15 Councilor Cilton

Early the next morning, Zeke waited with Ereine, Dev, and Sephen at the end of the breezeway, all peering out through the door for signs of the shuttle. They had all been fitted for dress uniforms the night before and been given large luggage containers.

They walked out to the edge of the landing field, accompanied by robotic porters with their luggage. In their excitement they were fifteen minutes early. There was as yet no sign of the general.

"Will he be going with us?" Zeke asked. They looked at Ereine as she was the only military regular in the group.

"I hope so, I would assume that he will, but I don't know any more than you."

They did not see the shuttle until just before they heard the crackling of the thrusters. It hovered over a marked landing spot on the tarmac and settled precisely to the ground.

It was much larger than the Rilun, the small shuttle Danil had brought to Earth, and he and Danil had used to travel to Earth's moon. This ship was an immaculate light blue with a large identification number and trim in dark blue. It looked as if it had just come from the factory. When you had robotic labor, he guessed, you could keep things looking spiffy.

As the engines shut down, they heard the general behind them.

"I am fortunate to be in such a career. In all my years, I have not grown tired of watching even the smallest ships land on a clear morning like this."

Zeke moved to grab his luggage container, but Ereine waved him off. "You could barely lift it. Anyway, the porters will get it."

"And," she advised, "stay on the marked path to the hatch. The ground near the thrusters is going to be uncomfortably warm."

They parted to let General Yalt lead and followed him out onto the tarmac and into the shuttle.

"How many of these do you guys have?" he asked Ereine.

She consulted her comm and said, "Twenty-two, with another ten scheduled to be completed in the next year."

"I guess I don't know much about the size of the military, shouldn't they have told us about that?" he asked.

"You could look it up at any time on your console, or even your comm like I just did. You could get most of your training that way, but we've found it is simply not effective to spend your days studying alone."

The shuttle had a large, open cabin which could seat up to a hundred, in ten rows of ten across.

Sephen, Zeke, and Dev chose seats on different rows along the side so they would have a view out the windows. Ereine sat down in the seat next to Zeke.

"They sent something this large just for us?" Zeke asked.

"Craft designed to carry small groups were built mostly for ground attack and we don't do much of that. I assume this one was available, so it is what we have," Ereine answered.

Zeke sensed a little impatience and teased her, "Are you getting tired of my questions? I thought you liked me."

"I made that pretty clear, as I recall. It was you who were uncertain," she replied with just a trace of contrived petulance in her voice.

"The way your relationships work here, between men and women that is, has got me more than a little confused. I have not had a chance to talk with Elenne."

"I'm sorry. It's easy to forget how different things must be on Earth. This trip to the capitol is as new, exciting, and as scary for me as it is for you--maybe more so. Who would you be more nervous meeting, our king, or your president?"

"I understand, and you are forgiven. I'm just trying to do the right thing. By you, and by Elenne."

"I understand. And as Elenne has probably told you, you're going to get a lot of attention, and surely a lot of admirers. Whether you deserve them or not. I believe that you do," with that she nudged him and laughed.

The shuttle lifted gently and Zeke watched the ground drop away. The acceleration was about sane as he remembered from his trip to the Academy-- it pushed him back in his seat more than an airliner taking off would have.

As they gained altitude, Zeke was again struck by how little evidence of humanity he saw. Small towns, similar to Elenne's hometown, were occasionally visible. They disappeared as they gained altitude and he could see the curve of the planet become visible.

"Does everyone live underground?" he asked Ereine. "I don't see much to indicate any people down there."

"Most of the cities were torn down. No one wanted to live in anything that would be a target. A few still survive. Sometimes people live in them. More are museums or attraction for tourists."

"You have tourists? You can just see everything on your consoles. The videos in three dimensions are pretty close to the real thing as far as I can tell."

"No matter how realistic, it is still not the same as being there," she answered.

Kanetel, the seat of Anyar's government was on another continent. A tube trip would have taken them far north, to where the ocean was shallow enough for tubes to be built across. The acceleration had eased and they slowly transitioned to weightlessness.

"I don't remember this from the trip to the academy. I'd have eaten less this morning if I'd known."

She pointed to the same low-tech solution in the back of the seat in front of him that Earth airlines used.

General Yalt sat a few seats down, and he was using a portable console. All Zeke could see was a list of figures and charts.

Zeke had flown only once on Earth, to visit his parents. Now they were far higher, and going far faster than any jet. He watched the forests, lakes, and mountains roll by below.

In less than an hour, he was being pushed gently forward, into the straps. Out the window, he could see that they were descending.

"What is the Kanetel like?" he asked Ereine, is it mostly underground like the other cities I've seen?"

"It is an exception. Much of the city has been left as it was. Much was destroyed and left as it was as a reminder. All the expansion has been underground. We have many deep caverns underneath in case of another attack. Expanding those was started immediately after the last attack was driven off."

The shuttle slowed steadily and soon he could see the city. Most of the near side had been destroyed and was now a tangle of wrecked buildings, overgrown with trees and grass. Though it must be huge by Anyari standards, it was smaller than Wichita, or even Topeka, the cities near home he knew best.

The spaceport, however, was very large, as large as any airport he'd ever seen on Earth. There must have been a hundred ships, some as big as large yachts. Others were scarcely larger than a minivan.

They appeared to be headed toward an open space near a terminal where Zeke could see several people waiting. They landed gently and the large hatch opened down. General Yalt was first through the hatch. The rest followed him down.

At the foot of the ramp stood a tall, thin, man, about the general's age. He was dressed in loose pants and shirt, obviously made of a fine, satiny material. Behind him were two others, not quite so finely dressed, who appeared to be staff members.

"Cilton," he heard the general greet the man, "it has been a long time. Everything is well? Etienne?"

"Etienne is well," Cilton replied. "Now our sons have mates, both of them, and talk of joining the Service."

"And what do you think of that? Never mind, that is a subject for another time." He turned to introduce the group.

"You have, no doubt, heard of Zik Tilor. He was not in the city for long, so I think you would not have met him."

He stepped forward and offered his hand. "It is an honor to meet you, sir," Zeke told him.

"Dev and Sephen are members of his flight. They have played a large role in the development of this new strategy, although I think they would wish to spread the credit equally among all in their flight."

Cilton stepped up to each and warmly shook their hands.

"And this is First Lieutenant Ereine, the liaison between the flight and myself. She has been responsible for doing research and providing information that Zeta flight has used in their analysis."

"Ahh, good. We are so happy to have you here and so eager to hear what you have to say." His tone struck Zeke as just a little too syrupy, a little too polished and a bit short on sincerity.

"None of them have seen our capital before?" Cilton asked the general.

The general looked at them and they all shook their heads.

"We must arrange for a tour this afternoon, then we can dine together this evening."

Ground cars were waiting for them, the first Zeke had seen. They were large and appeared as luxurious as Cilton's clothes.

Cilton indicated for Zeke and the general to join him in the first car. His staff guided the rest of the group to the second car. Zeke hadn't expected to be separated and singled out from the group. He'd have to rely on the general to guide him through what he expected to be a difficult ride.

They entered the car and sat in seats that circled a central open space. He didn't see a driver, nor space for one at the front of the vehicle.

"These events, Yalt, and the speed with which this trip was arranged are surprising. To be honest, this is of some concern to me. Decisions like this must not be made quickly."

"We don't know how quickly they need to be made," the general answered. "That is the problem. Too much is unknown. We may have centuries to take action, but then, it may only be months."

"It was a hundred years between attacks before," Cilton protested, "surely another attack will be years in the future."

"You are not a military man, Cilton, and even though I am, and I think like one, I am not sure that the Rogue think as I would. In fact, I would be quite surprised if they did. Any military man will tell you that he must have information to formulate a strategy. We have no information and we were wrong in not doing more to obtain it."

The debate ended as they approached a tall building, the tallest Zeke could see. It was, in fact, only twenty stories. None of the other buildings were more than ten.

"This," General Yalt told them, "is the Diplomatic Quarters. We don't really have diplomats anymore, but the building remains and it is used to house guests here on temporary business."

They got out of the car, but Cilton remained inside. "I will see you all tonight at dinner. Yalt, you might come see me while your group is seeing the city." It sounded midway between a request and a command.

"Certainly Cilton, in your office?" he asked.

Cilton nodded, "I'll be there within the hour."

And with that the car drove off, followed by the other car which had dropped off the rest of the group.

"I have duties before I meet Councilor Cilton. A guide at the door will show you to your rooms and direct you wherever you like. I will see you this evening." And with that, he started walking down the street.

Their luggage, including the general's, followed them as they walked up to the door. The steps had the familiar look of polished granite. The whole building appeared to be made of the stuff, or some kind of polished dark stone. The Anyari, Zeke thought, must really like stone buildings.

"I am Eknin," said the petite young lady waiting by the entrance. She had blonde hair, like Ereine, and carried herself with an aristocratic elegance. She tapped her comm with each of them. "You can contact me at any time during your stay and I will help you in any way you need."

She led them to an elevator. Zeke noticed that their luggage had not followed them. Eknin noticed Zeke's concern.

"Don't worry, they'll get in your room before you."

"Your comm's could have guided you to your room, but that is too impersonal for our tastes," she said.

"You all have casual civilian clothes?" she asked, again looking at Zeke.

"Yes," he replied, mentally thanking Elenne for outfitting him.

"Why don't you all meet me downstairs in thirty minutes. I'll be the one to take you on a tour of the city."

Ereine had a room to herself. Dev and Sephen had another, so evidently Zeke would be in one by himself.

He held his comm near the door and it opened onto a large room, furnished as lavishly as any hotel he'd ever heard of. But that wasn't the most surprising thing.

Danil was sitting on a couch with a smile that quickly expanded into a laugh.

Zeke went quickly to greet him, complete with bear hugs and firm slaps to the back.

"I can't believe you're here!" Zeke exclaimed. "How come no one told me?"

"Surprises, when subtle and appropriate, are something we take a lot of pleasure in," he said in the same tone he'd used on the trip from Earth to explain about Anyar and Anyari ways.

"You got leave from training just to surprise me? I know you're a prince and all, but that seems like pulling rank," Zeke joked.

"I've told you many times that I'm not a prince. Here on Anyar, my father being the king does not make me one."

"It's all the same to me," Zeke kidded him. "Status, girls...sounds like a prince to me."

They joked with each other for a few minutes more before Zeke got down to asking him the real reason for his presence.

"My father is responsible. I have not had a chance to speak with him," Danil said, "but I think he favors your plan. He must think it is worth serious consideration or I would not be here."

"What do you think? Am I crazy, or maybe I should ask are we crazy? It was an idea that came from the flight, Dev suggested it first."

"How did this idea come about? I've heard a little about the unusual methods your flight uses. We've tried the analysis sessions we've heard about. I think they are a good idea, but we haven't had the success you've had."

"It kind of snowballed. The more we did it, the better it seemed to work," Zeke told him. "Those with the lowest performance ratings improved the most. We probably have the narrowest range of performance ratings in of any flight."

"I have heard some of that. Your Behrlende mission success, whether it was the fluke you say it is or not, gives great credibility to anything you say, or do. The performance of your flight only confirms that. My father has noticed--we've spoken of it a little."

They stopped for a moment so Zeke could change for their tour, he'd lost track of time and had to contact Eknin to explain his tardiness.

"Why don't you come with us? There is a very cute Lieutenant here with us that might be worth meeting," Zeke said with a suggestive tone.

"I have no plans. Now you are the one with all the friends. I'm glad we're roommates again, at least for a few days. Let me change and I'll join you."

Danil was soon dressed in clothes not much different than Zeke's. You certainly would not have known he was the son of the king from his appearance. Zeke was sure Danil preferred it that way.

They were soon down at the front door. Eknin, Ereine, and the others were waiting by a ground car.

"I don't think you can guess who I've brought," Zeke said with pleasure. "I hope you don't mind, but I invited him along. Maybe he's never had a chance to see the city before either," and he laughed at himself with the rest of the group.

Kanetel had many sights: museums, which they could only visit briefly; a section for entertainment, or what passed for entertainment on Anyar. It reminded Zeke of a casino, but the games were all of skill and not of chance. Handicapping done by MI's made the competition competitive, but Zeke couldn't figure out what the reward was for winning.

They also toured sections of the city which had been deliberately left untouched after the first Rogue attack. Gaping craters in the center of flattened buildings. Collapsed and twisted steel structures, the metal now stained and rusting.

They were able to easily travel about the city. Few other cars were on the streets. Zeke noticed that since the cars were all driven by MI's, no streetlights or other control devices were needed at the intersections. The first few times when they simply went right through an intersection at full speed, more than eighty miles per hour, was unnerving.

They stopped at a large complex of museums. Inside they saw machines that showed the progression of Anyar's progression from aviation to spaceflight.

The early planes, like in Earth's history, were also used for war. The designs were different, pusher propellers were more popular than the tractor. Jets came later, perhaps because there was not a war at the right time to spur the innovation like World War II had on Earth. The first jets had more electronics, which came earlier on Anyar. Competition that was economic, rather than military, spurred the development of electronics and the first computers.

There were many days worth of sites to see and the group only had a few hours. All too soon it was time to return for the dinner with Councilor Cilton and the general.

They returned to change into formal clothes for the dinner, which was held at the Ministry building where the Grand Council met. The elected representatives met, ceremonially, in a nearby building.

They took the tube to the Ministry building. Eknin guided them to the impressive dining room and left them. They were seated at a large wooden table and waited for General Yalt and the councilor to arrive. Tapestries and paintings hung on the wall. Most of the paintings were portraits or landscapes featuring the city or some of the landmarks they'd seen.

Danil had accompanied them to the dinner. They all rose when the general and Councilor Cilton entered. The councilor greeted each of them, Zeke got the sense of a politician seeking votes. He noticed that Danil got no special attention from him.

Humans served the meal. Zeke guessed that was common for the elite class. The upper classes had robotic servants, and most people, like the cadets at the academy, served themselves with a minimum of robotic assistance.

The councilor started the dinner conversation, "I hope your tour was enjoyable. You were fortunate to have two who know this city well, " he said, nodding at Danil.

Dev spoke, "I have been to the capital once, when I was young, it is all I remembered and more. Since then, having studied Anyari history, the landmarks we visited mean more," he looked at Zeke, "I'm sure you have places like that on Earth---places with a special significance?"

"Oh, yes, my country fought a war to become independent from its mother country. There are battlefields, and, of course, cemeteries, which have special meaning."

The conversation touched on the sites and histories of Kanetel. Surprisingly, the discussion, led by Cilton, was more gossip than news. Compared to the wars and crime on the news he was accustomed to, Anyari was comparatively boring. Well, he thought, except for the attacks by a race of mechanical beings determined to wipe out all life on the planet.

The subject changed to the meeting tomorrow where they would present their proposed strategy.

"I'm sure almost everyone on the planet is looking forward to seeing the hero, or should I say one of the heroes," Cilton gave Danil a bland smile, "of the Third Rogue Attack."

"Everyone on the planet?" Zeke asked. "The meeting will be viewable by the public?"

General Yalt explained, "It is common to make any government proceeding, in fact, most any event available via comm-net. Unless the participants prefer otherwise, and that is seldom the case."

Zeke knew that the color was draining from his face. "Wow, I had not expected that. We have a term 'stage fright' about appearing before a large number of people."

"That is not limited to Earth then," Danil said with a smile. "Except for when the king gives speeches, there are few times when the entire planet is watching the same thing."

"Thanks, that makes me feel better," Zeke said, drawing smiles and quiet chuckles from the group.

Danil's face took on a serious look. "We have confidence in you. I have told my father much about the adventure we had on our way back here. I'm sure everyone here believes in you and supports you."

"The council room is not large. The video cameras are very inconspicuous, so you can just think of it as one of your analysis sessions," General Yalt told him.

"You're the general," Zeke said with a laugh, his concern abating for the moment. "I'll do whatever you tell me."

Zeke noticed the councilor smile, but it seemed somewhat forced.

They finished the meal, and Cilton bade them good night. The general accompanied them back to the Diplomatic building.

They had to wait a few minutes for a capsule at the tube station. The general took Zeke and Danil aside. "Cilton is not a supporter of our plan. I call it ours because I, too, see its importance. Don't be concerned. The king has much more influence, and I'm sure he supports it." He looked at Danil, who nodded.

"It may seem strange to you, but the events which brought you here have given you a great deal of respect among the population. Yes, some opinions are mixed. You might even have more influence than Cilton does."

Danil added, "The story of our return in the Redun has been reported accurately, and your role was every bit as important as mine, perhaps more so."

A capsule arrived and they all got in. The conversation had expanded to include the rest of the group.

"I didn't run off by myself in a spaceship," Zeke said. "Your courage was a conscious decision. Mine was thrust upon me. I just did what I needed to do."

"You didn't need to drag me back to the ship," Danil said. "I can only guess how much fear you had to overcome to do that. And let's not forget your conscious choice to go with me. You knew even less about what you were getting into than I did."

"OK, I'm a hero," Zeke joked, "bring on the beautiful girls."

Ereine looked at him.

"OK, that's a good start!" which brought even more laughter and a definite blush from Ereine.

They were still laughing as the tube stopped and they walked out and into the Diplomatic building. The general left them, as his room was in a different part of the building. The rest separated outside the elevator.

Back in their room, Zeke confided in Danil, "I was nervous about the meeting tomorrow before knowing it would have a worldwide audience. To be honest, I don't see myself sleeping at all tonight."

"That won't do," Danil said and tapped a few things into his comm. They were staying in a small suite and they each had a bedroom. While Zeke was undressing for bed, he heard Danil open the door, a small box in his hand.

"This device will help. Put it on the stand by your bed. I'll explain about it another time."

Zeke thanked him though he didn't understand the purpose. With another few words of encouragement, Danil left for his room.

Zeke lay down, seeing visions of himself stammering in front of the council and the world. After a while, he grew sleepy. He'd do his best and to heck with them if they didn't agree. As he drifted off, he thought of Elenne and the nights they'd shared. His last thoughts were a confused jumble of Elenne, Enne, and Ereine. He didn't really have time for all that, but neither did he want it to stop.