14 Upward

The next morning they started flying simulations in Rogue fighter craft. Fighter craft, though, did not seem a good description. The Anyari craft were aesthetically beautiful, especially the fighters. Rogue craft were boxy and often asymmetric. Thrusters were visible with sharp corners and odd protuberances.

The MI's were different, too. He did not have access to Ran for the first time since the Berhlende mission. The commands and responses were simple and unemotional. The Rogue craft were controlled by MI's with a sparse, but functional, interface.

The acceleration was much greater--which should have been a tremendous advantage--but it turned out that the weapons range was less and at the high closing speeds the acceleration allowed, tactics needed to be much different.

Zeke checked his messages through his comm during the day, something that had been discouraged before. During a break, he checked and saw a cryptic message from Ereine. It just said, "News at lunch."

At lunch, the meal was again served in the classroom. Most left to use the facilities as their study was so intense that they seldom took breaks.

When Zeke returned, General Yalt was at the head of the class. As soon as Zeke took his seat the general began talking.

"Your idea has made the rounds quickly. The military council has seen it, and even those who oppose it voted to send it to the grand council. The majority have voted to study the matter in detail. In addition, it was sent to the king."

The room was silent. Zeke had met the king, but he realized that doing something that received the king's attention was a life altering event for the others in the flight.

"We will send three of you, tomorrow, to present your idea before the king and grand council," the general announced.

"I could choose those three, or perhaps Sgt. Yipt could choose, but if we are to trust your ideas, we think we should trust your judgment. I'll remain in the room. I'd like to see how you decide things, and I'll answer any questions you might have."

With that, he went to an inconspicuous corner, pulled up one of the chairs, and sat.

Zeke knew what was going to happen next. He thought he could talk to the king, or a small group, no matter what their station, but talking to the grand council and the king was far different. He couldn't imagine that, and didn't really want to.

All eyes in the room turned to look at him. This time, though, he didn't have anything to say. For almost a minute all were silent. Anyari were comfortable with silence, more comfortable than Zeke.

"This idea was not mine," he said finally. "Many of you, if not all of you, contributed as much or more to it than I did. I speak Anyari with an accent. I think you understand me easily by now, but that should not be ignored."

The room remained silent for an uncomfortably long time before Zeke finally spoke again.

"As I've told some of you, my life on Earth was much different. I was on the edges of the social group where I lived. Others strove for attention and popularity. That is not the person I want to be. I hope it is not the person I am."

Finally, from the back of the room, a cadet, Kaevin, cleared his throat. He had contributed to the sessions but had probably been the quietest in the flight.

"I know," he said, "that I have not been the most vocal or outgoing member of this group." His honesty brought slight smiles from the group. "But I have watched and listened to all that has happened since our training started here. I have not forgotten that first day when you took the lead in getting us organized and ready in preparing the barracks. I have no doubt our instructors saw it too," he added with a quick glance at General Yalt.

"Many of us did not like you--you know that--after the Behrlende mission. I think I was as angry and resentful as anyone."

"The role you have assumed, I'm sure, has been difficult. I hope that the sessions that you suggested have helped us take some of that burden off of you. But we all must be clear. You are the one who started the chain of events that has led us here today. I won't speak for the rest, but I know I could never have done it, at least not then. Thanks to you, I think that now, though, perhaps I could.

He continued, "I have come to feel a bond with everyone in the flight. That is something new and it has been a good thing for me. I have little doubt it is a good thing for each of us. I hope that is true, also, for you."

His eyes met Zeke's, "Zik, there is no doubt among anyone here that you are the center of us. As much as I have learned to trust each person in our flight, there is no one I trust as much as you."

There was a murmur of agreement at that.

"We would all go with you if we could, but we choose to put our faith in you."

With that he was silent, and the room fell silent again.

Zeke looked around the room at each and every member of the flight. Each met his gaze with a confident smile. He looked at Rilt, who silently mouthed the word, "Yes".

A battle raged within him that made his jaw clench. Then he spoke.

"You all should go. I have no idea who to suggest for the other two."

To his surprise, Rilt took the lead. "Next to you, Dev and Sephen have been the most important leaders in the flight. They were a little slower than some of us to recognize the value of your ideas," the reminder that they had not been the first to join the sessions drew a laugh, "but since we don't really know what criteria to use in selecting your companions, general performance and leadership seem as good as any."

Each person in the room nodded their assent. Dev and Sephen turned pale but nodded their heads in consent.

Zeke turned to look at the general. "I was hoping that you would be included in the group."

"Yes, I was summoned, too. Hopefully, I will be of some use." With that, the whole room erupted in laughter.

"You said that we should choose three, but I would like to ask to include one more."

"Three is what I was told," the general replied, "but I will ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Who would you like to add?"

"Ereine. She is the one who knows the technical information that we may need to answer questions. She is smarter than any of us. With both her expertise and your experience I think we can handle any question put to us. That is, at least, what I will tell myself," he concluded with a laugh.

Ereine had been sitting in another corner of the room and let out an Anyari expletive, totally out of character with her good looks and sophisticated manner. She quickly apologized.

"We are set then," the general said. "We are to appear the day after next, Fourthday. We will leave tomorrow. We could go by tube, it would be quicker, but I think you should have a closer look at the world we've asked you to help defend. I don't think the rest will mind too much, either."

They remained in the classroom and General Yalt joined Ereine and the rest of Zeta flight in preparing for their meeting with the grand council and king.

"Can you venture guesses as to the questions we will be asked?" Zeke directed the question to the general.

"It is hard to say what the specific questions will be, but you can guess the general questions: Why should we do this? How much will it cost, or rather, how much will it reduce our construction of other defense assets? And finally, what are the risks?"

Dev spoke immediately, "We are building a lot of ships and hope we have enough if attacked. We base this on the scant information from the few Rogue we have captured. We really don't know what to expect or what we should be doing."

Zeke agreed. "General, can you tell us why so little effort has been made to seek out intelligence on the Rogue? In the internal wars you fought centuries ago, didn't the commanders use spies, or whatever means they could, to gather information about the enemy?"

"Yes, they did," he answered. "The first attack happened years before even I was born. When it was over, I think we thought, for a while at least, that it was over and that was all the Rogue there were. We used what we recovered to advance our technology and we told ourselves that we were preparing in case they should return.

"We did not want to seek them out. Most believed they would not return. The king and his successors, up until Rolenil, held that view. It was easier to think that they would not return again, even after two attacks. An abandoned mining base, found on an asteroid in one of our outermost colonies, did not change the mind of Arlenot, two generations before Rolenil. Nor did it change the view of many on the grand council. It was many centuries, if not millennia, old, they argued.

"Rolenil, though, was of a different mind. When he became king, he began a slow campaign to persuade the members of the grand council. In times of peace, however, and this was considered a time of peace, the king is not as dominant as he becomes during times of war or catastrophe. He is influential because he must be selected by an overwhelming majority of our citizens, but his power is not absolute, and it was more comfortable to believe we were safe.

"You know the story, Zeke, Danil was privy to much of the information his father knew. He also knew the most likely location of the Redun, though no one knew that another attack by the Rogue was imminent.

"Rolenil was able to increase the construction of fighters and a few small cruisers. With robotic labor, it was not a large investment. This academy, which had been reduced by seventy percent, was again fully staffed, but that was all he could accomplish.

"Because of his foresight, we had more to fight with when the Rogue attacked, but if you and Danil had not brought back the Redun when you did, we would have been overwhelmed.

"Now, as you know, we have re-opened the three academies and there is talk of a fourth. We are constructing warcraft and building more robots and facilities to increase production still further.

"If your plan is approved it will mean either building a separate facility to construct your drones or expanding an existing one."

"So if an attack should come within the next few months, and we have diverted construction away from warcraft to intelligence drones, we will be exposed more than we would otherwise have been," Zeke finished the general's explanation.

"Our production is increasing rapidly," Ereine volunteered. "Production will be ten times greater in a year, but we have started from a very small rate."

"Does anyone believe the Rogue won't return again?" Zeke asked.

"It is likely that there are some, but no one dares profess that opinion now, certainly not at the upper levels of the government. The population of the planet is afraid. They have had time to recover from the attack. Our support is solid, and I think it will remain so for some time."

"We should," Zeke suggested, "consider all the scenarios that we can think of and present them all to the king and council. And our analysis for each one. I think we can even let them determine their view of the likelihood of each one. Ereine, are you recording?"

"I am now," she answered.

"The most immediate possibility," Rilt suggested, "is that the Rogue will attack again...soon, before we can possibly be ready to repel them."

"Then we should consider the opposite," Geren added, "that they will never return."

"That is unlikely," Rilt responded, "because we know some Rogue escaped."

"Yes," Zeke replied, "but we need to consider all possibilities, especially since we don't understand Rogue goals and motives. What else?"

"They could come to us seeking peace," the general added, "I think that unlikely, but if we are considering all options..."

"I don't know of any other scenarios except that they will attack us again, we just don't have any idea when," Geren stated.

"If that is all, I have one more scenario, or rather, a specific version of the last scenario," Zeke told them.

He asked the general, "Are the members of the grand council, and the king, students of history and of human nature?"

"They are," the general replied. "I would say that they must be to fulfill their duties effectively."

"Then, I believe, we must rely on their wisdom."

Everyone, the general included, looked at Zeke and waited for him to continue.

"It has been about two hundred years since the first attack," he said, "and although it is possible that another attack will occur immediately, I think it is reasonable to assume that we have, at the least, a small fraction of that time before the next. If that is so, even if they respond twenty times more rapidly, we will have five years before another attack. It could be twenty, or even fifty, years before they attack again."

"The problem is, we only have three data points, and even with more, I think that any estimate we make would be no better.

"Either we will be ready, or we will not. It depends on how many warcraft we can build, how quickly they attack again, and what they attack with.

"The other factor we must consider is human nature. I suspect it is not that different here on Anyar than it is on Earth. If an attack doesn't happen for five or ten years--or even more, if we find no other traces of a Rogue presence, will support for the defense constructions wane? Hasn't it done so after attacks in the past?"

The general face was a mask as he pondered this statement.

Zeke looked around the room, his eyes stopping at the general. He wasn't sure that the rest would understand this, but surely the general would.

After a moment, the general nodded, "I believe you are correct. I suspect that the king is on your side, and if that has not already occurred to him, I think he will recognize it for the wise prediction that it is."

"The search," the general continued, "will capture the imagination of the public. Waiting and wondering is a difficult thing. Trying to find out, that will give us something to anticipate.

"Ereine, please gather information on the current production capacities," the general asked.

"We have everything we need?" Zeke asked of no one in particular.

"We have all we can get, what we need we will find out on this Fourthday meeting," the general concluded.