Monday, March 29, 2010

"New Management", part 3

This is the third installment of "New Management", a fanfic prequel to Isaac Asimov's early blood-and-thunder space opera "Black Friar of the Flame". The first two installments can be found here and here.

Professor Adrienne Devereaux peered through her sunglasses around the compound's landing field. Even from a distance of 350 million kilometers, the star Vega appeared much brighter than the Sun did from Earth or Alpha A from Centaurus, so sunglasses were standard to protect the eyes, just as broad-brimmed hats and extensive clothing were standard to protect the skin from the star's ultraviolet rays. The Vegans of course had evolved to find the light of Vega perfectly satisfactory; no doubt they would find the light unpleasantly dim on Earth or Centaurus.

The Resolute was hours on its way back to Centaurus, and few at Lhasinu Base missed Major van Orden and his men. The man in command of the Sirian fleet, who called himself Admiral Roh, had contacted the base to inform them that his flagship would be sending down a boat. Now Devereaux was here along with Dr. Hartz and Lieutenant Kovarik to welcome its occupants to Vega VI. Hartz had informed Dr. Romano that she wanted him, as second-in-command, to monitor events from her office. Devereaux believed that Hartz had done this in order to keep the botanist out of the way during this critical meeting with the Sirians; if so, it was cleverly done.

"The Sirians are due to land in five minutes," Kovarik announced.

"Lieutenant," Devereaux asked him, "do you find anything ominous in the Sirians' uncommunicativeness? Apart from the message informing us of the arrival of this boat, they have remained silent."

"Ominous?" said Kovarik. "I don't think so. I think the Sirians are nervous. They have no idea what sort of reception to expect. We know that all of the Centaurian military left with the Resolute, but they can't know that. For all they know, we're just waiting for the opportunity to blow their boat out of the sky as a prelude to attacking their fleet."

Devereaux shook her head. "I'm still not used to the idea of being at war. It seems so . . . archaic. I half expect to hear Charles de Gaulle beaming defiant messages from London."

Initially a mere speck in the sky, the boat quickly grew into a solid object, raising a cloud of dust from the ground as it landed. In appearance it was much like the recently-departed boat that carried van Orden and his men away. When she remarked on this to Kovarik, he pointed out, "They were probably built to the same design. Standardized designs are a commonplace of modern shipbuilding technique."

The boat's main hatch opened, and a short set of stairs extended down to the ground. Three men emerged, all wearing the same uniform of dark blue jumpsuits and billed caps. All three wore sunglasses, as the three from the base did. That they were prepared for the bright light of Vega did not surprise Devereaux; men used to the light of Sirius would not find Vega unusual. The men exhibited Asian ancestry, as most of the people of Sirius did; the different nationalities of mankind had tended to separate themselves as they settled other worlds. Devereaux noted with distaste that the three were also armed; each wore a belt around his waist with a holstered sidearm.

The three men walked in unison across the concrete of the landing field, then halted three meters from the base's trio. The man in the center raised his hand to his forehead, then brought it down sharply to his side. She recognized the gesture from historical dramas as a salute, a form of greeting used by the military. No doubt the man had copied the gesture from those same historical dramas.

"Good day," the man said. "I am Commander Hashimoto of the Sirian Navy. My subordinates are Lieutenant Chen and Lieutenant Song."

"Good day, commander," Hartz responded. "I am Dr. Nelda Hartz, Chief Administrator of Lhasinu Base. This is Lieutenant Anton Kovarik, the Head of Security, and Professor Adrienne Devereaux, Head of the Biology Section. Welcome to Vega Six."

Hashimoto nodded to the three in turn, then addressed Kovarik. "As a member of the Centaurian military, Lieutenant, it is my unfortunate duty to declare you a prisoner of war."

"Lieutenant Kovarik is not with the Centaurian military," Hartz corrected the Sirian. "Technically, he is a member of the New Brussels Police Department, as are the rest of his security team."

"Ah," said Hashimoto. He seemed momentarily taken aback. Presumably, he had instructions for dealing with ordinary civilians, and instructions for dealing with military personnel, but no instructions for dealing with law enforcement officers. Finally, he said, "Lieutenant, you and your security team can remain in place for now, unless I receive orders to the contrary from my superiors."

Devereaux expected a sardonic comment from Kovarik, but the man simply nodded to Hashimoto.

"If you don't mind my asking, Commander," said Hartz, "why are you here? I wouldn't have thought that the Vega system held any strategic value."

"That's where you're wrong, Dr. Hartz," said Hashimoto with a slight smile. "This system has great strategic value. After all, Vega Six is the Galaxy's only source of trained soldiers, and trained soldiers are just what the Sirian Alliance needs."

(continue to part 4)

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