Thursday, April 28, 2011

Semantics

It was late afternoon by the time Alex settled into a stiff chair in the Rear Admiral’s office. Dae had escorted them down to the Kshlavo and allowed them to remove their personal effects. It was hard to see the ship sitting in drydock, probably never to fly again. Maybe it would be a museum piece, if anything ever came of the alien artifact.

Alex shifted uncomfortably and took a moment to really look around the office. The room was too warm and weirdly anachronistic. Dark wood panels covered the walls and floor, the Admiral’s wide desk matching in color. Were it not for the modern terminal, he couldn’t be sure what era he was sitting inside of.

“I trust you have reviewed the changes to your contract?” Rear Admiral Argueta sat across from him, her back straight and eyes scrutinizing. She was older than the Captain, silver hair streaked with black. Hard to tell how old, though. Navy personnel were more likely to spend significant time in low or zero gravity, that threw off estimations.

He reclined as far as he could, tried to feel comfortable and nodded slowly. The new contract just effected his transfer, providing almost no information on what he would be doing in Section 7. He had to look them up to find that they dealt specifically with alien concerns, from ship movements to artifacts. “Oh yes. I admit, I’m not exactly sure what an Intelligence Analysis Specialist does. But it sounds very desky.”

The Admiral blanched, if you could call the minuscule movement of her face anything. “The title is somewhat inaccurate. We do not have a job function that properly reflects what we need you to do and this provides an adequate level of coverage for our purposes.”

Captain Gladwell had laid out what they wanted him to do clearly enough, even if the contract didn’t. “Spying on the Tslao?”

She didn’t like that at all. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“The Captain told me when he delivered the papers.”

Her eyebrows raised, just enough to make Alex think that Gladwell wasn’t supposed to have told him that. “Very well. Spying is an inappropriate term for our purposes. We have a significant intelligence disparity with the Tslao. Namely, we lack a solid understanding of their society, their mores and way of life.”

“Uh huh. The primer is kind of garbage.”

Alex wasn’t sure what the Admiral was thinking, deep brown eyes boring into his. Probably hadn’t appreciated that, though. “We have been made aware of your... dalliances with the Shipmaster Tshalan during your mission. We would like you to continue your relationship with her, ingratiate yourself into her favor and learn as much as you can about them. Considering your interest in anthropology, you seem to be particularly well equipped for this task. You will not be doing any sort of spying, just observing.”

He smiled and laughed. His background in anthropology had been what made Carbon pick him to be her Pilot in the first place. “Just observing... secretly, to collect information?”

“Yes. There is significant difference between observation and spying, Alex. You will not use any sort of tradecraft, just pay attention. We would not turn down access to any books or data stores, but by no means should you attempt to acquire them surreptitiously. Is that clear?”

“Yeah, I’m not really the thieving type anyway. But alright, I’m in.”

A single eyebrow went up, altering the network of thin wrinkles around her eye. She didn’t say anything for a moment, seemingly surprised at his response. “Very well. You will be issued an immersion translator when your Amp is replaced.”

He let out a low whistle. Immersion translators would, depending on the model, translate four to sixty-four conversations at once. For human languages they were expensive, getting one for Tsla would probably be outrageous. “Nice. I suppose I’m not to advertise I’ve got one of those, right?”

She nodded in agreement. “Precisely. While we are discussing hardware, there is another item we would like you to test.”

“Test?”

“Yes. It is an experimental device based on the Whisper that may prove advantageous for trade with the Tslao.”

Whisper was the brand name for a less invasive version of the Amp, a sub-dermal circumcranial implant. They provided a less immersive experience, but it was an outpatient surgery and didn’t require opening up the skull at all. “I’m sorry, experimental?”

“Yes. You are familiar with the Tslao mind linking ability. The Marines field tested the modified Whisper for enhanced unit cohesion via a similar mind link several years ago. They passed on the concept, but now it appears that the Tslao may present an opportunity to not let this research go to waste.”

Alex was surprised at how tantalizing the idea of having the same ability as Carbon was, but he managed to keep any indication of that out of his reaction. “You want me to field test an experimental commercial product?”

“I want you to ingratiate yourself to Shipmaster Tshalan and be allowed to experience their culture as fully as possible. This is not without benefit to them, either. Coming away from the disaster, one of the most common injuries noted by S&R crews was damage to the antennae. It seems to comprise an important part of their day-to-day life and we estimate at least 135 million of them have partially or fully destroyed antennae. Anecdotal evidence indicates the loss of these can cause deep psychological trauma.”

“It would.”

“For unknown reasons, they do not regrow them using mediboards and they do not seem to have any sort of technological replacement. If it works as intended, the Whisper would allow them to have the lost abilities back and generate goodwill towards us.”

His face twisted with disdain, words sarcastic. “And we could sell a fundamentally crippled people millions of units in the process. Stupendous.” He sighed and shook his head. “I don’t think they’ll go for it, but I’ll give it a try.”

Her head tilted, almost imperceptible as she ignored his tone. “Why would they turn an opportunity like that down?”

“They don’t like invasive procedures or machines being ‘in’ their minds.”

The Admiral’s head leveled out and she looked like she was making a mental note. “Interesting. I would still prefer you try it, see if it is viable for them. The Shipmaster is likely well connected, a few good words here or there may change minds.”

“She’s well connected. I suppose it is a time of change for them in general, maybe something will come of it.”

“All we ask is that you try. Do you have any further questions?”

“No. I think I’m good.” Alex pushed the chair back as he stood, one of the feet squeaking across the floor. He reached down into his cargo pocket and retrieved a small data crystal and set it on the desk. “Oh, one thing. The Shipmaster sends her regards and a gift. Just some old books, but it should help us along.”

That, Rear Admiral Argueta definitely did not like. She started to stand, dark eyes burning. “You told her?”

“No. Your man Gladwell showed up and started flapping his jaws just after she got out of the shower. Speaking generally, she agrees that they have been too secretive for too long.” No sense in pretending the Admiral didn’t know something was going on between them.

Her jaw worked as she sat back down, finally settling into a faint smirk. “Good. I’m glad she’s on board with this.”

Alex shook his head. “She’s not on board. Finds the idea that you would attempt to coerce me with what she perceived as a threat, even a minor threat, to be reprehensible. It offended her on a personal level.”

A tiny bit of confusion. “I had nothing to do with what Gladwell said.”

“She sees things differently, Admiral. She is an alien. Her expectations for accountability in the chain of command are much more rigid. I did convince her that hearing you out may clear things up and I feel it has, I would not give you the data otherwise.”

She considered that for a moment. “She will not work against our goals?”

“No. She does not believe that I will be accepted widely by her people, but she is willing to show me around, attempt to facilitate a better understanding of their ways.”

Argueta picked the crystal up and rolled it between her fingers. “Will she help us more, directly?”

“Nope. She might have if someone had come to her directly and asked for help. Galdwell pretty much blew any chance of that. As I said, she was quite offended by that exchange.”

She grimaced, the first full expression Alex had seen on her so far. “Very well. When you see her next, give her my thanks. See if she will stop by so I can apologize for Gladwell’s behavior in person.”

2 comments:

  1. I hope Gladwell gets read the RIOT act! The Rear Admiral appears to be more understanding. Also reminds me of the General from Chuck. Good Job!

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  2. Thanks! I don't think Gladwell will be dealing with anyone in person any time soon. I'm sure there's plenty of data for him to analyze in a small, hot room somewhere on station...

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