Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Bureaucrat's Tale - Chapter 7

          My subordinates and I worked with forced energy, striving to complete our mandatory tasks before our stamina failed.  The warning signs of fatigue surfaced quickly: drooping eyes, increasing errors, and strained tempers.  Fortunately, Aika was untouched by such frailties of biology, and kept us stimulated, edited, and mediated enough to proceed without problems.

          While Jacq and Tlalosseth drafted a second press release incorporating our newer updates, I composed a follow-up message to regional Defense Commander Grissakh bash’Ruushid, passing along the salient points from the compiled salvager reports.  I finished first and split off Aika’s attention to review my work while continuing to oversee the press release’s creation.  She also confirmed her simultaneous preparation of our routine updates to the local Collective Offices.  Each packet received my virtual stamp of approval as a formality before release.

          There were days I wondered whether including us biologicals in the bureaucratic process was an unnecessary drawback.  The Brins could handle every function faster, smarter, and cheaper.  It would never happen, though.  Other cultures’ paranoia aside, there was still a lingering discomfort even among my fellow Humans that releasing the reins anywhere would start the descent to our total obsolescence.

          Aika would be the first to object if I brought up that idea to her.  In the course of our past projects in settlement dynamics, she already had voiced her analysis of sapient-A.I. relations.  She claimed that no matter how well programmed or intentioned, artificial minds could never fully understand the needs, experiences, and preferences of biological organisms.  Thus, biologicals would always be needed to comprehend and govern their fellows.

          That analysis didn’t preclude the possibility of A.I. overlords using biologicals as subordinate overseers.  I avoided mentioning this interpretation in my discussions with Aika, not so much to avoid giving her ideas as to avoid drawing her offended objections.  It was nice of her to be reassuring about the value of meat creatures; I didn’t need to reject her gesture by suggesting the grim alternate possibilities.

          Our secondary press release was completed in respectable time.  I set aside my tentative notes for the Terran and Maraug governments’ updates and waved my staff over to review their document on my display.  Tlalosseth flowed out of his chair as Jacq rose stiffly, both sapients pulling their seats around to my side of the desk so that we could share the same view.

          I made a mental note to myself to requisition a cooperative wall display the next time budgeting allowed.  The request would probably be rejected, since complex and time-sensitive crises like the Locust affair were blessedly rare.  Most times, I and my subordinates managed well enough in our separate offices, on our separate systems, with shared networking sufficient to our daily labors.

          Everyone remained silent as I skimmed the proposed draft.  Since Aika had already fixed any lingering composition errors, my edit was mostly for content, tone, and organization.  Not that Aika hadn’t already considered those factors as well, but I might be privy to considerations she hadn’t known or couldn’t share.  I also had the final word on all releases from my office; while I sometimes waived that privilege, an official press release was something I should scrutinize closely before passing along.

          In structure and tone, this release was nearly the twin of the first missive the team generated.  No surprise, given the same authors and constraints.  It looked like the trio had cribbed from their prior organization, as well.  I swapped two lines from one paragraph to the beginning of an earlier block to emphasize their content more highly: the existence of survivors from the colonies.  Later text explained the lingering confusion about who and where those survivors actually were. 

          We omitted speculation about the nature of the Saving Grace's attackers.  That theft was left as a matter for further investigation, deferring specifics to Defense and Justice pending their official operations.  I was intensely curious, myself, about what exactly had happened to the ship, and I was certain citizens across the Collective would be asking questions.  While Settlement might have first view of the clues coming in from Locust IV, we were not qualified to offer any deductions, much less speculate on causes.  Once Defense had personnel on the ground locally, Settlement wouldn’t even be the primary recipient of updates; we would be dependent on reports from official investigators.

          I actually looked forward to taking a secondary role in the process.  Maybe it was the fatigue influencing my thoughts, but I was looking forward to a reduction in Settlement’s role on Locust IV.  Once we finalized the pronouncement of the colony’s termination and distributed our evidence, the workload in my Office should ebb back to a manageable flow.  Not that the pace would be leisurely, but my schedule would return to something more reasonable.  The work day already had stretched to more than twice its normal length, and the next day would likely start earlier and run just as long.

          Aware of the temptations of sleep, I did my best to avoid rushing my review of the press release.  I reread a portion to make sure it contained no unintentional references to our internal Office dialogue: no hints about the shortened communications circuit between the colony and the Terran cultural government, for example.  That telltale would surface on its own, as the press compared the timing of their data feeds to the officially reported information flow.  Settlement needed to look innocently ignorant of the entire matter.

          Finally, I pronounced the document acceptable for transmission.  In trade, I handed Jacq and Tlalosseth my notes on the Terran and Maraug cultural government briefings.  I asked Jacq to prepare the Mauraug contact and Tlalosseth to ready the Terran version, deliberately crossing species lines.  I trusted both beings to handle the composition and delivery of the necessary messages, especially since they had my models from previous communications.  Aika would also oversee, coach, and edit the final recordings as necessary.  Each assistant was also capable of modifying their presentation to appeal to the respective culture, although not with my skill.  That roughness was intentional; I wanted to use my subordinates specifically to undercut these reports with the message that neither recipient was important enough to merit my personal attention.  As long as neither assistant committed any overt misstatements, their offerings would be “good enough”.

          With those assignments, I dismissed the two to their respective offices, inviting them back to my workspace to consult with Aika as necessary.  I took to myself the privilege of getting to bed earlier.  I left the office shortly after the other two, taking my personal compad along.  Its authorized link back to Aika's main system would ensure that I stayed in contact no matter where I roamed.

          I wasn’t going far, though, merely a hundred meters or so to a small room colloquially termed a ‘bunk’.  It was my personal, minimalist apartment away from home, a single room apartment with bed, sink, shower, toilet, micro-kitchen, and a few cabinets for wardrobe and personal effects.  It might seem like a jail cell, except for the slightly greater space allowed and the more humane layout.  I hadn’t decorated much, perhaps in the fear that if I became comfortable with my allotted home-away-from-home, I would be doomed to use it more often.

          In my years in Settlement, I had only slept in the bunk five times: three times during particularly challenging year-end accounting reviews, once when I fell unexpectedly ill and didn’t feel safe navigating home, and just one other time during a crisis of the current magnitude.

          In that case, an entire colony ship had been lost due to an unforeseen magnetic storm at their destination – the result of an oversight during surveying – and Settlement had to oversee the search operation to locate the missing settlers.  We authorized recruitment of two dozen ships, including two Ningyo scouts to speed up the real-space search.  The colony ship was located seventy hours later, scattered across two systems due to breakup from incomplete transition out of trans-light speeds.

          Locust Four was my first experience with colony loss due to violent, military action.  There had been conflict in other colonies – both internal and external – including significant death tolls, but complete colony loss was rare.  Usually, the cause of colony loss was accident, like the spaceflight error already mentioned, or equipment failure (always compounded by operator error), or failure to account for a hostile factor in the planetary environment… and even then, there were usually survivors to rescue or evacuate.

          As I settled down for bed, I finally felt the emotional weight of the reported deaths.  Well over one thousand lives, no matter how you defined that term, had been ended by a brutal, needless attack.  The dead were casualties of war, and by that metric were a rather small group, but it was a war they had not sought and had not known they might die fighting.  Those who sent the colonists should have known. 

          In my opinion, the cultural officials were responsible. They demanded the settlement, negotiated its details, and organized the colony drives.  They were aware of the conflict they were provoking.  I and Secretary ChiTakTiZu argued that any joint colony would be a target.  At the least, its sponsors should have warned the colonists to expect sudden death as a possibility, if not negotiated harder for adequate defenses for the colony itself.

          Maybe they did warn the colonists... but I found it hard to believe so many people still would have volunteered, given an honest assessment of the risks.  In retrospect, death had become a certainty rather than a probability, but the prior probability should have been estimated higher.  When I looked over the colonists’ roster, they hadn’t seemed like hardened military types inured to the idea of violence, nor had I noticed a trend toward suicidal resignation.  The settlers looked like the usual cross-section of hopeful pioneers looking for a new home to build, skilled workers looking for a new place to show their merit, and yes, disaffected overflow hoping for a new start or at least some distance from old problems.

          Now at least ninety-five percent of them were dead, with no distinction made between those prepared for the possibility of death and those dismissive or ignorant of the threat.  The more there were of the ignorant, the more culpable their home governments were in their deaths. 

          In conjunction with Medical, we would start issuing official notices of death soon.  Families would be informed of their lost loved ones.  Friends would hear secondhand or find the names of the dead on the official published lists.  While a few hundred sapients was a bare sliver of the overall population of the Collective and a tiny decrement to their individual cultural populations, each death would be enormous to those who had known each colonist.  While the entire loss was small in proportion to past death tolls from war, plague, or natural or technological accidents - even relatively minor in comparison to some settlement losses - the tragedy was a painful blow to the Settlement Office.  It would be felt throughout the Collective.  It would thunder in the halls of government within the Terran and Mauraug capitols.

          Along with slowly arriving grief, I felt guilt for treating this tragedy as an intellectual puzzle, delivered for my personal challenge… or a product to be repackaged and sent out again to earn a day’s wages.  We were reporting the lost lives of real people, writing the obituary for their dream.

          I was still right for being aggravated, but not about the work involved and the nuisance of dealing with the personalities involved.  No, I was righteously angry at the parties ultimately responsible for the colony and its doom: the members of each cultural government who had ignored our warnings and pressed forward. 

          I was even hypocritically angry at whichever of my fellow bureaucrats were supporting those miscreants by feeding them advance information, allowing the guilty to prepare their defensive cover before the populist storm began.  It was hypocrisy because the leakers were doing nothing worse than what I did by throttling information to those same governments: playing games and jockeying for advantage based on the whims and needs of myself and my Office.  We were all manipulating information which, at its origin, was news of death and evil and wrongs needing to be righted.

          Not that any of us could do much righting, personally.  All we could do was our jobs.  But we could do them properly, honestly and well, not haltingly and with prejudice.  I drifted off to sleep with such noble goals floating through my mind.  Pity that they never seemed to survive into waking consciousness.

         I woke to the insistent chiming of my compad, interspersed with Aika’s voice calling: “Hori! Miharu, Hori! Your attention is required.”

          Shaking off the mental sludge of interrupted sleep, I picked up the compad and tapped acknowledgement. “What’s the trouble, Aika?”
          “You have a response from Defense Commander bash’Ruushid,” she explained, “It answers some questions and raises new concerns.”

          “That’s… great,” I mumbled back, “but why couldn’t it wait another hour or two?”  Per the clock on my compad screen, I had only been in bed less than two Terran hours.  It was enough for a nap, but not nearly enough to sustain me through another double shift.

          Aika specified: “Defense has identified some of the hijackers who took the Saving Grace.  At least one is their indirect employee; another is a ranking leader among the Mauraug colonists.  What I find equally as interesting as Commander bash’Ruushid’s conclusions is the manner by which they were obtained.”

          She finally drew my full, alert attention.  So one of the mysteries about Locust Colony was getting solved, if only partially, only enough to raise new puzzles.  Aika was right: I did want to hear this news fast and first.

          I hauled my body out of bed, lamenting once again the muscular atrophy I’d allowed to worsen since promotion.  Since reconstruction therapies were a viable option, I didn’t have to exercise daily to have the build I wanted whenever I went on vacation… but it would have been nice to be less fatigued by day-to-day exertion.  Regular exercise also would be a less costly option, but what I saved in credit I would pay out in lost leisure time.  If only I had retained the traits of my forbears, who could find entertainment even during the grueling labor of carving boats, rowing across oceans, and straining against equally muscular fishes.  If I actually enjoyed exercise, it wouldn’t feel like such a wasteful chore.

          “Do I have time to dress and listen in my office?” I asked Aika without sarcasm.  She might determine that there was enough urgency for me to skip comforts and hear the full message immediately.

          “Yes,” she confirmed, “Although you should hurry… other messages might start backing up if you delay.  After all, you also have replies queued from Terran representative Tomas Jocasta and Kheshret bash’Brughlan of the Mauraug Collective Occupation.”

          Even though Aika lacked a video feed from my room, I still gave the compad an exaggerated stare of disapproval.  “Already?  So why didn’t you wake me for those?”

          “Not as important,” Aika replied smugly.  “Nothing new or surprising, just more of the usual demands.  There are some interesting details, though.  I’ll be curious to see if you catch the same hints I did, when you’ve reviewed the recordings.  Again, no surprises based on what we already know.”

          Aika wasn’t prone to such teasing vagueness, so I guessed she was setting me up to prove my own competence to myself.  If she had determined the messages held nothing of sufficient urgency to require my waking attention, they probably didn’t.  Given the timing of arrival for these messages, they had to have been sent before our own reports to the separate cultural governments went out.  The two pairs of missives had metaphorically passed each other in crossing.  Many of the representatives' questions would be summarily answered when they received our reports.  Let them chew on that lesson for a while.

          Tommy-Jo hadn’t waited for even the possibility of my formal response before launching a (no doubt irate) rebuttal of my prior message.  I was no longer surprised at the speed of his replies.  The representative likely was burning through his office budget hiring single-jump couriers to harass Settlement, trying to stay ahead of the news curve and pressure us into unintended admissions.  That was a failing strategy.  I could play the game better than him, and my superior, Secretary ChiTakTiZu, was my master in the diplomatic arts.

          The Mauraug inquiry – or more likely, demand – was just about on schedule.  They had received the news about Locust Colony later than the Terran internal government, but still ahead of Settlement’s official notification.  I suspected the Mauraug vessel participating in the salvage team… a freighter… Shomug?… sent its own messages in order to collect favors.  I’d have to ask Aika if the likely comm paths and rates fit the observed timing.  If so, then the Terrans had heard something even before the first salvager, Saving Grace, set down.

          That analysis assumed that Saving Grace sent a message back 'home' to Terra.  The likelihood of that message was lower, even considering the Human captain and the ship's Terran registry.  Mauraug might bow to the Dominion on their homeworld, or they might not, depending on sect, philosophy, and politics, but they at least could expect respect and not condemnation for proper subservience.  Terran salvagers, especially ones with suspiciously shady behavior, had zero or less connection to the cultural government on Terra itself.  There was no certain benefit to currying favor.  Human splinters rarely felt any tie to the original tree, beyond a certain sentimental appreciation.  My own rivalry with the Terran Council was an excellent example.

          I worked out my own ideas about Aika’s meaning while I pulled on trousers and a tunic, rubbing my face with a eubacterial cloth and swiping my hair flat.  A pair of flat shoes and a belt rendered me presentable enough for work.

          “Aika, where are my other assistants?” I asked as I stepped into the hall.

          “In their quarters.  We finished a half-hour after you left.  I presume they’ve had at least a hour’s rest by now.  Will you require their attendance?”

          I thought about it a moment, but declined: “Let them sleep for now.  I’ll see what we’re dealing with before I decide how to continue.”

          Aika acknowledged just before I reached the office.  Her avatar was waiting for me, already manifested in her ‘serious’ mode, standing beside my desk.  I settled down in my chair, pausing only to requisition a fresh cup of guayusa and a plate of scones before powering up my computer.

          “All right, Amitabha, let me see what requires my opened eyes.”

          Aika, knowing my references, understood that I was ready for the message from Commander bash’Ruushid.  The Mauraug’s creased face, lined in stripes of rust and soot fur, appeared on my monitor.

          Its message began:

“To Assistant Secretary of Settlement, Hori Jeetah, in acknowledgement of your orders regarding the Locust Four Colony: I arrived in Locust System aboard Tourkmel.  As of this message, no Medical vessel preceded me in-system.  I established command over the salvage operations in progress.  I learned that one salvage ship departed before my arrival, under questionable circumstances.  Investigations under my direction determined that this vessel, Saving Grace, was stolen by Locust colonists, both Human and Mauraug, acting in concert.  My Defense subordinates cross-referenced descriptions provided by the marooned former crew with uncovered recordings within both settlements, the testimony of the recovered artificial intelligence, ‘Tiberius’, and records provided by Mauraug Dominion colonial authority.
As a result, we have partial identification of the criminals responsible for the theft of Saving Grace.  One description was unmistakable: Suufit bash’Topith, a Mauraug of powerful parentage but lesser personal influence, a high-ranking administrator of the Mauraug half of the colony.  Why it would participate in this crime is unclear, but its uniquely extreme girth leaves no doubt as to identity.  Another Mauraug among the colonists was equally distinctive but less well-known: Luuboh bash’Gaulig, who suffers from uncorrected dwarfism.  Another four Mauraug were described but have not yet been identified; initial impressions place them as members of colonial defense, likely spared due to their positions far afield of the settlement itself.   
The same applies to the male Human who assisted these Mauraug in entering the Saving Grace: he is undoubtedly one of a few Defense scouts listed on field assignment outside of the Terran settlement.  Once our Terran counterparts provide their records, this male should be definitively identified.  The Human female who accompanied this group is known at this time.  Her description was recognized by the artificial intelligence, ‘Tiberius’, as she is Mikala Turell, the daughter of that program’s owner, Geminus Turell.  The reason for her absence from the Terran settlement is unknown, as is her reason for assisting in the theft of a ship.  The artificial intelligence states she was a mining engineer and should have been with her father in the mine tunnels.  Given that this colonist group approached the Terran settlement, New Gethsemane, from the east, the direction of the Mauraug settlement, and the mines are to the west of New Gethsemane, Miss Turell was very far from her assigned work area. 
I am still seeking an adequate explanation for this crime.  Certainly, the motives of the settlers are unclear, although the former crew of Saving Grace seems to believe paranoia, grief, and rage are to blame.  The defeated captain, Carlos Mendoza, accuses the thieves of illicit use of an artificial intelligence to usurp his ship’s systems.  While this seems unlikely given the majority Mauraug composition of the group, it does explain how boarders could gain control of ship computers without forcing the crew to give up their passcodes or spending hours manually overriding security programs.  The original Saving Grace crew is not entirely trustworthy, themselves, in my assessment.  Their stories conflict and they cannot provide adequate explanation for their actions prior to their defeat. 
As regards the greater crime here, all evidence continues to point to the Apostasy. Reconstructed recordings, psionic inspection, and physical traces all indicate Mauraug ship types and weapons fire, as well as Mauraug personnel on the ground.  Waste energy trails from Locust Four indicate a departure trajectory toward the Circinus region, which may indicate intent to remain within the Terran-Mauraug border zones.  Per your orders, I am not pursuing directly, but have relayed information to Circinus regional Defense to pick up the trail if possible. 
I continue to observe and defend all sapients within the Locust System, including Medical and other Collective servants, as they arrive.  I will proceed as ordered until a threat appears or I receive countermanding orders from your Office or my superiors within Defense.  Additional messages will follow if and when we obtain new information regarding Saving Grace, the Apostate cowards, or information useful for their apprehension.”

          The message ended without further courtesy or obeisance.  As I expected, Commander bash’Ruushid was following orders per Collective protocol, to their letter as demanded by Dominion, but with its own interpretation regarding priorities.  I could tell it was more shocked and intrigued by the hijacking of the rogue salvager.  After all, Apostates raiding a colony and murdering innocent sapients was nothing new, but supposedly respectable, ranking Mauraug colluding with Terrans – not only Humans but at least one Brin – to steal a mere scrap hauler?  Why? 

          I shared its confusion, though not its sense of priorities.  All the same, I was glad it had no temptation sufficient to send it racing off after the Apostates.  Having the Defense ship remain at Locust Four would keep every other crew thereabouts safer, not to mention more honest and efficient in their duties.

          I could see why Aika wanted me to hear this message before dealing with the cultural governments’ demands.  The Commander had made no secret that it was in direct communication with the Mauraug Dominion, or at least the planetary authority handling their settlement programs, roughly the equivalent of the settlement office on Terra.  I trusted my Mauraug comrade enough to believe the contact was being handled to its advantage; nothing unnecessary was being shared with the Dominion.

          It was also taking advantage of the presence of the Mauraug freighter Shomuth to strengthen its command position, bolster its investigations, and simplify contact with the Dominion.  I had to approve, grudgingly.  This collusion made the Collective’s operations appear to favor the Mauraug, superficially.  I knew otherwise, but that veneer of partiality would aggravate the Terran Council.  Again, I normally wouldn’t care about their hurt feelings, but Settlement would have to step carefully and possibly grant balancing concessions to avoid a public perception of bias.

          The other issue here had to do with the identities of the Saving Grace’s hijackers.  These weren’t Apostate remnants, opportunistic pirates, or even random malcontents from among the common settlers.  At least two had been identified as colonial Defense, basically security personnel.  Unless there were factors in play that neither I nor Commander bash’Ruushid could comprehend, these guards were in serious dereliction of duty.  Defense personnel should be helping with recovery, not sabotaging it.  That another of the thieves was a ranking Mauraug official, a child of privilege if I understood the Commander’s description correctly, made the investigation doubly sensitive.  We were either looking at serious rogue action or else a legitimate response to some heinous act… after the attack or possibly related to it.  Terrans and Mauraug working in conjunction hinted at a provocation sufficient for them to overcome their suspicions of one another.

          Learning the true story was beyond my abilities, especially from my office, although I doubted that I could solve the mystery even if I were in the Commander’s oversized boots.  We all needed more information, much of which needed time to emerge… if it ever would at all.

          It was time to focus on my actual duties, which contained mysteries of their own.  I started sipping my tea while I weighed probabilities and sorted links between data points.

          Eventually I caved to the necessity of bringing in my smarter half.  “Aika, I’m ready for the quiz.  Remind me what I need to know."

          The secretarial avatar looked at me and smiled through tiny, thin lips.  She asked, “What is the power balance at Locust Four?"

          “Advantage to the Mauraug,” I answered readily, “A sympathetic Collective Defense head, working with a Mauraug salvager, linked either directly or through that crew to the Dominion government.  It’s obviously parlayed that leverage in order to get the cooperation of the Great Family ship also running salvage, as shown by its conversation with the Brin, Tiberius.  That leaves only a Zig salvage ship present, with the sole Terran representative stolen and missing.”

          Aika nodded and continued: “Correct.  Next question: What is the likelihood of decisive confirmation of the attackers’ identities?"

          I thought about this a moment, then answered, “Low and falling.  Unless they decide to strike another target soon and are identified there, or make port in Circinus, the ships could reconfigure and become untraceable before any pursuer – Dominion or Collective – could follow their trail back to its source.  At best, evidence on the ground can support the theory of Apostate involvement, backed up by logical probability, but in all likelihood a final confirmation will be impossible.  Barring a confession, ship data recorder recovery, or other improbable event, of course.”

          “Generally correct, although remember when speaking publicly that the possibility exists and that an investigation will be conducted.  That much is true, no matter how faint the chances of success may be.  Worth noting is the systematic destruction of communications and recording devices as the ships entered Locust System, as they descended from orbit, and as they demolished the settlements.  Great effort was expended to ensure that no witness – sapient or otherwise – would remain to identify the attackers.  While seemingly strange for a ‘terrorist’ organization, this approach makes sense if you consider that the existence of a joint colony was itself a threat to the Apostates.  Even the implication of collaboration between the Dominion and Terra was bad enough, worse still if they actually started working together.”

          I interrupted before Aika could formulate the next question.  “Wait, wait, so that basically means that the theft of the Saving Grace is a blow against the Apostates!”  I laughed at my own joke, then quieted as I realized it was only half humorous.  “You have a definite Dominant Mauraug, a leader, partnering up with Humans to oppose… what?  Mistakenly identified Apostates or a Collective rescue?  Overreach by the Terran authorities?  Depending on what’s discovered, the Dominion could easily spin this into propaganda against the Apostates."

          “You’re stretching the evidence somewhat, but it’s a valid point: if the theft can be considered a joint action in defense of Locust Colony – even misguided, even pointlessly late – then it could become a rallying point in support of a new colony.  I’ll award you extra credit for the observation."

          “Aw, thanks,” I replied deadpan, still turning the idea over in my head.  “So, time for the final question?" 

          “For a perfect score: What are the key points to listen for in the cultural governments’ messages?"

          I gave this question even further thought.  Eventually, I ventured: “Check what they know about the recovery of survivors.  That tells us the most about where their sources are located, physically as well as along the timeline.  Oh, and whether they raise concerns about the protection of any putative colonist survivors.  If not, they either know that Defense is in-system already or else don’t know anyone was found alive.”

          Aika’s pursed lips told me I was missing something critical.  I cast about in memory to see what else she might have in mind.  I couldn’t think of any salient details that didn’t have some connection to the search for survivors.

          Finally, I shrugged and said, “I’m not seeing it.  I’ll take a low passing mark.  Show me the answer key.”

          Aika huffed in frustration but answered readily: “You need to know: what are their stances regarding the termination of Locust Colony?  You know that Terra already has the Secretary’s official decree ending the colony… will they accept that pronouncement as final?  Or will they dispute, and if so, for what reason?  The Mauraug should not have that decree available at the time of their dispatch.  Will they consider the colony lost, ask the Secretary’s decision, petition for a particular option, or already have news of this Office’s stance?  Whichever approach is taken will inform much of our continued work, with each faction as well as with operations in Locust System.”

          She was right, though I hated to admit it.  It ought to be that the word of a Collective Office Secretary was final on matters within his domain.  No protest from any party, short of the Collective’s leadership itself, ought to sway his decision, once announced.  That ideal wouldn’t stop the cultural governments from trying, however.  It wouldn’t stop them from using the termination decision as fodder for propaganda against the Collective, or as a lever for sympathy in future negotiations. 

          Worst of all, Secretary ChiTakTiZu might even be swayed, if the conditions were right: if enough survivors were miraculously discovered alive, if enough political will were gathered to make continued opposition dangerous, or if a strong argument were presented justifying the continuation of the joint colonial experiment despite its predictable, bloody result.

          If the proponents of maintaining the colony got ahold of the story of the Saving Grace, it could mutate into just such an argument.  That argument would be more powerful if the real story fit the template of ‘cooperation against an enemy’.  Even if the reality was stupid and sordid, savvy politicians could still shine it up golden.  Some myths might contain a grain of truth, but a good anecdote didn’t need even that much to become a rallying cry.

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