Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Step Back, Part 16

In the Nevada desert Harry Barnes was watching the sunset with a new companion.

Barnes had just earned his Doctorate in Philosophy when Ayn Rand asked him to go to Nevada to represent the Objectivists at the Uptimer’s base. As the job prospects for philosophers who actually treated reality as being real were appallingly slim at best he took the job.

And it was here in the cluster of the temporary structures that served as offices and housing that he met someone.

Jane March was the Deputy Engineer for the FTL Drive System installed aboard the Eagle. She had flown with the Eagle on her two successful missions to Proxima Centauri and Barnard’s Star. There was no expectation of a problem on the mission to Sol.

When it was discovered that the FTL drive had deposited the Eagle in what was clearly the past she personally performed the diagnostic examination of the system. When no fault could be found in the FTL Drive she called for the complete disconnection of the system from the energy and control systems of the ship.

With the FTL Drive effectively converted into an inert mass within the hull of the Eagle the Deputy Engineer clearly needed a new assignment. As someone had to take charge of the construction of the surface base in the Nevada desert Lieutenant Jane March was the clear and natural choice.

On the ground there was a celebration of the success of the last operation. The Rangers and the few fortunate young women and other civilians who were allowed into the base were holding a dance. Harry would be attending the event as Jane’s guest.

Both were formally dressed, Harry in a white suit with a bow tie and Jane in her Dress Blues, as they stepped into the newly constructed hangar that served as the venue for the event.

There wasn’t a band playing for the event. But there was an improvised sound system that played music that would not be recorded yet on this timeline. The current musical number was appropriate for a slow dance. Jane recognized the artist as Sade and the lyrics were in the form of a question.

Is it a crime, Is it a crime?
That I still love you?
And I want you to love me too?

Lieutenant March looked around and found the commander of the Rangers.

“There he is.” She said to Harry. “Let’s go over there.”


To any downtime observer Nathan Benson had the appearance of the captain of a high school football team in his dress uniform. But once one was in range of his voice it was clear that this was an old man in a young body. The cluster of people that surrounded him included a Colonel from the Marine Corps. As the couple came within earshot they could hear the marine ask a question.

“Normally an infantry unit embarked on a ship are designated Marines, why did your people go with the term Ranger?”

“Well sir, The Rangers are the regular component of the armed forces in our system. And our first deployment was to suppress the natives on the planet Eden.”

The Colonel’s wife spoke up.


“Yes ma'am,” said Benson, “the planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A. The first ship to arrive was the Mayflower. They set down their colony on the secondary continent because the main land mass was overrun by some very large and nasty carnivores.”

“What were they like?” She asked.

“Well the main one was called Fuherersaurus by us, it could eat a Tyrannosaurus Rex for lunch. Unfortunately the second continent had stone age natives, Reptantis Sapiens Eden, who saw omnivores like us as something to eat.”

“How could they do that?” The Colonel asked.

“Ideology sir,” Benson replied, “we discovered it during a download.”

“A download?” The Marine asked.

“Yes sir, it’s a procedure where full cybernetic contact is made with the subject’s neural network, and the contents of the brain are recorded and processed for information.”

“I don’t understand.” Said the Marine Colonel.

“I don’t blame you.” Lieutenant March cut into the discussion. “The process of downloading originally developed as part of our recorporation technology and was adapted as an alternative to vocal interrogation.”

“Anyway,” Benson spoke up, “the last starship from Earth was about to arrive at Eden and the entire Ranger Battalion, minus the cadre, was deployed to the planet for this. As it turned out the natives were about to attack our base on Eden in roughly division strength. And it was decided to grab a leader for download.”

Lieutenant March already knew the story but remained silent.

Benson continued to speak.

“Anyway on Eden I came to the attention of the Old Man, Number Four at the time, and he reassigned me as his aide.”

The Marine made a clearly sour face on hearing this.

“I don’t blame you sir,” said Benson, “this was my first combat deployment and I suddenly got assigned to a rear echelon spot. But the thing is that the Old Man likes to lead from the front, so I got to go with him on a snatch and grab mission for one of the native leaders. Once we had his back at the base we had a conversation before the download process was begun.”

“How could you speak to them?” Another woman asked.

“Well ma’am, we used a translation program on the base’s mainframe computer.”

“I don’t understand.” She said.

Lieutenant March cut in to answer.

“Our computers are very powerful. For example the portable laptop computer that we are using to rum the music sound system here has many times the memory and computing power of every locally made system on the planet Earth.”

Benson spoke up again.

“So anyway, we have the native leader strapped to the table and the techs aren’t quite ready yet so we asked some questions.”

"Such as?” Said Harry.

“Well, such questions as, why if they have molars do they not eat plants.”

“So why not?” Harry asked.

“It was a religious doctrine. The next thing the Old Man does is to take a pliers from his toolkit and pull out one of the molars and shows it to the native, in his face.”

“I take it that the native didn’t take it well?” Said the Marine.

“No sir, he didn’t.”

“So what happened to the natives?” Harry asked.

Benson replied.

“We torched the main group from orbit, just like we just did with North Vietnam.”

“But there’s another group.” Said Jane March.

“Oh yes,” Benson replied, “another group broke off from the main body, built some dugout canoes and crossed the strait between the two continents and set up their own villages with farmland.”

“They’ve gone back to being omnivores?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” said Benson, “and as they’re evolving we decided to leave them alone.”

It was on Thursday morning in the basement of the French Embassy in Tel Aviv Lieutenant Joseph Beaujeu of the French Navy--presently covered as an attache and working as an intelligence officer--read the take from the latest dead drop from a source he had picked up.

The message was trouble--very deep trouble.

One of his sources within the Government of Israel was present for a secret briefing. The content of the briefing was about the future of the State of Israel. That in December of 2012 the French Navy would launch a nuclear strike on Israel. As a result one faction of Americans, who were in the midst of an internal civil war, would move to protect and evacuate the survivors of the nuclear strike on Israel. This was shocking but what fully floored Lieutenant Beaujeu was that this faction of Americans also controlled the nuclear weapons and would carry out the retaliation for the destruction of Israel. France would be pounded with chemical and nuclear weapons into effectively nothing and as a result would have no further independent existence as a nation.

The Lieutenant proceeded to write his report for transfer in the diplomatic pouch to Paris.

There was nothing else he could do.

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