Chapter 5

Home Sweet Home — The After Lunch Decision

Caitlin briefly dropped by her son Juan’s school before returning to the meeting. She enjoyed doing this because it gave her a chance to share in a big part of her son’s life, plus, she liked kids. Aaron went to the science deck to help set up for the second communication torpedo, which was due to arrive within the hour. The sound of conversation grew louder as the gymnasium gradually filled. Facilitation support teams from the entire pioneer fleet were busy preparing to begin the afternoon meeting.

Every pioneer anxiously waited for news from the survey fleet at Galaxy 6. Suspense filled the room. Everyone there could feel it. There was no announcement or commentary when the remote computer monitor screens finally turned on. Real democracy has no secrets. Unedited communications from Galaxy 6 were put on screen and speakers as fast as they were downloaded from the latest communication torpedo.

Many of the pioneers had been or still were science fiction fans. Even so, no witness that day was expecting the thriller that played out as the survey crew approached the alien space fleet. Everyone was riveted to the screens by video shots of the battle fleet disappearing behind the golden flash of their joy-powered engines and then emerging in position next to the first alien space fleet humanity had ever encountered. That video clip and the final approach to the leading alien ship were replayed over and over again.

Captain Walker’s calm commands at each crucial step provided the only commentary that was needed. The unfolding scenes were analyzed as much like a film festival as they were for the science and history they contained. Then, quite suddenly, the excitement calmed and the gymnasium grew quiet. Caitlin seized the moment and banged her gavel.

Skip Shalhoob strode to the center and raised his voice just enough to be clearly heard, “Aaron Mullen will again guide us toward our decisions by providing his special brand of low-volume group focus.” He then grinned in the friendly way that made everyone so comfortable with him as their friend and moderator; he stuck to the point with an interesting blend of serious business and entertainment. “It worked last time, anyway,” he said, chuckling. “Everybody sit down so we can hear what Aaron has to say. Speak up a little more this time, Aaron.” A friendly laugh rippled across the gym as Aaron stood to speak.

“For starters,” Aaron said, “Science deck personnel are as newly thrilled by the discovery of alien spaceships as everyone here; we are all seeing this for the first time together. Lack of response from the aliens is somewhat mysterious but I’m sure we will find an answer to that riddle as time goes by. Most of you were watching the video clips for the first time just as I was. The other data, however, I have already gone over and it contains an interesting fact: the alien fleet is headed straight for us. No one knows why, it’s just something to keep in mind for the future. The estimated arrival time of the aliens is eighteen months from now. Finally, the discovery of complex life here in Galaxy 5 along with life on planets in Galaxy 6 is a scientific thriller we should share with Earth. That is a communication choice and Shawn can tell us what is available.”

Shawn stood to rousing applause. He became slightly embarrassed and waved for it to stop. “My brother, Walker, did a great job,” he said. “I love my brother and was thrilled to hear his voice, too, but I really don’t deserve this notice of your respect for his work.” He smiled again. “Thanks, though, it isn’t often the communication center receives applause. All of us appreciate a moment in the sun, however we get it.”

Friendly laughter rippled through the gym once again. A voice shouted out from the rear of the assembly, “Aw, come on, Shawn, get off it. We all know how hard you worked to invent the distiller. Everybody here has seen the light on late in your electronics labs at one time or another.”

“What’s wrong with Distiller?” Another voice shouted from the center of the room.

Shawn liked the way people sometimes referred to the distiller as if its name was “Distiller.” It did have an ability to present the distributed intelligence of a large number of people as if one voice was speaking. The intellectual power and breadth of knowledge contained within the distributed intelligence of a large group is so much greater than any one person that when distributed intelligence was distilled into a single line of thought, each individual heard and was impressed with intellectual power greater than their own or anyone they knew.

The way that advanced internal computer systems were able to pose questions when a logic chain was missing key links almost made the distiller seem alive. Although Shawn knew the quest to create artificial intelligence still had very far to go, he was justifiably proud of the advances he and the communications lab staff had made. He and the staff were the first to realize that focused intelligence was not artificial intelligence.

“Distiller has major damage,” he said, as his mind raced to explain all the ramifications while reviewing the fact that there was at least one spy among them. He suddenly realized he was not the one to explain this and that now was not the time to do it; he was still too angry at whoever had done so much damage to calmly talk about it, especially in front of a large group of people who would have many questions he couldn’t answer, yet.

The technical repair crew had found a thin sheet of perfectly trimmed plastic under the grounding strap, and the copper grounding bolt and washer had been replaced with a copper-colored plastic bolt and washer, It had taken quite a while to find the simple technique used to overload the distiller’s circuits with static electricity. There was a good chance the spy or spies among them were part of this meeting and might somehow be exposed if their dirty secret remained a mystery a little longer.

“We still don’t know exactly what is wrong,” Shawn said. “Some of the circuits were completely fried. We fixed them and the same thing happened all over again as soon as we tried to run a test.”

This was true as far as it went. The ground strap had been electrically insulated so it didn’t function, and it hadn’t been found until testing had begun after preliminary repairs. Even so, the real problem was the delicate nature of the work. Distiller was not a production item, it was almost a work of art. Putting it back together involved re-creating exactly what had been done in the first place, and this was not a task with guaranteed success. Shawn was becoming convinced that one of the newer models still under development might be functional before the old distiller was repaired and he shared that with the assembled delegates.

“I could take up the entire afternoon describing my own pet projects,” Shawn concluded, “but this assembly of group delegates is too rare for that and we do have an important decision to make. In summary; we are using our well-known and practiced system of representative delegates and not the almost instantaneous direct focus of distributed intelligence that we have grown to appreciate. Now I’ll relate the position of our communicion laboratory and then hand off to our moderator. Is that okay with everyone?”

A murmur of approval rippled across the gymnasium. Shawn glanced at Skip, who waved him on with a smile. All the delegates saw genuine friendship when Shawn returned Skip’s relaxed smile.

“We should send an unedited version of this news to earth.” Shawn continued. “There is great science and a dream come true in this. We have encountered alien’s who posses the science of space travel. This is truly important knowledge for all the people of Earth and Luna. What we must decide is where and how to send what we have learned. The questions are: 1) Should we send the data in a communication torpedo or send it with a small crew of people? 2)Should we send the information about alien contact to Luna, Nation Pacific, or Use?”

Skip strode to the center of the gym and was met by outraged shouting from several people. He waved his arms for silence and politely asked what all the shouting was about but the answers were as unclear as the out of order shouting that continued. Skip finally cupped his hands to his mouth bellowed, “Please come to order. What is the point of this?”

Skip the cupped his hands to his ears so he could hear better. A look of surprise slowly spread across his face, followed by a smile that grew into a wide, Shalhoob trademark grin. “It appears that a very vocal group is upset that Shawn referred to the United States of Earth as Use, rather than its proper acronym, USE. Perhaps those shouting so loud have forgotten that the U.S.E. tried to stop our exploration of space with military weapons. This discussion is completely out of order and your moderator hereby schedules it for some other time and place.”

Skip then paced back and forth a few times to make sure his message was accepted. “Does anyone want to add to what Shawn just said?” He waited through a lingering moment of silence, “Okay. Then let’s focus on the questions.” He pointed before even taking a breath, “You speak first.”

“Susan Perez. My personal opinion is that even though Pacifica has remained separate from the United States of Earth it will share everything whereas this might not be true of Use.”

“So what is your point exactly?” Skip asked.

Susan glanced sidways at one of the shouters to see if they were going to become upset because she said, “Use.” Nobody started shouting at her so she smiled, took a breath, waited an extra moment and then continued. “I think what we have learned so far will be more widely shared if we send our news to Nation Pacifica rather than the United States of Earth. Additionally, the information is much more likely to be used for pure research rather than corporate profits and war if it goes there first.”

“That’s clear enough,” Skip said. “Who else wishes to speak? Okay, you,” he pointed. “What’s your name?”

“Ernest Wranker. I don’t think this prejudice against the United States is very fair. Many of us come from the nations in that federation and we are just as much part of this pioneer fleet as those from nation Pacifica.”

“Is that all?” Skip Shalhoob asked.

“No,” Ernest replied. “I would hope that we send two communication torpedoes, one to each place, and that we instruct them both to completely share what we send with respected laboratories in all nations.”

As Earnest sat down he glanced across the heads of those nearest him. His eyes met first one person and then another. The second person nodded approvingly before turning to speak with the person next to her. Caitlin saw this, she looked down at the papers before her and spoke in almost a whisper, just loud enough for both Aaron and Shawn to hear. “He’s the one who called right away from the docking platform when the first torpedo arrived. I followed him to the intercom and then he left after a brief conversation. I think he and the other two he looked at when he was sitting down are the spies.”

Shawn was looking toward Skip Shalhoob. He kept his eyes on Skip and didn’t blink or move a muscle. Aaron was turning to the group of supporting experts sitting on gym mats behind them when Caitlin spoke, he kept on with his motion and asked for the total number of available communication torpedoes and small cruise ships capable of deep space travel. He then turned back facing the gym center. Neither Aaron or Shawn asked Caitlin to point out who she meant Caitlin turned to Shawn, “Did you hear me?” She asked.

Shawn turned to Caitlin but looked past her and then to Aaron. “I heard you. Did Aaron?”

Aaron glanced at Skip Shalhoob and smiled. Then he looked through some papers, and wrote “YES” in large letters. Aaron then turned the other way to Yuki Ohara. “Did you by any chance hear Caitlin?” he asked.

Yuki turned to Aaron with a pleasant smile on her face, “I actually saw exactly what Caitlin did.”

The interchange on the table took only a brief moment. Skip was pointing out that there appeared to be two separate directions of thought and strode by the facilitation desk, “Does anyone here have something to say?” He asked and then abruptly turned and walked back into the center of the delegates.

Aaron stood, “I’ve just checked on this and we must consider our limited number of communication torpedoes. The survey fleet has sent three that we know of. We started off with a total of ten. The Galaxy 6 survey took seven, that leaves three here with us. We can produce more once we land and settle into a routine, but that will be 6 months from now, at best.”

“You heard him,” Skip Shalhoob said. “Are there any other thoughts on this?”

Ernest indicated he had more to say. “Stand and speak,” Skip said.

“Ernest Wranker. I thought that might be the case so I would like to make a proposal. We should send one of the small ships that can carry all the data packs plus a human crew as witnesses to what we have seen and discovered.”

“We have a proposal on the floor.” Skip said. “Will anyone second it?”

“I’ll second that,” a voice called out.

Skip’s brow flashed a quickly passing frown as he turned towards the voice. “We have a second person for the motion. Stand and state your name,” he said.

“Miriam Bushman. I second the motion to send a crew with the data.”

Miriam sat down and she cast a smiling glance to Ernest. It wasn’t a smile of friendship that anyone at the facilitation table witnessed. They saw a look each would later describe with a slightly different impression, none of which included the word, “friend.” There was no discernible facial expressions at the table, they all sat as unnoticed as a good gambler about to bet.

Caitlin found herself looking briefly into Miriam’s eyes. She saw a flash of defiant and cunning superiority and chills played across her skin. She strained to remember the body shape of Distiller’s saboteur but realized that she couldn’t. Still, memory of the person slipping away from the distiller sprang to her mind unbidden and she gave it credence; Was it Miriam Bushmen who worked to destroy their pioneering spirit and undermine the freedom and ecologically balanced systems they had developed as part of their science? If so, what was her motive? Caitlin wondered.

“Does anyone wish to speak to the motion before us?” Everyone in the room raised their hands. Skip laughed. “It looks like this will take a while. Shawn, maybe you should go work on the distiller, you may have enough time to fix it before we finish here.” That got a laugh out of every one. Skip waited a moment and then pointed, “Okay, you start. Stand, name yourself and tell us what you think.”

“Maneesh Gupta. I agree it is important to inform Earth of what we have experienced thus far. However, I see two problems with this proposal. First, we have just arrived and it is difficult for me to see how anyone could or would want to drop everything and go all the way back to Earth now. Second, I have heard discussions today that indicate the distiller may have been sabotaged. Although I don’t believe it, we should clear this up before sending anyone to Earth. Therefore, I don’t support the proposal and urge sending a communication torpedo before sending a piloted ship. Finally, I am also originally from the United States of Earth and I am proud to be a new citizen of Planet Pacifica. Neither the nickname Use, the name planet Pacifica or the emotions behind the names bother me one tiny little bit.”

Skip moved rapidly as he strode along open paths between the gymnasium floor mats and the assembled delegates. He worked his personal diplomacy as he quieted down the applause and conversations that followed Maneesh’s last statement. “We appear to have a competing proposal waiting for action. Does anyone wish to speak in support of the first proposal, to send a piloted ship back to earth?”

A thin smattering of hands raised. Several were slowly lowered when the lack of support became obvious. Skip Shalhoob looked intently at those with their hands still raised. “The proposal on the floor appears to be supported by a small minority,” he said. “However since we don’t have the distiller to incorporate every idea, I suppose we should hear a little more before we vote on this and move on.” He selected someone of his own personal choice. “Stand and speak, Rose.”

“Rose Ciaran. I believe the piloted crew of individuals selected for scientific expertise would be a great benefit for everyone we have left behind on earth. A large majority there are good people who don’t have ruthless ambition for vast wealth regardless of consequences. Many hundreds of millions of people in the United States of Earth have a good understanding of nature’s balances, they want something done about those who pollute the planet and refuse to clean up their messes.

“It’s my opinion that knowledge of our discoveries of life on habitable planets and the alien space fleet will be helpful to those on Earth who prefer a more peaceful and productive way of life.

“Human speakers traveling to accredited laboratories and universities wherever there is real free speech will add much to the data we are sending.”

Rose, a strong, healthy woman pioneer was respected by all. She wore simple but becoming clothing and used little facial makeup. Her voice was confident and just loud enough to be easily heard. She stood in relaxed contrast to Miriam Bushman who wore a carefully designed wardrobe and makeup which distracted attention. Miriam, eyes unblinking, had stood on her toes and shouted. Rose talked as if conversing with a small group of friends.

Skip stood looking at Rose and thinking over what she had said. He let her words sink in before responding, “So you agree with the motion on the floor?” He asked.

“Not entirely,” she responded. “I agree we should send a piloted ship, but we should wait until we are settled here. A communication torpedo should be sent to Earth as soon as we learn more about the aliens from the Galaxy 6 survey.”

“The plan Rose suggests sounds remarkably like a distiller response,” Skip said. “Even so, we first need to vote on the proposal that has the floor. All those in favor of sending a piloted ship to earth now say, Aye.”

Only a few voices responded positively.

“All those against the proposal say, No.” The negative response was clear and strong.

Skip turned to the facilitation table. “The no vote prevails,” he said and faced the delegates again. “Rose has made what I consider a motion to send the communication torpedoes followed at some future date by a ship crewed with selected experts, after we are settled. Do we have a second for that proposal?”

“I’ll second that,” several voices responded at once.

“We have a groundswell of seconds for this proposal,” Skip said and pointed to one of those who had spoken up, “Are you willing to stand and state your name as the second person who supports this proposal?”

“Julia Costello. I second the motion to send a torpedo as soon as we have a full report from Galaxy 6 and an expert crew later. Furthermore, I believe the communication department should select the crew.”

“Okay, we have a second and an amendment to the proposal. Does anyone second the amended proposal that delegates crew and destination selection to communications department personnel?” Skip called for a voice vote after a second person spoke in support of the amendment. Skip then turned to the facilitation table, “Is there anything you wish to add before we open this meeting to a vote on the proposal and then general discussion?” He asked, addressing the expert listeners.

Caitlin glanced both ways along the table, “No one from here wishes to speak,” she said.

“I open the floor for general discussion on the proposal, then,” Skip said and he strode purposefully among the delegates. “Who wishes to speak first?”

The gym remained silent. Skip smiled and waited for the silence to become a clear, unspoken word. “I feel we are ready to vote,” he said, “all those in favor of the proposal, say, Aye.”

The gym filled with the positive sound of solid agreement.

“All those opposed?” This yielded only a small murmur.

“Are there any objections?” Skip asked.

“None!” Someone shouted.

“The ayes have it,” Skip announced. “Do we have a motion to adjourn and begin moving to planet Pacifica?”

“I second that motion,” another voice shouted.

Caitlin banged her gavel before anyone noticed or spoke up about the odd order of the motion.

“Meeting adjourned. Let’s get off these space ships and check out our new home planet.”

continue to Chapter 6