16 The Grand Council

When he woke the next morning, Zeke still felt completely unprepared for the meeting. On Earth, he'd expect slides, graphs, charts, and studies to help him make his case. On Earth most of the nation would be uninterested in anything like this.

But Anyar was different. After meeting Councilor Cilton, the nervousness of the others had subsided. Zeke seemed to be the only one who was tense as they went to have breakfast in the dining room. Though his concerns were noted, even the general seemed satisfied with the situation.

"I don't understand. How will I make a case that is convincing? The issue is so important, what if I, if we, fail?"

Everyone seemed confused by Zeke's attitude. "Don't you care if they reject this idea?"

"I have little doubt that these proposals will be implemented. The details may be changed, but the idea and the reasoning behind it are sound and, from what I can tell, undeniable," the general told him.

"And you are sure they will see it that way?" Zeke said, his nerves becoming frayed and his exasperation boiling over.

"Why would they not?" Sephen asked.

"There aren't factions whose interests will be damaged by these changes?"

"Factions? You mean groups who share a common interest or belief?" Ereine responded, a puzzled expression on her face.

The general finally seemed to understand Zeke's concerns. "I think you are looking at this as a confrontation? That there will be those who will oppose you?"

"There won't?"

"Oh, I'm sure there will be. After talking with Councilor Cilton, he is clearly opposed. There are politics and some intrigue on the council, but it is minor compared to the tradition that requires the best decision."

"A hundred people might each have a different view of what is best," countered Zeke.

"Yes, that is true. You may be grilled and asked difficult questions. However, the purpose of those questions is to find the best choice, not to defeat you and your ideas. Especially now, we cannot afford to make errors. The wrong choice here would be a grave error, but the responsibility for that choice is not on your shoulders alone."

After breakfast, they again took the tube to the Capitol Building. They were shown to a large meeting room. Without explanation, Danil left them as they entered. The room was smaller than the room in which Councilor Cilton had hosted the dinner the evening before. Ornate, but no larger than was necessary for the small number of people who would be present. It gave Zeke the impression of a large, corporate conference room, or perhaps the room that U.S. cabinet meetings were held in.

They were seated along a narrow, straight table, facing a larger, curved, and more ornate table, evidently where the councilors would sit. To one side of this table was a simple wooden chair which was clearly out of place in such an opulent room.

The general quietly instructed Zeke, "Do as I do when the councilors and the king enter."

In a moment, the councilors started to enter through a side door. They simply walked into the room without ceremony and took their seats at the table. They said nothing but looked at Zeke and his group as they waited for the remainder of the Council to enter. Cilton, Zeke noticed, was the last to appear and take his seat.

In a moment, a woman, dressed formally, entered through a door on the left. General Yalt and the councilors rose, as did Zeke and his companions.

The woman crossed the room and stood behind the plain wooden chair. She said in a clear, but not overly loud voice, "Citizens of Anyar, the king!"

Rolenil, dressed in a military uniform, entered through the same door as the herald. He stopped to shake hands, first with Dev, and then each of the others in the group. When he reached Zeke, he held his hand firmly, for a longer time, then smiled and said quietly, "You brought back my son. This is nothing in comparison, be confident."

Zeke just nodded. The king next moved to General Yalt and clasped hands. They exchanged nods, and he moved to stand in front of the wooden chair.

"I have asked one more to sit with our group of cadets from the Academy," the king said, and paused. Danil entered the room through the same door on the left and moved to stand at the end of the table, beside Dev. With that, the king and everyone else in the room sat.

Zeke had a portable console with the notes for what he would say. He saw a quick message from the general pop up telling him that the king's decision to have Danil sit with them was a sign to all of his approval.

Cilton began to speak, introducing each of the members of the Council, starting with the burly man to his far right.

On Zeke's portable console, information describing each minister and his duties appeared.

Tonlin, short and heavyset, was the Minister of Technology, responsible for science, research, MI development, and space technology.

Next to him sat Rodlen, the Minister of Logistics. Everything from agriculture and the production of food, to the building of spacecraft, was his domain. He was Tonlin's opposite: tall, thin, and pale compared to the dark-skinned Tonlin.

Next, Cilton introduced himself. He was a Minister at Large, with no specific areas of responsibility, except, apparently, acting as the Council's chairman.

To Cilton's left was Gurn, Minister of the Treasury. Zeke still did not yet understand the Anyari economic system, so Gurn's duties were a mystery to him.

Last, sitting at the end of the table, next to the king, was Ekthon, Minister of the Military. She was the only woman on the Council, an attractive woman of middle-aged appearance and a stately demeanor.

Zeke knew about the cameras and microphones in the room, but wherever they were, he couldn't see them.

Cilton addressed the cadets and General Yalt, "All of us know the subject of this meeting. Never before has such a suggestion from those so young and junior in our military been taken so seriously. However, as the king has said--and I whole-heartedly agree--after the events of the recent few months, we must choose our course expeditiously, but carefully.

"The names and profiles of the delegates from the Academy are available to all. The proposals that this group is here to present, I am to understand, are a joint effort of all in Zeta Flight at the Southern Training Academy. General Yalt needs no introduction. Although that is true for Cadet Tilor, because of the magnitude of his service to Anyar, I believe it is proper to introduce him to the council and the many citizens watching.

"Zik Tilor, we know that you volunteered to help the son of our king on his mission. You knew only that his need was great and that your help would likely be of great value to him. As an Anyari, we would expect Danil, son of Rolenil, to do all in his power to save his home world. You, from a planet that has no knowledge of us, much less any obligation to us, performed heroically in the actions which saved this planet from grievous devastation, if not complete annihilation."

"All of us together," he continued, "and I'm sure, each of us individually, cannot adequately express our gratitude to you."

That Danil had needed to steal a shuttle to come to Earth in search of the Redun, against the orders of the council, was one of those facts it was now politically expedient to ignore. Zeke had come to accept that. Now, sitting in front of the same council, the hypocrisy was starkly apparent. He wondered how Danil felt. First a thief, then a hero.

Zeke saw another message from General Yalt pop up on his console. "Cilton has a purpose in his praise--to make you overconfident."

Without taking his eyes off the council, Zeke nodded his understanding.

Cilton stopped and waited for Zeke to speak.

Zeke thought for a moment, aware that many millions would hear his words.

"Thank you, Councilor Cilton, for your kind words," Zeke began.

He had not been given an agenda, so decided to simply start his pitch. "Danil and I were fortunate that day, as was all of Anyar. Today, I am here in the hope that we can be sure Anyar will not be surprised again."

From his expression, Cilton was not expecting Zeke to begin so quickly. He did not speak, so Zeke continued, "The members of my flight at the Academy have analyzed the current situation and have, as you know, proposed an idea. They have asked me to present that idea to you and answer your questions."

This time, Cilton had recovered his wits and was not prepared to let Zeke determine the direction and pace of the meeting.

"Yes," he replied, "it is unusual that this would originate with a group of junior cadets, just a few months into their training, and not from our military leaders."

Zeke wasn't sure where Cilton was going with his statement. Was he insulting the leadership, or labeling them as upstarts?

Cilton, he noticed, was prone to long, dramatic pauses. Zeke decided those pauses would give him an opportunity to reply without seeming to interrupt.

"I think all would agree the threat that Anyar faces has no precedent."

Before Cilton could speak, he continued, "I have seen on Anyar the openness that allows ideas with merit to be considered, no matter the source. My fate now lies with Anyar; it may be that the fate of my planet does too. With stakes so high, that is an attitude that I wish were common on Earth."

With that, he stopped. Now it was time for Cilton to start to play whatever game he seemed ready to play.

He looked at Zeke and said, "We have the summary of your proposal, some is too technical for many on the council. Before we ask questions, can you give us a short, non-technical summary of what you propose?"

"Certainly," Zeke replied. "We believe that the most urgent need of the Anyari military is for information. Efforts in that cause have not provided any information on the extent of the Rogue threat or on the timing of future attacks. Very few encounters have occurred, and investigation of them, up to this point, has been..." Zeke paused, trying to find an alternative to 'haphazard', "has not been systematic."

"We believe that gathering information about the Rogue, about their numbers, movements, and plans should be made a priority. Without information, the training and preparations for our defense could prove to be inadequate or inappropriate to deal with any future attack.

"To that end, we suggest deploying a network of drones, scattered through nearby star systems, that remain vigilant with passive sensors to detect Rogue activity.

"We have outlined a couple of possibilities about the basic technical details, but we believe this network will detect any Rogue activity in the star systems we monitor. Many details are yet to be decided. There are trade-offs that we must make which balance the area to be monitored, how likely detection is, and how we can make such drones as difficult to detect as possible.

"We must also decide how many star systems we can afford to cover, which ones should have priority, and how to send warnings and other information back to Anyar. Depending upon how we design the drones and the scheme for their deployment, it could take hours, or even days for warning to reach us."

"Is that not a significant flaw in your proposal? Such delays will not provide adequate warning of an attack," Cilton said with a hint of indignation coloring his voice.

"The purpose of these drones would not be to provide last-minute warning. They will provide general information about the Rogue and how they operate. The network should provide long-term information about general movements of their fleet, their fleet strength, and trends that might indicate an attack is imminent."

Tonlin, the minister in charge of MI development and manufacture asked, "How many MI's and what classes would you deploy per star system?"

"This idea was only conceived two days ago. It is a credit to the command structure that I am seated before you now, in so short a time. Our very preliminary analysis suggests that we might deploy as few as one or two drones in systems we believe unimportant, and as many as four or five in those within a jump or two of Anyar.

Zeke continued, "Those who are most familiar with the capabilities of MI's are the only ones who can answer which class or classes of MI's would be suitable. It might be as little as a single MI that collects and analyzes data from other simpler sensor drones within the system.

"We may learn," Zeke went on, "that this plan is not adequate and that more will be needed. Our initial thought is that the nearest five star systems would be the first to have the drone network deployed. This is an area where no one has experience. All assumptions, most certainly ours, should be questioned."

"Perhaps," Zeke concluded, "it is preferable to have the sensor network in more systems, each with a less than certain probability of detection. These unknowns will not, I hope, delay the deployment, should it be approved. It is far better to have something that is less than optimal than nothing at all."

He had spoken longer than he'd intended, and he feared he'd let a lecturing tone creep into his voice. With humility he looked at Councilor Tonlin and said, "I apologize, Councilor, for my inability to answer your questions. The real question is, I believe, how many will we choose to allocate."

Councilor Tonlin simply nodded, apparently satisfied, maybe even impressed with the answer.

Rodlen, the minister of Logistics, asked, "I have no questions. Based on what I have read of the proposal, and analysis by my staff, I believe that we can have prototypes within a month and production commencing in two. This is, essentially, an application of our current systems in new configurations."

Faces turned to Gurn who asked, "How much of our current production capacity do you believe should be allocated to the construction of the components for this intelligence network?"

Zeke answered without hesitation, "My belief is that it should be a priority. I am not familiar enough with Anyari production capacity and capabilities to give an answer. Ereine has created different scenarios that you can access. Deploying enough drones for the five nearest star systems should be done with all haste. If it takes half of your capacity to achieve that in a short time, hopefully months, but surely less than a year, I would do so. If it takes more than half, I would not hesitate to do that, either."

Ekthon took her turn to speak. "I too, have no questions. We are continuing to expand our construction capacity and I believe that all new production facilities should be devoted to drone production. The new facilities should be designed such that they can be converted to ship production when the need for drones declines."

With that, Zeke saw all eyes turn to the king. The king looked at each Councilor in turn. Each nodded. Cilton hesitated for a moment, but nodded his assent.

When he had polled all the councilors, he spoke. "The Council has unanimously approved this project. I completely support the Council's decision. Proceed with this project with all haste."

Those were the only words he spoke. He rose and all in the room rose with him. He crossed the room and exited through the door he'd used to enter. Zeke noticed that Danil did not follow.

Conversations started as soon as the king had departed. General Yalt turned to him and shook his hand, telling him that he had done well.

"That's it?" Zeke exclaimed. "Was the outcome even in doubt?"

The general answered with a knowing smile, "Of course it was!"

Councilor Ekthon came over to speak with Zeke and the general.

"I think you should be assigned to the drone project," she said to Zeke. "What do you think General?"

"With all due respect, Councilor, I think that Councilor Tonlin's people can take it from here. Cadet Tilor still has his training to complete."

She looked at Zeke, the question in her expression.

"It amazes me that those with your authority and responsibilities want my opinion... I believe the General is right. I believe Zeta flight is the right place for me. The idea for the drones was not mine. If I take credit for anything, it is simply prodding my flight mates."

"It is your decision, General." She turned to Zeke, "Cadet Tilor, I am pleased to have been able to meet you. I trust I will be speaking with you again."

After she left, he asked the general, "Why do I continue to get this special treatment. It is at odds with what I've been taught about how seldom you single out individuals."

"Seldom, but not never. The king is one example," the general answered. "This is a time of fear when we look to find people to put our faith in. That is, unfortunately, unfair to you. I am proud of you. Few cadets could avoid letting it inflate their egos."

The general excused himself and the rest of the group came up to congratulate him.

"You outmaneuvered Cilton like an experienced political master," Danil told him.

"I don't know. I'm just on a roll, I hope my luck lasts."

"All of you are invited, well, actually commanded," Danil said with a smile, "to dine with my family this evening."

Zeke could see Ereine's eyes light up. Dev and Sephen looked at each other, uncertainty in their faces.

"Don't sweat it," he told them. "I've been there and Danil has the worst manners of anyone I've met on Anyar. You will all look like gentlemen, and gentlewomen, in comparison."

"I have far more good manners than I need," Danil said, laughing. "Zeke is lucky to have you with him."

Danil, he had seen, had the knack, or had been taught the skill, of putting people at ease.

Their comms informed them they had nothing else to do until the dinner that night, so Danil offered to show them more of Kanetel.

As they walked down to the tube station, Danil hung back so he could talk privately with Zeke.

"Enne is looking forward to seeing you tonight," he said with a smile. Zeke couldn't tell if he was teasing him or confiding in him.

"What is going on with that?" he said. "Did she get tired of her countless other admirers?"

"I would like to think that she has become a sincere and serious person. If I were you, though, I would stay cool. She has a good heart. Perhaps having so many showing interest in her has inflated her ego. With all the attention you've received, can you not understand?"

Zeke nodded. "I trust your judgment, but things have gotten very complex for me since I've been here. I was invited to spend the break with a rather attractive young doctor from the Academy. I thought it went pretty well."

"Is that hard to believe?" was his response to Danil's surprised look.

"And Ereine?" Danil asked. "She seems to have an interest in you, too."

"Maybe, but that is a complexity I'm not ready to deal with. We need to talk about Anyari customs sometime, some things here I just don't understand."