A Second Chance

Greetings, Terrans!

While editing the manuscript for A Time To Gather, I’ve come across a section I’m particularly happy with. I’m posting it as an excerpt here:

Once all had greeted each other, I opened the meeting. “I would like to thank everyone for coming. Welcome to the Office of the Mediator facilities on Merak.”

I nodded toward Gendo, who began his proposal. “Thank you, Mediator. Polaris has been suffering an ecological crisis of our own making for the past several decades. We have depleted our planet’s water supply to the extent that the waterfalls that once powered our hydroelectric generators are dwindling. Following the end of the war, Earth has worked with us to build wind turbines and solar collectors that have solved our power problem, but the water crisis continues to plague Polaris.

“We’ve recently learned that the Boteins, desperately in need of water to survive after the Bhetangu destruction of your only inhabitable world, rapidly developed a means of mining comet nuclei to obtain water in ice form, which helped to sustain you. We applaud you for your ingenuity and your initiative. Polaris would like to learn your method so that we might replenish the water on our own world. In return, we pledge to help the Botein survivors in your search for a new world to colonize. Even as we speak, scout ships are exploring as-yet uncharted systems for inhabitable worlds.”

Gregor sneered. “Why should we trust you?”

I looked at Gregor sternly. “Mr. Moon, Ambassador Henz has come to negotiate in good faith. Your constant baseless accusations are getting us nowhere.”

“They are not baseless, Mediator. Our planet was destroyed by the Polarans.”

Gendo sighed. “Strictly speaking, it was not Polaris that destroyed your world, but an alien race known as the Bhetangu. An ambitious politician named Stevis Solless maneuvered himself into the office of High Chancellor, going so far as to plot the assassination of his predecessor. The Bhetangu enticed Solless with technology that enabled them to destroy worlds. They used their weapon against Botein for no other reason than to demonstrate its effectiveness.”

Gregor got to his feet. “The destruction of our home, the genocide of billions, was a mere demonstration?”

“It is so. The Polaran people had no knowledge of this at the time. Only Solless and his top advisors knew about the Bhetangu or their super-destroyer.”

“How can you expect us to believe that? Now that we have something you want, you might say anything to get it.”

“Under Solless, Polaris might well have just taken what we wanted. He was an arrogant fool with powerful allies. The current administration, led by my brother, has been working diligently to undo the damage he caused.”

Kimberly nodded. “Does that include providing assistance to his victims?”

“Yes, in as much as we are able to at present. It was because of the ecological and financial chaos that Polaris was in that Solless was able to rise to power so easily. Those conditions have not much improved since the end of the war. There really is not much that we can do, financially.”

“Then what could you possibly offer us? You can’t undo the past.”

“No, but we can provide you a future. We can help you find a planet of your own. We’ll also give your people as many of our interstellar scout ships as your people have pilots to fly them.” Gendo smiled. “This we will do, whether you decide to help us, or not, my lady. I have this assurance from my brother, High Chancellor Randal Henz.”

Gregor sneered at Gendo. “Why would you help us?”

“In the first place, we would do it because it is the right thing to do. Botein was destroyed because my people did not take a stand until it was too late. Many people all over the galaxy died because of it.”

“I believe him, Gregor,” said Kimberly.

“Don’t trust him, Sister. Polarans lie.”

Gendo ignored Gregor. “In the second place, we would do it because we can. We may not have much in the way of financial resources, but we do have a surplus of scout ships, and volunteers to pilot them. These explorers continue to scour the unexplored reaches of the galaxy for uninhabited systems with minable resources and habitable worlds on which to plant colonies.”

“It sounds like you need a new planet as badly as we do,” said Kimberly.

“Yes, we do. We hope that transplanting a large percentage of our planet’s population will help to preserve our ecosystem.”

“I know an excellent way to depopulate your planet,” said Gregor. “It worked really well on ours.”

Kimberly swiveled her chair to face her brother. “Gregor, must you? This man is trying to negotiate in good faith. Why did you even agree to come on this mission if you can’t put aside your hate?”

“I wanted to be sure my Katya’s memory would be honored. I wasn’t sure you would have the strength of will to avenge her and your own husband.”

“Avenge them? Gregor, we’ve seen the reports! The Markabans destroyed the vessel that blew up Botein. The ones who killed them are dead already, as are the ones who were in league with them!”

“The Polarans were in league with them! They must pay!”

“Mr. Moon,” I said, “while I understand the grief you must be going through—”

“There is no way you could possibly understand, Mediator. Not unless you’ve watched your world die.”

“I’ve watched people I loved die.”

“I watched every last one of mine,” he said. “My sister is the only family I have left.”

“I still must ask you to either control your emotions or leave this conference room. I cannot allow your outbursts to disrupt these negotiations.”

Gregor looked at me angrily. Finally, he sighed. “My apologies, Mediator. I will attempt to keep my voice calm, at least.”

“Thank you. Ambassador Henz, please continue.”

“The third reason is personal. My brother and I practically grew up on Botein. I had more Botein friends than Polaran before the war.” Gendo smiled wistfully. “I remember a girl who lived in the same neighborhood. She… owned my heart, not that she knew. Even after all these years, I’ve never been able to get her face out of my mind. I always wondered what became of her, and I always wished I could see her one last time.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t likely,” said Gregor. “Even if by some miracle she isn’t dead, how could she ever look on you with anything but contempt, Polaran?”

“Gregor, can’t you let go of your hate?” Kimberly said, her voice breaking. “I am sorry, Ambassador. Please forgive my brother.”

“There is nothing to forgive. I see myself through his eyes. I understand his hate.” He cleared his throat. “Thank you, Mediator, for bringing us to the negotiating table. I do not wish to cause these people any more pain by my presence. We will find another way.” Gendo stood and bowed to all at the table.

“Please don’t leave, Gendo.” Tears streamed down Kimberly’s face. “I led the water mining expeditions. I developed the technology. It’s mine to share. I want to help.”

“How can you help the Polarans?” said Gregor. “They killed our families!”

“Hate won’t bring your wife back.”

Gregor spat. “Neither will cooperation.”

Kimberly reached into her case and pulled out a data chit. “This contains everything I know about comet mining. Take it, Gendo. It’s yours.”

“I hope you can live with yourself,” said Gregor. “You just gave away our only bargaining chip.”

“Gendo already promised to help us,” said Kimberly.

Gregor stood and slapped her in the face. “You are a traitor to our people!”

Kimberly put a hand on her cheek. “Don’t say that, Brother!”

“Don’t call me brother. I no longer have any family.” Without another word, he turned and left the conference room.

“Tony, follow him, discreetly. Don’t interfere with him unless he tries to harm himself or someone else.”

“Got it, Boss.” Tony headed out after Gregor.

“That man has anger management issues,” said Demetri.

Ambassador Sharpfang laughed. “And here I was thinking he had remarkable self-control. If I were that angry, I might have torn someone’s throat out.”

“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I oppose you in Council,” said Demetri, a hand on his neck.

“I would never be that angry with you, my friend. You make me laugh.”

Gendo handed Kimberly a tissue. “Are you alright, my lady?”

“I should have seen this coming. He spent the entire trip here trying to convince me not to help you under any circumstances. I just never dreamed he’d actually disown me. We have no other family left.”

“It grieves me to see you in pain, my lady.”

“You used to live in Valor Wood, didn’t you?”

Gendo smiled. “Yes, across the street from Memorial Park.”

“The girl you loved… what was her name? I probably knew her.”

“I never actually spoke to her. I was a rather shy teen, and she was beautiful. She is still beautiful.”

Kimberly smiled. “Is it really possible to be in love with someone you’ve never actually met?”

I laughed. “You ought to ask my wife about that, Ms. Abel.” My phone buzzed. “Yes, Tony?”

“Hey, Boss, I’ve followed Moon to the spaceport. He’s booking passage back to Cygnus on a liner. Should I detain him?”

I looked at Kimberly, who looked at the floor and shook her head. Gendo put his arm around her as she began to weep. He absently stroked her hair as she cried.

“Negative, Tony,” I said. “Make sure he gets on the ship safely. Once the flight leaves, return to base.”

“Right, Boss.”

When Kimberly finished crying, she looked at the wet spot on Gendo’s robes. “I’ve ruined your clothes.”

“After all you’ve been through, I don’t mind a few of your tears on my shoulder, Kimberly.” Gendo smiled. “Please have lunch with me.”

She took his arm. “You may have been shy as a teen, but you are not so, now.”

“It’s been almost fifteen years since I left Botein.” Gendo led her down the hall toward the elevator. “I’ve since learned that there are far worse things than talking to a pretty girl.”

“Oh? Such as?”

“Wishing I had talked to her. I won’t make that mistake twice.”

Ayala wiped her eyes. “I’m not exactly sure what I’ve just witnessed, but I think I need a good cry. Rrowlf, my love, would you take me back to my office?”

“Of course, my dear. Wayne, we’ll see you later.”

Demetri rose. “I see you have no more need of me just now. We’ll see you at dinner, Wayne?”

“Sure,” I said. “Meet us down in the lounge around 1830.”

He smiled and nodded, then left.

I looked around at the empty conference room and sighed. It wasn’t the shortest meeting I had ever attended, but it was among the most interesting ones.

I opened my phone and made a call.

Randal answered right away. “Greetings, Mediator. What can I do for you? My brother’s not in trouble, is he?”

I grinned. “When you and your brother lived on Botein, do you remember a certain Botein girl Gendo was interested in?”

He chuckled and rolled his eyes. “What brought that topic up? We lived on Botein for four years, and he never could work up the courage to say as much as three words to her.”

“Do you know her name?”

Randal thought for a long while. Finally, he said, “Kimberly. I’m pretty sure her name was Kimberly.”

I nodded. “I suspected as much. I think she was just in my conference room.”

“She was one of the negotiators? Please tell me he didn’t embarrass himself.”

I smiled. “Actually, I think you’d be proud of him. He finally found his voice.”