The meeting chamber for the council of planets had been very carefully designed to allow it to be shared by species with such radically different physical needs without favoring one group over the others. So the vast circular room was divided into three equal slices separated by crystal walls with the chairperson for each group at the point.
As Amanpreet, Niobe and Kayla entered the human section the chairwoman waved them to three seats just behind her. As they headed over Kayla nudged her and whispered.
“The Vaian ambassador isn’t here.”
“I should think not,” the guard accompanying them said. “We found financial links between him and the technician who attacked you and communications with the Vaian ships that attacked you. He’s not denying it either. Called you ungrateful.”
“He what?” Kayla shook her head in disbelief. “How do they think this will help their cause.”
“I don’t think they’re thinking about their cause,” Niobe said. “They know they’re in trouble either way. This is about fanaticism. Remember how they reacted to those books of yours, Am?”
Amanpreet shrugged. “Yeah that was strange. Why would they object to a first edition of their own sacred texts?”
“I don’t know,” Niobe said. “But I can guess. Someone has altered the text. I know several Children from non-Vaian collectives and they are pacifist and profoundly in favour of religious liberty.”
“Most non-Vaian Children detest the Vaian sect,” the guard said. “It was the high priestess of the Cels collective who reported that she believed the planet was becoming a theocracy and initiated the investigation.”
“Oh, Penelope!” Niobe said. “I know her. I’m not surprised.” She looked over as the chairwoman cleared her throat. “I think they want to start.”
Amanpreet’s evidence went well. She simply described their encounters with Promise and its kind and told them how it saved them during the Vaian attack. Niobe gave evidence of her conversations with Promise as well before Storm and Umi gave their evidence. Not even the ambassadors from the more conservative Mez worlds asked many questions and the votes to give the Fish equal status and council seats passed easily. As did a secondary motion to provide a bioformed world for the descendents of the Mez slaves who the Fish had taken with them when they fled. They were currently living in domes on a world which was barely livable for them since neither they nor their rescuers had the correct skills to bioform a world.
Once the vote was passed the Mez chairperson said something that made a rippling wave of sound – the laughs of all four species – float around the chamber. Amanpreet looked at Niobe curiously and she grinned.
“He said that they would need to redesign the chamber again and he had no idea how to accommodate the Fish.”
“Ah!” Amanpreet grinned too then sobered as Kayla’s testimony began. Her newest crew member had only told her a little of how non-Children were treated on Vaia, but it was enough that she knew the Mez might be right to propose extreme action even if she still wasn’t sure how they could handle such a thing ethically.
Once Kayla started speaking in a flat dead tone, describing denial of food rationing and healthcare in an attempt to force her conversion before moving on to even darker things Amanpreet found her jaw clenched as she wondered if the ethics really mattered. She wanted to stay strong for her new friend but she found herself on her feet and ready to rush from the room in tears until Niobe reached out and squeezed her hand. Amanpreet looked over and saw Niobe was crying too.
â€œStay, Am,â€ she said. â€œKayla needs us.â€
â€œI-I’ll try,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œBut.. hmm, I wonder how long I can keep this up. This is horrible.â€
â€œI know,â€ Niobe said. â€œAnd everyone else does as well. Look.â€
Amanpreet looked around and saw Niobe was right. The human ambassadors all looked as horrified as she felt and the Mez and Ishtari looked similarly distressed from what she knew of their body language. â€œGood.â€
â€œI-â€ The chairwoman began once Kayla finished. â€œWell… we’ll need the recordings you mentioned as evidence but I think we will have to do something about Vaia. Thank you. I know this has been hard for you. We’ll let you go now.â€
â€œThank you.â€ Kayla was weeping as she got to her feet. Amanpreet wrapped an arm around her shoulders and helped her back to the apartment they were staying in.
A young man was waiting with two security guards when they got back. â€œCaptain Amanpreet! I am Doctor Oni Azikiwe. I believe you’ve been hired for our run to Corona.â€
â€œWe’ve checked his ID and he and his colleagues all check out,â€ one of the security guards said.
â€œOh, good. Please com-â€ Amanpreet broke off as what he said registered. â€œWait did you say Corona? Isn’t that a prohibited world?â€
â€œIt is,â€ Oni replied. â€œBut this a sanctioned trip. One particular culture there is getting close to developing extra-atmosphere vehicles so we’re going to gather data. It’ll all be from high orbit so as not to disturb their cultures.â€ He followed her into the apartment. â€œBut we need to go via Talis, if we may. Your brother and some of the other scientists at the dig have some skills we need for this mission.â€
â€œWe can,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œIn fact do you think we can combine the two runs?â€
â€œEr?â€ He looked at her blankly.
â€œOh, sorry. We owe the Ishtari on Talis base a supply run for some repairs they undertook on the Whisper. We could take the supplies with us when we go to get Sangat.â€
â€œAh!â€ he said. â€œYes, I think we can manage that.â€
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