Overture: Broken Light - #4

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“I’m having a hard time understanding how we’re supposed to spin it that way,” Sandra Abreu said. “We’re about to argue that knowledge is a threat?” She was looking directly at Senator Alvez, whose weary eyes looked glazed over. The other six people at the conference table were immersed in their interfaces, complete with wandering eyes and the occasional finger presses and sliding stabs at the air.  The others in the strategy session clearly did not share her viewpoint. “Because we fear change? How is that going to look to history? How is that going to look to the Aliens if we decline?” 

“This is out of your lane, Sandra,” Brent said. He was the youngest person in the room, but he was supposed to be some kind of genius at building meta-narratives in all the feeds. He’d nearly cost Alvez his re-election several times already with his meta-bullshit. Shamefully, he was the campaign manager so the spew that came out of his mouth and passed for “opinions” had a lot of weight. 

“Out of my lane?” Sandra said. “I’m the fucking foreign policy expert! I have a really hard time understanding what’s more foreign than dealing with representatives of an Alien species.” 

“This goes beyond foreign policy,” Sheila said. Sandra gave Sheila a murderous stare. They’d been friends for years, and she couldn’t believe Sheila was out there stabbing her in the back at a crucial moment like this. “Everything is on the table here. The economy, health care, all of it. This could upend everything, cause mass hysteria. All of our donors are already scared shitless over what it will do to all of their R&D programs and their intellectual property. It could all become obsolete overnight. Entire industries could die, thousands of jobs lost. That’s even assuming these Aliens are telling the truth. They could be giving us power sources and medicines that turn out to be bombs and bio-weapons.”

“I would assume we let scientists figure that out,” Sandra said. “They’re not exactly handing out How to Serve Man booklets here, they’re giving us data, research, and knowledge. It’s up to us what we do with it.”

“I like that!” Brent said. Alvez nodded slightly. Sandra didn’t like that nod. It usually meant the Senator was falling for one of Brent’s insane schemes. “A bio-weapon! It could be anything! They could just be waiting to see how trusting we are before they harvest us or something. Maybe we synthesize this stuff and its a nanoplague, wipes us out. We could come up with plenty of scenarios. These Aliens are the ultimate ‘Other,’” Brent said. “Easy political points, there for the scoring. Beating up on them in the media will get us plenty of traction, lots of buzz. This transcends race and nationality, they’re not human, they’re not even of this world. I’m sure we can find some scientist to back us up on the dangers of this.”

“Hold up,” Davis interjected. He was looking at Sandra, and perhaps the only other voice of reason in the room. He was the economist, and he stroked his chin, thinking this over. “Look, there’s a lot of risk here. You come out too strident and what happens if they end up dropping miracle drugs and true game-changing technologies during this tech transfer they’re proposing?  I somewhat agree with Sandra here. We don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. We could end up looking like we stood in the way of life-saving breakthroughs. I can already see the campaign commercials where whoever is running against us trots out all sorts of children and veterans that would be dead or worse if not for whatever Alien space-magic healed them and then they tactfully point out that we would’ve said no. The narrative writes itself.”

“Thank you, Davis,” Sandra said, relieved that he took something in the neighborhood of her side.

“However,” Davis added. “Just as bad if we have terrorists or criminals prowling around blowing everything up with some Alien space-magic weapon. I think we should express skepticism in our new ‘friends,’ whatever they may have to offer. Perhaps a middle-ground? We accept that this tech transfer is going to happen, but state that we’re going to do everything we can to minimize the risk and negative consequences. Legislation, regulation, all of it to control whatever might arise.”

“Not against, but guarded,” Vera, the official press wrangler, nodded and smiled. “I like it. We can say we’ll urge the President and Congress to put together a special inter-agency task force to look into strategic issues, that kind of thing.”

“I think this is a good approach,” Senator Alvez said. “I can state that given my experience, I will look out for our interests. I’ll trust, but verify. No free pass for these Aliens, however many shiny treats they might dangle in front of us. I’ll be a steady hand, ready to take action and keep this new Alien tech and whatever research and practical uses come out of it under control. We’ll look into heavily regulating whoever uses the information from this tech transfer.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, Senator,” Brent yes-manned. Sandra leaned back in her chair, defeated. “It will also do a lot to reassure our donors.”

“While we let a once in a lifetime opportunity get choked by croneyism and red tape,” Sandra murmured under her breath.

“Well, that’s it then,” Senator Alvez announced, everyone around the table bobbleheading except Sandra. “I want to see a full communications plan and talking points by the end of the day. Get to it.” People got up in a sea of murmurs, Sandra ready to go fume in her office.

“Sandra,” the Senator said. “A word please.” 

“Yes, sir,” Sandra said, her military background winning out over however collegial the Senator tried to keep it. She stayed put until everyone left. 

“Sandra, you know I value your experience. You served in the African Union wars and the GCF offensive, then you were a State department diplomatic officer for years. No one has your background and your perspective. That said, this is the greatest unknown any of us have ever faced. I need you to be a team player on this,” the Senator said. “I can see you have strongly held opinions on this, and I want you to express them, but in a more respectful way to the others. There are a lot of sides to this issue that don’t follow the ordinary rules. Things are happening very fast, as you well know. We can’t afford to pick unnecessary fights with each other.”

“Yes, sir,” Sandra grimaced. “I’ll try to be more collaborative with my colleagues. I just think it’s beneath you to make fear the centerpiece of this campaign.” She had plenty more to say, but she swallowed it. The combination of choked back spite and bitterness formed a potent cocktail in her mouth.

“I understand and appreciate your concern,” Senator Alvez said. 

“Thank you, Senator,” Sandra said. “I have a lot of work to do. Every government on the map has a different opinion on all of this, and it’s a fluid situation keeping it all straight.” Alvez turned away as she left. She tried not to think of how small-minded political games were squandering potentially the greatest thing to happen to humanity in years. She should’ve known better. She should’ve known this would be business as usual. 

Image Credit:

NASA, ESA, E. Sabbi (STScI)