she was so keen that Gareth had
come to be suspicious: as real fathers tend to, or as Catherine had smilingly
pointed out, what fathers tended to remember of their own days as school
boys. An incoming call popup drew his attention.
He clicked answer and stared, slightly surprised at the image on the computer
Madam President. Nice to see you..."
"Mary."was the curt reply.
He nodded, but he didn't feel like a chat. "Catherine's still on the
Her image looked confused. "Beach
I thought you were skiing?"
"We were; we've stopped off on the African coast for a while. Do you
want to call back, or shall I get her to call you?" Either way suited
him as his finger hovered over the dissconect icon.
actually it's not important that I talk to her
talk some other
Gareth smiled politely; his finger still hovering. "K; I'll tell her
"Actually I did want to talk to you as well."
Gareths finger eased. "Me?"
"You don't have to look so surprised?"
He realised he hadn't swithched on privacy mode, and only slowly realised
she was waiting for him to reply. "I assumed you wanted to speak to
"Then are you sure you don't want me to get her to call you?"
"Not right now; we can talk later."
His aprehension intensified. "Talk? Is that for pleasure or business?"
"In politics one is often both; at the same time."
Several replies entered Gareths mind but he kept them to himself. "If
it's work, Im not sure I want to remind her; it's the last thing on our
minds right now."
"I'm sure it is, but it's on the minds of other people."
"So I'll take it; it is business?"
"I want her to tell me how she is?"
Gareth reluctantly smiled. "So your not going to tell me?"
"Politicians prefer not to give unambigious answers."
"A simple yes or no would be okay?"
"Nothing in the world Catherine and I negotiate is simple."
He had an answer for that too, instead he decided to change the subject,
but he couldn't think of anything neautral. "So what's up?"
"What's gone is more the point."
He smiled, recalling Catherine mentioning the problem. "Another secretary
"You know Gareth I will never forgive you for taking Catherine away
"Yes; you have mentioned that before."
"And I will continue to; until I get her back."
The thought crossed his mind to say that why would she want to? Being the
presidents personal secretary wasn't the cushy job it sounded. "Well
I can't speak for her on that?" he said in an attempt to be diplomatic."But
I expect she will be intouch when we're back from our, honeymoon; next week:
or later?" He felt a strangely pleasing sensation uttering the time
"Next week can't come soon enough."
The sensation slipped away to be replaced by a slightly uneasy one. "Say
something like that to her and she may be tempted to ask for an increase
in her wages?"
Mary's expression didn't register a response. "Personaly I would give
her twice as much, but Catherine is a salaried government employee, I have
no control over her remuneration."
He felt like pointing out it was just the kind of smart arced excuse a politican
would use, but didn't. Instead he followed with a flippant one. "So
lots to do, eh?"
Her expression had still not changed. "Gareth you may not have a care
in the world, but the world hasn't come to a standstill in your absence."
Suddenly he did. "Then if I had forgotten you have reminded me."
"You will be back in Brisbane exactly when?"
He didn't feel anything like making quips now. "In just a few more
"But you could also be back in just a few days less?"
His voice was challenging. "You want us to cut the honeymoon short?"
/;It doesn't have to be today, we can wait until
He interrupted her. "I suppose you're going to tell me the World needs
me again?" he said sarcastically.
"No Gareth." There was a pause
"Leader One, Unit One
"What?" he said in genuine surprise.
Mary looked annoyed at having to repeat . "Leader One, Unit One wants
you to meet with him."
Gareth growing annoyance evaporated; replaced by utter disbelief. "He
wants to speak to me?"
"Yes; believe it or not: you?"
"There are a lot of very influential people in high diplomatic circles,
who asked that very same question?"
"How do you know he wants to talk to me?"
Her face took on an affronted look. "Because I do?"
"Why would he want to?"
"It was his request
he didn't enlighten us on the actual reason?"
Gareth picked up on a hesitation in her reply. "But you must have an
"It's nothing I would like to talk about across this medium."
"That's not reassuring; you can't be more specific?"
"Gareth nothing is secure
you know that, but I will say that
our discussions with Leader One have arrived at a stumbling block..."
"A stumbling block?"
"A minor difficulty; nothing much in reality, but it was decided
that you should be involved."
I thought I was?"
She was quick to respond. "He made it a requirement."
"You did seem to have a certain rapport with him?"
He hadn't thought of it that way before; but there was something; maybe
pity. "Not that I was aware of?"
"That's not the impression he gave, nonetheless we decided to accede
to his request."
"Well whatever the problem is, I can't imagine why he would ask to
talk to me?"
"To be precise he insist's that you meet him."
A thought came into Gareth's mind. "Meet him; that's hardly going to
be easy considering he's stuck in the life tank?"
Gareth spoke with no enthusiasm as he realised what was being asked of him.
"We're talking about me going back up to the Mune?"
"As you have just remarked, it is impossible for him to come to the
planet. You will have to go there."
It sounded like an order. "Your telling me I will have to?"
"Gareth I'm not in the habit of posing random suggestions; none the
less you are a private citizen, but it could
it is important that
we resolve the impasse."
"It's important that I go back up there. You do remember that last
time I very nearly died."
"I am well aware of that."
"Then it should be fairly obvious that it's not somewhere I'm particularly
keen to go again."
"I understand that as well."
There was a short silence that he felt compelled to break. "What does
he want to see me for?"
"Gareth I have already said..."
"I was saying to Catherine," he said firmly. "We're having
such a lovely time that maybe she should take a little longer off from work.
She wasn't sure you would agree, but I told her you would
tell her that's okay?"
Mary's image frowned. There was a slight hardness to her voice when she
spoke. "Isn't that rather adolescent?"
It was but he didn't want to admit it, so he didn't reply.
Mary looked up and to the side in either resignation or for approval before
she stared back at him. "For what it's worth you have got your privacy
He tried not to make his movements too obvious as he looked for the icon.
"You are certain?"
"Yes; it's on," he replied impatiently as he activated it.
"You are aware of the hierarchical structure of the alien's wisdom
"Only in that age brings wisdom?"
"In principle that's what it amounts too, in reality age brings vulnerability,
we know something of this from the occupation of the planet. In a nutshell
the older an alien gets the more time it has to absorb knowledge and gain
wisdom; consequently its individual influence increases. All the influential
aliens arte, or were a great deal older than any of us, so we are considered:
in their view, intellectually inferior?"
He couldn't help smiling at Mary's expression.
"You may be amused Gareth, but there are a lot of people in our political
and scientific communities who object most strongly to being thought of
in that way."
"I can imagine."
"And they are even more reluctant to accept the Iceman as their better."
"The Iceman?" he said unsure of what she was implying.
"To the aliens: and by their instruction to Leader One; in measure
of birthdate, you are the oldest person on the planet."
It slowly occurred to him what Mary was referring to. "You mean being
as I am a hundred and
as I'm the oldest human on the planet."
A grin spread over his face, "It follows that I'm also the most intelligent?"
"No Gareth; both oldest and most intelligent by that criteria would
be more accurately applied to Alex Hill; but Leader One is not directly
aware of that fact."
It was slightly disappointing but he had to accept that. "But as far
as Leader One is concerned, it's me?"
"Consequently there are things he will discuss only with a the most
He breathed deeply. "That's it?"
"That's why he will talk only to you."
"And I just have to talk to him?"
"No, you have to talk to him for us; on our behalf."
He didn't want to say straight out 'then what do we have to talk about?'
so he joked. "Hero to diplomat; does that make me a politician?"
Mary didn't appear to see the humour. "Gareth re-routed and scrambled,
this is still a public medium. I can't discuss anything more; just make
sure you make Brisbane your first destination
As soon as you return."
Gareth felt frustrated. "Mary, you call me up, lead me on and expect
me to wait until next week for an explanation?"
"It doesn't have to be next week; but as you have made quite clear
it's your honeymoon Gareth: you have a new bride to occupy your mind, so
it could be understood if matters of world importance are of little concern
to you; or to Catherine."
It was the casually added reference to Catherine that negated most of the
"But if you want me to go back up there, surely I have a right to know
what's expected of me?"
Her words were dismissive. "The choice is yours; and of course Catherine's."
Mary appeared to change attitude. "Speaking as an individual I can't
expect you to race straight back, no matter how critically important it
is, but obviously as soon as you can would be preferred: and tomorrow would
be preferable; unless," her expression looked smug. "You would
prefer me to talk to Captain Hill?"
The popup went blank leaving Gareth feeling extremely annoyed.
The car phone was insistent but William Williams still took his time
to answer. "Williams," he said almost begrudgingly.
"Can I speak?" the caller replied cryptically.
There was hesitation as the caller seemed to wonder if they should continue.
"An ideal opportunity to remove Vaughn has arrisen; I need you to confirm
Instead Williams was annoyed; he had made his requirements crystal clear.
"I said don't do anything."
"I know but this could be an ideal opertunity?"
"I have a solution that will be much more satisfactory than a funeral."
He disconnected without waiting for an answer; his mind was thinking that
revenge shouldn't only be cold, but long lasting as well.
Gareth had been reluctant to tell Catherine about the exchange with
Mary; at least not straight away, but secrets so soon were not a good way
to start their life together, so between his feeling of foreboding, and
her strong sense of obligation a little over twenty-four hours after the
phone call Gareth and Catherine arrived at Brisbane airport where a limousine
was waiting to take them to the palace.
They had just made themselves coffee in the waiting room when the president
entered. "Catherine," Mary said warmly, taking the younger woman
in a dignified hug. Moments later she pulled away; held her in outstretched
arms and looked critically at her. "You look well." She said in
a fond way. "Now didn't I tell you, you needed a man in your life?"
Catherine glanced in embarrassment at Gareth, and was met by a warm smile.
"So how was the honeymoon; of course just the bits about the snow and
the skiing. I heard the Ural resorts have been having wonderful powder this
"The snow was wonderful," Catherine looked sheepishly at Gareth.
"Though there are people who seem to prefer the lodge and an open fire."
"Ice and snow are things that I can get by without," he mumbled,
believing he had good reason.
"Don't listen to him." Catherine passed off his comment. "Once
I could get him out onto the slopes he's a natural."
Mary shook her head sadly. "Such a shame you had to return."
Gareth thought better of pointing out it wasn't entirely their idea. "Yes...,"
he said diplomatically. "but now we are here, why does Leader One want
to speak to me?"
Mary looked disappointed, "But we haven't begun to talk about the honeymoon?"
"I'm sure you and Catherine will have plenty of catch up time, but
right now I want to know why we had to rush back?"
Mary released Catherine's arms and her attitude became more formal. "Apparently
he has a personal interest in you?"
Gareth smiled as if she had made a joke.
"No really. It appears he overheard much discussion about you before
the aliens departed."
Gareth felt a strange feeling of uneasiness. "I assume not good things?"
"Did you know it was he who opened the cell?"
It had puzzled him who had. "No, I didn't know that."
"Not only did he release you, he alerted us and allowed the rescue
shuttle to land."
A feeling of deep gratitude overwhelmed Gareth. "It seems I owe him
a great debt."
"It would be true to say that you owe him your life."
Gareth could find no words to reply.
"I'll also remind you that facilitating your rescue was the first time
any person from this planet was actually invited aboard, and while that
in itself is unprecedented it isnt as unprecedented as the fact that we
believe it was the first time a Leader One acted independently?"
then what about the aliens?"
"What about them indeed? the truth is we don't know. All we do know
is that we have never had contact with a Leader One as we have since your
"Then the aliens have gone?"
"I've just said we don't know; but we have had no contact with them
in that same time, so we are assuming such."
"You've asked Leader One?"
"In a round about way."
"We recieved no answer."
"Then why don't you just ask straight out?"
"Gareth in negotiations you don't ask point blank questions."
"That's one I though you would have?"
"There woiuld be no point; he won't respond to our questions: he just
Gareth grunted his displeasure. "So what happens if I were to go up
there and find the place is crawling with aliens?"
"Without using such blunt words we asked if you would be safe and Leader
One assured us you would."
"Well he would wouldn't he if an alien was holding a gun to his head?"
Mary sighed. "Gareth do I need to remind you he let you go?"
"And now he could want to correct his mistake?"
Marys voice tightened. "I said before I can ask captain Hill. Tell
me now if you have made up your mind and you can go and Catherine and I
can talk about something more peasurable?"
Gareth looked at Catherine, her expression told him that that was what she
wanted. He knew that all he had to do was say he didn't want to, but he
couldn't. He hesitated and her expression saddened. It was on the tip of
his tongue to say call Alex, but his lips stayed shut. He looked at Mary:
her expression was of expectation; she and he knew that Alex and Katrina
had already risked their lives for him: true they had taken him to his probable
death but they could have stood back. He couldn't ask them to put their
lives in danger a second time because he wanted to stay safe. He looked
again at Catherine; she knew now that he couldn't say no.
In the end it was Mary that made the decision that he couldn't. "If
Are not as we have been led to believe we don't intend to
do stand idely by and do nothing."
"I guess this puts me in the history books?"
"I don't get your gist; you already are?"
"I mean the first person in the human race to go onto an alien spacecraft;
twice?" He smiled.
Mary looked at Catherine. "Your not that special: Catherine can claim
to be the first, though of course not by choice."
"We're forgetting the children: it wasn't their choosing either."
Catherine said sadly.
"No; I realise that you were at the end of a long line of abductions;
but that time is behind us and you are the very beginning of a change. You
Gareth are front and center to all this change and that why we cannot let
these negotiations fail."
Gareth looked at both women: especially at Catherine, as he thought on all
the problems he had brought with him. "I seem to have been in the wrong
place at the wrong time all my life."
Mary nodded, "Or the reverse, without you things probably would not
"I doubt that, sooner or later someone else would have attacked the
antenna; and maybe they would have suceeded?"
Mary nodded. "That may or may not be right, or what the cost would
have been; either way we will never know. But that is not what we have to
consider at this time. Gareth some of the best diplomats in the world have
tried to convince Leader One to talk to us, but he won't. Neither can any
of them imagine for a moment what reason he had to see you survive: he must
have had a reason and maybe this is it?"
It seemed too absurd to Gareth. "He knows he calls the shots, maybe
he's just toying with you."
Mary looked at him. "We're talking about someone who has had every
shred of humanity taken from them, and you think he's playing a joke on
"We can't get into his mind maybe you can?" Mary stared at him
as if she was expecting him to reply. "However you put it, it's beyond
doubt that for some reason he saved your life and that's the only card we
have left to play."
Gareth shrugged. "At the time I wasn't thinking of anything but finding
Catherine, and both of us escaping. I was just glad to get off and back
"If I had known I would have thanked him."
Again Mary nodded. "And now's your chance."
"Theres no other way
"The life tank, I would have thought it quite obvious?"
"I know, I was hoping maybe you were being over dramatic."
"But he asked you by link
"Actually he didn't contact us that way: nobody but you have ever had
a direct exchange with a unit, nevermind a Leader: never. We we're sent
a text message."
"Text, what on a phone?"
"That's the ususal way."
For a moment Gareth nearly laughed. "Your serious?"
"When folks back in my time talked about alien contact it wasn't by
"There is a movie in the motion picture museums about an alien phoning
It seemed only he found it amusing."Then maybe it wasn't Leader One
who sent it?" he said hopefully.
"If you mean is it some kind of set up; we did think of that. The satelite
data all checks out."
Gareth was deflated; it was his only line of argument. "Look Mary,
that place doesn't have particularly good memories for me
"Nor would it for any of the children."
There was no reply, so he didn't.
"Gareth I totally understand how you feel, but he can't and won't leave:
we have no other option but for you to go up to meet him."
I was worth one last try. "So we can't talk by phone?"
"Gareth we need his cooperation to get the children back, he's not
going to let them go with a pretty please over the phone, and besides we
don't want anybody listening in."
"I shouldn't need to remind you that the aliens are still out there.
We believe that at the moment they are waiting out a quarantine. Transmissions
to or from the spacecraft can be picked up, and if the aliens were to assume
there was a collaboration who know what they would decide?"
Catherine interrupted anxiously. "It could be a trap?"
"We have considered that, but what for?"
Catherine looked at Gareth, "Like Gareth said, maybe they want him
Mary shook her head. "Release him and then want him back? If the aliens
are still in control that doesn't add up, but it makes sence if Leader One
is genuine." She looked at Gareth. "Sorry, but the reality is
that Gareth isn't and wasn't the leader of any uprising, to imprison him
again just doesn't make any sense."
Gareth reached over and took Catherine's hand. "It hurts my pride to
admit it, but Mary's right; at least I hope she is."
Catherine smiled back at him. "Maybe, but none of this explains why
would Leader One suddenly have begun collaborating with us?"
"Not completely," Mary agreed, "But don't forget that Leader
One was once a child from Earth."
Catherine reached out to grip Gareths hand. "If we have the chance
we have to do everything we can to get the children back."
Mary nodded. "It is our highest priority to get Leader One to release
the living ones."
"Living?" Catherine let go of Gareth and stared at Mary. "I
thought they were being brought down? Wasn't that the whole Idea? Get them
to medical facilities, get them reunited with their families?"
Mary nodded slowly."That was the plan, and that is also the problem
She looked uneasy. "You already know that emergency medical teams went
up. They did what they could, and made decisions on repatriation. Beds were
readied and teams of doctors and nurses were on standby back here on Earth,
but Leader One refused to let the children leave. The doctor in charge insisted;
he filled the spacecraft and flew off. Everything went well for a while
told it was a dreadful experience
" Mary looked visibly disturbed.
"It seems the aliens don't entirely wipe the children's long-term memories,
only lock them out of reach. Once the children are removed from the alien
environment and the Nanonites are deactivated, long term memory resumes."
She looked at them. "Do you know what happened to the children once
they were taken?"
Gareth looked at Catherine, he had a feeling it was something he didn't
want to know.
Mary took a deep breath. "It was in fact far worse than we feared;
though in hindsight possibly one that we decided not to consider. When the
children arrived on the alien's ship; processed children met them. They
were undressed and their clothes; along with any personal items were destroyed."
She looked at Catherine and hesitated. "Their heads were shaved, and
the hair was incinerated. The children were then fully immersed in an antiseptic
solution; from how Leader One described it
something like a cattle
Gareth found what he was hearing hard to comprehend. "Leader One told
"No, not by him, but the rescue crew describe that they were told in
a cold; uncaring way by some of the childr... units as if a mechanical operation
was being explained to them, which in a perverted way it probably was."
There was silence for a moment before she continued. "Permcaths were
inserted for intravenous feeding: and." She looked at Gareth. "I
don't know if it was the same term in your day, but a Permcath is a permanently
introduced catheter, inserted through the flesh. The also had permanently
fitted pouches for... body wastes."
Catherine had begun crying, Gareth was just stunned.
"They were given overalls and finally a cocktail of drugs which contained
an extra powerful form of Nanonite. After that they were forced to climb
into tiny chambers, where they were sealed in until the Nanonites had done
their work." Mary's voice had taken on a distinct faltering. "We
are quite used to the Nanonites, but these were of a different type. They
make their way into the brain where they disrupt neuron activity to the
long-term memory. From this point on the children can remember only what
happened during the previous few hours." She looked at them, her eyes
cold, and her words bitter. "Can you imagine? Can you even begin to
imagine, what these children went through?" Tears began to run over
her cheek. "Just think about
No... No don't think about it, I
have, and it's driving me to despair. We did that to them... I did that
to them... and may I rot in Hell for what I
" She could hold it
back no longer and abruptly turned away as she began to sob. Immediately
Catherine was at her side, arms about the woman, comforting her: crying
together. Gareth stared at them wanting someone to hold him and drive away
the images that fought to be seen in his mind. For some time, other than
the sound of weeping there was silence.
At last Mary began again, but this time with Catherine's arm around her
shoulder, she took a deep breath and continued. "Once away from the
power source, the Nanonites release past emotions, and memories, and this
is what happened to the children the recovery crew was attempting to bring
back. Shortly after they left the spaceship they were in a traumatic state
and the crew could do nothing but sedate them. At the time they didn't know
what I have just told you, but they knew enough to realize they had to return
the children back to the spacecraft. We have no treatment, and until we
do: and as wrong we may feel it is, we must leave the children on the spaceship,
where mercifully the Nanonites block off their memories."
Gareth was at a loss for words. Nothing he could think of saying seemed
adequate. "So all the children are still up there?'
"As I said, all that are still alive
They had no imunity
The smallpox virus was very effective." For a moment Mary almost broke
down again but she fought her emotions and continued. "Those that were
The ones beyond help have been brought back. We are trying to locate famil...
It's not that easy
What I am telling you has never been
made public, I
Maybe it should have; maybe it would counter the propogander
about how better off we were under the alien rule that some people are spreading,
but it isnt fair to deepen the grief that untold numbers of families feel.
In fact very few people know the truth, and I for one think it should never
be made common knowledge."
Gareth glanced at Catherine, she seemed too distraught to speak, and he
didn't want to. "Does anyone know what's happening to them
"That's the reason you are here. Leader One communicated that some
some children, are paramedics and are looking after the sick.
He demands we supply him with drugs to completely eradicate the smallpox."
At last Catherine spoke. "That's all the help they have?"
"According to reports from the medical team, these children are first
class paramedics. It may seem counterintuitive, children barely in their
teens acting in a professional capacity, but we are dealing with a situation
where all our preconceived ideas about children don't apply."
"They are still children." Catherine said firmly. "And I'll
stick to my preconceived ideas."
"Of course they are," said Mary in a conciliatory tone. "Their
bodies are of children, but their minds function in an adult way
not an adult way that implies they actually know what they are doing. They
act with fully mature abilities."
Catherine rejected to idea. "When they have been stripped of emotions
they can hardly act in a mature way."
"Catherine I'm not in any way condoning what has happened, but the
reality is: like it or not, that the aliens expect them to operate the spacecraft.
That means being forced to work three five hour periods, separated by two
one hour breaks for meals, personal hygiene and replacing their ostomy pouches.
Then they have a seven-hour rest and re-indoctrination period. That is their
day; every day; seven days a week; three hundred and sixty-four days a year:
and while we find it abhorrent, the aliens see it as perfectly acceptable."
Gareth could see the rage in Catherine; he interrupted before she could
speak. "Judging from what I've seen here I know my idea of paramedics
is outdated, but how can a thirteen year old have any idea what they are
"Thirteen is when they first arrive; many are older, though it probably
makes little difference as the type of Nanonites they are implanted with
create an organic wireless link in their auditory system so during the rest
periods they can be instructed directly into their brain ready for the next
work period. Depending on what is required, children can be
no other word but programmed, to operate the space ships engines, be a paramedic
or even ostomy pouch cleaners. But it must not be forgotten that all they
have is a set of instructions, the information induced is simply a procedural
one. Now whatever we think morally, or emotionally, children as young as
they are certainly do have the dexterity, all that is missing to give them
the abilities of doctors who have taken years of study, is a set of instructions."
It was obvious that Catherine didn't see it quite so clearly. "No;
instructions are nothing without the compassion, or the intuitive or untaught
things that doctors experience or give."
Gareth had become so used to radical ideas he nodded. "Basically they
have become robots
Mary looked at Gareth. "I think cyborgs is the word you mean."
He wasn't sure what he meant. "Whatever they have become, they are
doctors carrying out treatments without any understanding of what they are
"No, they know exactly what they are doing, they just don't understand
why they are doing it."
Gareth realised what had been troubling him. "Even though they have
that knowledge, he wants help eradicating the smallpox?"
"Yes, knowledge is nothing without the appropriate tools."
"I must be missing something here; if the
If knowledge; instructions
can be given that can make child
someone so knowledgeable howcome
the smallpox hit them so hard?"
"I thought you
maybe you werent told, but it was because smallpox
was eradicated back in your time. Simply put it was so long ago that it
"Forgotten; it killed millions of people."
"But not in our time: in history, and then other scourges came along.
There simply were too many other diseases to conquer to spend time thinking
about one that had been eliminated."
"Then we can't help them?"
"But we can, the centre for disease control has a stockpile of the
Gareth nodded his hope rising. "That the aliens don't know about?"
"No, and to be precise, neither did the centre. Decades ago: when the
weapons research laboratories were being closed, it was probably sent to
be destroyed. Don't ask me why but fortunately for us the sample too was
forgotten. Very good fortune as it turned out, because when the aliens arrived
it was just another historical disease that wasn't in any current medical
publication. It was only rediscovered when the resistance began searching
for a weapon we could use against the aliens."
"So they have no way to combat it?"
"Not exactly; When the virus was relased a wiki on what is basically
first aid was made available."
Gareth could barely believe how Mary presented it as a perfectly acceptable
way to fight the aliens. "And Leader One knows this?"
"He has access as everybody does to the Internet."
That's all that anybody even down here knows?"
"Gareth back in your time details of biological weapons were not made
public. Not then and not now is anything that allows for any in-depth research
to be released, and with no information all the paramedic children can do
is treat the symptoms in whatever way they are told is best."
Gareth couldn't help the sharp edge to his words. "But isn't this what
you planed and wanted; murdering children?"
Mary made little attempt to defend herself. "I said before that nobody
has been onto one of their spaceships; consequently we were not aware of
the extent the children were used; once we were it was the intention was
that our medical crews would tend and cure, and they did: they had basic
drugs, but that is a long way from the real treatment. That was to happen
back here on the planet."
Catherine was softly weeping."Can nothing more be done?"
"We have sent up medical teams, made assistants from the children who
seemed to have some immunity, and as I said we tried to bring the seriously
ill back down: past that no."
Gareth was trying to hold back his anger. "This was always going to
"Oppressed people do not have the luxury of choosing how they shake
off their oppressor." Mary snapped back with unconcealed sarcasm. "They
do what they can and then have to cope with the consequences, and one of
those consequences is that Leader One will not allow us to move around the
ship: we can't treat the children there, and we can't bring them here."
Gareth tried not to sound sarcastic. "And you want me to sort the problem
out for you?"
Mary's voice became forceful. "Gareth, you have a special place in
our society, but you did not save the world single handed, and neither will
you entirely solve this problem on your own. At this moment, in this particular
situation Leader One considers you above all the negotiators on the planet.
I: amoung others, have serious doubts that he is right, and that makes you
Gareth felt offended; but he could also see Mary's point. He replied by
"Whatever are the rights or wrongs of the situation we created and
now find ourselves in I yet again have cause to wonder just why you have
a unique ability to be at the center of things?"
Gareth tried to sound conciliatory. "Then think of it from my perspective.
I'm the one that finds myself in places I don't want to be; taking decisions
I don't want to take. I'm more than happy to walk out that door and never
seem my name mentioned again until it's in my obituary
" He gave
a weak smile realizing what he had said. "You know what I mean?"
"Unfortunately that isn't an option Gareth. As I have said Leader One
considers you above all the negotiators on the planet: if he didn't we would
not be having this conversation, instead we would be chatting over canapés
at some social function." She stared at him, as if daring him to speak.
"Leader One has requested all the microbiological information we have.
He says he wants to set
units to research the disease. That is where
we have come to an impasse. It has been decided to withhold that information."
Catherine was shocked. "But you can't; that's inhumane," she blurted
Mary's hard voice softened. "Catherine, if we let them have that information
it could find its way to the aliens, and they could produce their own vaccines,
and our advantage would be lost."
Catherine did nothing to hide her anger. "This is not a game of tactics;
if you don't let them know more children will die. All the children will
Mary took a deep breath. "And that depends on if Gareth can convince
Leader One to release the children so they can be brought here for treatment?"
Gareth had begun thinking ahead. "You realize the aliens could already
be making a vaccine?"
"I have no doubt they are, but vaccines cannot be created overnight,
and we won't make it any easier. There is no way they can obtain data, and
without live virus they have a hard road to travel."
Gareth pointed out the obvious. "But they have live virus inside the
children on the ship?"
"And in a place that is at this moment out of reach to the aliens themselves."
"Though not to Leader One?" he said slowly understanding what
he was going to have to do.
"Something we must use to our advantage for as long as we can."
Mary gave a weak smile. "
enter the Iceman. I have said before
that their system is rigidly hierarchical. Leader One adheres to that system
and sees you as the elder. He may reconsider his priorities?"
Gareth shook his head, trying to clear his brains and comprehend her words,
and his place in them. "So now me being the elder is a good thing?"
"Amazing as it seems; and in this situation
"Putting aside that I have a thousand other questions, what am I supposed
"You are to convince him that he doesn't need to have live antivirus,
instead to let us have access throughout the spacecraft."
Something in the way she spoke made Gareth suspicious. "I thought you
wanted the children returned to Earth?"
"Time is esscential, treatment up there would save lives and suffering."
Gareth grunted in a contemptuous way. "And what if Leader One won't
accept that and keeps on demanding live antivirus; or is already developing
one, what's to stop him racing off into space and handing it: and me, over
to the aliens?"
"Working on viruses is not something you can do at a distance; the
aliens have seen the effects of contagion, and will stay well clear until
they have a guaranteed way of controlling it. It will take time; time we
"That's doesn't stop leader one zipping off into space with me while
he creates one?"
"It's not our intention that Leader one goes anywhere."
"At least we agree on that. And I suppose that while I'm convincing
him to do nothing, I have to find out if they are, and how far they are
in any development?"
"And delay it."
"Oh...K..." he said his suspicion growing. "And what you're
not going to tell anybody is?"
"You suspect an ulterior motive?"
"I don't want to sound as if I don't trust you
but back in my
time what governments told you, and what they were doing were different
things. What you are asking has no payoff?"
Mary sounded offended. "You're saying releasing the children isn't?"
"No," Gareth said defensively. "But after what you have said
I don't think you believe he will release them to me?"
"You want the truth
then I doubt it?"
Gareth looked at Mary; he hadn't expected the admission. "Then if we
both can't see me convincing him; it's all a waste of time?"
Mary looked at him expressionless. "Nothing we do is a waste of time;
the fact that something is tried and doesn't work is still progress."
She looked between Gareth and Catherine. "The fact is Gareth that you
are correct; we do have a last resort plan. It's almost beyond doubt that
the aliens have instructed Leader One to find a vacine whatever the costs,
and the fact is that after all I have said that we don't know what facilities
or technology they can use, or how quickly they can get a result."
Gareth was baffled. "So what's the point?"
"The point is that the spacecraft mighnt as well be the otherside of
the galaxy; we can't get onto it." She looked directly into his eyes.
"But you can."
Gareth looked at Catherine but she looked as equally confused as him.
"We have an opertunity," continued Mary, "To ensure that
whatever advantage Leader One has gained, is negated. You will be carrying
a vial of live Pneumonic Plague."
"Plague?" said Catherine puzzled. "What's Plague?"
Gareth's jaw had dropped. "The black death; it wiped out half of Europe
in the Middle ages."
"That was Bubonic Plague, it was spread by contact; pneumonic on the
other hand can be weoponised much easier."
"You can't be serious?" Gareth said with a calm barely hiding
his rising anger.
"When the pussy footing is over; it's war Gareth."
"It's genocide; and those children, and children on any other ship
will be part of it. How can you even think of doing that?"
"What I'm thinking of Gareth, is keeping the freedom that the billions
of people on this planet have won back."
As Catherine and Gareth left her office Mary's intercom began to buzz.
"Yes what is it?" she said sharply.
The temporary receptionist sounded nervous. "There's an urgent call
from your re-election campaign manager; madam president."
"Put him on a secure line."
There was brief pause before Frank Haige answered. "You need to see
the news feed immediately."
Mary said nothing as she reached towards her monitor; her hand gestures
activating the screen. In less than three seconds she was staring at a man
making an animated speech; behind him was a banner proclaiming the Reunification
promised us that things would get better, but they haven't."
his words were delivered like an evangelical preacher. "Our children
our elderly are dying of illnesses and disease that we once believed
had gone forever: she lied to us. She promised us that security would be
by the people for the people; but we are less secure than we ever have been,
and at the same time government agents and their policies are entering every
facet of our daily lives. Schools are closed, open meetings are banned and..."
Mary switched the feed off. "Your getting it all?"
"I'll have a transcript to you immediately he's finished, and a rebuttal
"Who is he?"
"A William Williams, I've requested a full fact file and analysis on
"What's his pitch?"
"He's just been elected the leader of the league and says he's going
to be president no less."
It was the usual bunch of passerby's: office workers, the odd stopped
driver and housewives doing their shopping, who looked anxiously as the
police cruiser pulled up beside the small group of bystanders. As he opened
the door and slid off the seat the police officer looked around, hoping
a parent or guardian would came forward; but no one did. It pissed him off
how people made calls and thought that, that was the end of their civic
He had no idea who had made the call, but it stood to reason that it was
one of the faces looking in his direction, and there was more than one relieved
face. Intuitively he knew it would be the usual: once the police arrived
they could feel they had been good citizens and be on their way, he wished
he could do the same.
It made little difference whatever they did or didn't do; someone had reported
a distraught child who claimed to be lost? He stepped away from the vehicle
trying not to make it obvious that he wasn't really interested: lost kids
were a pain in the backside, and the one they were trying to console looked
old enough to know where he lived. That's all he needed; some kid wanting
to punish his parents and waste his time. It was almost the end of his shift
and now he had become involved there would be be paperwork, and phone calls
to make; and maybe even having to drive all the way across town to take
the kid home. It was all too much of a hassle; but he had no choice, the
boy was sobbing hysterically and people were watching and looking in his
"I don't know what's wrong?" said a woman trying to console the
child as the office came up beside her. "I offered to take him home,
but he just dropped to the ground
I don't know if he's ill or not?"
The policeman wondered that if she had been that concerned why hadn't she
had called an ambulance, and it could have been them here instead. He knelt
on one knee beside the boy. "What's the problem son?"Still sobbing
the boy slowly stood: the policeman didn't. The kid was obviously upset
and he didn't want to tower over him.
The boy took his hands from his face and stopped crying almost instantly.
There were no wet tear tracks and he looked at the policeman unemotionally.
The policeman was confused and began to stand. He was just past a crouch
as the boy produced a long kitchen knife from inside his shirt. With a vicious
slash he made ten centimetre gash across the policeman's throat.