Year 247 After Starfall: A day after the Earth ship Lewis and Clark made contact with Newer York, the leaders of the Community meet to decide what to do about it...
As rooms went, it was not a very impressive one. It was pleasant enough, even plush in some ways, but it did not immediately tickle those atavistic centers of the human brain that would label a room immediately as a place of power.
The three people currently occupying the room only knew this because of the rich visual record their ancestors had carried with them outward from Earth. They knew the awe of a throne room, or even of a formal but republican setting, like the Oval Office, or No. 10 Downing Street. But such places had been only legend to them for over 500 years. This room held none of that. It was just a small, comfortable conference room.
Yet, for those same 500-plus years, this room had been the site of ever major decision taken on behalf of the Community of the Dream of Spring--what was now the still evolving city-of-stations known as Newer York. And for almost all of that time, the nearly 300 years of outbound travel, and the 250 years since, the leaders who met here had honestly believed, and with good reason, that they and the Community they led were all that remained of the human race.
Until this morning, that is. This morning, sensor buoys seeded against just such a contingency had registered a ship on the periphery of the system--not a comet or other space flotsam, but an artificial construct on a planned course. A message had been sent, and an answer received. Everything had changed.
Of the three individuals met to discuss what came next, the Admiral was senior, both in age and in experience. Sixty-three years old and in his role for ten, he had, like his predecessors, long been focused on the security of the Community, as well as being ultimately responsible for the physical integrity of the various stations that now formed that Community's habitat.
Paramount of his responsibilities was the gradual development of Dream of Spring into the hub of an ambitious city-station. Work had finally begun on the six spokes that would eventually connect the first great ring, still only a dream, to the spindle of the original starship. Meanwhile, that spindle continued to house nearly 20,000 people. Another 40,000 lived and worked in myriad of smaller habitats--agricultural stations, factories, research facilities, warehouses--clustered within a fairly easy shuttle ride to Spring. The remaining 20,000 were scattered in mining and industrial facilities that were denser near Spring, but ranged right round the Inner Belt. Those more remote outposts saw frequent, deliberate rotation of personnel, so that nobody ever spent too much time detached from the Community.
Next in seniority came the Mayor, 47 years old, having spent 12 years as a Councilor and three so far as Mayor. Of the three of them, they were probably the most politically aware, having lived much of their life as an elected leader. As such, the precariousness of the triumvirate that now informally led--and ruled--the Community was uppermost in their mind just now, with big changes afoot.
The last decision of similar import--the decision not to land on Fourth--had been taken only by the Admiral of the time, and the Last Rebbe. The Mayor's office had existed, but had been considered to have only a consultative role on the larger issues, and focused entirely on mundane domestic matters of managing the Community. But the Founders had always planned that the Mayor should become more important as the Community grew. Indeed, the planning files included an expectation of several mayors over separate city and town settlements, with some higher magistrate, and council, presiding over the union of them all. Federalism, however, was still a matter for the future, or so they all hoped.
The youngest and newest to her honor, only three weeks installed, was the Chief Rabbi. At 35, she was also the second-youngest to hold the office, after the Last Rebbe, who had held it from the age of 30.
Since the Last Rebbe's martyrdom, no other Chief Rabbi had claimed the mantle of "Rebbe". Linguistically, it was really even the same word as "rabbi", but the connotation was stronger. The Rebbe was someone Special; a rabbi was a (hopefully) intelligent, thoughtful leader and teacher. The Chief Rabbi was really just the lucky stiff chosen to lend some semblance of organization to the other rabbis and luminaries of the various section synagogues. Throughout the journey Outbound, many believed the Chief Rabbi to not merely be elected but also Chosen. Since the rebellion and the Rebbe's murder, however, generations ago, no-one had quite felt they measured up. But the current incumbent, young, idealistic, with a clarity of thought and expression, and a genuine sense of...well...soul, was making some people think about it.
The Mayor was ambivalent about the continued inclusion of the Chief Rabbi at all. Not that they had anything against her--she really was a fine, upstanding, intelligent person, and the Mayor found they enjoyed her company tremendously, despite their disagreements on matters theological. But the Community was increasingly secular in nature. True, nearly seventy percent still professed membership in the Outbound Chabad, but the remaining thirty percent professed no organized faith of any sort. This was not a huge surprise--the ratio of the original passengers and crew was more like 9 to 1, and no two of the non-believers--all of them crew--had belonged to the same anything-else. There had been small-scale revivals of Buddhism and Hinduism in various pockets and tribes. But agnosticism and atheism were the overwhelming alternative to the dominant presence of the Outbound Chabad, and a growing proportion of the population fell into that category.
The Founders, however, had all been Chabadniks, and so the charter, which was as close as they had to a constitution, established the Chabad as a kind of arm of government, albeit, mainly over the spiritual lives of its believers. As the representative of 70,000 Community members' spiritual lives, the Chief Rabbi would still have voiced an opinion that would carry weight, even if it were after the fact. It was merely prudent to include her, now.
As a nod to civilian authority, the Mayor presided over these meetings, and so they began. "First of all, thank you both for coming. I'm sure you had far more interesting things to do today..." The Admiral, who was already used to the Mayor's sense of humor, only snorted.
The Rabbi looked startled, at first. She was quite agitated, and not really in a jesting mood. She began, "Your honor, I don't see how anything could..." The penny dropped a bit late, and the Rabbi closed her eyes and took a centering breath. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'm a bit freaked out at the moment. Jests are likely to fly right past me."
The Admiral nodded. "Rabbi Chava, I am almost positive I can speak for the Mayor when I saw that they and I are also freaked out. We just deal with it a little differently. It's all good."
"We also have an advantage," the Mayor added, "in that the Admiral and I have both had plenty of time to become familiar with the Contingency Files. I suspect you've had other things on your mind until now."
"I'm afraid you're correct, Your Honor," the Rabbi responded. "I've seen the Files on my to-do list of things to familiarize myself with, but as originally scheduled it would have been weeks before I got near them. I'm honestly not even entirely sure what they entail."
The Mayor looked to the Admiral, deferring to him. They'd gotten their own briefing on the Files from the Admiral, back when they'd been on the Council's Planning Committee, and it had saved them a world of hurt.
"You're aware, I believe, that the Founders approached the Dream of Spring project as not merely a spiritual exercise but a deeply intellectual one. They delved into physics, chemistry, biology, technology, even sociology and psychology, in designing the ship and the Community it was due to carry. One point of commonality between non-believers and Chabadniks has always been the faith in their remarkable achievement, whether it was inspired by G-d or not.
"What's not as commonly understood, despite the vast library we all still have at our fingertips, is that they delved also into fictional literature to formulate their plans."
The Admiral paused, foreknowing the reaction he was likely to receive. He was not disappointed. Most people never thought about it this way. "Literature? Seriously?"
"Yes, seriously. You see, the fiction of the two centuries before our departure was rich in speculations about journeys such as the one we took. Nearly all of them dealt with the ways people were still, well, people, even when faced with extraordinary journeys and precarious living arrangements, like the unyielding vacuum of space. A great deal of what we think of as 'The Community' was designed knowing we would face many of those same challenges, that they could not be eliminated, because people are people. They hoped, however, that by focusing education on the need to be more conscious of ourselves and each other, and by stressing interdependency through the clan system, they could create a system that was...elastic. It would stretch and bend as needed, but it wouldn't break."
The Rabbi nodded at this. "OK, I'm on somewhat familiar ground, here, since it's also part of our theological training. Of course, we also believe that G-d's hand was at work, but, like you said, the key points, we agree on. I had somehow missed, though, that they'd pulled from fiction so heavily."
"They had to, you see," the Mayor said. "I mean...no one had ever done what we were doing for real. I mean, the great sea voyages of Old Earth come the closest, but they never carried more than a couple-hundred at a time, and there was the full expectation of continued contact with 'back home'. It was all still...Earth. A living, breathing, forgiving planet--or anyway forgiving until they finally overtaxed it. So they had to draw from imaginary journeys of the same sort of scale."
"That makes sense. So, these Contingency Files are...what...selected readings from the old fables of space travel?"
The Admiral smiled. The Rabbi was regaining her equilibrium, which was good. She was going to need it. "Not exactly. The files themselves tend to be fairly dry reading, but each one draws from a different possible scenario, and makes broad recommendations. It's important to understand--not everyone has--that the Files are not another kind of Scripture. We may encounter problems they never predicted; and even when they do predict, they offer only strategy. Tactics are up to us.
"The files are color coded by broad categories. Green is for 'contact with other humans'. Gold is for 'contact with aliens'. Red is for 'population-threatening catastrophe'. Blue is for 'time travel', and so on."
The Rabbi suddenly closed her eyes in exasperation. "Time travel? They seriously contemplated time travel?"
The Admiral grinned, and nodded, "They did. Some of the files deal with some pretty wild ideas that seem improbable; most are fairly realistic. There's some overlap and cross-referencing between them, but by and large, they cover a lot of territory. The Rebellion of Three AS was a Red Five, and the idea to exile the perpetrators came partially out of the recommendations from that file. Around 103 AS, we thought we had a Gold Twenty on our hands, but it really was just a comet. And this situation we find ourselves in today is Green Three: contact with another human population, where they and not we have developed a faster-than-light capability, and where they did not expect to find anyone here."
The Rabbi cocked her head, "So...we have a plan? Already? Is that what you're saying?"
"Well," the Mayor says, "yes and no. The File has suggestions, but not plans--"
"--although," the Admiral broke in," in this case, we have a bit more than that. You see, the suggestions are basically, 'Be diplomatic. Be conscious. Be welcoming. Celebrate that more of humanity survived than we thought. But don't be pushed over. Prepare the defenses.' There are several Green and Gold files that fall into that category, so we actually have a real, live plan, in this case."
The Mayor gave him a look. "Do we, now. How fascinating. When were you planning to share that delightful bit of news?"
"About now, actually." the Admiral replied without a hint of embarrassment.
The Rabbi was definitely with the Mayor on this one. "How kind of you."
"I should warn you now, you're not going to like it very much. I mean, I don't think you'll hate it, either, but it definitely involves a change in our priorities and focus for a little while."
That won the Admiral a lopsided grin from the Rabbi, "Forewarned is forearmed. Let's have it."
The Admiral swiped at his tablet, and a file appeared on each of theirs. "We call it Operation Hedgehog. It relies heavily on the significant advances we've made in mining lasers..."
The Mayor interrupted this time. "I'm sorry...I really do want to hear about the lasers. Because, you know, lasers are cool and all. But can we talk first about the more immediate response to our inbound visitors?"
The Admiral managed to look comically crestfallen.
"Don't be sad, Yevgeny. I promise you my full attention for the laser hedgehogs in a few minutes. I have a basic idea about how I want to deal with this, but I want your thoughts, first, both of you."
The Admiral deferred to the Rabbi, who pondered a moment. "I would like to be there, if I could--I know you're not always comfortable with the standing of the rabbinate, but I would still appreciate it. Beyond that, I think the suggestions in the file make sense. So far, they've been diplomatic enough. Unless they show up brandishing laser-hedgehogs on leashes or something, we should treat this like an awkward family reunion."
The Admiral was nodding. "I agree entirely. Let me be clear: I hope to never, ever need to unleash lasers--or hedgehogs--on anybody, ever. But one thing I consider not-negotiable: this system is ours. We may eventually open ourselves up to visitors, even immigration...but this system is ours, not Earth's."
"I think we three are in emphatic agreement," the Mayor said with a clearly relieved smile. "Which leaves only one more voice to be heard."
The Admiral went stone-faced at this, while the Rabbi was puzzled. The Admiral said, "You're going to insist, aren't you, Jae."
"Yes, Yevgeny. I am. They live here, too. It won't take long for Lewis and Clark to realize there's more here than we've told them--the domes are visible with any decent telescope. I know you have a way to talk to them. So talk to them. Otherwise, they might make a separate deal. They might anyway, but we need to know."
"Excuse me," the Rabbi said, "But...whom exactly are we talking ab—wait. They're still alive?!"
The Admiral heaved a sigh, and looked daggers at the Mayor. "We don't actually officially hide the fact. We just don't talk about it. But yes, the Exiles succeeded in some sort of plan to persevere and reproduce. As Jae said, you can actually see their domes from space. We estimate they're still about a tenth our numbers. We...don't talk much."
"But you do talk?!"
"Occasional status updates, in text only, mainly involving common interests, like that comet in 103 AS. They deserved to know about it, and we actually even shared observations about it. I've read the transcript--it was almost cordial, even. It ended as quickly as it began once it was clear the comet was harmless.
"So, then, what should I tell them?"
It was the Rabbi who answered, "I think what you just told us--that this system is ours--all of ours. Meaning theirs, too. And that we'll defend it, and them. If they care to contribute to that defense, we should welcome their contribution. If they choose to focus on their own concerns, and their own local defense, that's their choice. But I think it's entirely in our interests to defend them if they want to be defended."
"And if they'd rather make an alliance with Earth against us, planet-bound to planet-bound?"
"Which file is that?"
"Look it up!"
"Later. If they do, then...," the Rabbi heaved a sigh, "we fight. I don't want to, though."
The Mayor made a wry face, "None of us do. Not even Mr. Hedgehog Lasers over here. But I concur. If we have to fight, we fight. But in a few weeks, when our guests arrive, we smile, and we shake hands if we can do so safely--their doctors and ours are already talking about that--and break bread together and hope for the best."
"That's all we can do," the Admiral agreed. "Hope for the best, plan for the worst. It's cliché because it's true."
They talked for several hours more, hashing out the specifics, and introducing the Rabbi to more of the Contingency Files.
When they were done, the Admiral went to the Comm Center, found a cubicle, and sent the tech on duty on break, activating the security lock behind him. He keyed in his message by hand, and sent it on the frequency agreed to centuries before. It was brief but honest. "Shalom. An exploratory vessel from Earth has arrived in system, purporting to have FTL capability. This appears to be Green Three. We intend to follow the Suggestions--to greet them warmly but repel attempts at invasion or absorption. This system is ours--all of ours. Do you concur? /adm". There was encryption and authentication signatures involved, but that was the text.
He sat for four hours, waiting for a response. The Exiles were generally pretty punctual, but light speed was light speed, and they undoubtedly needed time to think about it.
The response was curt, but otherwise left him relieved. "We concur. Green Three. We will plan for the defense of Revi'i. If there is a resource we can provide to assist with the defense of the system, ask, and we will consider. One point clear: the system is ours--all of ours--we agree. This planet is ours, we who were sent here. No unauthorized landings will be tolerated. /r1d9"
These micros are getting more macro as my brain chews on the setting and detail. This story is basically the end result of 9 hours driving and cogitating on what happened next...